3 Tips for Strong Beadwork

How to stitch beadwork that lasts

It was a close friend’s birthday recently, so I made a card, printed out some photos, and included a CD. I put the items in a paper envelope, but realized the CD would break. So I added a piece of thick cardboard between the CD and photos and put everything in an even sturdier structure. But hmm . . . that fragile card looked a bit vulnerable, too . . . better cover that with some thin cardboard. . . . Believe me, by the time I got this thing in the mail, the postage must have tripled. The way it was wrapped, banded, taped, and sealed, the gift was prepared for a trip down Niagara Falls.

 

The Bikers Bracelet by Kate McKinnon is well reinforced with a whip-stitched edge. This project uses seed beads and pearls in a simple and elegant variation of square stitch.

I easily spent a half-hour preparing that package, and it was just for its two-day trip on the mailman’s truck. But how many of us skimp on putting extra time into securing our beadwork for a lifetime of wear? I don’t mean just reinforcing loops and weak spots, but really strengthening the whole thing. This is especially important for those of us whose work will be handled a lot in addition to being worn. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Double up
If your beads have large enough holes and aren’t too fragile, it’s often best to use doubled thread when stitching your pieces. However, I have a hard time using doubled thread for new designs since I know I’ll be making mistakes and ripping out so often. In those cases, I use single thread and then re-stitch the entire (or most of) the thread path to reinforce the piece.

Whip it good
This whipstitching technique, which Kate McKinnon illustrates so beautifully in her Biker Bracelet in the recent publication Beadwork Presents: 41 Favorite Jewelry Designs, creates a binding along the edge of peyote- or brick-stitched beadwork. Here's how it's done:

1: Start a new thread that exits out through an edge bead of your piece. Pass the needle under the loop of exposed thread between the last bead exited and the adjacent one. (I like to pass from back to front so I can easily see where my needle is positioned.) Pull tight.

2:
Repeat down the edge of the piece, stitching in the same direction, to form a tight binding.


3:
If you’d like to create a bulky, almost cable-looking binding, repeat the whipstitch in the same spot more than once.

4: If desired, add a beaded embellishment along the binding’s edge.

Skinny dippin’
Not everyone’s a fan of this technique, but I fell in love with it as soon as bead artist extraordinaire Diane Fitzgerald clued me in. It involves dipping (or painting, as I do) a very thin coat of Future-brand clear acrylic floor wax on your finished pieces. I use a little plastic-bristled paintbrush to dab my beadwork after it’s completed, then drain it on paper towels. I check it every once in a while to make sure there’s no pooling. Not only does the acrylic firm up your beadwork, but the liquid gets inside the beads to coat the thread and strengthen it. I haven’t had any problems with yellowing or stickiness, but I highly recommend you test this technique before using it on your most special pieces; you’ll want to see if you like it. And please, please do a test on your beads before you start dipping. I haven’t had too many problems, but once the acrylic reacted to a special coating on a crystal and ruined a high-investment bracelet.

What super-strengthening techniques would you add to this short list? Please share your ideas here so we can all benefit.

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