Beginners Guide To Decorative Wraps

3/7/24

Decorative wraps take rod building to the next level by adding vibrant colors and intricate patterns to a rod. If you’re a new rod builder, decorative thread wraps are a perfect way to start adding a personal touch to your creations, and differentiate them from the millions of other rods out there on the water.

But getting started can be difficult, and becoming proficient at decorative wraps combines artistic talent and technical ability. This week, we’re here to pick up on some shards of wisdom from the legendary Mary McIntyre Christy. Mary is an expert in decorative wraps who has been a custom rod builder for over 13 years. She’s a brand ambassador for the Foundation Outdoor group, the founder of The Decorative Studio, and the co-founder of the popular Southern Rod Builder’s Facebook Group. 

Getting Started With Decorative Wraps

While Mary is known today as a highly proficient rod builder who specializes in amazingly intricate wraps, she started with humble beginnings.

“My husband had started a rod building business with his grandfather back around 2009 or 2010,” she says, “and he’s the one who introduced me to rod building. I actually remember early on looking at the rod building room and wondering, “Why get a custom rod built? Why not just go to WalMart and buy one? But one day we were in the room chit-chatting while he was putting on epoxy or something, and he just sort of tossed me a book and said, ‘You know what, you’re really creative. I think that you’d be able to figure this out.’”

“The book he tossed me was Billy Vivona’s “Decorative Wraps.” I kinda thumbed through it, and was like, ‘I don’t know the difference between the tip and the butt of a rod, how am I supposed to figure this out?’ But he was insistent. He told me, “We figured out the chevrons and diamonds, but we don’t know anything past that.’”

“So I started poking around online, and at the time there wasn’t really much info on the topic on the internet. But luckily, my husband’s grandfather was a bit of a hoarder, and had ALL of the books on rod building; the old magazines and all that. And little by little, I started piecing together info and having a go at it. They’d build the rods, and it was my job to make them look pretty.”

Wrapping Techniques

Fast forward a couple of years, and Mary had become highly proficient at wrapping. Eventually, she transitioned from a self-taught learner to an instructor, and started a series of online videos and courses explaining traditional techniques as well as some tips and tricks she had learned after hours of hands-on experience.

“It started with some live videos for the Southern Rod Builders Group,” she explains, “I called them “Wrap Wednesdays” videos, and I’d do a little something on thread wrapping each week for the group.”

decorative wraps

With a newborn and a three-year-old in the house, the weekly videos became too big of a commitment, so Mary transitioned from videos to longer, more detailed courses that were offered online.

“I found out talking with people and doing those videos that nobody really knew how to do a chevron wrap; nobody really understood spacing; people were struggling with taping; they were having dramas with their threads being too loose, too tight, you know? All of these little things. And I thought, ‘Alright, this may be a crazy idea. I don’t know if it’s gonna go well or not. But somebody needs to teach this.’ So I put a couple courses together.”

These courses (available on threadcentral.net) have proven to be highly valuable to builders looking to learn how to grow their confidence at decorative wraps.

Learning To Make Mistakes

While Mary’s tutorials are full of detailed instructions for how to create intricate wraps, and are also full of helpful little tips that she’s picked up in her rod building career, she says that the biggest thing for beginners to understand is that mistakes are a part of the process, even for advanced builders. 

Making peace with mistakes is a big part of developing a right mindset, according to Mary. So what should you do with a mistake?

Cut it off, take a breath, and start over.

rod wraps

“People will come up to me and say, ‘I just wish I could do what you just cut off!’” she laughs. “But it’s not just about something being “technically ok.” If the wrap doesn’t look how I want it to; if it doesn’t match with a design I have in my head, then it has to go. I don’t like it.”

And sometimes, even the experts make technical mistakes.

“All of us get this idea in our head that the people that inspire us never make mistakes. That they never make mistakes, and that we’ll never get to that level. But I make mistakes. And my mentors make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes you make awesome wraps. And sometimes you cut stuff off.”

Decorative Thread Wrapping Tips

Mary offers some additional tips to beginning thread wrappers.

First of all, she emphasizes that it’s easier to do intricate, detailed designs on bigger blanks.

“Shrinking patterns down to smaller blanks is super hard,” she emphasizes. “And a lot of times I encourage people to go with simpler patterns.”

Another tip is using paint pens to mark blanks.

“I’ve eventually landed on using paint pens for marking my blanks,” Mary says. “The paint stays in place, it doesn’t chip, and it doesn’t cause any issues with the epoxy coating.”

decorative wraps

She also recommends using a mechanics pick to move threads around, similar to how fly tiers use a bodkin to delicately arrange small feather fibers when tying flies.

“You can take a mechanics pick, and sort of file it down and smooth it down round, and you can use that to pick threads up and move them around all over the place,” she advises.

She also advises against using masking tape to lay out designs, after an unfortunate mishap she had.

“I was doing a project for a customer who wanted a wrap added to his rod,” she reminisces. “Nothing fancy, just adding a decorative wrap. And at the time I was using masking tape because that’s what everybody was using. And he had an older cork grip on that rod, and when I went to pull the tape off, it ripped out a chunk of cork. Ever since then, I use painters tape, because it doesn’t stick to anything.”

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, decorative rod wraps not only elevate the aesthetic appeal of fishing rods but also imbue them with a personal touch that sets them apart on the water. Mary McIntyre Christy’s journey from a curious onlooker to a revered expert in decorative wraps exemplifies the blend of creativity, patience, and technical prowess required in this craft. Her story, from her initial skepticism to her profound contributions to the rod building community, illustrates the transformative power of embracing a new skill. Her online courses and practical tips offer a treasure trove of knowledge for anyone looking to delve into the world of decorative wraps, and rod builders looking to deepen their skill set should add them to their list of reference materials.