Claire has been creating handmade jewellery since 2002 and teaching jewellery making through online tutorials and courses since 2010.
Jewellery making is a varied craft that often involves stringing beads and other items. There are many types of material that are suitable for this use and these are available in a wide range of colours, thicknesses and finishes.
In some cases the type of stringing material you use will be influenced by the jewellery’s design, the beads used or type of jewellery. For example: memory comes in set sizes for necklaces, bracelets and rings or if you are using large holed beads, a thicker diameter cord may be better suited. Some jewellery making techniques require that you use a certain type of stringing materials. Thicker cords such as rattail, leather and waxed cotton are often used in macramé for example, whereas very fine threads such as beading or nylon thread are used in stitching, loom and beaded projects.
In many jewellery designs the stringing material used is completely hidden and does not feature in the design at all. For other techniques such as macramé, the cord or thread used can have a huge impact, not only on how the design looks but on how well it works at all. Not all types of material will fit a design or you may find that there is a clash between the stringing material and the beads or findings that you wish to use. The beads may not fit onto the cord or you may find that a thinner diameter thread will not support larger beads neatly. Choosing an appropriate cord for your design can make a big difference to the attractiveness and success of the finished piece of jewellery.
Waxed Cotton Cord
Waxed cotton cord is a common choice for creating macramé jewellery. This strong cord can be found in a range of colours and typically in 0.5mm – 2mm thicknesses. When first used it can feel stiff but softens as it is worked or worn. It can look particularly nice when combined with wooden beads for an earthy natural look but does have a tendency to fray when treaded through many beads. This can be avoided by applying a little clear nail varnish or quick drying glue to the ends of the cord. Like rattail cord, waxed cotton is often seen used as a simple way to wear pendants or large focal bead. It can be knotted around the neck rather than using a clasp if the jewellery is to be worn constantly. This is a very strong cord but can be worn by rough bead or finding edges and eventually fray and snap.
This is another type of cord that can be used as part of a design, rather than being hidden away. Ribbon is made in a huge variety of finishes, prints and designs to suit all tastes and occasions. It can fray when cut but most types can be heated and sealed to prevent this. Cutting with pinking shears can also help to minimise fraying. If you wish to attach findings such as a clasp to ribbon special connectors called ribbon ends can be used. Generally these are flat metal pieces that can be folded over, trapping the ribbon inside. You may also be able to roll the ribbon end and use crimps or leather cord ends. Tubular ribbon can be used in jewellery making and beads can be placed inside it as well as threaded onto the outside.
Illusion cord is a soft, flexible cord that is often used to create floating necklace designs. Because the cord is virtually invisible beads and other items appear as if they are floating. The cord is clear and is similar in appearance to fishing line. It can be worn by any rough edges on beads and when aged it can dry out and crack. Illusion cord is sometimes known as monofilament. It is a fine thread but stiff thread that can be used in stringing without a needle and knots easily.
This cord is sometimes known as satin cord and has a smooth velvety feel. It is available in a wide range of colours and a selection of diameters. 1mm, 1.5mm and 2mm diameters are the most commonly found but rattail cord can also be found in 0.5mm, 2.5mm and 3mm thicknesses. The cord can be heated gently to seal the ends and prevent fraying. Rattail can be used in designs were a lot of the cord shows for example to hang pendants. It is a nice choice of cord for macramé and kumihimo jewellery designs due to the range of colours and smooth silky feel. Colours can be combined to create a range of patterns and beautiful and creative jewellery can be made even without the addition of any other items. Rattail is a very strong cord but does melt if exposed to direct heat. The melting cord is also very hot and sticky.
A strong cord that is excellent for beading or stringing projects as is formed of very fine stainless steel wires sheathed in nylon. Tigertail does not knot well and if bent is almost impossible to straighten again. When adding findings it is better to use crimps for a neat professional finish. This thread is available in a small selection of diameters and in the number of wire strands contained. The most common are three and seven strand.
This is a flexible and stretchy cord that can be bought in a few thicknesses. It is ideal for creating continuous design as it can simply be knotted together rather than needing findings. The knots can then be hidden and even glued inside the beads. Elastic cord is easily cut with scissors and will not fray. It is often clear but some coloured varieties can be found. This type of cord can be melted and fused together and is a popular choice for children’s jewellery. It can also be very useful for people who would struggle to fasten jewellery due to motor difficulties or other disabilities or those who have allergies to metal findings. Any rough bead edges can cause this cord to break and so care should be taken, especially when the finished jewellery is intended for children. It can also stretch over time.
Beading threads is a strong nylon coated thread that is most often used in beading and loom projects. One popular brand is Nymo. It is very fine so can be threaded through beads a number of times easily and can be bought in a variety of colours. This beading thread comes on reels similar to sewing cotton or on small reels about the size of a sewing machine bobbin. The fine diameter of the thread means that although small these hold a lot of thread. It is easily knotted and can be used with beading needles.
Questions & Answers
Question: I would like to make a bracelet to replace one that snapped. I've bought some 6mm red vein Jasper beads but I don't have a clue on what cord to use. What would you suggest?
Answer: If you would like to make a stretchy bracelet you can buy beading elastic. Be careful to check the diameter as many gemstone beads have really small holes. If you wanted to make a bracelet with clasp nylon beading thread is a good choice. If you can't get any fishing line makes a good substitute.
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