A chance vacation workshop turns into a lifelong hobby
For more than 30 years, Sue Rowand has perfected the craft of wire wrapping, creating wearable works of art for family, friends and strangers.
If not for her husband’s desire to learn silversmithing, Sue may never have discovered the ancient form of jewelry making that so captivated her she left behind her previous passion for crochet, embroidery and sewing.
“We had learned of a little school, William Holland School of Lapidary Arts, from a friend,” says Sue, who lives in Lake City. “The workshop-type classes are one week in length and are perfect for a vacation destination.”
That was in 1989.
Sue admits she had no idea what wire wrap was when she signed up for her first class.
Using simple tools such as pliers, wire cutters and a rubber mallet, Sue bends or twists wire into a decorative shape. She winds additional wire around it, holding the piece together. The technique involves no glue or soldering.
“I was fascinated with it and decided to take it again the second week,” Sue says. “The following year, we went back again for our vacation and I took wire wrap two more times. The next year, I was busy taking wire wrap again.My skills were increasing, and in 1992 I was asked to teach.”
She taught a few classes at William Holland School every summer for 25 years.
Teaching came naturally to Sue, who raised three sons. She taught elementary school in Live Oak and Lake City for about seven years, then returned to her hometown of Gainesville for graduate school. She put her degree in speech pathology to use in the school system for 25 years and then for clinics and home health agencies before retiring in 2000.
“When I first began making wire wrap jewelry, I made bracelets for many of my Christmas gifts,” Sue says. “The first year, I made bracelets for six granddaughters, three daughters-in-law and my mother-in-law.
“After that, I made various items for family and friends, but soon realized that if I were going to continue with my new hobby, I would have to sell some. Purchasing the precious stones and metal wire was getting expensive.”
Craft shows helped her find homes for her creations and provided money to buy supplies. But when her husband died in 1997, she stopped doing the shows because they were not fun without him.
“For many years, we had operated a business in downtown Lake City that specialized in antiques and collectibles,” Sue says. “We also rented out consignment spaces. It was a great place to sell my jewelry. I finally closed it in 2017.”
By that time, Sue had found another way to occupy her time and sell her creations.
About four years ago, she began volunteering twice a week in the craft cabin at Stephen Foster State Park.
“I enjoy demonstrating wire wrap jewelry to those who visit,” Sue says. “I teach short project classes for those interested and produce enough pieces to keep the gift shop supplied.”
Using square, half round and round sterling silver and 14K gold-filled wire in various gauges—along with assorted beads and stones—Sue creates bracelets, rings, earrings and pendants. She also has made pins and neck rings.
“I try to keep my prices below $100,” Sue says. “The $10 rings sell for a quick souvenir. The $75 rings and pendants are admired.
“Wire wrap jewelry can take several minutes for an extremely simple project that does not require much precision to many hours for a more complex project. In addition to enjoying the process, I like the fact that a really nice project can be completed in a few hours instead of days.”
One of her favorite items to make is a baby bracelet.
“I don’t know how many I have made over the years,” Sue says. “It is a gift I make for baby showers or gifts to friends when I know the baby will be a girl. Recently, I gave a bracelet to a sweet little baby. About 25 years ago, I had given one to her mother.”
Sue, who celebrated her 83rd birthday earlier this year, says she thinks her skills peaked a few years ago.
“My vision and my ability to do precise work both appear to be diminishing somewhat,” she says. “I can still get it done, but the challenge is getting greater.
“Precision in measuring, careful wraps, careful cutting and smooth finishing are important to quality work. For that reason, I hesitate to agree to many special orders.”
Sue says she is blessed to be able to continue her hobby and volunteer at the park.
“Not only did the hobby provide many enjoyable years at the lapidary arts school, but it now provides me with a very enjoyable hobby in my retirement,” Sue says. “It’s fun and has actually paid for itself.” n
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