Night Shift

Way back when, in another life, I worked the swing and graveyard shifts as a cocktail waitress at Harrah's Tahoe. Almost everything has changed since then (thank God!), including my ability to squeeze into that little velvet-and-rhinestone dress and walk in four inch heels with a 20 pound tray of drinks on my arm. But lately I'm finding it necessary to adjust my days, and my sleep, in order to get my beadmaking job done. Camp host duties are time consuming, thoughtful blogging takes a big bite out of the day, and it's been so darn hot here, the Bead Tent is an oven in daylight hours. I'm committed to everything I'm doing, so I just keep trying new ways of fitting it all in. I tried getting up early, and that didn't work. It's much easier to stay up late. So for now, at least until we pack up and go to Taos in September, it looks like I'm back on the swing shift.

I sat out there in the Bead Tent the other night and cranked out over 150 beads. Granted, they're small and relatively simple beads, but that's still a pretty good day's work. I call these Zen Beads, because of their lovely simplicity, and because they're how I "chop wood and carry water" these days. I thought you might enjoy a little photo essay on just what it takes to get all those beauties from the tent to the customers. Here we go...

Here I am in the Bead Tent. It's a 10x10 EZ Up, set in the dirt behind our trailer. As long as the wind doesn't blow too much, it works great. The moths at night are kind of distracting, but not as bad as the flies in the daytime!

All the late-night beads are left in the kiln to anneal over night. This cools them very slowly and removes the stress from the glass, so the beads will be strong and beautiful for years and years. This is what 150 beads look like when they come out of the kiln. I make them 5 to a mandrel, and at this point they still need to be cleaned... not my favorite job.

Here's the Bead Cleaning Station - a bucket of water, a dish tub, pliers, a wire strainer, and a Dremel. It's a sloppy, splashy job that requires water, so I like to do it outside under the trees.

Once the beads are wiggled off the mandrels, each one is individually cleaned with the Dremel and a diamond burr. The chalky looking stuff on the mandrels is called Bead Release, and that's exactly what it does, releases the glass from the steel mandrels. Quite a bit of it sticks to the insides of the bead holes, and has to be cleaned out, bead by bead, one at a time.

Cleaned beads catch the light and toss it around like a beach ball. They look so much more beautiful once they're clean. Compare beads like this with a cheap bunch of imported beads. There's a world of difference in the look of them, as well as in durability. Cheap imports, often made in Chinese sweat shops, are rarely annealed or cleaned. The result is an inferior bead that's likely to crack at some point. Don't waste your money!

After cleaning the beads, I lay them all out in the sun where I sort them by size and color, and stringthem into sets. When making 5 to a mandrel, there are usually a few that get too cold in the process, and break in half when shocked by the heat of the kiln, which is set at 970ยบ. So now, out of 150 beads, I have 120 to use in sets, and a handful to toss in my box of Strays.

Next stop is the Photo Station. I change the way I do this, depending on the light and the weather. When I can shoot outside in the sun, I let Supermodel Veronica help prop up a piece of sheer grey mylar, stuck to her back with a bit of blue poster goo. A swatch of off-white knitting makes a nice backdrop texture under the mylar. I have an older, fairly simple 7.2 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot. I use the macro setting, and often use the flash when I'm in the sun. Bead photography has never been an exact science for me. Different beads, depending on the color, transparency, reflectivity, and texture, will need different things. I do wish it were simpler.

Here's how they look after a small amount of editing. I usually have to adjust the brightness and contrast, and sometimes the color, to make the photos as accurate as possible. No matter what I do though, the actual beads in your hand are much prettier than any picture.

After all the pictures are edited, I post the new listings in the BeadShop. With simple beads like these, I can do a lot of copy-and-paste for the descriptions. Larger, fancier, more expensive beads all get their own unique blurb. Sometimes it takes longer to list a bead than to make it!

Once the beads are posted, I send out a note to my mailing list, and sometimes pop something on Facebook. Then I wait. Sales are not what they used to be, for me, or for anyone else I know. But beadmaking is still a better gig than I could find in town, and at least I have control over my schedule and productivity. Sometimes I worry that I'll have to go out and get a real job, and everything in me says no, no, no to that. One thing I'm pretty sure of, I won't ever have to go back to being a cocktail waitress. I'm too old, too fat, and too cranky to take what goes along with that job ever again. 
Moving forward. Always moving forward, even though it's sometimes in the dark.


  1. Oh look! There's the string of zen beads I just bought - and yes they are more beautiful than their very good picture. The world needs your beads, Kim, as long as you need them :-).

  2. It takes so much for a beautiful little bead........and your are so worth it.

  3. Hey Kim;

    Glad i visited your blog...i've been out of 'working order' personally a bit lately, but all in the hopes of getting BACK, BABY - BACK!! I wish i could think of someone to rent your house, are you looking for more renters, or was that destructive for your little home? Hang in there you guys, you are on a journey of the bravest kind, change, creation & the exploration of the unknown. You are Modern Day Adventurers & that's RARE!! Be strong.

    And I was in my studio really working, for the first time in two years yesterday when my hunny came in with a PACKAGE FROM KIM!! YAYAYAYAY!!
    I can't believe i scored that cobalt blue aromatherapy bottle & the 'sea glass' bead trio :D :D i'm a lucky girl.

    I'm gearing up to kick arse on my physical & occupational therapy & get as much use out of my left hand and then my body as possible - after all I now have a beautiful painted pony ("Playing Mustang") that a wonderful T.O.P.P. (trail of painted ponies) official artist Fab(eyenne) Leydecker want to collaborate with ME (MOI!!) on!!

    I'm so excited about it, the pony is stunning & I am going to 'embellish it' with cabs, & custom silver work & hopefully a little chasing - on both the silver & the leather to give it a very unique, wild west look. I'm so honored & JAZZED she asked me to work with her - if you haven't added her as a friend on FB - DO SO!! or add her Gallery Page, Copper Fox Gallery (she's in Nova Scotia) & does beautiful paintings, sculpture & of course the Ponies... :D :D

    ••Anywhoo, I saw your mention of the flying critters cramping your creative style & i just saw this odd but possibly really helpful not posted on FB by a friend the other day....HOW TO GET RID OF FLIES (i hope it works, i haven't been in my 'booth' for ages, so please let me know):


    lesson from the pizza guy...take a med size zip loc bag, fill it half with water, drop a penny in it, leave the top part way open, nail it by your more flies...
    (courtesy of ~Diana Niebylski / FB)

    ~peace & MUCH love out there you guys,

    Holly Sharpe-Moore ||
    Santa Fe, NM

  4. AAAHHH the night shift...hmmmm I do that alot here in Florida, I take my iPod with a audiobook, and go to my bead hut and can work for hours, sometimes till 3-4 am before I stop, I know its a process to make a bead, I've been doing it for years, but reading your blog and seeing each step we as beaders do to get a single bead ready excust me lol, sometime I think....did ya have to make so many last night??? and I happily tell myself yes, if just for me..

    I am still hoping to see beads to fit Brendas ring someday in your Beadshop...

    Enjoy your night shift and when I'm working mine I'll think fondly of you and your most lovely beads..


  5. Thanks for your comments everyone! And Holly - you go! Sounds like you're ready to explode with creativity! Thanks for the fly tip. I've seen plastic bag by doors before, but not with the penny and all.... hmmmm....... worth a try!

  6. Hi Kim,

    I plan to buy some beads from you but I was waiting until you list some of the ones in this blog post. I'm particularly interested in the the aqua colored ones. Will you be putting them in your bead shop? I didn't see them there but maybe I missed them.

    Love your work!

  7. Hi Pam - those beads were all sold. Fresh batches will be posted in early September. Thanks for checking in!

  8. Kim - I really enjoy reading your blog, but especially enjoyed this post. I had no idea it took so much time and love to make your beads! I will treasure each one I have even more, knowing all that goes into them. Keep up the awesome work!!



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