Bead rings are a common and easy-to-make stim toy. They’re pretty, colourful and easily fastened to zippers, keychains and belt loops. (For those wishing to buy and not make, autistic crafter Pi sells them at Stimtastic or their own etsy store.) I generally fidget with these by rolling my fingers over the beads. As an autistic with chronic hand pain, though, I wanted something that I didn’t have to grasp to use, as even holding onto the ring with my bad hand could cause pain flares. I also wanted something, as someone who isn’t always out as autistic, that works as a stealth fidget. While there’s a great selection of chewable necklaces available for stimmers, there’s less in the way of non-chewable fidget jewellery.
Inspiration struck one day: why don’t I attach a bead ring to a necklace?
Several months later, I own fifteen necklaces in various pride colours, have made necklaces for friends and family and never leave the house without wearing one.
- Necklace cords/chains or rattail cord. Rattail – or wraptail, as I’ve seen it sometimes listed – cord is a soft, 100% polyester silky-feeling cord. I’ve been buying it from Lincraft for $2 AUD a roll, but I’ve also seen it available in the craft and/or gift wrap sections of dollar and discount shops. Necklace chains or cords vary in price depending on the type of cord or chain. I bought the braided and flat rubber ones in the photo above from Lincraft for $3.50 AUD, but I’ve also bought braided cords from the jewellery accessory stands at dollar shops. Other places to look are Spotlight and Riot Art and Craft. Whether you choose necklace cords or rattail cord depends on whether you can bear the texture of clips and fastenings. If you can, choose a pretty pre-made cord. If you can’t, buy a roll of rattail cord and make your own adjustable necklace cord (see below).
- Beads. You’ll want pony beads or bigger. (Pony beads: the large plastic beads most often used on kids’ jewellery.) These are available in any craft shop and many dollar shops. Wooden beads, if the holes are large enough to be strung on the ring, are also ideal. The glittery pony beads in the first photo I’ve been buying from Lincraft for $2 AUD a strand. Others I’ve been buying in bulk boxes, bags or kits. Round or rounded beads are better for this because they’ll turn smoothly. There’s also many fancy textured glass beads available online and in the jewellery sections of craft stores, but check to ensure the hole is large enough before buying.
- Split rings/keychain rings. They’re available in packs from many craft stores (I’ve seen them in Lincraft and Riot Art and Craft for as much as $10 AUD a pack) but you can also buy them from your local dollar shop for a fraction of the price. I’ve been buying them in packs of five for $.70 AUD. (Note: these rings contain nickel. I don’t know where to source nickel-free rings.) These rings are available in several sizes; I prefer the 30 mm size, but have used 40 mm rings as well. It just depends how many beads you want on the ring. Available in silver or brass/gold.
- Chain. You want the links big enough that you can open them with the pliers, thread both the cord and the ring through them and close them again. Anything bigger than that is down to preference. I buy my chains from Lincraft, anywhere from $4 to $8 AU a metre. You don’t need much to create several necklaces – a quarter of a metre of square-shaped chain made me seven necklaces. Available in silver (many shades) or brass/gold.
- Needle-nosed pliers. The smaller the better. Do not use regular pliers for this unless you wish to make yourself miserable! I bought my pliers from the craft section of a dollar shop, so they don’t need to be expensive.
- Take your beads and arrange them in whichever pattern pleases you. I find the 30 mm rings take five or six beads, but anything more feels cluttered. The larger rings take six or seven beads. (Click here for an example of a larger seven-beaded ring necklace I’ve made.) It’s all up to you!
- Open three, four or five chain links from their length of chain. (This is as simple as placing the closed pliers inside the link, the opening of the pliers parallel to the opening of the link, and forcing open the pliers. The link will open and fall away.) How many depends on the width of the links and whatever you find pleasing. In the example photo, I use three of the wider chain links and four of the narrower ones.
- Either lay out your necklace cord or prepare your rattail cord. Rattail cord can be handled in two ways: simply knotted, to form a loop (functional if you like long cords) or tied twice with a slipknot to form the loop (left hand side of above image). I followed this tutorial for making your own slip-knotted adjustable necklace cords to create the cord above. This autistic did struggle a little with the left and right orientations of the cords, so if this is too difficult to conceptualise, just take the ends and knot them. (Purchasing breakaway safety clasps is another easy alternative: you thread the clasp through the cord, knot it and pull the clasp over the knot.)
- Open up the split ring and force one side of the nose of your pliers through the two sides or wires of the metal ring (see above).
- Leave the nose of your pliers thrust through the ring and thread a bead onto the open wire. The pliers will hold the ring open for you so you don’t have to hold the wires apart with your hands. Keep on threading your beads; just move the pliers back around the ring to make space until you have all the beads on the open wire. You don’t want to thread the beads without the pliers holding the ring open; you’ll hurt the pads of your fingers trying to grip something so small.
- If you find the pliers pop out (happens to me all the time) just thread them in front of the beads already threaded, move the beads and pliers down to make space and thread another bead on in front of them (see below).
- Repeat until all the chosen beads are threaded onto the ring. You should end up with something that looks like the below image.
- If you only want to make a bead ring instead of a bead ring necklace, congratulations! You’re finished!
- If you want to turn your bead ring into something you can hang from your neck, there’s two ways to go about it:
- If you’ve used the rattail cord option, you don’t need chain links. (You can still use them if you wish, but you don’t need to use them to fasten your ring to your necklace cord.) Just take one end of your necklace cord, thread it through the bead loop and then thread that loop back up through the other end of your necklace cord. (This called a cow or a lanyard hitch.) Your bead chain should now be hanging from your cord (see below).
- If you’ve used necklace cord or chain (anything that won’t bend enough for a lanyard hitch) or you like the prettiness of the chain, you’ll need to attach your bead ring to the cord via your open chain links. Simply place your ring against the bottom of the cord, enclose both cord and ring with your chain, and press the link closed with your pliers. Repeat until all links enclose both chain and cord. When you’re finished, the cord ring will sit at the bottoms of the chain links (see below).
- A note on chain links: narrower links are more difficult to close than wider ones. The two types of links below weren’t difficult to close with my pliers, but I bought narrow necklace chain on sale from Riot Art and Craft and it is difficult to close the links because the narrow, rounded wire slips out of the pliers. If you struggle with fine hand movements or just wish to save yourself a little stress, look for wide chain links like that featured on the middle (rainbow) necklace in the image below.
And you’re done! Since you’ve bought all these things and have cords and chain and beads left over, you can make necklaces to express pride (especially those identities that don’t get nearly enough pride accessories) or match your clothes. These things are fun, simple to make and fairly inexpensive, especially if you’re looking to get into the many other stim toys that can be made with beads.
You have my permission and blessing to make these for profit as well as fun, but if you use this tutorial, please link to this post in your product descriptions. My goal is to get stim toys into as many neurodivergent hands as possible, and that includes people who can’t afford to shop at etsy. I want people who decide not to purchase from you to have the opportunity to make these necklaces for themselves.
I am also not associated with any of the retailers mentioned or linked in this post.