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  • Writer's picturesallyinstpaul

Bead Organization and My DIY Bead Soup Earring Project + OOTD

With a couple hundred DIY stretch bracelets {tutorial} in my collection, most of them in paper bead bracelet sets {tutorial 1 & 2}, I am switching gears a bit in my DIY jewelry making. This doesn't mean that I don't still have a lot of bracelets I haven't shown you yet coming to future blog posts (I have so many), but I am on a break from making new ones right now.

After I finally caught up with the mass glazing of my last set of paper beads {tutorial} and making bracelets from them this summer, I decided to take on a major organization of my (non-paper) beads with a new direction in mind: making my own earrings...that are not the world's easiest DIY earrings in which you add beads to a pre-made earring hoop and connect them to French hook ear wires. You've seen me wear the world's easiest DIY hoop style earrings like this for a while (and truly, I love making and wearing them) but I am in the mood to try my hand at a different style of earring.

World's easiest DIY hoop earrings
World's easiest DIY hoop earrings

To facilitate this new project, I switched up how I stored my beads, and I have to tell you, it took me quite a while to get everything sorted out (in part because I kept buying more beads!). This is what I did...

First I divided up my beads by color family - red, blue, aqua/teal, yellow, grey, etc. I know some people organize by some other criteria first, but for me, I choose beads based primarily on their color. Next I separated them based on how many I had of a specific kind of bead, using basically four categories: a single bead, 2 beads, several (3+) beads, a good number of beads. Some of my beads were already separated out from each other, but I have purchased jumbled up random bead mixes quite a few times, and I had to sort them all out to see how many of each bead I had (which definitely took some time!). Then I put the beads into containers based on the color family, number of beads, and more specific color grouping. Here's what my green section looks like, for example:

Bead organization

The "bead soup" bin contains my singleton beads. The small "2" and "3+" bins have my smaller number of beads. And the larger bins at the bottom are where I put beads that I have a good number of. (You'll see that I do have an odd "Green - Warm - Many" small box because I had overflow after filling the larger "Green - Warm Olive Lime" bin.) You can't see it in this photo, but I also have another bin behind these that contains all my green seed beads, each kind stored in their own baggie.

Here's an example of a "2" bin containing pairs of beads (and some extra similar-but-not-exactly-the-same beads I fit in on the right). (All of these photos were taken after I put together a bunch of earrings, so they are looking a little picked over.)

Bead organization

Here's an example of a "3" bin containing beads which I have a few or several of, but not like an entire strand worth. Sometimes I put more than one kind of bead into a compartment to make use of the space (and because I could use the money not spent on extra bead storage containers to buy more beads instead!).

Bead organization

Here's an example of a "bead soup" bin containing singleton beads. (This one makes me wonder: green bead soup or green bean soup?)

Bead organization

This sounds kind of crazy, right, to sub-divide the beads so specifically based on the number? But there is a method to my madness because I was already looking ahead to my DIY Bead Soup Earring Project.

For this project, I wanted to identify the beads where I have just a few of them and challenge myself to make earrings using them. Earrings are the perfect project when you only have a couple of a given kind of bead because you really only need two beads that are alike. So I separated out the singletons (not useful for this project) and put them into the undifferentiated bead soup container. (But don't worry - I have ideas for them too!) And I separated out the beads I have quite a few of that I could use for bracelet or necklace projects. This allowed me to focus on the beads I have somewhere in the range of "a couple to several" for my earring project.

My project took on a more specific direction when I noticed how often the beading YouTubers I watch would make a jewelry set of matching necklace + earrings or bracelet + earrings or all three for their own use or to sell. And I heard designers talk about how if you are going to sell your jewelry, it's good practice to have the pieces of a set available because people like to buy, gift, and wear jewelry that way. And when they say "set," they mean made from the same beads. I found that interesting because even though I own and have even bought for myself some jewelry sets, I never (I think I can safely say truly never) wear the pieces of the set together. I like wearing coordinating jewelry, but the completely matching set is just a bit too much matching for me. (I am absolutely not saying that there is anything wrong with liking or wearing completely matching sets! Style is so personal anyway, and jewelry preferences are extremely personal.)

But all this "matching set" stuff did give me the idea that it sure would be fun to make some DIY earrings to match/coordinate - in colors and motif, but not using the exact same beads - with my DIY paper bead bracelet sets. And that I would make these earrings from my bead soup. So that's what I have been working on lately.

Now for a point of clarification: Most beaders use the term "bead soup" to refer to any small number of beads, often leftover from other projects, that are thrown together in a bowl rather than sorted back out into their primary bead storage. It's just like making a big bowl of vegetable soup from whatever leftover veggies you have in your refrigerator - a few carrots, a couple stalks of celery, half an onion, etc. I'm calling my earrings "DIY Bead Soup Earrings" because I am also going to my stash of small numbers of beads in making them; I have just organized them a bit in advance so that I could start designing with them more quickly. The bin that I call "bead soup" that is my thrown together in a bowl collection happens to include single beads right now. So ironically, I am ignoring my "bead soup" bins when making bead soup earrings! But for the typical person, their bead soup bin would contain plenty of pairs of beads that they could pull to make bead soup earrings.

My method has been to start with my "2" bins and look for beads there, then proceed to my "3" bins next, only going to the boxes of numerous beads if I have run out of a color I needed. I have kept all my spacer beads and charms available to supplement the colorful beads in designing the earrings. This has been a really fun challenge, and I have found (as is so often the case) that by limiting my options to a smaller subset of beads, it's been easier to design the earrings and the results are a little more interesting and varied than they would otherwise be.

I have a confession to make here: When I started my DIY Bead Soup Earrings project, I had never made a simple loop or a wrapped loop, the two absolutely essential basic skills needed for stacking beads on a head pin or eye pin and making them into an earring. I am getting a lot of practice with loops on this project, though (which was part of my cunning plan), and I'm definitely getting better. But I am by no means representing myself as an expert here, so be gentle; no loop-shaming ;) You know how pilots say that a good landing lets you walk away from the plane in one piece, and a great landing means you can use the plane again? A good loop lets you wear the earring as one piece, and a great loop means you can wear the earring again!

So with that, I'll introduce a pair of earrings I made to coordinate with a paper bead bracelet set that I wore earlier this week! At the left is my paper bead bracelet set and associated glass/stone bracelets in a black, red, beige, and gold color palette. I was able to dig up 3 pairs of wood beads in red, black, and beige for my earrings, which I supplemented with some plastic spacer beads of different shapes/sizes but all in the same shade of gold. I stacked them up on a head pin, made a simple loop at the top, connected them to French hook ear wires, and boom, done. Now the eagle-eyed among you might notice that neither the red nor the beige beads are identical to each other. Yep, they are slightly different. But the nice thing about earrings is you wear them separated by your entire head, so no one will be comparing them side-by-side like this. So I'm giving myself some wiggle room in selecting my pairs of beads on a "they match closely enough" basis.

Bead soup earrings

This is an extremely simple kind of earring, which I heard Kate Richbourg jokingly refer to as "3 beads on a stick" in one of her videos. I have decided to call them "stack earrings" instead, if for no other reason than because I am varying the number of beads on my sticks, but Kate's description rings true. (My husband pointed out that if you were going to sell earrings at the state fair, calling them "beads on a stick" would be perfect.)

When I told my mom about this project, she had a good question: Was I going to store the earrings for each set with their bracelets? And the answer is YES! As I showed in my recent bracelet organization post, I put the paper bead bracelets for each set in its own labeled envelope and organize them in shoe boxes. Now I am adding the earrings to the same envelope.

Bead soup earrings
Bead soup earrings

Storing the earrings this way involves a trade-off between (1) the ease of finding the earrings that go with any particular set of bracelets and (2) the flexibility of wearing the earrings with something other than its set. In other words, a classic case of convenience versus efficiency. In my case, I decided that I don't mind too much if I only/mostly wear the earrings with their designated bracelet set and don't have them as readily available to wear in other situations. (Of course, I might wear a different pair of earrings with the bracelet set instead, but I like having them right there as a good default option.)

Having the most minimal amount of jewelry to meet my needs is obviously not my biggest concern, and I'm not placing a lot of value on efficiency in this project. I have a lot of small numbers of beads to make a lot of earrings, and I could use the practice with my loops, so the more, the merrier! And as you can see from this first pair of earrings made from colorful wood beads and plastic spacer beads, at least some of these earrings will be very inexpensive in terms of the materials, so it's not like I need to wear each of the pairs as much as possible to get my value out of them, you know?

I plan on making at least one pair of earrings for every bracelet set I have. For some, I've already put together two pairs. I also started selecting beads to make some stand-alone earring pairs that will not be associated with any bracelet set, just like I have stand alone bracelets. There will no doubt be some overlap in color scheme as I go, and that's fine. I don't mind if I end up with, say, three different pairs of beige/black/red/gold earrings because they will vary in size, shape, and materials.

Now for the outfit I wore my new bead soup earrings with...

In this late summer/early fall period, I start wearing darker colors more often and start layering with pieces that are a little heavier than what I wear at the peak of summer. This outfit is a really good example of that because I have a knit black tuxedo jacket (sleeves rolled up, of course) with a short-sleeved knit top (that is a bit warm because of its polyester content) and a lined skirt in camel silk. It's got some darker colors and materials reaching for fall balanced out with some lighter colors and bare legs (and nude-to-me shoes) left over from summer.

Plus size outfit idea for women over 40
OOTD 9/18/23

I picked up the red and purple colors from the top in selecting my necklaces. This is a very simple two-necklace neck mess, but it punches above its weight because the red one is a three-strand necklace by itself. The red didn't stand out against the black quite as much as I'd expected (because the beads aren't fully opaque), but I was satisfied with it.

Plus size outfit idea for women over 40

My daily bracelet stack is, of course, based on the paper bead bracelet set that I designed the earrings to coordinate with. And that paper bead set was itself inspired by this top! {Page to bead post} The top has a lot of different colors in it, so I selected the black and beige neutrals and the red accent color for this particular bracelet set, finishing it with the gold metallic, then used the same colorway in the earrings.

DIY paper bead bracelet set

And finally, here's a close up of the earrings. I don't like to wear very large, heavy, or long earrings, so my DIY bead soup earrings like these will be a bit on the under-stated side in terms of size. And they are a very basic "3 beads on a stick/stacked earring" style as discussed earlier. Nevertheless, I think this pair has some impact due to the multiple colors in it, and the variety of shapes stacked together adds interest. In this outfit, I like that the beige/cream wood bead at the bottom stands out nicely against the black jacket.

Bracelet organization

Do you like to buy/wear jewelry sets? Do you wear the pieces more often together or separately? Do you ever make your own earrings?

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