Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wire Gauge FAQ

The type of wire you use for your bead flowers depends in part on what style of flower beader you are.

If you do primarily Victorian flower beading, you will most likely use 26 gauge wire. This is especially true if you tend to use Czech beads and not Japanese. Japanese beads have a larger hole in the middle, so the wire can pass through more times; the Czech beads, having a smaller hole, will allow no more than two passes of wire to go through.

If you are a French flower beader, the gauge of wire you use can also depend on the size of flower you are making. If you are making miniatures, 26 gauge wire will serve you well. This gauge of wire will also usually be fine for flowers that are not miniatures but are not very large or heavy.

However, once you start getting into the larger lilies, heavy roses, peonies, or other very complicated flowers, probably a 24 gauge wire will be best. This gauge is thicker and stiffer, and will give your flowers and leaves plenty of body to hold up their own mass. Remember that the beads are made of glass, and a mass of them together can be surprisingly heavy.

I use 24 gauge green paddle wire for almost all my leaves, sepals, and other green flower parts. This wire is available at craft stores such as Michael’s, and is inexpensive. You will need to straighten it out from being wrapped on the paddle, but this is a testament to its firmness. The last thing you want is floppy leaves; leaves are the visual backbone of your arrangement and they should frame the flowers pertly.

Stemwire is also available at craft stores. I suggest 16- or 18-gauge wire, which will come in precut lengths. For quite large or heavy flowers, you will want to combine several lengths in one stem for extra support.

If you are making very long leaves for your French bead flowers, it is a good idea to use a stem-stiffening method. One of these involves stemwires. The stemwire is built right into the construction of the leaf itself, and it’s quite effective. You would use regular 16-or 18-gauge stemwire for this process. Here is how it’s done: As you begin to make the leaf, hold a length of taped stemwire together with the basic loop. As you wrap the spool wire to build the leaf, incorporate the stemwire into the wrapping so it is actually part of the leaf. The top of the stemwire can reach almost to the top rows of the leaf, or it can end at the bottom of the basic row, depending on how large the leaf is.

You will want to lace pieces that are 13 rows or larger for stability and neatness. For the lacing process I use 32-gauge wire that matches the color of the beads. I have found that it is easiest to thread this wire onto an ordinary sewing needle for this process; wrap the lacing wire around the basic row, and work outwards on either side of the piece to do the lacing. Of course, you do this on the back side of the piece! Lacing may seem optional, but believe me, if you have any question about it, do the lacing. It will make your flowers look that much better for years and years to come!

I buy most of my wire from Paramount Wire, or Parawire, in New Jersey. They have a great selection of colored flower beading wires. Click here for their website.

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