Here's a confession guaranteed to fill up my inbox with reader mail: My favorite beaded watch is made with pretty Kazuri ceramic beads in various shades of blue, silver beads, and a silver watch face. Very simple to make and easy to wear. So what's the big deal?
I strung it on Gossamer Floss, a stretchy elastic cord.
Eeeewwwww! I can see my inbox filling up already. Yep, that inexpensive stuff that no serious beader would ever use. (In fact, elastic or stretchy cord is so under the radar that I had trouble finding a book that even mentioned it. The Beader's Companion by Judith Durant and Jean Campbell was one of the few to list elastic cord among the many choices for stringing materials. Hooray for this thoroughly helpful guide!)
Why Stretchy Cord?
Beginners often gravitate towards elastic or stretchy cord for their first projects. Not only is it inexpensive, but it does not require any tools. You don't need crimping pliers, wire cutters, or even a clasp. You don't need to be precise about sizing. You can concentrate completely on choosing the beads, which when you're a beginner is pretty a overwhelming task just by itself.
Strechy cord or elastic comes in several sizes ranging from .5mm to 1mm. You can knot it (I like using a suregon's knot) or crimp it. I have never used crimps on elastic, but there are many people who swear by them. If you choose to crimp, make sure your crimps are the right size for the elastic and that they have smooth edges so you don't accidentally cut or tear the elastic. Some folks also choose to glue the knot using jeweler's glue or nail polish. Designer Jean Yates, the self-described "queen of elastic bracelets" when she first started out, recommends that you pull the knot tight before you add the drop of glue. Then tuck the knot into a large-holed bead to hide it.
From the buyer's perspective, there is another reason to use stretchy cord–comfort and ease of use. Stretchy bracelets are great for children and those who find traditional clasps difficult to use. Plus, they do fit a range of sizes, making them perfect for craft fairs or other occasions when a custom fit is not possible. And they turn up in the most surpising places!
I just received a catalog in the mail for a women's clothing store, the kind of upscale place where the colors are described in terms of food (lettuce, chocolate, watermelon) and the models always seem to be strolling on the beach. The catalog had a smattering of jewelry and as I was flipping through the pages, I saw a multistrand gemstone chip bracelet with a silver toggle clasp. What caught my eye was the description. It said that the bracelet was strung on elastic "for comfort." I'm sure cost played a role too, but it struck me as an interesting selling point. The combination toggle clasp and elastic also gave me pause. It would never occur to me to use both, but I could see that the toggle added a nice decorative element to the piece whether or not it was actually used as intended.
But What About Seed Beads?
Most projects with elastic are simple strung bracelets like the Chunky Bead Bracelets and Vintage Blue. But if seed beads and weaving are your thing, there's no reason you couldn't experiment with elastic too. Try the Spring Green bracelet by Bonnie Clewans or the free Netted Cuff Bracelet by Deb Mausser. I had a lot of fun making my version of the Netted Cuff Bracelet and I liked the end result, though I'll admit that weaving seed beads with elastic drove me crazy!
When Not to Use It
This isn't to say that you should always use stretchy cord for everything. Not every bead will work. Heavy beads and beads with small holes or sharp edges are generally not good choices. Bracelets work well, but not long necklaces. Stretchy cord does not generally drape well; try beading wire, silk thread, or another type of stringing material for a necklace that will hang correctly. There is also the question of longevity. I've had my beaded watch for years, but I do realize that the elastic may eventually wear out or break. So if you are designing heirloom quality jewelry, elastic will probably not be your first choice.
New Free Project:
by Jamie Hogsett
This simple two-strand pearl and crystal bracelet is strung on elastic. No clasp is required, but it does use crimps to finish off the piece. Jamie will be teaching classes at Bead Fest Santa Fe in 2009. View her classes and sign up.
Michelle Mach shares free projects every Friday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Michelle, please post them on the website.