Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Angles in Wireworking

I've just come off of my bi-monthly class-planning-and-scheduling frenzy. As part of that, I've been working on wireworking projects and classes. As reported in a recent post, I'm always trying to make my handouts more useful and readable. As I was working, thinking about how I would (re-)explain loop-and-wrap (a.k.a. wrapped loop). I realized that, having taken enough college math to be one class away from a minor, I think about art in a mathematical way.

I know many people avoid math at all costs. I think it's because it is often poorly explained and not because we aren't all capable of learning it. Despite the fact that learning math bores me to death, having survived taking so much math then going off to work in totally unrelated fields, I now see how useful math is in domains like the creative arts. If you don't know the ratios of chemicals in the rocks you're stringing I'm not going to call you on that, not now anyway, but there are times when a mathematical explanation is:
(1) the most universal (non-culturally-or-experience-based) way to explain something and
(2) the most straight-forward (least-explanation-required) way to explain it.

Even if you don't understand or can't stay awake through most math, I think you'll agree that sometimes it's better than a round-about verbal explanation. Even if we don't like math, we know that math represents the exact and precise. When we see math, and we understand enough to do it, we seem to naturally understand that we just need to do what the math says - no more, no less. Plus. Minus. Period. When something is described verbally, there are often many little details - things we naturally assume and understand in math - that need to be explained and clarified. As an instructor, sometimes it's hard to remember all of the little details that a beginner doesn't yet know. In that respect, math has an additional function.

So, let me give you an example. I teach a lot of loop-and-wrap/wrapped loop. It's a basic and often-used technique that every new jewelry artist needs to learn. It is hard to make a pair of earrings without it. It is, however, a technique that has a lot of little steps. You need to make a loop around the round-nose pliers - but how far do you bend the wire? You need to wrap the tail, but how much tail do you need - especially if you use different gauges of wire? If you want to use the method where you bend the wire before looping and wrapping - how far from the end should you bend the wire? There is a mathematical, precise answer for them all.

Here is the most recent excerpt from a handout, the handout I posted online for the Fringed Focal Necklace. Keep in mind, being the most recent one, I already had this blog post in mind, so didn't include parts of the explanation I included before. I'll list those additional directions below:

What I additionally explain for the looping part is that you want the wire to look like a "P". The first time people try to make the loop, half of the people get it perfect, but the other half. Some don't bend the wire end far enough around the pliers, often to the point where it only just passes the wire between pliers and the bead. Some loop the wire too far so it's like the pliers is in the middle of a wire loop-the-loop. I usually say to bend the wire 270°, but that often doesn't help.

That's really unfortunate because it's the most simple way of explaining it. So, even if you suffer from sever math phobia, bear with me and see if this makes sense. I want to remind everyone about how angles relate to wireworking. Even if you already understand how to make these bends, think about how you might use them to explain bends to a beginner.

LEFTIES: I apologize. These images are designed for the right-hander. The difference for you will be that the axis of rotation will go CLOCKWISE, and 0° and 180° will get interchanged because your working hand and stationary hand will be opposite than for a righty. Now back to our regularly scheduled message:

Imagine you have a big bullseye attached to your round nose pliers. The center of the bullseye is your pliers. I know that, unless you magically have three hands, you won't be working exactly like shown, but starting with a straight piece of wire, whether it's bare plain wire or a wire you've strung through a bead:
  • 0° is the working end of the wire - the tail you're going to be moving around. So, on the picture you'll see a pair of chain nose pliers grasping the wire.

  • 180° is the other end of a straight piece of wire, the part you'll be keeping stationary. In the image, that's where you see the hand grasping the wire. If you're going to do a looped wrap, that will be where the bead is.

  • Everyone: Obviously, you can't do three things at once: hold both ends of the wire AND the round-nose pliers. So with the thumb and last three fingers of your non-dominant hand you'll hold the pliers and using the index of that hand press the stationary part of the wire against the bottom jaw of the round nose pliers. However, I didn't want all of that to be behind the image as I was trying to clarify the angles.

    A 90° bend is simply 1/4 of a full turn around the pliers. Holding the wire horizontally, the movement begins on the dominant side of your body and moves toward your non-dominant side. The bend works best going upward because it's easier to see than if you bend downward. Therefore, for righties, the movement through the angles will be counterclockwise (clockwise for lefties), and the wire will stop when it's vertical (and the stationary end is still horizontal).

    That being said, once you know exactly how far you need to bend to make a 90° bend and you know how it's supposed to look, you can hold the wire in and position you want. 90° is still 90° when its upside down and backward. It's not the location of the ends you need to worry about, but the amount the wire moves at the center around the round nose pliers.

    No picture for this. A 180° bend is pretty simple and I want you to try and imagine it. a 180° bend is, more or less, folding the wire on itself. You'll bend the working end until it meets (and is parallel with) the stationary part of the wire.

    A 270° bend is a little more complicated to understand, but it's the bend you need to make for a wrapped loop. Righties are still bending counterclockwise and lefties are still bending clockwise. You're going to bend past horizontal until the wire is again vertical. The difference is that the working end will be pointing in the opposite direction as it was when it was at 90° when the stationary end is in the same place.

    This is not to say that any explanation will ever totally solve the problem, though I certainly hope this helped you understand angles at least a little bit better. I know that some people just need you to show them one-on-one. The main point is, like mentioned above, long and drawn out explanations are not always helpful. They are even less helpful when you have to have two things explained in such a way at the same time. The point of learning the basics before more advanced techniques is so you don't need the basics explained along with a more complicated procedure. Taking prerequisites before another class is very important for that reason. The same here. It's hard to figure out the basics if you don't understand the vocabulary in which it is most simply explained. Notice that I didn't say most 'clearly' explained. 'Clearly' is a relative term and when math is a foreign concept using it to explain something will not be clear to you. So, take this time to become familiar with angles as they pertain to wireworking. It may take a little more time in the short term than you'd like, but in the long run your understanding of making bends in wire and metalwork will be much more clear because you'll understand it in the simplest way.

    For anyone wondering - "So, if you were one class away from a math minor, why didn't you just finish it?" Its because I seriously dislike math. Let's say we have a scale from 0 - 10, with 10 being 'super stimulating' and 0 being 'puts me into a boredom coma.' I'd probably rate math as -3 since I'd routinely fall into several math-induced stupors before completing an assignment. I was a physics/astrophysics double major at the time. I loved (LOVED) astronomy and this was the more marketable than just being an astrophysics (or, gasp, astronomy - the liberal arts version) major, and (1) it was required to take that much math and (2) I thought if I took enough math to make the math I needed every day easy, that I could function as an astrophysicist. It turns out - there's no such thing as enough math to make multivariable vector calculus easy to someone who doesn't naturally think in a math-o-logical way. Sometimes it's just better to cut your losses. The plus side is that all that math did make the math I needed as a mere mortal extremely easy. Who knew?

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