Rainbow Rays: DIY Beaded Suncatcher

As I eagerly anticipated our family’s annual vacation at the island cottage, I wanted to make a pretty suncatcher or windchime to hang amongst the pines – something to catch the warm summer rays or peal prettily in the breeze.

I was attracted to an idea from Pinterest which used a piece of driftwood and rainbow-coloured beads. You could use any combination you like, from a single colour to a multi-hued riot. I picked up several packages of glass beads in various colours, shapes and sizes for a song at a local dollar store.

While I stuck to all-glass beads, the Pinterest model was more ornate, incorporating metal and wood beads, findings and shells as well as glass. They claim their suncatcher is also a windchime. Although I followed their method exactly, I was disappointed to find that mine rarely makes a sound, if ever. I think that’s because I spaced my strands 1.5 to 2 inches apart, which is too far for the beads to make contact with each other. Plus, those extra findings stick out at angles, making it more likely for the strands to “chime” as they connect.

The piece of driftwood I used came from the island and happened to be the perfect shape and size; it even bears an uncanny resemblance to the one on Pinterest! Driftwood is so decorative, but a small, fallen branch or a wooden dowel – unfinished, painted or stained – would work, too.

I liked the symmetry of five strands of beads, with the longest in the middle. Of course you can use any number you want and keep them all the same length, or vary them for a bohemian feel.

The cute little bells at the bottom are optional. They actually ring – if you shake them – but even a brisk breeze won’t make mine chime! Other options for the string ends include larger beads, prisms, shells, coins (real or fake), bits of broken jewellery – anything to add a bit of jingly bling. Whatever you choose will have to have a hanging hole or loop, of course. (To add holes to soft metals such as copper, bronze and aluminum, I use one of those screw-down jewellery punches – great for old coins – and it is possible, if you’re careful, to drill holes in shells without breaking them. Now, if I only had a powerful-enough drill for beach glass!)

After I’d completed my project, I realized there’s an easier way to attach the strands and hanging cord to the wood. Tiny screw-in metal eye hooks would be faster and would eliminate the need for drilling holes. I’m planning to try another project using this method.

To make the suncatcher (as shown), you’ll need:

  • driftwood, branch or wooden dowel
  • non-elastic, clear nylon beading thread or fishing line
  • beads of various colours, shapes, sizes and materials (glass, plastic, wood, metal, ceramic)
  • small metal bells
  • string, twine or leather thong for the hanger
  • drill to make holes OR metal eye screw hooks for attaching bead strands and hanging cord

How-to, 2 ways: (I used the DRILLED method for the example shown)

  1. DRILLED: On the top side of the wood, mark a hole for each beaded string, spacing them no more than an inch apart. Leave enough room at the ends of the wood to wrap twine around several times for a hanger (as shown) OR to add eye hooks to attach a hanging cord. Drill the holes using a small-diameter bit that is long enough to go all the way through the thickness of the wood. Drill straight down, not on an angle. HOOKS: Mark the positions on the underside of the wood, and screw in the eye hooks. You should be able to tighten them with just your fingers, but use pliers if necessary.
  2. Cut stringing thread/fishing line to the desired length for each strand of beads, adding plenty of extra for tying off.
  3. Make your first strand of beads: first, securely tie on a bell, making sure it will dangle freely. (You’ll see that my bells are a bit wonky because I tied them too tightly.) Trim the excess thread created by the knot, leaving a couple of inches for extra security.
  4. Add the rest of your beads, hiding the extra thread under the first few beads. Set the first strand aside.
  5. Finish all of your beaded strands in the same way, adjusting the length as desired.
  6. DRILLED: To attach the finished strands to the wood, thread the free end up through a drilled hole. (I started with the longest strand, in the middle.) Thread on another bead; this one will hold the entire strand in place. Tie the thread to itself just underneath the bead. HOOKS: Knot each beaded strand on to an eye hook. Using a needle if necessary (I found I didn’t need one), thread the remaining string down through the first few beads at the top, hiding the end inside a bead.
  7. To add the hanger shown, cut a long length of string or twine (I doubled it for added security). Knot it around one end of the wood. Wrap around the end several times, covering up the knot. Allow enough string for the desired hanging length, then take to the other end and down the opposite side so the piece will hang evenly, without twisting. Wrap several times as you did the first end. Knot the string securely to itself. Use a needle, if desired, to thread the end an inch or two under the wrapping; trim the excess. To use eye hooks for hanging, install a hook near each end of the wood on the top side. Tie on your hanging cord.

The finished suncatcher is about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long.

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