Learn To Bead

At Land of Odds / Be Dazzled Beads – Beads, Jewelry Findings, and More


Posted by learntobead on April 17, 2020


Beading Calisthenics

Beading requires a lot of mind-body coordination. That takes work. It is work.

Calisthenics are exercises you can do to improve and tone your mind-body coordination when bead weaving.

You have to be able to get from your fingers to the needle to the beads, back along the thread to the needle to the fingers, hands, arms, eyes, mind. And then again. And again. Over and over, one more time. You need to get into a rhythm. All these working parts need to be working. No time for cramping. No time to get tired. No time to lose concentration.

A rhythm. Needle, pick up bead, pull down along thread, check the tension, pick up a bead, pull down along thread, check the tension, pick up a bead….

I noticed that different instructors had various techniques and strategies for maintaining this rhythm. Yes, music was involved sometimes. Othertimes simple meditation or creative reading and discourse. Some people had some stretching exercises that they did. Others tested themselves before proceeding with their big project. Still others did small things to reconfirm their learning.

Throughout this Series, I introduce some of the beading calisthenics that I experienced along the way. If you want to gather materials up so that you can follow along with these calisthenics, here’s the list.


notebook, pencil
 1 tube each of Japanese 11/0 seed beads in gray, 3 different colors of orange, black, white, any other 4 colors
 1 tube each of Japanese 8/0 seed beads in gray or silver, black, white, orange, any other 4 colors
 1 tube each of Japanese 6/0 seed beads in gray or silver, black, white, orange, any other 4 colors
 5 gray-scale colors of delicas or 11/0 seed beads
 Nymo D or C-Lon D thread in black
 Nymo D or C-Lon D thread in yellow
 two toggle clasps
 .018” or .019” flexible cable wire
 assorted 4mm, 6mm and 8mm beads in various coordinating colors, including grays and oranges in your mix, as well
 big bowl and a bowl-full of assorted beads
 Size 10 English beading needles
 Bees wax
 beading dishes or trays
 any kind of graph paper
 work surface or pad
 colored pencils
 a few clasps, (toggles are easy to work with)
 some crimp beads
 crimping pliers

5-Finger Stretchies

This exercise is used to prevent your fingers from cramping. Often, when beading, you are holding your hand and fingers in a very tight, controlled, sometimes unnatural or uncomfortable position. You should stop periodically, and do 5-Finger Stretchies. This is a wonderful exercise which relaxes the muscles in your hands.

Take one hand and hold it arm out, palm forward. Your arm is parallel to the floor. Your palm, fingers up, is perpendicular to the floor. Tighten every muscle in every finger, and pull each finger inward and downwards towards the point they meet the palm, but don’t touch the palm. Picture making a claw with your pulled back fingers.

Squeeze the tension, release. Squeeze, release. Squeeze, release. Do this rapidly, perhaps 4 squeeze/releases a second. Do this for 10 seconds.

Now do this with the other hand. 10 seconds.

Do this a couple times with each hand.

Then return to your beading.

Zen Needle Threading

Take a length of Nymo size D thread and a size #10 English beading needle. Thread the needle the way you are accustomed to doing this. Take the thread end, and thread it again. You may have to trim the tip of the thread.

Now try to thread your needle, this time keeping your eyes closed.

Visualize in your mind what you had just seen with your eyes.

Feel with your hands and body what you had just felt with your hands and body.

Unsuccessful? Then try again. Thread the needle twice with eyes open. Close your eyes. Try again. Visualize. Make your body and mind one with the needle and one with the thread.

Head Turning / Turning Beads

Enough 4mm-8mm beads to make an 18” necklace
 Nymo D or C-Lon D thread
 .019” or .018” thick flexible cable wire, such as Soft Flex or Flexrite
 2 toggle clasps

Using any sized and color beads, string an 18” necklace using Nymo D or C-Lon D thread and a toggle clasp.

Using the same number, size and color beads, string an 18” necklace using .018” or .019” flexible cable wire, crimp beads and a toggle clasp.

Put on the necklace strung on the thread. Bend over as if you were picking up something off the ground. Stand straight, then twist your body to the left. Note the positioning of the clasp. Note how the necklace feels on, and feels when you move. Take the necklace off.

Put on the necklace strung on the cable wire. Again, bend down as if you were picking up something off the ground. Stand straight, then twist your body to the left. Note the positioning of the clasp. Note how the necklace feels on, and feels when you move. Take the necklace off.

Typically, when you use needle and thread in stringing, the piece conforms to the body and moves in the same direction as the body.

Typically, when you use cable wire, the piece does not conform to the body, and will move in the opposite direction the body moves in.

Two-Needle Race Up The Ladder

For each person:2 size #10 English beading needles
 Nymo D or C-Lon D thread
 Size 8/0 Japanese seed beads

Here, you need two or more people, or you can compete against yourself. This is a race.

We are going to use two needles and one length of thread to work up through the ladder stitch.

The ladder technique: Double your length of thread. Thread a needle on the end of each side. Pick up the same number of beads on the two needles. Pass the needles in opposite directions through the top beads on each needle. Pull the tension tight. For your first loop (or rung), you’ll need one extra bead on each needle, than for subsequent loops (rungs).

You might start with 4 beads on each needle for the first rung, then 3 beads on each needle for each additional run.
 Pick up 4 on each needle, crossover. Pull the tension tight.
 Pick up 3 on each needle, crossover. Pull the tension tight.
 Keep repeating with 3 beads on each needle.

The ladder looks like this:

Run the race to see who can be the first to make a ladder that is 12 inches long.


The goal here is to learn a little about managing thread tension.

Pick a favorite bead weaving stitch, such as Peyote, Brick or Ndbele (Herringbone). Plan out how to make a flat length of the weave, about ½” wide and 6” long. You can also do 6 separate pieces about ½” wide and 1” long.

For the first inch, keep a tight tension. For the 2nd inch, make the tension tighter. For the 3rd inch, make it even tighter. For the tightest tension, you might even want to reinforce your stitching, by going through each bead again and again with your thread.

For the fourth inch, try to get a tension a little looser than you typically use. Then the next inch, get even looser. For your final inch, make this the loosest of all.

Now pick a stitch like the Chevron Stitch or the Right Angle Weave Stitch. Work it for a length of 3–4”. These stitches start out very loose.

What different kinds of strategies can you employ to tighten the tension? — Reinforcement? Reinforcement after each small segment of stitches? Or Reinforcement after you’ve completed the whole piece? Changing the type of stringing material you are using? Stitching over a solid form, such as a dowel, pencil or straw or vase or ball? Adding additional beads at key joints? There are these and lots of possibilities. Try them out.

 Aren’t You Glad You Used Orange

Orange is a difficult color for most people to work with. So this challenge is a simple bead stringing one.

Create an appealing, satisfying necklace, using at least 30 or more 4–6mm beads in orange, and 30 or more 4–6mm beads in each of two other colors.

Stand back from your piece and examine it. If you added or subtracted any one color, could you make the necklace more satisfying?

What makes the particular combination that you ended up with the best combination?

BEADING CALISTHENICS #7: Composition in Gray and Gray

5 gray-scale colors of delicas or 11/0 seed beads
 gray colored Nymo or C-lon thread, size D 
 yellow colored Nymo or C-lon thread, size D

You can use an existing peyote, brick stitch or loom pattern, or create your own. Try to use or create a pattern that is about 3 inches square. Assign your colors using your 5 gray-scale colors of delicas or 11/0 seed beads.
 Evaluate your resulting bead-weaving:
 To what extent have you been able to create obvious or desired boundaries between sections or forms within the piece?
 To what extent have you been able to create a sense of dimensionality, or forward/receding qualities?
 To what extent have you had control over the lines, forms, sections and other design elements, using only gray?
 To what extent have you been able to achieve an energy/vitality within the piece, as if it had been multi-colored?
 Additional Exercises:
 1. Repeat the pattern, using your 5-gray-scale bead colors, and use a bright yellow Nymo or C-Lon Size D thread
 2. Repeat the pattern, and substitute a rich colored blue or red bead for one of the grays, plus the other original 4 colors of gray, and the gray Nymo or C-Lon thread

BEADING CALISTHENICS #8: Speaking With Beads
 During Apartheid in South Africa, there were those Zulu tribes that adopted Christianity and identified with the colonialists, and there were those tribes that did not. The tribes that did not created a very elaborate communication system using beads. 
 Besides what colors were next to each other, they used a lot of triangles in their patterns. It was important if the triangle faced up or down, and again what the colors were. With their beadwork, they could “say” something very general, like “I’m mad at the world,” or something very specific, like “I’d like to get together with you tomorrow night at eight, but not before I’ve met with your brother.”
 The challenge here is to create your own symbolic communication system using beads and their patterning within a piece of jewelry.
 First write a sentence or paragraph about something that you will want to reduce to symbols, and illustrate by constructing a necklace.
 Second develop a cipher: This would be a list of each symbol and its meaning or referent. For example, “red” might stand for “women” and “blue” might stand for “men”. A diagonal line leaning left might be “safety”, and one leaning right might be “danger.” Someone using your cipher should be able to make sense of your beadwork and what statement you are trying to make with it.
 Third, using graph paper and colored pencils, sketch out what your piece would look like, in order to express the statement you want to make. Have a friend use your cipher and see if they can “read” your piece of jewelry, as drawn on the graph paper.

Bead Massage

 Fill a large bowl with beads of any sort and size. Put your hands into the beads, and squeeze, let go, let the beads run over your hands, feel them in your hands, squeeze them in your hands. 
 Start to squeeze them in your hands and through your fingers starting with your pinkies, and working across your hand slowly until you get to your thumbs and forefingers, and squeeze them through these. Start again at your pinkies.
 Put your palm flat onto the top surface of the bowl of beads. Push down. Then make a fist, and let the beads run through your fingers. 
 Repeat. Repeat again.

BEADING CALISTHENICS #10: Daisy Stitch Expansion

The challenge here is to see how many variations you can construct using the simple daisy chain stitch.

Simplest daisy chain: A stem and a flower with a center bead, then a stem and flower w/center, and so forth.

Start with a line of 5 beads.

Add 5 more beads to your thread. Make the 5th bead a different color. This is your “flower set”. The 5th bead is your center point.

Make a loop by going back through the first of these 5 beads in the set.

Add two more beads to the flower set, and bring the needle through 4th bead in that original set of 5.

So the daisy pattern goes: BEAD 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 (flower center point bead marked by X) back to 1 to 6 to 7 back to 4 and out.

Pull tight.

Add another line of 5 beads. Continue.

Try the daisy chain above without the stem, so that each flower set is interconnected by one bead — # 4 (which becomes #1 in the next flower). Make your 5th bead a different color.

Next, look at the modified daisy chain pattern below. Try another interconnected daisy pattern, where we would connect each subsequent flower by two beads, instead of one. Here we would make the first daisy’s 3 and 4 become the next daisy’s 1 and 6.

This would go: 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 (flower center) to 1 to 6 to 7 to 4 up through 3 and out. Then 3 becomes 1 in the next daisy link. The pattern continues in the second link as 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 (flower center) to 1 to 6 to 7 to 4 up through 3 and out. Then 3 becomes 1 again.

Try the same pattern, this time making the 2nd, 5th and 7th bead the same color, but different than the others.

Try again, making the 1st, 5th and 4th beads the same color, but different than the others.

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

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