Beads: Buying Tips (part 1)


Good Strategies for the Beginning (or just broke) Beadaholic

beadsonlineGorgeous beads are why most of us started beading in the first place. But it can be hard to know where to start (or where to finish for that matter), so I thought I’d share some thoughts on strategic bead buying.

The (Good and Bad) Bead Frenzy

What you need to do, of course, is buy beads that get you excited to make things. The tricky part about buying beads is the dizzying array (pretty colors everywhere!) and everything seems so cheap: twenty cents here, five cents there, a dollar over there.-ooh, cheap and pretty! But it all adds up, and the next thing you know, you’re whipped into a shopping-endorphin-driven-bead-buying-frenzy and wake up in a doorway somewhere three days later (alone and broke) and can barely remember a thing. Either that, or you wander around in a daze of visual over-stimulus and leave empty-handed. Ah, it’s a tangled retail web we weave, my friends.

Strategy #1: A Plan Can Be Good

It can be easier to  figure out what to get if you have a project in mindmaybe you’ve ripped a cool new style out of a magazine that you want to try to copy, maybe you have a necklace that you’d like to make matching-ish earrings for, or perhaps you’ve secretly sketched your own design that you’ve got half crumpled in your hand in case anyone sees. The important thing here is to keep your project in mind (bring that picture with you!) and not wander off the trail as you get distracted by other beads beckoning you from across the store.

Strategy #2:  “One Thing” Can Be Even Better

OR, if you’re not quite so clear yet, you could do something even simpler. You could decide to just make one simple thing–go in to buy beads for a stretch bracelet, say, or maybe a one great pair of earrings-after all, you only need a few beads and findings to make either of those projects. And if your beads are fantastic, the simpler the design, the better.

This approach will let you concentrate on choosing the prettiest beads you can find, along with the requisite extra bits–a couple-three spacer beads, ear wires, head pins, or just beads and elastic and by golly, you’re done! (This can also be a great strategy if you go in with young teenage girls: “Everyone gets to buy supplies for one pair of earrings and that’s it! No, this time, I mean it!”)

Just know that going into a bead store without a project in mind can be like going to the grocery store hungry. And you know what happens when you do that!

Strategy #3: Choose a Color Scheme

Yet another strategy is to pick a color family you want to work with–black and crystal can be a great way to start for a lot of people because most everyone wears black. Or, if you don’t wear black. look at your wardrobe and buy the same colors that you do wear. Just note that if you’re sticking to a small color family, it’s important to buy several sizes and shapes in that color(s) --this helps you create some “visual interest” when you create your beaded treasures.

Another great angle for more general bead buying (versus the one-pair-of-earrings approach)  is to choose beads that represent each area of the color wheel. I talk about how to do that in more detail here: Save Money Buying Supplies–Let the Color Wheel Help You.

Just remember that colors don’t have to “match” each other exactly to “go together” well. But if you want to be on the safe side, just choose a small tonal range of one color, use two or three different shapes and sizes of beads in that color, and create a repeat pattern, and you’ll pretty much be guaranteed to create a pleasing design.

And let’s face it, at the end of the day, color is highly personal, so if you love it, then it’s good.

Strategy #4: Yard Sales, Flea Markets, and Salvation Army

Back in the day, I used to keep my stash replenished by buying cheap jewelry at yard sales and thrift stores and then taking them apart. Often you can liberate great looking beads from broken or outdated jewelry selling for less than a dollar. Learn to look past the ugliness of the whole and focus on its particulars–does it have a great clasp? Sterling spacers? An unusual pendant? Whoa, is that turquoise you see there? An old lady’s vintage items or some gawdawful necklace from the eighties can yield some great, unusual beads or findings that you can re-tool into a contemporary design. Just remember not to get too visibly excited when you find a hidden treasure in their trash–you want to be able to negotiate!


How do you buy beads? Do you have a great stash? Leave a comment and let us know your bead buying strategies. My next blog post on this subject will be an overview of a variety of basic bead types and styles  so you can learn the lingo a bit and know what you’re looking at as you shop for the perfect beads for your next beading project.

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Categories : Beading


  1. Deb says:

    Really good advice. I always end up confused and buying everything!

  2. Philip says:

    This totally works for me. You have probably just saved me at least $100. At least!

  3. christy carlson says:

    i have been given a bead necklace that was my grandmothers, some beautiful blue and green crystal mixed ones on a short string the way ladies wore them with dresses in the late 50′s. I want to use the beads (augmented with others of course in a longer necklace. I have done this kind of thing before using string, but it seems you recommend beading wire–what should i use if I want to make, say, a 30 inch necklace?

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi Christy!
    Yes, you should definitely use bead wire–I prefer the Soft Flex brand–and I’ve got three links on the Findings post:

    I think you should get medium weight, which is size .019, unless the beads are super heavy. 30′ or 100′–depending on how often you think you want to do this kind of thing..

    You’ll also need crimp beads to close off the bead wire (there’s a link on that same page) and you’ll need crimping pliers to close your crimp beads–there’s a link for that on the Tools post here:

    Right next to that link, is a link to a very clear how-to video explanation of using the crimping pliers. Definitely watch that video clip!

    And then you’ll just need a couple jump rings or soldered jump rings
    as well as a clasp (also on the findings page) to close and finish your necklace.

    Also, when you’re beading your necklace, design from the center out, rather than working from one end to the other. You might want to use a design board as well, (also on the Findings post), as some folks find that helpful. If not, just lay down a towel and work on your project there, so things don’t roll or spill everywhere.

    Also, you might want to use some binder clips to close off the ends of the necklace when you stop working to keep your design safe. These are also great to use when you hold your work-in-progress up against yourself in front of the mirror to see what you think as you go along.
    That way, when it slips out of your hands (always happens at least once, especially if you really like your design), it doesn’t spill everywhere!

    Enjoy, and let me know how it goes,–also, feel free to write in with more questions! :-) Sarah

  5. christy carlson says:

    I made a long necklace with the Grandma beads and some other beads I have on the kind of wire you recommended. Because it is so long I did not use fasters, and because I had not yet watched your crimp video, I crimped the two ends together! It works, but next time I will do it the right way and it will look more professional. Loved using your site as a resource!

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