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How to String Prayer Beads

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NOTE: I do not sell beads myself. This site is purely informational. I sometimes get e-mail from people who say "I can't do crafts. I couldn't possibly make a set of prayer beads." I don't believe that. Four-year-olds in nursery school can string wooden beads onto a shoelace. I string most of my beads on waxed linen cord, which you can get at craft stores. The cord is stiff, so you don't need a needle. Some people use beading wire. I haven't experimented with that. If your beads are very large, you can use a shoelace, or ordinary heavy cotton string. If you use string, dip the ends in Elmer's glue or melted wax and let them dry, to make a tip that you can poke through the holes. You can cut the tip off later if you want to unravel the string, which makes a nice tassel.

When I have given workshops in my church, I found that people sometimes had a hard time figuring out how to actually arrange the beads so that the ends come out the main bead in the same direction, which allows you to attach a pendant or unravel the string to make a tassel. Therefore, I'm including the following diagram. It is important to begin at the large main bead, then string the other beads so that they line up in the same order as when you say the prayers. Then poke the string back through the main bead so that it ends up beside the place you started. Finally, tie the ends in an overhand knot. If the hole in the large bead is large, you may want to poke one or both of the ends through a smaller bead before tying the knot, so the knot will hold the large bead in place. Here's a diagram:

If you like, you can then poke both ends through a few beads together, to make a tail, such as you see in some of my beads in the photo. This can be a little tricky if the holes in the beads are small. You can also tie on a pendant of some sort. The Catholic rosary uses a crucifix, the Anglican rosary uses a plain cross. The Islamic beads use a tassel. Pagan beads could use any kind of pendant that seems meaningful, from a pentagram to a Goddess figurine to a bead painted to look like the earth. I usually put one of the two string ends through the hole in the pendant, and then tie the two ends together in a square knot and cut the ends short. You may want to make a double knot (two square knots) to make it secure. I also sometimes put a drop of glue on the final knot, to keep it from untying itself.

On the other hand, you may want to make a circlet that doesn't have an obvious starting point. In that case, do not poke the string back through the beginning bead. Instead, once all the beads are on the string, just tie the two ends together in a small knot. A square knot works well. Cut the ends short so they won't show. Again, you may want to tie two knots and/or put on a drop of glue to keep it from coming untied.

If you feel really nervous, try stringing beads with larger holes onto pipe cleaners to make a nice bracelet. In the photo below, you will see some examples of beads strung on pipe cleaners. The first one shows how you pass both ends of the pipe cleaner through the same bead to make a loop. In the second one, you can see that I've pulled the ends tight and wrapped them around to make two "fuzzy beads". The two bracelets with wooden beads were made by young children. They twisted the ends of the pipe cleaner together without putting both ends through a single bead.

Where can you get beads to string? The beads in the photos are mostly cheap plastic 'pony' or 'jewel' beads, available at craft stores for less than a penny apiece. Plastic 'jewel' beads look surprisingly good, especially if you string them with small spacer beads between them. The spacer beads look like gold, but the ones I use are plastic with gold paint, and are available at craft stores, also for less than a penny apiece. I also buy necklaces at thrift stores and garage sales and cut them apart. The beads in the photo below are mostly thrift store necklaces restrung, with a few beads from craft stores mixed in. At Christmas time you can get inexpensive garlands of wooden beads. You can also go the yummy route and go to a bead shop, where you can get beads made of glass crystal and semi-precious stones. There are many places on the Internet that sell beads. I haven't ever bought beads online myself, so I don't know which ones to recommend.

copyright 2002 by Karen Deal Robinson

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