Bead weaving is the art of stringing together tiny seed beads to form pieces of jewellery or decorative works of art. There are two methods to bead weaving – either using a loom (a special tool for weaving beads together) – or using off loom techniques which means threading beads together with special beading needles and thread. In this post, I’ll be listing some useful things to consider when getting started with off loom bead weaving techniques.
1. Have a project at the forefront of your mind
Before you set out buying different bits and bobs to get started, have a look around the internet for inspirational projects to have a go at. There are often free patterns available online, some with handy tutorials. Start with something easy such as earrings, bracelet or other piece of jewellery that perhaps use a couple of different types of bead weaving stitch. If you don’t have some idea of what you’ll be making, it’ll be all too tempting to spend lots of money on many different types of seed beads. Which brings me to point no. 2.
2. Buy some seed beads
Probably the most exciting part of getting your stuff together! Yes, seed beads, seed beads and more seed beads. Be warned – once you start buying seed beads to add to your collection, it’s difficult to stop! There are loads of places to buy seed beads online but head down to your local bricks and mortar bead shop first. Although supplies from a physical shop are often more expensive because of the overheads that go with running a shop, the benefit of visiting one is that you will be able to touch, feel and see the seed beads up close and therefore make sure you’re buying the right beads for your needs. Plus there is something magical about being inside a bead shop. It’s a bit like discovering some forbidden treasures!
Seed beads come in various sizes and types. I’ll be writing another post on that later but for now make sure you check your project pattern so that you can buy the ones that you need to start with.
3. Get some beading needles
I use beading needles from the ‘Beadsmith’ range. There are plenty out there though and beading needles come in a range of sizes and types to suit the size of your seed beads. Typically for a size 11 seed bead, a size 10 or 12 beading needle will suffice. You can buy large eye needles which are easy to thread or hard beading needles which have a small eye. Again, check the size and type required according to your pattern. Beading needles are readily available to buy from your local bricks and mortar bead shop or at any online bead shop including online marketplaces such as ebay and amazon.
4. And some beading thread
There are also different types of thread available. Not all bead weaving patterns state what type to use. I tend to use Nymo thread for most of my projects, it’s very strong and therefore useful in that your beadwork won’t easily break. Beading thread is available in different thicknesses such as 0.2mm and 0.3mm so you just need to bear that in mind when deciding which to buy.
5. Use a bead mat
A bead mat is a must have because it will stop your beads from rolling around everywhere. And you can pick them up for around £1! Here’s a couple of links to some that are available online:
You could always use a tea towel as an alternative option!
6. Keep a small pair of scissors handy
You’ll need some of these to cut your thread. Cutting thread cleanly is important so that you can thread it through beading needles easily!
7. Organise and store your beads
When you start collecting beads of any kind, you’ll need to organise them in some way and keep them safe. I use a 4 tiered storage box with lots of little compartments. Seed beads are best kept in their packets or tubes (with the label on) even when stored away in compartments so you can tell what size they are.
8. Create a comfortable environment
This might sound a bit obvious, but when you’re bead weaving make sure you’re sitting comfortably and have good light to work by. Some beaders sit at a table, others with a tray on their knees in front of the TV. I’m a table bead weaver myself and I use a bright overhead lamp. I get backache otherwise from leaning over my work!
9. Learn basic stitches
As mentioned in point no. 1, it’s a good idea to have a think about the project that you’ll be making to start you off on your bead weaving journey. Then you can begin learning about the stitches that you’ll be doing. There will probably be face to face classes local to you although you will probably need to pay for them.
I find video tutorials really helpful when researching different stitches (and they are free yippee!). Here’s a few of my favourite video tutorials by Kelly Dale from Off the Beaded Path:
Kelly adds a new video tutorial almost every week! Definitely worth having a look as she is really clear in the way that she teaches others and the video quality is always excellent.
As well as researching online, a couple of books that I really like and find helpful when learning about stitches are Mastering Beadwork by Carol Huber Cypher and Metallic Seed Bead Splendor by Nancy Zellors. Both of these books contain step by step instructions on a wide range of bead weaving stitches. Click on the book titles above for my review of them.
I hope you find these points useful when getting started in bead weaving. Feel free to add anything else by leaving a comment!