by Jacqueline Gikow
Paper bead making is a craft that is as least as old as the Victorian age. Women would gather together for a social evening, while rolling beads from pieces of wallpaper. They would finish the beads using bees wax and hang them on lengths of cord. The beads were used to make doorway curtain dividers.
The craft of paper bead making became popular again in the 1920s and 30s to make jewelry.
Paper beads are now often made by supportive communities as part of cooperative projects in countries like Uganda. These projects are established as business enterprises that supply ongoing income opportunities. The techniques of beadmaking are mainly the same as employed in the Victorian era, but the women use paper supplied by printing companies and recycle markets, rather than from wallpaper.
The rolling technique of making paper beads involves rolling long paper triangles into beads. Very few tools are needed. You can try this technique with all kinds of paper and find out which types work the best. When threading the paper beads be careful not to pull the threads too tightly or it will cut into the beads. Rolled paper beads look great when paired with seed beads to help them sit together.
You can use any tube or skewer that has a consistent diameter. A double-ended knitting needle works well also. Whatever you use, don’t roll the bead too far from the end of the roller because it makes it hard to slide the bead off the roller.
Start with an isosceles triangle shape as it is the easiest bead to make. An isosceles triangle is made by cutting two long sides of equal length to a central point opposite the shortest side. The longer the triangle the rounder the bead will be.
Place the fattest part of your triangle toward you with the side you want to see face down.
Put the rolling tool horizontally about 1/4 inches away from the fattest end of paper and gently fold the end of the paper over it. Make sure the paper is centered on the tool.
Use your thumb to gently roll the tool back toward you, bringing the paper with it until only a fraction of the paper is still on the roller.
Switch directions and roll the tool and paper away from you, keeping the paper tight on the toothpick and the paper tip as centered as possible.
Continue to roll the paper until it is 3/8 inches from the tip. Smear a little glue on the end and finish rolling it up. Roll the bead between your thumb and forefinger to press the end down properly.
Push the end of the tool into some Styrofoam and let the glue dry.
Varnishing helps to strengthen delicate papers. Clear varnish, whether gloss, matt or satin can intensify the bead’s colors.
Place a bead on the tip of a toothpick and hold its bottom onto the stick with your thumb and forefinger.
Paint the top horizontally with the grain of the paper because it will cover any ridges better.
Stick the toothpick into some Styrofoam and let it try.
Turn the bead upside down and paint the other half.
Paint three layers of varnish on the bead to make it hard. Thin layers of varnish will work better than on thick layer.
If you use a thicker paper, your bead will show more ridges and it will be fatter than if you use a thinner paper of the same shape.
Different shapes of triangles give different shapes of beads.
Always try one or two beads as an experiment.
The thickness of the roller that you roll the paper around will affect the shape of the bead.
Paper that is printed with color on one side may give a white edge on the end of the cut edges.
Tissue paper will go darker when you varnish it. The beads will always be delicate so you must not pull the thread too tightly when stringing the beads together.
Decide on the thread you will use when considering what tool to roll your paper around as you may need to pull the thread through some holes more than once.