Art Harder: a reminder and DIY project

Perhaps you thought I’d forgotten, or maybe that I’d dropped the idea.

You’d be wrong.

Back in January 2017 I asked (begged) you to Art, Harder. Do it for your brain, I suggested, or for the future of the world, for your own entertainment, or for no reason at all. Do it because binary thinking is problematic, because there is always a third option, because problem-solving is as much an abstract, organic process as a straightforward one.

Since that time, almost three years ago now, whether you’ve joined in or not, I have made (and there’s no polite way to phrase this) a shit-ton of art and related crafty things. When I don’t know what else to do, or when the news seems overwhelming, my response is to make something.

That scene in The Witches of Eastwick (if you’re old enough to remember it) where every time the woman opens her mouth, cherries pour out? Yeah, that’s me, only with art and arty things.

For three straight years. It’s kept me from day-drinking when I read the news, and that’s a good thing.

Taking time for a creative endeavor or exploration is something I continue to encourage in you, and others, because being creative is better than day-drinking, I promise you. It will help you in more ways than you might imagine.

Recently it occurred to me, though, that it might be helpful to provide a “how” in addition to a “what.” I thought it might be good to share some instructions so you, too, could have a creative outlet as an alternative to bad behavior.

And the project I thought I would share is this one: wooden bead garlands. This is a good project to do over a long weekend (looking at you, Thanksgiving) and something you can do with friends, because people are better than computers or television or phones, etc.

Here we go.

(Disclaimer: I’m not terribly good at giving instructions on things like this, but I’ll do my best.)

Ok, let’s start with the easiest part: buy some wooden beads and some jute string. I’m not ashamed to tell you I bought my beads and string from the evil empire Amazon. I bought two different variety packs of beads that included sizes from 8mm to 30mm.

You could leave it at that and forget about coloring or embellishing the beads in any way. Seriously, it would be super easy. If this is the route you choose, skip ahead a few steps.

Again, you could stop here: beads and string; that’s it. If that’s your plan, then jump to the pictures of knotted string.

Ah, you’re an overachiever and don’t want plain wooden beads?

Yes, I know. You are my people. Let’s proceed.

You’ll need: fabric dye, gold paint, a big pot or bowl that you don’t use for anything other than crafts, some towels that you don’t care about, and a mesh strainer that you don’t use for anything other than crafts. Also: a sink and some counter space.

2019-11-09 15.06.57

Soak the beads in water. I put mine in an old lobster pot that I bought at the Chestnut Hill Mall Crate & Barrel in 1988 (a pot I used to use for cooking but now use only for dyeing fabric and beads) (this is a true story).

Drain the beads in a strainer, and mix some dye in the pot. No, I cannot provide more specific instructions that this. I had leftover dye from a big tie-dye project that I did a few years ago, so I sprinkled some Azure Blue into hot water, added soda ash fixative, and stirred it up. I made it much more concentrated than I would have done for cotton fabric. Why? Instinct. This is not an exact science, and I was making it up as I went.

Dump the beads in the dye (careful not to splash) and let everything sit for a while. Like maybe a few hours. The longer the soak, the deeper the color.

2019-11-09 15.11.10

Test the batch by scooping out a few beads (use rubber gloves, unless you want to color your hands) and running them under water. If the dye washes right out, then the beads need to steep longer.

2019-11-09 17.12.19

When the beads are ready (again, not an exact science), you can either scoop them into the mesh strainer and rinse (this is the method I’d recommend) or pour them into the strainer, pouring the dye down the drain. The reason I would not recommend this second option is that if you want to dye more beads or deepen the color of the beads you just removed, you’ll need that dye bath again.

Once the water runs clear, transfer the beads to a towel (spread on your counter) to dry. Give them some air and some time. They need to dry completely before the next step.

2019-11-09 17.24.35

Like, seriously, go to bed and wait until the next day for the next step.

Hello! It’s tomorrow, and your beads are dry. What’s that? You see some dye leaching onto the towel? Well, yes; it is really, really hard to remove all the dye from the beads when you rinse them. This is the way things are.


When the beads are completely dry, then you’re ready to gild with gold paint, if you want. And, for the record: WHO WOULDN’T WANT TO EMBELLISH WITH GOLD PAINT??

2019-11-10 19.26.34

Here’s how: Drizzle some paint in the bottom of the now-dry pot that you used for dyeing. I’ve done this several times using either Rust-oleum Modern Masters metallic gold paint (available at me & mrs jones) or Martha Stewart’s metallic gold paint. I prefer the Modern Masters (and prefer shopping local, not at a chain store), but both paints work fine.

Dump the dyed and dried beads into the pot and immediately begin shaking them around. No, I did not record a video of this; you’ll have to figure it out on your own. Do not shake so vigorously that the beads spill onto your floor or you’ll have a mess on your hands. Yes, some beads will be almost entirely covered in gold while others will have only a few flecks. This is how it should be.

2019-11-10 19.26.57  2019-11-10 19.27.07

(I know; the pictures are terrible. It is hard to take a photo and shake a pot at the same time. You can figure this out on your own. I have faith in you.)

2019-11-10 19.31.38

Next up? Yes, more drying. On fresh towels, please. Until the beads are completely dry. You’ll want to move them around a little while they’re drying so they don’t stick to the towel.

And now it’s finally time for stringing.

First, light a candle. A good, old-fashioned, bad for the Earth, paraffin wax candle — preferably a pillar candle that will collect a pool of wax around the flame. Why a candle? I’ll explain in a minute. Why paraffin? Because it hardens faster. And yes, this is an optional step, but it will make things easier. Why do this first? Because you need melted wax, and it will take a minute or two for the melted wax to pool.

Next, cut a piece of jute string. I recommend starting with a 3-foot piece because it’s long enough that you’ll like your finished product but not so long that you’ll be exasperated by the process of stringing.

Dip one end of the string in the melted wax. You want about an inch or two of string coated in wax. Repeat on the other end of the string. Use your fingers to wipe off extra wax. The goal here is to have a stiff end so it will be easier to add the beads.

2019-11-22 20.34.10

Tie a knot about three inches from one end of the string.

2019-11-22 20.34.37

Tie a second knot on top of the first knot. (Why yes, you are correct: the two knots look EXACTLY the same….)

2019-11-22 20.35.14

Add your first bead. I like starting with a big bead (18mm?) for absolutely no rational reason.

If you are super detailed about your work, secure the bead to the knot with a dab of glue.

Tie a knot above the bead, guiding the knot down the string so it snugs right up to the top of the bead. This might take some practice. The good thing about jute is that it’s durable and strong, so you can tie and untie knots until you have it right.

(And yes, you could just string the beads without knotting. The upside of eliminating the knots is that it’s super fast. The downside is that if the string ever breaks, then you’ve lost everything. Also: knotted strands have a prettier drape to them.)

Continue. Add one bead at a time, knotting in between. You can use uniform sized beads, use a pattern, or add beads at random (my favorite way to do it). Keep adding beads and knots until you’re about 6-8 inches from the end of your string.

Tie a knot to finish it off, then tie a second knot on top of the first, to make sure things are secure. Add glue if desired.

That’s it. You did it!

2019-11-10 21.02.00

Once you get the hang of this, you might decide to use smaller beads and cotton string. Or you might just plop all those beads on some jewelry wire and make a necklace. Or you might decide that an 8-inch strand is your limit. Whatever you decide, it might be fun to give it a try.

In the past month I’ve made more than two dozen strands (garlands?), and I’ve enjoyed the entire process. And here’s a secret: with each bead and knot, I think about a person I care about. So, while they aren’t blessing beads (because I don’t know what those actually are) or prayer beads (because that’s not my thing), they do represent something meaningful to me. And if you make a strand, each bead might represent something meaningful to you, too. Who knows; you might even find a new way of looking at something or a solution to a problem that’s been nagging at you.

Isn’t this a bit labor-intensive? Well, yes. But it might be an enjoyable, if labor-intensive, occupational therapy that allows parts of your brain to rest while other parts of your brain make new connections.

That’s what art — even artsy-crafty art — can do for your brain.

And that’s why I beg you, still: #ArtHarder.

P.S. Want extra credit on your DIY project? You can add little stamped, waxed clay medallions like these to the ends of your garland.

2019-11-08 20.38.13

Basic tutorial on Iron Orchid Designs blog here (only I used wax instead of alcohol inks).

P.P.S. In our brutal modern world, science shows our brains need crafting more than ever.




  1. Hey, I could really do this! Maybe with red for the holiday (and #gifts). And now I have a reason to go to Me and Mrs. Jones. (Gold paint.) Thanks!


  2. This is perfection.
    At the beginning of November I was invited to a sewing circle at the Peabody Essex Museum. A sewing circle! Marie Watt was the artist, Native American from Portland, Oregon. She does these huge installations of embroidered blanket scraps. Made in small batches by people who were art-ing harder.
    That feeling of sitting with friends and stitching or felting or stringing. Sigh. Hope you find time for more arting this holiday. (And time to share.)


Comments are closed.