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.

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

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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Erin Carey

About Erin Carey

  Erin Carey is the current Web Production Administrator for Interweave. She studied metalwork and communications before receiving her BA in Media Communications from Colorado State University in 2008. During college she worked for several newspapers doing freelance photography, then lived abroad in New Zealand for two years. A recent but avid beader, Erin currently lives in Colorado where she loves making jewelry, writing and traveling whenever she gets the chance.  

14 thoughts on “3 Tips for Strong Beadwork

  1. When doing looser spirals (like the Russian Spiral), I like to weave either a heavy Fireline or .019 coated bead wire through the center after completing the spiral. The bead wire has the extra benefit of being something you can attach the clasp to rather than attaching to the delicate spirals. You can also control the natural “stretch” of a spiral this way as well.

  2. I don’t know if this would work on beading thread, but I know it works nicely to smooth out, polish and protect wire. I clean wire with NuFinish car polish which is a polymer rather than a wax. It might work on thread, but I’ve never tried it. It works really well on copper wire that I buy from the metal recycling place near me. I usually soak the recycled copper wire in white vinegar and water first, then wipe it off and polish with the NuFinish.

  3. When adding a new thread in the middle of a project, I find that after making the knot, it helps to go back a bit and make a few half-hitched knots , then retrace my steps to the point where the thread was added,before adding new beads and continuing. Also, it is helpful to make a sailors knot instead of a square knot, it is more secure.

  4. I was recently critised during a workshop (by another student) for using clear nail varnish to dap on end thread when finishing off my work. This was how I was advised to do it by my teacher when I first started beading. The oher student in the workshop said that this method rots the cotton over a period of time. She uses “Fray-check” I think she said. Would appreciate other’s views.. Thanks for Beading Daily – it’s great. Gill

  5. I’ve used the floor polish trick when making snowflake ornaments, etc. for the Christmas tree. It does stiffen things and usually colorless. But, if you’re using anything with an AB or some other special finish, it’s going to block much/most of that effect.

    And with regard to the nail polish, I’ve been using it for years with no ill effects. The thread (Nymo) is nylon so there’s no cotton to “rot”.

  6. I have used Future on polymer clay for years with great success. I don’t find that it yellows a bit, although I do heat my finished pieces at about 200F for about 10 minutes.

    I will experiment with Future and heat treating with my beads. Thank you!

  7. I mainly make bead embroidered pendants. I use a series of loops for a “bail”. Instead of tread I use Fireline for the loops. After I finish them I go back through the loops to strengthen them. I started doing this after the thread broke in the loops – fortunately it was a piece that I made for myself!

  8. I like using clear nail polish for knots; it seems to hold up well. But I will have to try the Future floor stuff. The other thing about the nail polish is: it’s portable! I can pack it with my other bead stuff and go to my bead group. (My beads go with me everywhere, except to bed with me and that’s next) :)

  9. I also use clear nail polish to dab at the and of mi work and also where i connesct a new thread.Future floor wax is this wax the only one you can use??I don’t have it here on the island(CuracaoNeth. ANTILLES) tKS VM FOR YOU TIPS

  10. Using good quality high strength thread is important – I really like KO thread (abrasion/tangle resistant thread, which can be knotted tightly) & Fireline. I use Beadalon wire guardians to protect high wear clasps & use seperate thread to make & join my beaded toggles/clasps. The extra effort pays off!

    Fray Check goes yellow/brown with age so definitely don’t use it on anything that you plan to be wearing in a few years time. I use GS-Hypo glue on my knots – it’s got a precision applicator but would use clear nail varnish if I had any!!!

  11. I use the Future floor wax (or any other one that says “dries clear” when you can’t get Future). I soak the piece for a few moments, drain it on a paper towel and gingerly wipe off the Future from the exposed bead surfaces. I lay the piece on some waxed paper to dry.

    It’s marvelous for so many things: I buy Fireline in crystal clear. I also have an arsenal of permanent marker ink pens to color the crystal clear to match my project. After pulling the Fireline between my marker and a paper towel to color and dry a bit, I pull the Fireline between a paper towel wet with the Future – – – the color stays put and doesn’t come off on your hands as you are working.

  12. Is the BRAND name actually Future? The only thing I can find with Future has a brand name of Pledge. Is this what your are suggesting? I’m not attempting to be critical, I just can’t find Future Brand wax in my area.

  13. I’ve never used either product, but a Google search revealed both “Future Floor Wax” and “Pledge with Future Shine” available for sale. I don’t know if some is just slightly older stock or if it’s two products.

    I like the idea of the wire through the looser spirals!