Claire has been creating handmade jewellery since 2002 and teaching jewellery making through online tutorials and courses since 2010.
Many natural materials—including shell, horn, bone, seeds, spices, woods and stone—are used to create beads. Beads may be used in their natural state or adapted or added in a number of techniques. For example, they may be dyed, bleached, decorated or carved.
Natural beads are ideal for people who have allergies to metals and are also a good way to recycle and reuse other items. Natural beads can be teamed up with natural cords such as leather or hemp. Take care when creating jewellery for other people, though, as vegetarians and vegans especially may not be comfortable with wearing items such as leather, bone or horn. Beads made from natural materials or items that may be thrown away also make great eco-friendly or low-cost jewellery. Jewellery making using seeds, beans, nuts and other items from nature could also make a great creative project for children.
Different Types of Natural Beads
Seashell – Seashells of many kinds can be found on beaches all around the world. They can also be bought fairly easily in many places, either in their natural forms or already made into beads, charms and pendants or incorporated into jewellery-making components. Shell beads are available to buy in many shapes, colours and sizes. Found shells can be difficult to drill if they do not already have useable holes in them and can also be very fragile when being worn. (Also, please keep in mind that in many places, it's illegal or at least highly discouraged to take shells from the beach.)
Shell is also available made into pendants that have been carved or decorated. These can make stunning centre pieces and can be mixed with smaller shell beads or beads of another type.
Horn and bone beads – Both bone and horn have been used for thousands of years to make beads, jewellery and other decorative items. Most bone beads that are sold are made using the bones from cows and sheep that have been killed for their meat. You could also make your own bone beads; many butchers will give away or sell bones at a low price. Instructions on how to prepare and then carve or cut the bone can be found online.
Like bone, horn has been used for thousands of years to make beads and jewellery. As animals shed their horns naturally they do not need to be killed in order to obtain them. Horns are fairly easily to carve and drill but make a strong finished bead.
Bone beads can be dyed by soaking them in coffee or tea. The longer they are soaked for, the darker the end colour will be.
Seed beads – Any type of seed that can be dried and made a hole in can be saved and used as beads. Create a hole in each seed while it is still wet and soft and then allow the seeds to dry naturally on a paper towel. Beans such as kidney or haricot beans can be used in jewellery as well. Soak them in warm water to soften and then either create holes to be used later or thread them directly into your final design. It is also possible to buy beads made from seeds.
Spice beads – Spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns and star anise can be incorporated into jewellery designs. These can be used in their natural state or can be varnished or painted. Clear nail varnish can be used to coat and protect these items. Drill holes in the spices or pierce them with a strong needle. One downside to using spices is that they can have a very strong aroma that some people may find unpleasant.
Nut beads – Just like seeds, nuts can be used to make beads, pendants and other items to be used in jewellery designs. Once fully dried nuts become very hard and can be drilled or carved. Nuts can also be varnished or painted. Some beads, such as those made from the tagua nut can be purchased from bead retailers.
Coconut shell beads – Coconut shell is another natural material that is used to make beads. The shell can be carved and drilled so has a great number of possibilities and applications. Coconut beads can be bought from many bead retailers but can also be made at home. The pieces of shell must be sanded on both sides to remove all the hairs and then sanded again with fine sandpaper until smooth. Once this has been done the shell can be cut, sanded and drilled to create beads and pendants. The finished pieces can be left as they are or soaked for approximately 30 seconds in a little melted coconut oil to give them a shiny and darker finish.
Wooden beads – A wide variety of wooden beads, charms and pendants can be bought to use in jewellery making but with a few tools you can also create your own unique items. Fallen branches can be collected to dry and then slice into simple beads or they can be carved with a small knife such as a penknife. Lengths of dowel or other woods can also be purchased from hobby, craft and DIY shops. These are available in a range of sizes and shapes and also with decorative effects already carved into them. The finished wood beads can be sanded smooth, varnished, stained, painted or left in their natural state. More complex wooden beads can be made using a crafting lathe to shape them.
Stone beads – As well as the wide range of precious and semi-precious stone beads that can be bought to use in jewellery making, other stones such as those found on the beach or on a countryside walk can also be used. Although it most likely will not be possible to drill these beads, they can be wire wrapped, placed in wire cages or knotted around using macramé techniques and then used as part of jewellery designs. Stones can also be found that have naturally worn holes in them.
Sea glass beads – Although not strictly a natural material, sea glass is created by the sea. When glass bottles fall into the sea, they become broken and then tumbled and ground until they become smooth and have a frosted appearance. Each piece of sea glass is unique. Sea glass can be found on beaches and other bodies of water. Although it is theoretically available in a wide range of colours depending on what bottles or other glass items have been left in the sea, the most commonly found sea glass is green, blue and white. Artificial sea glass can be created using a rock tumbler but tends to lack the distinctive etched surface of true sea glass as this is produced due to the long-term exposure to sea water. It can still be a good option for people who do not live near the sea or in an area where sea glass is less common.
Paper beads - Beads can be made rolling long strips of paper around a mandrel. The size of the mandrel will determine the size of the beads hole. Generally triangular shaped pieces of paper are used to make paper beads and any type of paper that you can cut, roll and glue can be used. Once rolled and dried the beads can be coated in clear varnish to protect them and prolong their lifespan.
© 2013 Claire
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on March 04, 2019:
Thank you so much. I'm sure your designs will be awesome :)
Francine Glasser from Kingston, NY on March 03, 2019:
A great inspiring article and great how to info on diverse bead making. I’m going to try your suggestions, thank you, Anafa
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on May 28, 2018:
Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on May 26, 2018:
Good morning miss Claire. I like your hub. It is creative and full of many fun ideas. You are fantastic. Thank you for sharing your hub. I like your pictures and the writing.
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on March 25, 2018:
Hi, I can delete it for you so it's okay. Have fun with your collection :D
YBLIKU from CARBONDALE on March 14, 2018:
I tried to delete my previous comment but it would not let me. I found your article very informative and useful. It inspired me to pull out some beads and start looking at the variety I have collected. Thank you.
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on March 10, 2018:
They are fun to make and the results can be so pretty. Magazine pages can create some really great and unique beads. The paper beads are also a nice project for children.
Martina Bowne on March 05, 2018:
I really like making the paoer beads myself. They become there own. The colors and sizes vary from each individual bead..
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on May 31, 2016:
Pleased you found it useful :)
Susan Hazelton from Summerfield, Florida on May 31, 2016:
I had no idea that there were so many natural resources for jewelry making. I love the bone earring, they are beautiful.
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on August 01, 2013:
Thank you. Great that this has inspired you to try something new. have fun designing :D
Corey from Northfield, MA on July 30, 2013:
This is very informative. I love to make jewelry and have used sea glass and sea shells in my designs. Now I am excited to try beans and seeds. The possibilities are endless and I would never have thought of using seeds and beans until you pointed it out. Thanks.
Claire (author) from Lincolnshire, UK on July 30, 2013:
Thank you. I really like sea glass as well and think it looks especially good wrapped with silver wire.
Thelma Raker Coffone from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on July 29, 2013:
Interesting article. I just love sea glass, especially the beautiful blue shown in your picture. I'm sure it makes great looking jewelry.