The following instructions were originally posted in 2008.
As promised, here’s a set of instructions for making a 108 bead wooden mala. I’ve developed this way of making malas myself by looking at other malas and generally fiddling around with materials until I got a decent result. I expect that when talented, intelligent people stumble across this simple method that they will improve upon it.
1.) 1.2mm – 1.5mm Chinese knotting cord (~ 48” per mala)
2.) 4” beading needles
3.) G-S Hypo Cement (update - I don't use Hypo Cement any longer) for knots
4.) Sally Hansen Ultimate Shield for Knots and tassel winding.
5.) Medium Sized Channel-Lock Pliers
6.) Sharp Scissors
7.) Embroidery floss (There’s dozens of colors)
8.) 108 Wooden beads (8mm or 10mm are best) these are 10mm
9.) 1 bead 2mm bigger than used for mala – for guru bead
10.) 1 bead 2mm smaller than used for mala – for cap bead
11.) Dremel tool with small drill bit (CAUTION – DANGEROUS!)
A 108 bead mala really has 109 beads including the larger head, or guru bead. The first thing to do is to count out 108 beads. Put them in a bowl where they are much less likely to scurry away on you. This mala is made using 10mm Tiger-Eye Ebony beads. My supplier for these beads is in the wrist mala post. Choose a material that pleases you. Be aware that semi-precious stone beads and glass beads have much smaller holes than wooden beads do. If you wander off in that direction – these instructions won’t work very well for you.
The 4” beading needle is really just a piece of wire that is wrapped around itself with an eye at the bottom. They look really delicate when you see them in their package. I’ve yet to break one. (They come in packs of 12 at any craft store.) The good thing about this kind of beading needle is that the eye flexes as it passes through the bead. This comes in handy when you have to pass two widths of twine through the same bead.
Update 06/21/08: Please see this link for helpful information on threading wooden beads.
String the first bead. Slide it almost to the end of the string. Loosely tie it in place. This will serve as a block to the rest of the beads while you string them on. While you’re stringing the beads, you’ll no doubt notice that the twine is twisting. Every so often hold the twine up in the air and let it untwist. If you don’t do this as you’re stringing, the mala itself will twist and not coil correctly when you have it finished.
When you’ve strung all 108 beads, loosely tie the last bead in place. Loosely. This is just temporary. You’ll be untying the knots later before you thread them through the guru bead. The next step is the most exciting/dangerous part of mala making – creating the Guru bead.
Disclaimer: This is a dangerous way to make a guru bead. There’s probably a much better and safer way to do it. I include this next section only as a record of how I have made them. Don’t let kids do this by themselves.
The guru bead needs to have three holes in it. The third hole at the top is used to channel the mala cord straight up through to the tassel. It’s difficult to find three-holed beads. The big bead suppliers don’t sell them. There’s a couple places on the net that sell them, but they are really expensive. So – I make my own with the tools available to me.
Wrap the guru bead in a piece of napkin or paper towel so that the channel-lock pliers won’t dent them. The bead should be held in the pliers in such an orientation so that the top hole intersects the horizontal one at 90 degrees (as close as you can get it). Make a dent in the top of the bead so that the Dremel bit doesn’t just skate off the top of the bead with it comes in contact with the wood.
(Some additional words about Dremel rotary tools: I love ‘em. I’ve used them since I was a teenager. They turn at a much higher rate than a hand drill. Things can unravel in a hurry if your attention drifts. A Dremel can lay flesh open to the bone before you can say “Huh?”. I have two scars on my left hand from two such occasions.)
Update 06/21/08 – Please see this link over at the Salmon Farm Blog for a much safer (and thrifty) way to make Guru beads.
Turn on the Dremel and carefully drill a hole in the top of the bead. You’ll feel it when the bit enters the horizontal hole. Stop when it does. Don’t go all the way through. Unplug the Dremel when done.
If everything goes right, you’ll have a guru bead with three holes in it. Another indicator of success is that there is no blood spurting from any appendage and there are no extra holes in any furniture.
Untie the knots on both ends of the mala. Even out the amount of cord on each end by pushing the beads around. This is a slightly risky part of the whole endeavor with both ends of the cording untied. Be careful that the beads don’t make an escape.
With your beading needle, thread the mala cord through the side hole and up through the third hole on top. Thread on the smaller cap bead as well. Repeat with the other end of the cord. It helps to put a 90 degree bend a 1/2” from the end of the needle when you do this.
When you are finished – it will look like this:
Grasping the cap and guru bead in one hand, pull the cord so that all slack is taken out of the mala. You’ll have to pull pretty hard.
When you’ve done this, take your index finger and thumb at the other end of the loop and pinch open a finger’s width of space between the two beads there. This will allow for just enough space for the mala not to seem too stiff when handled. (There may be fiddling involved with this step.)
Update 12/31/09: Please see this link for helpful update on tightening your mala.
Now – it’s time to make the tassel. Take the embroidery floss out of it’s little wrapper thingies and hold the floss on your fingers as above. Unwrap about 2 feet of the floss, snip it off and save for later.
While the floss is still on your fingers, take the scissors and cut through both ends of the floss (at your little finger and index finger. Successfully executed – you’ll end up with a pile of floss that looks like this:
To make the tassel, you take this pile of floss and lay it between the two cords coming out of the cap bead on the mala. Make sure you’ve got the cap bead in the middle of the floss. Tie the floss to the cap bead with a square knot (right over left – left over right). Pull TIGHT!
Carefully place some Ultimate Shield on the knot. Trim the mala cord to within 2 inches of the knot. Fold both sides of the floss stack over the knot to form the beginning of the tassel. Smooth all the fibers so that they are all going in the same direction. This takes some fiddling (as above) and some getting used to. Patience is important when it comes to making the tassel.
Take the 2 foot length of floss that you previously cut and set aside. Fold it over so that you have one leg of the fold that’s about 6” long and one that’s about a foot and a half. Approximately… Place the top of the fold about 1” above the top of the tassel with both legs running the length of the tassel. Pinch the head of the tassel and the two legs of the folded piece of floss.
With the long leg of the string (and without letting go your tight grip on the tassel and wrapping string) tightly wrap the long leg of the floss around the tassel. Do this 8–10 times. The wrapping should be tight enough so that it forms a nicely rounded head at the top.
When you are through wrapping – pass the long leg through the loop at the top. Pull the shorter leg until the loop disappears into the winding. Do not pull the loop all the way through.
This winding knot is very similar to a hangman’s knot or alternatively the kind of knot that is made with Catholic cord rosaries.
When you’re done the tassel should look like this:
Carefully snip the top leg of the floss near the winding. The bottom part of the winding, the shorter leg, can just be trimmed with the rest of the tassel bottom.
Now is a good time to open up the tassel and find the two mala cord strands. Snip them off about 1/4” from the winding. Smooth out your tassel again.
Paint the entire winding with Ultimate Shield. I don’t think Hypo Cement would be a good solution here. Don’t get any U.S. on the tassel head or the dangly bits. This stuff dries as hard as a rock.
With your scissors, trim the bottom of the tassel so that all the danglies are the same length. This, like other steps in mala making, can take some fiddling.
If everything has gone right your mala should look something like this:
A request to Mala Makers:
If you create a mala with these instructions - I would love to hear from you. Please consider posting a comment about your mala making experiences in the Prayer Bead Inquiries Page on this blogs top menu bar. Thanks!!
Next up: Mala Bag Instructions:
May these instructions and all the malas that are made
from them benefit all sentient beings.