Seed beads are little or medium-sized glass beads commonly used for bead weaving and embroidery. They can also be used as filler beads in strung projects. Seed beads are available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and finishes. The classic ‘seed bead’ is a tiny, slightly cylindrical glass bead that looks similar to a little doughnut. They are manufactured in many countries, but mainly in the Czech Republic, France and Japan, the latter being the highest in quality. Generally with seed beads the old adage applies-you get what you pay for! For bead weaving, Japanese beads such as Miyuki and Toho are highly recommended because their consistency in size and shape produce a much better finished result. When buying seed beads other than Japanese, try to buy them strung in hanks- this guarantees that every bead can be used.
Types of Seed Beads
Cylinder Beads: These small glass beads are made exclusively in Japan. The Miyuki cylinder beads are called ‘Delicas’ and the ones made by Toho are called ‘Treasures’. They are painstakingly manufactured so that they have straight, sides and are tubular in appearance. They create a very dense and smooth feel- best used with peyote, brick and square stitches. They are not recommended for open stitches such as right-angle weave, netting and circular stitches.
Drop Beads: Sometimes called ‘fringe beads’, ‘Magatamas’ or ‘Long Magatamas’, these tiny, teardrop shaped beads used to create texture and to finish off the ends of fringes. The long magatamas have a slightly different shape, cut on the diagonal.
Czech Twin Beads: These are neat little two-holed beads that can be worked in to patterns to create more curved and rounded shapes. Can also be used as a spacer bead, holding and spacing two strands.
Seed Bead Sizes
Seed beads sizes are denoted by numbers called aught (zero) sizes. Originally the sizes probably corresponded to the number of beads that made up a one inch length, lined up side to side (not end to end when strung). So, the larger the aught number, the smaller the bead is because it takes more of them to make up one inch. Because bead sizes have changed over time, this is no longer an accurate measurement and should be used just to gauge relative size. An aught size is usually written as a fraction, ie 6/0, or as a number followed by a degree symbol, ie 6 or by just the number on its own, ie 6. All of these denote a size 6 seed bead. Bear in mind that different manufacturers may not have exactly the same dimensions, so a size 8/0 Japanese bead may not be the same as a Czech 8/0 bead. Therefore it is usually best to use only beads from a single manufacturer for your project.
To give you a rough idea of bead size, 5/0 has a diameter of approx. 4mm, 8/0 has a diameter of approx. 2.5mm, 11/0 a diameter of approx. 1.8mm and 15/0 approx. 1.3mm. So the general rule: The smaller the aught number, the bigger the bead and vice versa!
Cube beads, drop beads, some bugles and triangles, flat and Tila Beads are measured in millimeters rather than aught sizes. this measurement is usually the distance along the hole, end to end, with the exception of the drop beads, which are usually measured top to bottom. Some manufacturers have their own numbering system for their bugles, but usually you can find more detailed measurements in the product descriptions online or on the packaging.
Colors and Finishes (the pretty bit!)
Seed beads come in a HUGE variety of colors and finishes. These are the most common types of colors and finishes to help you choose the kind of beads you need.
Opaque: Beads of a solid color that do not allow much, or any, light to pass through them. Usually abbreviated after a color name by the letters ‘OP’
Transparent: Beads that are see-through, and allow a lot of light to pass through them. Obviously the lighter the color, the more see-through they appear. Usually abbreviated after a color name by the letters ‘T’ or ‘TR’
Translucent: Similar to transparent, but not quite as see through.
Two-Toned: These beads will be made up of two distinct colors of glass on each side. They sometimes appear slightly asymmetrical as different colors of glass heat and cool in different ways.
These are added after the main body of the colored bead has been made. Seed beads can have more than one of these finishes at a time.
AB or Aurora Borealis: A multicolored, transparent and slightly reflective finish that looks like an ‘oil slick’ over the bead. The AB finish appears bolder over darker colored beads. Also called ‘Rainbow’.
Iris: Very similar to AB, usually added to dark beads to give a multicolored, almost metallic look.
Silver Lined or Color Lined: These beads have a color added to the inside walls of their holes. This usually is applied to transparent beads to give them a metallic sparkle or middle stripe. Be careful not to scratch these coatings with your needle as you pass your thread through. Lined beads are usually labeled ‘S/L’ for silver lined, ‘G/L’ for gold lined, etc.
Matte and Frosted: These beads have a less reflective, etched surface. They have a softer look.
Satin: Manufactured to have tiny bubbles that create a reflective sheen that glistens in different directions.
Luster: These are transparent treatments which coat the bead to add shine and opalescence, and can be a variety of shades.
Ceylon: Similar to Luster, Ceylon is usually applied to pastel colored beads to make them look like pearls.
Metallic Beads: Finished to look like metal by painting. Not recommended for hard-wearing items as coating can fade or chip over time.
Galvanized: Electroplated beads that are coated in metal and are much more durable than painted metallic beads.
Most Czech and Chinese Seed beads are described in terms of color, but some are assigned numbers-all of Miyuki’s colors are ordered and listed by number or number/letter code. For example, one color of Miyuki Delicas which are sized 11/0 are described as DB73. Sometimes zeros are added before the number to keep them in the correct order in website listings. On our site, they are listed as DB0073 Dark Lilac TR. The color name has been added by us to describe the colors and finishes to our customers, so the same number could be listed with a different name by another store.
Buying Seed Beads
As previously mentioned, you usually get what you pay for. It may be tempting to buy more inexpensive Chinese seed beads for example, but you can pretty much guarantee your bead woven piece will not look as good as it could or should. These types of beads are more appropriate for rustic, strung pieces of jewelry or craft than they are for more intricate work.
Seed beads are sold in a variety of units. Czech seeds are usually sold strung in bunches called hanks, and each hank will have an approximate weight. They may also be sold loose by the gram and packaged in tubes, bags or boxes. French seed beads are almost always sold by the ounce. Japanese seeds are usually sold by the gram, in bags or tubes. As you work more with them, you will gain a ‘feel’ for how many beads may be require to complete certain products. Patterns will generally use the appropriate units of measurement for you to buy your beads easily.
Once you have bought them, it is important to store them securely and work with them carefully (as anyone who has spilled a tube of 15/0 seeds will tell you!) Some people store theirs in resealable zip-type bags, some in tubes and some in flip top boxes. There are also multi-compartment containers (though these do not always do a great job of containing little ones). Then there are totes, racks and organizers to hold these various containers and store them neatly so you can always find what you need. Have a look on our site for some great storage solutions.
We hope this has helped you to understand more about those little staple beads called seed beads. Once you start to use these beautifully tiny beads, you will be amazed at how they can be put together to create some wonderful things. As always, we are here to answer any further questions you may have, so make sure
to contact us via the website.