Not Your Typical Nest Jewelry

mud dauber necklaceThe theme of the month for Art Elements’ March design challenge is “nests.”  Even before I signed up to participate I knew I didn’t want to make a typical bird’s nest for my design.  I’ve made wire-wrapped nests with bead “eggs” before, including as a component in a spring-themed necklace for a past Art Elements design challenge.  They’re plenty of fun to make, but I wanted to try something new for this challenge.

I started my jewelry design process by thinking about which animals other than birds make nests.  And the first thing that came to mind was “wasp nest.”   Rather than dismiss the idea and keep brainstorming, I did an image search on the internet.  The nests made by mud dauber wasps are spectacular. I was especially taken with the “organ pipe” mud dauber constructions.  (There are no insects visible in the photo, only mud tubes.)  They were the perfect inspiration for organic beads.

Warning:  If you are creeped out by insects, or photos of insects, you probably shouldn’t click on the links below with reference to wasps or wasp nests or bees or beehives.  Just sayin’.  There are no photos of insects in this post. I linked to other pages where you can see them if you are interested.

polymer clay wasp nest beads

These organic-looking hollow tube beads are made from polymer clay, and intended to resemble the nests made my mud dauber wasps.

Female mud dauber wasps make their nests by bringing mud, or preferably clay, one mouthful at a time to a selected spot such as the sheltered side of your home. I am humbled to note that these insects make much more consistently-shaped structures with their mouths than I could with my hands.  I’m also fairly certain a single wasp could have made three times as many nests in the time it took me to make my beads.

Did you know mud dauber wasps are also called potter wasps? I wonder if humans got the idea to make vessels and things from mud/clay by observing wasps?  Also, they are solitary or eusocial, meaning they don’t form or live in hives.  Consequently, they don’t defend hives and are generally known to be docile and only sting if you mishandle them.  They’re also considered beneficial garden insects because they control spider populations.

My wasp nest-inspired beads are hollow, just like the actual nests, and I did form them one row at a time, just like the wasps do. Unlike the actual nests, which are built against a flat surface and therefore “backless”, my beads are complete tubes.  Also unlike the actual nests, my tube beads are open at both ends.  The female wasp seals the top and bottom of her tubes to protect her eggs as they mature.  Also, unlike the actual nests, my beads don’t have paralyzed spiders or “garden pests” in them as snacks for hatching wasp larvae.

Mud Dauber tube beads necklace

My ode to the Mud Dauber Wasp necklace was made by stringing the nest tube beads with round blue beads (also polymer clay) and brown jasper rondelles on antiqued brass chain.

When I was making the tube beads, I planned to turn them into a pendant by attaching them to a piece of “house”  made of polymer clay to resemble weathered wood shingle.  That didn’t turn out the way I envisioned and Plan B emerged, in which I used the tube beads in a fringe- or fan-shaped focal.

One species of organ pipe mud dauber wasp is black with gorgeous iridescent blue-black wings, which gave me the idea to accent my tube beads with black or iridescent blue beads.  I didn’t want to be overly literal, but I did happen to have some AB Czech glass beads that were a pretty close match to the blue-black wing color. But they didn’t look right.

I auditioned some turquoise, which in my opinion goes with everything.  I didn’t like it as much I thought I would. Finally I decided to make my own blue beads. They aren’t the dark iridescent of the wasp’s wings. Rather, they’re more of a blue sky color, which I think brightens up the design without overpowering the focal beads. I finished the front of the necklace with some brown jasper rondelles, and the back is textured antiqued brass rolo chain finished with a lobster clasp.

Verdigris bronze wasp nest earrings

The wasp nest beads on these earrings are polymer clay coated with bronze Swellegant metal coating that’s been given an aged verdigris. They’re accented with faceted Czech glass beads (like wasps hovering around the hive) on Vintaj brass hoops and wires.

After I made the tube beads and before I settled on the final necklace design, I made more wasp nest beads.  These are inspired by paper wasps, which make ovoid or spherical nests from plant fibers.  Some people probably associate this nest shape with bees rather than wasps because the illustrations for things like Winnie the Pooh depict beehives in this shape.   Actual beehives don’t resemble that shape.  But you know, artistic license.  The beads, which I turned into dangle earrings, are polymer clay painted with Swellegant bronze metal coating.

After I made the wasp nest beads that resemble what people think bee hives look like, I decided I should probably make a bee hive-ish bead.  If you do an image search for wild bee hives (assuming you aren’t freaked out by images of bees) you will find they are not shaped the way they are in Winnie the Pooh.  At all. They are flattened lobe-like structures that seem to drip from branches.

Honeycomb pendant necklace

This pendant is inspired by the shape of wild bee hives. It’s made from translucent polymer clay colored with alcohol inks to resemble bees wax and honey.

If you’re familiar with raw honey, you probably know it isn’t “honey” colored.  That is, it’s not the rich amber color you find in bear-shaped squeeze bottles in the grocery store.  It’s pale yellow and milky. I had some trouble getting my polymer clay “honey” and “beeswax” pale enough. It’s still a work in progress.  I’m probably working on a new recipe even as you read this post. I am determined to make my “vision” come true on this one. So far, I’ve made three attempts, which I’m sharing with you here.

Spiral Bee Hive pendant with brass bee bail

This polymer clay pendant, inspired by the hives of Australian stingless bees, is darker than I intended. And I’m not loving the verdigris brass bee bail (which is Swellegant coated polymer clay) as much as I thought I would when making it.  Or rather, I love the little bee, but perhaps just not with this pendant.

There is one type of bee that makes spiral hives, but they still don’t look like the hives in Winnie the Pooh.  The Australian stingless bee builds its hives on the ground in the shape of a spiral.  I had some engineering challenges trying to duplicate the spiral shape.  And I still was not getting the color of honey I was after.

Spiral Bee Hive necklace

This is Version 2 of the spiral Australian stingless bee hive pendant. The shape is much closer to realistic but the color turned out too orange.

I am not a patient person, and as a result I did not test cure my tinted polymer clay before spending hours sculpting the spiral hive pendants. If I had, I would have known the clay was going to turn out more orange than I was intending and I could have color-corrected before it was too late.  C’est la vie.  I think I have a good reason for not curing test swatches, ever.  It wastes energy to warm up the oven for a 15-minute bake.  So while I’d like to say, lesson learned and from now on I will test swatches, I probably won’t.  But I might use my heat gun to cure a small drop of the tinted liquid clay before painstakingly adding it one drop at a time to each hexagonal-shaped well of pendant Version 3.  Maybe.

Spiral bee hive necklace

Spiral bee hive pendant made of polymer clay, on antiqued brass ball chain. There’s a polymer clay tube bail hidden on the back of the hollow pendant.

I hope that even those of you who don’t admire wasps and bees as much as I do can still appreciate my nest jewelry designs.  Maybe if you think of them simply as random organic structures?  As a reward for making it all the way to the end of what may have been a creepy-crawly post for some of you, I made some innocuous bird nest charms to leave you with happier thoughts.  I didn’t turn them into jewelry because I think I’m going to put them in my Bead Shop.

polymer clay birds nest charms

I used polymer clay to make some birds nests with eggs. These nests are about 1.5 to 2 inches diameter and have spaces to add jump rings or wire wrap as charms or pendants.

Thanks for visiting my blog today.  This post is also part of a blog hop, so be sure to visit the other participating artists for more nest-themed art.  I’m reasonably certain there won’t be more mention of wasps or bees. 😉

Guest Participants









Tammy <– you are here!

AE Team Members










19 thoughts on “Not Your Typical Nest Jewelry

  1. Claire

    I love all the pieces you made and the idea of the insect nests is genius! I especially love your was nests and reading how much thought alone went into the making, especially how you realized them! 🙂

  2. Laney Mead

    wow!! Wasp nests fascinate me but I never knew that some wasps are referred to as potter wasps. I love LOVE the first necklace that is just beautiful. The spiral nest intrigues me. Lovely pieces and thank you for the wasp history too 😀

  3. Cathy S. Mendola

    Wow! Your creativity was in overdrive for this theme. I love all your wasp nests and the tiny bird nests also.
    But that first mud dauber nest necklace is amazing! The nests look so real-it has a very organic almost tribal feel to it.
    I really like the earrings also!
    Thanks for playing along this month.

  4. Anita Rao

    That’s quite some inspiration from the insect world! Each and every one of your pieces was mesmerizing. And I learned a lot about wasps and their nests today. 😉 (I agree, most insects are under-appreciated.)
    On a lighter vein, I was disappointed when I saw the post end with birds nests, lol. But on a serious note, I love them too – the speckles and markings on the eggs are a wonderful touch.

  5. Divya N

    When I first looked at pictures of the first 4 fourdesigns, I thought “Oh my God, they totally creep me out!” A second later I realised it was a good thing. While beehives, nests and other nesting structures have been romantised in cartoons and greeting cards as being sweet and pretty, in real life they are messy. They have porous details and projections which are beautiful in their own right. I think that you have created some realistic pieces even with the artistic license.

  6. Kathy Lindemer

    You always amaze me with your polymer clay creations. The potters wasp beads are a great idea. They look wonderful in your necklace. I like the colors that you selected to go with the wasp beads. Great job!

  7. Rozantia Petkova

    I certainly don’t like stinging insects but can appreciate their nests. The tube nest beads are unbelievable! And that first necklace design is gorgeous! What an unusual idea! I don’t work with polymer clay but your experiments sound fascinating, trying to mimic the shape and color to the best! Good luck with that, even though I like them all, especially the first bee hive necklace!

  8. niky sayers

    Oh my gosh, I have thoroughly LOVED reading through your post! You clearly put a lot of thought into this and it really shows, I did not know that there were wasps that lived singularly and were docile and calling them potter wasps and showing how beautiful they can be might actually be enough to make me think that maybe wasps are not the worst insect ever, and spiral bee hives! I have learnt so much from your post and got to see beautiful jewellery as well, thank you so much!

  9. Jennifer Davies-Reazor

    Tammy- I loved all of this. One mouthful at a time. Paralyzed spiders. Dripping from trees. Wow. I am thrilled you took the idea and ran, and played, and experimented! I’m sorry the tints weren’t cooperating. You were so prolific! My favorite may be the spiral bees nest- bc spiral! But he texture is really interesting. Thanks for joining Us!

  10. Lindsay S

    Thank you for playing along with us! Your creations have given me much food for thought and inspiration. I really need to think more about incorporating my bug habit into my art! Thank you!

  11. CraftyHope

    I think we have those mud dauber wasps in my area. I’ve definitely seen those nests before. I think your version of them is super. In fact, all of your creations are pretty sweet – even if you’re not completely happy with the beehives.

  12. Sarajo Wentling

    Your mud dauber nest necklace is truly inspired! I love the colors and textures in that piece and really appreciate the different direction that you took this challenge in. That first spiral bee hive necklace is probably my second favorite even if the tints weren’t behaving for you. Great stuff here!


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