The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation to Seed and Cylinder Beads
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Seed and Cylinder Beads
There are big bead people and little bead people. Some bead stringers like to say, “The older the person, the bigger the beads,” but I’m sure bead weavers would beg to disagree. For little bead people, there are thousands of colors and hundreds of shapes and sizes of what we call Seed Beads. These little bead people bead-weave, bead-string, and wire-work for all kinds of folks, situations.
The basic shape of seed bead is what we call “roundish” or “squared round”. They are round in the middle and squared on the ends. Sometimes the label “Seed Bead” refers to this specific shape; othertimes the label refers to the whole family of shapes.
There are many other shapes in this family of seed beads. For each shape listed below, they also come in different sizes and many different colors and finishes. These shapes include:
Cuts or Hex Cuts (seed beads that are cut from a six-sided hexagonal tube, rather than from a smooth cylinder, so that each bead has 6 sides)
Charlottes or True Cuts (single faceted roundish seed beads, thus each bead has only one faceted side)
NOTE: Charlottes are made this way. True Cuts are accidents at the factory where the regular squared roundish seed beads haven’t cooled appropriately, and get flat on the size they were resting on.
Tri-Cuts (3 and more facets on roundish seed beads)
Bugles (tube shape, available in several lengths and diameters)
Twist Bugles and Twists (very short tubes with a twist in them)
Nibblettes (1-hole flat rectangle bead) or Tila Beads (2-hole square rectangle bead)
Cubes or Squares
Some triangles have smooth, rounded edges; others have sharp edges. NOTE: In bead weavings, you can get a neat texture with the triangle — point / flat-surface / point / flat-surface/ point /flat-surface / etc.
Mini Fringe Drops or Raindrops (teardrops that are roundish, with a centered hole through the top)
Magatamas (teadrops that are more squarish, with an off-centered hole through the top)
Cylinder Beads (sometimes called by the major brand name which is Delica)
Superduos (one of many 2-hole seed beads)
Just like the Druks and Fire Polish beads, and the crystal beads, seed beads are made in different countries, and knowing what country they come from, tells you a lot about their quality and usefulness.
The color names and color code numbers vary quite a bit from country to country. The actual shapes, sizes and color tones vary quite a bit, as well, making it difficult to mix beads from different countries within the same project.
CZECH SEED BEADS: The Czech Republic is one of the major sources for glass seed beads. The Czech Seed Bead is your minimal quality seed bead for jewelry making purposes. Anything lower in quality is useless for jewelry. All jewelry moves when worn, and this movement subjects each component to tremendous forces. Lower quality seed beads cannot hold up in the face of these forces. With lower quality seed beads, the holes are too sharp, the beads break easily under pressure, the finishes bleed into fabrics.
Thus, you need higher quality beads and other components for jewelry, than you would use for something stationery, like a beaded Christmas ornament.
So, I will give the Czech Seed Bead a grade of a “C”, and say that this is the lowest price you will pay, if you are using these for jewelry.
Most Czech seed beads come on hanks, and you usually buy these by the hank. You buy the whole hank. Hanks are usually 10–12 apprx 16”-strands tied off together; however, there is a lot of variation on what ends up getting tied together and labeled as a hank.
While most Czech seed beads on a hank are the same size, a sizeable number are not. If you are doing a pattern or a picture, you will either have to keep adding and subtracting beads as you go through the pattern, or you will have to cull all your beads up front so you are starting with the same sizes.
The hole size in these beads varies widely from bead to bead. The holes are too small to notice ahead of time. Many seed bead projects require that you go through the same bead with your needle and thread 5, 6, 7 or 8 or more times. If you can’t get that needle through one more time, often you are stuck. Sometimes you can compensate, but othertimes you just have to start over again.
These holes would be called “generally smooth”, but I think they are really pushing the marketing here. These holes are very rough.
You can have a high degree of trust on the finishes of these beads, but there are a sizeable number of colors that fade, bleed out or rub off.
Seed bead systems are set up like paint by number systems. There are many, many colors. Some colors of beads are made through the manipulation and coloration of glass alone. But you can’t make every color in these paint-by-number type systems using glass alone. Some processes for creating a color, such as galvanized, coated, lined, some metallics or dyed, are not always stable. When working with seed beads, you end up learning what these unstable colors are. Sometimes, the problems result when the beads rub onto something else; othertimes, the finishes react with chemicals like oils, or ammonia or sulfides on the skin or in sweat; still othertimes, sunlight lightens or fades them. Many pinks, reds and purples, as well as unusually bright colors are problematic.
If working with unstable colors, what you do is you spray your finished project with a clear fixative called Krylon. You buy this in an art or craft store. If it’s a baked on finish, the Krylon hardens the shell. If a dyed finish — remember glass looks like a sponge — using the Krylon is like putting a plug in each of the holes to keep the dye from leaching out.
Another thing you can do is dip your finished piece in Future clear acrylic floor wax, and then air dry it. This will stiffen your piece a bit, but also protect the finishes on your beads.
You can use a sealant. You purchase this in the paint section, usually near the metallic paints, of an art or craft store. Sealants may alter the colors a bit, and leave your project glossier.
JAPANESE SEED BEADS: I would give the Japanese seed beads a grade of an “A”. You buy these “loose” rather than on “hanks”. We usually get a big bag of beads and we re-tube these in the shop. The Japanese seed beads run about 1/3 more in price than the Czech ones.
Most of the beads in the tube are the same size.
They have a good size hole. The hole from bead to bead is the same size.
These holes are called “generally smooth”, meaning they look like a broken coke bottle, but no where’s near as rough as the Czech ones.
You can have the same trust on the finishes of the Japanese as you do with the Czech. It’s pretty much those same colors that fade, bleed out or rub off. [Again, you would use a clear Krylon fixative spray.]
There are 3 companies in Japan which manufacture seed beads. These are Miyuki, Toho, and Matsuno. It is often difficult to mix beads made by these different companies. The supposedly same-size beads actually vary in size from company to company. Miyuki and Toho beads are very regular and consistent in size from bead to bead. Matsuno beads are not. The color-palettes and underlying tonal qualities vary from company to company.
You will find that the color code numbers do not follow a strict pattern, say, all the reds or all the opaques or all the silver lines sharing a number series. The Japanese also frequently change the color names associated with each code. This can get confusing.
The “DON’T-USE-THESE-SEED-BEADS-FROM-THESE-COUNTRIES” Beads: For jewelry, you will definitely want to avoid using seed beads made in India, China, or Taiwan. These break easily, the finishes are very unreliable, hole sizes vary widely, holes are very sharp. These do not hold up well under the forces that jewelry is subjected to. They more easily discolor or bleed into fabrics.
Getting Started With Seed Beads: When starting with seed beads, we suggest that people try both the Czech and the Japanese, and see which ones they like best. The Japanese are more expensive than the Czech, but not that much more expensive. The Japanese ones are definitely easier to use.
However, one problem with the Japanese seed beads is that they are too perfect. Sometimes when your seed beads are too perfect, your outcome comes out like a paint-by-number Elvis on velvet. Because of the little irregularities from bead to bead in the Czech line, your outcome looks more organic, more artistic. If you were creating an ethnic looking piece, Japanese seed beads would make it look machine-made; Czech seed beads would make it look hand-made.
Buy all your seed beads upfront. Seed Bead colors vary from batch to batch. The color of the bead is affected by the barometric pressure outside the factory where and when they are made, and this is something the factory cannot control. Most seed bead projects take 40–60 hours to complete. That means, you need to buy all your beads, or even a little bit more, right up front. You might come back to the store 2 weeks later, and your 11/0–404 will be a different shade than that 11/0–404 now in the shop. So, find out about your store’s exchange policy. At our shop, we don’t give cash back. We do an even exchange or a store credit.
Seed Beads Sizes — An Unusual Numbering System
Most of the seed bead styles use an unusual labeling system to denote sizes. For example, you have 18/0’s and 16/0’s and 15/0’s and 14/0’s and 13/0’s and 12/0’s and 11/0’s and 10/0’s and 8/0’s and 6/0’ and 5/0’s, and you get the picture. What these numbers mean — and had more meaning hundreds of years ago — is how many beads per inch. They don’t really work out as beads per inch, but for the main sizes between 18/0 and 6/0, they come close enough. But if you had to visualize whether an 8/0 is bigger or smaller than a 6/0, visualize beads per inch.
An aught-size may be written as a fraction (11/0), as a number followed by a degree symbol (11o), or simply as a number (11).
The most-used size for more art- and design-oriented projects is the 11/0. The most-used size for more craft-oriented projects is the 10/0. You would most likely find 11/0’s in a bead store, and most likely find 10/0’s in a craft store. Basically, the smaller the bead, the less gaps of light between each bead, and thus a stronger, more intense, and sharper result.
Native Americans like to use sizes 18/0 and 16/0, but you won’t find these in too many places outside areas catering to Native Americans. I remember once visiting a bead store in Gallop, New Mexico, and they had a wall full of hundreds of colors of 18/0 and 16/0 seed beads — — they took up as big an area as our 11/0’s take up in our shop. And we have a lot of 11/0s!
Believe me, even the 15/0’s scare me and put me on edge, because they are so small. I can’t imagine working with 16/0’s and 18/0’s!
Japanese seed beads tend to be a little larger than their Czech counterparts. So, an 11/0 Japanese seed bead will be little larger than a Czech 11/0.
Japanese seed beads are more tubular shaped. Czech seed beads are more saucer shaped.
The actual sizes of seed beads will vary by the finish on the bead. So, transparent amethyst will be smaller than transparent amethyst AB, which in turn is smaller than amethyst Ceylon, and this smaller than galvanized amethyst metallic.
There are three companies in Japan that make seed beads — Miyuki, Toho, and Matsuno. The shapes and actual sizes of the beads from each of these companies vary slightly. The consistency of seed beads within any batch and color is relatively high for Toho and Miyuki, but not so great with Matsuno. The stable/unstable finishes of colors is similar across brands. Most how-to books refer to Miyuki products. Toho has some very unusual colors.
In many pattern books, they tell you to use what’s called an E-Bead. Here they are referring to either a size 5/0 or size 6/0 seed bead. This vague label — E-Bead — was more useful pre-Internet. Today, since there is a size difference between 5’s and 6’s, pattern books can tell you exactly which size to get, and between stores and the internet, you can find exactly what you need. It seems, at times, that the only reason to preserve this vague naming convention is a snotty one — I know what this means and you don’t. Well, now you know what it means.
People started using this naming convention years ago, but in a slightly different way. Years ago, people were told they could substitute an E-bead — either a size 5/0 or 6/0 — for a 4mm round Druk. The 5’s and 6’s are close to 4mm. It’s very expensive and difficult to make a perfectly round bead. So a long time ago, people were telling other crafters that they could substitute a cheaper E-bead in projects where they would use a 4mm round Druk.
It’s also a bad naming convention in that all seed beads are E-Beads. E-Beads refers to how these were originally made. These beads all started as a long tube of glass. The tube was put through what looks like a bread slicer. The shape of the slicer was in the form of the letter E.
Cylinder Beads or Delicas
The cylinder beads or delicas are one of the few beads in the store that we weigh, before we put them into tubes. So these are like cocaine. The same color in a delica might be 3–10 times the price of that color in the squared roundish seed bead lines.
Today, there are many brands of cylinder beads. One of the original brands was “Delica” by Miyuki. Sometimes “Delicas” is used as the generic name, like Kleenex is sometimes used as a generic name. In older pattern books, they tell you to use Delicas. In newer pattern books, they tell you to use Cylinder beads.
There is a bad naming convention around these cylinder beads. Some places label their cylinder or delicas size as 11/0; others as 12/0. In this case, they are referring to the same bead. They are called 12/0’s because they are the same size as a 12/0 seed bead. They are called 11/0’s because they are used interchangeably with the slightly larger 11/0 seed bead. They are used interchangeably with the slightly larger bead because of the shape difference. A seed bead is basically a ball; a cylinder bead is a brick. That shape difference makes them interchangeable with the slightly larger bead.
I want to give you an idea of what it means to interchange seed beads (the squared roundish basic shape) and delicas (cylinder beads). I know, when I started beading and jewelry making, I had originally shied away from delicas, because of their price. But I use them regularly now.
Let’s go back to the example of the eyeglass leash. If your eyeglass leash was all seed beads, and you were standing against the light, you would see the ridges along the sides of the beads. If you used delicas, they line up perfectly. You would see a solid line of color. When people view a solid line of color, they see the piece as higher end.
Say you were in the eyeglass leash business, and did a low-end $20.00 market and a higher end $60.00 market. If you used seed beads in your $60.00 market, your pieces wouldn’t sell because they would look cheap. If you used delicas in your $20.00 market, your pieces wouldn’t sell either. These make the pieces seem out of place, and people avoid them. You use so few beads in a project like an eyeglass leash, that the cost differences are just fractions of a penny. But there are huge perceptual differences.
If you’re an artist doing two types of markets — low and high ends — you don’t necessarily have to come up with different designs for both markets. You can trade out seed beads and delicas within the same overall design, and play with people’s perceptions.
Suppose you wanted to do an amulet bag, or some kind of bead-weaving that approximates a piece of cloth. If you used seed beads, there would be little gaps of light between each bead. If your piece were a solid color, it would look less intense. If it were a pattern or a picture, it would look less sharp. If you used delicas, these line up perfectly like a brick wall. If the piece were a solid color, it would look more intense. If a pattern or a picture, it would look sharper.
With seed beads, they have little ridges on them, and when you try to move the piece, they catch on each other and the piece feels stiff. With cylinder beads, when you move the piece, it feels much more like a piece of cloth.
Now let’s say you wanted to do an amulet purse and went to the cash register with seed beads. These might ring up as $15.00. If you went to the register with delicas, these might right up as $150.00. There’s a lot of sticker shock at the register. But these kinds of projects take 40–60 hours to do. In this context, your biggest investment is your labor. The cost of the beads doesn’t seem quite so horrific. And in most situations, you get a better outcome with the delicas.
Cuts, Hex Cuts, Charlottes and True Cuts
People value brightness. They try all different kinds of strategies and manufacturing techniques to get their beads to be brighter and brighter and brighter. In crystal beads, they add lead. But lead is expensive. When they can’t afford lead, one technique is to facet the glass. A smooth, roundish glass surface absorbs most light that hits it, and reflects very little. A faceted glass surface absorbs less light and reflects more of it. That makes it seem, to the viewer, that it is brighter.
There are different types of faceted seed beads. The main type is called a Hex Cut, (often referred to simply as “cuts”). A hex cut seed bead has 6 faceted sides.
Another type of faceted seed bead is called a Charlotte or a True Cut. These beads have only one facet on each bead. So you see one flat surface and the rest is rounded. Charlottes are made that way. True Cuts are accidents at the factory where the regular seed beads are resting on a flat surface, but hadn’t cooled enough, so one side got flat.
Charlottes and True Cuts traditionally were mostly used in costuming. They are more and more used in jewelry. Picture the country music artist coming out on stage at the Ryman Auditorium — the mother church of country music. An area of her costume has been embroidered with Charlottes. Because of the 1-sided-facets of the charlottes, the faceted sides of these beads will face up randomly. As the spot lights hit the costume, the facets reflect the light back into the audience, but in a random, unpredictable way.
Suppose the costume had been embroidered with hex cuts. When the light hits the costume, all the facets are facing up in a very predictable way. These regularly positioned facets will reflect the light back into the audience in a predictable way.
The difference in effect is immediate. The unpredictable flashes of light into the audience, as reflected by the charlottes or true cuts, heightens the audiences’ experience with the performance. And this would be much moreso than had hex cuts been used instead. With hex cuts, the audience would soon be able to subconsciously predict the pattern of light bouncing off from the artist, and actually get a little bored from this.
Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
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