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

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Expanding Horizons

Every year about this time, I used to go into the “last minute Christmas-time crunch.”  But it’s still September, you say!  The new fall TV shows haven’t even started airing yet.  There’s no pro or college football – a true kick off (so to speak) for the fall season yet.  But for those in the retail industry, the Christmas shopping season creeps ever closer, the “start date” for filling shelves getting farther and farther away from Christmas Morning each year.  For those in the handmade jewelry business?  Most years the Easter eggs are barely put away before snowflakes and noel wreaths start showing up in jewelry supply catalogs!    For those who sell at fall festivals, it’s even worse – often starting next year’s items before this year is even finished!

For the most part, I no longer participate in the “craft show circuit.”  Not because I think I’m better than others but because I now have both another job as a romance author and because I have brick and mortar retail stores that I have to keep supplied year ’round.  I have a handful of holiday shows that I do, but even most of those have fallen away in the last few years.  There just aren’t enough hours in a day.  And that’s not a bad thing.  That said, I still do feel the “holiday push” just like any other hand-crafted jewelry designer.  In the past, I would simply make up many items in bulk, but as time has progressed, I’ve become a bit more skilled at my craft.  Not to mention a whole lot pickier about what I want going out with my name and my brand on it.

And that, sometimes, is the difference between a $10 sale and a $30 one.  At least it is for me.  Quality over quantity and all of that.  And as the holidays approach, this year, that’s become an even bigger factor for me when deciding to stock in my store displays, my craft show booth, and my Etsy store.  Do I go with pieces that have more design elements or do I just rush through things to have a greater quantity of product?  Surprisingly, both the artist and the businesswoman in me agree for once.  I picked quality over quantity.  And as I’m preparing my items this year, I find that it’s an easier decision to live with than I had initially thought it would be.

So while my holiday displays in stores this year might not be stuffed full of basic necklaces, bracelets and earrings, they will be filled with slightly higher-end, miniature works of art that feature a better attention to design and detail than the ones I created in the past.

That’s why, as of late, I’ve been a lot pickier about the beads I use in my designs, as well as findings and other design elements.  While I never used “plastic” beads, I did often use plain glass beads where a semi-precious stone might have done a better (or at the very least, more sophisticated) job.  Or, too often, I stuck with one type of bead, be it glass or stone, instead of mixing and matching.  But once I became more sure of myself and my design skills, I found that I could expand both the elements I used and how I used them.  I learned how to effectively add wire and make “off balance” pieces that worked in harmony with findings like over-sized clasps and hand-patinated metals.

  Night Watch (hammered and stamped copper, tinted resin, patinated metals, brass, Swarovski crystals, Rose Quartz, Australian Jasper, Amethyst, Czech glass, and mixed metal findings)

I’ve also learned to expand my color palate, using colors that I previously found difficult to work with in ways that I hadn’t considered.

  Golden Sun (Czech glass, Cherry Quartz, Red Banded Agate, Cat’s Eye, glass beads, brass spacers, Czech Picasso beads, Hematite, Amethyst, patinated metals, mixed metal findings)

I’ve also challenged myself to use new tools and techniques that I previously shied away from, thinking them “too scary” to even tackle.  Now?  I grab the bail making pliers or the pearl knotter and hope for the best!   It’s how you grow as both an artist and a businesswoman.  Because believe it or not, the two really are intertwined.

Dew Drops  (Artistic Wire, Natural Button Pearls, 14K gold earwires)

If you’re designing pieces that aren’t selling, you might be a talented artist but you might also be an abysmal businesswoman.  For a long time, I was a little of both and not enough of either.  These days, there are so many hand-crafted jewelry artisans that it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd.  That’s why it’s so important to push yourself – from techniques to tools to components.  And yes, even to design elements, even if it means working in a style that you’re uncomfortable with – like me and the whole boho genre.  It’s just not my thing.  That said, I think that after much trial and error, I have the basics down pretty well.

Boho Chic (Hand-patinated brass, Rose Quartz, Adventurine, Fire Agate, Red Agate, Czech glass, wood, seed beads, copper, brass and other mixed metals)

It’s especially difficult for me, as I’m more of a Steampunk kind of girl.  But with a lot of trial and just as much patience, it can happen.

Tesla’s Gift (Antique locket, lazer printed inserts, placed on antique brass chain)

And now that I’ve expanded my jewelry making horizons?  It’s difficult to go back.  So I’ve had to learn to adapt and grow my business as my skill level changes – which means things like dropping craft shows that I might have gone to in the past.  That’s not always an easy thing, especially when people “expect” to see you there – but never buy anything.  Rather, they just make small talk.  But it makes good business sense.  You go where the business is – and sometimes, it’s in the small stores and coffee shops instead of large craft shows where you’re treated like so much interchangable cattle.  Often times, on a smaller scale, the buyer develops a greater connection to the piece and to you, the artist.  And while it may not be true for everyone, that kind of connection brings me great satisfaction as an artist as well.

La Posada Evenings (Copper and turquoise)

Briar Rose (Artistic Wire and freshwater potato pearls)

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The love is in the details…

That’s actually true of many things in life – not just jewelry design.  As some of you have observed, I haven’t been updating my website as frequently as I should have – and there’s a reason for that.  Sometimes, personal lives are more important than business.  And to paraphrase The Man In Black from “The Princess Bride,” anyone who says differently is selling something.  There are times when family is more important than making a dollar, even for those who are self-employed.  This was one of those times.  Now, however, the “bad stuff” has passed and it’s time to move forward once again.

So back to the jewelry – and let the love flow!

Right now, there’s a lot going on in the jewelry world – and that’s putting it mildly.  There are people creating everything from lavish, ornate statement pieces to those creating simply, stylish, and elegant designs that can be worn anywhere.  Where do I fall?  In the middle of course.  I love the simple, chic elegance of a basic earring featuring either colored resin or basic beads.  If I want to mix it up, the layers of clear ICE resin mixed with pale pink German glitter glass keeps the design simple yet adds a layer of depth – both in the piece and to any outfit.  Or maybe it’s the simplicity of a small ring that adds just a pop of color to any outfit.  Or a matching hair accessory.

Still, there are little details in each of those pieces that make them stand out, whether it’s the darker rose-hued speckles in a pale pink ring or the layers of resin that give a feeling of depth to the glitter glass, each piece still has a little something special that makes it unique.

Looking for a bigger statement?  The details are in those, too, whether it’s a set of hair combs with hand-stitched crystal bicones or an elegant necklace featuring Indian Lampwork glass with intricate designs.