The Wires Have It!

Wire wrapped jewelry.  Other than the big, bold statement pieces made from resin and plastic, it’s the hip, “in” thing.  And since I can’t make a plastic necklace for less than the $10 you’ll spend at your local “big box” store for one (which you also might only wear once) this fall I’ve been concentrating on expanding my wire-wrapping skills.

On the surface, it seems easy.  After all, it’s just some wire, some tools and maybe a few beads.  Right?  Wrong.  Really, really wrong, as I have learned.  Rather, the art (yes, I said “art”) of wire wrapping is really a very complex thing.  And not for the faint of heart.  Or rather, not for people who object to having their fingertips punctured by odd bits of wire and their hands aching after twisting wire into ways it just wasn’t meant to go.  Even if it looks extremely pretty that way.

So how do you do it?  How do you take something that is extremely painful if it slides under your fingernails (been there, done that and OUCH!), sometimes seems as if it has a mind of its own, has been called “downright evil” by more than one jewelry artist but yet seems so innocuous at the same time and turn it into something wearable?  Just like everything else, actually.  You break it down into steps.

The first step is picking a design you can reasonably accomplish with your skill level.  So if you see a really cool pendant on Pinterest that is so intricate that it looks like a minature work of art by Van Gogh and think you can easily whip one up – think again.  Seriously.  Because that sort of piece is reserved for those who are “one with the wire” as I read on another blog.  Those sorts of designs are not for someone who just bought their first spool of wire and own only a basic pair of chain nose pliers or have no clue what nylon jaw pliers are or how to use them.  Especially if you also have no clue how wire reacts when you bend it.  Because unlike beads, cord, and other fiberous material, wire is a different animal altogether.  For the most part, it already has a curve and unless you know how to straighten it (either by hand with said pliers or with something like Artistic Wire’s three roller wire straightener – which you know how to use properly and are not just guessing at) it’s best to sort of go with the wire’s natural flow, at least to start.  The first time out, you’re probably going to end up with a mangled mess.  But it does get easier after that.  Trust me.

  The Haunted Tree pendant

So now you’ve got your design and your tools.  And you’ve played around with the wire enough to know how it moves and bends and which ways it really doesn’t like to.  At least not without force.  The next step is picking the correct gauge of wire.  And what color.  And by what manufacturer.  There is a whole science behind picking the correct wire, but it really comes down to two things – how strong does the wire need to be to do the job you have assigned to it and do you need it to stay the color it is when you start?

In general, the lower the gauge of the wire, the stiffer it is.  There is a whole list of specialty wires, including full hard (you cannot bend that stuff) to half-hard to dead soft (which acts exactly as the name implies) but in general, if you pick a brand like Beadalon’s basic Artistic Wire, you know you’re going to get a basic, half-hard wire that bends easily but maintains its shape and can be work hardened.  So that aside, you need to decide what job your wire is going to do.  For things like making bracelet or pendant frames, a heavier gauge wire is best.  This wire has weight and substance and bends but for the most part retains shape, especially if it is lightly hammered with a nylon hammer or work hardened.  In general, a 16 gauge wire works well.  That’s the same wire used for the popular adjustable bangle bracelets that everyone is wearing these days.  If you’re doing finer work, like wire weaving, wrapping stones to the heavier wire or creating the “branches” on a Tree of Life, a thinner, higher gauge of wire works better.  It’s more flexible and gives you better control over where it goes.  And it too, can be work hardened.

The Eternal Heart with genuine Amethyst

Then it’s the color.  Most craft wires have a copper or aluminum base.  Some, like Artistic Wire, are non-tarnish, meaning they’ll keep their bright luster and color over time.  Others, like Zebra Wire’s natural copper, will develop a patina so you’ll loose the bright coppery color and instead be left with an antiqued look.  However, it’s also great for adding patina with a butane torch to give it a series of different colors that will be inherent to the piece and not fade away over time.  How the finished piece looks is up to you.  Just also be aware that colored wire (particularly black, pinks, greens, and blues) can lose their color over time, especially if the piece bumps up against something else that is sharp.  Also, you may see bits of copper shining through where the ends have been snipped off.  If you don’t want that, make sure to tuck in your ends.  That’s just a basic overview, of course.  There are hundreds of wires, gauges, colors, finishes, and everything else in between.  It’s just something to think about before you start.  And remember…  The thinner the wire, the more likely it is to bend and kink!

  Zig-Zag with dyed Howlite

So now you have your wire, your design and your tools.  You might have even added a few “extras” like beads, a wire jig (either 3D or flat) and several other gadgets.  Time to get started!  And at this point, the best thing to do is play!  Much like lighting a TV set (something I’ve had to do many times over the years), working with wire is something you can’t learn in a book.  You have to experience it for yourself.  You have to “feel” the wire.  You have to get used to the way it moves in your hands, the weight of it, the tension, how it coils and bends.  And how it doesn’t.  Then, when you think you’re ready, get to work!

Is this a simplified version of wire working?  Absolutely!  But it wasn’t meant to be comprehensive.  It was simply a way of breaking down the “mystery” of wire work for anyone who wants to try it.  To cover some things to think about so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did three years ago.  At this point, I’d put my skills somewhere around “fair” but I hope to keep improving.  I just need to find the right wire to match my vision!

Sweet Pea featuring Artistic Wire and Czech Fire Polished glass

About empress

As the owner/operator/designer of Easily Distracted Designs, Bethany is responsible for just about every aspect of the business, including translating high-end fashion design into wearable styles for every woman.
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