French beading techniques defined
There are many different French beading techniques. However, they are all based around two possible ways of manipulating wire. These are:
In order to get the best results, it is really important that you understand the difference between the two. So, let me first show you a few technique examples. Then, I’ll explain how to get the best results whether you are wrapping or twisting wire.
French Beading Techniques Overview
I like to think of French beading techniques as falling into two categories.
First (arguably easiest), we have the loop techniques. These involve creating loops of wire and the loops are held in place by twisting your wire. There are several different loop options available:
- Single loop
- Double loop
- Three row crossover
- Four row crossover
Then, you can combine these. So, for example, you might make a four row crossover, then add the outer row of the double loop technique.
In the gallery below, the Bonsai tree is made purely from the Single loop technique. The cherry blossom uses Double loops and Four Row Crossover. The wheat uses the Four Row Crossover.
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The second group of techniques are all based around the ‘basic’ technique. This starts with a central strand of beads, then you will wrap rows of beads around the outside, so the shape grows larger as you add more rows.
As with the loops, this basic technique has a few variations that are used to create specific effects. I’m not going to cover them all here. Typically, this technique is used for making individual petals or leaves, rather than a whole flower. The images below show samples of flowers made with the Basic technique.
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Notice how the alignment of the beads on the poppy is a little different to the alignment on the iris. This is because the two flowers use different versions of the Basic technique.
You will also find other French beading techniques mentioned. So, you can create single strands of beads. Or, you can lace your work to hold rows of beads in place. These, and possibly other minor techniques, don’t fit into the two broad categories I have outlined above.
But you don’t need to worry: everything will become clear as you begin to work on projects and learn what you need to.
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Twisting and Wrapping
I’ve just said that the two sets of French beading techniques are based around either twisting or wrapping wire. So, what is the difference and why does it matter?
Wrapping wire defined
Put simply, when you are wrapping wire, you will be holding one of your pieces still. The other piece does all the work, wrapping around the still strand of wire.
Definition of twisting wire
If you want to twist your wire, then you will be moving both pieces. So the two pieces twist around one another.
This is crucial if you want to achieve the perfect finish. If you hold one piece still and try to move the other, you will end up with a messy diagonal wrap, not a twist.
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How to make the perfect wire wrap
Wire wrapping is the easiest of the two techniques. The key is to hold the ‘base wire’ still in one hand. This is the horizontal wire in the diagram and you will hold it in your non-dominant hand.
Then, take your second piece of wire and wrap it around the base. So, you will be holding this wire in your dominant hand and wrapping in a circular motion. You can go clockwise or anti-clockwise, whichever feels more comfortable. Just remember to keep going to same way!
The trick to getting a good wrap is to take your time. Every time you create a new wrap around the base wire, you want to be sure that it is butted right up next to the previous wraps.
If you’re not careful, you can end up with gaps, as in the example in the photo.
Wrapping in French beading techniques
For French beading, you will be wrapping your wire whenever you are doing any variations of the ‘basic technique’. So, this is commonly used to make leaves and individual petals.
You are using the technique to hold rows of beads in place. So, your base wire gives the structure. Imagine this like the central vein of a petal. As you add rows of beads, you wrap the wire to hold the beads in place. So the base wire must remain straight and you will wrap the working wire around it.
A wrapped wire allows for some movement up and down the base wire. So, if you want to adjust the shaping on leaves, you have the ability to move the wire holding the rows in place.
If you had twisted your wire, you would not be able to create this movement.
Creating the perfect wire twist
Of all the techniques for working with wire, I actually think twisting is one of the hardest. …Unless you know the simple trick I am about to show you!
As I said above, the key to a neat twist is to make sure that both wires move around one another. The wires have a natural tendency to try and move into a position where one wire is still and the other is wrapping.
So, you have to use your hands to prevent this from happening.
Let me show you the theory. If you are twisting wires, then you will have an object above the twist. This could be just a loop of wire. Or it could be a loop of beads, or a single bead. The point is, whatever this object may be, you are going to hold onto it.
Then use your other hand to separate out the two wires. You want them to slant away from each other below your object. There should be about a 45-60 degree angle between them. In the diagram, the fat red arrow indicates where you hold the wires, creating the crossover with separation. The thin line shows the angle of separation.
So, having got all this in place. You are then going to turn the object you are holding (shown by the green arrow in the diagram) and the wires below will twist. As long as you keep them separated out, they will form a nice even twist because they are moving around one another.
Real Life Example
This is how the procedure looks in real life. I have used a pair of pliers to hold the object (a single bead) as that gave me more control. Notice how my other hand is separating the wire, so when I turn the object in my pliers, I will end up with a beautiful neat twist.
Again, the trick is to take things slowly. Keep those two wires separated and make sure both are at an angle.
The danger point is if you allow one wire to slip to a vertical position while the other remains at an angle. Then you will end up with a messy twist in which the angled wire is wrapping around the vertical wire. The end result is simply less attractive.
As with any technique, this is going to take some practice. Even with experience, it will not always be perfect. But at least you now know the little trick that helps to achieve perfection!
Working with wire in French beading
The one point that you need to understand before you start learning all these French beading techniques is this… Unless a pattern specifically tells you to, you should NEVER cut your wire from your spool.
So, you will always thread beads onto the spool of wire, then make your flower or petal, working from the spool. When the flower or petal is finished, you can then cut the wire off the spool.
(I’m going to write a separate post on fixing common problems, like running out of beads and breaking wire. So, make sure to keep following this French beading series on my blog. You can sign up in the right-hand sidebar if you’re not already a follower)
Two top tips
First: whenever you buy wire for French beading, make sure it comes on a spool, not as a flat coil. If, by any chance you find yourself having to use a coil of wire, I have a really easy way of creating a makeshift spool.
Basically, you just need to wrap your wire onto a round object. I find empty bead tubes are really good for this. So, just open your tube, pop one end of the wire inside and then put the lid back on the tube. This will trap the end of wire in place.
Now, carefully wrap your wire around the tube, taking care not to create any kinks in the wire. You can then use it just like a spool. When you finish your session, pop the lid off and tuck the end of the wire inside to stop it from unravelling. For more free French beading tools, follow this link>>
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My second top tip is to remember that wire has a life – and mind – of its own. So, whenever you trim your wire from the spool, make sure you hold onto the wire that is attached to the spool. If it still has beads on, then you need to prevent them from falling off. So, deal with that first before you come back to deal with your flower/petal/leaf.
My final French beading techniques
You may think I’ve just covered all the essential French beading techniques. I have. But there is one more that doesn’t often get mentioned. That is: artistry.
The thing about French beading is the basic techniques will only get you so far. The reality of the flower comes from the way in which you shape and sculpt the wire shapes that you create.
So, part of this process happens as you are working. Every time you add a row of beads, you need to use your hands to coax the wire into the shape you want.
The majority, however, happens at the end. When you have finished your petal/leaf and cut it all from the spool of wire, then you can use your fingers to manipulate it into shape. This may mean coaxing the rows of beads to sit more neatly. It may mean creating a bend or a twist in the petal.
So, this is where artistic license comes into play. And arguably, this is the most important of all the French beading techniques. It is also the easiest in that you don’t have to ‘learn’ anything – just follow your own artistry.
Join me next time to look at how French beading patterns are written – and read! And use this link any time to find all the French beading guides on here.