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Multi-Color Wood Beads Tutorial

Tutorial by Jeanne-Marie Mellor

Basic supplies:
  • Wood Beads: White Wood, Coconut Wood, Bayong Wood (if you only try one of these, try the white wood, it's fabulous; if you try the coconut discs, get the light ones)
  • One or more coloring agents (see notes below and examples of different color techniques on the journal page)
  • Polyurethane (not water-based - water-based polyurethane causes multi-colored beads to bleed, which is great if you want a watercolor effect)
  • Rags
  • Q-tips
  • A method for dipping and drying your beads with a sealant
  • Liquid Color--such as alcohol inks, calligraphy inks, food color, paints, ready-mixed fabric dyes, etc. (there are seemingly zillions of brands and possibilities, see my notes and favorites below)
  • Paint brush (fine to medium)
  • An old sheet (or other old cloth)
  • Plastic gloves
  • Small containers (i.e. yogurt cups, prescription bottles, etc.; preferably recyclable containers, plastic can be rinsed and re-used, containers with lids can help preserve the contents)
  • Stir sticks (straws or chopsticks work well; wood chop sticks are great because you can see how the wood is reacting to the color and make adjustments)
Note: If you'd like to make multi-colored beads without getting involved in inks, bottled liquid dyes any form of dyeing, pens or permanent markers work well (see examples on the journal page and see my favorites list below).
Supplies for dyeing wood beads (as well as bone beads & fabric):
  • Dylon Fabric Dyes
  • Salt
  • Measuring spoon
  • All the supplies listed above
  • Old shirt or apron
Notes: Just about any form of color is fair game for experimenting here. When you are using a sealer, water-based or not, color that would otherwise bleed has potential for coloring beads. Even food such as berries, cherries, beet juice, coffee, etc., will work (no mordant necessary, as it is with fabric).
Rather than going into the multitude of dyes available, I listed my favorites for dyeing beads because it's a no nonsense, straightforward, quality dye that produces rich, beautiful colors on fabric, as well as wood and bone beads. If you don't have a good art supply store in your area, I have also seen this dye for a great price on Create for Less. The Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow liquid dyes are also available online; I haven't seen them on Create for Less though. The best place for all things dye online is Dharma Trading. Jacquard also makes other dye products, if you want to experiment further. Warning: enter at your own risk. This website is supremely overwhelming and has way too much cool and amazing stuff.
My favorite materials:
  • Sharpies Permanent Markers (what can I say? I have all kinds of art supplies but I do love my Sharpies. I mostly use these for background color on the beads)
  • Gelly Roll Pens by Sakura (the medium to thick work best for wood beads)
  • Magnified glasses (maybe you don't need these. I find them indispensable when using pens)
  • Micron Pens by Sakura (great for fine lines and outlining)
  • Dylon Fabric Dyes (no vats of hot water, mordants, etc. Just warm water and a pinch of salt)
I use the materials listed below if I'm only painting a few beads:
  • Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow liquid dyes (I pour these into prescriptions bottles to dye beads and then pour them back to re-use them)
  • Dr. Ph. Martin's Inks (I paint these on the beads for background color before using the gelly roll pens.
  • Alcohol Inks by Ranger (Tim Holtz) (If you don't already have these, I wouldn't bother. They're expensive and many of the colors don't stand out on wood. If you do already have them, you can squirt a drop or two right on the bead for concentrated color, or dilute in a palette with Tim Holtz's Adirondack Blending Solution.
Pictured below are examples of burned and painted wood beads (left to right):
Beads painted only with permanent markers
A bead colored with marker and gel pen
Bayong wood & coconut discs burned, dyed, painted with gel pen and enhanced with Swarovski crystals
Beads colored only with gel pens
Bayong wood beads painted with gel pens
Coconut discs & white wood rectangular beads dyed, then painted with gel pens
A few examples of what happens when you dip multi-colored beads in water-based varnish
An example of a coconut disc drilled with a larger hole for wiring
Plus a few examples of beads treated with ultra-thick embossing powder instead of dipping in varnish.
DYEING WOOD BEADS (and bone spacers)
Note: If you are dyeing in the kitchen, ALWAYS use your dyes AWAY from food areas and use utensils dedicated to DYES ONLY. If you can, set up a small dye table in the corner covered with an old sheet; mix and dye everything there. To dispose, pour directly down an open drain.
One of the benefits to using fabric dyes like Dylon is that you can mix a small amount whenever you need hassle-free. For the photos shown here, I used only 1-2 teaspoons of dye to approximately 1/2 cup of very warm water and a pinch of salt. That was plenty for the amount of beads shown in the results photo. Although this dye calls for warm water, I start with hot water, enough to dissolve the crystals. (See in the results photo on a few of the beads there are white areas that look like salt/mineral deposits. This happens when either the dye crystals aren't dissolved enough or you've used too much dye for the amount of water. There are really no firm rules for amount of dye or timing here, so for beads it's okay to experiment. Generally speaking, darker colors need less dye-to-water. As with amount of time, it also depends on how vibrant or pastel you want your colors. Usually, 1-2 hours is plenty for beads. Denser substances like bone do well with longer dye time, especially if it has a light polish that makes it less porous. So play and have fun! Experiment with mixing dye colors to get in-between hues like apricot, honeysuckle, blue-violet, lime green.  Note: It's generally better to dye before burning your beads. Often times, dyeing after burning your beads results in muddy colors, especially with lighter hues. Ideally, the best process is dye, burn, then varnish.

"Once out of the box, I became intrigued by ideas for adding color to the woodburned beads. Dyeing, doodling, painting, experimenting with pattern and design. The Coconut, White Wood and Bayong Wood became the perfect little wearable canvases. Making this bracelet and two necklaces I found that magnesite/howlite in its many forms and colors are the ideal compliment to painted wood beads. It feels like Mardi Gras, a Cinco De Mayo, a celebration around my wrist and neck."