One of the most ancient art forms, beading is a time-honored tradition. It combines mindfulness, creativity, and self-expression into a satisfying activity with beautiful results and a wide-open market.
Many people begin beading as a hobby and are able to turn it into a side hustle or even full-time work. Others choose to keep it as a simple, relaxing pastime. Whatever the case may be for you, it’s nice to have the right tools to help you achieve your goals.
Enter the bead spinner. This ingenious device allows you to speed up the beading process significantly with little trouble and less cost.
A Quick History of Beadwork
Archeologists have a vast wealth of beaded items on which to draw, easily proving the longevity of this tradition. Ancient Egyptians practiced it. So did the Sumerians, with necklaces dating back to the third millennium BCE – the time of Gilgamesh.
Beading is far from a dead art, though. It still thrives in Native American communities, modernized with contemporary designs. And the delicacy and color of handmade African beadwork is stunning today.
While history showcases a vast array of bead sizes, colors and materials, seed beads have always provided some of the richest sources of art. Their tiny size suits them well to complex patterns and religious symbols.
Made from bones, clay, ivory, coral, seeds, shells, glass and more, they are found throughout the ancient and modern world. People have used them for clothing, containers, jewelry, blankets and shoes – and still do.
In fact, modern beading art demonstrates impressive creativity. Some people use them to make Christmas ornaments, while others combine many seed bead strands into waist beads, a form of apparel that adorns the midriff. Other art forms include:
- Eclectic decorations in shapes such as a model ship, flower pot or plant
- Wall hangings made from string beads woven together
- Bead “mosaics” used as trivets or placed in the bottoms of trays and covered with acrylic
Honestly, there’s no wrong way to use strung beads. Once you explore the amazing wealth of ways you can create, you will fly through DIY projects like never before.
What Is a Bead Spinner?
One of the ways in which modern beadwork has advanced are the available tools. Seed beads are such an inspiring source of artwork, but they have one main drawback.
They are so small.
This makes it hard to string them on thread, sturdy fishing line, wire or acrylic fibers. People with arthritis or larger hands tend to struggle to pick them up and put them on a line. Even those with nimble fingers may find the task of stringing beads one by one extremely tedious.
For this reason, many people use needles with curved tips. They stick them into mounds of seed beads with a scooping motion. This picks up multiple beads at one time, making the job easier. It’s still very labor-intensive, however.
That’s where a bead spinner comes in.
Bead spinners have two parts, a base and a bowl. The bowl sits on a pin sticking out of the base. The bowl has a spindle on top, in the middle, which allows you to spin it very quickly on the bottom pin. By spinning, you cause the beads to whirl around, so when you insert the tip of a needle into the bowl, you can fill it with many beads at once.
As the bowl keeps spinning with the needle inside, more beads feed onto the thread. Then, the pressure of the beads on the needle helps draw the already loaded ones further down the line. Every so often, you’ll want to slide the beads down by hand so they hang lower on the thread.
Presto: faster beading with minimal effort.
Of course, it takes practice to manage the flow of beads most effectively as the bowl spins. The learning curve is short, however. Most people find that they can become fairly adept at loading beads in only a day or less.
The Various Types of Bead Spinners
There exist many types of bead spinners. You should be careful which you choose, because some are far better than others.
Plastic Bead Spinner
Plastic, nonmotorized spinners are often the cheapest option, but they are not the best. Plastic becomes brittle, it cracks easily and it often sits poorly on the base. Plus their budget design rarely ever spins smoothly. These are rarely the right call.
Wooden Bead Spinner
If you think a bead spinner is a required tool for your practice but you want to minimize costs, try a wooden bead spinner. These make for great starter spinners, are usually evenly weighted, spin neatly and quickly, and make it easy to fill your needle with minimal effort.
You can get a wooden spinner starter kit on Amazon – including needles and seed bead set – for less than $20. Etsy offers similarly priced products. You can view a lot of listing and brand options on both sites simply by typing “bead spinner” – and they’re inexpensive enough that you can try a few to find your perfect fit.
Mini Wooden Spinners
Some people opt for mini spinners. Though these are a little harder to use because the edge is closer to the spindle, they may still prove worth it.
If you want your spinner to be portable, for instance, they’re a good option. The same is true if you want multiple spinners so you can keep different bead colors in them without having to change anything out between projects.
Motorized Bead Spinner
If you already know you like bead spinners, you might opt for a motorized option. Motorized spinners free up your hand, so it won’t get tired and can significantly speed up the process of stringing beads. Another plus, you can use two hands for the beadwork: one to load, one to move beads down the string.
Some run on battery power, so that can increase the cost a bit — and if you’re like me, they’ll likely run out of juice just you sit down to get started, so rechargeable batteries can make for a good investment in this case. If you generally work around a laptop or computer, a USB-powered spinner will plug right into your computer and eliminate the whole battery song and dance. You will, however, need to have a USB plug at the ready.
Do You Need One?
Naturally, whether or not you need any given product depends on a number of factors, including the cost, the frequency with which you use it and your personal preference.
In the case of bead spinners, the startup cost for adding this to your studio is not high. Rather, the factors you might want to consider when deciding on this purchase include:
- How often you bead
- How obnoxious you find the task of stringing beads versus how much you appreciate the mindfulness of the one-bead-at-a-time approach
- Whether you do more complex work, such as fringes and appliques, which are extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming
If you think you would use your spinner frequently, don’t find stringing beads by hand to be a meditative pastime, and want to do a high volume of work, you’re likely a good candidate for a spinner.
Either way, before you decide to buy a tool, it’s helpful to know how it works.
How to Use a Bead Spinner
Bead spinners do not take much time to master, but you want to start with good form and a trick or two. Here are the basic steps:
Load Your Bowl
First, fill the bowl of your spinner with beads. Don’t fill to the top edges, as this will cause beads to spill out when you spin. Half to two-thirds full is ideal.
Spin the Bowl
Give the spindle a good spin, then watch to see what happens. Take note of how long it spins, when it slows and how the beads move.
If you’ve overfilled your bowl, you can adjust that now. Practice how often you need to spin to keep the bowl going at a steady pace.
Thread Your Needle or Curve Your Wire
If you are using a needle, put thread or line through the eye, pull the line out through the other side about 6 inches, and pinch it so it does not escape.
If you are stringing beads right onto a wire, simply curve the hook to the desired degree. Some people use a deeply curved hook, then hold it backwards against the direction of spin. Others use a very shallow curve and hold it front-on to the spinning beads. You’ll need to experiment to see what kind of angle works best for your needle.
Start your bead spinner going, then dip your needle into the bowl pointing into the flow of the beads. Leave it in and keep spinning until your needle is full and you want to move beads down the line.
Some people become very adept at using the spinner, and are able to move beads with one hand while holding the needle steady with the opposite hand. Others find it easier to lift the needle out of the bowl to adjust beads, then stick it back in. Again, find what works for you.
That’s it. The art of bead spinners most effectively will come with time, as long as you practice.
Bead Spinner Tips
Process not as smooth as you’d like? No problem … here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Cut Your Wire with Precision
If you’re stringing beads on wire, then you don’t need a needle. Instead, you merely cut the tip of your wire straight across and give it a slight curve, then fill your spinner and dip the needle normally. Make sure to get a clean cut at a right angle to the wire for best loading.
If you use a needle, this doesn’t matter. Simply string it on your line and use as usual.
2. Hold Your Needle at a Slight Angle
The angle of the needle matters as much as the angle of your wire cut. The goal is to face your needle straight at the beads in the bowl. However, since the needle or wire hook is curved, that means you will need to hold it at an angle to face the beads correctly.
Bottom line: always line up the tip of your hook or needle rather than the body to ensure that you have the correct angle to the beads.
3. Place Your Needle Into the Top of the Bowl
Many people stick the needle too far down into the bowl. This runs the risk of jamming your needle against the bottom edge, blunting it and scratching your spinner, as well as blocking beads.
Instead, shoot for the center of the bowl, halfway between the bottom and top of the beads. Also aim for halfway between spindle and edge for best results.
Tying It All Together
Bead spinners and similar technologies are, of course, optional. While you don’t need to use them, they make the job so much easier that it’s hard to dismiss them.
If you don’t feel like purchasing one without trying it, call around to your local bead shops and ask if they have one on hand that you can demo. This is a great way to get a feel for the tool without the investment. Then, if you like it, you can order one online, which is usually considerably cheaper.