Laura McCabe is one of the hottest stars in the beading world. She’s the author of the best-selling Laura McCabe’s Embellished Beadweaving, a popular teacher (including this year’s master class teacher) at Bead & Button, and one of the featured artists in Masters: Beadweaving. Her work is innovative and original, making her the source of much interest and even curiosity among beaders of all stripes. (Striped beaders being the norm.) A few questions seemed in order. Read the interview, learn more about Laura at her websites Just Let Me Bead and Laura McCabe Jewelry, and then reward yourself by downloading a spectacular free project, Herringbone Cluster Earrings, from Laura McCabe’s Embellished Beadweaving.
Describe your personality, and then describe your beadwork. How are they similar, and how are they different?
I generally think and exist outside the box—always have and, I’m sure, always will.
I have a great fascination for all those things that are considered out of the ordinary and even that most people consider ugly.
From intentionally growing weeds in my gardens to collecting antique prosthetic glass eyeballs, I suppose I walk that line of eccentric. The funny thing is most people perceive me to be bright and bubbly and very social. I would never describe myself this way.
I think my public personality is quite different from my true self. Maybe it’s just a way of drawing a line, which I think most people need to have, between the public and the personal, especially when you and your work are quite readily available in the world.
What were you like as a kid, Laura? What did you do for fun, and when did you take up beading?
I was kind of a freak, LOL—generally a total loner. I had a wide range of interests: I was a member of the cribbage club, the German folk dance club, and, believe it or not, the taxidermy club (no wonder I had no friends!).
I took up hand work at about 6 or 7 years old, when I started sewing my own toys and clothes. I continued sewing throughout high school, and I actually majored in historical costume restoration and reproduction in college.
I began working with beads very early on and moved from stringing to loom work and stitching when I was about 13 or 14.
Do you still do any other crafts?
These days I find that I spend most of my time beading (imagine that!), but I do really enjoy sewing and also leatherwork.
How was Bead & Button? What were your best experiences at this year’s show, and what struck you most in terms of trends, new products, or anything else?
My class was amazing. I did this year’s master class in beadwork, and I had 24 students, each doing their own project, participate. The overall theme of the workshop was unconventionality in beadwork, and everyone was encouraged to incorporate unique and unusual elements in their project. The students’ creativity was palpable.
Beyond that, funny as it may sound coming from one of the original “crystal queens,” I actually found crystal beads and stones to be totally overplayed. I guess the bling factor remains, but I kind of wish people would now move on to more interesting materials in their work.
Your beadwork is very distinct. But I still have to ask: Who were your best teachers and biggest influences?
I have to give credit to my teachers in high school and college who really encouraged me to pursue the arts. My inspiration and ideas tend to come mostly from historical artwork, costume, and architecture. Many thanks to Hieronymus Bosch, Rene Lalique, and Alphonse Mucha, and all those other artists and artisans of the Art Nouveau period, not to mention numerous mostly unrecognized dressmakers and stitchers throughout history.
And certainly none of it would have been possible without my husband, Michael. Having a background in the arts and a degree in painting, he was the one who really encouraged me to quit my day job and pursue beading and teaching as a full-time occupation.
What’s your favorite place to teach a workshop or class?
Anywhere my students are up for creative exploration beyond the basic project. I’ve taught all over the world, and I’ve found that in some places and classes students are really excited about not only learning a project but also applying the techniques to their own vision and designs. That’s when I find teaching really rewarding.
What do you find most frustrating about beadwork, and how do you overcome it?
My brain works much faster than my hands. I still haven’t figured out how to make it go faster, but I’m hoping for some advancements in cloning—LOL!
Your own book, Laura McCabe’s Embellished Beadweaving, was released this spring and is a bestseller already, so you know a little bit about books and of course about beading. What are your top 5 desert-island bead books?
That’s a funny question. I don’t tend to read bead books, so I’m going to have to go with my top five bead reference books:
- The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present, Revised and Expanded Edition, Lois Sherr Dubin
- Africa Adorned, Angela Fisher
- The Jewels of Lalique, Yvonne Brunhammer
- 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, Francois Boucher
- Art Nouveau Jewelry, Vivienne Becker
Since you’re going to be stranded out there, what is your desert-island …
… music album?
Cranberry juice. I can drink that till the cows come home.
That’s a hard one, because I love reading so much. I’m going to have to go with one of my all time favorites: John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire.
Oooh. I can’t eat Pop-Tarts. I’m gluten intolerant.
If it comes gluten-free, I’ll go with ricotta cheese and artichoke.
… appliance (with magical plug-in opportunity)?
An OttLite, for sure. (Hey, do I get beads on this desert island?)
… magazine subscription (the Postal Service is great!)?
… museum or gallery (for one last trip before you go)?
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London
Has there been a response to Laura McCabe’s Embellished Beadweaving that’s most surprised you, pleased you, or really stands apart? What was it?
Overall, the response has been fantastic, and it is really rewarding to know that all the work that goes into a book provides that sort of inspiration to others.
The only comments I’ve gotten that I find surprising—and somewhat amusing—is from several readers who commented that my work is quite “out there.” I think that’s in reference to some of the eyeball pieces, as well as the one made with stone spikes, which appear in the book’s gallery.
I find it quite amusing, because these readers seem to associate me with the sparkly crystal designs that appeared in my first book, Creating Crystal Jewelry with Swarovski. The reality is that the work featured in the gallery of Laura McCabe’s Embellished Beadweaving, as well as the projects in the book, are so much more me than any of the crystal jewelry was.
Is there something in beadwork and art that you really want to get better at, Laura? What is it?
Yeah, I’m an artist, so really nothing is ever good enough. Every piece I do, I can always see the mistakes in it and the ways in which I could improve the design. I suppose that’s a good thing though, because it always pushes me to improve my work.
I’m particularly interested in conceptual work that is not only beautiful but also conveys a message. In that regard, I’m always trying to improve my communication through my work.
Doing the Smithsonian Craft Show in 2008. It was an amazing opportunity and really exciting to have the work shown in such a prestigious venue.
How has your beadwork changed? And what direction is it headed in now?
The work has become much more geometric in it’s construction and much darker in it’s imagery. Lately I’ve had an interest in the darker elements of life and have taken much of my inspiration from medieval weaponry, punk rock fashion, and even fetish wear. Although it doesn’t appeal to everyone, I actually think it’s the best work I’ve ever done. It’s certainly the work I’m most proud of.
What’s next, Laura?
I’m actually hoping to pursue the art end of my business. There’s nothing I love more than creating. Selling finished work is actually a pretty large part of my business, so I’m hoping to continue more in that direction and to find more time to spend here in the studio.
*Now, download the
after reading an intro to it from editor Nathalie Mornu:
These gorgeous Herringbone Cluster Earrings are my favorite project from Laura McCabe’s Embellished Beadweaving. Laura’s such a sweetie that after we wrapped up production on the book, she sent them to me as a gift. Thanks again, Laura! (Attention, authors: Giving gifts to your editor is in no way expected of you. Really.)
The project photo in the book (like in the PDF project) makes them look pretty monumental, but as you can see in the snapshot—that’s me, by the way, not Laura—they’re actually the perfect size, and they’re totally comfortable to wear because they weigh next to nothing.
Laura’s choice of gold-colored pearls around the center, and the way the crystal bicones scintillate, looks really warm and attractive against skin. It gets kind of glowy. Every time I wear the earrings, the compliments come rolling in. It’s not that I’ve done anything different—it’s the little gems dangling from my lobes!
So snatch up this Herringbone Cluster Earrings PDF, get thee to a bead store, and whip up a pair of these babies!
*Read more great Lark Crafts blog entries, including interviews with Joanna Gollberg, Jamie Cloud Eakin (with free bonus project!), Lisa Slovis Mandel, and be sure to bookmark and visit daily the Jewelry & Beading main page.