Just when you think you’ve done all you can do with beads, along comes wire wrapping — another idea that will send you diving into your stash of baubles to explore the possibilities! Set your inhibitions aside, get your imagination ready and go WILD with wire wrapping beads!
Available in a rainbow of colors, beading wire is sold in a wide variety of diameters (referred to as “gauge”). Strange as it may seem to many of us, the larger the gauge number, the smaller the wire actually is. For example, an 18-gauge wire is much thicker than a 26-gauge wire. The most common wire sizes used in jewelry making range between 16- and 28-gauge.
The correct beading wire size to use for any given project is typically a matter of preference; however, bead-hole size and end use of the bead(s) or beaded project are the best deciding factors. Projects that will take a lot of abuse or carry much weight during normal wear and tear should use heavier diameters ranging from 16- to 20-gauge. In addition to beading wire, beading eye or head pins can also be wrapped around beads to accent.
Much of wire wrapping can be done with bare hands; however, some basic tools for wire-working include: roundnose, chain-nose, wire-looping and flatnose pliers, as well as wire nippers. While not a necessity, nylon jaw pliers are handy any time you’re working with beading wire to help straighten bends without scratching colorized wire surfaces.
While the possible variations are virtually unlimited, shown here are some basic wire wrapping techniques to get you started.
Wrap & Swirl Bead
1. Cut a 6-inch length of 22-gauge wire (shown below in red). Create a stronger loop using the thin wire by wrapping twice around round-nose pliers at center of wire length (Fig. 1a).
Note: Wrap only once if using 18- to 20-gauge wire.
2. Slide bead onto one wire end and push to just below loops. Wrap remaining wire end twice around the first (center) wire, going just above bead. Continue with same wire, bending down around bead to bottom. Wrap twice around wire extending through bottom of bead, bend up around opposite side of bead and wrap 2-3 times at top. Cut excess wire at top of bead only (Fig. 1b).
3. Use round-nose pliers to make a loop on remaining wire end (end extending below bead). Use flat-nose pliers to bend, creating spiral shape shown below (Figs. 1c and 1d).
Wire-wrapped “Bulb” Style Bead
1. Cut an 8- to 10-inch length of 26-gauge wire (shown below in magenta). Create a loop same as shown in Fig. 1a and twist wire ends together twice, going just below loops.
2. Insert one wire end through bead, wrapping the other around outside of bead and twist both wires together once at bottom of bead.
3. Bring wire end that was first wrapped around outside of bead up through hole at bottom side of bead and pull through at top of bead. Insert through loop at top of bead then back around outside of bead to bottom of bead again (Fig. 2a).
4. Repeat with the second wire, bringing the wire end upward around bead and inserting through hole at top; pull wire through at bottom of bead once again.
5. Continue the wrapping process to surround bead (or as much as bead-hole size will allow). When all but 2 inches of each wire end remain, bring ends to top of bead and wrap around base of loop, creating a small bead cap (Figs. 2b and 2c). Trim excess wire, tucking or wrapping ends inward to conceal. A drop of glue may be added if needed to secure ends.
Wire Wrapping Other Types & Styles of Beads
Wire Wrapping to Make a Chain
Create a chain of wirewrapped beads (Fig. 3) by creating loops on both bead ends. Curl one or both wire ends and form to fit on side of bead as an accent. When adding a second and any subsequent beads to the chain, link with previous bead before closing and wrapping the final loop. Continue to create length needed, attaching clasps at end.
Wire Wrapping to Make a Pendant or Drop Earring Pieces
Connecting an assortment of beads together to create a larger piece can be fun (Fig. 4). For best results select a few “key” beads that will act as the focal point and build from there, adding more wire if needed to create your own arrangement.
Beads of all shapes, sizes and colors can be wrapped to add an interesting “flair”. A fun challenge you might try is to select the “ugliest” bead in your stash (as if there are ugly beads), wrap it with wire, adding additional seed or E beads as you wrap. You may be amazed at the outcome. Check out the photos below for inspiration!
Like the look of wire-wrapped beads, but don’t have time or interest in wire wrapping them yourself? Not a problem. Bead manufacturers have taken care of this with individual or packaged wire-wrapped beads readily available at bead and craft stores.