From One New Beader to Another

Nov 1, 2012

Although I've made strung jewelry for years, I'm pretty green when it comes to beadweaving. I've quickly fallen in love with the craft, but also hit some frustrating walls I've had to climb along the way.

I have the luxury of endless learning resources around me, but, like many new beaders, I've faced some trials and errors. During my bumps in the road, I compiled this short list of must-have and must-do advice for the beginning beader. If you're a seasoned beader, you can pass these on to friends who are just starting-or, give them to newbies as gifts!

1. Invest in a beading mat. When I first started, I tried using a tray I had from stringing necklaces. I became increasingly annoyed as tiny seed beads rolled down the crevices as I tried to string them. My editor gave me a beading mat, and it changed my life. I can't express enough how much a difference it makes. The mat holds my beads in place as I thread them onto my needle. I will never bead without one again.

2. Don't run before you walk. A mistake I've made is trying long, intricate projects before I'd completed simple ones. The minute I'd learn a new stitch, I'd practice 3 or 4 rows of it, then want to complete a whole necklace or bracelet. Being the perfectionist that I am, I wanted to instantly create projects that beaders with years of experience were creating. Although I was able to work through such projects, I found many mistakes and spent a lot of hours correcting errors. My husband reminded me that it took other beaders years to reach that level of excellence, and I can't expect that perfect quality from myself just days into learning. While it's great to aspire toward beautiful beadwork, give yourself time and lots of practice before moving on to advanced pieces.

3. Find a mentor. I'm fortunate to have my own personal beading guru, Beadwork Editor Melinda Barta, hanging around and helping me out. Not only have I watched all her instructional DVDs, but I'm always showing her my work and asking how I can improve. Face time with her has made a significant difference to my learning curve. And I email her questions often. Recently I sent an email that said "The end of my square stitches look like herringbone. Any advice?" She quickly responded and I was able to correct my mistake right away and move on. If you don't know anyone who fits the beading-mentor bill, take a class or join a beading group. Or, invest in Melinda Barta's DVDs. They're great tools and I wouldn't have learned so quickly without them.

4. Beader's Companion. I can't live without it. This isn't a sales pitch-The Beader's Companion by Judith Durant and Jean Campbell is just what it claims: a companion. I use it nearly every day in my job and while creating projects. When I want to buy a particular shape of bead, I flip to page 13 to see what name to search for. When I'm trying to decide what stitch to use in a design, I refer to the "off-loom stitches" section. This book is one of the most valuable tools I possess. 

5. Thread conditioner. Another life-changing item. I've read online forum conversations where some participants said they don't think thread conditioner makes a difference. I'm not disputing that it's a personal preference, but I think it's beyond useful. I started beadweaving with nylon thread, which often became knotted, split, and frayed. It was especially hard to use with long pieces of working thread, and I couldn't keep it from getting messy. I started using Thread Heaven, and I wouldn't be without it now. I've since switched to FireLine thread, which I think is more workable than nylon threads, and I still use my conditioner with it sometimes. Many experienced beaders prefer beeswax, which is an equally viable option. Either way, I recommend using something to tame those wild threads.


These are just a few things I strongly recommend for beginners. I'll be sure to share my quips and new knowledge along the way as I learn.

Are there any items, tricks, or advice that has made your projects easier? We want to hear from you! Use the comment section below to share your best beading wisdom.

Happy Beading!

Kate Wilson
Project Editor


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sbrady46 wrote
on Nov 3, 2012 6:26 AM

I'e been bead weaing for a while. The one mistake that I see made and I did it myself, is using the 11 or 15 to learn with. I now teach weaing and the first thing I say to newies is Start with 8 or even 6 till you learn the stitch. It is easy to get lost with the smaller beads! Weaving is my passion. and the end product is amazing!

brassi15 wrote
on Nov 3, 2012 5:13 PM

@sbrady46 you just saved my beading life.  I'm a newbie without a mentor and learning on my own.  I have been so frustrated with learning the peyote stitch that I put it down Sunday night and not picked it up since.  After reading your comment I realized that I was trying to learn with the wrong sized bead.  I'm inspired to give it another try.  Thank you........Susan

Judith53 wrote
on Nov 5, 2012 12:33 PM

Two things finally broke the proverbial mental block for me. Since there is no mentor here for me, I found lots of great visual instruction on You Tube. Sometimes written instructions assume too much previous experience, especially when the beads won't (and they never do) just cooperate and lay down in the correct positions those pesky first few rows. Once I saw what is supposed to happen, I found ways to make it work. For example, to get beads to lay correctly for peyote, I thread a long beading needle through every other bead on my working thread being sure that the "working end" bead (where the first turn and first new bead will go) is in the Down position. Then I stick both ends of the long needle in my beading mat, which firmly anchors the beads so they stay in position while I put in a few rows. After that I can take the long anchor needle out and everything is stable. The only caution is to be very careful to not let the thread twist around the long anchor needle while you are threading it through that first row of beads.

The other tremendous help is the book "Mastering Beadwork" by Carol Huber Cypher. This book covers the basics in progressive lessons utilizing 15 different off loom techniques. I consider it the ultimate inclusive textbook, well written, very descriptive, lots of illustrations and pictures, and very user friendly. And one ends up with a jewelry case loaded with very wearable art as one works through the lessons. If you can only have one book, this is the book that covers it all and then some. While I do not know Ms. Cypher personally, her book lets me feel like she is looking over my work and helping every step of the way.

Fathershand wrote
on Feb 21, 2013 12:02 PM

Hello Kate!  

Thank you for your wonderful ideas and thoughts!  In regards to your bead mat that is shown in the picture.  Can you suggest where I might find one or did you make it yourself?   I usually lay one of the velour beading mats in something about the same size or a a bit larger like a lid from one of those tin cookie cans or whatever I have thats not already being used for another project.   I really like the one you have pictured though.


Deb Brown