Fire Mountain Gems and Beads
2009 Jewelry-Making Contest
Category: Seed and Bugle Bead
Silver Medal Prize Winner
Where do you live?
West Valley, NY, USA
What inspires you as a designer-artist?
I draw my inspiration from the materials I work with. I will often spend as much time picking components as I do the actual beading. My husband always says, ''If it sits still, she will bead around it.'' Which is just about the truth! I have included fossils, feathers, butterfly wings and flat marbles into my work, just to mention a few things. I have drawers full of vintage jewelry, which I love to work into my pieces.
What materials do you most enjoy working with?
I love working with stones of all sorts.
What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?
Seed beads--lots of seed beads
Vintage jewelry parts
What inspired this design?
This piece was inspired by a vintage piece of jewelry that I found in a book. It was all pieced together like a puzzle and I thought it would be fun to try.
How did it come together?
Ugh! I don't usually draw out a design before I begin, but this one demanded that I did. Each puzzle piece was bead embroidered separately on felt, backed with leather and edged with beads. I cut out paper pieces that would all fit together nicely and used these as patterns. What I didn't take into consideration was that the beaded edging would throw everything off. I reworked this piece many times over. In the end, I love how this piece turned out, but I certainly could not charge by the hour when I price it!! I was excited to win second place in the Seed Bead Category in the Fire Mountain Gems 2009 beading contest.
When and how did you begin making jewelry/beading?
I have done simple stringing for years. I began to bead embroider around 2004 and there has been no looking back! I experiment with off loom bead weaving--but bead embroidery is my love!
Who introduced you to beading?
I began by making simple earrings--basically a few beads on a headpin, and single-strand strung bracelets and necklaces. As time went on, I progressed to more intricate patterns. The big change came when my husband and I took a trip to the western United States. We went to the Crow Fair with some friends. This is a Pow Wow of the Crow Indians in Montana. There was an opening parade where each participant is dressed in native costume, with much of their handiwork adorning not only their costumes, but their floats, trucks and horses! And that meant beading--lots of beautiful beading. I was hooked. While my husband and friends were exploring the grounds, I was hitting every bead vendor booth there! Besides buying a nice collection of seed beads, I picked up porcupine quills, elk teeth, and various other goodies. The next week we went to the Plains Indian Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Here I saw more incredible beadwork, which just fueled my growing obsession. I went to the gift store and bought three books on beading with seed beads, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Do you have an artistic background?
I have always loved art of all kinds, and have experimented with many crafts over the years--from calligraphy to quilting. My mother was a seamstress and taught my four sisters and me to sew at a very early age. This knowledge helped me feel comfortable experimenting with different techniques in bead embroidery.
How did you discover Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®?
I have been ordering from Fire Mountain Gems for so long I don't even remember! I love getting my FMG bead packages! I also love the photos of beadwork in the catalogs--and now that a few of my own pieces have been featured, it is even more exciting!
Do you belong to any beading societies or beading groups?
I belong to our local beading group, ''Western New York Beaders.'' Although I don't get to attend meetings as often as I would like, it is always fun to spend the day with this talented group of women.
What other hobbies do you have?
My husband and I enjoy traveling and spend as much time as possible in our small RV. I also love biking, hiking, cross country skiing, playing piano, and reading.
What role does jewelry-making play in your life?
Jewelry-making has little by little taken over my life!! Since it is now my full-time ''job,'' I spend many hours a day either beading or doing paperwork for my beading business. Beading is very relaxing to me (not so much the paperwork!!) It focuses me on the moment at hand. It is so rewarding to spend time beading and then end up with a beautiful piece of jewelry. Sometimes it is a complete surprise to me.
If you use jewelry-making as a way to bring in income, how are your selling yourself and your jewelry?
My husband and I are retired from our ''real jobs.'' Together we exhibit in about 14 Art and Craft Shows a year covering most of the east coast of the US. I also have a web site (www.bettystephan.com), an Etsy site (www.bettystephanbeadwork.etsy.com), and an active facebook fan page (Betty Stephan Beadwork). My work is sold at several local art galleries. I enter contests when I have the time. The contests really encourage me to stretch out and try things that I normally wouldn't.
Do you participate in any charity fundraisers?
Our beading group is making a beaded bra to donate to an auction for breast cancer research. We are doing it in a ''round robin'' fashion--each of us adding a little more to it. My turn has not come up yet, but it sounds like fun and I can't wait to add to the finished product!
Any advice for aspiring jewelry-artists?
Just try it. Don't worry about doing it wrong!! One of the great things about beading is that you can always tear it out and start over--the only thing lost is your time. And I don't even know if you can say that is really lost, as you will always learn something from the experience.
View all of Betty's designs in the Gallery of Designs.