Beading is a fun and practical hobby. You can spend time relaxing, being creative, and developing a skill, which in the end will produce something with which you can accessorize or even decorate your home. Getting started is easy if you have some motivation. The only other thing you'll need are some supplies. This guide is meant to give you a run down of some of the basics you'll need to get started. This guide will discuss everything from beads, to looms, needles, threads and wires, to findings and clasps. There is also a section on storage and some basic information about tools. If you are interested in making your own beads and want to learn about kilns, please visit the Kiln Buying Guide.
Before getting into the specifics of what supplies you need to buy, you should have an idea of what type of beading you want to do. The most common type of beading is '''stringing''' in which you string beads on thread or wire. You can use a single string or several to create a variety of looks. Stringing can be used for making everything from necklaces to earrings, bracelets, and more. A beading technique that is a bit more elaborate is '''wire working'''. Using jewelry tools, wire working employs shaping the wire into creative designs, wrapping wire around stones, creating wire earrings, rings, chain maille designs and more. Both wire working and stringing are beading types that are done without a loom. Looms are typically used for '''bead weaving''', which is a method that uses uniform seed beads to create stacked designs and patterns. Typical techniques associated with bead weaving are peyote, brick, and netting just to name a few. Bead weaving can also be done without a loom. You simply wind the thread back and forth through the beads to create the patterns. Spiraling beaded necklaces and waving beaded rows are just some of the things you can do. Finally, there is embroidered beading. '''Embroidery''' employs the same techniques as needlepoint but with beads. You can apply beads to any material with a needle and thread, and this is embroidery. Below you can see some examples of each type of beading.
Buying Beads 101
Beads are obviously one of the first things that you'll need to start beading -- that is what gave this hobby its name, of course. So how does one choose which beads are best? Well, there are no ''best'' beads, per se, but there are many different types, each of which is better for doing certain projects than others, which will be explained momentarily. Above all, keep in mind that buying beads is part of the creative process. You'll want to think ahead about what you're planning to make, the colors needed to give the piece(s) the look you want, and also, how many of each color and type you'll need to complete your project. It's always a good idea to have a vision in your head (not to mention a solid plan for how you'll complete it) so that when you start shopping for beads you don't get overwhelmed. It's easy to walk into a bead store and be overcome by the selection of styles and colors, so much that you wind up buying things that don't fit in with your plan at all, and that will often sit unused without a purpose until you have time to do something with them.
Beads come in different sizes, shapes, colors, and materials. They typically come in tubes or on hanks (strings). Below you'll see how the different types stack up.
* '''Seed, Charlotte, and True Cut Beads'''
: Seed beads are essentially defined as small, rounded, flat beads that are usually made of glass. They come in 6/0, 8/0, and 11/0 sizes (4, 3.1, and 2.1mm, respectively). The bigger beads are usually sold in tubes or bags while small beads are sold on hanks. Often, 6/0 and 8/0 size seed beads are used as spacer beads on projects that use semi-precious stones. Small beads are best for embroidery, weaving, and stitching.
** Czech -- Round, but sometimes uneven. Can be used for many different projects, but mostly stringing types.
** India -- Circular glass beads. Best for stringing necklace, bracelets, or earrings. Not for stitching or peyote stitch projects.
** Miyuki Delica -- Japanese beads that are mostly very uniform, opaque, and colorful. Great for looms and for stitching projects.
** Charlotte/True Cut -- These beads have one side cut flat, giving them an exceptional sparkle and shine. They are usually more expensive and are sold on hanks since these are typically small beads, as tiny as 13/0 for Czech Charlotte beads. True cut beads are usually bigger. Charlotte cut beads also come in either silver, gold, or copper plated styles.
* '''Metal, Wood, Terra-Cotta, Horn, Coral, Coco Shell'''
: Pick your colors, sizes, and styles since these beads are extremely diverse. These are usually larger beads and a great for stringing big, chunky, unique designs. They can also be used sparingly as accent pieces too. These are not what you want if you are stitching or creating stitch peyote designs. Because of their ethnic feel, they are ideal for casual jewelry. Paired with hemp twine or leather they are very bohemian.
** Balinese -- These are metal beads made of gold, silver, or gold-plated silver.
** Hill Tribe -- Thai sterling silver beads in unique shapes.
* '''Pearl, Stone, Shell, Glass, and Semi-Precious Beads'''
: These refined, lustrous, elegant beads are delicate and pretty. They are perfect for creating formal and semi-formal jewelry; excellent for making the recently popular chandelier-style earrings. Typically, you will find such beads in large, round styles that are mostly uniform. Sometimes stones and shells are cut to be irregular.
** Look for heat treated beads only.
** Lampwork Glass -- These are very unique and pretty. Handmade by glass experts to creat painstakingly intricate patterns of color, these are excellent for use as a focal point.
** Swarovski -- Highly renowned crystal beads. They are pricey, but beautiful and sparkly.
** Do your research about the particular material you want to buy. For example: turquoise, amber, tanzanite, peridot, agate...
Unique Bead Shapes
When making jewelry with beads, it is important to keep in mind the shape of the beads. The shape of the beads will give the necklace or bracelet its shape and weight. The shape adds style and effects how the jewelry functions in relation with the body. Larger, more three dimensional shapes, such as the cube pictured below, will give the accessory a modern feel. Smaller, flatter shapes, such as the saucer or the heishi pictured below, give an accessory a traditional, more elegant style.
Beads are nothing without the inner workings that keep them strung together. Here we'll discuss the skeleton of beaded jewelry.
* '''Wire''' -- Whether you are stringing, looming, weaving, or doing wire work, you'll need some wire for linking clasps and earrings to their findings.
** Measured in gauge size, from 16 to 34. The smaller the gauge size, the thicker the wire will be.
** For projects that involve designs of winding wire, a 16 to 18 gauge is best. This is perfect for giving shape to necklaces and bracelets, for use in or around very large beads, creating wine charms, and even for creating chain links.
** Gauges 20 to 24 are considered medium to thin thickness and are good for wire wrapping beads, as well as for constructing findings, headpins, and ear wires.
** The smallest, skinniest wire of the bunch is 26 to 34 gauge. It's easily manipulated and flexible, perfectly for use with small beads in embroidery and stitch projects.
** Some brands are Beadalon, Tigertail, Accuflex, and Softflex.
* '''Thread and Cords'''
** Sometimes leather string, hemp, chains, translucent string, rattail, and twisted cord are more suitable than wire depending on the project you want to do. Some large beads can also work with ribbon depending on the final look you want your project to have.
** For stringing, look for non-elastic bead thread in nylon or silk.
* '''Needles''' -- Beading needles are an essential item if you plan to do stitching project or if you want to use seed beads for anything.
** '''Twisted Wire Steel''' -- These look similar to sewing needles, yet with a bid loop on one end. Choose from light, medium, and heavy grade depending both on how flexible you want the needle to be, as well as how big the beads are that you are using.
** '''English''' -- Like sewing needles, but much thinner. Choose these for seed beads, one size smaller than the bead size you are using. Know that you must get beading silk thread to use as a "leader" between the needle and the regular thread you are using for the project.
** '''Big Eye''' -- These don't have a hole, or loop, but rather they are two pieces of thin metal attached as both ends. Great for use with ribbon.
* '''Findings''' -- This is a fancy name that encompasses many an item. Below you'll see some of the most common findings that are used for jewelry making. Typically they are any metal item used to finish off the piece. However, hairpins, for example, are actually a wire replacement specially designed for earrings.
Beading and Jewelry Making Tools
Here are some of the bare minimum tools that you'll want for making beaded jewelry. You may also want to see the Jewelry Making Guide for more information about jewelry tools.
Where are you going to keep all this stuff once you buy it? Before you start buying a bunch of supplies, you might want to consider getting a storage container. They are built to hold everything from small beads, clasps, and findings, to tools, thread, and more. Depending on your needs, you may like one style over the other, and as your supply grows, you will need to upgrade to larger storage systems. The good thing is that they are all fairly inexpensive, so it's easy to upgrade or reorganize without breaking the bank. Here are just a few of the options that might suit you. Remember that you can also make use of other household goods for bead storage, such as film canisters, Tic Tac boxes, Altoids tins, aspirin bottles, tackle boxes, hardware supply boxes, and old glass jars. Plastic baggies are best reserved for storing finished jewelry or for storing smaller items within larger storage containers. Remember that clear is better, but if you must use opaque containers, simply place a photo on the outside of the canister of what it holds.