BEADING THREADS,CORDS AND WIRES

Beading Threads Cords and Wires are used to string or sew beads into jewelry or accessories or onto garments as embellishment.

They are essential jewelry materials for beading and jewelry making and are available in different types, such as elastic cord, cotton wax cord, crystal thread, elastic wire, silk thread, leather cord, nylon thread, seed beads thread and so on.

Choosing the correct thread for your beading project is very important, and here I will be sharing some useful information about several typical threads with you.

Wire is a versatile jewelry making component. One of the most often asked questions by wire workers, especially those new to wire jewelry making, is what type of wire do I use for a piece of jewelry? While I feel that the choice of wire is a personal preference for most jewelry makers and much of the decision is also connected to the type of jewelry you are making, there are a few general rules of thumb that you can follow when first starting out. Then, as you start to work with wire, feel free to experiment because these rules are often made to be broken.

Selecting the right type of stringing materials for your jewelry projects is essential. The type of material you need to use will depend on three things:

  • whether you are making a necklace, bracelet or earrings
  • the style and look you want to achieve
  • the type and size of beads you will use

Once you you've answered these questions it will become clearer as to what type to use. Let’s look at the most popular stringing materials used by jewelry makers and the features of these materials.

WIRE SHAPES

Wire comes in a variety of shapes such as round, square, and half-round. In most (though not all) of the wire projects I post on this site. I use round wire, and it tends to be the most versatile. Artists who prefer to make wire wrapped style jewelry usually use a lot of square and half-round wire. They’ll use the half-round to wrap around the square when attaching the wires together.  

COLOR:

Black and white is most common, but beading thread is also available in many colors. To enhance your project, be sure to choose a color that blends into the project or it will distract from the beads.

WAX:

Waxed thread slides more easily through beads and is less likely to fray and break.  Beading thread can be purchased pre-waxed, or you can purchase beeswax to wax your own thread.

One of the most often asked questions is what type of cord or string should I use? to string my beads onto. Of course, it would be nice to be able to say “Use string "X." But, of course, there are many different types of stringing media on the market. So, in order to decide which string to use, you need to consider what you're stringing. And, in my opinion, there is no single type of string or cord that can do it all.

Here is a list of some (and by no means all) of the stringing media now available and what type of beads work best with it. 

SILK THREAD

Silk - A well-known classic and traditional for bead stringing.
Silk Thread is most often used for pearls.
Thinner silk thread can also be used to make other beaded projects and jewelry. Some beaders also like to use it with stone beads. Obviously, silk is a higher quality thread than Nylon.

So, when you're charging people to hand-knot their pearl strands, it only makes sense to use a good quality Silk Thread.

You can purchase silk on large spools or on cards with attached twisted needles. It also comes in wide range of widths and a variety of colors (white, black, grey, pink, etc.) and sizes (#1-#8). Silk Thread can be purchased pre-threaded on small cards or in larger hanks.
Since Silk Thread is delicate, be sure to use a needle that does not fray or damage the material, and be extra careful of beads with jagged edges. If threading is hard, try a Big Eye needle.

Silk is the traditional way of bead stringing. Silk is best for stringing valuable pearls where you have to knot between the pearls. Silk knotting thread is soft and easier to make knots with than any other thread.

Silk tends to fray and stretch over 3-5 years, therefore you have to restring a pearl necklace after a few years. Gudebrod® and  Griffin®  are the main brands.

Use the following sizes for stringing pearls: Griffin® size 5 or 6, and Gudebrod® size E.

It’s better not to use silk for heavier beads but rather Nylon Thread that is stronger.
Natural Silk Thread

NYLON

MONOFILAMANT
ILLUSION CORD

When knotting long, stone bead necklaces, Nylon works very well. Nylon can also be purchased on long rolls or on cards with attached needles. Since Nylon is a synthetic fibre, it doesn't stretch or fray. I like the way Nylon makes stone bead necklaces drape, even if you're not knotting between the beads. Nylon bead thread is the modern alternative to silk. Nylon is more popular than silk nowadays. The main brands are Griffin® (twisted poly-amide thread) and C-lon®. Nylon bead threads are available in a range of colors, sizes and spool lengths. 

Most often, I use size #4. It seems to work well with 6 mm and 4 mm beads, which I use a lot. For small beads, I use size #2.
Illusion Cord is a clear bead stringing cord which looks like fishing pole string. Therefore the name ‘illusion’ or ‘floating’ piece of jewelry where it seems that there is no string between the beads. Illusion Cord is not as durable and strong as beading wire. Supplemax™ ( from Beadalon® ) and Illusion cord from the Beadsmith® are two brands. 

So, use your own judgment. If you're making a bunch of stuff to stick in your bargain bin you might want to use it. However, if you're making a necklace you're going to sell in a gallery, you should consider another type of cord.
Nylon Monofilament Cord
Nylon Thread

NYMO THREAD

SILAMIDE

This is a staple item in most seed beaders' bead boxes. It comes in a good range of colors and various sizes. You can buy it on large rolls or tiny bobbin sized rolls. Most often, beaders use the smaller rolls for portability and so they can have more colors  It must be waxed using beeswax. Nymo Thread is used mostly for seed beads, but can also be used with pearls or Heishi.
This thread is also used with seed beads. However, it is pre-waxed with strands twisted together, so it's convenient and strong. Originally, many seed beaders weren't very impressed because the color selection was very limited. However, Silamide is now available in all kinds of colors like pink, mustard, turquoise, etc. Another reason some seed beaders don't like it is because it can be difficult to thread through a needle since it is twisted.
Nymo Thread
Silamide Thread

STEEL COATED BEADING WIRE

TIGER-TAIL

Before the Coated Wire came along, Tiger-Tail was the way to go when it came to heavy weight beads such as hematite. This is also a Nylon Coated Wire Cable. However, it is much stiffer than the cords described above. Tiger-Tail also comes in various sizes and colors. It is very strong since it consists of a number of strands of thin steel wire. I still use it because sometimes the other cord is so soft for some projects it can be difficult to use. But, I think it might just take getting used to.
Probably some of the best products in recent development for bead stringing are the various types of Coated Wire threads now available. You've probably heard of Soft Touch, Beadalon, Accuflex, and Soft Flex, which are trade names for this type of material. Depending on the manufacturer, there are various sizes and colors available. Steel Coated Beading Wire works great with  crystals , all types of stone beads, and even the thinner sizes can be used with some pearls. The smaller sized cords can be knotted on the end to be used with bead tips (clam shells), but they are most often finished off with crimp beads. This cord is also great to use when making illusion necklaces.
Tiger Tail Beading Wire
Steel Coated Beading Wire

WAXED LINEN CORD

Waxed Linen Cord is often used with macramé designs. It comes in a huge assortment of colors. It is pretty strong since it's waxed. If you want to make long necklaces with heavy beads, this would be a cord to consider.

LEATHER CORDS

This is great to use for those heavy necklaces that use stone donuts.  Plus, it is attractive enough to be incorporated into part of the bead design without having to worry about covering it up with beads. Usually you'll find it in 1 and 2 mm sizes and it comes in all kinds of colors  so you don't have to just use brown or black any more. If you are uncomfortable with using leather products, there are also a number of imitation products available today as well. Stringing materials such as simulated suede and Leather Cords are very popular to create a rustic look. Leather Cords are mostly used for stringing heavier pendants due to its strength and durability. Suede could be tied in a knot and worn with a pendant. You could also use coil or leather crimps to end off a suede necklace. Simulated suede is more popular than leather because of its softness. 
Waxed Linen Cord

KEVLAR THREAD

This thread is used to make bullet- proof vests. It's often used in seed beads when weight is a consideration. It is very thin Kevlar Thread is very strong, making it a good choice for large or heavy beads. It is very difficult to break, but easy to cut. Fisherman's knots should be used with Kevlar Thread as they will hold the strongest.
Kevlar Thread
Leather Cord

ELASTIC STRETCH CORD

HEMP

Elastic Stretch Cord is a flexible stretchable cord. You don’t need any findings to finish off a jewelry piece made with Elastic Cord. The ends of Elastic Stretch Cord can be knotted or fused together. Stretch Magic™ is one of the brands available. Elastic Stretch Cord is mostly used for more informal type of jewelry.
Not that long ago, you could only find Hemp available in one boring light tan color  But today, you can find it in black, blue, green, purple, etc. This is also good to use with macramé and is pretty strong. It works nicely with large beads and the colors can be coordinated well with polymer clay beads too.
Elastic Stretch Cord
Hemp Cord

JEWELRY MAKING WIRE

Selecting the right type of Jewelry Making Wire for your projects is essential. Working with wire means that you have to acquire the basic wire techniques. When you've mastered the basic techniques you’ll be able to create a big variety of designs. There are a few things to consider when working with wire:

Bead stringing wire is a very popular stringing material. It is composed of tiny stainless steel cables inside a nylon coating to prevent tarnishing. Before you buy Jewelry Making Wire you need to think about the flexibility of your design, whether it has to follow the contours of your body.

The higher the number of strands the more flexible the wire will be. For eg. 7 strand wire has some flexibility, 19 strand wire is more flexible, 49 strand is the most flexible. If you need a very stiff beading wire then Tiger Tail will do the job. It is not as flexible as other beading wires and tend to kink easily due to its stiffness. 

Beading wire also varies in diameter. The smaller diameters (0.13 or 0.14) are for lightweight beads such as seed beads and small pearls. Larger diameters (0.16 or 0.18) are for bigger beads.
 
Jewelry makers have a plethora of options for stringing beads, and beading wire is an excellent choice for designers seeking strength, durability and charm. Selecting the perfect Jewelry Making Wire to satisfy your needs can be challenging, so it's important to have some knowledge about beading wire. A few key factors to consider when choosing a beading wire are flexibility, resistance to kinking, strength and color.
Flexibility 

If you want a better looking drape, choose a flexible beading wire that has a higher strand count. Silk cord has the ideal amount of flexibility and drape among stringing options, but wire can come pretty close to replicating the properties of silk.

When beading wire is manufactured, it begins as a single solid wire (usually stainless steel) which is drawn through a series of increasingly smaller holes. The wire gets smaller and smaller, and it's heated and cooled to keep its flexibility. After many of these wire strands are drawn and treated, they are braided together and coated with clear nylon to create a single beading wire.

A 49-strand beading wire is composed of 7 strands of 7 strands. The drape of a 49-strand wire is more pleasing than the drape of a 19-strand wire. Of course, the cost will increase as the number of strands increase.

A 21-strand wire is a good choice for the crafter looking for quality and economy.

Resistance to kinking
 
A necklace or bracelet wouldn't be very practical if it kinked every time it was folded into a jewelry box, so a wire's resistance to kinking must be examined. Just like flexibility, a beading wire's resistance to kinking has a direct relationship with the amount of strands it contains. Bend a wire with only 3 strands and you're in trouble. On the other hand, bend a wire with 49 strands and you won't be able to notice any kinking. To ensure you don't ruin a beautiful piece simply by folding it, invest in a wire with a higher strand count.

Strength 
The tensile strength of a wire is important when beading a long or heavy necklace. If you choose a wire that isn't strong enough for your design, you can strain or even break a beading wire. For necklaces that are extra long or carry heavy beads, it's recommended to use the thickest diameter wire possible. The test weight or breaking strain (weight the wire can handle before failing) of a particular wire is normally provided on the packaging or the manufacturer's website. Wire composition also dictates the strength of the wire; stainless steel and plated stainless steel are the strongest, while sterling silver is the least sturdy wire.

Color 
Color is an important factor in choosing beading wire, especially when you are beading with translucent beads. The gray color of raw steel might not harmonize with the beads or crystals of your design. If this is the case

MEMORY WIRE

Memory Wire
Memory Wire is a coil of very strong tempered stainless steel wire, which holds its circular shape when stretched and released. Memory Wire makes quick and easy necklaces and bracelets. It can stay on your neck or wrist without a clasp. You can finish off Memory Wire by making a loop at the end of the wire or alternatively you can glue a capping bead at the end of the wire. Never cut Memory Wire with side cutters, use only  Memory Wire Cutters  to cut Memory Wire. Always protect your eyes when cutting it.

WIRE SIZES

Wire comes in different size gauges. The larger the gauge number, the smaller in diameter of wire. So, a 26-gauge piece of wire is thinner than a 16-gauge piece. For simple wire bending projects, you would probably use wire anywhere from 14-gauge to 26-gauge. 18-gauge and 20-gauge are the most popular sizes for simple wire shapes. 24 to 26-gauge work best if you want to add beads to your work.

In the US, the size or thickness of wire is measured in gauge (also spelled gage) while in most European countries they measure it in millimeters. Below is a list of the different Wire Sizes and what is normally used for each size along with some other helpful information. 

26 and 24 gauge (.40mm - .50mm)  This size is good for beads that have small holes in them such as pearls. Usually purchased in half-hard, and used to make pearl and wire bracelets by creating a bead and wire chain. 

22 and 21 gauge (.65mm - .71mm)  Most commonly used, though not many vendors seem to carry 21 gauge. These are both very versatile sizes because they are pretty thick but most beads (like crystals and stone beads) can fit on them. Usually purchased in dead soft, and these sizes are used to make bead and wire chains and also for a variety of jewelery findings such as Jumprings,ear wires or head pins. 

20 gauge (.80mm)  This is about the thickest wire.  It is good for making clasps because it’s still pretty easy to work with but is strong as well. Normally purchased in dead soft. 

This is by no means a complete list of sizes, but it will give you a good place to start. As I said, it is up to you to find your own wire jewelry path, but I hope this information has at least started you on your journey.

Gauge Sizes

26g
25g
24g
23g
22g
21g
20g
19g
18g
17g
16g
15g
14g
13g
12g

Approx. Diameter

0,4mm
0,45mm
0,5mm
0,55mm
0,6mm
0,7mm
0,8mm
0,9mm
1,0mm
1,2mm
1,3mm
1,5mm
1,6mm
1,8mm
2,0mm

Here is an indication of the wire sizes that are used for Jewelry Projects:

  • for making earrings: 20g or 22g
  • for making clasps and hooks: 18g-20g
  • for making earring wires: 20g or 22g
  • for making single loops in bracelets and necklaces: 18g-20g
  • for making wrapped loops in bracelets and necklaces: 20g-24g
  • for making spirals: 17g-20g
  • for making jump rings: 18g-20g

WIRE HARDNESS

When ordering wire from jewelry supply companies, you’ll notice they normally offer Dead Soft, Half Hard, and Full Hard. As the names indicate, the wires have different degrees of hardness.

The Dead Soft wire is the easiest to manipulate and is often used for sculpted pieces and light-weight wire wrapped jewelry such as a bead and wire chain bracelet. Fewer tools are needed since these softer wires can be bent with your hands fairly easily. Soft Wire works well for many wire projects such as bending into shapes or using with beads. However, it is not recommended for use with projects that hold large stones or projects that will have a lot of wear such as bangles. For larger and heavier jewelry pieces, use Half Hard or Full Hard wire. Normally, you will need more tools in order to manipulate hard wire because your hands will not be strong enough. Half Hard wire is often used for wire wrapped jewelry that is primarily made of wire, like a wire wrapped bangle bracelet.

Jewelry making wire comes in three hardness categories: Dead Soft, Half-Hard and Full Hard. Below are some basic definitions for each type: 
Dead Soft Wire As the term indicates,is very flexible and you can manipulate the wire easily. It is mostly used for wire wrapping and sculpting projects.

Half Hard Wire is a bit harder than dead soft,because it has been pulled through a draw plate (a tool with holes in it the same size and shape of the wire).  It is still easy and flexible enough to be bent by hand. Half hard wire holds the shape it’s formed in. I use half hard wire for most of my projects.

Full Hard Wire This wire is harder than half-hard wire because it has been pulled through a draw plate more times than half-hard wire. It is extremely stiff and not flexible enough to be bent by hand.


TYPES OF JEWELRY MAKING WIRE

COPPER WIRE

This is a great inexpensive practice wire.Copper Wire is a wonderful material to make jewelry with. It can be used by itself to form earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Copper Wire can also be used in conjunction with beads or stones to create beautiful jewelry designs.

Metalsmiths use Copper Wire to create components such as jump rings and clasps, and pieces of wire are also soldered together to build cuff bracelets and pendants. However, you can make a large variety of jewelry by simply bending wire into various shapes and connecting these shapes together.

You've probably already seen a lot of Copper Wire used in projects and are great to use as a “ practice” wire. However, it also looks nice with some designs that use earth tone colors. Copper will darken and discolor with age, which is called a patina affect. If you prefer to keep your copper wire bright, you can simply polish it. You can also soak copper in white vinegar, or rub with Lemon Juice and table salt to clean it up a little.

PLATED WIRE

Gold or silver Plated Wire can wear off easily. It is a good practice wire as well.
 

COLORED COATED WIRE

This Color Coated Wire has a layer of enamel color over the base metal. It is available in a range of colors. 
Often Color Coated Wire is coated with an enamel to create the color of the wire. This wire has become very popular and is even available in many large craft stores. It is a lot of fun to work with. However, due to the coating, it can be marked by metal tools, so keep this in mind when using it.

GALVANIZED WIRE

Galvanized Wire has a dull silver color. This wire is available in hardware stores and it is an economical practice wire. You can find this (along with copper wire) in most hardware stores. This wire is harder than the silver wire you may be used to, so get a small gauge if you plan to get some.

STERLING SILVER WIRE

It is 92.5% pure silver. Sterling Silver Wire is the most popular wire for wire work  It is easy to coil, texture, hammer and bend sterling wire in many ways. I prefer working with Sterling Silver Wire. It is durable, economical and looks fabulous in beaded jewelry.

This wire works the best for many finished jewelry pieces. Sterling indicates that the wire is 92.5% pure silver. The rest is made up of alloys (such as copper or zinc) to provide strength.

Sterling will tarnish, called oxidation, so it’s best to keep it in ziplock bags or sealed containers of some kind when not using it for jewelry or wearing the jewelry itself. When it does tarnish (and it eventually will), you can polish by using a polishing kit, using a magnetic polisher or tumbler, or you can clean it with anionic cleaner.

FINE SILVER WIRE

It is softer than sterling, but it is 99.9% pure silver. Many wire workers enjoy working with Fine Silver Wire. Fine silver is softer than sterling. Since it has fewer alloys, it also does not tarnish as quickly as sterling silver does.

GOLD-FILLED WIRE

This wire has a thin layer of karat-gold over brass, copper or silver wire. Gold-Filled Wire gives you the choice to work with gold in your design at a fraction of the cost. First of all, never call Gold-Filled Wire, “gold wire.” I've seen this too many times from jewelry makers, whom I hope, just don’t know any better. While Gold-Filled metal has many layers of gold, it is not pure gold. On the upside, Gold-Filled is of much better quality than plated gold (only one layer) so Gold-Filled Wire lasts for a very long time if cared for properly. It is a wonderful alternative to gold, which as you can imagine is pretty darn expensive!
 

GOLD WIRE

Few people can afford to work with real Gold Wire. If you are daring enough and feel comfortable enough, go for the gold! Many jewelry vendors offer real Gold Wire in various karats (10-24 for example) and even different colors.
 

WIRE JIGS

Another way of working with wire is using a Wire Jig. Wire Jigs are wooden, aluminium  or transparent boards with little holes and pins. You can make your own Wire Jig with a wooden block and small nails, or you can purchase a Wire Jig. If you're only going to make one or two components then this will be cost effective, otherwise it will be worth investing in a Wire Jig. Jigs are used for making patterns and repeatable shapes to get uniformity in your design. You can arrange the pins in any pattern of your choice in order to create your own designs.

You can make a variety of designs with a Wire Jigs including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, clasps and many more.  Wigjig®  is the most well known manufacturer. They have a range of jigs available.

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