String art originated in the late 19th century when British mathematician Mary Everest Boole wanted to make mathematical concepts more accessible to children. She felt that using natural materials and hands-on projects were far more engaging than just numbers on a page.
This kid-friendly craft is also a fun and flexible medium for people of all skill levels to create an endless range of designs, from simple, bold geometrics to more painterly and nuanced representations. Your string art style can grow as you grow.
Check out our Instagram Live on IGTV with Twinkie Chan as she demonstrates how to prepare your wood panel, string a project 3 different ways, and discover some tips for moving on to more intricate pieces.
You can make a lot of substitutions here depending on the supplies you already have.
- A wood panel approx. 6 in x 6 in and at least ¾” thick
- 7/8” 17 gauge wire nails or linoleum tacks – amount depends on the project: approx. 26 for a small heart, approx. 32 for a small circle
- Embroidery floss or crochet thread – 1 skein of embroidery floss is enough for a small project, but playing with more than 1 color is fun
- Print-out of a design you want to string that fits on your wood panel – PDF linked here to a heart, circle, and peony that Twinkie created for this post, but you can also freehand your own on a piece of paper
- Clear-drying glue, like Super Glue, Tacky Glue, or Fray Check
- Washi tape or masking tape
- Pen or pencil
- Scissors – regular ones for cutting paper and smaller ones for trimming thread
- Optional: paint and paint brush, small pliers, hanging hardware
As an option for younger crafters, you can use a piece of foam board instead of wood and push pins or thumb tacks instead of nails.
String Art Basics
- Prep the wood panel if you wish. You can leave the wood natural, stain it, paint it, or cover it in fabric. Collage artists can collage on the wood panel first and then begin a string art project on top. There are so many possibilities here.
- Make a template for your string art by drawing a simple shape onto a piece of paper. The shape should fit well within the size of your board. If you’re new to string art, the simpler the shape the better. Capturing small curves and fine details can be a little more difficult. You can also use our PDF, find shapes online, or digitally draw them yourself and print them out.
- With a ruler and pen or pencil, make ½ inch or 1 cm marks all the way around the outline of your drawing. These marks are where your nails will go. Don’t worry about this template looking messy. It won’t stay on your final project. Marking even increments will make your project look tidier, especially with a more basic shape and fewer nails. As you move on to more complicated designs involving more nails, free-handing the nail placement might be easier, and you’ll probably need to space nails more closely together to define curves.
- Trim the template so that it fits on your board. Secure it to the board temporarily with tape.
- Time to start nailing. Use those marks to help you. Try to make the nails as perpendicular as possible to the wood surface. Nail them right through the template and into the board about halfway, so that you have enough nail sticking out on top to wrap your string. If your wood starts to split, pre-poking all of the nail holes first with a push pin can alleviate some stress on the board.
- When you’ve finished nailing, gently tear away the paper template with your hands, tweezers, and/or scissors. There will be little spots of paper caught underneath some nails. Try to pull these out with tweezers. Some people find that a clean, stiff dishwashing brush can help with this process, but be careful about dislodging any nails. Hot tip: string art kits contain templates that often have small holes punched out where your nails should go. When you hammer the nails into the center of these holes, there will be no paper trapped underneath. If you want to try this, use a smaller hole punch, like 1/8”.
- Now you’re ready to string. Begin on any nail you want. With your string, tie a small knot around the nail. Put a drop of glue on this knot and don’t trim the end of the string until the glue is completely dry. Then you can feel confident about trimming the loose string very close to the knot. In the meantime, start wrapping your string from nail to nail. There are a few basic paths you can follow, and you can get a better idea of what these techniques look like on IGTV.
- Random pattern – Make sure that each nail gets at least one wrap, and after that, you can revisit each nail two or three times depending on how dense you want your project to look. String all the way across your shape and string just a few nails over. Mix it up. Zig zag around. This is the fun part.
- Radial pattern – Use one nail as an anchor, wrap around a different nail, come back to the anchor nail, wrap around another nail, come back to the anchor nail, etc. Always come back to your anchor nail in between each new nail. If your anchor nail is in the center of your shape, your thread lines will radiate out from the center like the rays of the sun or the seeds on a dandelion.
- Curve stitching – This style is more reminiscent of the mathematical origins of string art. Straight lines of string create parabolas or curved shapes. Using a circle template for curve stitching is a good place to start. This is also a fun technique for layering colors and experimenting with the angle of your lines to create bigger or smaller centers of your circles.
- To tie off string when you’re finished or if you’ve run out, simply tie a square a knot to any nail, use your tweezers around any tight spaces, dab the knot with glue, and trim the end when the glue is dry.
- If you string a design involving different colors and layers like this peony below, try removing the paper template one section at a time. This can help your eyes and mind focus, as a board full of nails can get confusing. Also, print out a 2nd copy of your template as a visual guide.
Play with all different shapes in a variety of colors, experiment with layering, and discover your own style of string art.