13 Beading Tips and Tricks from Melinda Barta
Former Beadwork Editor Melinda Barta paired up with Starman Inc. and the Tulip Brand Company of Hiroshima, Japan, to trace the history, art, and use of Hiroshima needles in the new book, Crafting Needle Compendium. This excerpt provides helpful tips for dealing with stuck needles, broken beads, and other tricks of the trade.
Choose the right needle size
Selecting the right needle size for beading is quite easy since the choices aren’t very overwhelming. Use a size 10 or 11 needle with size 11° and size 8° seed beads and a size 12 or 13 needle with size 15° seed beads. Use short “sharps” in tight spots and for bead embroidery, or if you prefer short needles.
Storing and caring for needles
Wipe off natural oils from your hands before storing your needles to protect their finish. To store, place them in their original packaging or a hard case so they can’t be bent.
Needling a thread
Needle a thread, don’t thread a needle! What exactly does this helpful tip mean? Hold the thread so it barely peeks out between your thumb and index finger on your non-dominant hand, then lower the eye of the needle down the tip of the thread. This is much easier than holding the needle and thread in midair.
How to double your thread
Doubled thread helps make projects sturdy, especially when attaching clasps, but beware it can tangle easily when tearing out incorrect stitches. To double a thread at the beginning of a project, slide a needle to the center of long thread and fold the thread in half. To double a thread midproject, pull on the tail so it extends beyond the beadwork and slide the needle down the thread so the thread can fold in half.
Pairing needles and thread
In beading, there are no set rules that say you must use a certain size needle with a certain brand of thread. Trust your instinct and a little trial and error: If you’re using a thick thread and you find it hard to pass through the needle’s eye, choose a larger needle.
How to prevent tangles and knots
Avoid tangles and knots by pretreating your thread with beeswax, microcrystalline wax, or thread conditioner. If a thread keeps twisting, hold your work in the air so the needle can dangle, then allow the thread to unwind. To open a knot and undo it, use the fine tip of a beading awl.
How to remove an extra bead
To break a misplaced seed bead with an awl, gently push the awl through the bead’s hole until the bead breaks; this requires less pressure than you would think and works best with size 15° and 11° seed beads. Weave back though the area to firm up any loose tension. Wearing safety glasses while breaking beads is always a wise idea.
Beads can vary from one lot to the next and specialty colors are often discontinued. Because of this, after making any special project or gift, put extra beads in a small labeled bag in case you need them for future repairs.
What if my needle breaks?
If a needle breaks it’s time to reassess your materials (are your needles good enough?), your project (are you forcing a stitch where it doesn’t belong?), and your needle size (is it too thick or thin for the task at hand?). Breaks can happen, so be sure to dispose of the needle bits properly by returning them to the package they came in or by wrapping them in tape.
Avoid bead breakage
Switch to a smaller, thinner needle if you’re breaking beads. Remember seed beads are made of glass, so strong forces can shatter them. Once a bead fills with thread, don’t expect a large needle to glide through as it did at the beginning of a project.
My needle is stuck! Now what?
What should you do if you hit a tight spot and it’s hard to pull your needle through a bead? The best bet is to remove the current needle and replace it with a thinner one. However, if you feel the needle simply needs a gentle tug and that you won’t risk breaking a bead, you can use a pair of pliers or a rubber needle grip to hold the needle while you carefully wiggle it free.
Using stop beads
Instead of starting each project with a knotted circle of thread, hold a starting strand of beads in place with a temporary stop bead. To do so, string a contrasting colored seed bead (size 11° or 8° works best), slide it down the thread leaving a 5″ (12.7cm) tail, then pass through it once or twice more. Avoid splitting the thread of previous passes to allow for easy removal. Once a project is done, or after your starting rows/rounds are secure, carefully loosen the thread and remove the bead.
Ending a short tail
Running out of thread? Short beading needles, called sharps, are perfect for tying off short tail threads.
See Crafting Needle Compendium: The Essential Guide to the History, Art, and Use of Hiroshima Needles curated by Melinda Barta and the Tulip Brand Company of Hiroshima, Japan (Starman Inc., 2017), for more helpful needle tips for beading, handstitching, knitting, crocheting, and needlefelting. Available in eBook format at www.czechbeads.com.
For beginner friendly projects and more tips and tricks, check out Quick + Easy Beadwork 2018.
For more tips and tricks, visit the Interweave Store.