Beaded Jewelry Basics: Get Started Making Beaded Jewelry Today

by sockii

Here I'll present some of the basics of making your own beaded jewelry: tools, materials and where to learn simple techniques to get started.

Beading and jewelry-making is one of the most popular home crafting hobbies today. Who doesn't love the idea of being able to create her own jewelry to make gifts for friends, to try to sell at craft shows, or even just to wear yourself!

Beading is an exciting way to express your creativity that doesn't require a large studio space or expensive tools, and it can be a fun craft to share with your children or friends as well.

However, getting started with beading can be confusing for someone with no experience in the craft. Knowing what materials you'll need, how many beads or stones to buy for a project, and how to finish different basic items such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets can be difficult. This guide is here to help you get started. I'll be introducing you to some basic jewelry making techniques, tools and terminology, as well as provide hints and tips on accessories that will help you organize your crafts and workspace effectively.

All photos on this page are by the author, sockii, unless provided by Amazon or eBay.

A beaded necklace of smoky quartz, pearl, silver and serpentine beads and findings.
A beaded necklace of smoky quartz, pearl, silver and serpentine beads and findings.

What's your experience with making beaded jewelry?

Basic Jewelry Making Techniques

Definitions and Styles

There are a number of different techniques used in making jewelry. For this article, I will be focusing on bead stringing, which is the art of stringing drilled beads onto wire, cord, thread, elastic or similar materials. This is perhaps the most basic technique of jewelry making there is, and yet it is also extremely versatile and limitless in possibilities. You can string beads together in endless combinations to create single-strand or multi-strand necklaces and bracelets; you can "string" beads onto metal pins and wire to create earrings or pins; you can make fun fashion accessories including eyeglass-chains, lariats for badges, even belts and hair accessories. The nice thing about bead-stringing as well is it requires only very simple tools, primarily pliers for cutting wire, closing crimps, and gently working soft wire.

A cascading necklace of faceted cut glass beads.

A cascading necklace of faceted cut glass beads.

As you become more advanced and accomplished as a bead stringer, you might wish to try other jewelry-making techniques which are popular today. Bead weaving is very popular, either using a bead loom or loom-free. In this technique, generally small "seed beads" are used to create intricate woven patterns of beads, sometimes to create an almost lace-like effect. Weaving also can be used to create beaded accents on purses, clothing and other fabric-coated items. Wire work involves making jewelry out of twisted, woven, cut and worked wire and chain. The metal can be copper, silver, gold, niobium or any other kind, sometimes combined or used with stones and beads to create elegant effect. More artists working in bead stringing will need to learn some basic wire-work skills, just to perform simple tasks such as finishing earrings using head pins, and wrapping pendant pieces with wire to center on a necklace. Metalsmithing is one of the most complex and involved forms of jewelry making, involving casting, shaping, polishing, sculpting and otherwise working metals to create finished jewelry.

Blue-dyed fresh water pearls, elegant lapis and gold-filled findings make this necklace and earring set.
Blue-dyed fresh water pearls, elegant lapis and gold-filled findings make this necklace and earring set.

Each of these techniques can be utilized to create beautiful jewelry, but it is best to practice and learn one technique at a time before investing time, money and materials into another. Although I have been working in making jewelry for over ten years, I have primarily stuck with bead stringing as my favorite technique, sometimes playing with a little bead weaving and wire work for specific effects. But that's just my personal choice - let experience and experimentation lead you to find the style of jewelry-making you enjoy best!

Liquid silver beads are tiny sterling silver beads which can create a chain-like effect in beaded jewelry.
Liquid silver beads are tiny sterling silver beads which can create a chain-like effect in beaded jewelry.
Books on Basic Beading Techniques

Buying Beads and Stones for Bead Stringing

Some Beginners' Tips

One of the best things about getting into stringing beaded jewelry is exploring the incredible variety of beads and stones available today. From sparking glass and crystal to ethnic wood and shell, to funky metallic shapes and beautiful semi-precious stones, the possibilities are endless for today's jewelry artists.

When you start out, try not to go too crazy buying everything and anything that catches your eye. Think about the colors and materials you personally like the best, and what colors would complement each other nicely. Try to visualize some project ideas to think about how many strands or bags of different beads you will need to complete it.

A variety of beads for jewelry making
A variety of beads for jewelry making

When you start out, try not to go too crazy buying everything and anything that catches your eye. Think about the colors and materials you personally like the best, and what colors would complement each other nicely. Try to visualize some project ideas to think about how many strands or bags of different beads you will need to complete it.

How many beads will I need for a project?

Semi-precious stones and many other beads are often sold in 16" strands - the basic length for most short necklaces and chokers, so if you want to make something longer or complete a set with bracelet and earrings, buy more than one strand. Bracelets are typically 6-8" in length, of which a clasp can take up 1/2 to 1 inch.

Where do I buy stones and beading supplies?

You can buy many stones and beading supplies today on-line, and often at better prices than you'll find in a local bead or crafting retail shop. However, shopping in person is important with genuine stones and variable hand-made beads, as each one can be so different. Keep an eye out for gem and jewelry shows and events in your area, as these are often great venues to see a lot of different beads and find good deals on them. You might also find some good bargains on beads at flea markets, vintage clothing shops, or even the local goodwill or thrift store! You can always buy old beaded jewelry to take apart and just use the stones or beads you want to create something new and exciting.

What shapes and types of beads will I need?

That will totally depend on the style of jewelry you wish to make. You'll probably want some larger stones and beads for interesting focal points, pendants or drops for earrings, but unusual/large shapes are sometimes more of a challenge to work with and find good uses for. Round beads in the 4-10mm size range are in my experience very versatile and good to stock up on when starting out, along with squares, tubes, rondels and other shapes of similar sizes.

Semi-precious stones and many other beads are often sold in 16" strands - the basic length for most short necklaces and chokers, so if you want to make something longer or complete a set with bracelet and earrings, buy more than one strand. Bracelets are typically 6-8" in length, of which a clasp can take up 1/2 to 1 inch.

For More Information on Buying Materials

My Detailed Article on the Subject:
A Guide to Buying Jewelry Findings, Stones and Materials for the Home Crafter

Bead strands in my collection, ready to be turned into new jewelry designs!

 It’s one of the most common questions I get asked when I’m working a craft show or jewelry market: “Where do you get your beads?” Shoppers (and other jewelry...

 

Bead and Jewelry Supply Catalogs On-Line

Some of the larger suppliers worth checking out

Want to get started looking for beads and supplies for jewelry making? Check out these websites. To be honest I find it better to work with merchants who specify in jewelry and beading supplies than use mass marketplaces like Amazon or eBay to shop for materials...although sometimes eBay can be a good source for bargains on wholesale lots of findings and basic supplies.

  • Fire Mountain Gems

    Huge retailer of glass, crystal, metal, wood, ethnic and stone beads and beading supplies. Buying in volume will often get you great discounted prices.

  • Shipwreck Beads

    A great source for glass beads, seed beads, pewter pendants and findings.

  • Rio Grande Jewelry Making Supplies

    Carries a wide range of jewelry making supplies, for metalsmithing, casting, wire-wrapping and of course stringing.

  • Lita Trading Company

    An outstanding source for fine quality semi-precious stones, pearls and other jewelry materials. I've been shopping in their New York location for years and they also do mail order.

  • All Season Trading Company

    Find unusual carved stone beads and pendants, pearls, beads, stones and other items through this San Francisco-based importer.

  • International Gem & Jewelry Show Inc.

    Not a direct seller, but the host of gem & jewelry shows around the United States. Be sure to check their show schedule and look for shows near you - they are often great sources for unique and well-priced stones and findings for both retail and

  • The Whole Bead Shop

    Source for unique German glass and plastic beads for vintage looks and designs.

  • Vita Beads

    Lovely selection of semi-precious stone and man-made beads in unique cuts and styles. Nicely priced as well.

  • A Bead Store

    Nice selection of high-quality precious and semi-precious stone beads, bead findings, ethnic beads and more.

  • Savi Jewels

    Gemstone beads and findings featuring garnet, lapis, citrine, amethyst and other stones.

  • Magpie Gemstones

    Lovely gemstone beads, well-priced and easy to browse by name.

Warning: Buying beads and stone can become addictive!
Beads for jewelry making

Basic Tools for Bead Stringing

What You'll Need to Get Started

The tools you'll need for bead stringing are fairly limited and simple. In fact you'll likely be able to get away with just a handful of items to get started, some you may already have on hand in your tool box! Although it is recommended to get tools meant specifically for jewelry making, as they'll likely be smaller and better-suited for delicate work.

Flat nose jewelry pliers

Flat nose jewelry pliers will likely be your most used tool. Use them for crimping finishing beads, closing end caps, sealing cord tips, bails and other standard findings. These pliers differ from usual hardware pliers because they are smooth inside, allowing for a blemish-free finish to your projects.

   

Round-nose pliers are used for basic wire work that even most bead-stringers will need to do, such as putting earrings together, wrapping wire around pendants, or tightening wire through beads before finishing a piece. You'll want a pair with that is tapered small enough to work with fine wire and delicate materials easily.

  

Wire cutters do just that - cut beading wire and thread cleanly and neatly to avoid frayed or rough ends that can catch on other materials or be painful to wear. You don't want to try using scissors to do this kind of trimming work; get a good pair of jewelry wire cutters instead.

Tool kits

The most economical way to get started may be to buy a combined tool kit of basic pliers, cutters and specialty tools. These may include crimp bead closers, split ring openers, tweezers, bead reamers and other special items which will make your jewelry-making easier.

Beadsmith 7-Piece Jewelry Pliers Set with Case, Mini

Taking your beading on the road? Selling your jewelry at a show and need to have some tools handy for adjustments? Trying to get into some tight corners? Or do you just have pet...

View on Amazon

9-Piece Beadsmith Deluxe Jewelry Pliers Ergonomic Tool Kit with Case

Starting out in jewelry making? Or do you want to upgrade your current set of tools? These ergonomic-handled tools have comfortable, Ergonomic handles.Pliers are all sturdy Box ...

View on Amazon

DARICE 1893-09 Jewelry Plier Set, Set of 5

Set of 4 jewelry pliers with soft comfortable grips simplifies detailed or meticulous tasks. Use for a variety of jewelry making projects or other small, detail intensive hobby ...

View on Amazon

Jewelry pliers will help you manipulate and connect wire, chain and beads to make your unique designs.
Jewelry pliers will help you manipulate and connect wire, chain and beads to make your unique designs.

Beadalon Beading Wire - Your Best Choice for Bead Stringing

Available in many colors, thicknesses and grades

Beading wire is an absolutely necessity for most bead stringing projects. Don't waste your time, money on beads on inferior beading wire, either - stick with the best from the start, and for my money that's Beadalon's 49-strand beading wire. What looks like just one thin wire is actually 49-thin strands woven together and nylon coated for smoothness. While also available in less expensive 7-strand and 19-strand grades, I find anything less than the 49-strand grade is prone to kinks and bumps that are difficult to ever remove. The 49-strand gauge is also extremely durable for lasting wear and tear - in all my years of making jewelry with this wire I have never had a necklace break (meanwhile, I've had many customers bring me their jewelry made by other artists, using string, silk or inferior wire, that needed repair or restringing!)

Beadalon 49-strand wire is available in various color finishes and thicknesses. I recommend the thinnest possible, .013", if you are planning on stringing pearls and other delicate materials with small drill holes. The thicker wires, .018" and greater, are fine for most other materials and heavier stones.

Thin, kink-resistant wire is necessary for delicate designs such as this one.
Thin, kink-resistant wire is necessary for delicate designs such as this one.

Other Stringing Materials to Try

Elastic, suede, "pleather" cord...all useful in coming up with fun designs

Besides beading wire, you may want to explore or experiment with other materials in your designs. Elastic cord is useful in making "stretchy" bracelets and rings, easy to slip on and off without having to worry about a clasp. Thicker cord can work with large-hole beads to make for chunkier, more ethnic-style designs. Thin cord and leather can be braided to combine beads and other materials into really creative works. 

Pepperell Stretch Magic 1mm Bead and Jewelry Cord, 100m, Clear

PEPPERELL-Stretch Magic Bead & Jewelry Cord. This clear cord is strong; stretchy; and flexible and can be used on all kinds of beading and jewelry making projects. This package ...

View on Amazon

Charisma 3mm Mix Color Faux Leather Suede Beading Cord White Brown Pink Blue Black Assortment Ult...

Charisma 3mm Mix Color Faux Leather Suede Beading Cord White Brown Pink Blue Black Assortment Ultra Microfiber

View on Amazon

Beadnova 1.5 mm Genuine Round Leather Cords For Bracelet Neckacle Beading Jewelry Making 10 meter...

We manufacture for Genuine leather cords. We offer an extensive gamut of round leather cords which is available in different sizes, qualities and packing. These cords are manufa...

View on Amazon

Combine suede cord and beaded wire designs for different styles of jewelry making
Combine suede cord and beaded wire designs for different styles of jewelry making

Basic Jewelry Findings

For finishing and keeping it all together

Along with beads and stringing materials, you need items to keep your designs all together and finish them neatly. These are called "findings" and include clasps, crimps, pins and rings. Here are some of those basic necessities and how you'll end up using them.

When bead stringing on wire, crimp beads are the most popular and easiest way to "finish" your stringing piece. These soft, malleable tiny tubes can be "smashed" closed after stringing wire through them, first in one direction, then around a clasp end or ring, then back through the tube. You'll go through a lot of these when making jewelry - and they are available in different color finishes and metals. 

Sterling silver ones like those shown to the left are typically my favorites, as they are soft and easy to close securely. You can also use inexpensive brass crimps like those shown below when first getting started, or to finish off inexpensive designs.

Pandahall 1 Box 6 Colors 2mm Round Brass Tube Crimp Beads, Hole: 1.2mm; about 3000pcs/box

DescriptionBrass Crimp Beads, Round, Mixed Color Size: about 2mm in diameter, hole: 1.2mm; about 3000pcs/box, 500pcs/color. When wearring your jewels carefully selected to show ...

View on Amazon

Split rings are like tiny "key rings" and come in various sizes (I find 4 - 8mm the most useful sizes in my work). They are great for finishing necklaces and bracelets before adding a clasp, as you can always add on a few more rings to extend the length of a piece, if necessary. They are also more secure than jump rings (where a wire can just slip through a slightly open gap in the ring), but also more expensive in general because of the extra material necessary in making them. 

Again, they are available in a range of materials and finishes from sterling silver and gold to inexpensive nickel plated and iron.

Split rings here are used to connect the beaded section of the necklace to the suede cord, and also with the clasp.
Split rings here are used to connect the beaded section of the necklace to the suede cord, and also with the clasp.

Jump rings are round, open rings of metal which can be used in various ways in jewelry work: to finish a necklace or bracelet, to create a chain mail effect, to add accent or drop beads, or connect different sections of strung beadwork together. They are popular because they are inexpensive and easy to work with, but they are not necessarily the most secure choice unless soldered shut after connecting together.

Premium Jump Rings, Mixed Colors, 18 Gauge, 3/16"- 200 pc.

These premium jump rings are precision cut to create an almost seamless appearance when closed. Includes 200 rings per pack.

View on Amazon

Pandahall Elite 1 Box 6 Colors Iron Plated Jump Rings Unsoldered 4mm Diameter Jewelry Making Find...

Specification Material: Iron Shape: Ring Metal Color: Mixed Color Usage: Close but Unsoldered Jump Rings Offer: Mixed Products Finish: Cadmium Free & Nickel Free & Lead Free Pla...

View on Amazon

Jump rings were used to attach the small beads to the silver pendant here.
Jump rings were used to attach the small beads to the silver pendant here.

When stringing beads on leather, ribbon or other types of thick cord, end caps allow you to neatly end the cord and attach a clasp. You just fold the sides over the cord with your pliers and you're done! Be sure to get the right width end caps for the type of cord you'll be using.

Gold end caps are used here for a clean and sharp finish on black suede cord.
Gold end caps are used here for a clean and sharp finish on black suede cord.
Clasps

Clasps for necklaces and bracelets are available in all kinds of styles and shapes - some completely functional and basic, others ornate and designed to be a centerpiece in their own right.

"Lobster claws" are some of the easiest for people to manipulate on and off, while "fishhook" styles are the most secure and good for very high-end jewelry designs. Below are just a few samples of the kinds of clasp styles available today. You'll likely find you have a certain favorite you like to use yourself, although it is good to have other styles available to use on request.

The ornate silver clasp on this necklace helps finish it off in style.
The ornate silver clasp on this necklace helps finish it off in style.

Earwire hooks are a simple and easy way to create earrings! Of course you can also buy post backs, clip earring backs, and other styles. But in my experience earwire hooks are the most popular with customers and the easiest to wear. If you get good with wire-working you can make your own, but when you're first starting out I suggest buying readymade ones as shown above.

Head pins are another basic supply that you will likely find you need, if you are going to be making earrings or dangles for your necklaces. They are available in a variety of lengths, finishes and thicknesses, some with a decorative end bead as well. 

Earwire, head pins, and beads = lots of different earring possibilities!
Earwire, head pins, and beads = lots of different earring possibilities!

Basic Necessities for Your Bead Stringing Workspace

Simple Accessories That Will Make Your Crafting Life Better!

So you've got your tools, some findings, some wire, and of course, some beads! But what else do you need? If you want to be organized and efficient in your beading work, you'll probably want the following workspace accessories.

Working on jewelry in a room with inadequate light is almost impossible. I recommend having a good desklamp even if you're working in a room with good natural light - on cloudy days or later in the evening you'll still need some help! Full spectrum light that simulates daylight is perfect for this application.

Bead boards

Bead boards help you plan your jewelry designs before stringing them, which can be a great time saver (there's nothing like getting almost to the end of a necklace and realizing you're a few short on a specific bead to finish it.) A good bead board will have several small compartments for holding beads and findings while you plan your design, and multiple channels for necklaces so you can make several simultaneously, or perhaps plan a multi-strand design. Some will also have short, straight channels for planning bracelets as well.

Beadsmith Bead Design Beading Board, 9 by 13-Inch, Grey Flock

Lay out your designs before you string them! Try out as many bead combinations as you like and find your ideal creation without cutting a thread. Enable your creativity and prev...

View on Amazon

Beadalon 52-Inch Bead Board

Beadalon Bead Design Boards are a great addition to your stringing area. The flocked grey surface reduces eyestrain and helps keep objects in place. Recessed storage bins are pe...

View on Amazon

Darice Large 3-Channel Flocked Bead Board

Simplify your beading experience while you create exciting new necklaces and bracelets. Easily lay out your beads in precise order along the beading channels without worry that ...

View on Amazon

Necklace on display

While designed for showcasing jewelry for sale, one of these neck stands is great to have on hand while designing jewelry, too! It's worth checking to see how a necklace will fall around the curve of a natural neckline and chest, especially when designing multi-strand necklaces or ones with numerous drops and accent pieces. A bead board alone can't give you the full effect.

Storage Solutions and Accessories for Bead Stringing

Keep Your Supplies and Jewelry Organized!

Organization and storage can become one of the biggest challenges to a bead and jewelry artist. Once you get hooked on bead stringing, you'll often find you'll just want to keep buying and collecting more and more beads. But how to keep them organized so you can find the ones you want? How to store those finished jewelry pieces before you sell them, give them as gifts...or just between wearing them yourself?

Trust me, this is an important issue to consider! I recently spent the past 2 months completely organizing and resorting my bead collection and supplies as it had become a bit of a nightmare after moving. When you're supplies aren't organized, it's easy to forget what you have, buy findings that you thought you were out of but in fact still had in excess, and not even be able to design well as you can't readily study your beads.

There are many different types of storage containers available: boxes with adjustable dividers, stackable tubes, vials, carry cases...you may want to get a variety of types based on the kinds of beads and findings you have.

Darice 1157-11 No Spill Organizer 13.7-Inch-by-8.6-Inch-by-1.37-Inch

Snug fit lid on this organizer keeps contents inside. Grooves in lid keep compartments from spilling and rounded edges on bottoms of compartments make for easy bead and finding ...

View on Amazon

ArtBin 6-Compartment Tarnish Inhibitor Medium Box, Translucent Clear

ArtBin's Tarnish Inhibitor products provide safe, long term protective storage for beading and jewelry components. A special additive EXCLUSIVE to ArtBin has been molded directl...

View on Amazon

Darice 2025-252 Bead Container with 28 Storage Jars

Plastic bead storage with 28 clear plastic stackable jars. 1/2-Inch deep jars rest stacked and screwed together lengthwise in grooves in carrying case. 2 jars measure 1-1/2-inch...

View on Amazon

Darice 6-1/4-Inch by 4-1/4-Inch Bead Container with 24 Flip Top Canisters

Keep tiny seed beads and other small items safe, organized and easy to locate with this exceptional bead storage system. Sturdy, clear box holds 24 small see-through rectangular...

View on Amazon

Bead Tower- Round Tubes - BTW1

This Bead Tube Tower is a convenient, portable storage system for tubes of beads. The tower can stand upright or lay flat, folds for easy storage and comes with a zippered trave...

View on Amazon

Darice 2025-251 Clear Bead Container with 24 Storage Jars

Clear plastic bead storage system with 24 clear plastic easy view jars and screw top lids, 1 storage container. Keeps beads and findings separate and secure. Features clear plas...

View on Amazon

Keeping your beads well organized is important, and will save you work in the long run.
Keeping your beads well organized is important, and will save you work in the long run.

Now, It's Time to Start Making Jewelry!

With all of your supplies in hand, it's time to start creating. Today it's easy to get going as there are lots of tutorial videos and articles online that illustrate basic techniques. You might also want to check out some beading books and magazines for specific project ideas and how to learn more specialized methods of jewelry making such as bead looming and weaving. Pinterest, too, can be a great resource for getting inspiration and ideas for "thinking outside the box" and using your imagination to come up with new ideas.

A Few Basic Beading Tutorial Videos on YouTube
Books to Inspire Your Creativity

Selling Your Jewelry

Making a business of your bead stringing crafts

If you really start to enjoy making beaded jewelry, you might start to think about turning it into a profitable hobby or small business. There are numerous ways to go about selling your jewelry - of course, Etsy is a very popular choice. As long as you are able to attractively photograph your pieces for sale, and can get busy promoting your work on-line, you could be successful with that marketplace.

You might also consider getting in to the Jewelry Home Party Show business, if you have friends who admire your jewelry and might like to be able to buy some at discount (or for free) by hosting parties in their home where you can sell them to guests. Be sure to read this great guide to Jewelry Home Parties to learn more about this potential marketplace and decide if it might be right for you.

Craft show display for jewelry

There are also always numerous craft fairs and bazaars taking place, from community holiday bazaars to nationally juried shows. Be aware that the competition at such shows can be fierce and there are often quite a lot of jewelry vendors already established on the circuit; still, it is a great way to get started in the trade and decide if you can make a success of it or not. I've written a whole series of articles on the subject of vending at craft fairs which you might find worth investigating and reading up on further, beginning with the piece linked below:

Becoming a Craft Show Vendor, Part 1: Is Vending Right for You?

A craft fair booth set up. Photo by sockii.

If you enjoy making crafts, and love spending time shopping and browsing at craft shows, you might be wondering if becoming a craft vendor could be a successful business venture for you. Whether as a way to make some extra money on the side, or potentially as a new career path, selling at craft fairs can appear to be an exciting way to do something you love as more than just a hobby…

Enjoy making jewelry...it's a wonderful hobby that rewards you well for your efforts!
Enjoy making jewelry...it's a wonderful hobby that rewards you well for your efforts!
Updated: 10/07/2015, sockii
 
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?
3

Comments


   Login
blackspanielgallery on 10/07/2015

This is an interesting hobby, and I have considered it. I just have too little talent for such things.

candy47 on 10/07/2015

A new bead shop recently opened in our little town, so my friend and I have decided to go for a lesson. Should be interesting and fun.

You might also like

Metal Clay: Information and Tutorials

Are you new to metal clay? Metal clay is a clay form of precious metal that ...

Make a Washer Necklace

A DIY washer necklace tutorial using objects found around your home.


Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...
Error!