Lesson One: Tools and Materals
Here I will discuss beads, wire, tools, and other materials that you’ll need to make French Beaded Flowers. Navigate through the tabs to learn about all the exciting craft supplies you’ll get to hoard!
Obviously, you can’t make French Beaded Flowers without beads. Perhaps you’ve already discovered the allure of these sparkling bits of glass. If not, beware! Their power to bewitch and enchant is legendary, and they are the bane of many husbands and partners worldwide.
They come in a vast variety of shapes, sizes, colors and finishes. The ones I will focus on today are the Seed Beads, as they are the type you will use most to make French Beaded Flowers.
Seed beads have numerical sizes – the larger the number the smaller the bead. In French Beading the most commonly used seed bead sizes are 11/0 and 10/0. Every once and a while I use larger size 8/0 beads as well. I have also used tiny 13/0 and 15/0 for very small flowers.
The beads you choose will have a great impact on the style and aesthetics of your flower. Familiarize yourself with all the different types so you can choose wisely.
– Seed Bead Finishes –
Seed beads come with different types of finishes. AB/Rainbow, Ceylon, Color-Lined, Dyed, Duracoat, Frosted/Matte, AB/Rainbow Matte, Galvanized, Luminous, Luster, Metallic, Matte Metallic, Opaque, Opaque Luster, Opaque AB/Rainbow, Opal, Semi-Frosted, Silver-Lined, Silver-Lined AB/Rainbow, Satin, Transparent… and that’s not even all of them! Each type of finish creates a different effect on the bead. But beware of some finishes as they are less stable. Dyed and color-lined beads are prone to fading, either over time or from being exposed to direct sunlight. Silver-lined beads will eventually tarnish and turn black or gray. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever use these beads. Just treat them very kindly, don’t use harsh chemical cleaners, and keep them out of the sun. This will help prolong the lives of flowers made from them, but they will likely still fade over time.
In the world of French Beading, these finishes can help mimic certain leaf or petal textures. For example, if you want to recreate the look of a waxy leaf or petal you might try using opal or opaque luster beads. Transparent matte and opaque matte beads have a velvety appearance.
Every artist has their own preferences for which bead finishes to use. Everyone observes and recreates details in their own way. Or maybe you just want your flowers to sparkle and don’t care about recreating the natural flower’s surface textures. Perhaps the color you need is only available to you in certain finishes. Whatever your preference and circumstance, I recommend playing around with different seed bead finishes to see what effects you can make.
See the pictures below for some different seed bead finishes.
Left to Right: Opaque, Opaque Luster, Opaque Rainbow
– Seed Bead Shapes and Cuts –
Seed beads also come in several different shapes and cuts. There is the standard round seed bead – also called rocaille. These are the ones you will probably use the most since they come in the largest variety of colors and finishes.
But there are also cylinder shaped beads, which as the name suggests have more of a tube shape.
And then there are beads that have extra facets cut into them. These ones really sparkle since the extra facets catch the light very well. But there are different kinds of cuts. Beads that are cut once (not necessarily one facet) are called Charlotte and True Cuts. Technically, only size 13/0 are called Charlottes. The other sizes of one cut beads are True Cuts. 2 cut beads have been cut… twice… but don’t have just two facets. (I assume the machine they cut them with has more than one blade, hence why they have more facets than cuts). These 2-cut beads tend to have more a hex shape. Some Japanese brand seed beads have a hex-cut bead, which is very similar to the 2-cut. There are also 3-cut beads, though I’ve only ever found them in 9/0 and 12/0 sizes. Of those two sizes 12/0 is the closest to a “standard” 11/0 seed bead.
– Seed Bead Brands –
Just as every artists has preferences for different finishes, cuts, and shapes, each individual also has certain brands of seed beads that they like more than the rest. Sometimes this choice is determined by the cost, and that is perfectly okay. You do not have to use the fanciest beads to make beautiful flowers. Just choose the best materials that you can easily afford.
Though I will go over some of the more popular brands here and discuss their pros and cons.
- Miyuki – Miyuki is a Japanese brand known and loved by bead weavers all over the world. They are best known for the Delica seed beads which are exactly the same shape and size. I don’t find it necessary for beads to be this exact for French Beading. In fact, it can sometimes make the flowers look more artificial. Plus, they are very expensive, and when you use the amount we do with French Beading, it’s certainly a costly choice. However, many people don’t know that Miyuki also makes standard round seed beads. These don’t have the exact uniformity of Delicas, but again, it’s not necessary. They are still a more expensive option, but nowhere near the investment as Delicas. What I love most about Japanese beads is that they come in more colors and finishes than Czech or Chinese beads. Sources for Miyuki rounds: Caravan Beads, Aura Crystals, Art Beads, Aunties Beads.
- TOHO – Another Japanese company that makes very high quality beads. Their beads are very uniform in shape and size, though not perfect. They are a little less costly than Miyuki rounds, but still an expensive option, depending on where you buy them. They do also have more finishes and colors that aren’t available in Czech or Chinese beads. Sources: Fusion Beads, Lima Beads, Art Beads, Bobby Bead, Fire Mountain Gems, Potomac Bead Company, Beaded Edge Supply.
- Matsuno – Matsuno is yet another Japanese seed bead manufacturer. I find that their beads tend to be a little longer (stringing direction) than other types of seed beads, and a little more squared. But they are wonderful beads to work with, and not as expensive as the other Japanese options. Sources: Fire Mountain Gems.
- Preciosa Ornela – These beads are manufactured in the Czech Republic. This company used to be named Jablonex, and do still operate under that name in the Czech Republic, so if you get beads with a Jablonex tag, it’s the same company. This is where quality meets affordability, and these are the beads I use the most in my own work. The beads are a little less uniform than Japanese brands, but not so much that it’s problematic. The only time it causes problems is when the bead holes are a little smaller than normal, so they string a little slower, but that doesn’t happen often. While they do have fewer options for colors than Miyuki and Toho, I can find most of what I need. Czech beads are often sold strung on bundles of strings called “hanks”. Each 12-strand hank will contain between 30 and 40 grams of beads, depending on what finish and cut you purchase. Sources: Ship Wreck Beads, Fire Mountain Gems, Beaded Edge Supply, Kora Beads (on Ebay)
- Chinese Beads – I’m not familiar with many “brands” of Chinese beads since most of the ones I’ve purchased aren’t labeled as anything more than seed beads. These are generally the cheapest option. But they are cheap for a reason. Generally, they are very irregular in size and shape, which can cause problems if you are following patterns with bead counts. Leaves and petals made from the same pattern may not end up the same size. They also create a lot of extra surface texture due to the irregular bead shapes. And the finishes aren’t the same quality as Czech and Japanese beads. Meaning they aren’t as stable and may wear off, or fade more quickly. Take care when cleaning these beads! But, there is a company called Panda Hall that offers what are called “Grade A”Chinese seed beads. I’ve not tested them myself, but other French Beaders I know say they are much more uniform than other Chinese beads.
The above named sources for various beads are all USA based companies. Because I do not buy beads overseas, I am not very familiar with bead shops in other countries. The only ones I know of are in the UK – Spell Bound Beads, GJ Beads, Panda Hall, Totally Beads, Just Art Stitch, and I-Beads.
– About Bead Counts –
You will find that French Beading is different from other types of bead work. Individual designers have different ways of doing things and writing patterns. One thing I see frequently in beginners is that they try to count beads in each row. This is completely unnecessary most of the time. I am also asked if my patterns contain exact bead counts for rows. The short answer is no. I rarely include exact bead counts for more than the starting row or loop for a piece. Here’s why: beads made by different manufacturers may not all be the same size. Even if they are all an 11/0, they may not be the same stringing length. Czech beads, which are the most popular type of seed beads used in French Beading, are not always the same stringing length from one bead lot to the next. So if you are using a different brand of beads you may use more or less beads. There is also a bit of variation based on the technique of the individual artist. Wrapping at a slightly different angle than the designer, or with more or less tension, can affect how many beads are in each row.
Bead counts also just make it take longer than necessary. You can sit and count out 40 beads for a row, or you can quickly measure how many beads it takes to complete the row by simply laying the row next to the previous one. Some of my patterns will give bead counts for the starting rows or loops, and others will use measurements (inches and cm), which I find to be more accurate and will translate more easily to using a different type of bead. So if the designer uses regular 11/0 round and you want to use 11/0 2-cut beads – which are cylinder shaped – you can do so easily without having to re-calculate the number of beads needed to start. (Though you will need to recalculate if you move to a completely different size such as from 11/0 to 15/0.)
I remember the first french beaded flower I tried to make. It was from a book where the designer did give exact bead counts for rows. It was very frustrating because I couldn’t get the bead counts to work! I thought I was doing it all wrong and nearly gave up trying. I never finished that flower, but I eventually just moved on to a different book. So no, I do not give exact bead counts. My personal advise is to view bead counts with a grain of salt. Use them as a guide rather than an exact recipe. For patterns that use multiple colors of beads, it’s easier to eyeball the placement, paying attention to the beads in relation to other colors or the shape as a whole. Most of the time it’s not life or death if the markings aren’t in the exact same spot as the pattern, and a more general placement will work just fine. No need to stress yourself out with counting beads and trying to make it “perfect”. After all, flowers in nature are rarely ever perfect, yet they are considered beautiful. Two roses on the same bush may not have the exact same coloring and shading patterns.
Wire provides the skeletal support system for French Beaded Flowers. The type of wire we use in French Beading to make the actual flower parts is copper core wire. This type of metal can withstand a lot of bending, can be easily molded into shape and holds shape well, and is still strong enough to support flower pieces. In some countries you can find copper core wire that has colored coatings. If you can find it in colors, use it. If not, don’t worry too much. Many artists use plain silver colored wire. My recommendation is to buy the best wire that you can afford. The quality of the wire you use will determine how long the flowers will last.
You will also use florist stem wires, which are made from steel. These will be the stems for your flowers and leaf branches. These types of wires can be found easily in the floral department of just about any craft store. But they are usually limited to 18 inches long. For heavier or taller flowers you may want to to invest in reels of galvanized steel wire (along with heavy duty wire cutters to cut it). Both the wire and the cutters can be purchased from hardware stores.
In the US (and a few other countries) we use gauges to describe wire sizes. The larger the number, the thinner the wire. Here is a list of the wire gauges you will use in French Beading, the comparable metric sizes, and what they are used for.
- 30-32 gauge copper core (0.25 – 0.2 mm) – Used for lacing flower pieces, flower assembly, or sometimes really tiny flower parts, like twisted Fringes.
- 28 gauge copper core (0.3 mm) – Used for flower assembly, and small flower parts, like stamen.
- 26 gauge copper core (0.4 mm) – Used for very small flower petals, leaves, and stamen. Also useful for assembling very heavy flowers, trees, or wreaths.
- 24 gauge copper core (0.5 mm) – Used for most petals and leaves. Extra unit support wires.
- 22 gauge copper core (0.6 mm) – Used for extra large flower petals and leaves. Extra unit support wires.
- 20 gauge florist stem wire (0.8 mm) – Unit support wires
- 18 gauge florist stem wire (1.02 mm) – Unit support wires, stems for very small flowers and leaves.
- 16 gauge florist stem wire/ galvanized steel (1.3 mm) – Stem wires for standard sized flowers and leaves. Bundle multiple together for heavier flowers. Unit support wires.
- 14 gauge galvanized steel (1.6 mm) – stem wire for heavy flowers, wreath frames, armatures.
- 12 gauge galvanized steel (2.06 mm) – stem wire for extra heavy flowers, wreath frames, armatures.
– About Wire Measurements –
You will sometimes work with a pattern that tells you to measure and cut a specific amount of wire. Always cut more wire! Always. The exact amount used will vary from one artist to the next, so cut a little extra for at least the first few until you know how much you use.
Some patterns will tell you how much wire you need to purchase, but not all do. It’s difficult to determine exactly how much wire is used, because it really does depend on the individual artist. If there is an amount listed, always buy more.
– Wire Brands –
Choosing which wire to use is a personal decision, but I’d like to at least share my experiences and preferences to help guide you in picking which ones to work with. We’ll talk about Paddle Wire, Darice, Zebra Wire, Parawire, Artistic Wire, and Scientific Wire.
– Paddle Wire –
Paddle wire is the cheapest type of wire on the market that can be used in French Beaded Flowers. It comes in three colors: green, silver, and white, so your options are limited. You can easily find this in the floral department of your local craft or hobby store.
I don’t like using paddle wire for my flower parts. The phrase, “You get what you pay for” comes to mind. It breaks more easily than other wires, and the color coating often flakes or peels off. I’m not sure what kind of metal this wire is made from, but I’m fairly certain it isn’t copper. I do not recommend using it for items that will be handled frequently, like brooches or hair accessories. If you do choose to use it, avoid twisting too tightly or it will break on you. Then again, I do tend to be a little rougher with my wires. There are artists who use this wire exclusively.
28-30 gauge paddle wire can occasionally be useful for assembly, so it’s nice to have on hand. It’s also nice to have some of the cheaper wire while you are practicing so you don’t “waste” the more expensive wire.
– Darice Wire –
Darice wire is another cheaper colored copper wire that can be easily found in craft stores.
I’ve only had these break on me on a few occasions, and the finish isn’t as permanent as more expensive wires. The coloring won’t flake on you like paddle wire, but it is prone to scratching and rubbing off. And the silver and gold wires will tarnish over time and turn black. This wire is not high quality, and may not last as long as the higher end brands. I use this only for practicing or trying new things.
– Zebra Wire –
Zebra wire is found online at Fire Mountain Gems. It is fairly inexpensive and decent quality. If you have a tight budget, this wire may be a good option for you. You will find they have a variety of colors and gauges.
I used this wire a lot in the past, and I was happy with it. I’ve never had their 24 gauge break on me and the color coating holds up well to wrapping, bending, and coiling, though it can rub off on your fingers a little. However, I don’t recommend the silver. After a few years it will tarnish and turn black. Their “Gold” is actually brass wire, not copper, which is not suitable for French Beading.
The 24 gauge wire in this brand is a little stiffer than other brands’ 24g wire. But their 26, 28, and 30 gauge wires are flimsier and more prone to breaking than the higher end brands.
– Parawire –
Parawire sells many types of wires and metals on their website. Their copper core craft wire is a much loved favorite among French Beaders.
It is a little more expensive than the previous options, but this is excellent wire, and well worth the cost. They even have white, which Zebra Wire, Darice do not have.
Their wire is tarnish and chip resistant. It is one of my favorites and I use it almost exclusively. You can also email Parawire and ask for bulk spools of wire, which I do for colors that I use a lot of, like gold, red, green, etc.
Note: Parawire does have pure white wire, most other brands’ white wires are more cream colored. However, I have found that their 24g Ultra White and Antique White wires are softer than other 24g wires. They feel more like 26g to me. So it works well for smaller petals. For larger white petals I like to use their 22g White wire, which may work better with size 10/0 seed beads (if using Czech). Or use the 22 gauge white for the basic row so the petals have the support they need, then adding in 24 gauge white for the rest of the rows. White does not come in 30 or 32 gauge, so I usually use the 32 gauge Antique White for lacing white petals, which doesn’t show in the finished flowers too much.
– Artistic Wire –
Artistic Wire is another high quality wire option, and another favorite for French Beaders and myself. It is the most expensive option, but as I said before, you get what you pay for. It is tarnish and chip resistant, and their finishes hold up very well. While I don’t believe it’s “better” than Parawire, they do have colors that Parawire does not currently offer. They even have a Pearl Silver and White, which are both actually off-white, creamy colors. But they work very well with white colored beads, and the 24 gauge is not softer than regular 24 gauge wires like Parawire’s white.
The only downside to Artistic Wire is the cost. We French Beaders go through a lot of wire, so it can add up very quickly.
– Scientific Wire –
Scientific Wire is a company in the UK that produces colored copper wires. I imported some into the USA just so I could test it for you guys. While it’s not quite on the same level as Parawire, mostly because some of the colors peeled off, it’s still great wire to work with. The prices are very reasonable and they do have lots of colors to choose from. I have only personally tested the 24 gauge wire, so I can’t offer experience on the thinner wires. I also have not tested it for tarnishing over time as I’ve only had it for a short while. But I do believe it’s a great source of wire for those in or near the UK that are looking for colored wires.
Let’s talk about the tools of the trade.
You will want some regular side-cutting wire cutters. These can be found at just about any jewelry supply store. Try to find some that can cut up to 16 gauge wire so you can use them for the petal/leaf wires and the 18 and 16 gauge steel flower stem wires. As you get further into French Beading and start making heavier flowers, you will want some heavy duty wire that can cut at least 14 gauge wires to cut the thicker stems. Using regular wire cutters on the thicker steel stem wires will make them wear out more quickly, or break altogether. They will all wear out over time, but nicer more expensive ones will last longer. One little tip, finger nail clippers work really well on your thinner petal, lacing, and assembly wires and they are very inexpensive to replace.
Flat nosed pliers are nice to have to help bend wires or grab them to pull through, though you will usually do your wrapping with just your fingers. Nylon jaw pliers will help you smooth out your wires if you get any kinks. Needle nosed pliers for making little loops in your wires.
If you plan to make French Beading one of your long-time hobbies, you should invest in a decent bead spinner to help you load beads onto your wires. I prefer the wooden hand spun ones over the electric ones as you can control the speed, it isn’t loud, and you won’t have to keep buying batteries. You can learn more about bead spinners on my blog post here.
– Some plastic bags to store your wire spools, beads, or works in progress to keep them organized.
– A small funnel to help you move beads from your spinner back into their containers
– Blunt tipped needles (optional – if you have difficulty with the thinner lacing wires)
– A measuring tape – I like the flexible ones that you find in the sewing section because they roll up, but any measuring device will work just fine.
– A carrying case (optional – if you plan on taking your supplies anywhere)
– A beading tray
– A cloth to put under your bead spinner (this helps catch any beads that fly out and makes clean up for accidental spills a breeze.)
– You might consider purchasing some sort of hands-free magnifying device/light if your eyes have difficulty with the tiny beads and wire.
– Rubber finger protectors are helpful to have if you are making tons of continuous loops or twisted fringes, which can make your fingers sore. My favorite kind are made for guitar players and have the fingernail section cut out so you can still use your nails when needed to measure out beads.
Along with wire, beads, and tools, there are also a variety of other supplies that come in handy.
- Floral Tape – normally comes in green, white, and brown in your local craft store’s floral department, but can be found in many other colors with a little searching.
- Floral Clay (or non-hardening craft clay)
- Floral Foam
- Some kind of art plaster, synthetic water, or resin (for potting)
- Pots and vases (Check your local thrift store! I find some of the best containers there.)
- Mosses and other types of camouflage to cover the clay/plaster/foam
- Embroidery floss – for wrapping the stems. You can use just about any type of embroidery floss that you like. You can use the regular cotton/poly floss you find at craft stores, just be prepared to untwist it while you wrap. Or you can purchase the more expensive silk floss. Does not matter. Try a few different types to see which you prefer.
- Glue – If you plan on using embroidery floss to wrap your stems you will need some glue to secure the ends. I like Fabric Tac. But I do not glue my flowers together as glue degrades over time and will actually reduce the flower’s lifespan.
- Marbles or pebbles to weigh down the bottom of a vase.