Intermediate Wire Tips from Dale "Cougar" Armstrong
Recently, I chatted with Dale “Cougar” Armstrong about her new book, Wirework: An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Wire Wrapping. It’s packed with step-by-step photos and solid, classroom-tested techniques for making custom wire jewelry with faceted stones, cabochons, and beads. Dale’s signature designs have appeared in Step by Step Wire Jewelry and Jewelry Artist. Also she also will be teaching at Bead Fest Philadelphia and Bead Fest Portland this year. I’ll admit, it’s on my personal wish list to take a wire class with Dale someday, but until then, her new book is the next best thing.–Michelle Mach
Michelle: Why do you favor square half-hard wire in your projects?
Dale: Square, half-hard wire is powerful! If you “tell it where to go and what to do,” it will comply, forming crisp angles and smooth curves that will stay where you want them to. (I believe the secret is all about tool techniques.) Square half-hard wire also has major design potential, as you can use the ends of wraps to create many additional embellishments. It enables you to end wraps on top of a piece, preventing possible sharp ends on the “skin-side” of a piece. Also, due to its strength, you don’t need to use as much of it as you would use of half-round wire in some instances.
Michelle: I loved the section in the book on “specialty forming tools” because it’s always fascinating to see what other wire artists use beyond a basic set of pliers. Do you have a current favorite tool that’s not necessary, but makes wire tasks easier or more fun?
Dale: My current favorite forming tool is a pair of long handled, 3-step, square-tipped, flat-nose pliers. When I first bought it, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to use it, but I have found that these pliers help to make perfect prongs. Because the jaws have no graduation at all, it is almost necessary when forming a wide wire bundle into any frame shape that requires perfect 90 degree angles!
Michelle: What’s the most common mistake students make when wrapping wire? How can it be avoided or fixed?
Dale: Based on the experiences I have had teaching students of all skill levels, I would have to say that the most common challenge folks have is not being able to make tight, parallel wraps with square, half-hard wire or square, soft wire. Although using square, soft wire may seem easier, it is difficult to control and tends to stretch as you make wraps with it, so a student may end up with uneven, angled wraps. If they remember that they are going over 4 sides (not just a back and a front), making a crisp 90 degree angle for each move, and keeping the wrap wire straight while making each angle, then the wrap wire will not twist while going over the edge of a bundle. Also, knowing where to place the flat nose pliers when firming a wrap will place the wrap wires closer to each other.
Michelle: Would you consider Wirework an intermediate or advanced-level book?
Dale: Oh my, that is a loaded question! There are so many different styles of wire jewelry design today and many, very talented people all over the world who are proficient within their skill levels. However, working mainly with square half-hard wire is not as popular as working with round. Therefore, folks who are skilled within their chosen medium may see projects such as the “Orbit Prong Pendant” as advanced. I wrote this book for those wire artists who are proficient in half-hard skills who have been looking for more detailed designs/techniques as the next step toward advanced. My book Wirework also gives all of the formulas I have developed for each included project, along with an “Inspirational Photo Gallery,” that I hope will encourage readers to experiment more while creating their own design ideas.