DIY Chewellery: Jewelry You Can Chew

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Dye and string your own baby-safe teething necklaces.

Chewellery! It’s cute and safe to bite on. Maybe you’re a nervous person who’s tired of using ugly mangled pencils all the time. Or maybe you hang out with a teething child. There are basically a hundred reasons you might want this.

But mostly it’s the kid thing, probably.

The goal is simple: make a necklace that’s safe to wear around a baby. A necklace that…

  • doesn’t break when viciously pulled
  • is soft enough for tender gums but tough enough for grabby mitts
  • doesn’t have parts that can fall off and get lodged in a baby’s greedy maw
  • is free of unsafe chemicals/GMOs/radiation/growth hormones
  • isn’t costly or difficult to make
  • doesn’t look like darling homemade crap

When you’re forced to really think about it, this is actually a pretty tricky combination of criteria. So how about this? Get some plain wooden beads, dye them yourself using safe, edible foodstuffs, and string them on a cord that’s stronger than a baby. Choose colors that you like and that look good together, and you’ll have a beaded necklace you don’t mind being seen in. Since it’s as simple as dying Easter eggs and stringing macaroni necklaces, older siblings can make them, too. And it’s the one necklace anyone can actually wear, fearlessly.

Wood-Teething-Necklace

Materials

• Find unfinished beads at your local craft store.  If they’re stained a pretty color or they sport a glossy coating, that’s nice, but they won’t take the dye (and who knows what chemicals they might leave in a little mouth). You want beads that are made from boring, naked wood. To be extra safe, it’s a nice idea to soak and rinse your beads ahead of time, and let them dry before dye time.

• Size is an important consideration. Ideally, you’ll only choose beads with a diameter greater than an inch and a quarter, because round objects smaller than that (according to, I don’t know, experts I guess) are considered an instant choking hazard if they get loose. But since an inch and a quarter is huge, you might prefer smaller beads. If so, take extra care to ensure the string is very, very strong and the closure is very, very secure.

Cubes and odd shapes might be somewhat safer than spherical beads, since tracheas are typically round. But no matter what you use, always be vigilant against breakage. (The good news: it’s easy to be vigilant when someone is tugging and jerking at a cord around your neck.)

• I strung my necklaces on bamboo cord, but it would work just as well with cotton, hemp, or paracord, to name the ones I can think of right now. Just choose something that doesn’t break when you pull on it (so no metal chains) and that can hold its own against mouth-based moisture (so no suede). And choose a thickness well-suited to the size of the holes in your beads. Fat cord needs fat holes, but skinny holes look nicer on skinny cord. Also, if you’re going to use skipknots, bear in mind that a thicker cord is better, because you don’t want the knots to be so tiny that you can’t grip them easily to slide them around.

• Safety clasps are a good choice, clasp-wise. They’re basically two plastic cups with holes in the bottom. You thread your cord through the holes and tie a knot that sits inside the cup and can’t slip back through; then the two cups snap together, but not so securely that they won’t pop open if some pressure is applied. In my experience, it takes a little more pressure than a child of six months or younger (per my sample group of one) will exert during casual use, but if he gives it an intentional yank, the necklace will come off before your head does.

Also, if you wear the necklace while you put a baby into an Ergo or a Bjorn, and the necklace gets trapped between your body and the baby’s as you’re leaning down to secure the various buckles, your safety clasp will pop open as soon as you stand up. Every single time. That may be an excessively specific example, but it’s solid fact.

Personally, though, instead of using a clasp, I secured my cord with a double slipknot (here’s a good picture tutorial via Instructables), so that I can size the necklace longer or shorter depending on my neckline. The full length of the necklace fits over my head, so there’s no need for a clasp. But for a shorter necklace, you’ll need the clasp.
Naturally-Dyed-Wood-Beads

Kinds of Dye

These are the dyes I’ve had success with so far.

Clockwise from top left:

  1. Blueberries and Blackberries. I put about half a cup of frozen berries into 8–10 ounces of water, then microwaved it for 45 seconds. The beads went into the hot dye bath and stayed there for several hours after it had cooled, but I checked on it periodically to rotate the beads for even dyeing, since wood floats in water. The darkest bead is freshly oiled.
  2. Strawberries and Raspberries. These were prepared as above.
  3. Red Beans. After soaking dried red beans to cook, I used the soaking liquid as a dye bath for a few hours. This would also work with black beans.
  4. Red Wine, room temperature.
  5. Instant Espresso. I prepared 10 ounces of very strong instant espresso, then left the beads to soak for a few hours. I was surprised that they came out more ochre than brown. The darkest bead is freshly oiled.
  6. An undyed bead, for comparison.

These all soaked for at least two to four hours, and I even left some in overnight. Most of the beads didn’t look terribly different between hours one and four, but the extra time can’t hurt! Use it to go take a shower or brush your teeth or something, because the time may allow the dye to penetrate more deeply into the beads, even if it doesn’t darken the color.

Blueberry-Dyed-Wood-Beads

After soaking the beads to my satisfaction, I rinsed them under cold water until the water ran clear, then set them on paper towels to dry. If I found color left behind on the paper towels, I rinsed them again, until there was none. If I wanted dye to transfer onto my clothes, I probably would’ve rinsed less. Maybe you like dye on your clothes. Do what you feel.

 

Coffee-Dyed-Wood-Beads

Oiling

You can dye your beads, string them, add your knots or clasp, and be finished! Your necklace will look great. But if you want to, you can oil the beads to intensify their color. Oiled beads don’t soak up as much drool, so it’ll be less obvious when they’ve recently been chewed.

Use an oil that you’re OK with your baby ingesting, and which won’t promptly go rancid. Coconut oil and vegetable oil are good choices; olive oil is not as good. Rub it into each bead with your fingers, and then roll it around a lot in a dry cloth to remove as much excess oil as possible. If there is oil left over, it’ll get on your clothes. If you don’t plan on wearing clothes, the excess oil is actually pretty good for your skin. But you should probably wear clothes.

Red-Bean-Dyed-Wood-Beads
Safety, Care and Cleaning

There are only two things you need to do, safety-wise—or rather, one thing you need to do and one you must not do:

  1. every time you put the necklace on, do tug on the beads, clasp and string, to make sure the beads are secure and aren’t going to come off and become a choking hazard, and
  2. no matter how tempting it is, do not give the necklace to a child to play with unsupervised, because then it becomes a strangling hazard.

In general, much like hostages and prisoners of war, you are not supposed to give babies anything they can choke on or strangle themselves with.

Care is a piece of cake, too. If you haven’t oiled your beads, your necklace maintenance routine just consists of sometimes taking your necklace off, like in the shower or a spray-tanning booth. If your beads are oiled, the oil will dry out over time and need to be reapplied to get back its vibrancy and luster. Oil the beads just like you did the first time and they’ll come back to life. Oiled or not, the beads will fade with time, and can be redyed in the future. You can dunk the whole necklace into a new dye bath, or take the beads off the cord and restring them.

Cleaning is simple, but important. Rinse your necklace off once in a while, especially if you’ve been wearing it while you or the kiddo is sick. And I don’t mean to be gross, but of all your necklaces, this one is probably the most likely to get partially-digested milk/formula/food all over it sooner or later. Should that happen, rinse it off in hot water ASAP and hang it up to dry. Now, I haven’t tested this, but I think that soaking—the kind of soaking you might do if some kind of…stuff…was badly dried on—might unseat the dye. If I had to soak it, I think I’d stick with a cool water soak and a quick hot rinse at the end. If you try it, let us know how it goes!

These safely dyed DIY teething necklaces have passed the most important test of all.

I made a few of these in different styles, so now I can accessorize again. The Thrasher loves them. Not only does he like to attack the beads and cram them in his gummy face-hole, they also give his little hands something to do while he’s nursing. I have some brightly colored silicone teething necklaces as well, and he enjoys those, but he seems to strongly prefer the wooden ones for all their noisy clacking potential. Since no two babies are alike, though, your mileage may vary…but the way I see it, if the baby doesn’t like the necklace, now you’ve got a necklace you can wear without anybody pulling on it.

So you’re still coming out way ahead.

Kristina Ackerman

Kristina Ackerman is a busy freelance web designer, living and DIYing with her fella and their little fella in a cute old house in Atlanta, GA, USA.