Secret Lives: Style maven of beaded jewellery a Swarovski ambassador

This is the sixth in a series of "secret lives" stories, showcasing the breadth of interests and hobbies that York staff pursue in their free time.

It’s amazing what Stephanie Dixon of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts can do with a standard crochet hook, a little wire and an assortment of beads. What started as a childhood desire to crochet has morphed into a passion for creating beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. In doing so, Dixon has become an ambassador of style. 

“I’m known for beading wire with a crochet hook,” says Dixon, whose interest in beading and jewellery was stoked early on by her Aunt Penny, a weaver and beader who collected vintage jewellery. As a child, Dixon couldn’t wait to see what new pieces of vintage jewellery Aunt Penny had collected since she last visited her in the Adirondacks of New York state. But it was attending a creative festival with her more than a decade ago to see William Hodge, a beader and fibre artist, that really cranked up Dixon’s desire to create her own jewellery.

Left: Stephanie Dixon displays and wears some of her beaded creations, including a necklace made with Swarovski crystal beads

“What he [Hodge] could do with beads just amazed me and a light went off in my head,” says Dixon, an administrative assistant to the chair in York’s Department of Film. It took another several years for the ideas to percolate and for Dixon to turn her creative eye to beading, but once she did, she couldn’t stop. She has hundreds of completed necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings in shades of purple, green, burnt orange, blue, silver, copper and her favourites – turquoise and browns. “Most of my work is very organic,” she says. The ideas will sometimes incubate for weeks before Dixon brings them to life.

“Sometimes you never know what it’s going to turn out like,” she says. “The evolution of how it turns out is very exciting.” The weight of the beads, the colours, shape and texture and the gauge of wire, all go into the mix. And Dixon only works with glass – never plastic – beads. Some of the beads she makes herself. There are various kinds of beads, including fire polished beads, lampwork beads, seed beads, gemstones/semi-precious beads, metal beads and crystal beads.

For necklaces, Dixon crochets wire, interspersing beads in various shapes, colours and designs as she goes. Usually, she makes six strands of crocheted wire with beads then braids them together. Each design is unique. Some people do a technique that’s called bead stringing, but that’s not for Dixon. She finds the beads too small and fiddly. “Wire bead crochet is my comfort zone,” she says.

Right: A crocheted beaded necklace designed and crafted by Stephanie Dixon

Dixon makes custom-ordered jewellery, teaches classes as beadFX and Bead Junction, both bead stores in the Toronto area, and travels to shows, such as the recent Bead & Button Show in Milwaukee, touted as the biggest consumer bead show in the world. Most of her classes fill up. “People are constantly asking me for more classes,” she says. “Everyone wants to learn it and I want to teach it.” It’s a perfect match.

Dixon is almost as passionate about sharing her techniques with anyone who is interested as she is about making her own designs. “What really sparks my interest is seeing that moment in others when they get excited and inspired by something new and they start to believe in themselves. When they leave the class they are confident and inspired and they always leave with a finished piece,” says Dixon. She even taught a group of girls at a birthday party. “It was so much fun. I had such a glorious time.”

Dixon has made quite a name for herself in the beading world. She regularly participates in celebrity challenges through beadFX, where two celebrity designers are given identical beads and supplies. They are then given about four weeks to show how the same beads can be used to create completely different designs.

Left: A demonstration of crocheting with wire and beads

Recently, Dixon was named one of two Create Your Style with Crystallized – Swarovski Elements Ambassadors in Canada. There are only about 30 in the world. “It’s such an exclusive group,” says Dixon. It means she will have input on their product development, provide feedback on applications and techniques, and hold workshops on working with Swarovski crystal beads, pendants, rivets, mesh and yarn. “I have all sorts of ideas going on in my head,” says Dixon. “For me it’s all about colour and the process of creating.”

In addition, Bead Unique magazine and have both asked Dixon to submit designs. She is a member and volunteer coordinator for the Toronto Bead Society and a member of the Toronto Hookups Crochet Guild – combining two of her loves. The others are baseball, hockey and her son Declan, who also beads, except he makes chain mail.

Right: A crocheted choker by Stephanie Dixon

Her heart is almost as large as her collection of works. She delights in the joy her creations bring to others, and so Dixon donates her work to the Children’s Aid Foundation’s Corsage Project, which gives high school girls in need an opportunity to choose from an array of donated formal gowns, accessories and shoes for their prom. Last year, she donated 25 sets of necklaces and earrings, which the girls get to keep. “I was there and was personally able to match the necklaces and earrings to their dresses. They loved that,” she says. “There were a few tears shed that day.”

She also donated her jewellery designs to McLaughlin College’s silent auction last year in celebration of its 40th anniversary, just one example of how she gives back. Dixon was recently appointed a Fellow of McLaughlin College at York in recognition of her volunteerism.

Just over the crest of 40, Dixon says: “Life is everything I would hope it to be.”

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer