Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: "New" Fireline

When I first started stitching my friends told me that I should use fishing line - it's much stronger and easier to work with than beading thread for most applications.  At the time, the only fishing line I knew about was that clear stuff that's hard to knot - monofilament.  I bought some and stitched a spiral necklace using only seed beads with it.  It was a little hard to work with, but the resulting spiral had some body and firmness to it that I liked.

It didn't take long for me to find out that my friends were talking about a different fishing line, and I didn't let on that I had misunderstood.  Until now, that is.  I hope they don't tease me too badly.

The fishing line they were talking about was Fireline, which is made by Berkley.  The most common colors are Crystal (white) and Smoke (black).  I was hooked (no, I really didn't mean to make a fishing pun) from the first time I stitched with it.  Beading thread likes to fall out of my needle, and the resultant stitching doesn't feel very tight to me.  Fireline gave my pieces a nice firmness (without being too firm like the monofilament was), and I could tug on it really hard and not worry about it breaking.

Fireline is so strong that it dulls ordinary scissors, so I've recommended using Xuron's 9180 High Durability "Fireline" Scissors (you can see my review of them here).

I like Fireline so much I include it in all of my kits, and I have sold the Fireline Scissors at shows and online (I only have two left, but if you'd like order, e-mail me at, and I'll order more!)

So life was blissfully happy until the Fireline started disappearing off of the shelves.  There was a nervous ripple around the beading community.  Then the rumors started that there was a new formula that was coming out.  Shortly after beaders got their hands on it, the chatter was about how the fisherpeople (we can't assume they're all men, you know) loved it, but the beaders hated it.  Today I tried to quickly find something online to support either the happy fisherpeople claim or the sad beader claim, but I was unsuccessful.  There is probably something somewhere, but I didn't want to spend the entire day looking.  I have enough problems with time slipping away from me as it is.

With all that in mind, I am going to give you my review.  Please keep in mind that this is my opinion and shouldn't be quoted as gospel.  I have worked with the new Fireline (6 lb. test) extensively for a few weeks.  Most of the time was with Smoke, but I have used Crystal a few times.

The first thing I noticed is that they changed the packaging.  The old spools were in boxes, and the new ones are sealed up like batteries:

I am happy with this decision.  I once bought some Fireline at Walmart, and if I hadn't glanced at the box's open window, I would have come home with some very thin monofilament.  It looked like someone had swapped the spools out and bought Fireline at monofilament prices.  The sticker had even been removed from the spool.  I brought the box and spool to an employee and requested it be removed from the shelf, but a few months later it was still up there.  I took the spool halfway out of the box and just laid it on the shelf in hopes that someone would notice it.

The next thing I noticed is that the spools are smaller:

On the surface this would seem to be a good thing - less waste and all that - but I liked to snap the spool into the cover of my beading Caboodle.  It kept it out of the way until I needed it.  The new one is much too small to do that.  Maybe I could rig something with magnets or Velcro, or (more likely) I can just deal with it.  People with the neat spool storage boxes (like this one) will have a lot of extra room inside.

Now onto the Fireline itself.  As I mentioned, most of my testing was with the Smoke color.  I do have a few thoughts about the Crystal color that I will share, but there will be no pictures.  I tried taking pictures with the Crystal, but I couldn't get a good enough contrast.

Right away the Fireline feels different.  The Crystal feels more twisted or bumpy, and the Smoke doesn't feel as smooth.  Here is a strand of the old and a strand of the new Smoke Fireline:

There is a bit of a twist to the old, but the twist in the new is more pronounced.  It also doesn't look quite as tightly twisted as the old.

At first when I started working with it I didn't notice a change.  I had to rip out some stitching, and I didn't see a problem.  However, I started having problems threading my needle.  I'd take the needle out to either weave in an end or to take something apart, and the end of the thread frayed a lot sooner than I'd have expected.

Today I did a test.  I took a needle and each piece of Fireline and threaded it and took the needle off five times.  I wasn't gentle with either the old or the new.  With the new, I started having trouble with the end fraying from the second threading.  That doesn't always happen - sometimes it slips right through, but once it starts fraying, the only recourse you have is to snip off probably 1/2" of the end and try it again.

It wasn't just the end that was frayed, though:

Do you see all the little hairs on the new one?  There's one on the old and a bunch on the new.  I started worrying about my beadwork and looked at the thread I have coming out of my triangle bracelet.  It's a relatively new thread, but it's been through one whole triangle unit, so it should show some signs of wear if normal beading would cause that.  The only spot that showed a problem was where the needle had been:

Other than that, I didn't see any loose hairs or anything else disturbing.

Fraying can also occur when ripping stitching out.  I've had a number of instances where I didn't have any problems, but it did happen one time with a new thread:

I had done a small amount of beadwork, realized I had screwed up, and I had to take it all apart.  I snipped an inch or so past this point in the thread and started up again.  This time I did it correctly (thank goodness).

I did the threading-needle test on the Crystal Fireline, too, and that seemed to fare better.  I didn't have any problems getting the needle threaded (maybe my aim was more accurate this time), and I didn't see much fraying, even though I was pretty rough on it.

So, is the new Fireline as good as the old Fireline?

Please send your hate mail to Steve - this was his idea

(I did beat that poor thread up pretty bad for that joke - you shouldn't have to worry about it fraying that much with normal beading practices.)

Even though the new Fireline isn't as good as the old one, I am not going to abandon ship.  I still like it a lot more than regular beading thread.  With the triangle bracelet I've been working on, I have pulled really hard on the thread on a number of occasions, and it hasn't snapped, so it seems as strong as before.

The big thing is the fraying.  My recommendations are:
  • Use shorter threads.  I'm not saying to use a foot at a time, but if you're like me and use two or more "wingspans" of thread because you hate adding new thread, you'll be putting undue stress on the thread as you're pulling it through lots and lots of beads lots and lots of times.
  • Don't reposition the needle too much.  This is going to be tough for me  - I start with a long thread and move the needle closer to the end as I go.  But we saw what that does to the thread, so it's probably best to work with a shorter tail.
  • If you have to rip out a lot of stitching, check the thread for frays.  It might be a good idea to check it from time to time anyway for big projects.  If the thread is frayed, weave it in and add a new piece that's free from frays.
Yes, this all sucks, but for those of us who love Fireline and nothing else, this is better than the alternative.  We can hope that one day they'll fix the problems, and we'll be in heaven again.

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