Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beading Tips: Wire-Wrapped Loops

I started making my own jewelry a few years ago when I became disgusted at the mark-up on even the simplest jewelry pieces. I bought a few magazines, visited a few bead shops, and tooled around the net. It was unbelievably easy to learn how to make jewelry for myself, my family, and my friends. It took a bit longer than that to elevate my skills enough to feel comfortable selling my items, but that's another story.

I wanted to pass on some tips on one of the basics of making beaded jewelry: wire-wrapped loops. First, you need a good visual guide. I spent countless hours and dollars pouring over magazine and website guides before finally finding an illustration that "clicked". In that moment, I realized the mistakes I had been making and knew right away how to correct them.

I'm not an artist, so I'm going to refer you to two of my favorite guides online:

From Fusion Beads, Techniques: Wire Wrapping

BeadStyle Magazine, Basics: Wrapped loop (scroll down below the "Plain loop" instructions)

So on to some tips that may help you from making some of the rookie mistakes I did!

1. Practice on base-metal wire first. It will take a few (or a lot!) of tries before you perfect the technique, so save your expensive wire by practicing on the cheap stuff first.

2. Yes, you DO want to use chainnose/flat pliers when the instructions tell you to. Jumping from tool to tool may seem tiresome, but in the end it is worth it.

3. Make sure your tools are in good shape: you want sharp wire cutters, non-ridged flat/chainnose pliers, and round nose pliers that align properly. My biggest pet peeve: all my round nose pliers eventually become misaligned to the point that they can't hold wire between their jaws properly.

4. Your hands, especially your fingers, are very valuable, yet delicate tools. Make sure your hands are clean when you start work, and check that they stay that way during your project. Also, be nice to your hands! If they start to cramp, take a 15 minute break.

5. Your eyes get fatigued as well! Use good lighting, and allow your eyes to relax every few minutes - all that concentration on tiny stuff right in front of your face can eventually lead to a headache.

6. Always use Sterling Silver if you intend to sell the item you're making. A majority of customers will specifically look for this, and the others will be impressed that you used such quality materials.

7. Use soft, narrow gauge wire. Sterling silver is a perfect medium because it is so easily maleable. The narrower the gauge and the softer the silver, the easier it is to manipulate the wire with your fingers. Be careful not to use anything too fine if you're working on a heavy piece!

8. Count your wraps. Most projects using wire-wrapped loops will involve more than just one loop, so do your best to make all your loops in the piece look consistent. So if you make one earring with 3 wraps under the loop, make sure to make the other earring have 3 wraps around as well.

9. This may only appeal to fellow beaders with OCD, but here it is: when attaching wrap-looped items to the main piece (necklace, earring back, etc), make sure they all face in the same direction. Confused? I've got visuals!

Front of Loop


Back of Loop

If you don't see the difference, congratulations, you don't have OCD - continue on to Tip #10. If you do see a difference, then I'll tell you that a long time ago I decided I preferred the side shown in the first picture best - so I called it the "front" of the loop. Hence, when hanging the dangle from an earring back, I always make sure that the dangle's loop faces "front".

10. Relax! The longer you sit and fret at perfecting one thing, the more frustrated you become, and the more mistakes you make. So take breaks to walk around, flex your fingers, correct your back, grab a snack, or just go to the potty. Also, music can be very relaxing, but NEVER watch television when beading - it is so distracting, I eventually look down at my project and realize I've been trying to complete the same wrap for the past two commercial breaks!

Friday, May 8, 2009

San Juan Island Bulletin: 2009, Day 1

Can you hear my satisfied sigh from here? What an amazing day! We ferried out to San Juan Island last night, where we are staying at this charming B&B called States Inn & Ranch. It's a working ranch, but I haven't been out to commune with the sheepies & alpacas yet - probably going to do that tomorrow morning.

Today we went out to South Beach at American Camp, and wondered what happened to all the rabbits. Not a single one in sight. :( The foxes made their appearances, getting astonishingly close - one came within about 2 feet of me when I was standing outside of the car to take pictures. The friendliness of the foxes, as compared to their indifference last time we were here, confirms my suspicions that the rabbit population has been severely cut. I queried a park ranger who said they were still there, and maybe they were just hiding in the long grass. Well, last time we were here there was NO grass because the rabbits had eaten it all - there was just a barren field with almost as many rabbit holes as there were rabbits. Small estimate would be there were 200+ rabbits at the time. Maybe that was the problem - too many rabbits, they ate all the food and starved too death. Helped along by feasting foxes, eagles, & hawks, and ta-da! Rabbit no-man's land. :(

So then we actually went down to the beach. We trekked out to the rock out cropping we'd gone to last time, in my mind hoping we'd glimpse the same giant river otter float by and then come on land nearby. No river otter, but there were constantly seals. I told Eric that I couldn't figure out if it was the same group of seals hanging around, or if we were witnessing the great seal highway were they all traffic from South to North. No Orcas today, no good eagle sightings. :(

We spent 2 hours at the beach, with our fold-out chairs on the rock outcrop. It was perfect. Exactly what I had been hoping for.

Last time we came here, I kept hoping as we went from quiet nook to solitary beach that I would find some comfort, some happiness, some inspiration. I was in this depressive state where nothing was really bad, but nothing was happy no matter what I did. I left the islands with lots of images in my head, but no happiness in my heart. Well, the past few years, it is always those quiet moments from that trip that I think on wistfully when thinking of the islands. There is this wonderful calm & contented feeling in my heart when I think of those times.

I think there is something different in me now. I think it's the part of me that has decided to put down the camera, and enjoy the scenery for awhile. If what you're watching sticks around long enough, take a few shots after you've enjoyed it for a bit, instead of living the moment through your camera lens trying to get the perfect shot. I just sat and watched the ocean, taking note of the occasional seal head bobbing by, and listening to the waves. I closed my eyes and tried my best to clear my mind and just experience the sensations. It was perfect. The peace and tranquility and comfort that I had been seeking all those years ago seeped into me as easily as the sun roasted my face. It was bliss. Definitely.

After almost 2 hours, I finally got up and started examining tide pools and taking pictures. I took out the earrings I had made the other day to do a mini photoshoot. There was lots of sun by that point, and lots of interesting places to get photos. I hope they turned out well. Unfortunately I've discovered that although my pictures can look awesome in my new large-screen camera, that is no way to judge if they are blurry or not. Here's to hoping I've finally figured out how to use the Macro setting properly!!! I only wish I'd brought more jewelry to photograph.

We had a wonderful lunch and then later at great dinner at this little Italian restaurant called Pazzo Vivo. At least I think that's what the name was. I bought a needle felting kit from the wool & yarn shop. We checked out the awesome local-artist gallery where we bought some awesome pieces last time, and although the same artists had their stuff there, nothing new by them jumped out at us, so it was kind of disappointing. I asked about having my jewelry there, but that store specializes in art that's only made in the islands. Oh well. The woman behind the counter recommended this other shop that I had just been browsing. Unfortunately, I was browsing to check out their prices - they're the shop that I found last time that was charging about 5 times as much for what I would sell the same pieces for. Pieces that I could make easily or better. And that was still their trend, although there were more reasonably priced items there this time. Still, I remain disgruntled and offended by their damn boutique prices.

OK, time for bed. TTFN!