How to Knot Gemstone Beads the Right Way
Making your own mala beads can be a healing and meditative process in itself. Of course, choosing the gemstones to fit your intention is probably the best part, but did you know that the type of cord you choose can have special meaning too?
Types of Cord
Silk is the strongest thread of all natural materials. 0.8mm silk cord boasts about 40 lbs. of tensile strength – that's pretty darn amazing if you ask me! Plus, it's biodegradable and better for the planet than oil-based synthetics.
Silk has been a favorite material of many cultures throughout history. Zoroastrian traders brought it from the Far East in the Middle Ages, Europeans have gone to war over it repeatedly since the Renaissance, it was used as currency in ancient China and it’s been a wardrobe staple for millennia in Asia, regardless of societal status.
Metaphysically, silk is a symbol of transformation (it comes from the silkworm’s cocoon). If you’re looking for growth, I can’t think of a better cord to use in your mala-making.
Silk is also highly prized by witches across many disciplines (if you know, you know – I don’t have the room to wax poetic about it here, and that kind of defeats the purpose of the term “arcane knowledge” anyway). Basically, it traps energy. That’s all I’m going to say about that. ;)
Elementally speaking, silk has magical correspondences with air, water, Libra, Leo, the moon and the planet Venus.
Griffin Silk Cord is my very favorite brand (I prefer #8, 0.8mm-wide). First off, it comes with a threaded beading needle, and the cord itself is 2-ply, (2-ply = already doubled). With the apex of that twist beginning in the eye of said needle, you won't have to worry about the cord coming un-threaded while you're in the middle of a beading frenzy.
If you're vegan and looking for natural materials, a good alternative to silk cord would be plant-based fibers with a light wax coating. Here are some of the reigning favorites:
Hemp has been used for thousands of years. It’s arguably the strongest plant fiber out there (with a tensile strength of 20 lbs per most examples of standard waxed 1mm-wide cord).
Hemp is naturally mildew- and mold-resistant, moth-repellant, and UV-tolerant. If you’re a vegan looking for a natural alternative to silk, hemp is a great choice!
Depending on how the hemp cord is made, it may also be kind of shreddy. But that’s where the wax comes in. Whether you do it yourself or buy it pre-done, hemp can be made even more durable with the addition of wax (don’t worry – most of the waxed hemp cord available isn’t made with beeswax – still vegan!).
Wax helps lubricate the cord to keep it smooth while you’re stringing and knotting, plus it helps keep the hemp fibers supple longer, which is much needed for anything worn or worried a lot (like mala beads).
Metaphysically, the internet has a lot to say about the hemp plant. I’m not going to fall too far down the rabbit hole for this article, but hemp is a great choice for harnessing earth energy, fostering one’s psychic abilities, and seeking enlightenment.
Hemp’s magical correspondences: elemental earth and fire, iron, liver and spleen, poppy and nightshades, Capricorn and the planets Saturn and Mars
It’s super grounding and regenerative too – which is why I especially like it for health-related intentions.
Look for 0.5mm (or slightly less) so you can double it. I like Hemptique #10 (there are SO many colors – even variegated!). Look for the variety packs with multiple colors wound on cards, too.
Waxed Linen Cord
Ah, waxed linen – is there anything more luxurious? Linen has been used for thousands and thousands of years. The Egyptians, the Vikings, medieval Europeans, and many more cultures all have their famous uses of this venerable plant fiber.
If you’ve ever had an Irish linen shirt, you already know the appeal. Good grief, it is GLORIOUS!
Smooth, strong and naturally breathable, linen also helps to keep your body temperature constant (linen sheets? Yes PLEASE).
Metaphysically, linen is a great choice for witches, as it’s been used since pagan times for just about anything textile-related. In Old Germanic and Cornish magic, red linen was an oft-used choice for everything from catching the wind to love spells, binding spells and charm bags too.
The Norns wove linen shrouds for every human being, mapping their earthly life out in the weave. This makes it a great choice for soul-mapping, Akashic forays and general mysticism.
Linen is also highly effective for ancestor work and tapping into the Universal Grid through meditative hypnosis.
Magical correspondences: elemental air and fire, Pisces, Sagittarius, the gods Odin and Isis, blood, dandelion, sage, oak and the planet Jupiter (psst -- it also works well with the Sri Yantra grid!).
If you're using 0.4mm linen cord, double it for beads with a standard 1-mm hole size. Otherwise use 0.8-1mm-wide cord (no need to double it if using multiple plies). NOTE: the number of plies (2-ply, 3-ply, 4-ply, etc) vs final cord width varies by manufacturer, so go by width. More plies mean a stronger cord.
Although I don't use linen much, I've seen it at Lima Beads in many colors and plies.
*It’s important to note that the impermanence of all the materials listed above is important in many spiritual paths, including shamanism, witchcraft, Buddhism, etc. They are strong enough to last a lifetime, make no mistake – but they will eventually rejoin the “primordial soup,” so to speak. I can’t stress the importance of this fact enough.
Many makers prefer doubled nylon thread, with Beadsmith's S-Lon nylon cord being a favorite of mala makers. It's the strongest beading thread on the market and is easy to find in a nearly endless range of colors. It’s also pretty inexpensive.
Buy it by the spool for the most cost-effective option.
Metaphysically? It’s made from carbon-based petroleum. All nylon has going for it really is color (though color has powerful magical correspondences!).
One super-cool bit: You can dye nylon easily with protein dyes (the same kind that work for wool and silk!).
Polyester is a close second in strength to the nylon, and again, comes in many, many different colors. It’s also the cheapest. And personally, I hate it. haha
A lot of polyester options are extremely slippery. This can be an absolute nightmare when you’re trying to make knots that stay put.
Depending on what kind you buy, you may also have issues with shredding (seriously, who needs that kind of negative energy?). This depends on the manufacturer of course, and you may luck out – but this is why I don't recommend polyester (among other reasons).
It’s very inexpensive, but like nylon, it doesn’t biodegrade. Poly is a plastic made from oil (ew), so again, it may not be the metaphysical boost you’re looking for in your mala practice.
Some mala makers are creating incredible pieces using basic wire-wrapping techniques, and it's popular with rosary makers.
This form of construction is very, very sturdy. It’s also more time-consuming and takes a lot of labor, but the results are freaking gorgeous!
Every metal boasts its own metaphysical properties, so the wire (or spacer beads) you choose can help boost intention even more:
Iron: repels negativity and spirits (good or bad), aids with soul navigation and finding your spiritual way, cleansing and purification, the root chakra
Copper: sense of grounding, growing wealth, healing, and the heart chakra
Silver: warding, opening of the Third Eye, sending a psychic attack back to where it came from, truth and justice
Gold: the Sun, wealth and abundance, community, transformation and love charms
Brass: mental acuity, finding order in chaos, strength, discipline, perseverance and the throat chakra
Bronze: ancient wisdom, overcoming against the odds, happiness, positivity and balance, solar plexus chakra
Pewter: purity, sexuality (yes, purity and sexuality can absolutely coexist!), rejuvenation, the sacral chakra and the planet Jupiter
**This is by no means an exhaustive list. Use the sources that make the most sense for you and your practice, of course!
Clear Elastic Cord
Stretch jewelry is IN -- and it's no wonder! Using clear elastic cord to make jewelry gives designers and customers more freedom in sizing and selection.
The best stretchy cord won't stretch out too much, won't lose its recovery in overly hot or cold temperatures, and should be just slightly smaller than the bead holes it'll be strung through. If the fit is too tight, you risk too much friction during wear, greatly reducing the lifespan of your gemstone jewelry.
If the bead holes are 1mm, use 0.8mm clear cord. For beads with large holes, using two (or more) strands of elastic for larger beads can be beneficial. If the bead holes are less than 0.8-1mm, I would not suggest going the clear elastic route, for longevity purposes.
Just remember: you always want clearance between the unstretched cord and the hole, but you also want to make sure the total weight of your finished piece won't overload the cord itself.
Heavier beads look great, but if they're not strung on the correct cord, wire or bead thread, it can have disastrous consequences (no one wants to play “108-bead pick-up” while they're standing in line at the grocery store, if you catch my drift).
Stretch Magic Clear Elastic can be found in different widths and lengths at most craft stores. Honestly, it’s not my favorite (I’ve found it to lose its elasticity within a year, plus it’s sensitive to UV rays, heat and cold).
Click here to see my favorite 0.8mm elastic. I buy it wholesale to sell on my site now because it’s so much better than Stretch Magic (in my humble opinion).
Looking for a good substitute for clear elastic in your mala bracelets? Learn how to make shamballa bracelets – they look absolutely gorgeous and can be made with your favorite macrame cord (I like Hemptique, size #20).
Leather cord is not recommended for malas, though it does make excellent tassels!
Waxed Cotton Cord:
This may not be strong enough – you may have to experiment. It will depend on usage, staple fiber length thickness, ply and dye process.
Tiger Tail Wire:
To avoid having to knot altogether, some use tiger tail wire (always use the multi-strand tiger tail for strength!) and simply string seed beads in between the gemstone mala beads.
For this method, you can finish your mala any way you'd like, but I would use crimp beads in as many places as possible, including on either side of any marker beads, as well as the guru bead. I say this because malas get a lot of use and you want those non-knotted beads to be as secure as possible!
How Long Should My Cord Be?
When choosing a length of cord for your mala, you’ll want to take an estimate of the finished length of the mala, then multiply it by 2.
To calculate the finished length of your mala, you’re gonna need to do the maths. Don’t worry - it’s not that bad!
If you’re using 8mm beads and 0.8mm cord (or doubled 0.45mm thread), assume each finished knot will be about 1mm.
8mm bead + 1mm knot = 9mm
9mm x 108 = 972mm
972mm = approximately 38.5”
From this example, take that 38.5” and multiply it by two: You’ll need around 80” of cord to comfortably string and knot that mala (yes, I rounded up). This formula isn’t an exact science, but it’s a good start (you’ll gain accuracy the more malas you make).
*NOTE: If you need to double your cord (such as when you're using 0.45mm nylon), you’ll need twice that amount. So, 160” of 0.45mm nylon cord for one 38.5” finished mala.
When it's your first time making a mala, you may have a little trouble getting the knots perfect. This is perfectly okay! Meditation is a practice, and making malas takes practice.
When knotting, a simple overhand knot will do it, whether you’re working with one plied strand or two. The knots should lie as close to the beads as possible, without overcrowding them. Patience makes perfect!
I've always used a pair of bent-nose tweezers to eek my knots flush to the beads, but I've been working on getting better at using a standard knotting tool (I like Beadalon's Knotter, especially since it's made from wood!). Once you've learned this amazing technique, you'll love how fast the knotting goes (and bonus: less knuckle-cramping -- YAY!).
Finally, I use cyanoacrylate gel glue to seal my end knots, no matter what type of bead cord or bead thread I'm using (you can use clear nail polish in a pinch). Just the tiniest dab of glue will do it.
You can also use the super glue or clear nail polish to see ends of the cord that you don't want to fray (although I'm quite partial to frayed knot tails -- up to you!).
I hope this has been helpful. There is so much power in making your own set of mala beads to use in a meditation practice. From first knot to final tie, it's a creation that's all your own!
To read more about my favorite supplies and where to find them, check out my blog on Mala-Making Supplies.
And of course, if you'd rather focus on your intention than counting, shop my original mala boards that count 108 beads for you! ;)
Please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email at TheWeekendMystic@gmail.com if you have more questions or are having trouble finding something (for some reason I can't answer comments below -- oyyyy lol). So email me and I’ll do my best to help you suss it out!
*Please note that some of these links may be affiliate links, and I may gain a small commission if you buy something (at no extra cost to you, of course!). I truly appreciate it -- it will keep this blog’s lights on.