Create an Easy Elastic Beaded Bracelet

Jan 2, 2009

A Confession

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. 

Comfortable Elastic

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:

Frosty Pink
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.



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Comments

on Jan 2, 2009 5:14 AM
I have to say as far as *serious beaders* I have been designing/creating jewelry since i was 13 yrs old. i consider myself a serious beader and i LOVE using elastic for some of the reasons you mentioned its easy to use with lots of different beads *if you know what you are doing* cost effective ,fun and best of all no clasp. I have made rings anklets and tons of bracelets using the material . People seem to like the items i create with it.For those that refuse to use it thinking its child's play, you are missing out on a business helper. Netting is one of my favorite weaves i have made many different variations of it. In fact i just filled an order for 15 bracelets this Christmas!! If i have any advice to people its try not to get stuck on one thing or one design there are so many materials available to us to try with jewelry why not give them all a shot. Best Wishes, Denise-Creator of WhiteRoseDesigns
LornaL@5 wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 7:36 AM
I have used elastic cord bracelets for several years. From experience, I have not found the drop of glue to be helpful. If the knot is not pulled tight enough, the elastic stretch in the knot breaks the glue seal. If the knot is tight enough, it's not going to come out anyway. I think the glue has more to do with the tradition of knotting than a need. Also, this Thanksgiving, I strung a single strand of seed beads with a larger bead in the center and used a sterling or GF tube crimp bead to make rings for our 4 year old granddaughter. They were an instant hit. She did the stringing, and I did the crimping. Keep up the good work and thanks. Lorna Larson
DebraM@44 wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 7:42 AM
I have used elastic for bracelets occasionally, and found that running two strands helps the bracelet keep its shape. This is especially useful with somewhat large, heavy beads (which usually have larger holes).
KathrynA@14 wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 8:22 AM
I have been using stretchy cord to make jewelry since i started making it. I love it! It makes wearing jewelry so easy for someone who has arthritis or other hand problems because of no clasp. I also add clasps at times so there is that "more finished" look. I use a wheelchair and have found that stretchy cord is more wheelchair friendly than any other stringing materials because if it gets caught on the wheel it, yes, say it, stretches rather than breaks. I have used the gossamer floss when I have been weaving smaller beads. I always finish with a surgeons knot and I do add a dab of glue then hiding the knot in a bead as described above. I have found a great glue i use exclusively called Jet glue. It holds better than any other glue I have used and believe me I have tried them all.
jem@10 wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 11:07 AM
Well, I am a self-confessed elastic hater. Hater is too strong a word, but I haven't used it in years. Now, you have made me think. This Christmas, my present to my nieces was an enrollment in, "Aunty's jewelry club", which entitles them to six pieces of jewelry throughout the year. They get to design them, and I'll make them. Most want a few bracelets and it is always a challenge to get the sizes right, long distance. Elastic may just be the answer. I have fallen into the trap of habit, and perhaps it's time to expand the possibilities. Thanks and Happy New Year!
on Jan 2, 2009 11:13 AM
Elastic cord is great for making simple, casual bracelets fast. And for more elaborate designs, where you use more than one strand of cord, I think the jewelry is more durable because you have those extra strands working together to add durability. I do recommend, though, using light-weight beads with elastic whenever possible, and taking care not to use beads with jagged or sharp edges around their holes. And - although Beader's Companion is also a great book - keep in mind that Teach Yourself Visually Jewelry Making and Beading, and the portable reference Beading Quick Tips (due out next week!) also cover elastic cord stringing. :) ~Chris
DebWAZ wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 11:32 AM
Okay, just because the devil made me do it - eeeek! I don't like stretch! I *DO* understand there are times it's needed for folks with arthritis, etc. But - you have to remember that stretch/elastic cord is like sunshine - it doesn't last forever. I can also understand having stretch bracelets on your table at a craft show as "widgets" - lower priced items to help pay for the booth rent. I personally feel that if you are going to spend the money for sterling, gold filled, good stones, pearls, crystals, etc. you should be using better materials to string them on. It's like having a mule run in the Kentucky Derby or Secretariat pulling a plow! I get a number of repairs where the customer is upset because they "paid good money" for a bracelet or watch done on stretch that broke. ("And I've only had it a month or so.") They say the workmanship was shoddy, they were gypped, and it's insult to injury to have to PAY to have it fixed. As designers, you should think about that aspect. What does it do to YOUR reputation as a designer? What you might be seeing as a way to get people to notice and buy your designs, could be damaging your reputation, instead. The customer usually doesn't know that by its nature, the stretch is doomed to break, so they will assume that ALL of your work is just as "shoddy", regardless of what other materials or media you use!! (Another thing to remember, is if you've had piece made with stretch cord on your table for a number of shows, you are likely to have it break sooner, due to heat, cold, sunlight or just plain age!) Of course, if you stretch afficianados just keep on making stretchy bracelets and watches, you'll assure "job security" for me and the others who have to fix them! Sorry to be a sourpuss starting off the New Year, but someone's got to do it! ::grinning wickedly:: Deb - AZ Bead Depot
Jfritchen1 wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 11:57 AM
Every material has its place. I'm not a big fan of elastic but I am currently working on a great project in Valerie Hector's book The Art of Beadwork. It's the Sithathoryunet Bracelet and its strung together with Elasticity. It's made out of 216 simple peyote stitched beads, is very portable and a great diversion from some of my larger more involved projects. I can't wait to see how this one turns out.
Seamar wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 3:00 PM
This article made me laugh. My introduction to beading was a little kit I purchased at a fabrics store - since it came with a card of 1mm elastic and instructions for stringing the assortment of beads, I happily made bracelets, necklaces, and even earrings never realizing anything other than stretchy cord existed. It was beadingdaily, in fact, that opened eyes! After learning new techniques thru books and magazines, I eventually remade all those early necklaces and earrings (you're right, they didn't drape right), but kept many of the bracelets. It's good to learn others also enjoy making and wearing those fun stretch bracelets; thanks Michelle!
on Jan 2, 2009 5:40 PM
I've actually made a few beaded watches, mainly with beading wire. However, I did make one for my mother with stretch cord because she has trouble with clasps and I thought by using the stretch cord, she could just slip it over her hand. The only problem was even though I knotted the cord and threaded it back along the beads quite a way along the bracelet, every time she puts it on, it seems to unravel and the ends stick out. If she didn't have the problem she has with clasps, there's no way I would've made it with stretch cord. One day when I eventually get the watch back, I'll remake it with proper beading wire. I also made my own version of Spring Green, but with non-stretch wire, and of course, there's no problem with it at all. So although stretch cord may be quick and easy, the finished product isn't always so good.
JacquieG wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 7:02 PM
I have been making jewelry for over 10 years, and yes, all forms of stringing have their place. I have made a lot of elastic bracelets - and not just for kids. You have to use the proper elastic for the type and weight of the beads and pre-stretch it before you string. That way you know if it has a weak spot, and it won't droop after it is strung. I also pull it tight before I knot and glue it. Then it relaxes to the perfect tension. For weaving, to make the beads slide easily and the elastic not tangle, put it in a baggie with a little bit of powder. All static is gone. Shake it out, and it isn't messy. I have only had two bracelets come back: one tried to put hers around the CD tray in her car; the other had worn hers for over 4 years and one of the beads had broken. I remade both at no charge, with a severe reprimand to the first, and a thank you to the second. Both have been customers for years. Thanks Michelle for your great ideas.
SharonB@86 wrote
on Jan 2, 2009 7:41 PM
I have been making jewellery for friends and family for a few years now and love to experiment with all kinds of techniques. I have used the elastic for rings very successfully. I use crystals and seed beads in woven patterns and have never had a knot come undone. However when I used the elastic for a watch band for my elderly mother-in-law it kept breaking - I think it was rubbing on the beads - no matter what kind of beads and elastic material I used. I tried gluing the knot into bead holes and that lasted a bit longer but not much. It is a great idea though for those that can not manage clasps anymore. Cheers Sharon from Brisbane, Australia
TaraT@12 wrote
on Jan 3, 2009 6:47 AM
I never thought of using a crimp on elastic, what a great idea! Everyone's comments have been so helpful. Thanks. Tara at dharma8designs.etsy.com
AnnM@97 wrote
on Jan 3, 2009 9:35 AM
I am so glad you ran this project. You ask who would use this stretchy cording. Think of the elderly, my mother has Parkinson and can barely close a button much less put on a watch with closures. This way she can easily slip her watch off and on. I made hers with detachable strands of beads so that she can change the color and style of her watch very easily (I actually attach and change them for her). A lot of health issues will leave people unable to cope with putting jewelry off and on. Thanks again for bringing these projects to our attention.
Smeg wrote
on Jan 3, 2009 1:30 PM
I was just looking at the Chunky Bead Bracelets and it gave me an idea. Beads could be strung together with the normal wire or thread without connecting the ends together. Then, go back through a few of the beads with elastic for the join. This would give it some flexibility but should it break then at least all the beads wouldn't be rolling around loosely. I think I'll have to experiment.
Ozzy wrote
on Jan 3, 2009 2:45 PM
Thanks Everyone for your replies as they have helped me to make items for a trading table that raises funds for Carers. They will be quick & easy to make & I wont have to worry about making various sizes. Oh!!! how wonderful this site is.
Mortira wrote
on Jan 3, 2009 3:50 PM
Thanks for this! I think as beaders we can sometimes take ourselves a little too seriously, and we forget that what we do is just as much a craft as it is an art. I have an enormous collection of stretch bracelets that I plan to sell or give away with my more professional pieces. Not everyone wants to spend $50 to $300 dollars on a single piece of jewelry, especially with today's economy. I wouldn't use high quality lampwork or pearls, but stretch cord is great for vintage beads, acrylics, and leftovers.
KathrynA@14 wrote
on Jan 5, 2009 9:14 AM
After reading all these comments I am amazed that there have been so many things breaking. I do sometimes use elastic as stated in my comment above and have never had a bracelet break or returned. I use soft flex also for most of my items but never a complaint about the elastic. I try to use .8 mm which is sturdy enough to last and not stiff like 1mm can be. I knot, glue and hide knot. My reputation is good. I have many return customers and have even made a bride and brides maid's pear lbracelets on stretch cord at the request of the bride.
DonnaM@6 wrote
on Jan 5, 2009 10:01 AM
Thanks for the article. Lots of good info in the comments as well. I watch QVC and HSN when jewelry shows are on. There are a lot of the jewelry designers who use elastic for their bracelets which include gemstones, pearls, silver, etc. I always wondered if they had access to a better elastic product.
MarissaM wrote
on Jan 9, 2009 5:01 AM
I also am not much for elastic, but when working at my previous store, I would recommend it to EVERYONE who was allergic to metal. I would get people in saying they were even allergic to Gold Filled and Niobium. Knotting and gluing the stretchy cord would mean NO METAL :) These people were happy that they had an alternative that they could use. I also recommended having a "restringing day" every year or every few years and just restring ALL the stretchy jewelry they had. Better to be safe than sorry and the cord is very affordable.
Mego@3 wrote
on Jan 22, 2009 2:21 PM
Great tip!! I stopped wearing watches because the clasps always made it so hard to put on my wrist. This is the perfect solution. Many thanks and keep the confessions coming!
evegpt wrote
on Jun 1, 2009 11:05 PM
I make a lot of bracellets to give away with the elastic cord. I find some of it holds up much better than others. I like the cotton stretch better than the plastic cord. It makes a tighter knot for me, anyway. The plastic can be hard to tie in a knot. I mix real lightweight beads with paper beads which makes a very lightweight bracelet. I don't think I would use heavy beads at all though. I think a watch if it is small and light would work though.
nlfp wrote
on May 18, 2010 12:59 PM

I just started making beaded jewelry a few months ago.  Totally self taught.  Which now has me very worried!  I use elastic a lot for bracelets.  Sometimes I knot/glue it but I also use it w/ crimps & clasps.  I love toggle clasps, and get many compliments on the unusual ones I use, but I love the ease of putting on an elastic bracelet.  I use .8mm or .5mm doubled.  I don't love the way it hangs on a display but do like the way it looks on.  Now I'm worried that all the pieces I've given away or sold (just started selling in the past few weeks) are going to break!  Eek!  

For heavy beads or for necklaces I do not use elastic.

jigtweet wrote
on May 6, 2012 4:15 PM

Many of the gifts I make are for ladies with limited dexterity. Thanks so much for these ideas, and you're right - there is little info about bead weaving with elastic.

scotticohn wrote
on Jul 19, 2012 11:31 AM

I just heard from my first stretch-bracelet client who experienced a break, and I feel terrible about it. I agree with the person who said this sort of thing could tarnish my overall reputation. However, no one seems to have mentioned the other advantage of stretch bracelets -- there's no need to make an exact size. Wrist sizes vary greatly. I'm getting ready to make 50 bracelets for a client to include in a package of items, and we can't possibly make them in specific sizes. Now I'm worrying that a lot of them will break if I make them with elastic...

scotticohn wrote
on Jul 19, 2012 11:32 AM

Oops, ignore my comment that no one has mentioned the sizing issue. I see that it has been mentioned.