How to Make a Beaded Necklace


Necklaces are the most eye-catching pieces of jewelry. Their size, combined with brilliant colors, makes them easy to see and admire. In spite of this, they are the easiest jewelry projects, requiring only a few hand tools. The materials run from pearls and emeralds on the high end, to wood and seashells on the other. In between, there are many other mineral, metal, and glass beads to choose from.

This is an excellent way for a person to get started in jewelry making and many people chose to do nothing more than make necklaces. The skills are easy to learn and can be mastered by anyone with nimble fingers. Artistic sensibilities are an asset, but one does not have to be a Picasso to find nice combinations of beads. The only drawback to making beaded necklaces is that it can be addictive. Many are the jewelers that have more beads than they will ever use and more necklaces than they can ever sell or give away.

Tools

Beading can be done with nothing more than a towel to lay the out beads and a pair of scissors. However, most people have a larger inventory. Here are the tools that are used. You can gather them as needed.

 

Bead Board

Bead boards have groves in them, so you can lay out the beads during the design process. This can be as simple as a straight board with a couple channels cut into it. Fancier boards will have a curved channel, to help you envision the finished necklace. Inch markings are a useful feature, as are small compartments to hold your parts. Some boards are flocked, so the beads do not roll around as much.

 

Scissors

A good pair of scissors is a necessity. You need to be able to make clean cuts, very close to the knots. An average pair of scissors will not do the job properly and your work will look shabby. There are special scissors make for beadwork, and good ones can be found in cosmetic departments.

 

Round Nose Pliers

Round nose pliers are designed for making loops in wire. They are also the best tools for closing existing loops, something you will do often. Being round and smooth, they are less likely to mark the metal than other pliers.

 

Tweezers

When dealing with small beads, tweezers save a lot of frustration. Bead tweezers have a small cup on the end, rather than flat points as most do.

 

Awl

You can purchase an awl made especially for beading. The ones in the hardware store are usually too large and are cumbersome to work with. An upholstery needle is an excellent substitute.

 

Yardstick

Obviously, you need to measure your necklaces.

 

Crimping Pliers

If you work with wire, you will need pliers to crimp the end beads. Most small pliers will do the job, but those with smooth jaws are preferred. Rather than buying a new set, you can wrap the jaws of your existing pliers with tape.

 

 

Wire Cutters

Tiger tail requires cutting close to the crimp. A good pair of fine tipped wire cutters are a necessity for this purpose.

 

Calipers

Knowing the size of your beads makes the design process easier. By knowing their size, you can quickly calculate how many you will need. See the accompanying chart.

 

Beads per Inch

 

Bead Size Beads per Inch Beads per 16” Beads per 24”
2 mm 12.5 200 300
3 mm 8.3 133 200
4 mm 6.25 100 150
5 mm 5 80 120
6 mm 4.2 66 99
7 mm 3.6 57 86
8 mm 3.13 50 75
10 mm 2.5 40 60
12 mm 2.1 33 50

 

 

Reamer 

This little tool will make your stringing much more enjoyable. It is nothing more than a needle covered with diamond grit. All too often, you will get beads with holes that are not straight, or are too small for your needle and thread. A few twists of the reamer and the job is much easier.

 

Organizers

Let’s face it, if you get into necklace making you are going to acquire a lot of very small parts. Keeping them organized is important. Imaging if all your two and three millimeter gold beads were mixed together. It would be impossible to count them and sorting them would be something less than fun. There is a variety of small parts holders available. Get one before the need gets out of hand.

Materials

 

Finding attractive beads is the easiest part of making necklaces. There are stores that specialize in beads and they can be ordered by mail. Garage sales and flea markets are excellent sources for used necklaces. They offer selections that are not available elsewhere.

There are occasions where you buy beads for a particular project. However, serious beaders are always on the lookout for interesting beads. The more you have on hand, the more likely you are to come up with a unique and tantalizing combination. However, this is also the biggest pitfall of bead making. You can acquire more beads than you will ever use. Remember, making beaded necklaces can be addictive!

Beads are made from a variety of materials. Here are some of the most common.

 

Pearls

Pearls are the quintessential beads. Cultured pearls come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Tahitian pearls have larger sizes and bolder colors. Freshwater pearls come in almost every shade of color. Their prices range from moderate to very inexpensive.

Though pearls are usually used alone, do not hesitate to mix them with other materials. They can be striking accents when combined with other materials.

 

Minerals

All gem materials are available as beads. They range from the very expensive ruby, sapphire, emerald, and opal; through moderately priced garnets and amethyst; down to the least expensive cabbing materials like agate, hematite, and tiger-eye. There is literally something for every taste and budget.

 

Metal

Metals are used extensively in necklaces. The connecting pieces, clasps and bead tips, are usually metal. Plain gold beads are used as spacers, others are so fancy they become centerpieces. Some necklaces use fancy metal beads exclusively.

The metal used depends on the value of the necklace. Gold and silver are the most popular choices, both solid and plated. Almost every other metal is used on occasion, including iron, titanium, and pewter.

 

Glass

Glass beads are a simple and inexpensive way to add bright colors to a necklace. However, glass bead making is also fine art, with some beads selling for a few dollars apiece. Hand painted glass beads offer the jeweler another attractive material.

 

Wood and Shell

Wood and seashell are inexpensive. They come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and textures. Many people find organic materials appealing and their popularity is always high.

Bead Shapes

Not only is there a wide range of materials to chose from, there is also an amazing assortment of shapes. Beads come in round, oval, lentil, hearts, stars, tubes, triangles, wheels, chips, and chunks.

Beggar beads are roughly shaped pieces of agate that have been tumble polished. You can also find carved beads in a number of gem materials.

Accessories

 

Once you have your beads, you will need the following accessories:

 

Cord

Silk is the traditional beading cord. Its strength and flexibility are unmatched for any other material its size. Nylon and polyester cords are replacing silk. They have nearly the same strength and a longer life.

A number or a letter defines cord size. The size used is dependant on the size of your beads, with larger, heavier beads requiring a stronger cord.

 

Silk

A B C D E F FF

Nylon

1 1.5 2 3 4 5 8

 

 

Needles

Beading needles are nothing more than a thin piece of wire that has been doubled over and twisted together. The holes become so tightly squeezed together in use, that they are often disposed of when finished. You can purchase needles separately, or get “stringing kits” which have a needle already on the end of the thread.

 

Glue

After tying your knots, glue them to keep them from unraveling. Beaders use a variety of adhesives, but ones that dry hard, fast, and clear are preferred.

Tiger Tail

Tiger tail is a plastic coated wire that is used for very heavy beads. While most beads will hang gracefully from a thread, heavy ones pull the thread tight and fall to a point. They also require more strength for security purposes.

Wire overcomes this. Heavy beads will hang gracefully and not break the wire. There are many manufacturers of coated wire. Some are only offered to the industrial market and are the best priced in volume.

Crimps

Tiger tail is not tied like string. Instead, the wire is passed through a tube of metal that is crimped closed. The end is then cut close to the crimp.

 

Clasps

The clasp that holds your necklace together speaks volumes about the quality of the piece. Precious metal clasps can add a considerable amount to the cost of the necklace, but it is often worth the expense. A filigreed gold clasp with wood beads would spoil the organic effect. You need to choose your clasp carefully.

Notes on Metals

Realize that the clasp and other parts will come in contact with the wearers skin. Plated or filled metal will quickly deteriorate and can turn a person’s skin green. These should be avoided in all but the least expensive necklaces.

While silver is entirely appropriate in some designs, it should be used to a minimum. Trying to polish small silver parts, especially ones surrounded by larger beads, is extremely difficult. Enough so, that the piece may not be worn, but just sit in a drawer.

Simple clasps are made from a double strand of wire. Bend part of the wire into a hook and the rest into an eye. This is both functional and inexpensive. Handmade wire hooks go well with organic and native designs.

Spring rings are inexpensive. They tend to wear out faster than other clasps, so their use is restricted to inexpensive jewelry. If in doubt which size to use, opt for a larger and stronger size.

From here, clasps get much more decorative and expensive. Some are even set with precious stones. Choose a clasp that is appropriate to your design, without going too far over budget. The right clasp will add greatly to the overall quality and appearance of the piece.

 

Metal Findings

   Besides beads and clasps, you will run into other metal pieces. Bead tips are a tiny cup with an extension on it. Their purpose is to hide the knot.

To use a bead tip, you first run the string though the cup. After it is tied and glued, cut the excess off. Next, bend the arm through the end of the clasp. You now have an invisible knot.

   Spacers are another useful finding. They serve to keep multiple strands separated. You can get them with two to four holes. Choose a metal that matches the rest of the findings.

Design

 

Necklace LengthsChoker: 14 to 16 inches, falls to hollow of neck.

 

Princess: 18 inches

 

Matinee: 20 to 24 inches, falls to the crown of the bust.

 

Opera: 28 to 32 inches.

 

Rope: Anything more than 32 inches.

 

While design ideas are entirely personal, some guidelines are in order for the beginner. First, consider the person you are making the necklace for. A short necklace would be ideal for young person, but not for a large, mature woman.

You need to consider its purpose. Is it to be a formal piece, something to be worn to the theater, or a gay splash of color? Formal designs are usually simple, while informal ones can be busy, with multiple parts and many colors.

Cost may factor into your decision. A fine string of pearls is expensive enough to be a once in a lifetime purchase. Doubling its size will also double the cost. Pearls come in sixteen-inch strands that finish out around eighteen inches. To make a twenty-two inch necklace means you have to order two strands of pearls and have leftovers. This should be avoided, unless you have a use for the additional pearls.

Consider all these factors and choose an appropriate size along with the materials.

   Pearls are fine by themselves, but not for most beads. I know a jeweler who got an excellent price on some premium quality, amethyst beads. He strung them into a long rope, with purple cord knotted between each bead. As fine as the materials and price were, it took years to sell. The materials were superb, but the design was boring.

When designing a necklace think in terms of contrast. Contrasting colors, shapes, and textures combine to create interest. Simply interspersing small gold beads between your primary beads will sometimes be enough. In other cases, you may want a centerpiece. Often this will be a single, spectacular bead, or a group of beads. A centerpiece can also be something that hangs, like a pendant, or a loop of the same beads.

     A simple technique to add contrast and interest is to use sections. One design that sold well was based on oval, mother of pearl beads. It had three sections that consisted of a green jade bead, an inch of red coral branches, another jade bead, all interspersed with gold. Other popular combinations are blue lace agate with rose quartz, and garnets with pearls.

Shapes also add interest, as with the branch coral mixed with oval and round beads. With multiple strands, you have even more options.

A dangle of the same or contrasting material is common and effective. For example, a heart, teardrop, cross, or star will do wonders for an otherwise simple necklace. Pieces that are more expensive can feature a carved jade or opal, or a fancy cabochon. You can even design a beaded necklace to show off a faceted gem set in gold.

Techniques

The actual act of beading is simple, but your success is achieved in the preparation. Begin by gathering your materials. Look them over and get an idea of what you want to accomplish. Then lay out your tentative design on a bead board.

Now look at what you have. Do you have a pleasing mix of colors, shapes, and textures? Try other combinations to see how they affect the design. When you are satisfied, measure the pieces. Is it the right size for the purpose? In most cases, adjusting the size is a simple matter of adding or removing a few beads near the clasp.

The last step in the preparation is choosing the proper cord. You need to choose a size that is thin enough to go through the beads and strong enough to support the weight. You also need to consider the color of the cord. If the beads are transparent, or if the knots show, choose a color that matches the primary beads.

Once you have the proper design, the art is completed. Now it is a simple matter of putting them together. There are three basic methods for assembling a necklace.

Basic Stringing

This is simplicity in itself. Take a length of string about half again as long as your finished necklace, and start it through a needle. Attach the other end to a clasp or bead tip, so the beads will not slip off the end. If think you may want to add additional beads later, then tie a knot instead of using a finding. Then simply run the needle through the beads in the order.

When all the beads are on the string, pick it up by the ends. If you have a center bead, make sure it hangs in the middle. If you have other design elements, make sure they are evenly spaced. It is easy to add or skip a bead and this is the time to correct any mistakes.

Positioning the Knot

The final step is tie the loose end to a bead tip, or the other side of the clasp. However, you need to find where to put the knot. First, hold the necklace by the ends and let it hang. Grasp it so there is no slack in the thread. You will find that it is taught; it does not have enough thread to hang gracefully.

Let go of the ends and spread the necklace out in a circle. Hold the ends of the thread and pick it up. When it hangs straight, there will be some excess thread showing. The correct amount of thread to leave showing is about half that excess. For example, if you have a quarter inch of thread showing, tie your final knot an eighth of an inch above the last bead. The thread will stretch a bit when worn, making up the difference.

Finish the knot with a drop of glue. Many brands are used. You should choose an adhesive that dries quickly and clear. When the glue is dry, cut the end of the thread flush against the knot.

 

Tiger Tail

Stringing with tiger tail is very simple. Begin by attaching one end of the clasp to the wire, as described above. No needle is needed with tiger tail, just run it through the beads.

Positioning the knot is the same as with thread. Crimp the final end together and you are finished.

 

 

Knotting

   This is the technique of choice for pearls and other valuable materials. A knotted necklace has two advantages. One is additional security; if the necklace should break, only one bead can fall off the string. The knots also act as a spacer. This keeps the beads from rubbing against each other and wearing flat on the ends. This is important with pearls and other soft materials.

Note that gold beads also serve as spacers. They give a cleaner appearance and require less labor than knotting. Which technique you use depends primarily on the value of the necklace. With expensive beads, the additional security of knotting is certainly worthwhile.

Knotting begins with attaching one end of the thread to a bead tip, or clasp. Then, make a loop in the thread. Pass the end with the beads, (or just the clasp for the first knot,) through the loop. This creates a half-knot.

Place an awl through the knot. Gently use the awl to slide the knot down towards the bead. When the knot is against the bead, pull it as tight as you can. Remove the awl and tighten the knot again.

If the knot tightens before it reaches the bead, you still have the awl in it. You can loosen the knot by wiggling the awl around. Then proceed again until it is in the correct position. It only takes a little practice to do well and just a little more to do quickly and gracefully.

When your beads are all in place, tie it off with no slack in the thread and put a drop of glue on the knot. When the glue is dry, clip the end off flush.

Finishing Touches

 

As nice as your necklaces may be, you can do more to enhance their appeal and add value.

In most cases, you will have extra beads left over. Slipping a few beads on a shepherds hook creates a pair of matching earrings. This adds little to the cost or labor, but a matched set adds greatly to the appeal.

Sometimes the extra beads can be turned into a matching bracelet. Again, a set of jewelry has much more appeal than a single piece. This both makes your necklaces easier to sell and increases their value.

The final touch is how you display your jewels. A velvet covered necklace box does wonderful things for eye appeal. These are too expensive for some pieces. A white, cotton filled box will serve the same purpose, even if it is not as elegant. Embroidered pouches do not display the necklace, but offer an attractive package; one that says, “This is special.”

It takes thought to choose the proper packaging, but it is the final touch that can make the difference between a sale or not.