Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About SoftFlex

Although the jewelry-making “family tree” has dozens of branches (including soldering, fusing, and PMC, just to name a few), probably the most well-known jewelry-making branch would be the one of stringing beads into necklaces and bracelets. Bead stringing is relatively quick & easy — it’s the designing that can be tricky! — but what really makes it pleasurable is working with the right materials. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours designing and constructing a necklace or bracelet, only to have it break after a few wears due to inferior-quality stringing material. Luckily, there is a product whose quality we have relied not just since we opened Blue Door Beads, but since we started beading over 20 years ago: SoftFlex Beading Wire.

SoftFlex is one of those products that is ubiquitous in the beading industry, and for good reason. Their patented cord, comprised of woven stainless steel wires coated with heavy-duty nylon, is one of the most durable materials a beader can string with. However, there are so many variations that it can be hard for beaders to know which variety is best for each of their jewelry projects. We have always told our customers and students in our Basic Stringing class that the general rule of thumb is to use the thickest SoftFlex cord that can fit all of the beads in their jewelry piece. Although this is true, there are quite a few factors you may want to consider the next time you sit down to string up a beading design.

Fortunately for you — and us! — SoftFlex recently posted a series of incredibly helpful and informative YouTube videos to help beaders feel confident in their SoftFlex decision-making! Posted below are links to their videos; the first few are the ones we felt were the best “crash courses” in basic SoftFlex facts, with some additional design inspiration. The last link is the longest video; it bundles all of the shorter videos together, including a few not linked here, in case you’d like to absorb all of the SoftFlex info all at once!

Crash Courses & Inspiration:

Choosing The Right Diameter Of Soft Flex Beading Wire

Choosing The Right Brand Of Soft Flex Beading Wire

Various Ways To Use Soft Flex Beading Wire

The full-length video (approximately 40 minutes):

Beading Basics With Soft Flex Company

The SoftFlex Company is based in Sonoma, California, and we are proud to support a local business. SoftFlex helps our customers bead happily and boldly — thanks SoftFlex!

Why Did It Break?

Although we did not know that this would be the case when we first opened Blue Door Beads, jewelry repair has become a significant part of our business. There’s nothing quite like seeing the smile on a customer’s face when we tell them, “Sure, we can fix that!” True, some projects are more challenging than others, and there are times when a complete jewelry-overhaul is needed, but many times we can salvage the existing piece, and our customers couldn’t be happier!

One question we are consistently asked is, “Why did this break?” Sometimes, we have an easy answer at the ready, while other times the answer is a bit more complicated. Besides some elements beyond our control (more on that later), there are a few common reasons why jewelry can break:

It was not strung on appropriate cord.
When it comes to necklaces and bracelets, the type of cord you should string through your beads depends a lot on the type of beads you are using. Earlier this year, we wrote a post about the different types of SoftFlex beading cords and when to use them, and (for the most part), there is a SoftFlex cord for every project. Because of this, we here at Blue Door Beads have a tendency to use SoftFlex for pretty much all of our projects. However, there are times when it is nice to use different types of cords to achieve different looks — but that’s where things can get tricky.

Pictured: not the type of beads you would string on skinny silk thread. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

Pictured: not the type of beads you would string on skinny silk thread. Photo courtesy of etsy.com.

Let’s say, for example, you have some big ol’ chunky coral beads you would like to turn into a necklace. These puppies weigh a TON, and you’ve heard that knotting in between your beads will make your necklace more secure; if the necklace breaks, you’ll only lose one bead, because all the others have knots in between them. While this is true, the types of cord typically used for knotting (silk or nylon) that you find in your average bead store are usually pretty fine, and not meant to withstand a lot of A) weight and B) friction from the (sometimes) rough holes of chunkier beads. If you do decide to knot between big, chunky beads, a good rule of thumb is to use the thickest possible cord that can fit through the holes of your beads. S-lon cord could be a good choice, because not only is it a twisted nylon multi-filament cord (i.e. extra durable), but it behaves much like upholstery thread, in that it will not stretch. It is commonly used in micro-macramé jewelry, but it’s “multi-filament” quality means it will take a lot more friction to slice through the cord than if you had used a size 2 silk cord (i.e. super-ultra-thin cord). In sum, don’t use super skinny cord for big, chunky beads.

Leather can also be a hit-or-miss-type of cord. Very often, there are tiny variations in the grain of the leather, and what looks like a tiny lump can actually end up being a weak spot. This can be true even in thicker leather cords, so inspect your leather cord carefully before stringing it through heavy beads or pendants.

And if you had a necklace/bracelet break because it was strung on dental floss. .hmm…how do I say this gently? Dental floss is meant to floss your teeth, not to be used in jewelry-making. ‘Nuf said.

It was not constructed using the correct gauge of wire.

28g or 30g wire is perfect for wire crochet, but not ideal for all types of wire work. Photo courtesy of SisalsDesigns on Etsy.

28g or 30g wire is perfect for wire crochet, but not ideal for all types of wire work. Photo courtesy of SisalsDesigns on Etsy.

Although wire is primarily used in earrings, it can also be found in wire-work necklaces & bracelets. A similar rule applies to wire as to cord: use the thickest wire that will fit through your beads. The reason for this is that super fine wire (30g, 28g) is extremely pliable and, therefore, has a tendency to get bent out of shape very easily. With wire, each bend can result in a kink, and the more pronounced the kink, the more likely the wire is to break. Also, the more you work with wire, the harder — and more brittle — it becomes. Even if you don’t fiddle with your jewelry, wire wraps can still gent bent back and forth with normal wear & tear; the thicker the wire in your jewelry, the more bending it can withstand. If you feel as though your jewelry piece has a weak spot, it is better to have it fixed before it breaks to avoid losing beads or (sad face!) losing the entire piece.

It was not finished properly.
This can mean different things for different types of jewelry. Although we could do an entire post strictly on finishing jewelry (maybe we will — stay tuned!), here are a few of the most common finishing mistakes we come across:
*Failed crimp: This means that a crimp bead was not crimped, or “smushed,” correctly (that’s a very technical term, by the way) or you are using the wrong size crimp for the diameter of SoftFlex you are using. If this is a recurring problem for you, we recommend exploring the SoftFlex School of Design Page for helpful tips and tricks, as well as taking a class here at Blue Door Beads.
*Clasp keeps falling off/Ear wire keeps falling off: We lumped these into the same category, because the same issue affects both scenarios. These items fall off of your jewelry because the connecting findings (in the case of a necklace/bracelet, it would be a jump ring and in the case of earrings, it would be the loop at the base of the hook) have not been closed properly. Check out volcanoarts.com for some helpful tips, and if you are still struggling, ask the Blue Door Beads gals to show you the next time you’re in the shop.

Now, we would like to address one of the most common reasons jewelry can break. We don’t mean to sound snarky, but we would really prefer not to sugar-coat the issue:

You are asking too much of your jewelry.
Your jewelry is decorative & lovely – treat it nicely! We cannot tell you how many times folks have come in, broken jewelry in hand, and exclaimed, “I don’t know what happened! It just broke!”
“Can you tell us a little about what you were doing when it broke?” we ask.
“I wasn’t really doing anything. I was just at the gym running on the treadmill/playing basketball/swimming and it just broke.”

We hate to say it, but jewelry was not meant to be worn during your daily workout. Chlorine will eat away at almost any type of cord, including SoftFlex, and even copious amounts of sweat can damage jewelry, especially the kind that is strung on natural fibers (leather, silk, hemp, etc.) Plus, if you wear your jewelry during your post-workout shower, you are exposing it to soap and intense scrubbing, neither of which will increase the lifespan of your necklace or bracelet.

Another classic case of “I don’t know what happened”:

“I was just holding my baby, and she reached up and yanked on my necklace. It broke immediately! Is it supposed to do that?”

If you HAVE to wear jewelry while holding your wee one, why not make it MummaBubba Jewelry? Then everybody's happy! Photo courtesy of mummabubbajewellery.com.au

If you HAVE to wear jewelry while holding your wee one, why not make it MummaBubba Jewelry? Then everybody’s happy! Photo courtesy of mummabubbajewellery.com.au

We are sorry to be the bearers of bad news, but most jewelry is not designed to withstand the kung-fu grip of your toddler. SoftFlex may be comprised of woven steel wires, but those are not the same as steel cables. In fact, we often tell these customers how lucky they are that their necklace did break; we imagine they’d rather have a broken necklace than a huge gash at the back of their necks. We understand, sometimes you do not know that you are going to be interacting with wee ones when you put on your jewelry in the morning. However, we highly recommend removing your jewelry if you plan to hold any child under the age of five. Sparkly pieces of jewelry are just too tempting, especially the kind that dangle from your ear lobes….you can see where we’re going with this.

It was just time.
Unfortunately, things wear out with time, like a beloved old Grateful Dead vinyl. Even excellent-quality items (Italian leather shoes, purses, top-of-the-line cars) have an expiration date. Luckily, this date can be extended if you treat your item(s) nicely. However, some types of jewelry (like bracelets strung on stretchy cord) won’t last as long as others, simply because they weren’t designed to be long-lasting. In general, higher-quality jewelry will last much longer than, say, the costume jewelry one can find at Claire’s. Also, if your idea of “normal wear & tear” for your jewelry includes sleeping with it, showering with it, running with it, etc. (see above), it will probably not last as long as it would if you took your jewelry off every night and laid it gently in your jewelry box.

Taking good care of antique jewelry means you'll be able to enjoy it for many more years to come! Photo courtesy of langantiques.com

Taking good care of antique jewelry means you’ll be able to enjoy it for many more years to come! Photo courtesy of langantiques.com

Also, some jewelry is just old. For example, perhaps you have inherited your grandmother’s pearl necklace. Grandma only wore it on special occasions, and when your mother inherited it, she treated it with an equal amount of love & care. Now you are following in their footsteps, but a 50-year-old necklace is still a 50-year-old necklace. That doesn’t mean that, when the necklace breaks, you won’t be able to wear it any more. It just means the pearls may need some new cord, a new clasp, and a new lease on life!

In closing, we hope that you have gleaned some useful tips from this post and had the chance to take a look at your beautiful baubles to see what you can do to extend the life of your favorite jewelry. We wish that nobody ever had to come to the shop with a heavy heart because their favorite jewelry broke, but we want to let you know, there is hope. With the right attitude and the right materials, we are confident that your jewelry can live again!

Flex Your Power!

There are heaps of different types of cord in the beading industry: waxed linen, leather, Nymo, and Fireline, just to name a few. However, the cord we return to time and time again for the majority of our beading needs is SoftFlex. We have tried other brands of flexible beading wire, and we have found that, when it comes to flexibility & durability, SoftFlex stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest.

With their wide range of diameters & colors, SoftFlex offers one of the most extensive selections of cord we have ever seen. But how do you know which cord is appropriate for your project? We’re glad you asked! 🙂

econoflexEconoflex
This is a great cord for beaders just starting out who aren’t sure if they want to make beading a full-time hobby. We say that because, although Econoflex (like all cord in the SoftFlex family) is comprised of thin, steel wires woven together and coated with nylon, it has the fewest number of metal strands woven together. That means it is the least flexible type of SoftFlex, and so it is prone to kinking more than other styles. However, as its name indicates, it is the least expensive cord SoftFlex makes, and it’s a heck of a lot better than stringing your beads on fishing line or (gasp!) dental floss. (We understand that there are very few options for stringing materials at summer camp, but it’s time for an upgrade, people.)

Regular SoftFlex comes in several diameters:

Photo courtesy of caravanbeads.blogspot.com.

Photo courtesy of caravanbeads.blogspot.com.

Very Fine – .010 inches in diameter (Use 1x1mm crimps to fininsh.)
This diameter is only found in the SoftTouch style of SoftFlex. Being that it is very fine, it cannot withstand a lot of weight before it kinks and, eventually, breaks. The folks at SoftFlex recommend it only be used for sewing, crocheting, knitting, and weaving. Other diameters in the SoftTouch family (see below) are better suited for necklaces and bracelets.

Photo courtesy of Rare Find Jewelry by Cindy Lou on Etsy.

Photo courtesy of Rare Find Jewelry by Cindy Lou on Etsy.

Fine – .014 inches (Use 1.5×1.5mm  or 2x2mm crimps to finish, giving each crimp and extra squish.)
This diameter is designed for softer, less abrasive materials such as fresh water pearls and seed beads. As SoftFlex states, “Diameter .014 offers the softness and flexibility of pearl stringing threads, yet has the strength of stainless steel.” It is best not to use heavy beads with this diameter; as a good rule of thumb, avoid .014 if you are stringing beads that are larger than 8mm.

Photo courtesy of ArtfulHummingbird on Etsy.

Photo courtesy of ArtfulHummingbird on Etsy.

Medium – .019 inches (Use 2×2 crimps to finish.)
This diameter is our favorite! Medium works well with small to medium glass beads, gemstones, crystals, metal beads, and the majority of freshwater pearls and seed beads. We recommend using this diameter when you are designing with a variety of materials.

Photo courtesy of Rocktoplois on Etsy.

Photo courtesy of Rocktopolis on Etsy.

Heavy – .024 inches (Use 2.5×2.5 crimps to finish.)
This diameter is designed for abrasive materials (it has the thickest coating of nylon applied to the woven wires) and “designs that will meet excessive movement such as watch bands, bracelets, belts and purse straps.” It is great for large, heavy beads, such as lampwork glass and large gemstones.

Photo courtesy of SoftFlex Company.

Photo courtesy of SoftFlex Company.

SoftFlex Metallics and SoftFlex Colors
These two subcategories of SoftFlex are manufactured in the same way as the other Fine-through-Heavy SoftFlex cords, with one exception: the nylon coating on the outside of the woven wires has had color added. This is a permanent color and will not bleed. It is ideal for woven and floating-style pieces where you want the cord to show, or if you have somewhat translucent beads and you don’t like the idea of having the standard, gray color of regular SoftFlex to show.

Photo courtesy of SoftFlex Company

Photo courtesy of SoftFlex Company

ExtremeFlex
The fanciest of the SoftFlex family, this subcategory also comes in SoftFlex’s full range of diameters, but what makes ExtremeFlex so nifty is that the woven wires underneath the nylon coating have been plated with precious metals! These cords are shimmery silver & gold because they have real silver and gold in them. Don’t worry about the plating wearing off: you’d have to scrape through the entire layer of nylon to get to the wires, then scrape the electroplating off of the wires. In other words, it would be darn near impossible. We recommend using ExtremeFlex for the same kind of projects where you’d use the Metallics or Colors. Covering up such lovely (and somewhat pricey) cord would be a waste!

We hope you find this guide helpful, and that you have great success with all of your beading projects. Flex your beading power!