Getting the Most From a Beading Class
A design has caught your eye, and you've signed up for the class to make that beautiful piece of jewelry. How exciting! Now what? Over the years, I've had the good fortune to take classes from many of the top designers and I've also enjoyed teaching many, many classes. I'd like to share some tips I've picked up along the way, from both sides of the needle, to ensure your class is a fun and successful learning experience.
First and foremost, be prepared. Nothing sabotages your experience as a student more than not being prepared and/or being in over your head.
Review the stitches that will be used in the design and any prerequisite skills required for the class. If the stitches are being taught as part of the class – great. However, if you are expected to arrive at the class already knowing the stitches, learn them prior to the class if you aren't already proficient. There are many wonderful videos on line from which you can learn beading stitches, as well as step by step instructions in beading books, on websites, and in magazines. Review more than one source if time permits, and then practice so you are comfortable with the stitch(es) and any specified variations – i.e., increasing, decreasing, odd count, tubular, etc.
If you are purchasing a kit for the class, you can be assured the beads included will be appropriate for the design. Determine whether there are any additional items not included in the kit that you will need to bring to class. Thread and needles are not always supplied, and sometimes other pieces, like focal beads, may not be a part of the kit, to allow students the opportunity to personalize a design.
If you will be supplying your own beads, make sure you have all of the materials called for, and in the appropriate sizes and quantities specified. Often material lists state supplies to make a specific size or length of the design. If you need a larger or longer size, take that into consideration when purchasing your materials. If you choose to make substitutions rather than using exactly the materials called for, know that your resulting design might look different (and not necessarily in a good way). The instructor may not know with certainty if a particular substitution will work, so proceed with caution if substituting. Consider sticking with exact supplies for the class project, and then substituting on subsequent pieces only after you have become familiar with all aspects of the design. This applies to all materials, including needles and thread. If a particular type and size is recommended, that is likely because it will give a result consistent with the class sample. Using an alternate may cause difficulty, such as making multiple passes through small beads difficult or not providing enough structural support for the design.
In addition, if you will be picking out your own materials, please, please do it before the start of class. It is both distracting and inconsiderate to be running around the store, shopping and asking for opinions on materials choices after the class has started. And it takes away from the learning time you have paid for.
What to Bring To Class
Beyond the supplies needed for the design, there are some other items to bring to class to make your experience great. Here are a few of my essentials:
Work surface – some class venues supply beading surfaces to use in class, but some do not, so bring your preferred mat or tray if you are uncertain, or prefer having your own.
Scissors – please, never attend a beading class without bringing scissors!
Small beading lamp and extension cord – lighting at some class venues can be less than optimum.
Magnification – if you need it for beading at home, you will need it in class. Remember to bring the glasses you bead with, or an appropriately sized magnifier. Even the best instructors can't help you see the beads!
There are many other optional items that could come in handy. I've assembled a traveling tool kit in a zippered Mead pencil case that I take to all beading classes, both as a student and as an instructor. My case holds the following items:
Pen for making notes on instructions
Awl, tapered and with a sharp point for removing stitches or loosening unwanted knots
Ruler or measuring tape
Small ziplocks for rounding up beads cut from strands or hanks
A section of a drinking straw, slit along the length, to use as an adjustable armature for starting beaded tubes
A chunk of microcrystaline wax in a case from The Container Store
Tiny pliers to pull a needle through a tight spot, or for breaking beads (I know...don't judge!)
Extra packs of needles, including “sharps” - short, sharp needles helpful in burying tails or stitching in tight spaces with short threads
Additional comfort items to consider bringing to class include a sweater, a bottle of water, and a seat cushion.
The Day of Class
Be on time! Arrive at the venue early enough to check in, meet the instructor, settle into your spot, make a quick bathroom visit, and purchase any last minute materials. Be in your seat, ready to start at the appointed class time. It may seem obvious, but you and your fellow classmates are paying for this time so make the most of it. It's to your advantage to get as far into the design today, with the instructor present, as the time will allow, so use the time wisely.
Be considerate of fellow classmates. Set up your space so you can bead comfortably, but be mindful of your neighbors' space too. Put your personal belongings under your chair or far away from the table, rather than next to, or around your chair. During class the teacher will likely want to check on your progress, or you may want assistance. Give the teacher unobstructed access to stand beside you without straddling your lunch tote. Put your phone on silent, and if you must take a call during class leave the room. Go far enough away from the class that no one can hear your conversation. As you are waiting for class to begin, look through the instructions to familiarize yourself with the basic steps of the design, but it's a good idea to not start beading until the instructor opens the class. Sometimes you won't start at the beginning, and sometimes there are alterations to the written instructions.
Listen whenever the teacher addresses the class. You can be sure if she's talking to the whole class, you won't want to miss what she's saying – it could impact your results. Watch the demonstrations by the instructor. Even though you may be familiar with the technique, you may still learn something – a different way to hold the work, how to count rows, and many other tips are often shared during demonstration of steps. Don't offer your opinion to fellow classmates on how you would have made the design differently. I have seen this happen in many classes I have attended and I think it reflects poorly on the opinionated beader and doesn't enhance anyone's class experience. There are many ways to accomplish things and you didn't design this project, so let her teach it her way.
The End of the Class
Nearing the end of the class, if you will not be finishing the design in class, read through the instructions for any steps you haven't completed and be sure you understand them. If you have questions about finishing, now is the time to bring them up, unless the instructor has indicated otherwise. Be sure you have a clear understanding of how to complete the rest of the design on your own.
Often at the end of a class students want to take their own photos of the class samples. Instructors usually don't mind but it's best to ask if you are uncertain of the instructor's preference. This is also great time to exchange phone numbers or email addresses with your classmates (aka new beading friends), and possibly schedule an additional time to meet to finish the design together. And finally, instructors love constructive feedback. If there was something the instructor said or did that really resonated with you, tell them! It helps them to become even better at what they do.
Whether you are attending one of the national beading events this summer, a destination beading retreat, or simply a class at your local bead store, I hope some of the ideas above will help to enhance your class experience. Enjoy!