School Blog

Beading Gem: how the Web is transforming crafts

One of Pearl Blay's designs, featured on Jewelry Geeks

Whether it's pearl stringing or neuroeconomics, the Web is full of people actively pursuing their passions. It's easier than ever before to find others who share your interests. I caught up with beadwork teacher Pearl Blay, aka 'The Beading Gem', and asked her a few questions about beadwork, teaching and learning beading and how she uses the Web to help fuel her passion for beads.

Me: How did you get into beadwork? Did you teach yourself, or find a particularly inspiring teacher?
Pearl: My mother loves jewelry and is still an amazing bead embroiderer. I've always crafted - knitting and dressmaking were my earlier passions. For a long time I wanted to make my own jewelry and once I actually started, I was hooked! I find jewelry making to be far more rewarding because most projects take so much less time than knitting a sweater or making a dress and the end products are very pretty! There are also so many different disciplines to explore beyond the simplest bead stringing that as an artisan, there is lots of room for growth.
Me: Are you a full-time beader, and is this common? What proportion of your time is spent making/selling beadwork versus teaching others?
Pearl: No, beading is a part-time business for me. Very few beaders are lucky enough to do it full time i.e. depend on beading as the sole source of income. Most of us do it because it is our passion and a way to express our creativity. Selling jewelry or beading supplies and teaching the craft are also ways to help fund the addiction for more beads! I'd say I spend roughly half the time teaching and half the time making and selling jewelry.
Me: How do you use the Web? How much time do you spend online, and what do you spend it on?
I think I spend way too much time on the web! Every spare moment if I have it. I rarely watch TV so my screen time is nearly all computing. I am a naturally curious person, and love learning about all sorts of different things besides jewelry making.
I'm also a blogging addict. I author my own jewelry blog, which is updated daily. The Beading Gem's Journal is where I write about beginner beader creations as well inspirational artisans' work. I also use Web to find source material for entertaining articles on jewelry, beads, gemstones and biographies of people through their jewelry. It's my way of sharing what I have seen and learnt, and to build a community of beaders who share my interests. I also participate in forums and on social networking sites specifically for jewelry makers like
Me: Do you think much has changed in the crafting world as a result of the internet?
Pearl: Without a doubt, the internet has revolutionised the crafting world: we now have so much more available to us. We're no longer limited to what we can get or who we can meet locally. Our crafting networks extend to all corners of the world. I think that is fantastic as it broadens our views and enriches our experiences.
Me: Do you, and other beadwork teachers, spend more time teaching face to face? Do you prefer creating downloadable tutorials or teaching in the flesh?
Pearl: I love teaching and inspiring others. I get a big thrill when beginners insist they are not creative, and end up with a fabulous piece of jewelry at the end of the afternoon. The incredulous looks on some of the beaders' faces really makes my day. One actually told me that she couldn't believe that she had made something she would wear in public! It's really about encouragement and support to give beginners that sense of accomplishment and in some cases, self-worth. So for me, teaching face to face is preferable.
Teaching in the flesh has two requirements, though, which may not appeal to all. You have to like interacting with all kinds of people and also have a place to teach if it's not to be your home. So many accomplished beaders teach via their tutorials, which also means they can reach a wider audience than their local area.

Click here to see Pearl's beading teacher profile on School of Everything

Click here to browse School of Everything for more beaders

Education Unbound

I was on a panel chaired by Matt Locke of Channel 4 a couple of weeks ago, talking about the impact of social technologies on education and the classroom.

Here's me introducing School of Everything and explaining the ideas behind the project and what we're trying to achieve by connecting people online:

Listen to Andy at Education Unbound, 8 October 2008

You can also hear the other speakers (Dan Sutch, David Noble and Catherine Howell) on the Online Creative Communications blog, and also read an interesting commentary on the event from Andy Thornton at the Citizenship Foundation.

Updated: OnlineCC have now also put up highlights of the rest of the debate, including me talking about the role of relationships and social network mapping in education:

Listen to Andy's follow-up comments at Education Unbound

Beading Websites: Five of the Best

(Photo: mollycakes via Flickr)

Inspired by some of the fantastic beading teachers on School of Everything, I've been looking around for great beading resources online. Here are my five picks for great beading websites, including beading supplies, projects, patterns and discussion.

Five Great Beading Websites

1) Bead Magazine

The first UK magazine devoted to the craft of beading, Bead magazine launched in 2006 to a delighted response and has been growing fast since then. Along with beading discussion forums and the print magazine, the latest addition to Bead's stable is Bead TV, where you can view live videos of beading techniques for beginner and advanced alike. Plus - not that we're biased - Bead magazine's editor Jean Power is listed on School of Everything as a teacher!

2) Fire Mountain Gems

Fire Mountain Gems is a US-based website centred around beading supplies. Along with a huge stock of beads and beading supplies, the site has a gallery of over 5,000 beading designs, along with free beading instructions and much more. So whether you're ordering from the US or based elsewhere, the site is definitely worth a look.

3) Beading Daily

Is it a newsletter? Is it a blog? Is it a community? It's all of those things. Beading Daily publishes new free beading projects every day, along with a free newsletter, and hosts a lively and friendly forum discussing all things bead-related.

4) Jewelry Lessons

Jewelry Lessons is a community of jewelry makers sharing knowledge through tutorials, articles and tips. Members can write beading articles and tutorials, share beading patterns, and choose whether their submissions are offered free or as a paid download. By writing, members also earn points that can then be redeemed against paid tutorials and other rewards. There's less free stuff than some beading websites, but the community is engaged and there's lots to learn here.

5) Katie's Beading Blog

I really love this blog. It drew me in and made me want to learn more. Long-time beading expert Katie Hacker shares beading links, snippets from her books, video clips showing her at work, and lots of links to ideas, galleries and events by someone with huge knowledge in the field.

One of the best things about working at School of Everything is learning about new subjects all the time. But of course there's always someone out there who knows tons more about each thing than me (thanks go out especially to 'Sheila', 'jsmaz' and 'troll' on the Beading Daily forums for their suggestions!). So: are there beading sites out there that I haven't found yet but should be mentioned? Comments and suggestions please!

Learn beading! Click here to search School of Everything for local arts and crafts teachers.

Friday video fun

Here's a little (educational) Friday video fun for you all.

They Might Be Giants, one of my favourite bands from my teenage years, doing a cover of the 50s educational song "Why does the sun shine?". Because who says learning can't be fun?

Anyone out there know of good educational songs that don't suck? Send them in and add them to the school playlist!

Have a good weekend everyone, see you all at school bright and early on Monday morning.

Valerie is co-winner of the WI-Icon competition!

About a month ago, I wrote about the WI-Icon competition on this blog - a contest to find the ultimate Women's Institute member. School of Everything teacher Valerie Wood-Gaiger was up for the prize, and it was my hope that our community could help her win it by voting Valerie.

She's just emailed School of Everything to say that she's co-winner of the prize. She says:

"It was amazing, humbling, that so many people voted for me. Friends and friends of friends; People I know and love and people I have never met or am even likely to. I know that people from eastern Ukraine to the west coast of USA - From Latvia to Australia voted for me. That is truly amazing!"

So thank you to everyone who helped out by voting Valerie. She's going to use the prize money to start work on some new projects, including a directory of affordable days out for grandparents and their children, and more work to help grandparents get to grips with the Web.

If you can help with any of these projects, get in touch with her. Click here to visit Valerie's teaching profile.

Best of Everything: Ten Great Knitting Websites

To celebrate the Knitting Institute's National Knitting Week next week (12-19 October) and the fact that we have some great knitting teachers on School of Everything, I've been looking around at what's available online for knitters. So here's our pick of 10 websites for all things knitting.

10 Great Knitting Websites

1) Ravelry

US-based Ravelry comes top of the list, because it's one of the oldest and almost certainly the largest knitting and crochet community (nearly 200,000 users - wow). Ravelry's members can use the site to organise projects, show off work, share ideas, knitting patterns and techniques, find new designs and yarns and much more. They're trying to grow slowly so the site doesn't get overstrained, so there's a waiting list to join. But if you sign up to the list, they currently say they'll let you in in just a few days.

2) Stitch N Bitch

Stitch N Bitch comes second, as we love that it's less about online interaction than meeting up. There are Stitch N Bitch groups all over the place - just look up in the directory to find your nearest source of knitters. If you can't find a group, there are tips for starting your own group.

3) British Hand Knitting Association

The British Hand Knitting Association is a huge resource listing knitting news, free knitting patterns, knitting groups by city/area, knitting artists, competitions, picture galleries and tons of other resources. A great way to find a UK introduction to communities around knitting.

4) Prick Your Finger

Disclosure: Prick Your Finger is just around the corner from Everything HQ, and sometimes we come across Rachel sitting outside spinning in the street on our way to lunch. More disclosure: Prick Your Finger boasts classes by Aneeta Patel of Knitting SOS, a long-standing friend of Everything who taught Team Everything how to knit back in January. But that's only a tiny bias - it's a beautiful site, and the Prick Your Finger blog has great links and inspiration for the wild and inventive world of art, fashion and activist knitting.

5) The Yarn Harlot

Canadian-born Stephanie Pearl McPhee's award-winning site The Yarn Harlot is possibly the best-read knitting blog in the world, according to Katy at Knitting magazine. And that's saying something. Knitting conferences, patterns, musings on life, love and wool - there's masses here, going back years, in an informal but inspiring style.

6) MicroRevolt

Started by knitter Cat Mazza in 2003, MicroRevolt promotes knitting as a way of tackling sweatshop exploitation. An amazing example of how people are using crafts to tackle social issues. And there's also a super-cool app that lets you convert corporate logos into patterns suitable for any knitting or needlepoint project.

7) Free Knitting and Crochet Patterns on Flickr

We're big Flickr fans at Everything HQ, so I've included the Flickr Free Knitting and Crochet Patterns pool. People upload pictures of great things they've created, and add links to the pattern so you can make it yourself. From wooolly toy kittens to evil ninja minions to scarves, socks and everything else, you can start with the picture and get knitting from there. Though it's less a single site than a space where lots of people collaborate, I love that it's such a creative use of photo sharing.

8) Free Patterns

The best knitting pattern site I found was Free Patterns. Though more dedicated knitters might want to browse a range of blogs and spaces for inspiration, Free Patterns has over 2,900 patterns available for download, so it's a great place to start. You need to register to download patterns but it's regularly updated and there's a list of the most popular patterns.

9) Knitting Forums

The liveliest dedicated knitting forum I found was Knitting Forums. Run by Angel Yarns, it's the UK's favourite knitting forum with discussion across knitting and other wool-based crafts.

10) Knitting on Livejournal

Tenth place was a tie between two Livejournal knitting communities. Knitting is a fairly mainstream knitting community with over 8,000 members, while Punk Knitters is an alternative knitting community with over 4,000 members.

Picking these sites was a daunting task, and ten sites is far too few for such a huge subject. So please tell me, knitters: what do you think? Have I missed anything?

Click here to browse School of Everything for a knitting or craft teacher near you.

We've finally got some badges!

It took us a while, but we've finally made some badges and buttons for you to use on your blogs and websites.

So please put a badge on your site and link to us, or better still link to your own profile. Download them at

And let us know what you think of them, or make your own weird and wonderful versions and send them to us. Our brand guidelines are "go on, we don't care"!

Finding amazing adult learners

My mother left school with no qualifications. But after she'd started a family, and the three of us were old enough to be more independent, she started looking around for what she should do next. She did a degree with the Open University, trained as a teacher and now - at the age of 60 - has just been ordained as a minister.

Everyone knows people like my mum, who have taken an unconventional path through life but have stayed curious, kept learning new things, and kept increasing their appetite for new ideas and experiences. At School of Everything, we're passionate about helping everyone teach and learn how, when, and in the way that best suits them. So when we heard that adult learning organisation NIACE's Adult Learners' Week campaign has just opened nominations for the 2009 Adult Learners Award, we wanted to make sure to spread the word!

Last year's winners included a woman who sat her exams - even though she was in labour and about to give birth - and a 57-year-old zookeeper studying zoo biology. Read more about last year's winners here.

Do you know someone like them, or like my mum, who've just kept on learning? Celebrate what they've achieved, by nominating them for the award.

Looking to kick-start your own learning? Click here to start browsing for teachers on School of Everything.

Hugo's Spanish lesson

One of the things we're trying to do with School of Everything is create a more flexible way of organising your learning, so that it fits with your life and your needs. A nice example of this came up the other week.

After several months of hard coding, Hugo from Team Everything had booked a few days holiday in Madrid. Not wanting to come across as the stereotypical Brit abroad, he decided to do a bit of homework, and spent the last few weeks teaching himself basic Spanish from a book. Then, through the site, he found Roger Ribo who teaches Spanish and lives round the corner from our office in Bethnal Green - and they arranged a two hour crash course for the afternoon before Hugo left.

Roger in the Everything office

"Roger was quiet, but really friendly," says Hugo. "He's originally from Barcelona, but he's been living in London for three years now, and he also teaches drama."

Were they really able to cover much in one afternoon?

"We went over things like numbers and directions, and he gave me lots of information on how you structure what you say in Spanish. For example, the book I'd been using taught me all the formal ways to say things, but Roger told me no one would ever talk like that, unless you were talking to your grandmother!"

And did it come in handy when he got to Madrid?

"Well, I spent a lot of time with Spanish friends who speak English. But when I first arrived at the station, I was able to ask: Tiene un mapa de Madrid por favor?* It's a good feeling when you're in someone else's country, to be able to use the language a bit."

Learning Spanish can mean all kinds of things. Sometimes what you need is a regular evening class to really get to grips with the language, and sometimes it's just a brush-up session the day before you go on holiday. We hope School of Everything can cover both ends of this spectrum, and other possibilities in between. Like we've said from the start, the aim is "to help anyone in the world learn what they want, when, where and in a way which suits them."

* Do you have a map of Madrid, please?

Browsing the Human Library

There's a great concept which I've been hearing about for years called the Human Library. As the name suggests, it's a library which loans out people instead of books. For the Danish guys who came up with it, the purpose was quite specific:

The people represent social groups which often encounter prejudices and stereotypes, and are exposed to discrimination and exclusion, e.g. politicians, homosexuals, social workers and gang members. The aim is to break down prejudices and forge contacts between people who might not normally meet.

A borrower gets matched up with someone whose story will challenge their assumptions and the pair spend half an hour talking over a coffee.

This is a wonderful idea, and one that could be extended beyond its usefulness for confronting prejudice. Think of all the contexts in which it would be great to spend a little time with someone with a particular experience or expertise - for careers advice, maybe, or a project for school or work, or just to get answers to some questions that have really been bugging you.

I was reminded of this by a fantastic blog post I read last week - 'Will Explain Physics For Food...?'. The author, Clifford V. Johnson, a professor at the University of Southern California, recently got an email out of the blue from a lawyer:

Turns out that in their spare time, he and his law partner spend time discussing and arguing about physics concepts such as General and Special Relativity, and Cosmology. They’d got to a point where they were confused about various details. The popular level books that they were reading did not really do it for them in terms of getting them past certain concepts and they thought that they’d just contact a physicist and ask.

Clifford's response was enthusiastic:

Learning of members of the general public being interested in discussing physics just out of general interest is music to my ears! I consider explaining physics to members of the general public as part of my job - my duty as a scientist.

So the three of them met for lunch and spent two hours talking physics, an experience that was clearly valuable all round, and which left Clifford wondering about the broader possibilities for meeting new people through a shared interest in particular topics.

What alerted me to his post was a comment from another physics blogger, Jasper Palfree, who suggested that School of Everything would be a great platform for organising just this kind of one-off, informal learning. (Jasper himself is now signed up to explain physics over coffee to anyone in the Toronto area!)

Reading Clifford's post, it's clear that there could be a role for School of Everything as a "human library" for the public understanding of science. What other areas of knowledge and experience would it be most valuable to make accessible in this way, I wonder? And are there organisations or networks we should be talking to about this?

Don't be shy, say hello. We'd love to hear from you.

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