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Seed beads have been around for almost 500 years. They are the most versatile beads ever invented, and are used for jewelry, clothing, purses, sculpture, textile and so much more. They are very popular because of their sizes, finishes, shapes and, price. They have found their way into all cultures and traditional costumes. Even here in Norway we use seed bead embroidery in one of our traditional costumes, the Hardanger bunad.
Highly treasured among bead weavers, they are used to make stunning jewelry and bead embroidered collars and bracelets. These wonderful beads are made of glass. Naturally they would belong on the page about Glass beads, but because they are so special, I found that they deserved their own page. As you will see further down the page, there are lots and lots of different types, sizes and finishes to choose among. But before we get to that, lets take a look at their history.
History of seed beads:
Seed beads were first made in Italy for use in beaded purses, but were mainly used as trade beads, especially by the french fur traders who used them to trade seed beads for pelts. Because of this, these tiny beads soon found their way into the native Americans bead works and also in African tribes. They used the beads and developed several beading techniques that we use today, like Brick stitch, Peyote stitch and African helix.
The Italians began to make seed beads in the 15th century, but seed beads are found in graves in Egypt, and also in Nigeria and Spain, dating 4000 years back. So these small cuties are a pretty old invention.
The mass production of seed beads started in Italy. Murano in Italy was a prominent producer in the 19th century, but no longer make seed beads today. Italy still produces them in Venice, but in smaller scale. Their beads are cut by hand, and the length of the beads are therefor uneven.
Today there are four major seed bead producers, Preciosa Ornela in the Czech republic (former Bohemia), Miyuki, Toho and Matsuno in Japan. You can also get seed beads from China (Ming tree), India and Taiwan, but they are of lesser quality and are less uniform in size, hole and finish.
When I began beading, I found it difficult to sort out the different brands of seed beads. When Czech seed beads were mentioned, both Jablonex and Preciosa came up, or just plain Czech seed beads. In 2009 Jablonex group in the Czech republic sold the glass and seed bead production to Preciosa Ornela. So Preciosa is now the right and only name of Czech seed beads.
The Italians did not only produce the traditional round little bead, the Rocaille, but began producing bugle beads in the end of the 15th century in Venice. It took Bohemia a couple of hundred years before they followed their competitors and started producing bugle beads first in the 18th century. However Preciosa Ornela is the largest producer of seed beads in the world today.
The Japanese production is quite young, starting with Matsuno who was established in 1935 and Miyuki following up in 1949. However what they lack in experience they have gained in quality. Japanese seed beads are today’s most uniform beads when it comes to size, color, hole and finish.
So, what kind of seed beads are there? Let’s take a look.
These are the traditional round beads, that most people think of as seed beads, and they are made by all four producers. They come in a huge variety of sizes and finishes, and are immensely popular among the beading people of the world.
You find them in all cultures, in ancient graves and in museums, in traditional costumes, high fashion clothing and so much more. They have been used for decorations and for trading for hundreds (or actually thousands if we count in the Egyptians) of years.
Today they are used in all kinds of beading techniques, and is the main bead type in bead weaving, bead embroidery and loom work.
When it comes to brands, the Japanese ones are the most uniform beads and will give you the most even result in your bead weaving or bead embroidery. The Czech comes next, and are also beads of high quality and can be used for all kinds of beading.
seed beaded ring and bracelet You can get very cheap seed beads from China, India and Taiwan. These vary hugely in size, finish and hole. (Some of the beads actually don’t have a hole.) However, they are very nice to use if you want a more ruffled appearance, or if you are practicing a new technique. They mostly have very nice colors, and since they also are cheap, use them for projects where uniformity is of no necessity.
If you buy Czech beads, they normally come in hanks. Each hank contain approximately 12 strands of 20 inches. The length and number of strands may wary from the different sized beads though. They are sold on hanks from the producer, but are often repackaged and sold in grams.
Japanese beads are sold per gram weight.
You can get Rocailles with both round and square holes.
Looks like Rocailles, but have one side cut, which gives these beads a more lively appearance. They add a little sparkle to your bead work.
These beads have two facets to make them sparkle. The cuts are made randomly.
Have three random cuts.
This is a six sided bead. The facets or cuts gives the beads a more flashing appearance than the ones with rounded and even sides.
Delica and Dynamites seed beads Cylinder beads:
Delicas made by Miyuki are the most uniform beads you can get. On the picture to the left, you see two cylinder beads next to a regular Rocaille of the same size. Cylinder beads have thin sides and large holes and give a beautiful, but strict appearance when used for bead weaving or bead embroidery. Because of their shape, they make a stiffer bead weaving result than the Rocailles and are perfect for detailed bead work. You can get these fabulous beads in a wide specter of color and finishes. They are somehow more expensive than other seed beads, but are definitively worth the price.
Toho Treasure is another cylinder bead that resembles Miyukis Delicas.
Toho also have hex cut cylinder beads.
Bugle beads Bugle beads
Bugle beads are tube beads of various length. You can get them plain or twisted, and even two-cut and hexagon cut. The quality varies depending on where they are produced. The Czech bugle beads are not polished after cutting, and have therefor sharp and uneven ends, that easily cut the beading thread if you are not careful. The Japanese are polished and have clean endings.
It may be worth the extra price to get the Japanese bugle beads. I find that constantly having to start over when the thread has been cut on a sharp bugle, can be quite depressing.
Bugle beads vary from 3 mm to 25 mm. You can get them with the same finishes as Rocailles, and with round or square holes. You can even get bugle beads from horn.
triangle seed beads Triangle beads:
These beads are…yes, triangle shaped. They come in three sizes and are produced mainly in Japan. These cute beads have triangle shaped holes, which ensures that the beads will lay correctly in your design.
you can get cube beads in three sizes. The cube beads made by Toho have diamond shaped holes, that allows the beads to lay correctly in your design.
cube beads Drop beads:
These beads are drop shaped, and are also called fringe beads. They have the hole in the center of the bead, and come in four sizes.
drop/fringe beads Magatama beads
These are drop beads as well, but instead of having the hole in the center they have the hole off center, something that makes them look like curved beads. They come in two sizes from Miyuki and Toho and are similar to the drop beads, only they are larger, wider and broader in shape.
Long Magatama beads resemble a dagger or the spear shaped Czech glass bead, but the holes in the Magatamas are on a slant so that they lean in one direction when strung.
These are double drop shaped beads that are meant to resemble butterflies (farfalla means butterfly in Italian and is also a popular shape for pasta). They were launched for the first time in 2005 by Preciosa. They vary slightly in shape and size.
These are new beads from Matsuno and they are peanut shaped with a hole in the middle. They are similar to the Czech Farfalle beads.
Seed beads come in a huge variety of finishes, so you have piles of beads to choose among. It can be a bit overwhelming, because there are so many finishes, and new ones are developed all the time. There are however some that are common from all four producers. When it comes to sizes and finishes, a bead with a finish will be slightly larger than one without one.
Anyway here is a list of the most common finishes.
Color lined: Color coat applied inside the bead.
Transparent: Glass is see through.
Translucent: Can see diffused light through the bead.
Opaque: Solid color throughout the bead.
Matte: Matte finish.
Silver lined: Silvery coating applied inside the bead.
Copper lined: Copper coating applied inside the bead.
Bronze lined: Bronze coating applied inside the bead.
Luster or Luster: A transparent pearl effect applied to the surface of the bead.
AB (Aurora Borealis): Rainbow effect applied to the surface of the bead.
Metallic: Iris coating or bronze luster glazed, gunmetal, iris bronze.
Gold luster: Gold luster glazed.
Ceylon: Luster coating or inside coloring of opalescent beads.
Dyed color: Color on the surface.
Galvanized: Silver plating on the surface.
Silky luster: Silky color with satin finish.
Special plating: 24KT gold, Palladium, Nickle etc. Inside gold, inside copper, dyed.
Frost: Matte, frosted beads. Frost rainbow, matte bronze, matte gold luster.
The durability of the finishes may vary. Some finishes will wear off by use, others may color skin or clothes when worn, and should be rinsed before use. I have experienced that seedbeads with silky luster have sharper edges than other seed beads and may cut your thread, much like bugle beads. They also crack easier than other seed beads. You can find more information on that on the producers web sites.
You can get seed beads in several sizes, from the tiniest little bead to a rather large one in comparison. Seed beads are measured in Aught, which is how many beads per inch. How many millimeters each Aught size is varies slightly from brand to brand.