How To Make Paper Beads

It’s really kind of crazy how many catalogs we get in the mail, especially this time of year. I like leafing through many of them, but pretty and inspirational as they are, I don’t really need 30 Pottery Barn or Sundance catalogs in one year.

Every time I put a pile of them in the recycling, I used to think to myself: there must be something I could do with these instead of just throwing them out. And there is! There are tons of paper crafts and DIY projects you can use them for, and one of my favorites is making paper beads.

You can get a LOT of beads out of one catalog, even just one page spread goes a long way, so no catalog hoarding is necessary! 🙂 Here is my easy paper bead tutorial:

You will need:

  • A catalog
  • Cutting mat
  • X-acto knife
  • Metal ruler
  • Toothpicks or metal embroidery needles
  • Glue of some sort
  • Sealant (see discussion further down about which kind)
  • A piece of styrofoam

1. Take out the staples from the catalog and lay out the opened middle page (the longer the page, the rounder the beads) on a cutting mat. With an X-acto knife, cut long, narrow triangular strips (as long as possible). You can make them any size you want, but I usually make the wide end around ½” and the narrowest end a tiny point.

A note on which type of page to choose: I think pages with a lot of variations in colors and patterns result in more interesting beads. A single or two-colored page produces beads that to me are too bland. But try it for yourself and see what you think. I have not tried pages with just text yet (like from a course catalog or phone book) – that might turn out very interesting (let me know if you try it – I’d love to see the results!). All the beads shown here are from very “busy” pages (from Athleta catalogs, in case you’re wondering).

2. Once you have a bunch of paper strips, it’s time to start rolling. I mostly use toothpicks for this, but have found that thick steel needles are a better choice, because if you apply too much varnish to the finished bead while it’s on a toothpick, the toothpick sometimes breaks when you try to remove the bead, and you end up with a useless bead. On the downside, they are a lot more expensive than toothpicks, and you need lots of them. So I mostly use toothpicks and try to be careful with the varnish.

Start at the wide end of the strip and roll it up tightly. When you get halfway through, start applying glue to the bead and keep rolling (I use Diamond Glaze but a regular glue stick works fine too) until you get to the end. You’ll now have a slightly oblong paper bead on your toothpick. At this point, I like to let the glue dry and the whole thing set, so I stick the needle into a piece of styrofoam and let it sit overnight.

3. In order for the beads to stay together, you need to apply a liquid glue and/or varnish over the entire bead to seal it. I have tried several different products as sealants (I did not try Mod Podge, because I had read it stays a bit sticky, so I ruled that out immediately), and here is what I have found:

Diamond Glaze – looks great, but wears off quickly. I made a stretch bracelet with a batch of Diamond glaze-covered beads and wore it for a day, and the coating was gone by dinnertime.

UTEE – worked OK, but changes the color of the bead; anything white turns a sickly yellow.

Resin – gives the beads a really nice, hard, shiny coat, but it is difficult to work with (lots of air bubbles, uneven coating) and it’s toxic (supposedly only before it dries, but I don’t want to wear anything that is toxic in any way right on my skin).

Liquitex High Gloss Varnish – this is what I use. It’s inexpensive, really easy to work with, apparently non-toxic (I emailed the company and they say you can use it without a face mask or gloves and it’s fine against the skin when it’s dry), water resistant, and it doesn’t wear off.

While I can’t say that I have put the water resistance claim to extensive testing, I have worn my “test bracelet” for entire warm summer days, including while washing my hands and doing other normal “around the house” everyday things, and it has held up beautifully.

Carefully pour a little bit of varnish (you don’t need a lot) into an old plastic lid or container (make sure it’s clean), making sure not to shake the bottle. You will most likely see some air bubbles at first, but if you wait and let it settle a little bit, they usually disappear.

I apply the varnish to the beads with a small watercolor paint brush, just a cheap one from a set for kids, but you can use any small brush you happen to have around. Be careful to not put too much on at once, or go over the beads more than once at a time, because you risk getting air bubbles if you do. You can get rid of the bubbles by using the bristles of the brush, but it’s better to do 2-3 separate coats and let them dry completely in between (which takes around 3 hours).

It takes a minimum of three days for the varnish to fully cure, so make sure to let your beads sit for at least that long after you apply the final coat.

Once the varnish is fully cured, carefully remove the beads from the toothpicks. If they are stuck, try to wiggle and rotate them back and forth a little bit. Be careful to not just pull on them, because they may come apart completely if you do, or bend them too far to one side, because the toothpick may break (I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me!). I might be unusually clumsy, but I always end up losing a few beads per batch this way, so be sure to make several more beads than you think you will need. Once the beads are off the toothpicks, they are ready!

You can use these in so many ways – string them together to make a bracelet (like my stretch bracelet in the opening image), attach one to a lobster clasp and clip on a charm bracelet, use for wine glass charms, add as an embellishment to the ribbon when wrapping gifts, use them as pendants, in scrapbooking – the list is endless.

Have fun and Happy crafting!

Paper bead bracelet

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