Learn French Beading
Beads & Supplies
Before you make French Beaded Flowers, it’s important to understand the Beads, Wires, Tools, and other materials that are used to make them.
1. How to String Seed Beads onto Wire
Note: In the sections below I provide some affiliate links to tools I use in my work. I do get a small percentage of the sale if you purchase after clicking on my links, at no additional cost to you. But I am a conscientious affiliate link-user. I only link to products I use and enjoy.
A French Beader’s toolkit should contain:
- Flush Cutters / Wire Cutters – used to cut the flower component wires. Do not use these on your stem wires or can break or wear down the blades. I like Xuron brand clippers. Some people just use fingernail clippers!
- Stem Wire Cutters – used to cut steel stem wires. They usually sell these in the floral department near the florist stem wires. (not pictured)
- Heavy Duty Wire Cutters – used to cut thicker galvanized steel wires that are used for tall or heavy flowers, or armatures. These can be used on regular stem wires too, so you don’t need both stem wires and heavy duty wire cutters. They are sold in hardware stores.
- Pliers – A nice pair of flat nosed pliers or nylon jaw pliers are handy to have around to help twist and grab wires. Nylon jaw pliers can also help straighten out wires.
- Scissors – used for cutting floral tape and the embroidery floss used to wrap stems.
- Tape Measure or Ruler – used to measure starting rows and wire lengths.
- Bead Spinner – helps to string beads onto wire quickly. Most bead spinners are spun manually, but they do also make electric bead spinners. You will probably want a couple of these to make it easier to work with multiple colors of beads.
In addition to the standard tools, these can make your life easier:
- Spool Tamers – elastic bands used on wire spools to keep the wire from boing-ing everywhere and making a terrible tangled mess. There is a little plastic tab with a hole to fit the wire through so you can feed out just as much as you need while keeping it attached to the spool.
- Guitar Fingertip Protectors – you can wear these to protect your fingertips if they are getting sore. You could also use small bandages on the fingers that get sore the most, though those are not reusable.
- Small Funnels – For moving beads back into their containers.
- Craft Light / Magnifier – if you have poor vision, these tools can make it much easier to work with tiny beads.
- Work Tray – I use large wooden trays to hold all of my supplies, tools, and components while working.
Most French Beading Patterns written in English use a size 11/0 round seed bead, also called a rocaille. They are the most common in bead stores and have the widest range of colors (at least in the US). Most of the seed beads I use are shaped like little tiny donuts, while others are more cylindrical and have extra facets cut into the sides. While these are the “standard” beads used for patterns, you can use a wide variety of beads with the techniques. I have incorporated bugle beads, crystal beads, round glass beads, and have even made flowers entirely from Czech Fire-polished beads.
Some of my patterns use size 15/0 seed beads to create daintier flowers. When working with 15/0 seed beads, I recommend using Japanese brands over Czech. This size of Czech beads are usually smaller than the Japanese beads, and have smaller holes that may not fit on the wires.
French Beading is different from beadweaving in that you do not need to use the same beads as the designer to make the patterns and get good results. You can even mix brands within a petal or leaf. This makes it really easy to substitute for your favorite brand, or with beads that are more easily accessible to you. While perfect uniformity is not necessary, I do recommend using beads that are decently consistent in size and shape. This will make bead counts closer to the same length from one petal to the next, resulting in more evenly shaped petals. Beads that are very irregularly shaped also create a lot more texture in finished components.
Bead brands: I like to use Preciosa Czech beads, Miyuki rounds (not Delicas, though you technically can use them), Toho, or Matsuno Dynamites in my flowers. Miyuki and Toho tend to be the most consistent, but also cost more. Because we go through a lot of beads to make flowers, and because using perfectly sized beads is really not necessary in French Beading, I use Czech and Matsuno beads most often. These beads are decently consistent, more economical, and easier to find in bulk packages. I generally only purchase Toho or Miyuki brand beads when I need very specific colors or finishes that I can’t find in Preciosa or Matsuno, or when working in size 15/0 beads.
How much to buy: Everyone may use a different amount of beads just due to personal technique. Plus bead weight varies from one bead finish or manufacturer to the next. So it is always best to have extra on hand. You may end up with extras when finished, but that is less frustrating than needing to pause your project to purchase more. I would plan on purchasing 10-20% extra always, depending on the size of the project. The larger the project, the higher the percentage of extras you should buy. This is particularly important if you are using a different brand or bead finish than the designer, or if you bead a little more loosely.
Buying in bulk: If you can, buy colors you use the most often in “bulk” half kilo or kilo sized packages. Buying beads this way usually results in a lower cost per gram. You have a larger up-front cost, but it saves money over time. I go through a lot of green, white, yellow, and red. But I would wait to buy bulk packages until you have figured out which colors, exact shades, and bead finishes you like working with. I still have bulk packages of beads I bought when I first started over a decade ago, because I purchased too much of beads I didn’t like. So if you are new, start off buying 1-2 hanks of any color at a time. Then invest in bulk packages if you like those beads and find you are using them often.
Converting grams to hanks: Some beads are sold by the gram in tubes or bags. Many Czech beads come strung in bunches called hanks. A full sized hank of 11/0 seed beads has 12 strands with 20 inches of beads on each strand. But the total weight of a hank will vary between 30 and 40 grams depending on the bead finish. You may need to convert the amounts listed in patterns based on whether you are buying hanks or loose beads.
- When converting hanks to grams, calculate a hank as 40 grams. So if a pattern says 2.5 hanks, purchase 100 grams.
- When converting grams to hanks, calculate a hank as 30 grams. So if a pattern says 60 grams, purchase 2 hanks.
This formula should cover all the bases and help make sure you have enough beads to complete your project.
The wires used to make the petals and other components are the skeletal structure of the flowers. It lends support and gives shape. I highly recommend using the highest quality wire that you can afford. The wires used most often in French Beading are copper core wires and florist paddle wire.
- Copper core wire is made from copper, but often has a plated, enameled, or colored coating on top. I like copper wire best because it has excellent malleability, while still providing adequate support for the petals and leaves, and can withstand more bending and twisting without breaking than other types of metal. In many countries copper wire is made with colored coatings, which makes it easy to match the wire to the beads. Usually the more expensive brands produce more durable wire and coatings.
- Florist paddle wire is made from some type of steel or iron alloy. It is stiffer than copper wire, which can be useful when making large components as you will get more support for the bead weight. But it also makes it harder on the hands to work with. This wire has a lower breaking point than copper as well, so bending it back and forth in the same spot, or over-twisting is more likely to result in breakages. Paddle wire only comes in a handful of colors. Silver and green are the most common, but sometimes you can find black and white as well. This wire is cheaper than the copper core wire, which is one reason why it is an attractive option.
Choosing wire colors: No matter how good you get, there’s always going to be some exposed wire somewhere. If the wire matches your beads it will be less visible. When I can’t find an exact color match, I usually choose a wire color that is similar, but lighter than the beads. If you go darker, it will show more in the finished piece, and may alter your bead color–which is not always a bad thing! On the other hand, some artists choose to only use silver colored wires. So my recommendation is to play around a bit and see what suits you.
Wire Sizes: In the US, these sizes are labeled by the gauge. The higher the gauge number, the thinner the wire. In other countries the sizes are determined by the diameter of the wire measured in millimeters. The chart below shows what each gauge is used for in French Beading, and the metric size conversion.
Working from the spool: You will see this term in some patterns. It means you should string beads directly onto the spool of wire and leave the wire attached to the spool while making the component so you have a continuous feed of both wire and beads.
Cutting wire from the spool: Some techniques and most shading patterns require you to cut wire off the spool. If a pattern gives a specific amount of wire to cut off the spool while making a component, always cut extra because you might use more than the designer due to differences in personal technique.
How much to purchase: Always treat amounts in materials lists as a rough estimate and purchase more. You may use more or less than the designer. It’s best to have more than what is listed on hand so you don’t have to wait on a wire order before you can complete your project.
These wires are used to support the whole flower – like a spine. The wire needs to be stiff enough to support the weight of the entire flower. The larger the flower, the thicker the stem wire needed.
- Florist Stem Wire: Floral stem wires are made from steel and come in packages of pre-cut lengths – usually around 14-18 inches long. I use 16 and 18 gauge the most. You can bundle multiple stem wires together for heavier flowers if needed.
- Galvanized Steel Wire: This wire comes in coils and can be cut to any length, which makes it great for when you need a length longer than 14-18 inches. But it also comes in thicker sizes than florist stem wire, which is great for heavy flowers. This wire can also be used for armatures or wreath frames. You will need heavy duty wire cutters to cut it.
- Floral Tape – This is used to assemble flowers, or cover over the wires to conceal them. The colors I used most are green, light green, and brown.
- Embroidery Floss – This is used to wrap stems to make it look nicer than just floral tape. I generally just use regular DMC floss, but flat silk floss is also commonly used.
- Pots and Vases – For obvious reasons. Check your local thrift shops to find unique vases for low cost.
- Wreath Frames / Macrame Hoops – These pre-made forms can be used to make wreaths, candle rings, wall hangings, or other structures. They come in a variety of shapes.
Potting Mediums and Vase Fillers
- Clay – Clay grips flower stems pretty well, so flowers are less likely to spin around in it. Non-hardening clay never dries out or hardens so you can change arrangements later. It’s heavy so it can be a counter-weight for top-heavy beaded arrangements. Air dry clay is easier to mold, and will harden, but it is lighter weight.
- Plaster – craft plaster is great for permanent arrangements and very heavy plants. It adds weight to the vase or pot, and prevents the flowers from moving at all.
- Resin – Resin is great to use in clear containers or to mimic the appearance of water. Many resins are toxic, so you need to wear a respirator and gloves when working with it.
- Floral Foam – this doesn’t grip stems very well, and it doesn’t add weight to the pots to help counterbalance top-heavy flowers, but can work for smaller flowers. Sometimes I fill deeper pots half-way with foam, then fill the rest of the way with clay.
- Chicken Wire – This can be used as an interior support inside a vase or pot. It shouldn’t be the only support because it does not add weight to counter-balance flowers, but it can be used with pebbles for arranging, or to hold flowers in place while plaster cures.
- Marbles or Pebbles – These make great vase fillers as they add weight to the vase. Larger pebbles and rocks can be wedged inside vases to help prevent flowers from shifting. You can also use these to conceal plaster, clay, or other unattractive potting mediums.
- Preserved or Fake Moss – I use this on top of clay, plaster, or foam to conceal it.
My Favorite Suppliers
I am based in the USA, so my favorite sources are all there. I am not very familiar with supply shops in other countries, but I have listed the ones that have been shared in our Facebook group by other French Beaders. If you know of any sources that carry French Beading supplies (not just general beading supplies), and would like to add it to the list to help other beaders in your country find supplies, please contact me.
- Fire Mountain Gems – firemountaingems.com – Matsuno Dynamites, Preciosa Czech, Miyuki Rounds (with bulk options)
- Shipwreck Beads – shipwreckbeads.com – Preciosa Czech (with bulk options)
- Beaded Edge Supply – beadededgesupply.com – Preciosa Czech (including 2-cut and satin beads), Japanese beads
- Pow Wow Supply – powwowsuppy.com – Preciosa Czech (including 2-cut and satin beads)
- Aura Crystals – auracrystals.com – Toho, Miyuki
- Caravan Beads – caravanbeads.com – Miyuki (with bulk options)
- Simply Beads USA – simplybeadsusa.com – Toho, Matsuno, Miyuki
- Bobby Bead – tohowholesale.com – Toho (this is their wholesale site, which as bulk options. I was able to create an account without submitting a business license)
Colored Copper Wires
- Parawire – Parawire.com – my favorite brand! Lots of colors, high quality coatings and tarnish resistant. They do sell wire made from metals other than copper, which we don’t use in French Beading.
- Artistic Wire – Beadalon.com, GreatCraftWorks.com – another fantastic, high quality brand of wire. Again make sure you are purchasing their colored copper wires, not other types of beading or wire wrapping wires.
- Zebra Wire – FireMountainGems.com – good quality wire, fewer colors, and not tarnish resistant
- Hildie & Jo – Joanns.com (or local stores) – not the best, but useable
- Stem Wires – Papermart.com, Amazon.com
- Galvanized Steel coils (for stems) – Amazon.com, local hardware store
- Floral Tape – Papermart.com, SugarDelites.com
- Embroidery Floss – local craft store, everythingcrossstitch.com
- GJ Beads – gjbeads.co.uk
- Spellbound Beads – spellboundbead.co.uk
- Spoilt Rotten Beads – spoiltrottenbeads.co.uk
- The London Bead Company – londonbeadco.com
- Perles and Co – http://www.perlesandco.co.uk
Colored Copper Wires
- Scientific Wire – wires.co.uk
- thatbeadlady.com (Miyuki)
Colored Copper Wires
- Iguanabeads.com (Parawire)
- Dobeado.com (seed beads)
- oktabeads.eu (seed beads)
- jm-perlen.dk (seed beads)
- dimarca-online.com (Miyuki, Toho)
- perlesandco.de.com (seed beads & wire)
- lovebeads.ru (seed beads)
- melodiabisera.ru (seed beads & wire)
- Parlladan.se (seed beads)
- Ljuvating.se (seed beads)
- Hilmaspyssel.se (seed beads)
- mallansglitter.se (seed beads and wire)