10 spools of K.O./Miyuki thread in multiple colors
K.O. and Miyuki threads

There is something meditative about beadwork. It requires you to hold your attention on what you’re doing, if only not to unintentionally loop a thread around a bead, which, when tightened, will distort the work. If only not to break a bead or crush a needle, by trying to force it through an opening so filled with thread that another pass cannot should not be made. Sometimes in finishing a piece, one fails to recognize the signs; attempts to force a pass, and thereby splits a bead, causing the piece to be entirely re-woven. (Protip: If you need to gamble in this way, try swapping your needle out for a finer one [one with a higher gauge number], before attempting it. It might give you one or two more chances to finish.)

Beadwork also requires a high degree of precision. Or, maybe — doesn’t require — but it is compatible. I’ve had to rely on my analytical thinking, more often than I care to recall. “Which thread path can I take which will give me enough distance to finish off my weaving and anchor my thread before the beads fill up?”

Obviously, when working with beads, you have to find the right space to put your needle into. Not so obviously, you have to regulate your thread tension to the point that your work is not too tight. Tension that is too high can cause stiffness and fragility in the work itself; bead chipping from pressure of the needle, leading to a broken-glass edge, which could lead to thread breakage; or thread breakage simply from a preexisting sharp edge. If the tension is too loose, the work may be weakened (though overall tension should still hold it together, given enough thread passes); or bare thread may show through in your finished work.

Of course, if your thread coordinates with your work, thread showing is probably not a huge deal — I’ve seen enough of it in my own work, and online. I’ve personally found a little looseness to be preferable to over-tightness; the flexibility and drape may be nicer. If you’re using transparent beads without an opaque lining, you can also get some interesting effects from the color (or value: i.e., lightness/darkness) of the thread showing through their cores!

Nymo B bobbins from the early 2000's in multiple colors
Nymo (Size B) — granted, probably from around the year 2000

To date, I have used several different types of thread which are available in fairly large color ranges, though not all sources stock all colors. These are C-Lon Beading Thread, Beadalon’s Nymo, and Miyuki/K.O. Beading Thread. There are differences between these, with C-Lon and Nymo being closer to flosses, and Miyuki/K.O. being rounder in profile — meaning that it is denser and takes up more space. All of these are nylon threads. I have read that Miyuki and K.O. thread are so close to each other as to be indistinguishable in practice; the branding may simply be different.

I know for a fact that C-Lon Beading Thread comes in more than one size (AA vs. D, with AA being the finer), and Nymo comes in more than one size (OO, O, B, D; from finest to heaviest). I see some hints online that Miyuki/K.O. may come in more than one size (B vs. D), but I haven’t been able to confirm it.

Many of the available colors of C-Lon Beading Thread are shown here in 5 columns, in a bobbin case
Some of the colors of C-Lon Beading Thread (Size AA)

That said, sometimes it is beneficial or necessary to use a fine, abrasion-resistant thread, such as FireLine — which doesn’t come in a lot of colors (at least, standard; I have run across at least one source which was seeming to dye it, though I don’t recall where). Notably, FireLine now has two product lines where it comes to beading.

The spool of one of these reads, “Thermally Fused Tough”. This is the type with eight strands, apparently originally made for ice fishing. The previous generation has four strands and is the basic “Berkley Fireline”. These are both made of polyethylene, which is good to use if you’re weaving beads with sharp edges (such as bugle beads). Even then, you may want to take precautions to protect the thread (such as padding all bugle beads with a smooth bead on either side, and using the three as a unit, so that the thread doesn’t bend against a sharp edge).

I’m seeing a parallel logic between multi-strand steel cable and the newer style of FireLine. “Tigertail” is an industry name for steel wire which is twisted into a cable and coated with plastic for protection (likely both to protect your beads and the cable itself). These days — that is, not in the 1980’s — it’s generally the less-expensive, coarser, easier-to-kink cables (e.g. seven-strand) that are called “tigertail”, while the higher-end ones (e.g. 49-strand, which have seven finer strands in the place of every one strand) usually go by brand names like Soft Flex or Accu-Flex.

The higher the number of strands within the cable, generally speaking, the more flexible and kink-resistant the cable, and the softer the drape. (I should note that as the number of strands go up, the strands become proportionally smaller.) Similarly, eight-strand FireLine is supposed to have a softer drape than four-strand — although I don’t have direct experience with this, yet (I’ve only recently been alerted to the fact that eight-strand FireLine even exists).

I have been criticized on my tendency to precision often enough to notice, in art classes. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from, but I’m coming to realize that I should not concern myself with it. In Silversmithing, one finds precision a necessity. Without precision, one has to deal with solder that does not flow and edges that do not join. Without paying attention, the work won’t turn out as expected. And without an abundance of caution, it is far too easy to have an industrial accident.

In beadwork, the stakes aren’t quite so high: one may stab oneself with a needle or awl (actually, it’s best to recognize that one will do this, instead of being constantly afraid of its occurrence. Ironically, accepting this as part and parcel of my craft, has reduced my own injuries). One may accidentally cut oneself on broken glass, as I did when picking up a lampwork glass bead which had mysteriously split in half — after having been made part of a bracelet. (I didn’t feel the cut then; I only realized it the next day. I’ll spare the image.)

When I am devoting my attention to some small detail — say I’ve made a knot in the wrong place while working a micro-macramé band (it happens), and have to undo one or more knots (requiring an awl, possibly tweezers, and possibly head-mounted magnification) — my mind can go somewhere else. I have the capacity to think about things totally unrelated, as I’m paying an extreme amount of attention to some physical detail. Some people can’t relate to zeroing in on something like this. They may not have the experience to understand that while I am doing micro-macramé surgery, I am focused and alert, but not…however they would be.

Powerful concentration can cause me to become aware of mental subroutines, but that’s not to say at all that I remember now, the content of those thoughts!

I was told in Jewelry class that I was so precise that my work appeared machined, not handmade. This is not through any special effort of mine. I come from a line of exacting, careful people, who are exacting and careful to the point of neurosis (to use a word imprecisely). Whether my own caution and awareness of precision is congenital and/or epigenetic, doesn’t quite matter, at this point. What matters is that as far as I am concerned, it is an inextricable part of who I am, and probably who I will be, in this life — and I’m glad to have found places where it is appreciated.

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated by any of the manufacturers I’ve gone over today, and I have purchased all of these threads with my own funds.

Published by Haruna

Haruna is a Librarian by training, currently pivoting from Public Services into Technical Services. Their undergraduate major was English -- Creative Writing, and they hold an additional small degree in Art (i.e. Visual Arts). They are now pondering whether a career in Academia is viable or desirable, given the current situation.

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