| Spark Your Creativity with a Beading Challenge
Do you ever find your creative juices needs a little boost? Need to get over a dreaded case of "beader's block"? Take some advice from our guest blogger Mortira and give yourself a beading challenge!
Wire Wrapping Woes
I talked to a customer on the phone recently who was having some serious wire woes. She was trying to wire wrap a pendant but just couldn’t get it right. It turns out that the wire she was using was all wrong. This is a very common problem, actually—especially for beginning beaders. Even people who are more experienced find that a wire used for one project may not be the best wire for a different project. With so many options, how do you choose? Luckily, there are a few guidelines you can follow when selecting your wire.
Colourcraft/Artistic Wire – If you are completely new to working with wire, I would suggest using Colourcraft or Artistic Wire. Both are colored copper wires, so they are much more affordable than working with Sterling Silver Wire. I personally prefer Artistic Wire when I want to use silver wire because the silver coloring is brighter and more permanent than Colourcraft’s version. Colourcraft does come in all kinds of fun colors—from red to green to black—and is great for making fun rings.
Which Gauge? - The lower the number, the harder the wire; therefore, 16 gauge is a lot harder than 24 gauge. If you are new to wire wrapping and making loops, I would suggest starting with a 22 or 24 gauge because you will learn technique without killing your hands. You may also find that beads with small holes, such as pearls, will only fit on a 22 or 24 gauge wire. I almost exclusively use a 21 or 22 gauge wire to make drops for bracelets or earrings unless I am working with pearls. I have found that 20 gauge is best for making rings because it is flexible enough to wrap around a ring mandrel but sturdy enough to maintain its shape when worn. I would also say that 20 gauge is great for simple wire wrapped pendant; if you want to do lots of intricate work with your wire, you might want to use a 22 gauge instead. The heavier gauges, such as 16 and 18, are generally used for making your own jump rings and clasps, chokers, bangle or cuff bracelets and other heavy items. Since gauge sizes are uniform, the above information holds true whether you are working with Artistic or Colourcraft wire or sterling silver. Sterling Silver Wire will have two differences though.
As with almost everything in the bead world, practice makes perfect and you will find that you have your own preferences. Don’t be afraid to learn something new—like making a simple wire wrapped bracelet or a basic ring. The more you learn about wire and how to work with it, the easier it will get and the more it will enhance your unique jewelry designs.
Shanna Steele, Auntie’s Beads Designer
Been There, Done That
In my last blog, I talked about the roots of what can only be described as a lifelong beading adventure. Having been a beader off and on for about 15 years now (and having more money at some times than others to invest in my hobby), I have learned a few things about the do’s and don’ts of jewelry making. The following are a few tips and rules for those of you just starting out on your beading journey.
1. Always use high quality crimp beads. Whether you are using silver or gold, try to avoid anything plated or anything that is not tube-like in its appearance. The plated crimp beads are okay for making simple illusion necklaces, but are not sturdy enough to withstand the wear and tear of your beaded jewelry.
2. Do not sacrifice quality for price when it comes to beading wire. Although 49-strand wire may seem expensive, in the long run it will save you time, money, and frustration from having to recreate pieces that have fallen apart due to the use of less durable wire. And although Supplemax is a great product for creating illusion necklaces and woven pieces, it is not sturdy enough to hold strands of beads. Neither is Fireline. (I speak from my experience and the experience of others on this one!)
3. Use the most project appropriate findings and clasps possible in your pieces. It is embarrassing to admit but when I began making jewelry again, I used beading wire and crimped the bottom so it would act as headpin. Though this may seem creative, it was actually not very attractive or very sturdy. And clasps… Don’t even get me started! I used to buy my clasps in bulk and I used the same clasp on every piece of jewelry I made, whether it was delicate or bold and chunky. Now I cringe when I see those old pieces with those plain silver plate toggles. Also, when choosing a clasp, you will want to keep in mind what the finished piece will be. I generally use a lobster and chain at the back of necklaces (so the length is adjustable) and use toggles on bracelets (because they are sturdy, attractive, and easier to take on and off than a lobster clasp).
4. I would never say that you shouldn’t use inexpensive beads; plastic, glass, and base metal beads can make some great fashion jewelry pieces. What I would say is that you should never mix your less expensive beads with your more expensive beads. For example, I probably wouldn’t use Czech glass to create a necklace around a $30 sterling silver pendant. I also probably wouldn’t mix plastic beads with Swarovski crystal. The main reason for this is that you will ultimately devalue your finished piece. Remember: a person’s perceived value of a product is just as important as the actual value.
5. The best advice I can give is to learn, learn, and learn some more! I am a person who does not like to be taught by others. I don’t read instructions and I don’t learn from a classroom environment; I am more about being self-taught and experimentation. Some people, like Karla, find they do better when they have a trusty friend or magazine to help them learn a new technique or skill. However you learn best, learn as much as you can! Take classes, subscribe to beading magazines, look at free online jewelry projects, watch online videos. All of these things will teach you not only new techniques, but what kinds of tools and materials and resources you can use while you learn your new craft. And I believe one of the best things about this hobby is that you never stop learning!
You will get out of this hobby what you put into it and, whether you are selling your pieces or giving them as gifts or keeping them in your own jewelry gift, you want to make sure you are creating nothing but the best. Happy beading!
Auntie’s Beads Designer
Tools Of The Trade
When I first started beading, I am afraid to admit, I didn’t invest in any kind of beading tools. I just used common household tools to get the job done. Now that I have been beading for a while, I know how important my specialized tools are. I thought I would pass along what I have learned about what to use and when for those of you who are still digging around in the garage looking for that specific cutting device or pair of pliers.
1. Nipper Tool - This is probably the most important tool you will ever own. It is a cutting tool that has an angled blade which enables you to get in between beads for a tight, close cut. This tool works best on beading wire and wire that is 20 gauge or softer.
2. Memory Wire Shears - Even if you don’t ever want to work with memory wire, this is a must have item. While your Nipper tool is great for softer wires, its edges can quickly become dulled when used on heavier gauges of wire as well as plated chain; memory wire shears are the perfect solution to the dulling blade problem.
3. Round Nose Pliers - If you ever intend to work with wire at all—whether it be making simple drop beaded earrings or creating stunning wire wrapped work around a pendant – round nose pliers are a necessity.
I personally prefer the Beadsmith “La Femme” Ergo Pliers, Round Nose Pliers because the handles are curved and have a great grip. This helps reduce fatigue and makes wire wrapping much more comfortable.
4. Chain Nose Pliers -These are great for a variety of things: opening jump rings, closing crimp covers, straightening wire loops, making right angle bends in wire, flat crimping, and so on. The best tip I can give about chain nose pliers, though, is this: You will probably actually want to keep two pair handy for opening and closing jump rings; if you try to use a pair of chain nose pliers and a pair of round nose pliers to do the job, your wire will probably get a little dented.
Again, I prefer the Beadsmith Ergo Pliers, Chain Nose With Cutter for the level of comfort the handles provide.
5. Tweezers - I know this may sound like a strange one, but you will be surprised how much you will use and need tweezers in your beadwork. They are a great and inexpensive alternative to Split Ring Pliers. In addition, tweezers can be used when you are weaving if you get tangled or need to undo your work. Bent nose tweezers are particularly great for flat back designs as well as getting into tight spaces when needed.
You will discover what brand of tool you like best as your skill level improves (and through a little buying trial and error), but having your top five tools always handy will make accomplishing your projects much easier—not to mention making your beadwork even more beautiful!
Shanna Steele, Auntie’s Beads Designer
Beating Beader’s Block
Whether or not we like to admit it, it happens to all of us from time to time and when it comes around, we try to pretend it doesn’t exist but there is no avoiding it. I call it beader’s block and it feels like it literally drains every creative juice I have. Because I make a living being creative, people often assume that I am always “on” and full of great ideas and fabulous new designs. The truth is that often times, it seems that because I do make a living being creative, I experience beader’s block more than I ever did when making jewelry was just a hobby and a therapeutic creative outlet for me. So what do I do to work beyond the frustration?
The first thing I do—and I know this is going to sound like the most confusing, contradictory statement ever—is walk away from what is frustrating me. I have learned (starting a few years ago with the eight hour session I spent trying to learn the puffy heart) that getting frustrated gets me nowhere. I start sending myself all sorts of negative messages which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; that is, the more I tell myself I can’t do something, the more I find myself not being able to do that thing. When I feel my frustration growing and the negativity setting in, I simply walk away from whatever project I am working on and wait until I feel my patience, passion, and creativity return before beginning work on that project again.
Now, I am not advocating that you quit beading entirely. What I would advocate instead is working on something with which you are familiar. For example, I make all of the puffy heart pendants available at Auntie’s Beads. One day, while trying to do something new with the right angle weave technique and Supplemax, I kept getting stumped. I started working on puffy hearts that needed replenishing and I began to see a pattern emerge. I got out colored pencils and graph paper and sketched what I was seeing. I quickly put down the puffy heart I was working on and got to work trying to create my vision. The result was one of my favorite pieces to date: my Into The Garden Bracelet . Other great works have emerged as a result of this process so trust me: go with what you know, do something repetitive, and you will begin to see each material you are using in a new way.
Another thing I have learned is that inspiration is EVERYWHERE. When I feel stumped or stuck on a particular thing, I look outside my bead board to find the answer. Nature, for example, has always been a great inspiration to me. Many of my favorite pieces, including my Cornucopia of Leaves Bracelet, Earthly Elegance Necklace and Down By The Sea Necklace (just to name a few) were largely inspired by colors and themes outside my window. In fact, many of the Swarovski crystal mixes I helped create for Auntie’s Beads were inspired by my perception of the natural world.
I also find tremendous inspiration in magazines. By this, I don’t necessarily mean beading magazines. While beading magazines are great for learning a new technique, I have found that my best sources of inspiration are often books or advertisements within fashion magazines and even the Sunday paper. Not only do I see great pieces of jewelry, but I also see great color combinations that I never would have created on my own. Art books can also help in this regard (for those of you who often find yourselves in more of a color rut than a design rut.) I mentioned earlier that the natural world inspired many of our crystal mixes, but several of my color palettes and/or designs have largely been influenced by—but never directly copied from—books, magazines, and advertisements. My Cool Jewel Earrings, for example, were inspired by 2 different sources; the color scheme was inspired by a make-up ad and the style of the earrings was inspired by something I saw in a sales advertisement in the Sunday paper.
Another great source of inspiration for me has always been my closet. I can’t count how many times I have put on an outfit only to discover I don’t have the right pair of earrings to match or the perfect necklace for my neckline. I have discovered that it is best, when creating a piece, to make sure I make a full set—or at least matching pieces so I am never caught without a piece of jewelry. I have also found that when I buy something new and it is a different color scheme or print for me, it often offers endless new design possibilities. So… If the magazines and books and advertisements and outdoors aren’t working for you, try opening up your closet and seeing what inspiration lies within.
The best thing I can say about beating beader’s block is this: work through it however you need to and at your own pace. Don’t get yourself too frustrated and don’t give up! You WILL get through it. My father, who was a graphic designer, once told me that the profession of design essentially boils down to problem solving. You, as a beader, have materials and colors and patterns you need to fit within a certain space. Sometimes it all works well and sometimes something seemingly simple will have you wanting to throw beads across the room. When that happens, try to remember the following: avoid the source of your frustration; work on something familiar; try to see the world (and images) around you with a designer’s eye; and wait for that perfect balance of patience, creativity, and logic to help you produce your next masterpiece!
Shanna Steele, Auntie’s Beads Designer
To Weave Or Not To Weave – And What Material Do I Use?
“I have a pattern that calls for Supplemax. Can I substitute the Supplemax with Fireline?”, or “I am just learning to weave and I don’t understand the difference between Fireline and Supplemax? Are the 2 products interchangeable?” These are questions I receive via email pretty frequently. I don’t blame people for being confused. The decision about whether to use a beading thread or a monofilament can be difficult and depends on so many things. How flexible do you want your piece to be? How long is the piece going to be? What stitch are you using? Do you want your piece domed or “puffed” or do you want it to be a little softer?
When deciding what to use, the first rule is this: always do what your pattern or instructions dictate. Because Supplemax and Fireline are so different, your piece will turn out completely different (or may not work at all) if you make a material substitution. They are so different, in fact that substituting one for the other would be like substituting a .015 beading wire for a 22 gauge craft wire. You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?
But let’s say that you don’t want to copy someone else’s pattern and want to start experimenting on your own. The following are a few guidelines that can help you figure out when to use what.
The first thing to know is the fundamental difference between the materials. Supplemax is a monofilament, which is a single strand of untwisted synthetic fiber (think fishing line); Fireline is a braided beading thread. Supplemax has a test strength of 12 pounds, while Fireline’s test strength is usually about 6 pounds. This means that Supplemax is sturdier and stronger than Fireline. That sounds good but it also means that Supplemax will not give your woven pieces the flexibility that Fireline will.
Supplemax is my favorite when I want to create three-dimensional rings or woven pendants. Using a monofilament is great for these pieces because you can create a domed or puffed piece such as the Swarovski Puffy Heart or Starburst pendant without having to pass through your beads multiple times; the ends of Supplemax are sturdy and stiff enough that they find their way through the beads easily and stiffly hold the beads in position. You usually use a no needle right angle weave technique when working with monofilament which means woven pieces seem to work up a little faster and easier. In addition, you work with the exact amount of material needed to complete a piece—usually 3 to 5 feet—so you don’t have to tie in when you need more thread. In addition, when you use a right angle weave with Supplemax, you don’t need a needle at all! (That was a big selling point for me when I first started weaving; the needle and thread thing sounded completely intimidating to someone who doesn’t even know how to sew!)
Fireline is good for just about everything else woven. It works well on pieces where you will inevitably use 12 feet of stringing material, such as a peyote bracelet for several reasons. First of all, you can start with a comfortable length of thread and tie in more when you need it. This reduces knots and tangles you would get if you had too much thread to begin with; it also enables you to add a little more length to a bracelet or necklace. In my opinion, that is where Fireline has a huge benefit over Supplemax. When you need to add more length or repair a Supplemax piece, you have to reweave the whole thing. You can not simply tie back in, weave a little magic, and then call it done. As a general rule, because woven pieces often call for the use of small beads and most stitches require you to pass through these same tiny beads multiple times, you will want to use Fireline when you do any one of the following stitches: peyote, ladder, flat spiral, embellished right angle weave and any kind of tubular stitch such as the peyote tube. Using Fireline in these stitches also helps keep them supple. Like I said earlier, Fireline allows for a lot more flexibility, not only in your finished piece but also in your ability to work and rework a piece.
I know weaving can be so intimidating to people. When you see a finished piece, it often looks so complicated that it can seem discouraging. Just remember to take it slow and learn the basic stitch before you try to create a complicated masterpiece. Here at Auntie’s Beads, we have online videos to help you get started and show you how to not only do basic stitches, but also how to complete a project learning the new techniques you learn. Magazines can also be a great resource. If you are new to weaving, I recommend Step By Step Beads; it has great illustrations and instructions, and even a glossary or terms and techniques at the back of each issue. Most of all, though, have fun while you weave—no matter what material you choose to use!
Shanna Steele, Auntie’s Beads Designer
Commit It To Memory (Wire)
Memory Wire is a wonderful thing. It makes awesome coiled bracelets that appear to be single strands stacked on your wrist in a cuff like style. It makes a necklace that never loses its shape or form and stays exactly where you want it to. Like anything wonderful, though, it can be a little tricky and have its share of headaches.
One thing that always confuses people about working with Memory Wire is its size. It comes in Medium and Large. As a general rule, you will want to get the Large Wire size when making bracelets. I have a 6.25 inch wrist and the Medium Memory Wire is tight, especially when I am working with larger beads. That being said, Medium Memory Wire can be great for making cuff style Memory Wire bracelets or bracelets for children.
As for necklaces… There are two things you will want to consider when choosing Memory Wire for a necklace. One is how large your beads are. The second is how large—or small—the wearer’s neck is. I have a small neck; I make most of my necklaces about 14 inches. Therefore, I almost always use the Medium Necklace Memory Wire. The other time you would want to use a Medium sized necklace is when you are using heavier beads. Because the Medium has a tighter coil, it tends to hold its shape when weighted down with things like gemstones. Large Memory Wire is great for people who typically wear a 16-18 inch necklace. It is also ideal for stringing lighter weight beads, such as seed beads and crystals.
Whatever size Memory Wire you choose and use, you will want to remember the following general guidelines about working with Memory Wire:
- ALWAYS use Memory Wire Shears to cut your Memory Wire. If you use a Nipper tool, you will dull your blade and possibly break your tool.
- You can invest in Memory Wire End Caps to end your Memory Wire pieces. This is how I ended Memory Wire when I first started using it. You will want to invest in some Super Glue or other very strong and fast drying glue to make sure the ends are secure.
- If you are not a fan of the end caps, I would suggest using the Wire Looping Pliers to make a simple loop at each end of your Memory Wire. I like this better than the end caps because you don’t have to wait on your glue to dry AND you can dangle things off the ends of the necklace or bracelet.
I have discovered these things through years of working with Memory Wire and doing everything wrong—breaking a Nipper tool, getting Super Glue all over myself and my creation. I hope the information here will inspire you to love Memory Wire as much as I do and hopefully save you a headache along the way!
Shanna Steele, Auntie’s Beads Designer
Which Wire Is Which?
Many people have questions about which beading wire to use for what project. “Should I use the 19 strand, .015” or the 49 strand, .018”? How do you know which wire jewelry supplies work best? Well, after many years of playing around with beading wire—and many mistakes along the way—I may have learned a thing or two.
7 Strand Wire is composed of 7 tiny strands of wire coated in nylon. When I first started beading, I exclusively used 7 strand wire for two reasons. First of all, it is very economically priced. Secondly, it comes in fun colors so it is great for illusion necklaces or any other jewelry creations where your wire will be exposed. It is stronger than Tiger Tail (which is what you may find at local craft and hobby stores) and it is pretty flexible. This wire is perfect for beginners or for simple beaded projects that are relatively lightweight.
19 Strand Wire is made of 19 tiny strands of wire coated in nylon. The thing I love about 19 strand wire is that, while it is stronger than 7 strand wire, it also tends to be more flexible. I use 19 strand wire for every beading project that involves seed beads, as well as for any beaded jewelry designs that require weaving or passing through the same bead more than once. This wire is the perfect combination of flexibility and strength—and the price is reasonable, too!
49 Strand Wire is made of 49 tiny strands of wire coated in nylon. This is the wire the pros use. The most expensive of the Beadalon wires, it is also the most flexible and durable. It lays wonderfully and never kinks. It is strong enough to hold gemstones and will not be frayed by crystals or glass. This wire is great for just about any beading project you can imagine!
Diameter is a relatively simple concept once you understand the difference between 7 Strand, 19 Strand, and 49 Strand wire. The diameter number actually refers to the millimeter measurement of the wire. For example, a .012” wire is .30mm while a .015” wire is .38mm. Most designers will probably use a .018” wire for stringing the majority of the time. This diameter—whether you are using a 7, 19, or 49 Strand wire—will work with just about any bead. An exception to this rule would be stringing pearls; generally speaking, a 19 Strand wire in a .015” is best when working with pearls because the hole is so small. Another exception to the .018” rule is stringing very large beads or beads with larger holes. 49 Strand wire comes in a .036”, which is perfect for those larger, chunkier, heavier beads.
Click to view project examples using different types of wire…
19 Strand wire with a .012” diameter
19 Strand wire with a .015” diameter
49 Strand wire with a .015” diameter
49 Strand wire with a .018” diameter
Designer, Auntie’s Beads
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