One of the biggest struggles for the new wire weaver is tension. One of the biggest difficulties with tension is that the new weaver doesn't necessarily recognize tension as the problem. Often questions arise about wonky weaves, uneven and difficult weaves that resemble the fence of a haunted house. Some of the weaving wires are pinched, and some are loose and loopy, hanging off the base wires. These problems may coexist in the same piece of weaving, and drive the green weaver to distraction. First, to clarify, tension IS frustrating. But, with some solid advice and some visual aids, that frustration will hopefully be eliminated. Before we can begin addressing problems, let us discuss what a proper weave looks like. A good wire weave will be neat and even, consistent, and it will appear to be tight. The trick is that this is only in appearance. Pulling your weaving wire too tight is a common problem, though it can be easily overcome with practice. Additionally a good weave will have no loose wires hanging off the base wires, adding to the illusion that the weave is tight. Please keep in mind, this is an illusion. We will get to that soon. Below you will see an example of a proper, neat wire weave.
The goal, again, is to have no loose wires that are not in contact with the base wires, to have the weave even and smooth, and to make it appear tight.
Now, let's look at a wonky weave, and talk about what can, and often does, go wrong.
You can see the difference from one to the next. The question is, how to bridge the gap from messy to neat. In order to do that, we must first understand what goes wrong in wire weaving that causes it to look poorly. When looking at a finished weave, it may seem like the base wires are tight together. This is not the case. Even the smallest weaving wire will take up some room, so it would be impossible for the base wires to be touching and still have room for the weaving wire to pass between them. When you look at the first photo below, you can see that the base wires all have spaces between them. Those spaces are the key to maintaining weaving room and allowing for your weaves to be compressed neatly and fall in line. The diagrams below illustrate the difference between base wires with spaces and without.
In the illustration above, the black wires (base wires) are spaced evenly, allowing the red wire (weaving wire) room to flow in and out between them. This is the first secret to making a nice, even weave.
Notice in this version, the weaving wire has been pulled far too tightly around the base wires, causing it to pinch and crinkle. This is the first element of a wonky weave. There is no space for the single wire wraps to sit beside the two wire wraps, because the base wires have been pulled together, leaving no room for the weaving wire. This will force the weaving wire to be crooked and leave a gap. Most of the time, the new weaver struggles to understand why the wraps can't be pushed together. This causes the base wires to appear as if they have been crushed. It can happen whether there are two base wires or six, or more. If there is no space between base wires, there will be gaps in the weave.
One tip that may help to maintain the spaces between the base wires is to flay out the ends of the base wires gently. The photo below shows how this is done. Use caution so that you don't bend the base wires and create lumps in the wire that won't smooth down. The idea is to create a gentle curve. With this technique, you can see how the base wires will come together as the weaves are placed. Additionally, this can help you keep track of where you're placing your weaves and help you keep from getting your bases mixed up.
My best suggestion for tension is to imagine that you are placing your weaving wire and folding it. If you treat your weaving wire like thread and use a motion that mimics sewing, you're bound to encounter difficulties. Weaving wire may look like a thread, but it always acts like metal. Therefore, by placing and folding your wire, you are firstly reducing wear on the wire, and secondly, the tendency to pull too tight will be much less. You may not notice it at first, but pulling your weaving wire does actually cause it to stretch. The other problem with pulling it, is that you are work hardening the wire and making it brittle. If you find that you often break weaving wire, this is generally the cause.
So, how do you know when you're weaving with proper tension? At any point in your weaving, you should be able to slide your base wires back and forth in the weave. If you are struggling to move your base wires, your weaving wire is pulled too tight. You might get away with this for a bit, but eventually you'll find that if you can't slide, you're going to pinch. Conversely, if your base wires fall out of the weave without prompting, your weave is too loose, and in that case, slightly more tension is needed. Easy does it, work up to the proper tension slowly. Below you will see how I have pulled several base wires in different directions in this weave. It *looks* nice and tight, yet all the wires will move back and forth in the weave. This is when you know you've GOT it.
The other tension problem that new weavers encounter is what the pros refer to as "the death grip". (We all had it at the start, too!) This problem occurs when the non-dominant hand squeezes the base wires so tightly that they become deformed. Usually it happens when you concentrate so hard on the weave that you don't even notice what your other hand is doing. I typically see a clamp being recommended in this instance, and personally I feel like this is not the best solution. It may help initially, but it doesn't teach you to overcome the problem of the death grip. Truly, you must learn to relax your holding hand while you're weaving. Otherwise, you are forever dependent upon a device to do what your hand should be learning from the outset. I would encourage you to begin by learning to hold your base wires with a thumb and one finger. It does not behoove you to grab the base wires like a handle, but rather you need to keep a delicate hold on the wires, just enough to control them. If you find that you are monster gripping your base wires with Hulk hands in an effort to keep them together, a little painter's tape to align them may be all you need to wrangle them in an orderly fashion. Incidentally, it is my personal belief that weaving too tightly will lead to over-gripping your base wires, and I believe that these two issues go hand in hand, pun intended.
Another tip to smooth and proper weaving is this: make several repeats of your weave, allowing a little breathing room. Then, use nylon jaw or any flat jaw pliers to gently compress your weave along the base wires, closing the gaps. In the photos below you can see the weave with a little wiggle room, and then after compression. This will help you work in an even way and then press your weaves into rows that seem impossibly tight. Again, we're working in illusion here, as you have already learned.
Lastly, when you are weaving, your non-dominant hand should be holding your weave very near to where you're working. That will enable you to keep the wires balanced and have control over your work. Move slowly, and think about getting it right. Speed will come as technique improves. It is more important to end up with a nice result than to do your weave quickly. I highly recommend working on weaves for the sake of the weave, rather than trying to make it into jewelry immediately. If you fall in love with wire, then no piece of jewelry will ever make you want to give up. You will build up a library of different weaves that you can refer back to, and it's a great record of progress. I truly wish that I had a scrapbook full of early weaves to show you how terrible I was when I started!
The reality is that proper tension comes through many hours of practice. But, hopefully with the tips and advice I've given you, you will have a better experience while you're working. As always, if you have problems, ask questions. Many experienced weavers are happy to offer tips and advice and are a valuable source of information. Until next time, best wishes and happy weaving!