All That Glitters. . .

The Delicious Appeal of Suncatchers

The gloomy rainy snowy sleety icy windy days this past winter must have finally gotten to daughter Susan. She’s up there in New Hampshire where winters are either cold or colder or frigid enough to freeze a soul. During one fierce snowstorm, she emailed me a picture of a glowing suncatcher she’d photographed in a garden on a bright sunny day last year. Wishful thinking? A summer dream to soothe the winter agony?

Susan'a lighthearted rendition of a suncatcher for a hot garden

Susan’a lighthearted rendition of a suncatcher for a hot garden

“What do you think? Would you like to make one of these?” she wrote. “Yeah, sure,” I joked back. I guess emails don’t convey humor well, because the next thing I knew she was calling me asking what color beads she should get. Are you serious? I asked. When next she emailed pictures of beads and mirrors she was considering, I knew that, yes, she was, and I was about to be hooked.

Black and silver, classy, understated, I blurted, to compliment the statue of Ariadne in our small pond with the marble edgers. You’ll probably need a little red in there to jazz it up, Susan suggested. Good idea. The crepe myrtle I’ll hang it from blooms watermelon red. The colors should play off each other nicely. Susan had already chosen lavender and green to play off the purple tuteurs her brother had crafted for her kitchen/cottage garden off the front porch of her house.

Samples of beads we purchased before we cut them apart to begin designing

Samples of beads we purchased before we cut them apart to begin designing

Minutes after I hopped off the plane (I know, I know, only fools go north in cold weather) we were off to gather supplies from A.C. Moore and her local Ace hardware store. Suncatchers can be as simple as one strand with a few beads and mirrors, or they can be strung with complex patterns of colors and shapes. Since we didn’t really know what we were doing, we decided to go all out and stretch our creativity, challenge our manual dexterity and have some fun.

Some of the supplies we used

Some of the supplies we used

Here’s a list of supplies we used:

Beads, crystals, mirrors,  tiny “go-betweens,” medallions 
Six-pound fishing line
Three or five-inch diameter ring Silicone glue, waterproof and flexible (We used GE Premium, which is also sun/freeze proof. A 2.8 ounce tube is more than enough for several sun catchers.)
¼ inch clear plastic tubing, about 17 inches for a 5-inch ring, 11 inches for a 3-inch ring
Chain, for hanging suncatcher
Other materials and tools: 8-1/2 x 11 paper, paper towel, masking tape, scissors, 2 pairs of pliers for opening and closing chain links, magnifiers if your eyes are old

Here’s how we made them:

The planning begins

The planning begins

1. First we determined how many dangles, or lines we wanted to hang from our rings. We opted for 4 from the larger ring, 3 from the smaller ring, with a center dangle which would attach to the chain instead of the ring and would end with a medallion.

2. Next we figured lengths. We went for about 15-inch-long dangles from the larger ring, about 12 from the smaller ring. We taped two pieces of paper together and marked off appropriate lengths. If we wanted a variety of lengths, we marked these on the paper. These marks were only guidelines, as our ideas kept changing, but they kept us in bounds, sort of. 

Here's a layout of dangles that will differ in length when hung

Here’s a layout of dangles that will differ in length when hung

3. For each dangle we cut a strand of fishing line about three times the length of our finished suncatcher. (Extra length would be trimmed later.) We found the midpoint of each line and tied it securely to the ring, creating a double strand for stringing. The double strand would provide extra insurance against breakage and bead loss. Stringing beads double-stranded was not a problem. Before stringing the center line, we measured 8 or 9 inches down from the top and marked it with tape and a knot. This length is set aside for tying the center line to the chain.

Playing. . .

Playing. . .

4. We had fun playing around with patterns of mirrors and beads. Stringing doubles and triples of beads in a row gave some sharp color effects, and putting tiny bright silver or glass beads between larger beads set them off nicely. Crystal beads especially reflect the light.

5. For variety, we used two different patterns for the outer lines and a unique pattern for the center line, with a medallion hanging from the bottom.

Work is well along. Dangles attached to rings and mirrors glued back to back in place

Work is proceeding. Lines were  attached to rings before stringing, and mirrors glued back to back in spaces we left

6. Mirrors and some large stones cannot be strung. These we glued back to back, sandwiching the fishing line between them. The glue takes a while to set, so instead of gluing them one at a time, we strung all beads first, then glued mirrors/stones in appropriate spaces we had left between beads.

We allowed a few hours for setting but waited over night before hanging. The bottom bead on each string had line woven through it, knotted several times, then dabbed generously with glue.

Nearly complete. . .

Nearly complete. . .

7. We tried to keep beads fairly taut on the line while working. Once mirrors or stones are glued in place there is no forgiveness, so we constantly checked spacing. Even then we had some surprises but nothing that would interfere with the overall picture. We also numbered our lines, so there would be no question of misplaced patterns on the ring. As we learned later, there is so much dancing and sparkle in a suncatcher, patterns are the last thing an observer will notice.

8. We spaced the 4 lines equally around the ring and glued them in place. This bond is only semi-permanent but will keep lines from shifting while working. The fifth, or center line, we set aside for the moment. This would be put in place last.

Even without sparkle from sunshine, the suncatcher is pretty. This could hang in a window

Even without sparkle from sunshine, the suncatcher is pretty. This could hang in a window

9. The chain we chose was dictated by the types and weights the hardware store carried. We happened to choose a fairly heavy chain, but any weight would work well. Using two pairs of pliers (one to hold link in place, one to twist link open or closed) we created three equal lengths of chain about 6 inches long (counted the links to be sure they were equal). Again using the pliers to open and close links, we attached each chain to the ring. We joined the tops of the three chains with another link, though you could use a key ring if your chain has small links.

10. We spaced the chains equally around the ring. The more accurate we were, the more level the suncatcher would hang. Glue will not hold the chains in place permanently, so while we worked, we snugged them in place with masking tape.

Red/black/crystal hanging above Ariadne in the pond

Red/black/crystal hanging above Ariadne and the pond

11. To keep the chains from shifting after the suncatcher is hung, we cut ¼-inch plastic tubing into a length that would fit around the ring, then cut the tubing into roughly equal lengths that would fit between the chains, trimming where necessary.

Then we slit each piece of tubing with scissors and wrapped it around the ring, catching the lines as we went to secure them in place.

12. Finally, we attached the fifth line to the link that held all the chains together. We tied it as securely as possible, (wishing we’d paid more attention  to instructions on knot-tying at Scout meetings). For good measure we dabbed some glue on the knot. The suncatcher was finished.

Sailing under a blue sky

Sailing under a blue sky

Voila! We hung our sparklers from a shepherd’s crook. . . . . . and from a bent up metal coat hanger looped on the branch of a tree. . . . . . and from a wrought-iron pot hanger attached to a porch railing.

They’ve been out in thunderstorms, tornadic windstorms, torrential rainstorms.

They’ve tossed and whirled but they survived.

And there is a bonus. At night, the dancing suncatchers reflect the shine from our garden lighting. On breezy evenings we are treated to psychedelic light shows indoors.

Hanging in the garden, beads glued back to back,, survived squirrel antics

Hanging in the garden, beads glued back to back,, survived squirrel antics

The only casualty occurred when I unthinkingly hung one in the general path that squirrels follow as they chase each other around our gazebo roof. Squirrels being squirrels, one of the fishing lines went missing for a while, later located in shrubs, its beadwork miraculously intact. (All that glue!)

Our conclusions: We love our creations, but there is something to be said for bigger and bolder and simpler. Big stones, big mirrors, big crystals for flambuoyant sparkle in the sun. Have we piqued your interest? We hope so.

(Thanks to Susan for taking step-by-step photos of our creations)

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