Lately, it seems that no matter what I do or where I go in life, my beads follow me. Even after finishing my 200-hour yoga teacher training program back in March, the beads are following me into my yoga and meditation practice -- last weekend, I taught a workshop on how to make your own mala (meditation/prayer) beads using gemstones.
Meditation has always been a tiny bit of a challenge for me. Wait, did I say tiny? Maybe more than tiny. When I was pregnant with my son, I took a childbirth class that focused on breathing and meditation techniques to deal with labor. I remember going home to practice, and getting frustrated because I found myself so relaxed as I practiced that I would fall asleep! At the time, the instructor assured me that it was a good thing, and it was for childbirth, but when I sit and do regular meditation, I need something else ot help me focus. That's why I love to use gemstone mala beads as a tool for keeping my mind engaged while sitting in meditation.
I prefer to use knotting techniques when I make my gemstone mala beads, just the way I prefer to knot my strands of freshwater pearls so that one bead flows into the next. It makes for a particularly lovely, tactile experience when I'm meditating with my gemstone mala beads, and when I'm feeling inspired, I can wear them around my neck, just like a beaded necklace.
Even if you don't meditate, you can learn how to make a strand of knotted gemstone beads for sweet, supple beaded necklaces and bracelets. Here are some basic tips and techniques to get you started!
- Assorted gemstone beads in your choice of size, shape, and stone
- S-Lon cord or silk thread (size F silk thread is a good choice for pearls or small gemstone beads)
- Clasp or other finding for finishing your strand of beads
- Scissors or thread cutter
- Beading awl
- Glue (optional)
1. Select a thread. Take into account the size of the gemstone beads that you're using, the diameter of the bead hole, and the weight of the beads. Silk thread is a great choice for smaller, lighter gemstones like 4mm amethyst, garnet, or citrine. (Thinking spring with those colors!) When I make my gemstone mala beads, or if you're using a strand or two of larger, heavier beads (around 8mm in size), I prefer to use S-Lon cord. It's the same beading cord that I use for beaded kumihimo, and it knots beautifully between gemstones, too. Added bonus: it comes in dozens of colors, so chances are, I can find something to perfectly match whatever gemstones I choose.
2. Test knotting. I like to make a few test knots with my gemstone beads and thread to make sure that the knots won't disappear into the bead holes. If you find that your gemstone beads swallow up those knots, you can either try double-knotting between beads, or use something like a flat washer or other spacer bead to make a smaller hole on either side of your beads. You don't want to get a long strand of beads strung onto your cord and then find out that your knots are too small!
3. String your beads first. To begin your knotted gemstone project, you'll want to cut a length of cord and string your beads on the cord before you begin. A general rule of thumb is that a wingspan's length of cord is good for a longer necklace made with larger beads. I use about 10 feet of cord for a 36 inch strand of knotted beads. To reiterate what my good friend Jill Wiseman teaches, cord is cheap -- it's easier to have leftover cord at the end of your project than it is to have to add a new cord 3/4 of the way through your stringing project! Once you've cut your cord, tie a knot about 8 inches from one end. String on all your beads in the order desired for your finished piece, and then tie another knot about 8 inches away from the opposite end of the cord. You can also use one of these professional finishing techniques for knotted strands of beads before you get started with the rest of the knotting. (Just make sure you slide your clasps and other jewelry findings onto your cord with the rest of the beads!)
4. Basic knotting technique. Slide the first gemstone bead all the way down to the "empty" end of your cord. Make a loop by passing the end of the cord with the single bead under the rest of the cord with the remaining beads. Pick up that gemstone bead and drop it down right into the center of the loop, but don't tighten it into a knot just yet! Holding the loop in your non-dominant hand (the hand that you don't write with), pick up your beading awl with your dominant hand and slide it into the loop from the bottom. Gently tighten that loop around the awl, and use the awl to slide that knot down so that it's snug up against your gemstone bead. Slide the next bead down, make the loop, and use the awl to slide the knot down against the bead, until you've finished knotting your strand of beads. Add your finding or closure on the other end, maybe using a little drop of glue to secure everything, and trim your threads.
What I've found through making new strands of mala beads using things like rudraksha (organic seeds) beads and gemstone beads is that the process of knotting itself has a meditative quality for me. The rhythm of sliding and knotting the gemstones induces a relaxing, peaceful state of mind in me -- very useful when I make a mistake and have to somehow undo a tiny knot in that silk cord. And I love the simplicity of using just a plain ol' beading awl for my knotting. It's light in my hand, it's easy to use, and best of all, it's inexpensive.
And then there's the gemstones themselves. My interest in the metaphysical and symbolic properties of gemstones has been renewed through my meditation practice with my mala beads, and I'm always on the lookout for new gemstone beads now. Using knotted gemstone beads as part of my meditation practice is really helping me to focus my mind and my energies on the positive!
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