Off-loom bead weaving is the art of attaching beads to each other using a needle and thread. It goes without saying that you will need a needle and thread, but there are some other basic tools that I always recommend.
I decided to divide this list of tools into two separate posts. This first one will be the absolute basic tools that I believe every beader should own. The second post, coming next week, will contain a list of tools that are not essential but are very useful. Some of my favourite tools are in that list.
Now, let’s get into the basic tools you need especially if you are just starting out.
Essential Tools You Need For Bead Weaving
1. Beading Needles
The needles used for bead weaving are not regular sewing needles, even though they look very similar. Beading needles are thinner, more flexible and have smaller eyes. The flexibility and narrow eyes allow you to maneuver through beads smoothly.
There are several types of beading needles including English, Japanese, Sharps, Twisted and Big-eye. The English John James and Japanese Tulip brands are the ones commonly used for bead weaving.
The size of needles is usually represented by a number and the larger the number, the thinner the needle. Sizes 10 and 12 tend to be the most popular. The size of the needle you use for your beading projects is very important. The correct size allows you to easily pass through tiny holes and minimizes breaking of beads.
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The more beading needles you have, the merrier. Due to their flexibility, they may bend or sometimes break, when you are working with them so it’s always a good idea to have replacements at hand.
2. Beading Thread
Beading thread is another of the tools critical to bead weaving and there are two main types: gel-spun polyethylene (GSP) and nylon.
GSP Beading Thread
GSP thread is very strong and resistant to stretching. It is difficult to cut and this quality makes it a good choice when you are working with crystals or other beads with sharp edges because it reduces the occurrence of fraying and broken threads.
Consider the pound test of a beading thread when completing a project. The higher the pound test number, the thicker and stronger the thread. If you are working with heavier beads, you will need thread with a higher number.
Fireline, Wildfire and PowerPro are examples of GSP thread. (I typically work with 6-8 lb Fireline or Wildfire.)
Popular brands of nylon thread are Nymo and C-Lon. Nylon threads stretch over time but they are much easier to cut than GSP brands, come in a wide range of colours and are cheaper. The size of this kind of thread is usually represented by a letter. The earlier the letter occurs in the alphabet, the thinner the thread.
Nylon threads should be treated with a thread conditioner before use to prevent fraying and tangling.
3. Bead mat
A bead mat is a piece of material—rubber, foam or cloth—that prevents beads from rolling around while you work. They can be rectangular or circular and sometimes have raised edges.
This is one of the tools that I highly recommend to beginners. I prefer to have multiple bead mats: a light-coloured one that I use with dark beads and a dark-coloured one for lighter bead shades.
Bead mats also make it easier to see your beads because they reduce glare on surfaces and they are solid colours. (Try finding seed beads on a patterned background.)
A sharp scissors is one of the essential tools you need when you are bead weaving especially when cutting GSP threads. These threads are very strong and the ends are prone to fraying if not cut properly. A frayed thread is very difficult to pass through the narrow eye of a beading needle.
Embroidery scissors are great for this use but can go dull quickly if your frequently work with Fireline or similar beading threads.
Tip: When cutting beading thread, hold it taut and snip it with your scissors.
Great lighting is crucial while you are creating handmade jewelry. Do not underestimate the strain that those little beads can put on your eyes.
Have a bright task light at hand—preferably one that you can point in any direction you need—while you are working and especially at night.
Some lamps like the one shown above even have built-in magnifying glass lens! This is very handy especially when working with seed beads.
These five tools are on my must-have list for anyone who makes bead-woven jewelry. They are a great starting point for beginners as well.