Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Seed-y Subject

Seed beads... those teeny-tiny wonderful little beads that add color and texture and versatility not only to some very beautiful and unique freeform jewelry designs, but also to gaments like evening gowns and bridal gowns, and a huge assortment of accessories from bridal veils to headbands to beaded bags and beyond.

The history of this little bead is pretty amazing. While modern mass production of seed beads began in Venice in the late 1400's, the earliest mass-produced seed beads were the Indo-Pacific beads of India and related places. They dominated the bead trade for nearly 2000 years. There is also evidence of small beads in King Tut's tomb - placing them back 4000 years. In more modern history, these beads were used as "currency" by English traders when trading with natives from the Americas, African and other colonies around the world.

Seed beads come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, although the common use of the term refers to tiny rounded or tube shaped beads. Sizing is done in "aughts" altho, surprisingly I wasn't able to find a standard definition of exactly how the measurement "aught" was actually derived. While the notation still is used in seed bead descriptions (ie 15/0, 6/0) beads sizes are considered in how many beads are in a linear inch. The largest of the standard seed beads is 6/0 with approximately 10 to an inch. The most common seed bead size in use is an 11/0. The tiniest seed beads ever manufactured, a 24/0, measures approximately 50+ to an inch. Seed beads measuring smaller than 15/0 had stopped being produced in the early 1900's although there are many still in existence as vintage beads. Recently, however, there has been development of micro-seed beads which measure at 18/0.

On a broader level, seed beads come in a variety of shapes. The following terms are used to describe these different types of beads:

Seed - Broad term for any small glass beads
Rocaille - Round seed bead made of hard (non-lead) glass
Bugle - Tubular seed bead of soft (lead) glass, usually not rounded, also comes in a twisted version
Charlotte - Rocaille with ground facet(s)
Macca, Cut Bugle - Bugle with hexagonal section, usually black
Two-cuts (hex cuts) - Short segments cut from maccas, also comes in a twisted version
Three-cuts - Two-cuts faceted by grinding
Ceylon Pearl - Made of alabaster glass, either lined or dyed, then lustered
Delica - Most uniform seed bead, short cylinders; computers used in manufacture
Square - reflect light in every direction and add interesting dimensions and texture when mixed with round beads
Triangle - catch and reflect additional light, adding extra sparkle and a more angular, modern look to your designs
Fringe/Magatama - These Glass Beads are almost drop shaped, but not quite. They are really a round bead with an off-center hole. They make great texture when used for bead embroidery and can be used in place of the traditional teardrop shape for many other uses.


Seed beads also come in a variety of finishes:

Transparent - the glass is see-through
Translucent - one can see light through the bead, although the light is diffused
Opaque - the solid color prevents light from passing through the bead
Matte - the bead is textured on a microscopic level to result in a matte finish
Silver-lined - a silvery coating which reflects light is applied to the inside of the seed bead
Copper-lined - a coppery coating which reflects a reddish light is applied to the inside of the seed bead
Bronze-lined - a bronzy coating which reflects a brown light is applied to the inside of the seed bead
Luster or lustre - a rainbow effect applied to the surface of the seed bead
AB or aurora borealis - also a rainbow effect applied to the surface of a seed bead

Seed beads are produced in many countries around the world, with Japanese Delica beads being considered the gold standard.


Jewelry designs using seed beads range from simply strung strands to extremely detailed and intricate patterns. Some of the more popular stitching patterns are the peyote stitch, herringbone, right angle weave, brick, square, ladder, chevron, and spiral stitch amongst others. The beads can also be woven into metal crochet or virtually any other type of woven or strung design.

Working with seed beads is painstaking and requires patience and skill to maintain uniform tension. It is also one of the most beautiful types of jewelry you will ever see, made even more so when you consider that the number of beads that must be individually handled to create some of the more intricate designs is in the tens of thousands!

I hope you've enjoyed my foray into the world of seed bead jewelry and will take a moment to click on some of the photos and explore the beauty of this wonderful jewelry art.

Thank you to the following stores for the use of their photos in this article!
Floral Necklace-Black Onyx - tavikon
Wired pearls - theBeadAerie
Brown Beaded Bangle Bracelet - rlscreations
neptune's treasure - theBeadAerie
Hemlock Wreath Reflecting Mountain Stream - Giftbearer
My Blueberry Spring - koalabei
Green and Black weaved Bracelet - aznbiotch
As You Wish Necklace - tethyis
Oceanic Pearls - MourningWoodDesign
Coral, Mauve and Raku Swirl Necklace and Bracelet Set - debbaworks

3 comments:

TheEclecticElement said...

Thanks for sharing this great post!! I always love to learn about jewelry and everything that goes along with it :D

Robert W. Leonard said...

Wow, I never knew it was all so complex. I suppose it makes sense really. Good post, very informative!

springcolors said...

working with seed beads makes the most elaborate artistic creations.

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