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Seed Beads – What’s the difference?

March 02, 2018

Your material list for any project will probably look somewhat like this…
– string
– beading needle
– beads
– clasp
– other findings

…the difference from project to project will be the type, brand, colour etc. So what do you use when?


Manufacturers

The first thing you need to know is who the manufacturers are so you can understand what terms are generic and what terms are brand specific. This will help you know when and how to substitute beads.

There are two manufacturers that I am quite familiar with: Miyuki and Toho. They are both Japanese made.

You might also hear about Czech beads quite a bit. Preciosia, I think, is their big manufacturer, but you will probably hear them referred to as “Czech Beads”.   Czech seed beads have much more variety which makes them appealing, but have a small place in beadweaving, in my opinion. Precosia also makes some beads with unique shapes and multiple holes but I haven’t dabbled with these so I won’t speak to them.


Seed Beads: Seed beads are probably the most common beads you will hear about and likely take up the most variety in your tool box. The term “seed bead” is generic to refer to the small beads used in many craft projects.

Size

Seed bead sizes are measured similar to gauges; the smaller the number is, the larger the bead is.  You will see them labelled like “6/o” or “11/o”, pronounced six aught or eleven aught.

To give you an idea of what that looks like in real life, think about the the geckos you likely made or saw in your younger years (purple creature above) – these are most often made with size 1/o beads.  Bead loom projects are most commonly made using 11/o.  As the sizes get larger than 6/o, you might hear them referred to as “pony beads” or “trade beads”, but I won’t get into that because you will probably be using sizes within the range of 6/o to 15/o for most projects.


Shape

Seed beads can actually come in any shape or design.  The most common shapes are triangle, square, hex, round and cylindrical.

The inside shape of the bead, or the bead’s hole, can also be different: round, square/diamond.  The square/diamond shape makes it easier if you are using leather or thick, flat stringing materials.

Cylindrical Beads

You will often hear cylindrical beads referred to as “delicas” but this term is brand specific, made by Miyuki and you can easily substitute for other tubular beads like “Aikos”, made by Toho.  The special thing about delicas or aikos is that they are light weight, have larger holes, and are very consistent in sizing.

I like using them for Kumihimo because they stack nicely on top of each other. I also like using them for peyote shape projects because they make the shape sturdier and look better defined.  My experience has not brought me to a Czech delica-equivalent, so I can’t speak to this if they exist.

Round Beads

I use round beads for most projects and keep a variety of options in my toolbox.  Here are some tips about the different round beads manufactured.

Miyuki are thinner and are more beveled around the edges. I think this makes them great for right angle weave and most tubular stitches.

Toho are wider and more straight cut at the edges, still beveled though. I think this makes them excellent for flat peyote, kumihimo and bead loom projects.

Toho and Miyuki pretty well follow the same sizing guide, but with the thickness and bevel difference, I would be careful about mixing them with certain projects; you’ll notice they don’t fit together nice if you’re trying to get a clean look.

Czech beads are inconsistent and vary in both thickness and amount of beveling, making them just OK for most projects.  They are the most inexpensive so if you want to save some money, I would really only use them on projects where you won’t notice the differences, like single or double spiral, Russian spiral, or Dutch spiral. There are also other beadweaving projects that don’t use specific techniques, and Czech beads might work alright for them too. The main thing is that you don’t want the different shapes and sizes to alter the overall appearance of your jewelry piece.

Czech bead sizes are still sized by the same method as Miyuki and Toho, but an 11/o Czech bead is noticeably smaller than and 11/o of either Japanese brand.


Embellishment Beads

You’ll probably want to use embellishments in some of your projects and there are a couple of good options that I typically use.

Swarovski®

Swarovksi® beads are a name brand and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  I typically like to work with 4mm-6mm sizes.

Crystal Bicones, crystal faceted beads and pearl beads are pretty common and versatile for most projects. They are very consistent in sizing and add great value to your projects just because of the name.

You can also get Swarovksi® pendants and an assortment of other embellishments if you’re looking for something different.

Firepolished

Firepolished beads are made in the Czech Republic and have a unique sheen from being literally polished by fire. I find that firepolished beads are a less costly alternative to Swarovksi® in some projects.  The crystal faceted versions are all I’ve used at this point and I really like them. They are bit more elongated in shape which will add it’s own characteristics to the piece you’re making.

Just like the Swarovksi® beads, I like to use 4mm-6mm firepolished beads.


Filling your Toolbox:

I recommend keeping a variety of shapes and sizes of the following beads.  I just keep adding to my toolbox as I make new projects.

  • Round Toho and Miyuki beads (priced by weight, usually 8 or 16 grams)
  • Tubular Toho or Miyuki (priced by weight, usually 8 or 16 grams)
  • Swarovski® pearl beads, crystal bicones and crystal faceted beads (priced by the bead)
  • Firepolished beads (priced by the bead)

 

That’s all I have for now – If anyone has had some of the same frustrations as me, I hope this helps!

 

Keep on beading!

 

Cheers!

Melanie