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The Dao of Silk: Satin Cord

What is Satin Cord?

Satin cord, also commonly known as "rattail" is a round silky cord, usually made of nylon or rayon. The outside is relatively loosely woven around a dense core. Depending on the size of the cord, the core may be made of a different colour or material. The core of rayon cord is often made of cotton. The core of nylon cord 2mm or larger is often undyed (white).

Every so often, you will hear satin cord described as "silk cord". To my knowledge, there is no current example of satin cord made of real silk. If you encounter an example or a source please tell me! If you seek a satin-like cord made of real silk, then you will likely be looking for strips of silk either rolled into a cord and sewn or stuffed tubes of silk. Either way, there will be a visible seam running down the length of the cord.

Satin cord is versatile and easy to embellish because stitches sink into the loose outer weave and vanish. Further, due to the way it is made, pulling on the one right thread will make the whole cord unravel (think runs in a nylon stocking or pulling out rows of knitting) which gives you the perfect material for matching tassels (after a little steaming to take out the waves).


"Rattail" is often used as a generic term for satin cord. In fact, rattail is 2mm satin cord. Lesser known are the terms "mousetail" and "bugtail", representing 1.5mm and 1mm satin cord respectively. Another sizing scheme that I've only seen from sporadic bead stores, again addresses only the 3 most common sizes: #0 (petite) 1.5mm, #1 (standard or light weight) 2mm, #2 (heavy weight) 3mm.

In fairly common use in the cord specialty stores is a number sizing scheme similar to gauge (in as much as a larger number means a smaller cord and a smaller number means a larger cord).

Cord sizing chart (diameter)
millimetres 1 1.5 2 3 4 5 6
inches 1/32 (1/25) 1/16 3/32 (1/13) 1/8 5/32 (1/6) 1/5 15/64 (1/4)
size # 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
'tail bug mouse rat
weight Petite Light or
alternate size #0 #1 #2
Note: I have not recently seen any #1 sized cord, nor do I have a sample for measuring at the moment, so the idea that it is 6mm, is just a guess.
In the inches row, I converted the values from the millimetre measurements. Where there are 2 numbers, they are roughly equivalent, but I also included the more common quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc. just in case it made people happier.

3mm is the most common size for simply stringing pendants or art glass beads, it is also often used for wall hangings, belts and hair ornaments. 2mm is the most commonly used size, suitable for anything from belts to jewelry. 1.5mm is generally used for more complicated jewelry projects such as earrings where the design executed in a larger diameter cord would make the finished item too large. 1mm satin cord is very rarely used (typically, a braided cord is used), but it is useful for multi-strand jewelry designs. 4mm and 5mm tend to be used for wall hangings or sculptural pieces.

Note: different brands of cord with the same size (eg. 2mm, or #4) often have subtle size differences, but that small difference may be the key to getting through those particular beads.


Nylon has several features that make it a desirable material for decorative knotting:


While, like nylon, rayon is a synthetic silk substitute, rayon is made from cellulose (trees and a number of chemicals) and is almost considered a natural material like cotton or linen. It is easier to dye than nylon and simply feels better against the skin.

The slipperiness of the cord makes it somewhat more difficult to work with depending on the knots being tied. When the knot is finished, it may need to be tacked in place with a few strategic stitches to ensure that it doesn't loosen, but sometimes it's desirable to do that with a nylon project as well.


Note: All prices are in Canadian dollars. Cut lengths are in metres (1.1 yds or 39.37").

By Size

1mm (1/32", size 7, bugtail)

In the 1mm size, spools are 183 m / 200 yds. Currently, only available in Black.

Cut Lengths Spools
1-8m 8-25 25+ 1-2 2-6 6+
0.20 0.18 0.14 22 20 17
sample 12 cents

1.5mm (1/16", size 6, mousetail, petite, #0)

In the 1.5mm size, spools are 94 m / 100 yds. Currently, only available in Black.

samples 15 cent
Cut Lengths Spools
1-8m 8-25 25+ 1-2 2-6 6+
0.24 0.22 0.19 18 15 11

2mm (3/32", size 5, rattail, standard or light, #1)

In the 2mm size, spools are 94 m / 100 yds. Currently, available for cut lengths: White, Ivory, Black, Light Chocolate, Purple, Bright Rainbow Variegated, Wine, Red, Navy, Olive, Gold Bronze, Light Pink, Hunter Green. Currently available in spools: White, Black, Red, Bright Rainbow Variegated.

samples 15 cent
Cut Lengths Spools
1-8m 8-25 25+ 1-2 2-6 6+
0.30 0.27 0.23 19 16 12

3mm (1/8", size 4, heavy, #2)

In the 3mm size, spools are 94 m / 100 yds. Currently, available for cut lengths: White, Black, Lime, Navy, Hunter Green, Purple, Bright Rainbow Variegated. Currently available in spools: White, Black, Navy, Hunter Green, Red, Bright Rainbow Variegated.

Cut Lengths Spools
1-8m 8-25 25+ 1-2 2-6 6+
0.50 0.46 0.41 33 28 24
sample 0.30

5mm (1/5", size 2)

In the 5mm size, spools are 64 m / 70 yds. Currently, only available in White.

samples 1.15 cent
Cut Lengths Spools
1-8m 8-25 25+ 1-2 2-6 6+
1.50 1.40 1.20 70 62 50

By Colour

Colour 1mm 1.5mm 2mm 3mm 4mm 5mm
Lt Chocolate
Gold Bronze
Light Pink
Hunter Green

By Special Order

Size 2 Rattail
54-3-12	peach
54-3-2	ivory
54-3-7	lt. beige
54-3-6	tan
54-3-5	dark brown
54-3-37	silver
54-3-1	white
54-3-35	black
54-3-9	red
54-3-3A	plum
54-3-3B	magenta
54-3-23	  light blue
54-3-23A  aqua
54-3-24	  peacock blue
54-3-25	  royal
54-3-19	 lt. green
54-3-20	 dk. green
54-3-20A jungle
54-3-20B jade
54-3-15	 maize

rayon rattail
petite 70yd
light weight 137yd
heavy weight 137

dark grey
candy pink
lt pink
shocking pink
gallant blue
lt blue
apple green
dark olive
dark green
lt yellow
antique gold
lt beige
medium brown