Cage Your Trinkets and Treasures

October 21, 2016 , In: Metalsmithing, Tutorials

For August’s headpin challenge I created a wire basket holding coral and beach glass. It is something I learned from the wonderfully talented Mary Hettmansperger years ago. I bought her first book ” Fabulous Woven Jewelry” around 2006 and was fortunate enough to take a workshop with her in 2010. I strongly suggest checking out her books for tons of inspiration and tutorials-and if you ever have the chance of taking a workshop with her, I highly recommend it!

Since learning the technique from Mary  I have played around with different styles and tried many different shaped objects to capture in the basket. My lifelong habit of collecting seashells and other treasures on the beach has created an endless supply of bits and pieces to capture in these baskets.  You could use anything you like to showcase in these cages.  I will show you how I make them starting with what I consider the simplest method first.


Wrapped Spokes

I start with 3 pieces of 18g copper wire cut approximately 8 inches long that I have torched/melted to create a ball on each end.  These will be your 6 spokes or if you are a weaver, these are your warps.  Gather all 3 pieces of the 8″ wire, determine the middle and wrap with 24g copper wire as shown above. (as you can probably tell in the photos below-I used liver of sulpur on my copper and then lightly sanded)


Once wrapped, bend your spokes upward. You will want to refer to the object you are going to be capturing to determine the shape of your spokes (above left photo) For this one I am using a heart shaped rock I found at the beach. (excuse the filthy hands) Once you determine the shape of the spokes. You need to space out your spokes so they will fit around the object. (above right photo)

Next, you will need approximately 5-6 feet of your 24g copper wire. Fold the 6′ piece of wire in half and pinch it slightly so that it fits around one of the spokes as below(below-top left photo). Doesn’t matter which spoke you choose to start weaving on.

Then begin weaving with your two pieces of 24g wire. It’s basic basket-weave twining (below-top right photo) Caution: You will get frustrated immensely because those long lengths of wire will twist and cause major yelling/cursing. So I would suggest after weaving around several spokes to untwist your length of 24g copper wires. Otherwise it will get so mangled up that you will be forced to cut it apart and start all over! (Ask me how I know these things?)



As you can see in the photos I have twisted the wires in between spokes before weaving when there is a large gap between the wires. After you get several rows of twining done, place your object in the basket base (above-lower left photo) and continue weaving around your object. You want to keep enough open areas between rows of weaving so that you can see your object but not big enough that your treasure will fall through.

Since my little heart shaped rock was on the small size I kept weaving and created a basket taller than the object . Once I liked the shape of the basket I used pliers to bend the spokes inward to create a neck and continued twining  (below left) with a much tighter, closer weave to bring it all together. When you have about 3 inches left at the end of your spokes you can stop weaving and start wrapping the 24g wire around all spokes as below left. Cut the ends and pinch closed with pliers.



Use round nose pliers to curl and twist the balled ends of copper in a rather loose fashion (above right photo). You don’t have to ball the ends of your wire, you could leave them plain or you could flatten them into paddle shapes.  I happen to like the balled ends curled like vines. You can use one of the spokes on the backside of your basket to form a coil to create a bail to hang your pendant from.


Captured Stone Heart

To create the beginnings of this basket below and also the one that I posted for the August headpin challenge you need to melt all 6 pieces of wire together on one end.


Basket For Turritella & Conch Shell

For this method determine the approximate length of the object and cut your wire about 3 inches longer than you need. I used 6 pieces about 7″ each for the one above. Torch one end of the wire to create a ball, then slightly twist the other ends together just enough to hold them close (top photo below) and torch them until they melt together.


Above-Twisted Wires Before Torching & Below-Post Torching

Once they have melted together into a blob, plunge in cold water and then hammer flat (above photo). This creates a nice place to drill a hole so you can dangle charms or head pins or whatever you’d like. Warning:DO NOT try to use your hand held hole punches-you will damage them. (Again, ask me how I know this?) Use a dremel tool because this is a pretty thick gauge once you have melted 6 pieces of 18g copper together. Then of course you have work-hardened it by hammering it. SO DON’T USE your hole punches. Won’t work!

This method is easier to hold when you first start weaving because the flattened end acts as a handle to hold onto. You begin weaving with 5-6′ of the 24g copper same as the first basket (below left photo).


I have to admit this shaped shell (above right) was super easy to use. I would recommend this shape for first-timers. The only reason I didn’t consider this as my easy method above is due to the melting of the 6 pieces of copper. That takes a little bit of practice.  It’s much easier to create a ball on the end of one wire rather than melting 6 together. But try it, maybe you’ll pick it up quickly!

I added a broken tip of a conch shell on top of the turritella shell then finished it off similar to the first cage except I didn’t do an extended weave at the top since the pendant was already so long. (refer to photo of finished pieces at the end of tutorial)

Next version is something I tried for the first time while creating this tutorial. I started with a round copper disc that I hammered with a dapping block to dome it. Punch 6 holes evenly around the edge and one hole in the center. I torched 7 pieces of 18g copper wire to get a ball on the end and used one to thread through the center for a bail then threaded the other 6 through the holes around the edge. (below- top left photo)


The next part was trickier than all the above put together!  Trying to hold the copper domed cap with all 6 spokes upside down while weaving takes a very coordinated effort (above photo-top right) But I managed. UGH-My fingers are getting dirtier as we go along-sorry! I wish my hands looked like those YouTube videos where they all have perfectly manicured hands while working with metal and wires-sheesh)

My first choice for this basket was a long chunk of bleached coral (above photo-bottom left). Well, it ended up looking like a skeletal finger (which would be really cute for Halloween) but I wanted a different look, so I chose some smaller black rocks found on the beach with one black lava rock I picked up in Hawaii (above photo-bottom right). Much better choice I think.

Again, this cylindrical shape is much easier to grasp and weave around once you get the first few rows done.

Finish this off by gathering all your wires together and wrapping with the 24g wire, same as above.  I decided to hammer these ends flat. As you can see in the photo below with the finished pieces.

Caged Treasures

Finished Caged Treasures

I do hope you will try to create some little baskets for your beach treasures or found objects that you want to hang onto. There are endless options of items you can enclose in these wire baskets, it doesn’t have to be shells. I have also stuck nuggets of gemstones and marbles inside. Gather up your treasures and pick which ones would look nice captured in a wire basket. Please share your photos if you try this.

Let me know if you have questions. For now, I believe I will go treat myself to a manicure.

I also hope to do a follow-up post soon about finishing your pendants and creating necklaces with these little basket cages.



Cathy Spivey Mendola

Cathy Spivey Mendola has been creative her entire life. After a short career in the medical profession she became a stay-at-home mom which allowed her to dabble in various arts and crafts. Many years and mediums later she has finally found her passion-bead embroidered jewelry. When she needs a break from jewelry she creates bead embellished art quilts and wall hangings.
  1. Reply

    Great tutorial Cathy – thank you.

    • artelem2016
    • October 21, 2016

    Great tutorial – love the idea!

  2. Reply

    Thanks Lesley and Karen! I love creating these little wire baskets. I have ideas for more tutorials in the future.

  3. Reply

    This tutorial gave me the incentive to finally give it a try. My pendant came out great! Not sure how to post a photo though

    • Reply

      Tommie…If you have your photo on Facebook or Instagram you can post a link to it in the comments section of the post.

    • Mardi
    • November 20, 2016

    Oh my gosh! I love your little basket cages!!!! …Sending virtual {{{hugs}}} for your wonderful tutorial! This may be more than my fingers can manage, but I do intend to try. Thank you for sharing.

    • Reply

      Thanks so much Mardi! I’m sure you can handle it. It really is a fun little project. Good luck!

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    • Marsha
    • August 7, 2017

    Very creative work. Great tutorial. Thanks

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