Beadweaving is the stitching together of small beads with needle and thread. Not surprisingly, the most important beadweaving supplies are the beads themselves.
The instructions in beading patterns and tutorials usually indicate which types, shapes, and sizes of beads you should use. But there are also some essential tools and materials that you should keep close at hand whenever you sit down to bead.
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1. Beading Needles
Beading needles have narrower eyes than regular sewing needles. This enables them to pass smoothly through tiny bead holes. There is a variety of sizes, styles, and brands of beading needles to choose from.
Beading needle size is usually denoted by a number. The larger the number, the narrower the needle. Size 10, size 11, and size 12 are the most popular for beadweaving. Size 13 and size 15 are used for extra-small beads.
English beading needles (the kind actually manufactured in England) are the style of needle I use most often for beadweaving. They are high-quality steel needles that are not overly stiff. They will, however, gradually become curved the longer you use them. The curve can make some beading projects easier and others more difficult. Although English needles can last a long time, they eventually become fatigued and break.
Japanese beading needles are stiffer than English needles and less likely to bend. Two popular brands are Miyuki and Tulip. The Tulip needles have slightly rounded tips which are not as sharp as most other needles.
Bottom line for beginners: Start with a couple of small packs of English beading needles in 55mm size 10 and 51mm size 12. If their flexibility or sharpness bother you after a little practice, give Tulip needles a try.
2. Beading Thread
Beading thread is slicker and stronger than most regular sewing thread. These qualities help it pass easily through small bead holes without fraying. The two most popular styles of beading thread are nylon beading thread and polyethylene beading thread. The brands Nymo and C-Lon are nylon, and FireLine and PowerPro are polyethylene.
Tip: Do not confuse C-Lon Beading Thread with C-Lon Beading Cord. Cord is generally too thick for off-loom beadweaving, although you can use it as the warp threads in loom beading.
As a general rule, nylon beading thread is not quite as strong as polyethylene and is more prone to stretching out over time. However, nylon thread is easier to cut, available in a broader range of colors, and more economical.
Just like needles, beading thread is available in a range of sizes. Nylon threads are usually sized by letter; the earlier the letter occurs in the alphabet, the narrower the thread. Polyethylene thread is sized by its actual diameter or its "pound test." Usually, the higher the pound test number, the thicker the thread.
Bottom line for beginners: Pick up small spools of nylon thread in sizes B and D, in at least two versatile colors, one light and one dark (such as cream and black). When you start encountering projects that call for polyethylene thread, pick up a spool of that in the recommended size and try it out. In my tutorials, I often use 4-pound test FireLine in either crystal or black.
3. Beading Scissors
Beading scissors are small, sharp scissors that make clean cuts in nylon beading thread. A straight, clean cut makes it much easier to thread your needle.
Bottom line for beginners: Keep a small, sharp pair of beading or embroidery scissors reserved for use with nylon beading thread.
4. Thread Conditioner
Thread conditioner lubricates beading thread, helps minimize tangles, and can even make thread slightly stronger. You only need to use it when you work with nylon beading thread that is not labeled "prewaxed" or "preconditioned." Polyethylene threads do not require thread conditioner.
The most popular brand of Thread Conditioner is Thread Heaven. You apply it by pressing one end of your thread onto the top of the product, holding it down gently with your finger or thumb, and pulling the thread all the way through. You should repeat this process two or three times, and then run your fingers along the entire thread to remove any excess. You can stop and recondition your working thread anytime mid-project.
Bottom line for beginners: Buy one box of Thread Heaven (or a similar brand) to use with Nymo or C-Lon. It should last for a long time if you keep the lid on when you're not using it.
5. Bead Mat
A bead mat is a sheet of soft material that you work over while you bead. It's important to use one because it eliminates glare from your work light (see below) and provides friction that keeps round beads from rolling away. You can also roll up some bead mats and secure them with rubber bands to store work in progress.
The most popular style of bead mat is a foam blanket material called Vellux. You can buy sheets of Vellux at bead shops or through online beading suppliers, or purchase it by the yard at a fabric store and trim it down yourself.
Bottom line for beginners: Grab at least one gray colored beading mat, or one light colored mat (to use with dark beads) and one dark colored mat (to use with light beads). I recommend Vellux, which is traditional and economical.
6. Bead Dishes
Unlike most other items on this list, bead dishes are technically optional. You can pour your beads directly onto your bead mat instead. However, I recommend dishes because they make picking up beads faster and easier. And if you use individual dishes (like the soy sauce dishes I use), rather than a segmented dish, it's easy to pour unused beads into a bead scoop (see below) and return them to their product containers.
Bottom line for beginners: Buy one segmented porcelain dish or four or five small white sushi bowls from an import store (they're usually about 99 cents each at Cost Plus).
7. Bead Soup Jar
This is one of the most affordable items on the list. Repurpose any clear, lidded jar as a place to pour small amounts of miscellaneous beads that you pick up from your work surface or even the floor. Over time, this collection will become an eclectic "bead soup" mix that you can use for freeform projects or to practice stitches.
Bottom line for beginners: Wash out your next empty jelly, peanut butter, or olive jar and find a place for it on your work table.
8. Bead Scoops
Bead scoops are small, lightweight metal shovels that are great for picking up beads on your bead mat or collecting beads from your bead dishes. Once you gather beads with a scoop, you can easily pour them back into their storage containers or your bead soup jar. Bead scoops are available in many sizes and shapes.
Bottom line for beginners: Start out with one flat scoop and one deep triangle scoop. Use the flat scoop for scraping up beads from your work surface. You can then pour them into the triangle scoop for more precision when transferring them back into bead tubes or flip-top boxes.
9. Task Light
Don't underestimate the importance of a bright, full-spectrum work light for beadweaving. Seed beads are tiny objects, and you'll find beading much more enjoyable if you're not struggling to see them while you work. The most popular brand of full-spectrum craft light is Ott-Lite. Verilux is another favorite.
Bottom line for beginners: Don't be afraid to spring for a quality full-spectrum light. You won't need a large fixture, just one that directs light down onto your bead mat.
Even if you have a work light, I recommend that you pick up some sort of magnifier. It will reduce eye fatigue and help you enjoy beadweaving. There are lots of options, from clip-on models that hook onto your light to jeweler's optivisors. Alternatively, you can buy a lamp with a magnifier built in.
Bottom line for beginners: Buy a simple, affordable magnifier to start. Later, if you find that you need to move around a lot while you bead, or if you need even stronger magnification, you can shop around for a pricier optivisor.
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