Unit Support Wires

Some flowers are just huge. They have large, long, or otherwise heavy petals or leaves that are just too heavy for the usual copper core wires to support. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like floppy petals or leaves, so I am going to teach you about Unit Support Wires, also called Stem Strengthening Wires. These are certainly not the only ways to add in extra support wires, but they are a good place to start. 

If you haven’t already read it, I do have a lesson on “Wire” in my Learn French Beading Beginner Course that you may find helpful. I even have a chart that converts the gauges to mm for those of you on the metric system. 

The samples below are not pure finished patterns for any particular flower or plant. They are samples being used just to teach. These methods are made for the Basic Frame Technique, which you will need to know before this tutorial section will make any sense. 

Mixing Wire Gauges

This fire section introduces the idea of mixing wire gauges to construct the Basic Frame itself. This tip is helpful for all French Beaders, but especially for those with Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel, or any other affliction that affects the hands. I know many of you are using the thinner 26 gauge (.4 mm) wire for your flowers as it’s easier for you to manage and wrap. For smaller flowers, this substitution may work just fine. However, once you get into larger flowers with larger petals, support becomes an issue. 

What I suggest is to use a thicker wire just for the Basic Row. Cut a length of 22 or 24 gauge wire (0.6-0.5 mm), depending on the size of the petal/leaf you are making and how much support you like, and twist your 26g (.4 mm) working wire into the bottom portion to form the Bottom Wire (Photo 1). This way you can have the benefit of the thicker wire supporting the petal or leaf, while only having to wrap the thinner wire for the rows.  

This works if you are using 24 gauge for the rows as well. Cut a length of 22 gauge wire to use for the Basic Row and attach your 24 gauge for the rows when you just need a little extra support. 

Photo 1

Note: Occasionally you’ll come across size 11/0 seed beads with holes too small for size 22 gauge wire. Japanese size 11’s have larger more consistently sized holes and should not have this problem. The ones I see it with the most is with Chinese beads, and occasionally Czech seed beads as well. 

Another way to mix wire gauges is to use a thinner gauge of florist stem wire for the Basic Row, though you will need to use a larger size of bead for the Basic Row as well. 

1.  String size 8/0 seed beads onto a 20 gauge florist stem wire. This will be your Basic Row. 

2.  String a 24 or 22 gauge copper core wire with size 11 or size 8 seed beads (I am using 11/0) and attach it to the 20 gauge stem wire by wrapping it around multiple times below the Basic Row. This will be your Working Wire. (Picture 2)

Photo 2

3.  Wrap your rows normally around the Basic Row, then secure your Working Wire by wrapping it multiple times around the 20 gauge Bottom Wire, then cut the Working Wire off. (Photo 3​) 

4.  Cut the Top Wire short, then use some pliers to slowly bend the Top Wire sideways​ to the back side of the leaf. (Photo 4​) If you fold straight backwards as you would with a regular wire gauge, your Top Wire won’t lay flat and will be much more visible.

Photo 3
Photo 4

Cover the Bottom Wire with floral tape and you’re good to go. The finished leaf is in Photo 5

One of the benefits of this method is that the Stem wire is mostly hidden on the underside of the leaf, unlike the similar Built-In Support Wire that uses florist stem wires (Method 2 below). 

If you don’t like the look of mixed bead sizes, then it wouldn’t be horrible to make the entire leaf out of 8/0. Generally this would be used for medium to large leaves, so the chunkiness that usually accompanies using a larger bead size is diminished. 

Photo 5

Note: Use size 6/0 beads for the Basic Row if you need to use 18 gauge stem wire. Or, instead of using beads for the Basic Row, wrap the section of wire that would be the Basic Row with embroidery floss. If you need a stem wire thicker than 18 gauge, it may be better to use the Built-In or Add-On Method 2 below. The thicker wires are very difficult to bend to the back of the leaf, though it can be done. 

Built-in Support Wires

Built-In support wires are extra wires that are added into the Basic Frame during construction. There are a couple different ways of doing this, again depending on the size of leaf or petal you are making. 

Method 1

The first method for built-in support wire involves adding in extra thickness to the Bottom Wire of a Basic Frame using more copper wire, either in the same gauge as your petal/leaf, or a slightly thicker gauge. This method will work well for medium sized petals or leaves. 

1.  First, construct your Basic Frame and wrap the first few rows. You will need at least 3 rows, but I am using 5 rows in my example. 

2.  Cut a length of 24 or 22 gauge wire – depending on the size of the petal/leaf you are making – that is twice the length of your Bottom Wire and the petal stem wire combined. Fold this wire in half. 

Note: Normally you would choose a wire color that matches your petal wire color. I am using a darker color so you can see it easier in the pictures. 

3.   Insert the two ends of your folded support wire into the front of your petal, with one end of the folded support wire on either side of your petal’s Bottom Wire, inside the two outer rows. (Photo 6)

Photo 6

4. Push the wire all the way through. The bend in the middle of your support wire will “catch” around the Bottom Wire of your Basic Frame. Make sure this middle bend is fully between rows on the Bottom Wire. You may need to gently pull on it a bit and wiggle it around to get it down between those rows. If you use a color of wire that matches your beads the wire won’t be visible unless you’re looking for it. 

5.   On the back side of your petal, fold the two unit support wires down so they lay on either side of the Bottom Wire. (Photo 7) This will leave you with four Bottom Wires to wrap around. 

Note: You can twist all 4 of the wires together if you’d like, but it’s not necessary and can sometimes skew the first few rows of beads if you don’t twist carefully. 

Photo 7

 6. Continue wrapping rows,  wrapping around all 4 Bottom Wires. Make sure your Bottom Wires don’t twist around each other while you finish constructing your petal. (Picture 8) It won’t hurt your petal if they do twist, it just looks messier and makes lumps. 

7. Once you finish your rows, twist your Working Wire into the Bottom Wire, which will leave your petal with 5 total Bottom Wires

Photo 8

Note: You can build the Unit Support Wire into the petal above the Basic Row instead of below, if needed.

Method 2

The second method for using Built-In Support Wires uses thicker florist stem wires. Florist stem wires are made of steel, not copper like the wires we use for the flower parts, so they are much stronger and can support more weight. This makes these wires perfect for supporting those long-blade, large, or extra-large leaves. 

1.  Wrap an 18 or 16 gauge florist stem wire with floral tape. This makes the surface of the stem wire less smooth and easier for the wire to grip so it won’t slip around. 

2.  Construct a Basic Frame using 24 or 22 gauge copper core wire. 

3.   Lay your Basic Frame on top of the prepared stem wire so the Top Wire and Bottom Wire line up with the stem wire. (Photo 9). 

Photo 9

4.  As you wrap your rows, wrap around both the Basic Frame wires and the florist stem wire at the top and bottom of the leaf. (Photo 10

Photo 10

NoteAdd your lacing wires into your leaf before wrapping on any rows. Once the leaf is attached to the stem wire it will be difficult to get the lacing wires in.

5.  As you get near the end of your leaf, but with a few rows still to go, trim just the florist stem wire short, leaving the Top Wire on your Basic frame a little longer. (Photo 11) We trim this wire to avoid having to fold a thicker stem wire back at the end of the completed leaf. 

Make sure you do not trim the stem wire too close to the last wrap on the Top Wire, or that wrap may slip off. Best to clip a little bit above. 

 6. Continue wrapping rows, wrapping around both the florist stem wire and Bottom Wire at the bottom of the leaf, and around just the Top Wire at the top of your leaf. (Photo 12) Finish your leaf normally by clipping the Top Wire short and folding to the backside of the leaf. 

Photo 11
Photo 12

Photo 13 shows the Front and Back of the finished leaf. 

One downside to this technique is that the stem wire will show on the underside of the leaf, so if you are making some long blade leaves that stand upright for an Iris or Daffodil, for example, the stem wire is exposed. You may need to do some creative arranging of the leaves, flipping some backwards when the underside will show. 

Photo 13

Add-On Support Wires

Add-On Support Wires are added to the leaf after they are constructed. They mimic the Built-In Support Wire methods above. 

Method 1

The first way to do this is very simple. It’s basically the same as the Built-In Support Wire Method 1, but done after the leaf is finished. 

1.  Construct your leaf or petal according to your pattern’s instructions. Normally with this method you will want your leaf/petal to have 3 Bottom Wires already, so do not reduce any Bottom Wires during construction. 

2.   Cut a length of 22 gauge copper core wire that is twice the length of your leaf’s Bottom Wire and stem wire combined. Fold this wire in half. 

3.   Insert the wire into the front of the leaf, just below the Basic Row, with one end of the wire between the two bottom rows on each side of the Bottom Wire. (Photo 14)

Photo 14

4.  Pull the wire all the way through to the back of the leaf, making sure the bend in the center of your unit support wire “catches” the Bottom Wire between two rows of beads. Just like with the Built-In method, you may need to wiggle it around or tug on the wire a little to get it all the way down between the beads. 

5.  Twist the two halves of the wire together on the back of your leaf. The length of this twist should be the same as the distance between the bottom of the Basic Row and the bottom of your leaf. Leave the rest of the wire untwisted. (Photo 15)

If you twist the wires all the way down to the ends now, when you twist the bottom of the wire into the leaf’s stem wire, it will make your leaf stem wire very bumpy, which will show in the finished flower.

Photo 15

6.  Fold the twisted wire down against the back of the leaf, then twist the bottom tails of wire into the leaf’s stem wire. (Photo 16

The downside of this technique is that the support wire is not secured between rows, which means it may slip and move around a little, or bow outward when you shape the leaf. It also just looks a tad messier, but it works in a pinch, and I haven’t noticed any difference in the amount of support if provides compared to the Built-In method. 

NoteJust like the built-in method, you can add this unit support wire in above the Basic Row as well. (Photo 17)

Photo 16
Photo 17

Method 2

For the second type of Add-On Support Wires, we will sew a florist stem wire to the back of our leaf. 

1. Make your leaf. 

2.  Wrap an 18 or 16 gauge florist stem wire with floral tape. This prepares the surface by making it less smooth and easier for wire to grip. That way our wires won’t slip around on the stem wire and our leaf won’t just spin around on the stem. 

3.  Cut a long length of 30-32 gauge copper core wire and wrap it to the tip of your florist stem wire. (Photo 18)

Photo 18

4.  Lay your leaf on top of the stem wire, with the tip of the stem wire right below the Basic Row. 

5.  Use the 30-32 gauge wire attached to the stem wire to sew the stem wire to the back of your leaf by looping around the Bottom Wire between rows of beads. Make sure the wire is pulled all the way down between rows of beads, but be careful not to snap your wire. (Photo 19) ​

Photo 19

6. Continue sewing down the full length of the Bottom Wire on your leaf, then wrap the 30-32 gauge wire around the base of the leaf, securing the leaf’s stem wire to the florist stem wire. (Photo 20

Cover the stem below the leaf with floral tape to conceal all the wires and you’re done.

Photo 20

© 2018 Lauren Harpster. This tutorial and all the pictures are property of Bead & Blossom. Do not copy and paste any section of my tutorials onto your own website, or print and redistribute them for personal gain. If you would like to share this tutorial, please do so with a link. 

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