Melissa Barber

I have always loved beads. I still have a mustard yellow tackle box full of the first beads in my now enormous bead collection (there's still room for more beads...somewhere in here...) and separating by color and design was a delightful chore. I'm surprised even now that I had such rarities as 11/0 seed beads as a middle school kid.

Originally from Midcoast Maine, I moved to Portland after graduating from the University of Southern Maine in 2011. After a year working in retail, I was lucky enough to be hired at Caravan Beads to work in the retail store. (This is where it gets good.) I wanted to learn everything I could about beads, beaders, technique, color and design. I've now worked at Caravan Beads for three years and I can definitely say I've still got a lot to learn!

My favorite technique is kumihimo, the ancient Japanese braiding style that has so many varieties I'm certain I could spend a lifetime just making braids. I've developed a unique style to my kumihimo necklaces, pairing many different types of beads together in a necklace. I love to work with pearls, gemstones, crystal, glass beads and of course Miyuki beads.

I use C-Lon® with all of my necklaces and the various sizes make it easy to use with small-hole beads. I have also started braiding chain into my pieces for a different looking design. Each necklace takes at least six hours to design, plan and execute -- and sometimes many more hours of un-braiding, redesigning and trying again...and again.

I started braiding using the foam disk widely available, but found for my pieces I really needed to invest in a marudai, a traditional wooden stand for kumihimo. After using a nicely made 16-inch tall wooden maple stand ( I knew I would never switch back to the foam disk. Last September I designed my ideal marudai and had it made by a local woodworker, Gary Baldwin. It's an absolutely gorgeous piece of art that I now get to work with on all my kumihimo creations. Great (and beautiful) tools make all the difference!

I also dabble in many types of beadweaving (check out my Helios earrings, an original design using half tilas) as well as pearl knotting, bead embroidery, leather wrap bracelets and anything else that looks interesting and fun. I sell at local craft fairs and on my etsy shop, .

I teach a few different classes at Caravan Beads, and it's always a delight to work with many different people on different projects, seeing other people's color schemes and ideas. Having a table full of people learning kumihimo, laughing together and telling stories about our history with beads (and our pets) has been so much fun these last few years, I can't wait to see what else lies ahead.

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