That Dreaded Word Tension
Tension is basically how tight you bead, i.e. how much pressure you are putting on your thread as you are adding beads. A tight tension means your beadwork is stiff and a loose tension means you beadwork will be more floppy.
To some, tension is the cause of all your beading problems. I am not sure I fully agree. When I am creating a design I like every bead to sit correctly and I cannot abide anywhere in my design where things don’t quite match up and you get a ugly gap or ripple in the beadwork. I will change a design to minimise this, so I definitely think the design also plays a big part. I know that different beaders bead with different tensions and my designs still work*
I always thought I beaded with a normal tension until my husband had a go at beading and his result was so loose I had to readjust my scale. We were both beading the same 3D design and the design looked the same, but it felt very different - his was a lot more pliable. This made me think a bit more about tension and I realised because I had ensured that the way the beadwork joined together fitted perfectly, it meant that despite loose beadwork being slightly bigger it would still fit in the same way, as the join would be adjusted to the scale of the tension on both sides.
Having said that I do firmly believe controlling your tension row by row can really make a vast different to the look of your beadwork and give you a more professional look. So, what do I mean by this?
Well, first off take a look at what you are about to bead, is it supposed to be nicely rounded or does it have sharp, straight edges? By using the wrong tension at the wrong time could mean your nicely rounded shape will have ridges or your straight lines will curve.
You might be thinking how on earth can you change your tension depending on the row you are on, it’s easy!
To tighten a row, give the thread a gentle tug after adding each bead. (I also recommend using a shorter thread as you tend to work with a tighter tension if you are not pulling the thread very far through the bead). You will typically tighten a row when you are increasing or decreasing and you are looking for a sharpe ridge or edge.
To loosen a row, bead as normal and try not to tug on the thread. At the end of the row smooth your fingers over the beadwork so any beads that are part of an increase are lying flat. You can pull on the thread to tighten and readjust as necessary. Note we are not looking for gaps between most beads just the ones that are part of an increase or decrease again.
When controlling tension we are not looking for extremes, you will still be beading with your normal tension, but when you are getting to rows when the shape is changing (i.e increasing or decreasing) you will control your tension to enhance the shape you are forming. i.e. For an egg shape you will need to loosen your tension at these points. I find that I tend to do this automatically as I a bead, using a looser or tighter tension depending on what my next row will be.
* As a disclaimer I will mention that very occasionally I have had instances where this isn’t always the case for a beader with loose tension. For example where beadwork needs to be sewn to other beads to form a structural piece and that sewing has been too loose that the beadwork moves and does not remain stable. I usually recommend in these instances to add new thread on and reattach or add a dab of nail varnish to stiffen the beadwork.