“I have a pattern that calls for Supplemax. Can I substitute the Supplemax with Fireline?”, or “I am just learning to weave and I don’t understand the difference between Fireline and Supplemax? Are the 2 products interchangeable?” These are questions I receive via email pretty frequently. I don’t blame people for being confused. The decision about whether to use a beading thread or a monofilament can be difficult and depends on so many things. How flexible do you want your piece to be? How long is the piece going to be? What stitch are you using? Do you want your piece domed or “puffed” or do you want it to be a little softer?
When deciding what to use, the first rule is this: always do what your pattern or instructions dictate. Because Supplemax and Fireline are so different, your piece will turn out completely different (or may not work at all) if you make a material substitution. They are so different, in fact that substituting one for the other would be like substituting a .015 beading wire for a 22 gauge craft wire. You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?
But let’s say that you don’t want to copy someone else’s pattern and want to start experimenting on your own. The following are a few guidelines that can help you figure out when to use what.
The first thing to know is the fundamental difference between the materials. Supplemax is a monofilament, which is a single strand of untwisted synthetic fiber (think fishing line); Fireline is a braided beading thread. Supplemax has a test strength of 12 pounds, while Fireline’s test strength is usually about 6 pounds. This means that Supplemax is sturdier and stronger than Fireline. That sounds good but it also means that Supplemax will not give your woven pieces the flexibility that Fireline will.
Supplemax is my favorite when I want to create three-dimensional rings or woven pendants. Using a monofilament is great for these pieces because you can create a domed or puffed piece such as theSwarovski Puffy Heart or Starburst pendant without having to pass through your beads multiple times; the ends of Supplemax are sturdy and stiff enough that they find their way through the beads easily and stiffly hold the beads in position. You usually use a no needle right angle weave technique when working with monofilament which means woven pieces seem to work up a little faster and easier. In addition, you work with the exact amount of material needed to complete a piece—usually 3 to 5 feet—so you don’t have to tie in when you need more thread. In addition, when you use a right angle weave with Supplemax, you don’t need a needle at all! (That was a big selling point for me when I first started weaving; the needle and thread thing sounded completely intimidating to someone who doesn’t even know how to sew!)
Fireline is good for just about everything else woven. It works well on pieces where you will inevitably use 12 feet of stringing material, such as a peyote bracelet for several reasons. First of all, you can start with a comfortable length of thread and tie in more when you need it. This reduces knots and tangles you would get if you had too much thread to begin with; it also enables you to add a little more length to a bracelet or necklace. In my opinion, that is where Fireline has a huge benefit over Supplemax. When you need to add more length or repair a Supplemax piece, you have to reweave the whole thing. You can not simply tie back in, weave a little magic, and then call it done. As a general rule, because woven pieces often call for the use of small beads and most stitches require you to pass through these same tiny beads multiple times, you will want to use Fireline when you do any one of the following stitches: peyote, ladder, flat spiral, embellished right angle weave and any kind of tubular stitch such as the peyote tube. Using Fireline in these stitches also helps keep them supple. Like I said earlier, Fireline allows for a lot more flexibility, not only in your finished piece but also in your ability to work and rework a piece.
I know weaving can be so intimidating to people. When you see a finished piece, it often looks so complicated that it can seem discouraging. Just remember to take it slow and learn the basic stitch before you try to create a complicated masterpiece. Here at Auntie’s Beads, we have online videos to help you get started and show you how to not only do basic stitches, but also how to complete a project learning the new techniques you learn. Magazines can also be a great resource. If you are new to weaving, I recommend Step By Step Beads; it has great illustrations and instructions, and even a glossary or terms and techniques at the back of each issue. Most of all, though, have fun while you weave—no matter what material you choose to use!
Shanna Steele, Auntie’s Beads Designer