6 Tips for the Perfect Thread Tension in Your Beadwork
(Published in Beadwork, April/May 2017)
Take a look at these two right-angle-weave samples (above). They’re made using the same beads, the same thread, and the same stitch configuration. So, why do they look so different? The answer is simple: thread tension. Below, we share a few techniques to help you get your thread tension right.
Stretching the Thread
You might not think so at first, but your tension can differ from thread to thread. A parallel-fiber nylon thread such as Nymo will relax a bit once it’s stitched, so pull it to stretch it out before you get started. A braided beading thread such as FireLine doesn’t require pre-stretching.
Using the Tail
My favorite technique for maintaining thread tension is working with the tail thread. I wrap it around the pinkie of my non-dominant hand — the hand that’s not stitching — so that after each stitch I can pull the beadwork away from the needle with my dominant hand. I often also wrap the working thread around the fingers of my dominant hand to get extra torque while I’m pulling. This ensures that all the threads are tight, providing surprisingly strong tension.
Cutting an extra-long length of thread and pulling the needle to the center so you can work with doubled thread is another way to ensure good thread tension. You’ll fill the bead holes more quickly, which gives your work more structural support. When you use doubled thread, make sure the project doesn’t require multiple thread passes through beads too small to accommodate them.
Reinforcing Thread Paths
Passing through the beads after they’ve been stitched in place is a great way to reinforce your beadwork and firm up the tension. Because the beads are already placed, it’s easier to pull your thread tight without having to hold on to newly placed beads. And, as with doubled thread, filling the bead holes with more thread passes adds body to your work.
A Word About Wax
No matter what type of thread you use, wax it before you use it. I like to use good old-fashioned beeswax, even on my FireLine. The stickier the wax, the more it helps hold your thread in place. (Note that thread conditioner works, too, but its primary benefit is to make threads slick and demagnetized and to keep them from fraying. These are all wonderful and important attributes but not necessarily ideal for helping to increase the thread tension.)
You’ll sometimes see instructions that start with the advice “Add a tension bead.” A tension bead is any bead that you string on the end of your thread to keep newly added beads from falling off. In my opinion, this is actually misnamed; although temporarily anchoring a bead at the start is a great way to stop beads from slipping off (the alternative name for this is a stop bead or stopper bead), it absolutely does not provide tension to your beadwork.
Practice these basic techniques and you’ll be stitching with proper tension in no time!
Check out these great resources by Jean Cox (Campbell):