Beads
All about Beads from A to Z

Glass Beads:

Beads made from glass are some of the most common found anywhere in the world.  They can be simple or complex, plain or colorful, and are made in a variety of ways.

 

Lampwork Beads - These beads are made under a torch using various colors and finishes.  They are great as accent or focal beads, but if strung side-by-side, spacer beads should be used to protect the glass beads from wear and breakage.

Other types of glass beads include cane glass, blown glass and seed beads. 

Seed Beads:

These small glass beads can be used for stitching, stringing and embroidery.  They come in a variety of styles, colors, sizes and finishes.  Good quality seed beads are uniform in size and shape; though lesser quality beads can be a budget friendly choice for practice pieces.  When purchasing quality seeds, look for beads that are made in japan or Czech republic.

Most seed beads are labeled with sizes 15o, 11o, 10o, 8o, and 6o.  The larger the number, the smaller the bead, with 6o being the largest size.  The 10o or 11o sizes are most common in bead stitching and embroidery.  They are fine enough to create polished pieces, and large enough to take several passes of thread when necessary.  The 8o and 6o sizes can be used for stitching, but are more commonly used as embellishments or spacer beads. 

 

The five most common types of seed beads are:

  • Delicas and Japanese seed beads - These are usually preferred for stitching because they are very uniform in shape and size.  The cylindrical shape of Delicas is ideal for most types of beadwork, and creates a very polished look.  They are sometimes referred to as Miyukis - after a popular bead manufacturer.
  • Czech seed beads - These beads are generally bagel shaped, with slight differences in shape between makes and colors.  Some styles are very rounded and flat, while others are longer or more cylindrical.  Czech beads are sometimes referred to as rocailles, but are often what is meant by the term 'seed beads'.
  • Bugle beads - These long tubular beads come in a variety of lengths, and have rounded, square, or twisted shapes.  Even the best quality bugle beads can be sharp on the edges, so it is a good idea to use heavy or doubled thread when stitching with them.  Very sharp bead should be capped with a seed bead on either side when possible to protect the thread from fraying or breakage. 

  •  Faceted beads - Charlottles and tri-cuts come in most seed bead sizes and colors.  The different facets make for sparkling and unique beadwork.
     
  • Triangles, Hexes and Cubes - Like faceted beads, the most common manufacturer of these types of seed beads are the Miyuki and Toho brands.  They come in a variety of sizes and colors.  Some use the typical seed bead 'aught' sizes, while others are measured in millimeters.

Seed beads come in hundreds of colors and different finishes for an endless possibility of looks.

Opaque and Matte - Simple chromatic beads in classic colors.  Some varieties are coated with color, so beware of faded looking beads if color fastness is important for your project.

Pearlized or Ceylon - Pale colored beads with a slight sheen.  These are usually made by adding a colored lining to pearly white glass.

Galvanized or Metallic - Beads with a shiny metallic finish that stands out.  Some are just coated with color, however, and may fade with handling and wear.

Silver-lined - Beautiful seed beads with a crystal-like glitter due to the metallic lining of the bead.  Some manufacturers also offer copper and gold-lined beads.

Color-lined - Usually clear on the outside, these beads get their color from within, and have a nice shiny quality.  Some manufacturers also offer color-lined beads with tinted outer layers.  There are hundreds of great color combinations to choose from.

Translucent and Transparent - Simple clear glass beads in a variety of tints.  Some have a shiny 'oil-slick' finish called iris, luster or AB (Aurora Borealis).

Frosted - Beads with a sea glass look.  The rough finish can make close stitches like peyote a bit awkward, but the results are beautiful. 

Plastic Beads: 

Different types of plastic beads can be purchased at most hobby and department stores.  The size and color possibilities are nearly endless, and these inexpensive beads can be great for practicing techniques. 

Professional quality lucite beads are most commonly used by designers.  These beads are seamless as they are carved rather than molded plastic, and are often referred to as "vintage" beads.

 

Many crafters are familiar with the common "pony" beads.  In addition to being a versatile craft supply, these large beads were also fashionable hair accessories during the 80's and 90's.  Today many people still use them for weaving colorful keychains and dangles.

Natural Beads:

Beads made from bone, horn, wood, seeds and shell come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  They are great as focal and accent beads, especially when paired with hemp and other natural materials.

 

It's easy to create your own natural beads, but they can also be purchased from artisans and eco-charities. 

Gems and Crystals:

The most expensive of the bead varieties, high quality crystal beads are made in a wide range of cuts and finishes.  Crystals can have sharp edges, so it is best to use heavy or doubled thread when stitching with them.  Swarovski is the world's leading crystal bead manufacturer.

Precious and semi-precious gems and pearls are most commonly used for stringing or as focals.  Well researched shoppers will be able to find good quality stones that are traded ethically.  Laboratory made stones are a great alternative to the mined variety, as they have less impact on the environment.

Clay

Polymer clay beads and sculpture made quite a sensation when they were first introduced. Several years later, the trend is still going strong, with many artists creating unique and beautiful custom beads.

With several available colors, and endless blending possibilities, polymer clay beads offer a wealth of design freedom. Beads and other items can be sculpted, but to produce many copies of a design, artists create canes of color that are sliced to create beads or finishes.

This technique can be used to create the popular millefiori beads. Originally made with glass, they are a classic style of bead adorned with "a thousand flowers".

Polymer clay is easy to use, and can be hardened in a regular home oven. A heat-sink is recommended to keep the heating process steady - a large ceramic tile or planter tray is an inexpensive option.

Polymer clay is sometimes referred to as Fimo, after a popular manufacturer.

Precious metal clay (PMC) is another sculpting option for making custom beads and findings. It can be stamped, sculpted and given a variety of finishes, and is a great way to make personalized pendants and tags. Unlike polymer clay, PMC is fired in a kiln.

Cloisonne Beads

Today’s cloisonné beads are most commonly made in China, though the origins and quality of beads can vary. The beads and other cloisonné objects are made by fusing silver wire to a metal base, such as copper or bronze. The wire is used to shape the outlines of various designs, creating compartments which will later be filled in with color. Once the piece has been fired and all the pieces sealed together, colored enamels are added and fired repeatedly until the compartments are filled completely. Electroplating and polishing complete the cloisonné process to create a beautiful finish.

 

Found Object

The term 'found object' refers to pieces of art made with objects that were not at all intended for use as art. In beading, the objects themselves can become beads, or a variety of items can come together with other art media to create a unique bead.

Nearly anything that can be strung or drilled can be come a bead. With creative use of clay, glue, wire or other media just about any everyday thing can end up as a piece of jewelry. Found object beads are not only a wonderful expression of creativity and personality, but are also a from of recycling.

By keeping one's eyes open, a beader can find an unending supply of beading material.