There are many considerations to take into account when designing a mala. Gathering the correct threads, beads, and tools are crucial to the success of the project. For those who have never made malas before, there are a lot of questions about what all is needed - we hope this article will help guide you on your mala journey.
What size beads should I use?
Malas have 108 beads, typically with knots or spacers in between each bead. With so many beads, it's crucial to choose the right size bead as this will have a significant impact on the overall length of the mala.
- Malas with 6mm beads will be approximately 70cm in overall length
- Malas with 8mm beads will be approximately 90cm in overall length
The length of the mala you choose will depend on personal preference and how it will be worn. If you're unsure about size, it's a good idea to cut a piece of string to the different lengths and drape it over your neck to get a sense of how far down it hangs.
Tejas Beads has a large selection of semi-precious stone beads that are perfect for mala making.
How many strands do I need?
Once you have decided on the bead size, the next question is how many strands to buy to get 108 beads.
A good rule of thumb for bead counts with 15 inch strands and round beads is...
- 6mm strands have about 60 beads - requiring two strands for a mala.
- 8mm strands have about 45 beads - requiring three strands for a mala.
Be sure to always have some extra beads available in case you find a bead that's chipped, cracked, or doesn't match the rest - you're bound to find a few of these when working with natural stone beads.
What type and size of cord should I use?
There are three main types of cords used for malas - silk, nylon, and cotton cords. By far the most popular cord type is a nylon S-Lon cord because of its strength, ease of use, and long-term durability.
Malas require a 5ft length of cord that is then folded over and doubled up which essentially doubles its thickness - This is important to consider this when choosing a cord size/thickness to work with. Tex 210 (0.5mm thickness) is a good choice for malas with 8mm beads. And while the Tex 210 will work for most 6mm beads as well, a Tex 135 (0.4mm thickness) cord it a necessary backup option in case the bead holes are too small.
Some beads have slightly larger or smaller holes than others, so it's always a good idea to have both size cords on hand in case one doesn't fit, or if there is extra room to use the larger size.
Knot Size and Cord Selection
It's important to keep in mind that the size cord you choose will dictate the size of the knots. Sometimes small beads have holes large enough for a thicker cord, but when knotted, the knots come out being too large for the beads they sit next to and it'll look awkward.
Make some test knots for practice and to see how they size up next to the beads.
Before starting your mala, use the different size cords to knot between two or three beads to get a sense of the knot to bead size ratio. This way you can get a visual of how it will look before you get started. This also gives you an opportunity to work on your knotting technique beforehand so that when you get started on the first few knots of the mala they are not loose and mismatched from the rest after you've had more practice.
What tools do I need?
Malas typically have knots between every bead. Meaning that you'll be making 108 knots that all need to be pushed closely against the beads. This can be accomplished with your fingers, but it can be a tedious and cumbersome process. Employing tweezers or an awl can be helpful when tightening down the knots against the beads.
A beading needle helps to get the cord through the beads. The type of needle chosen is primarily personal preference, but a common choice is a collapsible eye style needle due to its durability and ease of threading.
What choices do I have for a guru bead?
At the base of the mala you'll typically find a single larger guru bead. This bead receives four lengths of cord to complete the mala loop. There are a couple of options for this. A specifically designed guru bead with three holes can be used, or more commonly, an oversized standard drill bead measuring 10mm to 12mm provides a nice touch and will usually fit four lengths of 0.4mm S-Lon cord through its hole. Four strings of 0.5mm may start getting a bit tight if it fits at all.
The guru bead will often be a focal point and the most unique bead in your mala.
Large hole beads are also a good choice as they have holes 2mm+ that are sure to always fit the four cord lengths. The only caveat with large hole beads is that if the holes are too big for the knots they will slip through, so this is a case where it's good to have a few extra bead options on hand. Having some Large Hole Beads as well as some standard drill beads will ensure that you don't run into any show stoppers.
How do I finish the mala?
Finishing a mala is an area where you can really personalize your creation and make it unique for yourself. A tassel is standard for a traditional look and those wanting to add essential oils, but the mala strings can also be knotted or beaded - 3 beads on each dangling string has a nice look to it.
There are many different way that a mala can be finished.
If you are new to mala making and are about to embark on your first mala creation, it's a good idea to have extra cords and beads in different sizes at your disposal. Not only will this keep you from having to unexpectedly stop your project early because of an oversight, but it'll also give you options in case you see some creative potential. If you decide that you want to incorporate some elements of a tantric mala into your design, you'll be happy to have some extra beads on hand.
There are many different styles of malas, and while creating, don't be afraid to branch out and try something new, this will make the finished piece all that more precious and personal.
Do you have experience with making mala? If so, share it with the community by commenting below!