Tips for Unstable Beads
Sometimes I go bead shopping and dive right into the dyed and metallic beads, even though I know better. It’s as if my rational brain literally turns off. I get a faraway look, and my eyes start spinning with that “all the pretty colors” look. Then I come home and dump out my bag and, well, cuss.
The downfall of these little gems is their unstable finishes that can rub off or fade—it makes their beauty fleeting. Sometimes the change is caused by abrasion with other beads, thread, or skin; other times it’s from sunlight; and often it can happen from a chemical reaction with the oil in your skin.
The easiest way to find out if a bead is dyed is to ask the vendor. Most list that information right on the label with a “D.” If that’s not possible, the most suspicious clues include 1) an obvious surface treatment, where the color doesn’t come inherently from the glass or stone; 2) particularly vibrant or unusual color; and 3) a member of the purple and pink color families. Another way to find out is to get your hands good and sweaty by rubbing them together for a bit. Add the bead in question to your palms and rub again. Did some color rub off on your hands? If so, the bead is dyed.
Metallic, or galvanized beads, are much like dyed beads in that they are made by treating the surface with a coating to give it a shiny metal look. Again, ask the vendor if the bead is galvanized or check the label for a “G.” You can try the hand-rubbing trick with these, too.
Short of keeping them locked up in a hermetically sealed container and wearing gloves every time you handle them, there are a few things you can do to help keep your dyed and metallic beads looking good:
- Coat your beads with clear acrylic spray paint before working with them. If you’re working with seed beads, one way to do this is to pour them into a plastic zip bag, spray a bit of paint into the bag, shake the bag to coat the beads, and pour them onto plastic sheeting to dry. (Please, only do this technique outside or in a well-ventilated area and promptly dispose of that nasty plastic bag after you finish. We need to keep our brain cells fresh for beading!)
- Diane Fitzgerald turned me onto Future clear acrylic floor wax for strengthening the stitched thread in finished seed-bead work, but it also works well for protecting unstable beads. It works best to dip the finished work in a dish filled with the stuff and then air-dry it on paper towels.
- You can use light coats of a product like DesignaSeal, Mod Podge, or Diamond Glaze to seal larger beads with unstable finishes. Keep in mind that these sealers may change the look of your beads, creating a high gloss.
- If you don’t want to mess with sealants or sprays but still can’t resist that metallic look, know that seed-bead manufacturer Toho has developed a permanent galvanized seed bead. I’ve worked with them quite a bit and they are very stable.
If you want to learn more about bead finishes, there’s an excellent section in The Beader’s Companion—one of my favorite go-to sources, and I helped write it! Purchase The Beader’s Companion.
Do you have some other ideas for fixing unstable beads? Share them on the site.
Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!