What are French beaded flowers?
French beaded flowers, also known as French beading, are flowers made from stringing beads on wire and then shaping them into the various units (petals, sepals, stamens, petals, etc) and then assembling the units into a specific flower.
History of French beaded flowers
Legend has it that French beaded flowers originated around the 1500 or 1600s in France. The story goes that French maids used discarded beads from making gowns to make beaded flower mourning wreaths called “immortelles.”
Though, it may be unclear if France is its true origin. The other possibilities for country of origin are England and Italy, where the craft is popular today while not so much in France. While reviewing publications, books on the craft have been referred to as “beaded flowers” up until a certain point in the 1960s when an American designer published a beaded flower book with “French” in the title. Many non-American designers today also refer to the craft as Venetian flowers. Wherever the true origin, the flowers created using this set of techniques all look just as sweet.
There have been many ebbs and flows where the popularity of French beading surged and waned. Interest increased in the1960s with a book published by Virginia Nathanson titled Making Bead Flowers and Bouquets.
Nathanson purchased a bouquet of beaded flowers at a department store and took it apart to study. The standard terminology that contemporary designers still use today was coined by Nathanson. French beading, as an art form, is still very fringe today. Most people are intimidated to learn the techniques because they look complicated.
My goal as a French beading designer is to demystify the entire process so you can shorten your learning curve. For beginners, my first book Bead Flora: the Revival of French Beaded Flowers will walk you step by step through the entire process.
BEADS FOR FRENCH BEADED FLOWERS
First of all, let’s talk about beads. I design with size 11/0 seed beads whenever possible because not everyone has access to all the different size beads. However, I use size 15/0 seed beads for several projects to get the proper scale with what the flower looks like in nature. French beading is versatile in that you can use any brand of seed beads without affecting the design.
Overall, the beads that I use and recommend are Japanese and Czech seed beads. They are uniform enough for the naked eye and are better for the pocketbook than beads specifically designed for uniform beadweaving.
Generally, I mix and match brands of beads in one pattern. Usually, more concerned about getting the best color match. I do avoid Chinese seed beads as they are usually not uniform and are larger
than the advertised size. They can be used for French beading but be aware that your flowers
may be larger.
JAPANESE SEED BEADS
- Matsuno: The majority of my designs are made with Matsuno dynamites. They are uniform and
come in a cornucopia of colors and finishes while being affordable. One of the major advantages
of this brand is that you can find different finishes for the same color that can make shading a
flower visually interesting. The beads are distinct in that they have a square shape. In all my
years of using Matsunos, there were very few colors that fade with time.
- Toho: Toho beads are another brand Japanese seed beads great for French beading. They are
round in shape and uniform.
- Miyuki: Miyuki makes beads that are very precise like Delicas. They also have a selection of
rocaille seed beads. I buy 15/0 rocailles when I need to make small flowers.
CZECH SEED BEADS
- Preciosa Ornela: Preciosa Ornela is a Czech brand of seed beads that usually come in hanks
of 12 strands. Each hank is usually around 35 to 40 grams of beads. The beads are round in
shape and uniform
WIRE FOR MAKING FRENCH BEADED FLOWERS
Next, let’s talk about wire. The wire used for beaded flowers has changed drastically over the many millennia since this craft was created. The pioneers used silver steel wire. However, we have access to copper-core wires coated with a cornucopia of colors. Designers from just a generation ago still used steel wire but we are fortunate in the past 40 to 50 years to have access to copper craft wires.
Copper wires are more pliable so 26 gauge wires in patterns past are comparable to the strength of 24 gauge copper-core wires today. Depending on the color of the wire, the strength of the wire may also vary. So is the case for varying manufacturers or even batches. Most of the time, these nuances will not affect the actual beading design but there may be cases where a unit made using a varying wire can have a slightly different effect.
The manufacturers wires for French beaded flowers in the US:
Parawire, Beadalon (Artistic wire) and Zebra wire. The colored wires from Zebra work well
however, avoid the silver and gold from this brand. The silver wire is darker than other brands and the gold wire is actually brass which makes it harder to work with. Parawire and Artistic wire are
comparable in quality.
HOW TO STRING BEADS ON WIRE FOR FRENCH BEADED FLOWERS
It is highly recommended that you invest in a bead spinner. It does take some practice but it is a game-changer to be able to get beads onto wire quickly. The joy in this craft is the beading and not slowly putting beads onto the wire.
Tips for using a bead spinner:
• Curve the wire
• The more beads there are in the bowl, the easier
it is to get the beads onto the wire
• Skim the top with the wire while the bowl spins.
Do not jam the wire into the bowl or the beads
will fly out
• Set the bead spinner on a work tray or pan to
catch flying beads
Put the beads in a bowl and tilt it and scoop the beads onto the wire with a curved wire.
Transfer beads directly from a hank:
For beads on hanks, pull the thread off at one end and transfer the beads directly onto the wire and pull out the thread
OTHER MATERIALS FOR MAKING FRENCH BEADED FLOWERS
- Floral tape: Floral tape can be found in the floral section of a craft store. Floral tape is used to wrap the stems.
- Embroidery Floss: Embroidery floss can be used to wrap the stem over the floral tape it give your stems a more finished and elegant look.
- Stem wires: There are stem wires at the craft store that you can purchase at 16 or 18 (40.6 or 45.7 cm) gauges. Standard stem wire lengths are 18 inches (45.7 cm). For flowers that need more stability, I prefer to use 12 gauge galvanized steel wire that come in rolls at the hardware store. The alternative is wrapping two 16 gauge stem wires together with floral tape.
- Pebbles or rocks: Pebbles or rocks can be used inside of the vases or pots to hold flowers into place.
- Vases and pots: You can find many vases and pots at thrift stores and the dollar store. For many of the smaller arrangments like my French beaded crocus pattern, I used a votive candle holder from the dollar store. I’m also a fan of using reusing glass jars, bottles, oil bottles, and spice jars. Even if you don’t use them for a final arrangement, they are great for holding your stems up while you look for the perfect vase.
TOOLS FOR MAKING FRENCH BEADED FLOWERS
Flush cutters work the best as sometimes you may need to get into a cranny to cut. However, any type of cutters will work. In a pinch, you can even use nail clippers.
Heavy duty wire cutters:
I recommend a heavy duty wire cutter for heavy stem wires. The brand that I use and recommend is Knipex. It cuts wire like butter and just makes the assembly process more enjoyable.
Chain nose or needle nose pliers work best for twisting wires. Most of the time, you just need a gentle twist or a tuck.
Scissors, ruler or measuring tape
For more supplies, you can find it on my supplies resources page. You can find the link usually on the bottom of my website. I update the links to this page.
If after all this info and you would like to give French beading a try before investing in all the materials, here are some beginner-friendly kits available in my patterns how. All the materials are included to create each flower as pictured along with step-by-step photos and most with access to videos. If you are a hesitant beginner, I suggest the Spring Blossoms kit first and then the Small Daisy kit as they both will teach you many of the techniques while giving you almost instant gratification of having finished flowers. Then you can dive into more elaborate French beading patterns.
After you’ve made some of the beginner level patterns and would like to dive in deeper, I recommend my second book Bead Flora: French Beaded Branches in Bloom.
If you’d like to connect with me and other French beaders and designers, join the Learn How to Make French Beaded Flowers facebook group where I co-admin with designer Lauren Harpster.