Today we’ll start a two-part series looking at seed beads and other small beads that can easily be used for needlepoint. The second part will be tomorrow.
You may think that a seed bead is a seed bead, but they have exploded in shapes, colors and finishes. For this variety we can thank the needs of beaders who use this variety in their lovely embroidery and jewelry designs. Seed beads originally refered to very tiny beads sewn on garments, but today it has become a more generic terms for small beads that are usually rounded or cylindrical. Shapes other than the rounds also have other names for the shape.
The great thing is that this variety has made things easier for stitchers.
Today we’ll talk about manufacturers, sizes, and some shapes. I’ll name the factors that make some beads better for stitching than others. Tomorrow we’ll talk about finishes and other shapes.
Most of the pictures in these posts all come from Fire Mountain Gems, an absolutely amazing site for beads of all kinds. If you want to save money on beads and get the best choice, use companies that package and sell beads to beaders.
Most seed beads that you find for needlework and in bead shops are not identified by manufacturer. Shops and companies buy beads in large quantities, up to a pound at a time, and repackage them in smaller amounts for you.
Most wholesalers carry some lines of seed beads precisely to be repackaged, these beads tend to vary more in size, shape, and hole diameter. It’s this variation that causes beads to break, look uneven, or not fit over the needle.
The best seed beads come from Japan and are usually identified. The manufacturer, Miyuki, makes several kinds of beads, but they became most famous for the Delica size 11 seed bead. They are prized for their uniform shape and size as well as for their large holes (more about this in the next section). Delicas are also more like cylinders, as pictured below, instead of the more bulbous shape of other seed beads.
Although they are most famous for the Delicas, this commitment to quality extends to their other shapes and sizes.
There are other manufacturers of beads you may see identified. Matsuno is another Japanese manufacturer. Fire Mountain sells this company’s beads as Dyna-Mites. These beads also have standardized shapes and hole sizes. They come in a more limited selection of shapes and colors than Miyukis do.
Preciosa Ornela is a Czech manufacturer of beads. Beadmaking has been done in Bohemia for centuries and their are many interesting larger shapes and sizes in these beads. Sometimes you will only see them identified as “Czech” beads. They also have a large selection of sizes and shapes in seed beads.
Seed beads are classified by size with a ratio that originally referred to the amount smaller a bead was than a standard size called size null (0). A size 11 seed bead in this measurement would be 11/0.
This means that the smaller the number, the bigger the bead.
The interesting thing about this measure is that the top number is about the number of beads it takes to make a length of 1 inch. However not all beads of the same ratio are actually the same size. For example, I’ve found Delicas to be just a bit smaller than the 11/0 beads they are often compared to.
The size has implications for needlepoint. We too measure our canvas by the inch; in this case the number of threads per inch. For the best look on canvas and the straightest lines, you’ll want to match the bead size closely to the canvas size by buying the next biggest size to your canvas mesh. That means on 18-mesh canvas 11/0 beads will be too crowded. Use 15/0 beads instead. 11/0 beads are perfect though for 13-mesh canvas.
Hole size can also make a difference in how easily you can use a bead. Bigger holes mean you can use larger needles. You also will not be confined to using beading thread which comes in a limited choice of colors.
To see the comparison of hole size, let’s look at the sizes for the bead and holes in four 11/0 beads:
Delica 11/0: bead size 1.6mm, hole size .8mm
Dyna-Mites 11/0: bead size 1.8mm, hole size .64mm
Czech 11/0: bead size 2.0-2.2mm, hole size .7mm
Japanese: bead size 1.8mm, hole size 1mm
See the huge difference? By and large you beads will be easiest to stitch if you pick larger holes. If you are stringing beads in a row, you will be best if you use beads consistent in size.
Shapes, Part 1
The basic seed bead, below, is like a little bulb. It has rounded sides and a flat top and bottom.
Delicas and bugle beads, below, are cylinders. They are tubes cut to different lengths. While Delicas are generally compared with seed beads, bugles are considered a different type of bead, one that comes in different lengths.
There is a second type of bugle, the twisted bugle, below, the twists the tube on each bead. These beads have a very different texture from regular bugles and can be difficult to find.
About Janet M Perry
Janet Perry is the Internet's leading authority on needlepoint. She designs, teaches and writes, getting raves from her fans for her innovative techniques, extensive knowledge and generous teaching style. A leading writer of stitch guides, she blogs here and lives on an island in the northeast corner of the SF Bay with her family
Sylvia Perez-Hardy says
I am curious. Why didn’t you include Mill Hill Beads in your discussion? These are the ones my LNS carries and that I have used for years.
Janet M Perry says
Both Mill Hill and Sundance buy beads in bulk from wholesalers and repackage them. Bead shops do this as well, but usually none of the repackagers put their names on them. As a result, it is often difficult to tell the company that makes them.
Sundance does sell Delicas and labels them as such.
It’s only when you look at the manufacturers of beads, not the companies that repackage them that you can find the information about size, hole size etc. that this article covers.
In my experience, both Mill Hill and Sundance use seed beads of fairly high quality. But, except for the Delicas, they do not identify the manufacturer. This means that for you as a stitcher, you cannot know where the beads come from, you may have problems with hole size and consistent bead size. You will also be buying at higher prices and, possibly, in smaller quantities than when you buy beads where the manufacturer is identified.
I have also used Sundance and Mill Hill beads successfully in many projects, but I also think that, as stitchers, we are limiting our use of this material by not knowing manufacturers and by not knowing more about beads and how they can be used.