Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wasting Wire

There is a purpose here, but we have to begin with a few premises. The aspiring wire wrapping jewelry maker hopes to graduate to silver wire. Gold is for experts, well funded ones at that, so forget that. Copper is therefore popular and sensible as starter wire, and you can throw in brass and alloys, even colored wires for variety.

Jewelry can be made more simply, like gluing things like bell caps, but, well, it tends to scream "cheap" to the discerning eye. (Uh, sorry folks. It's a process. It'll get better. Just know you were thought of.) When one makes jewelry to sell, one can move it faster and for more money if one goes beyond that technique. That's a challenge. While building your skill with wire wrapping, mistakes are made and stuff gets tossed. Wasted, mostly, though pure copper can be recycled. Silver absolutely will be recycled, but we're not there yet.

My wire wrapping experience started with taking a class using 22 gauge half-hard square ( ! ) wire to make, in order, a bracelet, a ring, and a pendant, the latter two of which incorporated cabochons (stones) into their designs. There was little room for creativity, though much room for error. At the end of the class, we were told that this was just one method of making each item, and just one kind of wire that one could use. We could go online for free patterns and lots of ideas. Class was done.

Yeah, OK, I'd had my class but I was into the lapidary piece of jewelry making: buying, cutting, shaping and polishing the stones to be used in jewelry. I got pretty good at it. As I went, I got fussier about the quality levels, improving my quality, making me even fussier....  Eventually I could mostly produce stones of a quality to be sold in the shop. I still haven't figured out sodalite, for one.

Of course, the shop doesn't sell plain stones. It sells jewelry, meaning those stones have to be mounted into or onto something to make them wearable. So, bolos. Simplest to do, though not all that cheap. Of course, there is a limited market for that sort of thing. I was discouraged from trying to sell any, though local sales have recently been on the upswing. But hey, they make great gifts, and with a little sizing down of the stones, can be marketed as "Lady Bolos". They can be worn as one would any other necklace, on wardrobes with or without collars, and plenty of adjustment for length to the main stone.

That would go over better for the ladies if there were matching earrings to go with them as a set. Suddenly my lapidary skills needed a brush-up, adapting from larger cabs to tiny ones, as the majority of women I've talked to require light weight earrings, and from front-only cabs to full front/side/back polishing. Additionally, those stones needed either bell caps or wire wrapping as a base for mounting to ear wires. Once I mounted over a dozen sets of earrings using bell caps, I was strongly encourage not only to discontinue doing that but to undo what I had done. (About three more steps up beyond my skill level, they could be inset into a shaped form of, say, silver. That works if one actually has an interest in that skill and is willing to produce perhaps one project per month. So... no.)

Well, at least I didn't go out and spend a whole lot on buying bell caps. The copper ones I found are pretty cool, with a leaf design that even the club members who judge what is of sufficient quality to go into the shop thought was allowable. Furthermore, to "rescue" those stones, the glue used to adhere the bell caps is soluable in acetone,  reasonably inexpensive if one buys it straight rather than with all the extra stuff that's supposed to improve your nails while you remove the polish.

So that got done. I'm back to a whole lot of very nicely done stone pairs that need wire wrapping.

None of my class instructions covered how to do that.

I went back online, going through other people's samples and ideas, trying to figure out how whatever it was they did could be adapted to my stones. Or not. And trying to figure out what techniques were used, what kind/size/hardness of wires might work. Make a cage? Criss-cross spiraling wires? I even checked out drilling the stones to see if they could simply be turned into beads, thus simplifying wrapping. No go. Laser cutter, anybody?

My tendency to insomnia got fed by lying in bed imagining how which wire could be used with which stones. Over and over. Some I tried to do in real life and found out just how unskilled I am in wire wrapping. Or how slippery some of those small rounded earring stones are. I tried new wires, new sizes, packs of multiple colors - just for fun - and did manage to accomplish a couple things. Never what I originally wanted, but some of the side trips were interesting.

I figured out how to loop a few beads on a matching colored wire and fasten it to the tip end of a bolo cord so it couldn't be pulled off, then wrap the cord up an inch rather than gluing an expensive pre-formed silver tip on it, as an adaptation of lady bolos. One three-yard spool of 26 or 28 gauge wire did both tips of one cord. Yes, that much wire. Since those fun colored wires came in multi-packs and I only used a few, I had lots of that wire left over. At least those packs come cheap.

I tried using some of the left-over wire from class to try a few projects on my own. I think of those as re-learning experiences. They sit tucked out of sight, where they can't mock me.

While going through some beads for the bolo projects, I came across a set of ammonites I'd bought and set aside while I thought of something I could do with them. Think flat snail changed to stone fossil, mostly browns with incredible detail looking like a neverending leaf margin if the original shell had gone, or an incredible starburst of opalization if the shell was still intact. Maybe both if it had a partial shell. They were still waiting for that thought to occur.

I finally bought a pair of titanium drill bits and tried to drill a hole in their middles. If I couldn't wrap them, maybe I could string them? Let me just tell you that drilling through a fossil is an extremely difficult task, even using titanium bits, and I only got through about 2/3 of them before deciding other things needed my attention more. So they still sat.

This weekend I finally decided to try them with some of the square copper wire using a combination of the designs I'd seen online. No instructions, of course, but what the hay? I came up with a design I liked and discovered just how awful I was (OK, am) at wrapping something so that it looked like something. Anything. Just something above kindergartner skill level.

No go.

But I lay awake another night and came up with an idea. I had those spools of colored wires, way too tiny to do anything with, but what if I could fix that? I know that small wires can be used for viking knit to make something appearing thicker. I can't do that yet, but... how about if I tried braiding the wire? I used to be able to braid fairly well, even, once upon a lifetime ago with long hair and good shoulders, doing my own french braiding. Those wires were just sitting there, money already spent. What would I lose?

After some thought and several tries, I found the right thing to anchor the starting wires to. Thank you Steve, my first anchor, but I now can do it without waiting for him to free up a hand for 20 minutes. Each. Just an fyi, there's a chair involved now. Those 3-yard spools make 3 one foot braids, perfect for looping through the drilled hole (after filing it a bit bigger with a round file), and making a two-bail connection with a fat middle wrap, turning it into a pendant for whatever your favorite necklace may be: cord, thong, or even sterling. The first ones are in bright red wire, in case somebody wants a cheap - uh, inexpensive - Valentine's bauble, or green in case somebody's shopping for St. Paddy's Day. Or just in case you like those colors with your fossils. The ammonites which had opalized either in reds or greens were given matching wires.

Too bad none opalized in blue or purple. I still have spools of those colors.

Obviously there was a lot of wasted wire in the process. There will be a lot more. But is it really a waste?  OK, is it really an unforgivable waste?

Meanwhile, I have my first projects submitted for sale., You know, so I can make some money. So I can buy more wire to waste. While I wait, maybe I'll try braiding some 3-color wire, see how that works. I still have that chair....

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