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Stringing materials, such as cords, wires, threads and chains, are essential for the creation of jewellery pieces. Look at it this way: in papercrafting, paper is the base of your project – keeping all your elements together. But jewellery making, that base is a stringing material – holding all your components in one place.
That being said, it's key that you select a material that can withhold the weight of the beads and other components you want to use, as well as fitting the diameter of the hole running through them. The last thing you want is to purchase all of your supplies and then realise afterwards that they're incompatible with one another, or that your stringing material will snap under the strain.
However, they aren't just a structural necessity – when choosing a stringing material for your project, it's important to really think about how you want your finished jewellery piece to look. Consider whether you'd like a tight bracelet or one that drapes a little, whether you'd like an elegant look with a silvery finish or a more casual, laid back vibe. The stringing material you choose will set the mood for your entire piece.
So this leads us to the big question: which cords, threads, wires and other stringing materials are best suited to specific jewellery making applications?
Elastic cord is super soft and incredibly flexible, with fantastic elasticity. Available in a range of thicknesses, this material knots extremely well so is well suited to making simple stretchy bracelets – especially when using beads with a small hole diameter! Perfect for beginners, elastic is often glued once knotted to provide even more strength, however shouldn't be used for bracelets that require a clasp or heavy necklaces – this material is known to relax and pull over time, thus losing strength and tension.
Faux leather cord, or 'imitation leather cord', is an eco-friendly alternative to genuine leather, with a similar appearance. This vegan substitute has a more consistent thickness and overall quality when compared to real leather, as well as being much stronger and more durable. Ideal for creating cord bracelets and necklaces, faux leather cord knots well but can fray over time when continually worn.
Illusion cord is ideal for stringing projects when you want the stringing material to be hidden, or if you want to produce a floating bead-like illusion. Made of nylon, this clear cord is extremely strong so works well with glue, crimp beads and other jewellery findings, however isn't well suited to beadweaving due to its low flexibility.
KO beading thread is a nylon thread used as an alternative to Nymo beading thread, retaining similar qualities but with added versatility. This strong Japanese thread is pre-waxed, tangle-resistant and is great for knotting, so is ideal for even the most complex stitched beadweaving designs, suitable for use with size 10 and 12 beading needles. It should be noted, however, that this material is too fine for stringing as it builds up its strength in weaving.
Leather cord has always been popular in jewellery making due to its stylish, modern appearance. Ideal for bracelets and necklaces, this natural material is available in a range of thicknesses and colours, working particularly well with knotting techniques and bead stringing. The main benefit of working with leather is that it doesn't fray, allowing you to apply end caps, clasps and beads, however it can naturally degrade through continuous wear.
Nylon thread is a durable stringing material that's known for its strength, lack of stretch and resistance to fraying, making it suitable for stringing and weaving projects. This smooth material can be used in macramé, kumihimo and shamballa-style jewellery projects, and is available in a great deal of colours to match the colour theme of your jewellery piece. Nylon's biggest downfall is that it can hang gracelessly if overloaded with heavy beads, so should only be used in lighter projects.
Nymo beading thread is a strong waxed material, fantastic for knotting and beadweaving projects with smaller beads due to how fine it is. Ideal for even the most intricate beadwork, this tough thread is commonly used for peyote stitching and weaving on or off the loom, and is available in many sizes and colours to cater for a whole host of projects.
Satin cord is a smooth and shiny material that knots particularly well, making it ideal for knotting techniques, macramé projects and kumihimo braiding. Available in a huge range of colours, this visually appealing cord is not only great to look at, but is very soft to touch. Although strong, the fibres of this material can easily fray – so it should be handled with care.
Silk thread is extremely thin and supple, usually featured in more refined projects using elegant beads, gemstones and precious pearls. This material is easy to knot and great for stringing beads to provide a neat, professional look with a beautiful hold. As it's available in a whole host of vibrant colours, multiple hues of this thread are often knotted together to create a distinctive look with a natural shine. Although great for lighter projects, silk doesn't provide the greatest tension so shouldn't be used with bulky elements.
Suede cord is a suitable alternative to leather, with a distinct texture and flatter appearance. Available in natural hues as well as a range of brighter colours, suede cord's rough characteristics make it especially ideal for casual jewellery pieces. This material is well suited to knotting projects and works well with clasps and end caps, however is known to degrade over time through constant wear and tear.
Waxed cotton cord is a popular alternative to traditional stringing and knotting materials. This incredibly hardwearing cord is simultaneously durable and flexible, providing the much-needed strength to withstand wear and tear whilst working well with most beads, findings and jewellery techniques. Ideal for all sorts of jewellery projects, waxed cotton cord is available in a great range of colours and can vary in diameter from 1mm upwards, although this means that it's not compatible with really tiny beads.
WildFire beading thread's greatest benefit is its thermally bonded coating, providing a waterproof, abrasion-resistant and unpierceable base on which to work. With practically no stretch, this durable material is well suited for stringing projects that require strength, including multi-strand seed bead necklaces and complex bracelet designs, and knots incredibly well. However, WildFire is only available in neutral tones and isn't deemed as pretty as other stringing materials on the market.
Coated copper wire, or 'craft wire', is a flexible material commonly used in jewellery making, as well as many other types of craft project. Ideal for forming structures, this bendy wire is easily manipulated so can easily be shaped, twisted, looped and wrapped, ultimately remaining in the shape you mould it into. Due to this essential quality, this wire makes it incredibly easy to create your own rings, bracelets and wire beads, so is available in a great deal of thickness to suit different projects. The key thing to remember here is this: the higher the gauge, the thinner the wire. Although great for structure, coated copper wire can snap if continually bent in the same place, and isn't suited for bead stringing.
Flexible beading wire is often favoured in jewellery making due to its uncanny behavioural similarities to thread, whilst retaining the strength of wire. As the name suggests, this wire is incredibly flexible and versatile, providing a great foundation for stringing projects. It's made from exceptionally thin wire strands that are each twisted together and covered with a nylon coating – the more strands used, the more flexibility and strength it has. As well as being available in many vibrant colours, this material can also be purchased in a range of diameters (starting at 0.010"), so is well suited for pretty much all aspects of jewellery making. Tigertail is one of the most popular types of flexible beading wire, however it struggles to knot. Because of this, alternative tying methods have to be used, such as using crimp beads and attaching clasps.
Memory wire is a thick, strong material that's sold in specific-sized coiled loops to cater for individual projects, including necklace, bracelet and ring-sized rounds. This stainless steel wire holds its shape beautifully, providing incredible 'memory' and making it difficult to bend out of shape. This sturdy material is ideal for bead stringing, and can be cut or looped with specialist memory wire tools. As it's the hardest of all jewellery wires, memory wire can sometimes be a little difficult to work with as it can't be manipulated using as many techniques as other types of wire, however it does ensure durability.
Chain consists of a series of plated metal links that are consistently chained together in a long row, and can be used in a range of ways. As it's available in a variety of weights, from 2mm sized links and upwards, chain is well suited to dainty projects as well as those much grander. Not only can you create charm bracelets, handbag charms and classically styled necklaces by incorporating beads into the mix, but you can also group multiple sizes, styles and colours together to produce a big statement piece. Although made of a strong material, plated chains can wear over time – especially when exposed to moisture – so a sterling silver alternative may be preferable.
Ribbon is arguably one of the prettiest stringing materials, available in an outstanding range of colours, materials, sizes, styles, textures and patterns – each providing a different look in jewellery projects. To give a few examples of ribbon types, grosgrain has a rough texture and is one of the toughest materials, providing strength in heavy jewellery projects, while organza is considerably more lightweight with a sheer appearance. The great thing about ribbon is its versatility – not only can you use it like cord by threading elements onto it, but you can also cut it up and weave it, create a knotted ribbon clasp, ruffle it to add texture, make your own statement pendant, cover beads with it, and so much more. There truly is no end to what you can do – it all depends on the look you want to go for.