A good friend of mine recently asked me for help making six necklaces that she could give as gifts to some women who had recently helped her. She's a single mom, so money is always tight. I promised her I'd do some searching and see what I could find in her budget.
Obviously, the first step might be to find beads on sale. But what if you can't wait for a sale? Luckily, some types of beads are typically less expensive than others, sale or no sale. Here's what I recommended she look for:
1. Glass rounds
Glass rounds are usually less expensive than faceted rondelles or other fancy shapes. Look for beads without AB coatings or other special effects for the lowest prices. I found some 8-inch strands of recycled glass rounds for around $1.50 per strand at regular price. Two strands would easily make a short necklace; three strands could net you a bracelet, too.
Tip: A single strand monochromatic necklace can look dull. Mix up your design with two or three colors or use some metal spacers to add a little extra zing.
2. Gemstone chips
Chips are one of the least expensive forms of gemstones. Strands of turquoise, amethyst, and agate are especially easy to find. Granted, when these are priced low, they aren't top quality, AAA-rated gemstones, but even a grade B or C might be fine for a casual necklace. Chips are often dyed, so check for colorfastness.
Tip: Sometimes the bead holes are quite close to the edges of small chips, so before you begin stringing, weed out any chips that might easily break.
3. Plated Metal
While sterling silver or gold-filled may be beyond your budget, you can find plenty of inexpensive metal beads. Like anything else, the cheapest of the cheap may not end up being a good deal. Look for metal beads without rough or sharp edges and make sure the plating isn't flaking off. I also like my plated metal to have a little heft to it; metal that feels too light for its size doesn't pack the same punch.
4. Natural Beads in Wood, Shell, Bone
Since these beads come from organic materials, they will typically not be perfectly uniform in size and shape. I found 16-inch strands of wooden beads for around $4.50 at regular price—that's long enough for a necklace before you even add in a clasp or other beads.
Tip: Since these beads are typically lightweight, they're great for multistrand necklace or bead-heavy designs.
5. Seed Beads
Simple round seed beads make great spacers. You can buy a 10-gram bag (about 350 seed beads!) of size 8 round seed beads for $1.30. At that price, a multistrand seed bead necklace is quite affordable.
In addition to these bead choices, I recommended that my friend buy good-quality beading wire, crimps, and clasps. Even if most of your necklace is made with less expensive materials, you still don't want it to fall apart when it's worn.
The best part of buying at least a few budget-friendly beads is that you can do more of what you love. Maybe that means a matching bracelet and earrings or maybe it means finally buying those special lampwork beads that have been on your "wish list" forever.
What tips do you have for beading on a budget?