Basic paper beads are an easy way to make a unique embellishment for jewelry, altered items, album covers, and more! There are very few tools you’ll need and about 1/3 of a piece of patterned paper (scrap paper alert!) will make enough beads for a nice length necklace. Just a few inches of scraps of paper? Anything from a bracelet to unique embellishments for a journal cover, a layout, and more.
Patterned paper (see notes below)
11-12″ pieces of heavy gague wire (see notes below)
Future Floor Finish
Drying rack (see notes below)
Quick hold adhesive
Optional – paper piercer
Patterned paper – thinner paper is easier to work with, however cardstock-weight paper will also make beautiful beads. For your first attempt, start with a thin paper until you get the hang of this. Once the beads are rolled, it will look totally different than the original paper so you can really alter the way a paper looks. For instance, a script larger than 1/4″ will not even be recognizeable as script. Themed papers with flowers or bunnies or skateboard – yup, gone. So look for good color distribution and ignore pattern – this opens up a lot of ground with papers whose color schemes we might love but not the design! If you’ve got an inch swath of one color, remember your bead will end up solid colored so you’re actually looking for fairly busy patterns.
Wire – I keep a set of 6 around always since I do this much more often than I actually post them. I have a lovely little glass vase full of the beads I’ve made out of scraps…just in case! I use wire “sticks” from Amaco that I found in a tube near the metal mesh and sheets etc. They are meant for clay, paper machier etc. sculpting to be used for armatures and such. However any good, sturdy heavy gague (remember the lower the number the thicker the gague) wire will work. It must be able to be stretched very straight, however, which is why I went with the nice pre-made straight pieces. With a good set of shears you can trim off the straight side of a wire hanger. Whatever wire you use, you’ll want to take a pair of pliers and bend a 90 degree angle (about 1/4 to 1/2″) on one end only as shown below.
Drying rack – I use an actual bead-baking rack from Amaco but it’s pricey so there are tons of alternatives. Basically you just need some way to prop your wire holders at a slight angle over something non-pourous (wax paper is good) to dry with the occasional drip. Two little chunks of scrap styrofoam would work.
These instructions are for a full length necklace worth of beads. You can drop down to a 1″x4″ piece of paper for just one bead. Also, these measurements can be changed tons of ways to end up with variations on the bead shape, but again, we’re going for a nice, simple basic for this tutorial.
Cut a strip of paper 4″x12″. On the backside, mark one long side in 1″ increments. On the opposite long side, start at 1/2″ and mark 1″ increments from there (so they are exactly halfway between the opposite marks). Starting in a corner of the side marked in 1″ increments, cut across to the next opposite mark. Discard this first piece. From the point you just ended at, cut across to the next mark – you’ll end up with a perfect equilateral (is that the word I’m looking for? Eek – geometry was a long time ago…) triangle. Keep cutting in this fashion across the rest of the sheet. You’ll end up with a nice little pile of triangles as shown below.
Rolling the Beads:
Starting from the bottom straight edge of the triangle, you’ll be rolling these into beads. One option is to get them started by wrapping them around a paper piercer. Personally, this ends up taking me longer for some reason. I’ve found the easiest way for ME is to start by using my fingernails to make small creases as I go. Having that inside roll perfect is totally unecessary as it will shape up nicely as you get further along. The more you play with this technique, the easier it will get for you. Again, this is really easier to learn on a thinner paper as it takes a lot more coaxing to get a thicker weight paper to curl up nicely. Once you get a good start, continue rolling it between the fingers of one hand, using the other to nudge it now and then if your point gets off-centered.
When you get to within 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the tip, add a dab of a quick drying glue. You are going to be sitting there until this dries well enough to let go of so the shorter the drying time the better. I love super glue except for the fact that it WILL ooze out onto your finger. And you will probably lose a layer of skin because of it. This is pretty much unavoidable no matter what kind of glue you use. The glue must hit the very end of the tip of the triangle so that it lies flat – otherwise once you dip it, there’s a good chance it will pop back up and your bead will unravel. You can always tell when I’ve been making beads because I have a layer of glue on my index finger and thumb that I’ll be picking off for a day or so.
Sealing the beads:
I like to string my wire pieces with about 8 or so beads and dip them all at once directly into the bottle of floor finish. If you hold up the wire next to the bottle while you are putting the beads onto it you can see how many you can fit – go right up to the bottom of the neck of the bottle, even if the bottle isn’t that full anymore. Hold onto the tip of the wire (the bent part should be at the bottom, holding the beads on) and dip it into the bottle. Gently squeeze the bottle with your other hand if you need to raise the liquid level to cover your beads. Give it just a few seconds – you’ll see bubbles raising from within the beads – you want this as it means it’s coating the inside of the beads as well. As you pull out the beads, brush them against the inside of the neck of the bottle, removing most of the drips (a quick little shake once you’ve cleared the liquid is also good). Next drape it over your drying “rack” and using your fingernails or a piercing tool, separate so that the beads aren’t actually touching each other while drying. They need to have a slight angle so that any drips will drop back to the corner and onto your wire instead of pooling at the bottom of a bead.
You’ll want to repeat the dipping process a minimum of 3 times – I tend to do more like 6-8 – and then allow to dry overnight. Each time you re-dip, give each bead a quick nudge and twist to release it from the wire – it will tend to stick and this is ok, just get it unstuck before dipping again. It really takes about a minute to dip about 6 wires, so if you leave this somewhere handy, just stop by every half hour or so, do your dipping then go back about your day! How much time lapses between dips is completely irrelevant – you can do it after 20 minutes or you can do a dip a day! The more times a bead is dipped, the smoother the end result will be. So if you WANT that little ridged texture, stick with 3 times. Smooth, go with 6 or more.
What to do with your finished beads:
Anything you can do with a regular bead! Make jewelry. Dress up a card, layout, or album. Attach to a zipper or light as a pull. Make tons and hang them in a doorway (those beaded curtains popular in the 70’s? They were inspired by the Victorian women who made these out of beads they had created by rolling wallpaper!). Decorate the bottom of a lampshade. Keychains. Cell phone dangles. The sky is the limit!
Here’s an example of a really simple bracelet strung onto stretchy cord and interspersed with some inexpensive glass beads. I’ve put the original paper behind it so you can see just how different the pattern comes out when you create these beads.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial and if you have any questions, feel free to email me! I would love to see the results if any of you try this!!
For an alternate finishing option, see this post.