Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beaded Memory Wire Bracelets

These versatile bracelets are great for beginners and experienced beaders alike.  You can create infinite possibilities simply by varying the size, shape, type, and style of the beads.  This bracelet took me less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

Using Memory Wire
Most craft stores that carry beads and beading string also carry memory wire.  It usually comes in 1/2 oz or 1 oz packs, and you cut it to the size you want.  If you do 3-loop bracelets like the one pictured above, you should be able to get 6-8 bracelets out of a 1/2 oz pack.  Most commonly they are made out of Stainless Steel, but some stores have Silver or Gold plated.  There is a standard size, but they are also available in a larger size (to fit around larger wrists). 

In addition to the Memory Wire, you'll also need a wire cutter, a round-nosed pliers, and a little bit of patience.  When you take the memory wire out of the package, it resembles a Slinky, and it can get tangled in a similar fashion.  Handle with care.  For a three-loop bracelet, start at one end with the cut in the middle.  Count three loops over, and then make your cut on the third loop just past the middle (so that the ends overlap slightly).  Use a round-nosed pliers to create a closed loop on one end.  I've found it easier to bend the wire in the exact opposite direction of the natural curve (see picture).  Use a good quality round-nosed pliers.  A Flat-nosed or needle-nosed pliers will also work, but the resulting loop tends to look less like a perfect circle and more like a squashed pear.  Not that it really matters.  Nobody will probably notice it except you.  With the end secure, you are ready to start putting beads on it.

About the Beads
Those color-coordinated variety packs work great for this project.  Try to avoid using beads that are too large or chunky. Anything larger than your thumbnail probably won't lay nice on the wire. Also avoid using anything with sharp or scratchy edges, as the beads WILL come in contact with your skin. Long, straight beads with narrow openings tend to be difficult to get onto the wire, because the wire is circular. Be careful about using too many heavy beads or your bracelet will be impractical to wear, (much like stilettos).

On a budget? You can usually mix a few less expensive beads to your higher quality ones without cheapening the appeal. Try using a variety of glass, metal, and acrylic. You can also make your nice beads stretch farther by mixing in some seed beads, tube beads, and size E beads in coordinating colors, along with metal spacer beads. Shop around for the best prices. Use coupons. Some stores, like Hobby Lobby, have a coupon in the weekly paper. Even if you don't receive the paper, you can print their coupon directly from their website. Buy bigger quanities, like pre-packaged bead mixes, or try finding online sources.

How many beads will you need? That depends on how big your bracelet is. Obviously, if you cut the wire with more loops around your wrist, you'll need more beads. The larger the beads are, the less you will need and the quicker it will be to make. If you use mostly smaller beads, you'll need a lot more and it will take longer to make.

Start feeding the beads on in random order.  If you have 18 to 20 large beads, you'll need to space them out about an inch apart and fill in the rest with smaller beads.  You don't have to push the beads all the way to the end, just let them fall and they'll work their way down eventually.  You may be tempted to wrap it around your wrist to get a feel for how it looks.  I wouldn't advise that.  The beads will fall off the wire if you let go of that end even for a second.  I can't tell you how many times that's happened to me.  If you need to put it down or feel compelled to see how it's shaping up, take a piece of Scotch tape and fold it over the wire to prevent the beads from falling off.  This is also a great way to secure the beads if you need to take a break from the project and come back to it later.  I've learned the hard way not to leave an unfinished bracelet lying about.  My curious little darlings just can't resist picking it up...

Quick Tip: Are you losing half of your beads on the floor anyway? Try using a tray that has an edge, like a bar pan.  Line it with a paper towel, cloth, or piece of felt.  This helps the beads from rolling around too much and/or escaping.

Finish the bracelet off the same way you started it, by making a closed loop on the end with the pliers. Here are some examples: 

This funky acrylic mix is from Walmart.  I added additional clear "size E" beads and some shiny silver acrylic beads.  Because it uses mostly larger beads, it was super fast.  It was done in less than 15 minutes!
All of these beads were leftovers from other projects.  This a great way to use those extras, especially when you only have a few left of each kind.  Notice how using all smaller beads created a bracelet that lays flatter.

My niece, Mary Durham, made this bracelet for me.  It has 4 loops and includes mostly brown and gold beads with some pretty pearlescent ones.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tacky Christmas Sweater Party

The kids and I are going to a Tacky Christmas Sweater party tonight.  Although it's a fun idea, I'm pretty sure I don't have anything in my closet that qualifies as a tacky Christmas sweater.  I don't even have a sweater in Christmasy colors that I could embellish.  I know I should have made time to visit the local thrift shops, but the thought of sifting through all those clothes in search of an elusive Christmas sweater is a little daunting.  Especially if I have to bring a three-year old with me.  

Well, maybe I could make something....   My mind begins to drift back to my pre-teen years.  At our family resort, there were these women who visited us once or twice a summer, selling handmade rugs and hand-painted clothing.  They used a combination of fabric paint, puff paint, glitter and sequins to design wearable art.  Some of it had geometric designs, some was abstract, some had carousel horses or drama masks, or flowers.  Each one was unique and different, but vibrant and beautiful.  To this day I can still see some of their colorful, sparkly designs in my head.  I have to admit they were true works of art.  My mom used to buy one for each of my sisters and me, and she gave them to us at Christmas or on our birthdays.  Although I probably wouldn't wear one of these ensembles today, it was totally appropriate in the 80's (don't even try to convince me otherwise).   I don't know what ever happened to those women or to the particular shirts I owned.  I'm sure I gave my shirts away as I grew out of them, but I probably should have saved them, or at least taken a photo to remember them.  It's hard to know which memories will be the ones that stand out later in life.

So my brain starts to go off on this little tangent...if I bend the tacky sweater rules a little, I could take a T-shirt and bling it out with felt, puff-paint and iron-on rhinestones, similar to the ones I remember, but way over the top tacky.

Okay, stop.  This is exactly the kind of thing that makes my mother shake her head.  Here I am, the day of the party, with less than 8 hours before I have to leave the house, and I'm trying to plan out how I might MAKE my outfit. 

Here's a little history lessonabout me:  About 5 years ago, we were invited to a Halloween party through my husband's work.  I knew all the men would be going as pirates, and hence most of the women were going as female pirates.  I really didn't want to be a pirate chick (at least I really didn't want to wear any of the racy pirate costumes I had found). So I decided to go as Elizabeth Swan, (you know, from the Pirates of the Carribbean movies).  Her costume is gorgeous.  But of course, I couldn't find a single Victorian looking dress that would work.  All the period style dresses were the wrong colors.  They were either goth looking black and purple or vampire looking black and red.  So, I resorted to sewing my own dress....the day before the party. 

I must declare at this point, that my previous sewing experience had been limited to baby quilts and curtains.  I had never sewn clothes (I'm not counting that jumper I made in home-ec during high school, because that was hideous).  Despite my inexperience, I am completely determined.  I convince my naiive self that if I can sew curtains, I can darn well sew a dress.  I mean, really, how hard can it be?

I bought a sewing pattern and $80 worth of material, lace, ribbon, and other things I needed for the dress and I proceeded to stay up the entire night working on that thing.  I had absolutely no idea what I had gotten myself into.  My niece, Mary, got sucked into helping me with the project when I finally realized it would not get finished on time.  She continued working on it, so I could take a brief nap mid-morning on the day of the party.  An hour before the party, I was absolutely distraught.  I realized if I put the zipper in the way I was supposed to, the dress would not fit me.  I had taken out the seems on the bodice twice by this time, and had no more seam allowance left to work with.  I was in tears, because I felt like I not only wasted all that money, but time and sleep as well, with nothing to show for it.  I was tempted to skip that dumb party and sleep it off. 

But then, my wonderful husband had a brilliant idea to make holes on both sides and lace up the back with ribbon, just like lacing up a shoe.  Genius I tell you.  We missed 30 minutes of the cocktail hour, but the dress was finished and it was beautiful.  I wear that darn dress every opportunity I get.

Michael, Isaac, Natalie and I at a Halloween Party in 2006

Now back to my current predicament...the tacky Christmas sweater party tonight.  As I sit here with a thousand creative ideas running through my head, I can't help but have flashbacks to that crazy sewing all-nighter.  I shudder.   Maybe mom is right.  I've run out of time to pull off something spectacular.  Maybe next year... 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Calendar & Jingle Bell Ornament

During our time in Germany, we purchased this cute little advent calendar.  There are 25 little compartments that are large enough for a few pieces of candy or whatever else will fit.  When you open a door, a music box starts to play "Walking in a winter wonderland..." and three little snowmen move back and forth "ice-skating" at the top opening.  Last year I put mostly candy and chocolate in the boxes, and a few small (choking hazzard!!) toys.  My kids no longer stick that kind of stuff in their mouths. 
This year I want to do something different.  I don't want the focus to be on toys and sugar shocked sweets.  So, I've had to get creative...  I wrote down 25 popular Christmas songs, carols and hymns on little slips of paper, and stuck them in each box.  Each day, we'll listen to that song and attempt to sing along, hoping to teach our kids some of the ones we remember from our youth that they've probably never heard. 
In addition, there will be craft projects to make ornaments together, Christmas recipes to bake together, movies to watch together, and books to read together. Notice the theme: together. It's my secret attempt to spend more quality time with my family.

Since it is December 1st, we opened the first box this evening after dinner. Today we sang, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," which did not get much enthusiam from the kids. I've got them hoping tomorrow will be "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," or "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Next we made a VERY simple craft...Jingle Bell Ornaments.
I bought a cannister of large jingle bells at Hobby Lobby for $4.99.  They are at least 1 inch in diameter.  I took 1/8 inch grosgrain ribbon in blue, red or green and cut several pieces of each in 6 to 8 inch long pieces.  Thread one through the top of each bell and then tie the ends together with a knot.  Next, I took wider grosgrain ribbon in matching colors and cut strips that were 4 inches or so in length.  Tie one or two ribbons around the skinny ribbon with a knot or bow and slide it to the bottom near the bell (as shown).  That's it.  Super simple, very few supplies required, and really quick to make.  Happy Crafting!

Hey, I just opened a new Etsy store.  There's only a few things up there right now, but I'll be adding more stuff weekly.  You can check it out here: