Monday, November 23, 2015

(Ear)hook, line and sinker

I find myself tasked with making a pair of earrings for two different bead society meetings this December. For the Niagara Bead Society, I need to make a pair for donation to a women's shelter. We present them with a wreath adorned with the earrings, which are then given to the women they help. For the West Toronto Beading Guild, I have to create and anonymously packaged a pair of earrings for a holiday exchange. While I was designing both pairs, I started thinking about ear wires and how important their style and shape is to the overall design of a pair of earrings, and how some ear wires suit certain faces, hair lengths and even neck lengths better than others.

By the way, I work exclusively with sterling silver or jewellers bronze ear wires, as I have major base metal allergies. As a rule, I would suggest you spend the extra money for good quality ear wires, especially if you're selling or gifting your creations. Your designs deserves the best materials to make them stellar and to ensure they stay in the wearer's "favourites" rotation for a long time!

Here's a quick overview of ear wire types and how I prefer to use them.

These are pretty basic, and usually consist of a wire, that goes through the earlobe, soldered to a metal shape (round and oval are most common but square and rectangle work too.) They require some kind of backing device (sometimes called an earring nut), usually a butterfly but sometimes a round metal and/or plastic disc, to keep the earring from falling out and to keep it stable. You can make your own from fine silver or Argentium wire and sheet but it's often easier, and cheaper from a time standpoint, to buy them pre-made. I use E6000 glue to add stones or crystals. Studs can also include a soldered jump ring that allows you to enhance the basic design by adding dangles. I love to use studs to show off semi precious stones and they are great for young girls as they are more secure and a bit more demure!


Shepherd's hook/fish hook
There are lots of names for these common ear wires which have a variety of curved shapes and allow for excellent length and dangle in your designs. I remember literally wearing fish hooks as a young punk in the 70s and 80s but it's hard on your earlobe so I don't really recommend it!

Shepherd's hooks are named for the crook at the end of a shepherd's staff and they are one of the oldest known forms of ear wire, with examples found dating back to the Romans. Fish hooks mimic the look of hooks in any angler's tackle box and complement a variety of earring designs. All of these are easy to set up on a jig and reproduce quickly and cost-effectively with little effort. Don't forget to file the wire that goes through your ear, or use a cup bur to quickly smooth out the end. You don't want the wire to make small tears in the ear that can create infections...

Simple shepherd's hooks listed on the site are shown in the first picture. The second picture shows ear wires I love from Saki Silver, which is based in the US. They are easily made on a jig.


Balance in your earring design is essential to guard against them slipping out of your ear. So I spend a lot of time making sure I match the right type and shape of ear wire to my overall design for an earring. Some people push on plastic ear nuts to guard against losing the earring.

There are lots of online tutorials to make your own ear wires. I stick to dead soft and half hard sterling silver wire to make mine. Stay away from coated craft wires as the coating wears off with use and many people are allergic to nickel and other metals. I use the Now That's A Jig! to ensure my hooks turn out uniform, and you can add crystals or small silver beads to the wire to coordinate with your earring design and add texture and life to your ear wire.

Lisa Niven Kelly has a great free tutorial on that will have you making ear wires in no time. 

Kidney or french ear wires
These ear wires give you a bit more security than hooks, as the long wire end that goes through the pierced hole in your ear is captured by a hook that keeps the earring closed. The longer shape is called kidney ear wires, as they resemble a kidney bean. This style of ear wire can pop open, though, and I've lost earrings when the hook gets caught in a scarf and you don't realize you've lost it until the bus has long gone to the next stop. I find this style great for small dangles, since they balance 4 - 6 mm crystals well. If you're going for something longer or heavier, I would choose the kidney wires, as they will balance the length better.

Here's a great tutorial from the Beading Gem's blog on how to make kidney-shaped ear wires. 

Lever backs
These are likely your most secure bet when adding ear wires to your designs. The wire in the back nestles into a channel in the ear wire. There's a loop (in some versions it can open, in others, you have to add to the ear wire using a small jump ring) at the bottom where you attach your beads, etc. Like french wires, they sit close to the ear and don't suit heavy designs, although dangles on chains look great hanging from these ear wires.

Hoops are probably the oldest style of earring: examples of hoop earrings have been found in Bronze Age burials. Hoops are varied and versatile. There's usually a wire that goes through your ear lobe and is secured in a loop or hook or wedged between two prongs to secure the earring. With loops, like the one pictured on the left, you can add crystals or pearls for a boho look. The hoops on the right are perfect to wear on their own, but you can also add dangles of various lengths using jump rings and create a jumble of pretty, shiny yumminess.

Earring Hoops

Clip ons
Clip ons were created in the early 20th Century as an alternative to piercing, which some ladies believed was too tribal. Or something...My mother only wears clip ons and finds it difficult to find earrings she likes using these findings. It might be something to explore, designing with clip ons for that segment of the population that refuses to pierce holes in their ears for whatever reason.

Ear threads, ear cuffs
Late 20th century saw a rise in new and different takes on ear adornments. Ear threads consist of a post and chain. The post goes through the earlobe and hangs down as part of the ornamentation. You could add crystals and create delicate dangles. Ear cuffs look tribal and don't require piercings to wear. They can be elaborate and cover the outside of the ear, or they can be small and complement the other earrings you are wearing.

Ear Threads Ear cuff, antiqued sterling silver, 10mm scalloped with snowflake and hole. Sold individually.

Let me know what your favourite ear wires to work with are. Do you have any tips or suggestions to add for our blog readers?

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