French Beaded Flowers - An Old Art, Renovated
What are French beaded flowers?
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Everyone knows about painting, sculpture and many of the needle arts; but have you seen a beaded flower up close? Many people haven't. Beaded flowers, or bead flowers, were popular in the U.S. in the 1960s, when the first widely-published books appeared. Because of the Internet, bead flowers are getting more exposure and are becoming very popular again. The techniques aren't difficult to learn, and the results can be quite spectacular.
I have made a set of instructional DVDs so anyone with the desire can learn this beautiful art. Please see my website at http://www.rosemarykurtz.com for further information.
Originally, bead flowers were made by European peasants. One of the first uses of French bead flowers was to make altar flowers for the churches in the winter months. Other uses were wreaths for royal brides to wear as crowns on their wedding day, or to carry down the aisle in bouquets. Although the term "French" refers to a group of techniques, bead flower making may have begun in Germany in the 1300's, when metal wire was first developed.
Some notable people who have owned bead flowers are William Randolph Hearst, Pat Nixon and Princess Grace of Monaco. These people appreciated the elegance and longevity of bead flowers. Like live flowers, bead flowers can be rearranged to suit their surroundings. Unlike live flowers, bead flowers will never die. They can literally last for generations. A quick feather-dusting, and bead flowers look as fresh and beautiful as the day they were made. They're even more spectacular when made with Swarovski crystal beads!
Bead flowers can take so many forms.
How do you make a French bead flower?
One of the "founding mothers" of French bead flowers in America, Virginia Nathanson, wondered the same thing when she saw some breathtaking arrangements in the gift shop of a major department store in New York City several decades ago. She used a remarkable method to get her answer: She purchased one of the large arrangements, took it home, and completely disassembled each flower. She unwound all the wires, cut the flowers up, broke them apart, destroyed them completely. By this rather drastic forensic method, Ms. Nathanson discovered the techniques. She went on to teach the making of French bead flowers for many years. She wrote one of the first series of pattern books to be published in America.
You don't have to go to such destructive lengths, however. I can give you the basics right here, in plain language. There are many techniques; what I will explain to you for the flower petals and leaf is called the "basic" technique. This is because the center of each piece is made on what is called a "basic row." What you'll actually be doing is make a basic row, then just make some circles around it with more beads. The flower center will be made with the "continuous loop" technique. Feel free to take a look at some of the pix of my flowers as you read the instructions if you need help in clarifying things.
You will need seed beads, size 10 or 11. I use them from "hanks," which are made of 20 strands of 12 inches of beads, tied together at the tops or ends. You'll need some in your flower color and about half as much as that in green beads. You also need wire. Wire that is color-matched to your flower color is the best choice, but if you don’t have wire that is the same color as your beads, use gold or silver colored wire instead. You will also need some green wire for the leaves. All this wire should be 24 or 26 gauge. You will also need a roll of green floral tape, which you can get at any florist shop. You can get these materials in local craft stores. If you can't find beads in hanks, get a bagful; a vial will be too few.
Start with your flower color. Transfer the beads from the hank or bag onto the wire. There are many techniques for this process, but you can just pinch them off the string and feed them onto the wire if that works. It doesn't matter how you do it, just so the beads get onto the wire. Curl or "crimp" the end of the wire so the beads don't fall off.
Move an inch of beads to within three inches of the end of the wire on the spool. Make a loop of the wire just under these beads, and twist the top of the loop several times. Make the basic loop quite long – make it six inches while you’re learning the techniques. You will use the loop wires for the stem of your flower when you're done.
Now comes the creative part. Feed in enough beads from the spool until they are lined up against the "basic" row beads which are above the wire loop. Fit the new beads upwards along the first set of beads so the new beads fit in very snugly, and wrap the spool wire straight around the basic wire just above the "basic row." Now turn the piece upside down. Repeat this process of feeding beads, tightly fitting in and wrapping the spool wire until you have seven rows as you count from side to side across the front of the piece. Be sure you finish the last row at the bottom of the piece, just above the loop. Wrap two or three times to finish the last row.
Wrap some empty spool wire diagonally down the loop wires. Cut the bottom of the loop open and cut the spool wire at the bottom. At the top of the piece, cut off all but a little "nib" where that extra wire is. Bend the "nib" over onto the back of the piece, where you wrapped the spool wire during construction. This is your first finished petal
Repeating the process exactly, make four additional petals just like this one. To make a leaf, repeat the process with the green wire and beads. Feel free to make more than one leaf if you like.
You'll need a center for the flower. Make it in green. Move twenty beads to within two inches of the end of the wire. Make a very tight self-loop with these beads. When the loop is secure, pinch it tight so it stands up straight. Now move along the spool wire just a bit and make another loop. Make about ten of these self-loops on the same length of wire. Leaving an equal amount of wire at the end as there is at the beginning of the piece, cut the wire from the spool. Bunch these loops together and twist the wires.
Wrap the stems of each piece with the floral tape. This adds stability and “tooth” in the finished flower. Here's how: Stretch a few inches of tape slightly until it turns a lighter green than unstretched tape. Wrap the end of the tape around the top of the stemwires. Turn the tape diagonally down the stem and turn the piece; continue wrapping so that the wires are covered completely with tape all the way down. Be careful of overlapping the tape too much; you don’t want a thick stem. Stretching the tape is what activates its wax and makes it sticky, so keep stretching the tape as you work. Tear the tape off at the bottom of the wires.
When all the pieces are taped, you are ready to assemble them. Take the green center piece and start the tape wrapping straight around the stem just under the beads. After 1 1/2 wraps, add a petal with its front side facing the center; wrap another 1 1/2 times. Add the second petal in the same way. Repeat this until all the petals are taped on. Now turn the tape diagonally down the stems and wrap down about an inch. Add in the leaf. Continue wrapping down to the bottom of the wires, and tear the tape off. Shape all the parts like a real flower. You've made a French bead flower! Good work!
Where can I get materials to make beaded flowers?
OK, you're ready to give it a try. You're intrigued by French beaded flowers and you want to make some.
Where do you get the stuff? Well, here are some suggestions. You can read a full article here on Jillybeads, Parawire and Shipwreck Beads.
Jillybeads is a supplier of art and craft products in the UK. They offer a wide range of products, including findings and other items for the jewelry maker.
Parawire, or Paramount Wire, is a wire manufacturer in New Jersey. They have worked closely with beaded flower artists, and have even developed special wire just for us. Ask for Frank when you call!
Shipwreck Beads is a bead supplier in Washington State. They've got everything you could possibly need to make bead flowers. Even better, they offer a discount for larger orders. Get together with some beading friends to make one big order!
For your green wire for leaves, I always go to a regular Michael's craft store. I use their 24-gauge paddle wire. It's got lots of body to keep your leaves nice and perky, but the wire isn't too hard to work with. They also have floral tape, plus Plastilina clay and sphagnum moss for planting your beautiful beaded flowers.
So there you have it! Get out there and get some beading done.
Photos of My Work
Bead Flower Wreaths Project for 9/11/01. A global project for healing.
Renovating Vintage Pieces - a Delicate Art
I have just finished renovating four vintage French bead flower arrangements. To say the least, it was a challenge!
The owner is not sure exactly when these pieces were made. They belonged to her late mother. I estimate they were made in the 1950s or 1960s. Although obviously made with love, the creator had taken a few short cuts that made my job more difficult. For example, in the quest for narrow stems, petal wires had been cut too short. In some cases, one petal had sufficient wire, but all the other petals on the flower were held in the flower shape only by their eighth-inch stemwires and the flower's lacing wires.
These arrangements had been cleaned many times by dunking in water. Since they had been made with the all-steel wire available at the time, this cleaning method had brought several problems. The water that remained inside the beads after their baths had partly rusted most of the wires. Top basic wires had gone completely black. The unnecessarily thick lacing wires had also gone black. Since many times these wires went around the outside of the flower, this was particularly unsightly. Many wires had been so badly weakened by rusting that flower heads literally came off in my hands. Some leaves had become unsalvageable. Finally, the wet rust had flowed down over the silk wrapping on many stems, badly discoloring them.
First I carefully cleaned all the flowers and leaves with baby wipes. Next I removed all the lacing wires and re-laced with colormatched 32-gauge wire. For bluebells, I invented my own lacing technique so as to make the lacing as invisible as possible. I repaired and reattached flower heads where necessary, re-stemming a few heads along the way. Re-wrapping stems with floss on all four arrangements was a major undertaking, especially in the case of sprigs and sprays. Using whitish nail polish, I camouflaged blackened top basic wires on the yellow tulips.
Potting brought more surprises. Plastic "baggies" had been used as liners in two arrangements. Two of the pieces had been previously "redone" by a florist; so, one had been repotted in styrofoam. Another presented a peculiar potting combination of both clay and styrofoam. I replaced all the foam with fresh clay, and gave all the pieces new moss. I gave everything one more round of baby-wipe cleaning, and repotting and rearranging brought out the original beauty of the pieces.
When my client first found the sadly dilapidated arrangements in her deceased mother's belongings, they were so thick with heavy dust that the white tulips looked brown. Stems and leaves were twisted and mangled, and dirty clay and styrofoam peeked through dried-out moss. When she first brought the pieces to me, my client said that she couldn't imagine what had originally attracted her mother to these items, but she felt they deserved a second chance. Now that they are restored, she is absolutely delighted with them. She says she will enjoy them for many, many years. A video of the restoration project follows.
A video of some photos of the Restoration project
Caring for French Bead Flowers
My first bit of advice is, Don't Dunk Them! Although it seems the easiest way to clean your flowers quickly, it's not a good idea. Even though modern wires are often coated and aren't all steel any more, they are metal. Metal and water, in the long run, just don't mix.
In the realm of bead flowers, there's nothing sadder than seeing what used to be a beautiful arrangement that's been ruined by poor treatment. Rusty or black top basic wires, lacing wires rusted out, silk-wrapped stems ruined by rusty water that leaked down over them. What a shame!
To clean your treasures safely, there are a couple of things you can do. Give them a good dusting with a feather duster; or, with a plain baby wipe, roll the rows of beads between your fingers. The flowers will be gorgeous again in no time. Be careful with the wipes on silk-wrapped stems, though - you don't want to fray the silk.
- Rosemary's Bead Flower Garden
My website that shows much of my bead flower work including prizewinning arrangements; some of my published articles; an ordering page for my DVDs; links to suppliers; links to other artists.
- BeaderSupplies.com | Bead Flowers | Bead Flower Arrangements | Bead Flower Jewelry
My Amazon store for supplies for all beaders. Whether you make flowers, jewelry, or other bead arts, what you want is here.
- rosemarykurtz on Etsy
With my own tutorial DVD's and patterns, you'll be a French flower-beader in no time.
- My French Bead Flowers Squidoo Lens
French bead flowers are an exquisite but little-known art form. Even people with a 'black thumb' can make stunning floral creations that can last for generations and brighten the home all year long. Bead flowers and arrangements can be super-tiny or
- My French Bead Flowers Blog
My blog with frequent updates. Some of the updates include a "Q & A Digest." The digest is a grouping of frequent questions from my DVD customers, and my answers. Very helpful to someone new to the art. Download a free report here.