Glossary of Beading Terms

Materials

Acrylic

Acrylic

A glassy plastic-like material which can be molded or cast or used in paints and coatings. Acrylic is molded into plastic-like beads or is used to coat beads to give them color or luster. Acrylic beads are available in hundreds, if not thousands, of shapes and colors, and are generally less expensive than metal or glass beads and are far more durable.

Alabaster

Alabaster

A variety of gypsum (a mineral) which is translucent and milky white, and can be carved into beads or statues.

Beading Wire

Beading Wire

A thin wire or cable made from braiding several strands of thin steel wire together and then coating them with nylon. It is stiff so it does not require a needle to use. Brands of beading wire include Accu-flex, Beadalon, and Soft Flex. Beading wire is extremely strong and durable, although it is prone to kinking. Beading wire cannot be tied in a knot like thread, so jewelry must be finished using crimp beads.

Ceramic

Ceramic

The term ceramic can refer to a wide variety of inorganic, non-metallic materials that are hardened through heating and then cooling. Most commonly when used in jewelry making, it refers to beads made of clay or porcelain. Ceramics tend to be hard but also brittle.

Chain

Chain

A strand of metal links. Chain comes in a huge variety of styles and metals, can can be used as either a component or entirety of a jewelry design.

Charm

Charm

Originally denoting something with magical qualities, now usually refers to small metal stylized pendants, often of animals, symbols, or signs of the zodiac (horoscope).

Crystal

Crystal

This can refer to many things, but in beading it usually means either naturally occuring quartz gemstones, or man-made leaded glass beads. Adding lead to glass beads makes them sparkle more; the more lead, the higher quality the bead. It also adds weight, so really light “crystal” beads are probably just glass. Man-made crystal beads come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors like cubes, rounds, rondelles, and specially shaped pendants of all kinds. There are many types of crystals available, but Swarovski crystals seem to be the most popular and are widely considered the highest quality.

Dichroic Glass

Dichroic Glass

Glass that has a distinctive and intensely colorful metallic appearance which changes as the piece is viewed at different angles. Sheets of dichroic glass can be purchased and worked using fused glass techniques.

Ebony

Hard dark brown wood from certain tropical trees, often carved into beads and statues.

Enamel

Enamel

A silicone-like substance that is baked on metal, glass or ceramic beads to apply decorative color, glossy finishes, or protective coating. Some enamel applications are detailed and contain many colors like a painted floral design. Enamel beads became widely popular during the 60s and throughout the 70s, but were not as common in the 80s and 90s. Today, enamel beads are available from almost any bead retailer and are extremely popular.

Fimo

A brand of polymer clay. Polymer clay comes in many different colors and can be shaped into beads, which are then baked to harden them.

Hemp

Hemp

A fibrous plant of the Cannabis family, or the fiber from it. Hemp is used in jewelry primarily to make macrame jewelry, especially chokers. Hemp is one of the most versatile plants on the planet and produces a strong fiber. Until recently it has been illegal to grow in the US because it is related to the marijuana plant, but laws are currently changing due to marijuana becoming legal in certain states.

Ivory

A hard, smooth, white material from the tusks of elephants and sea mammals, used for beads and carved into statues. Harvesting ivory is illegal due to the near extinction of these animals. Synthetic ivory is made from celluloid, casein, and plastic.

Leather

Leather

A versatile material created by tanning of animal hides and skin, usually cattle hide. Leather can be braided, used as a cord to string beads onto, or used as a base for bead embroidery.

Memory Wire

Memory Wire

Memory wire holds its circular shape. Cut a length of it, string on some beads, and bend the ends in a loop. It should stay on your neck or wrist without a clasp. Comes in sizes to fit your neck, wrist, or even finger.

Polymer Clay

Polymer Clay

A sculpting material which can be formed into shapes and then baked to harden. Polymer clay is available in most craft stores in a wide range of colors, and can be used to make beads and pendants.

Porcelain

Porcelain

A ceramic material made from firing clay at very high temperatures (~1300 Celcius) so the silicate present in clay turns to glass, giving porcelain its characteristic strength and translucence. photo credit

Rattail

A thick and satiny decorative cord, best used in a piece without sharp edges as it tend to fray. Available in many colors.

Resin

Resin

A hydrocarbon secretion of many plants, particularly coniferous trees. It is distinct from sap and latex which are also compounds exuded by plants. The term resin is also used to refer to resin-like polymers. Synthetic resin beads are cast in molds and often have a frosted translucent look reminiscent of sea glass. photo credit

Suede

Suede

A type of leather with a napped (fuzzy) finish, rather than leather’s typical smooth finish. Suede is softer and less durable than regular leather. photo credit

Swarovski

Swarovski

A very popular bead manufacturer based in Austria. They are most known for their lead crystal glass beads that come in many shapes and finishes. photo credit

Troy Ounce

1 troy oz = 1.097 oz. This unit of weight is traditionally used for gemstones and precious metals. Dates from the medieval period.

Wire

Wire

Thin strands of metal wire provide a stringing material that is both strong and stiff enough to add structure to a beaded project. Wire is sold in different sizes which are called gauges, with smaller numbers being thicker.