People have been making beads out of paper for a long time. But the paper they used was usually already printed – from catalogs or magazines – which limited the look of the final bead. Here’s a simple way to make beads from plain paper – that you can then dress up any way you like.
– plain copy paper, like the kind you’d use in a computer printer
– white glue
– a small container of water with a bit of white glue added
– a large tapestry needle, knitting needle (shorter ones are better), or anything you can wrap the paper around. This object should be about the size you’d like the center hole to be, and it should be fairly smooth so you can remove the paper easily after you’ve wrapped it.
– bamboo or other inexpensive skewers, and art supplies for decorating (more on this later)
– sandpaper, if needed
1. Cut an even strip of paper that’s about a half inch wide and 8.5 inches long (in other words, a half-inch strip cut from the bottom of an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper will work great).
2. Dip the paper strip in the water until it’s quite wet, then start wrapping it around the needle.
3. As you’re wrapping, periodically smear some white glue (undiluted, not what’s in the water) along the paper to help it stick to itself better.
4. Keep the wrapping even. You’re basically making a very small tube out of paper.
5. When you reach the end of the strip make sure it’s glued well to the tube, then slide the tube carefully off the needle.
6. Let the tube dry (and make more beads while you’re waiting!).
7. If the sides didn’t come out even, sand them until they’re smooth. Then decorate the bead however you like, and varnish if you need to.
Ideas for decorating
– Make geometric or other designs with colored markers.
– Make regular or abstract designs with craft paint and a small brush (or your fingers).
– Add more glue to the surface, then roll the bead in glitter, mica powder (see my article on metallic polymer clay for more information), or tiny glass beads.
– Glue pieces of string, yarn, or other fiber to the surface.
– Add dots of three-dimensional paint.
If you’re concerned that your surface decorations might be fragile you can always cover your bead with one or more coats of varnish. Use the gloss kind if you’d like to add shine, or the matte if your bead is already shiny enough.
– The width of your paper strip (in my directions, a half inch) will determine the length of the bead. If you’d like the bead to be shorter or longer, just adjust this dimension accordingly.
– You can use colored paper, but in my experience the color fades quickly in strong light, which would change the way the bead looks over time. And if you’re planning on decorating the entire surface of the bead all that color will go to waste anyway. (If you have construction paper you could use that instead of copy paper, but the color fades even more quickly.)
– Most of the instructions I’ve seen for paper beads say to use glue only at the beginning and the end of the bead. This hasn’t worked for me; the bead has a tendency to unravel, turning into a flimsy-looking cone, as you take it off the needle. But I also haven’t been able to get the glue-water mixture strong enough to hold the paper together on its own. That’s why I add glue to the paper as I’m rolling it. Once they’re finished – decorated and varnished – these beads are almost indestructible.
– I’ve seen it suggested that you varnish the inside of the bead for extra protection, but I don’t do this, because I’m worried about closing off the hole. My beads seem sturdy enough, but feel free to try this suggestion if you like.
– I usually put my beads on bamboo skewers while I’m decorating them. Whatever “prop” you use here, remember that it will probably pick up paint and/or varnish during the decorating process and eventually become unusable. So it’s probably best that your decorating tools be separate from whatever you first wrap the paper around.
– Paper beads aren’t limited to the tube shape. In the Resources section of this article I’ll recommend a book that provides other shapes of beads, all based on the shape of the original paper strip.
Paper beads are easy and fun to make by both adults and children. But they don’t have to look like they’re only for “play”; that all depends on how you finish them.
These beads are very light, which makes them great for people who don’t like heavy jewelry, but they’re also surprisingly strong. They’re also good for people who can’t wear regular jewelry because they’re allergic to metal. Get out your basic craft supplies and make a few. But be careful – you might find it hard to stop!