Daily Wire Tip May 10: Organizing Beads for Easy Jewelry Making

By on May 9, 2011
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
May 10, 2011


Dale, how do you organize your beads? I’m now doing it by color. Do you have any suggestions?

-Ni in Columbus, Ohio


The choice is up to you, Ni! Most of the WS Faculty members and I separate our beads by color, too: either mixing individual boxes of crystals and stones into the same master container (or drawers in a hardware cabinet); or separating crystals and glass in one container, and natural stones in another. Mine are arranged like a rainbow: white/clear across the top, with one drawer being crystals, the next stones, then reds – graduating from light red through dark. The next is are pinks, then orange, browns, amber colors, yellows, greens, blues, violets and blacks. In this manner if I am working with a certain palette, it’s easy to know where those colors are. While working, I pull out each drawer that has the colors I think I want, play with them, and then put them away. In some drawers I use small “Tic-tac”-like containers, or miniature zip-loc bags, so I can separate small sizes and shapes individually. This also makes it easy to see when I am running low on a certain item.

In the article Setting Up Your Jewelry Making Work Space, WS Faculty member Mary W. Bailey shares several ways that supplies can be organized and stored, that are accompanied by several photographs.

I would like to ask our fellow wire jewelry makers, how do you prefer to store and organize your beads?

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Elizabeth Freville

    May 10, 2011 at 6:39 am

    I use one of those CSI cases that open up to the sides and put my beads in those used, plastic Gerber Baby Food containers. They work great and come in small and larger sizes. They fit perfectly into my case too! :)

  2. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 8:13 am

    This is something all of us go thru and try to find a system that works for us. And, despite the best laid plans, even my workshop’s organization goes really whacko at times.

    I have used the storage binders with the little plastic trays in them designed to hold crystals or beads as well as clear shoe boxes for keeping up with stuff. I’ve recycled plastic containers and labeled them for storage, not to mention buying the nut & bolt style hardware cabinets with drawers in them. I believe I now have 10 of those bad boys.

    And despite all that, I still have things in bags laying on my work table.

    Now, Dale is organized to the point of being scary…lol. That is just her nature to be organized and neat. She once cleared off my work table area, stored and sorted stuff, and when she was done it was 2 weeks before I would even sit down at the table to work. All that neatness scared me. I am not a neat creator when it comes to making jewelry. But I am getting better at trying to put things back where they belong.

    You just have to think about it, look at your work space area, and go from there.

  3. avatar

    Mint Schlief

    May 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I have found that the small clear plastic boxes that are already pre-divided (approximately 5″ X 8″ X 1″ high) with slide “latches” on the front are wonderful for storing small beads. If there are too many beads for 1 slot then I put the overflow in the adjacent space. I label them with their size. If it is the one for my round silver beads, I keep them in order by size. This works well for multiple sizes of the same shape and color of crystals also. Then for larger beads I use the plastic boxes that are about 8″ X 12″. Each box is labeled with a printed adhesive backed tag with the general content. These labels are placed on the front and left side. That way they can be stacked on shelves or stored on edge in drawers. If there are enough of one type of stone I categorize them by stone. Otherwise I do it by color. For cabs. I also use the larger plastic boxes and categorize them either by material or in some cases, subject matter (ie. butterflies, animals, carved bone, Ojimas, etc.). Try to keep all of the boxes the same size and they will be much friendlier when stacking!

  4. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I will have to say that this is one of the hardest parts for me making jewelry. First of all, I have limited space. When my beads come in, I label them and put a price per bead so that I know how to price my pieces made with them. This takes time, but if I do it when the order comes in, it is easier. I wonder if you organize beads by color how you know what you paid for them. I would be curious to know if there is a better way than the way I organize.

    • avatar


      May 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Hi Cathy, I am an ‘old school’ user of steno pads to keep track of my inventory prices : ) Some folks (easier for those just starting out) use inventory software on their computer.

  5. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 10:32 am

    One of the best things I have done for my work area, and it has nothing to do with stones and wire, is to have a “hands free” telephone nearby. With Caller ID, I can choose to answer the phone or not. If i do answer, my hands free system lets me continue to work, or at least hold what I was in the middle of creating before taking that very important call.

  6. avatar

    Lorraine Brooks

    May 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

    My son helped me get organized. The hardest choice for me was what I wanted to use to store my goodies in. We went from store to store to store looking at all the options available. I finally decided on 2 specific items.

    Main item is a 7 drawer hard plastic system on wheels. I bought 3 of them. Each has 4 drawers about 8 inches deep and 3 drawers about 4 inches deep. They are clear so the front can be seen thru easily to know what is in them at all times.

    Second item I find invaluable. Inside the drawers I store my goodies inside plastic zip lock bags. These come in various sizes from 1×1 up to 12 x 12. And you can write on them with markers. So I have each one marked with color, size and price I paid for it.

    On pricing what I paid for an item, I also include what it cost per inch on my wires and chains and such. If I buy a set of pendants, I know exactly what they cost me per piece if I only use a few, and for the whole set if I use them all in one design. Much easier to calculate this way, for me anyway.

    When I first started making jewelry, I had no confidence in myself and just sold at double what I had invested in a piece. If I had $5 in it, I sold it for $10. But not anymore. Now that I am totally organized, I know exactly what I have and what it is worth. Now a $5 investment would cost a customer $15 to $20.

    Just like make-up, ladies are always going to buy jewelry and gentlemen are always going to buy jewelry for ladies.


  7. avatar

    Lady Mockingbird

    May 10, 2011 at 11:28 am

    I first separate my beads and components by material type and then sort by color.

    I use individual bead organizing trays for the precious metals, stones, and organics, the books with individual mini-trays for my glass crystal and base metal components.

    Glass and Crystal are kept in one section, semi-precious/precious stones in another, shells/MOP/Coral, Wood/Bone, base metals, and then precious metals.

    After that each is sorted by color, but not in a rainbow ordering, but more in a color family order. Golds, browns, coppers and bronze tones together, blues and greens together, reds and purples together, whites and ivories etc.

    This system also helps me to keep items with similar price points within close proximity to one another which makes pricing items after completing a bit simpler.

  8. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Well I must say that staying organized was a goal at one point, but now I can safely say staying creative is my goal. I’ve organized in plastic compartment organizers(craftmates) that lock I have children, plastic zippy bags, Clear rolling things with drawers and now I’m using Photo storage boxes simply organizing by size type and style and keeping them in the bags they came in. Cabochons, Faceted stones,Lg beads plain, Lg beads shaped or faceted, ect. Color was too much for me, I do still have some organized by color though. The neat thing with the photo boxes is that you can insert smaller boxes inside for specialty items. My space is a small corner desk and it’s not working for me, I still find myself at the kitchen table. Soon I hope to move to a nook/desk area in my bedroom with shelving and a desk to hold my scraprack organizer that can be used to organize small items by color, style, they give examples, it comes with pocketed sheets of varying sizes, you can buy more later. And it has velcro spinders, like a binder so that you can grab one and take it with you, I found it at scraprack.com and theres stuff on youtube. I’m hoping it’s going to work out. I think I’m right there with Mary and Cathy as far as my style. I too leave my stuff in the bags with the price per bead.So I’m hoping the scraprack will help me omit the clutter.
    Goodluck everyone with your organizing endeavors.

  9. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I forgot, also I just organize my wire by gauge in a file divider/organizer with handles, like what people use for mail or paperwork. Keeping them in the bags with price per inch marked with a sharpie

  10. avatar

    Donna Rainey

    May 10, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I found ‘the best craft organizer’ is great for all my beads and cabs. They come in all sizes from one for a table top or carts with wheels as well and ‘desks’. They are well made and have inserts that you can keep your beads/cabs etc in. I tossed out all those plastic containers after getting these. I have four table top ones as well as two of the rolling carts. (And I won’t mention the ones I have for my scrapbooking!)

  11. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    I was so unorganized the first few years of my jewelrymaking journey. I had about 7 of the rolling carts and a lot of other storage containers. Needless to say, I couldn’t find a thing that is until I got pegboards. Now, almost all of my beads are hanging where I can see them. I store my metals in flat plastic containers with a piece of antitarnish strip in with the sterling and gold-fill wire and beads. I am not all the way organized, but its getting better. I still have two big canvas bags filled with beads that I found in closets, tote bags, zip lock bags, etc. One day, hopefully, I will have all of the beads on the wall. BTW, I have my pegboards lined up on the wall going down my steps from my second floor studio, on my studio walls and my bedroom walls.


  12. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I have a really cool system using about 15 antique printer’s trays, slanted storage rack, with custom made covers, allowing me to see where all is backstocked, stored, and having thousands of choices easily visible while I work on a cool work top I made. Sorry I am technophobic still, can’t forward photos.

  13. avatar


    May 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I organize all my beads in a much more visual way, as I can’t be bothered opening lots of drawers searching for something:

    I installed a 6′ x 4′ piece of pegboard on the wall, attached a spotlight over it, and used 4-6″ long single straight hooks attached every second hole across the width of the board. As I usually buy complete strands of beads I drape them across the hook, or tie them into a circle and hang them according to color, starting with clear quartz crystal at the upper left and developing the color range from light to dark. I leave enough space between the rows so they can hang untangled with the next row. I do it strictly by color, mixing opaque turquoise with clear or facetted Apatite, because I’m usually aiming for definite color choices. The third row is mostly Swarovski crystals, and each peg is for a SIZE of crystal: i.e., all colors of 4mm, all colors of 5mm, etc. The rest of that row is for small, facetted natural stones of the more expensive type: tourmalines, amethysts, etc., then briolettes of various sizes and colors. The bottom row is totally pearls all the way across, the first few pegs according to color, and fairly normal shapes and sizes, then the last pegs are hung with the larger baroque strands and finally the big expensive cultured odd-shaped pearls which are used individually for pendants.

    If I have taken only a few beads off a strand, rather than hiding them in a drawer, I put the loose strand in a small Zip-Lock, nick a slit in the top of the bag with scissors and slide the bag on to the correct peg with similar strands so that they will get used up first. The only beads I keep in drawers, cookie tins, or whatever, are the gold and silver beads, Bali separators, handmade silver beads, handmade glass feature beads, etc. and those boxes and drawers are well-marked for the specific contents.

    The large pegboard with all the rows of strands, allow me to “play” with the components, holding the strands or A BEAD up against multiple choices till I get the perfect combination. Hope this is useful.

  14. avatar

    Rockland Rocks

    May 11, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Mary, you are my kind of gal. I can’t be creative and neat at the same time! I use mostly semi-precious gemstones and I keep each strand in a snack-size zip lock, labeled with description, vendor and cost, then store the individual bags in clear plastic shoe-box containers according to color families (blue-green, brown-black, etc.) If a box gets too crowded, I know to stop buying for a while! I also keep pearls, crystals, pendants, and metal beads in separate plastic storage boxes. I have a small 3-drawer plastic stack unit I use for findings. When I have more ideas than I can work on at once, or I am waiting for just that right type of bead to complete a project, I put all the individually-bagged components together (including a sketch of my design)in a quart-size zip-lock bag and those go in a separate “project pending” plastic shoe box, but generally there are 8 or 10 project bags stacked on the back of my work table. I keep invoices in a large looseleaf binder, sorted by vendor, but I tend to let my filing “pile up” until the stack falls over. I also take a “picture” of every completed project by using my flat-table color copier and note the materials used and date completed on the copy. It’s not the most color-accurate record, but it is life-size. I keep those records in a looseleaf binder, too.

    • avatar


      May 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      Hey Rockland – I like your ‘pending design’ baggie idea : )

  15. avatar

    Kelly G

    May 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    I have a wall organizer with 9 cubes, each one having a fabric “drawer”. Each cube holds a different size bead, so I know where to go for the 4mm, 8mm, etc. In that cube, I separate the beads by color. This sounds simple, but I just use ziploc bags for each color.

    Each drawer is light enough to pull out of the organizer, and I can easily see the bag that I need.

  16. avatar


    February 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    I know this is a fairly old discussion, but I wanted to add in something I found just recently. They’re called “Really Useful Boxes” I found mine at Staples, but here’s the website….
    What I really like about these is the lock-and-lock feature. I drop things (I spilled about 2000 jumprings the other day – into the carpet) so having something that’s locked so I don’t dump it….that helps a LOT. These are probably a little more expensive than some of you want to spend, but each little box holds a LOT of items, and if you keep different beads/stones in ziplick backgs, you should be able to put 2-3 in each little box. Or, if you get on a kick (not that I ever do that!) and have a lot of one type….. these are GREAT!!! I have 3 so far (I like the 16 count size) and I’m seriously thinking of getting rid of my “parts drawers” and replacing with these…..