Mala in the making

I know I said yesterday that I would be posting more about giant knitting, but I got up this morning (early) and had a hankering to take some photos of the mala I currently have in the works. So I figured, what’s wrong with two posts in one day? Nothing!

When I first started making mala not too long ago, I searched the internet for information to help me, and found…not much. I managed to find one site that talked about knotting, some info on guru beads, a couple sites about making mala without knotting (which is not what I was interested in doing at all) and that was about it. So, I ended up learning a lot by trial and error, and am still learning. So why not share?

I always start my mala by stringing a spare bead with a large hole onto both cables, then knotting it loosely with a basic knot, then stringing the first real bead on right next to it.

Just in case bead

I call it my “just in case” bead – in case I miscount. It happens. This way, the spare bead (in this case, the silver one) can be removed and the first blue bead pulled off without incident.

Knotting is the heart and soul of hand-making mala. After trying and failing at many different things, I settled on using two cords and performing a snake knot – not an easy task the first twenty times, but then it becomes like second nature. What I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to thread two pieces of cord (in this case, I am using embroidery floss) through a small hole, as most precious stone beads are drilled at 0.8mm or 1mm and I’m not really in the market for a diamond-bit drill. None of my crafting needles fit through, period, so I bought a pack of beading needles (which I haven’t owned in SO long!) and found that the process of threading them (and inevitably rethreading them when I pulled too hard in the wrong place) was just taking too long.  I was pretty discouraged, but eventually came up with a solution.

Home made needles

If you can’t tell, they’re essentially home-made needles. I used some very fine jewellery wire (the sticker ripped off months ago, but I’m sure it’s 0.3mm or smaller) cut to short but manageable lengths, folded over the embroidery thread. Yes, it occasionally still pulls out, but it’s easy to correct, and pull outs can generally be avoided so long as you have a good grip on the “needles”. My tools of the trade are:

Multitool Ooh wire cutters

The Cabela’s multi-tool is fantastic. My husband bought it for me for my last birthday, in anticipation that I might need it on the hiking honeymoon we were planning, but when that was kiboshed after he fell and twisted his ankle, it found a new home in my jewellery kit. Forget craft store pliers – you need this instead!

So, the process of threading one bead with two cords becomes quite simple – I just do one at a time. The first one usually slides through on its own, but the second frequently needs to be pulled through with pliers. One issues that came up was that, since the wire is folded back on itself, when threading the second one, the needle would sometimes catch one or two strands of the other cord on the folded wire and pull it apart. I learned quickly to pull on both the cord already through and the needle at the same time to avoid this problem.

Snake knotting is easy, but it looks complicated. This particular blog is not a snake-knotting guide (I’ll show you guys that later, with two different colours) but here are the basics.

Snake knot step one

Snake knot step two

Snake knot step three

A snake knot makes a much bigger knot than your basic one-strand loop knot, and sits pretty evenly, which avoids twisting. It’s important to pull the knot very tight to avoid having the beads move around after the mala has been worn and, inevitably, pulled tighter.   Heavy gemstone mala will pull the knots tight with gravity, though bone, wood and seed ones will not as much. Tighter is better. If you pull your knot tight and the bead slips over it, you are going to have to find a heavier cord.

As you can see, I’m only a few stones into this mala, so I’ll continue this blog later when we get onto things like marker beads, guru beads and tassels.

Unfinished mala

– Jen McLeod Concrete Oyster

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