How to Handle Hair-fine Stringer
Please make sure to read the TEXT first, and not just scroll down to the pictures! The text is an essential part of the tutorial.
When talking about stringer, there are two basic aspects: learning how to “deal” with stringer – and then learning (or figuring out) WHAT to do with stringer. This mini-tutorial only deals with the HOW TO aspect of working with hair-fine stringer – the WHAT aspect is up to you. I am not doing this because I don’t have anything to say about what to do with stringer – but sometimes you put limitation on people when you tell them what kind of designs to do. There is plenty of stuff in nature, on other people’s beads, on fabrics, in paintings – just keep your eyes open and you will have no problem finding ways to apply your hopefully new-found skills….
A lot of beadmakers think that handling hair-fine stringer is supremely difficult. In reality, it’s not THAT difficult – unless you believe it is, then it is. Do you know what I mean? Here is the first “principle””
1. You have to BELIEVE that you can do it – then you can!
Of course, knowing a few more “principles” when working with fine stringer will help as well. Let’s take a look at those:
2. Always prepare a CLEAN stringer
By “clean” stringer I mean a straight cut end. Every time you melt a stringer off, you will end up with a more or less “messy” stringer end:
Before you apply the next stringer line, you either want to cut the messy part off with a jewelery side cutter (which involves picking up a tool while you keep the bead warm) – or, even easier: you can just break the stringer off with your fingernail, since the stringer is so fine.
You have to clean the stringer this way EVERY TIME before you apply it to the bead.
What would happen if you just melted the messy part in the flame before you continued? The answer to that is pretty obvious: the stringer will ball up.
This poses two problems – first, the stringer line you apply to the bead will have a ball on the end – which might be just want you want, but sometimes it won’t be, so it’s good to know how to avoid it.
The other problem the ball at the end may cause is a little less obvious. When you apply a stringer with a balled up end to a bead (no matter how fine the stringer or how small the ball), you create a tiny space where the stringer as it comes out of the ball does not touch the surface of the bead. If you apply heat to this, the stringer is likely to melt at that spot – and your ball and your stringer will be separated.
Again, this could be used to great effect, but as usual, it’s important to know how to avoid it if it’s not part of your design. The red line in the drawing represents the surface of the bead, the green arrow shows the little space I’m talking about,
3. Heat the surface of the bead, not the stringer!
This is basically true for most kind of stringer work, but especially for hair-fine stringer. When you deal with that thin of a stringer, the smallest amount of direct flame would just melt it to smithereens (if that’s a word…). So, ALL the heat you need to get the stringer to where you want it – and make it stay there, has to come from the surface of the bead.
You make the bead, let it cool off (so it won’t distort when you apply the stringer) – then VISUALIZE the line on the bead where the stringer is going to be. In most cases, this is going to be a STRAIGHT line. With a stringer this fine, any kind of seriously controlled curved line is next to impossible – maybe a slight curve, but not a spiral or an S shaped curve. At least, I can’t tell you how to do that….so, think of straight line – that will give you enough design possibilities right there.
Catching the heating of the surface line on the bead is a little tricky to catch in a photograph, but I hope this picture will more or less convey the idea.
Once you have heated the path of the stringer, you can’t waste a lot of time, you basically want to get the stringer onto the bead as soon as possible. If you dilly-dally, you have to heat the path on the bead again.
As soon as you’re ready to apply the stringer – put it on the heated bead in the angle which you planned for. DON’T heat the tip of the stringer, like you’re used to when working with thicker stringer. Just place the stringer as it is!
Okay, now I have to add a few more “principles” before we can do this successfully.
4. Hold the stringer as parallel to the surface of the bead as possible.
If the bead had a straight surface, this would be a very simple idea:
But you can see that the surface of the bead is curved, so in order to be parallel to the bead SURFACE, you have to either adjust the angle of the stringer, or the position of the bead. Since the stringer is very thin, you have to be very cautious with it around the flame – so it’s much easier and it makes more sense to move the bead, so that the surface is always parallel to the stringer (this is the famous moment in my classes where I tell students to move the *** bead…). Which takes us to the next principle:
5. Hold the stringer always in the same position.
This is a little difficult for many people – they somehow want to move the stringer. Try to focus on keeping it more or less HORIZONTAL – and at a right-ish angle to the flame (or around 80 degrees…). The picture illustrates this angle:
Since you are always holding the stringer in the same angle, you need to adjust the position of the BEAD depending on the angle of the stringer-line you want to paint.
This can be summed up in a new principle:
6. Adjust the way you hold the bead, depending on the angle of the stringer- line you want to apply.
When you apply a line from left to right – hold the bead in what I call the “swivel grip” (Passing The Flame, page 22), with your fingers BEHIND the mandrel. That way you can easily swivel the mandrel up and down to allow the bead to always be parallel to the stringer, whose position is never changing (in theory).
For most directions in which the stringer goes sideways on the bead (whether straight across the mandrel or at an angle), you want to hold the mandrel in the same swivel-grip, but adjust the angle of the mandrel – hold it either more up or more down…. look at the handposition and the position of the stringer line in the next pictures.
(you can see more at the position of the fingers how the angle changes…)
Holding the mandrel in this “swivel-grip” is kind of a personal quirk – I have never seen another beadmaker hold the mandrel in this way, so it’s certainly not a “must” for successful fine stringer control, but I really find it makes things much easier.
There are times though when I hold the mandrel the “normal” way – when I apply stringer in lines that go “with the bead” so to speak. If the line is applied perpendicular to the mandrel (as if it’s winding around the mandrel) – I hold the mandrel the same way I hold it when I MAKE a bead – with the hand “above” the mandrel. That makes it easier to turn the bead as you apply the stringer in that direction:
We got some of the most important principles covered, but we have to look a little closer at working with the stringer itself. I have mentioned how to hold it in relation to the bead, but I haven’t talked about how to hold the stringer itself. Mostly because I find that the way of holding the stringer is not all THAT important, because you’re not really moving it. But you have to be able to a) apply tension to it and b) PULL it ever so slightly. More about that soon, but at least I wanted to show you how I hold the stringer (you might have already noticed that in the photographs, but it never hurts to talk about it…)
I kind of hold the stringer like I would hold a spoon, eating a consomme soup in a fancy restaurant. Try what is most comfortable for you – and if you should ever take pictures for a tutorial, make sure to have your nails done!
Remember that I said one of the most important principles is to heat to path on the bead along with the stringer will be applied? That is still true, but the last principle has to be kept in mind too:
7. Work underneath the flame
This is always an important point when working with stringer, but with the hair-fine stringer it means: work even FURTHER away from the flame. Where exactly this point is depends a lot on which kind of torch you are working with. The amount of “radiant heat” (which determines exactly how far away you have to work) is very different from torch to torch, and also depends on how hot you are running your particular torch.
The Carlisle Mini CC has a lot of radiant heat, which means the hairfine stringer will melt while it’s incredibly far away from the flame itself. If you use a bobcat for example, you have to get a lot closer to the flame before you notice how the stringer gets soft. There is nothing wrong with either way – you just have to understand where YOUR perfect spot is. It is usually further away from the flame than you think!
So, let’s look at this whole process again:
1. You get the bead (and the mandrel) in the perfect position
2. make sure that the stringer is nice and clean
3. heat the path on the bead where the stringer is going to go
4. place the tip of the stringer on the bead (holding the stringer parallel to the bead) – WITHOUT heating the tip of the stringer first!
5. Apply very light pressure on the stringer – and while gently PULLING it, move the stringer onto the bead.
6. if you run out of heat from the bead to move the stringer, move the bead closer to the flame – until the stringer continues to melt.
Only move the bead very slowly, remembering that the heat necessary to melt the stringer is NOT in the flame, but quite a ways underneath it.
7. When you have the stringer-line as long as you want it, bring the bead even closer to the flame and melt the stringer off.
Depending on how cool you worked at the point, the stringer might not be really attached to the bead, and it can “roll” backwards. In order to prevent this, give a little bit of heat to the end of the stringer and push it onto the bead with the Magic Wand (or other tool).
That’s pretty much all you need to know to handle the finest of stringers – I could do the same thing with even finer stringers than used in the pictures – but they would have been difficult to show up in the photography. I said this was easy, right? It is! Don’t get intimidated, you can do it! Have fun.