Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making Ceramic Beads with Wire Loops

When I find the time to be in the studio and work with my porcelain or chocolate stoneware clay with the intention of making beads, I put on some good music, pull out my tools and sit and hope for no interruptions (which has been quite difficult this summer with kids and a basement room renovation).
Right now I am working on some bead stock for D7 Studio and Thornburg Bead Studio for their bead shows, and Staci Louise for her class at Bead Fest Philly.
I would really love to get some up intop my Etsy shop too...
These are small textured cones I love to make, that are perfect for earrings.
I first roll out my clay, then form a cone shape, which is then textured. 
Once I work through that batch, I insert the small Nichrome wire loop that I have pre-made.
I use memory wire cutters to cut this very hard wire, and my triple step concave jaw pliers to create the "loop".
As I am making these teeny U-shaped loops - which are first cut to 3/4" (19mm) in length, then bent in half, I try to bend the ends of the wire to almost touch itself.
The wire I use is Nichrome Wire, which can withstand the high temperatures (2230 degrees F) that I fire my beads to.

I feel that when you are working with ceramic clay (or polymer clay, paper clay, and other mediums that do not fuse the metal wire to the bead such as silver wire and silver clay fuse to make one piece) it is important to have this bit of wire to cover up - see the gap in the clay where the wire was inserted in the photo below:
That clay is then immediately smoothed over with a rubber tipped detail tool to capture the ends of the wire down into the clay, where it will not wiggle loose or come right out (as it could if it were just a straight U-shape).
It is just one of those teeny extra steps that a bead maker should take to ensure that the bead is of high quality for the jewelry designer and eventual wearer of the bead.
In the photo above you can see some of the shapes of the loops as they are when first formed.
I will make the edges almost touch before putting it into the bead.
And for those people that prefer holes to wire loops, some of the shapes can be skewered by bamboo or other teeny tools.
I make sure to poke it through both sides and tap the edges down to make sure there are no pointy clay pieces that will be annoying later down the line.
They are all put into little bowls, are dried and then fired to Cone 04 or about 2000 degrees F (the bisque firing - they do not fuse together at this stage, so they can be stacked like this) to make them more durable to then paint with ceramic glaze.
The image above is the finished glaze firing load fired to cone 5 or about 2230 degrees F.
Every piece has to suspend individually as to not touch in the firing or else they will fuse together.
And when they are out, I pair them up with their mates (just the way I work - I like to work with the intention of making sets).
If they end up coming out of the glaze firing as a set, that is how I sell them.
Sometimes individuals come out too - but not too often.
One thing I really enjoy about a fresh load of glazed ceramic beads is having them all there so I can pull out other artist beads from my stash and match them up.
I am actually thinking of selling these matched sets - just simply because it is not that easy to color match through online shopping.
This will satisfy my need to shop for artist beads AND allow others to shop with confidence for beads in the same color family...
My Friend Nikki of Thornburg Bead Studio shared this image of her flower beads and my ceramic beads that she quick whipped up with a few jump rings and ear wires!

The design possibilities of using beads with loops is amazing!
Have you tried them yet?


Artisan Beads Plus said...

Those are great! I cannot believe how many you have at once!!! I have tried the nichrome wire in the past, but then stopped. What gauge do you use?

Marsha of Marsha Neal Studio said...

I use the 22 ga Nichrome Wire for these, but do have the 20 ga to use for larger or heavier pieces. I used to use the Nichrome from the regular ceramics supplier, but after some ceramic friends had issues with it burning out, I've switched to Jacob's Online for my source. They actually have the kind of Nichrome listed.

And I have heard that Kanthal is good to use for higher temperatures, but you should not use it when making ceramic headpins because it becomes brittle and can break easily (so it should be ok for these kinds of loops that aren't really going to be bending or moving in shape).


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