Why Math Matters in Jewelry Design

Mar 19, 2010
Leslie Rogalski Spacer 5x5 pixels

Beaded Jewelry Design tips you can count on
I always knew I was going to art school. I did not need math to be an artist. Guess what? Mom and Dad were right. Artists need math. Not algebra, thank the gods, just a grasp of numbers and relationships. At the very least we count our beads, but knowing which numbers go well together will make us better designers, almost the same as knowing which colors go together. This is a formula to use to our advantage! Here’s how:

Easy as 1, 2, 3
Pick a number–let’s say 3. When you string patterns, make each section or accent group from factors of your number. Factors are numbers you multiply to get other numbers. So 3 is a factor of—6, 9, 12, 15, and so on. Sounds dreary but it’s kind of cool. And though by no means is this method something you must do, you won’t believe how much it ties your design together visually and gives you a framework to use to make choices.

Let’s do the math
The 2009 edition of Creative Jewelry really sums up my theory in many of its projects. Check out some of these examples to see what I mean:

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Flight by Rebecca Campbell uses sets of 5. There are 5 main silver squiggles and groups of 5 accent beads between the other silver squiggles. She finished her strands with groups of 5 beads, too.

Spacer 5x5 pixels  beaded-jewelry-design Spacer 10x10 pixels Mixed Metal Magic is all about 3. There are 3 of each accent bead, 3 sets of 3 leaves on each strand and even 3 variations in the patterns of the beads used in the 3 segments between the accent leaves. What I found most intriguing is how designer Stephanie Glickman used a square focal pendant, a definite 4 amidst all the trios.
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beaded-jewelry-designs Spacer 10x10 pixels My own Ancient Treasure necklace is about 3. Even though I strung segments with 4 black beads flanking a red bead between each of the 3 saucer-bead accent sections, those beaded segments are a trio: black beads–red bead–black beads. I made the tip of the JoAnn Zekowski pendant bead with 3 beads. And, each strand has 6 sets of those saucers. (Remember, 3 is a factor of 6!) Spacer 10x10 pixels beaded-jewelry-design Spacer 10x10 pixels The Happy Fun Bright bracelet by SaraBeth Cullinan has more complexity. Here’s why I think the piece works: Basically it uses the number 3. Look carefully to see how there are 3 green accent beads on each side strand of the 5 strands. The outer strands also use 3 pink crystals in sets. There are 3 mostly green strands in the center of the design.
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Sum it all up with Creative Jewelry
It doesn’t matter if your use of math is intuitive or intentional, attention to the numbers adds balance, harmony, and a plan to get you started. It  may help you break free of beader's block simply by giving you a jumping-off point. Just start grouping your beads on your bead mat, and you'll be surprised how your right brain starts sizzling away with ideas.  Even for someone like me who breaks out in a rash at the mention of the word, math makes design choices easier.

And talk about numbers––there’s over 135 doable ideas just a click away in the downloadable version of Creative Jewelry 2009. Add this exciting collection to your project library by clicking here, and you can count on inspiration for a long time to come.
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Is 5 your lucky number? 
Here’s a free project that uses 5 elements in the focal combination and 5 accents in the strands. This gorgeous Babylonian Dreaming necklace from designer Joan Tucker and porcelain artist Lana Weed has elements based on authentic historic artifacts.

Do you factor in numbers when you create your jewelry? What’s your favorite magic number? Tell us here on Beading Daily.

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OnyeN17 wrote
on Mar 19, 2010 8:14 AM

Math? Oh Yes.  It's literally the driving force behind any geometric/symmetric design.  I have no favorite number, per se.  I sometimes consult resources from the bead-math gurus when I bead (such as Diane Fitzgerald, Jean Power, Laura Shea, Judy Walker & Valerie Hector).  I can safely say that if I didn't like math, I wouldn't bead.  RAW & Triangle Weave are my favorite stitches.


mysticwynd wrote
on Mar 19, 2010 9:24 AM

I love using obscure mathematics in my designs - but I almost always work with a combination of prime numbers (1,2,3,5,7).  I read somewhere that prime numbers create a harmony in the brain when viewed, and I've always tried to appeal to that!


Crista Galli wrote
on Mar 19, 2010 9:51 AM

Did you notice that the square pendant in Mixed Metal Magic is split into 9 sections? No wonder it works despite having 4 sides.

Crista Galli wrote
on Mar 19, 2010 9:52 AM

Another number set you could try is Fibonacci (each number is the sum of the previous three): 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. This makes a nice arrangement of stripes in knitting, and I expect it would be nice in beads, too.

Onentxx wrote
on Mar 19, 2010 11:13 AM

the rather boring operations we learn by rote in school are Arithmetic NOT mathematics. Pattern, symmetries and other abstract concepts ARE very much design related . Putting objects in sets IS very mathematical and very beadish ! I love counting and seeing patterns emerge within patterns - we don't always know the math name, as most people never get the chance to study higher mathematics;

but we all recognise the beauty.

      The readers who commento prime number theory and Fib series are on the math track - keep going ,the beauty is there to discover!

on Mar 19, 2010 1:34 PM

Thanks for the article.  What I find interesting is that, as much as most of us are prone to symmetry, odd numbers seem to work much better than even numbers in designs.

Patriciakoko wrote
on Mar 19, 2010 2:41 PM

The Creative Jewelry issue looks interesting----BUT---I prefer paper copies and to not have to download and print things from my computer....it is available by mail or at my bead store?  Oh and math is necessary when shopping on line to determine about how many beads at 6mm come in a 16" chain...RIGHT?

on Mar 19, 2010 10:58 PM

I tend to use 5 and 7 quite a bit, especially with netted designs.  Odd numbers always look better to me, I guess because the eye interprets the pattern as a "focal center" with equal numbers on each side.

I'm really glad that Interweave is FINALLY coming out with online versions of magazines and patterns!  I'm really short on space, and what space I have is reserved for beads, so keeping all the back issues of my bead magazines just isn't possible.  I hate cutting them up so I can keep certain patterns, but  I hate even more having to pay $4.00 for a project in a magazine that I subscribed to, one that I know I had but either can't find or don't have anymore.  Personally, I'd love it if I could just get the whole magazine online as each issue comes out, rather than getting paper issues.  The cost should be less because there's no printing expense, plus it would save trees, and save me space!   It's also much easier for me to organize things online, so I'd finally be able to find the back issues I wanted.  And if I wanted to print out patterns, no problem!  As much as I like those shiny, colorful paper pages, online magazines would be more practical and economical for me.

MaryH@172 wrote
on Mar 20, 2010 11:55 AM

I'll take it a litle step farther.  You should pick an ODD number.  (I'm with you Elen) I found long ago that when I did 5 braids in my ponytail, somehow everyone's guess at how many were there was a lot bigger.  Odds have a symetrical center.  Even numbers always seem awkward to me and incomplete.  I do like the idea of the Fibonacci pattern.  I'll have to try it in a crochetted piece.

IrinaS wrote
on Mar 21, 2010 4:43 AM

indeed, I like odd numbers too: I work a lot with netting, so 7, 9 and 11 are my cornerstones ;-)

but I was going to mention another way I use maths: geometry!

be it a symmetric, or an asymmetric design I'm working on, I always keep in mind geometry rules: squared conscribing circles, triangles within diamond and squares, diamonds in overlapping hexagons...

I meant to be a scientist and a poet, I only got to art later, when my creativity got too great for my science ;-)

good article,

thanks for sharing

Faewren wrote
on Mar 23, 2010 10:04 PM

Most of the math I use is in figuring out the length of things and how many best go from point A to point B.  It varies. And if I'm putting different sizes together I have to remember that if I'm using 4 of a larger size, I have to make sure I'm not doing 8 of a smaller size just for numbers. It's better if the beads fit right instead of doing them for the similar numbers.

candyT2 wrote
on Mar 26, 2010 11:11 AM

When I first began beading 15 years ago, all my pieces were even and matched, a focal piece in the middle, one side a mirror image of the other.   Since then I have shifted to 'wearable art' and begun introducing organic 'found objects' into my creations. I lean more  toward a 'Zen' odd-number asymmetrical style which draws more from the material itself instead of formulaic design.

Works better  for me.  ;~D

Kitty@50 wrote
on Mar 31, 2010 12:24 AM

Math! OH NO!!! I'm fine with the basics; whizzed thru various Econ classes; love developing various solutions using Excel; understand the geometry of a design (bead, floral & otherwise) & how geometric figures are part of design but have no head for the science & application of higher Math (hate it). My first job (HS) was in a flower shop & that's where I learned the art of balance & design. Found it intriguing to see balance achieved by using odd numbers - and have to say I think & see things in terms of balance & the result I want to achieve, then the sequence (or 'counting') to get me there. Rarely have a completely symmetrical design.

barbed.wire wrote
on Apr 13, 2010 8:04 PM

One of my favorite reference books is Merriam Webster's "Guide To Everyday Math".  On page 87 it talks about The Golden Rule (the rule of three), and page 100 tells you how to make a "golden rectangle" from a square.  This all goes way back to Davinci, ratio and porportion. Love this book because it explains things in everyday terms, with practical applications.