Back in early September I started a project called 31 Days of Jewelry. The idea was to pull out all of my beads and jewelry-making supplies (which I haven't touched in over a year) and make at least one necklace, bracelet, earring or other piece every day for a month. I figured by the end of the 31 days all my beads would be gone and whatever jewelry I didn't sell I could give as holiday gifts.
Given the size of my bead stash, this was completely naive.
I hit 31 days and had only gotten through about a third of my beads. It might have ended there except people kept telling me how much they loved the jewelry I was making and buying nearly everything I posted. I decided to keep going until all the beads were gone.
I'm coming up on 60 days.
At least I can see the bottom of the bead box now.
Despite feeling like my beads are secretly multiplying in the night, I'm enjoying the hell out of this. Beading is simultaneously relaxing and invigorating creative activity. It can be meditative, even spiritual. Once the design of a piece is set, the majority of the work goes into stringing or connecting the beads. It can be time-consuming work, especially if you opt to make chain links for every single bead as I did with this necklace.
But this kind of work doesn't have to be tedious -- the repetition of doing the same move over and over puts me in a zen state of mind. And it's the kind of thing that can be done while you listen to music, watch a video, catch up on a podcast, or chat with friends.
Even a seemingly complex necklace like the one above doesn't require a steep learning curve to do well. But, if you're willing to push yourself to learn more complex skills, beading offers quite a bit of monetary reward.
That's helpful because this can be an expensive hobby. If you think walking into a fancy jewelry store is dangerous for your wallet, a bead shop is three times as bad. Walls lined with string upon string of beautiful, shiny rocks that pulse possibilities and whisper design ideas. And that's not getting into all the other associated stuff, such as findings, chain, charms, tools, and wire at prices ranging from reasonable to extra fancy.
Spending too much is something to watch out for, but is not an inevitable consequence of getting into beading. If you want to test the waters, you can do so for less than $20.
Stretchy bracelets are my favorite easy beading project because they don't require much material, don't take very long, don't cost much, and the only skill you need is to know how to tie a knot.
First step is to get your supplies. Most major cities have a beading store or two that sells everything you need, good for people who like to touch things before buying. However, if you want the lowest prices the Internet is your best bet. My favorite online store is Fire Mountain Gems.
Here's what you need:
See, I told you this was easy.
The beads you use are up to you, though for this type of bracelet I suggest going with medium-sized ones that are 7mm around or larger. Medium beads tend to have larger holes drilled in the middle for thicker cords, like the stretchy stuff. For your first time out a bag of mixed glass beads is a good choice. They're not expensive and tend to come in multiple sizes, shapes, and colors, giving you the opportunity to work out an eye-pleasing design. If you have a specific semi-precious stone in mind, one strand usually has enough beads for two bracelets and can be had for $10 or less most of the time.
Once you have your supplies and beads it's time to start making. First, measure your wrist (or the wrist of the person who will eventually get the bracelet) with a piece of string. To that size, add another 0.5 - 1.5 inches depending on how big your beads are. Big chunky beads need more extra room. Now you have your base length.
If you're making a bracelet but don't know the wrist size of the person, a safe bet is to make one that's 7.5 inches around for skinny wrist people and 8.5 inches for larger wrists.
Next, plan out the arrangement of the beads. This is much easier with a bead board, but at the start you can use a terrycloth towel or a piece of fleece or corduroy fabric to keep beads from rolling around. Once you know how you want the beads to go and you've measured the length it's time to string them.
Measure out the stretch cord. You want the total length of the bracelet times two plus another 6 inches. So, if your bracelet is 8 inches, you want 16 + 6 inches of stretch cord. Why so much? I always go double strand with stretch bracelets to keep them strong. And the extra is so you have plenty of length for tying the knot.
Get your beading needle and thread it through to the middle of the string. To ensure the beads don't fall off the end of the string, use a binder clip or something similar to temporarily close off the other end. Then slide the beads on and pull them down close to, but not all the way to the end.
When all the beads are on make sure they're all snug up against each other (but don't stretch the string taut). Then bring the two ends together to tie the knot. I tend to tie three half-hitch knots (the first step in tying your shoe) in. If you know other knots, give them a try. It just needs to be secure and stand up to repeated pulling.
Snip the cord as close to the knot as possible. If the holes in your beads are big enough, you may be able to pull the knot inside one to hide it. Don't worry if you can't--the little extra space there is hardly noticeable.
And that's it. All told, it'll take you about 30 minutes at the most.
If after a few bracelets you catch the beading bug and want to move on to more complex projects there are tons of resources online. Aside from Fire Mountain Gems, I also find great beads for low prices on eBay. FGM also has over a hundred jewelry making tutorials and YouTube has thousands. Or you can grab a "getting started" type book or magazine, which will also list all the supplies and tools you need.
Once you've finished your first bracelets and other jewelry I'd love to see them. Please post pictures in the comments. (That goes for you beading veterans, too!) And if you're interested in more of my stuff, check out Pretty Shiny Happy Things, my jewelry selling blog.