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!

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The Stages of Design

Sandra tearing into her latest purchases. It's like Christmas!

Sandra tearing into her latest purchases. It’s like Christmas!

Sandra, one of our artists-in-residence, came to the shop recently with a package she’d just received. She wanted us to see the latest jewelry components she’d ordered, in part because she knew we would appreciate her latest sparkly purchases (who doesn’t love sparkles?!), but also because she said she may need “design moral support.” We asked her what she meant by that. She said that there were times when items she ordered didn’t always turn out how she expected, and her initial reaction might be disappointment. She wanted us there to give her some hope that she could still use her less-than-thrilling components, if that’s what they turned out to be. She (half-jokingly) said she went through the same “stages of design” with almost every jewelry project. We decided to expand upon the stages she described, because we’re pretty sure many jewelry designers go through the same process, and we wanted you to know that you’re not alone!

Excitement: “Ooo! Something new to work with!”
There’s nothing quite like purchasing a particularly awesome pendant, inspiring strand of beads, or another cool jewelry component. You can’t wait to take your new item home, haul out your bead stash, and start designing. You’re not sure what you’re going to do with it yet, but it’s so pretty! You’ll find a way to use it, you’re sure of it.

Anxiety: “Is this going to work?”
You bring out your boxes ‘o beads, lay out your bead board, and start thinking about what you are going to make. A necklace? Hmm… Sure. Is it for you? Well, maybe. But your best friend’s birthday is coming up, so maybe you should make something for her. Would she like this pendant/strand/other cool doodad? Hmm… You’re not sure. Maybe this necklace should be for you, after all. But do you have other beads/spacers/etc. that will work with your latest purchase? Oh, geez. You’re not sure if this is going to work.

Dread: “This is never going to work.”
You shuffle your beads around in your tray, play with different lengths, multiple strands, different clasps…and nothing seems to be working. Either the proportions aren’t right, the colors are all wrong, or the end result just doesn’t get you excited. It’s missing something, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it. You leave your project for a little while, come back to it…and still nothing. Argh! Why is this so hard?! You give up, walk away, and leave your project for a few days. Just like during a tiff with a loved one, sometimes you just need time to cool off.

Hope: “Hmm…this could work.”
Now you’ve had some time to think. You’ve looked up some pictures in your beading magazines, you’ve gone online and done some searching for design ideas, and you’ve asked some fellow beaders (like the gals at Blue Door Beads!) what their thoughts are about your problem-child project. You’ve compiled a group of sketches of designs that intrigue you and have done a little more planning. Those spacers that you thought were perfect for this design? Scratch them. The brightly-colored beads that popped out at you at the beginning? Let’s try ones that are a bit more subdued. They’re equally pretty, and they may be just what this necklace needs. The gears in your brain start turning, you start putting things together, and then…

Sandra's finished necklace! She wasn't sure how to incorporate the mother-of-pearl components at first, but she made it happen, and the results are stunning!

Sandra’s finished necklace! She wasn’t sure how to incorporate the mother-of-pearl components at first, but she made it happen, and the result is stunning!

Satisfaction: “Woo hoo! This totally works!”
You weren’t sure if you’d ever get there, but lo and behold, you have a completed necklace. And it’s FABULOUS! It was frustrating at first to have to change things around so much, but it was worth it. This is a piece you LOVE, you feel great wearing it, and it’s just what you had hoped for. Even if the style is much different than what you are used to, or if it’s a color you don’t wear very often, fret not. Keep in mind that, if you find later on you don’t wear it as often as you thought you would, you can always re-work it into something even more beautiful. True, you may have to go through the “stages of design” all over again, but that is part of the creative process. You may not go through all of the stages with each one of your projects, which is OK, but if you do, that’s OK, too. Just remember we can’t always control where our designing brains takes us. The important thing is to enjoy the ride!

Check our Sandra’s work in person here at Blue Door Beads on the third Thursday of every month from 6pm-9pm during the Piedmont Avenue Stroll.

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!