Some of the most common questions I get from my students and see in on-line forums are about why a fully beaded kongo gumi/round braid doesn't work out as expected by the maker. While there are many reasons this can occur, the main issue is usually some sort of mismatch between the size of the hole in the bead and the cord used to make the braid. After trying multiple materials as bead carriers, I have found that if the cord fills about 1/2 to 2/3 of the hole in the bead you will get the best results, where the cord does not show much between the beads and the braid retains its round shape. There is also braid strength and suppleness to consider in choosing a bead carrier cord. You want something that will not be cut or damaged by the beads, but still gives you a flexible braid. In consideration of these factors I have used the three ply nylon cord marketed as S-Lon/Superlon (by The Beadsmith) or C-Lon (by Caravan Beads) for some time now and feel it is the ideal material for beaded braids. Designed for the upholstery and industrial garment markets, it comes in a variety of colors and diameters allowing you to use just about any bead under the sun in making your braids.
In making the samples for my Beads for Braiders series, I used a different size of S-Lon/C-Lon for each bead size. You can see in the photo below that as the size of the beads gets larger, so too does the size of the cord.
Kumihimo is primarily a fiber art, and the addition of beads is a relatively recent development. The beads themselves do not form the braid, but their size and weight can cause braid structure distortion. In order to show this more clearly, I have made short samples of 8 element kongo gumi/round braid using size 8/0 matte black seed beads (interior hole size approximately 1 mm) and the 4 different sizes of S-Lon/C-Lon cord, and the 2 different sizes of S-Lon/C-Lon beading thread.
Use CORD for beaded kumihimo, not THREAD
A lot of new braiders come to the art with a beading background, where they have also done bead weaving such as peyote, bead embroidery, and the like. Naturally, the instinct is to use materials one already owns to try out your newly learned technique. This is where a lot of new beaded braiders get into trouble. They see on-line tutorials or other information and it looks so straightforward: load beads onto string and braid away. However, the thread that is used for bead weaving is entirely too thin for kumihimo, unless you plan on using several strands of it to make up each element in your beaded braid.
There are two sizes of S-Lon/C-Lon beading THREAD, AA and D. AA has a diameter of approximately 0.008 mm and D is approximately 0.012 mm. As it is relatively strong for its size it is ideal for beadwork where multiple passes are going through small beads like 15/0s. This thin size is a definite disadvantage for kumihimo, though, as a single strand of it comes nowhere near the size needed to fill 1/2 to 2/3 of the hole in a size 15/0 bead (approximately 0.3mm). Plus, if you are using a disk or plate to make your braid, the small size of the thread is a challenge for the slots of your disk, it slips out easily and does not hold tension. In the photo below, I have made a short kongo gumi/round braid with 4 elements of size AA in beige and 4 of size D in turquoise. I have then passed that through a single size 8/0 seed bead! So if you only take one lesson away from this post make it this one: AA and D size S-Lon/C-Lon are too thin for kumihimo braiding.
The smallest of the S-Lon/C-Lon cords is Tex 70/0.115 mm, commonly called micro size. The "Tex" numbering system that is used for S-Lon/C-Lon is the metric measuring system for thread, cord, and string and is replacing the old "Denier" standard. It refers to the weight in grams of 1000 meters of the material in question. This is a reasonable, if not perfect, way to compare diameters of cord as a thicker/wider cord will have a higher Tex number than a thinner one of the same base material. So 1000 meters of this size cord weighs about 70 grams, or just over 2 ounces. It's roughly twice the size of AA or D S-Lon/C-Lon thread. In kumihimo it works best with size 15/0 and 11/0 seed beads; freshwater pearls; and other beads with very narrow holes. Here is a close up of the sample done with Tex 70 and 8/0 seed beads. The beads distort and flatten the braid, and it has no structural strength, if you rub the beaded section between your fingers you can change the shape.
The newest and therefore most uncommon of the S-Lon/C-Lon line is Tex 135/0.4mm called fine. As you can tell by its Tex designation, it is about twice the diameter of the Tex 70 micro above. While size 15/0 seed beads fit on it, for kumihimo fine is a better choice for size 11/0 seed beads; smaller shaped seed beads like Rizos, 1.8mm cubes, and drop beads; most glass or crystal pearls; and smaller holed gemstones. The sample here shows size 8/0 seed beads on the cord. This sample is not as unstable as the sample with Tex 70, but it can still be flattened and distorted.
When most people refer to C-Lon/S-Lon cord, and don't specify the size, they are usually referring to this size. Its size is Tex 210/0.5mm, and it's also called regular, standard, bead, or kumihimo cord. Sometimes you will see it listed as #18, which is a reference to the now discontinued Mastex brand cord in size 18. It's not a designation used by the manufacturer of C-Lon/S-Lon so the use of #18 can really cause some confusion, as I will address in a future post.
Tex 210 is the most commonly found of all the cords in this line, and this is unsurprising as it comes in the most colors (over 100 as of 2014) and is also the most versatile for beaded kumihimo. It works with size 8/0 seed beads the best but can also be used with size 11/0 and 6/0 seeds. It's also ideal for larger shaped seed beads like long magatamas, 3mm squares, long drops, peanut/farfalle, and more; Swarovski crystals; Czech fire polish and pressed glass beads; and most gemstones. As you can see in the sample below, both the cord sections and the beaded section are very round, and the beads fit closely together with very little cord showing. This allows the braid to bend and shape itself around wrists and necks without angles or discomfort, but without cutting itself. This is what you are looking for when you make a beaded kongo gumi/round braid.
The largest size of S-Lon/C-Lon is Tex 400/0.9mm, normally called heavy or macramé cord. Its size brings it close to the smaller sizes of leather cord, rat tail, Chinese knotting cord, and ribbon. Tex 400 is not as flexible as the other sizes, but it is much stronger, and is the only cord that will give a round braid to size 6/0 beads, 4mm cube beads, and those with larger holes. In this sample, the 8/0 beads are really too small to work with this cord—their interior hole diameter is about 1 mm—so you can see a lot of the cord between the beads. This braid also doesn't bend as easily as the others.
Here is a quick summary photo that shows what size seed beads can fit on each size of S-Lon/C-Lon cord (the beading thread being omitted), with what I have found as the ideal match of materials circled:
References and thanks:
One rarely does a project like this alone, and I have been blessed to live in an age where almost all the information known to humankind is just a click away. As I came to be a kumihimo artist by teaching myself, I have also had to learn about my materials the same way. These people and their websites and businesses have been particularly helpful in my personal education in cord and in providing resources to create this series of posts for the blog.
First and foremost is my local bead shop, Crystal Bead Bazaar. If you are lucky enough to live near a bead shop, patronize it. You never know what will happen!
Wheat Carr has an informational sheet on her website, It's All Just String, with more technical details on the different weights of S-Lon, which she sells.
In addition to selling more varieties of nylon cord than just about any other site, Marion at Jewels In Fiber, has a wealth of knowledge on materials and the technical specs of C-Lon.
Caravan Beads, the distributor of C-Lon.
The Beadsmith, the distributor of S-Lon/Superlon
The Thread Exchange and YLI Corporation for an overload of information about cord and thread weights and measures. Note that in the materials on the YLI site that their "heavy" threads are our "light" threads and cords!