Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Beaded Mermaid

This is one of the items that I entered in the State Fair this year. I made her a couple of years ago while Adrian and I were stranded in Hawaii for a couple of months. Adrian had planted a winter crop of his research corn on Molokai and due to bad weather it was way behind schedule. We arrived in early January and the corn was only about six inches high (it needed to be about six feet high with emerging tassels in order for him to work with it). So we got to relax, snorkel, fly our stunt kite and enjoy the laid back pace of Molokai for a lot longer than we anticipated. I had brought along a small stash of beads thinking that I might have time for a quick beaded project, but thanks to our extended stay, I decided to do something more complex. I drew out a pattern and traced it onto a scrap of batik fabric. I stitched it by hand using nymo thread and very, very small back stitches. I stuffed it with coarse Molokai sand and a wee bit of polyfil that I filched from a throw pillow in the house we were renting. I thought the fabric looked a bit dull so I painted it with watercolors before I began beading. This was the first time that I had beaded anything that wasn't flat and I learned later that many people bead the piece first and then sew it together. I really liked having her pre-stuffed though. The weight of the doll in my hand as I beaded felt really nice and I enjoyed beading around her curves. My mood while beading her was happy, content and peaceful and I think that it's reflected in the bead work. I listened to some very mellow Hawaiian slack key guitar music while I worked on this piece. The mermaid suffered one injury due to an annoyingly tenacious mouse that had set up residence in our rental house. In addition to nibbling on our papayas and stealing our bars of soap, the mouse decided to take a bite out of my doll. I woke up one morning to find her on the floor, leaking sand and missing a few beads. I shed some tears, stitched her up, repaired the mouse damage and kept her safe in a drawer from then on. By the time the corn was ready, I had completed beading the bottom half of her as well as the heart on her chest. Then we worked like dawgs out in the corn fields for 10 days and flew back to snowy Minnesota. She sat for a few weeks until I decided what to do with the top half. She looked pretty good faceless and I almost left her that way. But I have this press mold for polymer clay that makes face cabochons and I was fooling around with it one day after I had mixed up some green, black and translucent clay to emulate jade. Once the face was baked, I painted it with a wash of black acrylic paint and then rubbed most of it off with a paper towel. It gave the face an antique, aged look and I really like the imperfectness of it. The face seemed to fit her peaceful hawaiian mood and I think it's a lovely reflection of how I was feeling during my time on Molokai. Her hair is made from a feathery variegated yarn called Paton's Cha Cha. I bought it at the time when everyone was knitting those ridiculous fluffy scarves and the stores were infested with this kind of yarn. The yarn is light and fluffy and when it's all spread out, I think it looks like her seaweed hair is swaying with the currents of the water. I highly recommend using sand as a stuffing medium. It gives such a lovely, substantial weight to the project and it was very easy to bead with. I was able to sink all of my thread knots inside the doll with no visible puckering of the fabric. I used mostly size 11 Japanese seed beads and she's about six inches tall.
I am delighted to say that my mermaid doll won a second place ribbon at the State Fair this year! The other items entered in this category were so flippin' amazing that I think a mistake was made that allowed me to sneak away with the second place ribbon. There are a lot of extremely talented beaders here in Minnesota and bead work that was exhibited at the fair was mind boggling. Prize winner or not, I am very pleased with my little beaded mermaid. She brings back such happy memories of my extended stay on Molokai. Adrian and I are going to Kauai this winter and I think I might make a beaded sea turtle for my mermaid to swim with.


Sue Thomas said...

I'm stuck on the stranded in Hawaii part of the post! Lucky!!!!! (Said in my best Napoleon Dynamite voice) A sea turtle would be an perfect companion for her, Beth!

Sue Thomas said...

Oops - I meant Pam, not Beth. It's Monday and not yet noon - lol!!!