• Kathy Mattes

How Are Seed Beads Made?


I just read an article published by Interweave which focuses on this topic and 2 artists who toured the Toho bead factory. Here is a summary of that.


Adrienne Gaskell is a celebrated bead artist who focuses on the Japanese fiber art of kumihimo braiding and incorporates seed beads into her work. She has toured the Toho Seed Bead Factory in Hiroshima, Japan 5 times over the years. Her recent observation is that the seed-bead making process is not very automated by today’s standards.

“Most equipment is from the 1950s and is kept in working order by skilled, long-term employees... "

“Most equipment is from the 1950s and is kept in working order by skilled, long-term employees. Bead making requires a lot of hands-on work and inspection,” she said.

In spite of that Toho is one of the highest regarded seed bead manufacturers in the world. Their beads are precision made so bead weavers can create consistent bead stitches, loomwork, and other styles of beadwork. TOHO seed beads are tested for durability and wear, light sensitivity, and other factors that are important for making long-lasting, wearable beaded jewelry.


Bead artist and teacher Nancy Cain has toured both the Toho factory and the Miyuki bead factory, which is also in Hiroshima. Here is her description of the manufacturing process, as described in the Interweave article:

“The red-hot glass pours out of a hole at the bottom of the kiln with an insert for round or hex bead shape. A tube blowing air in the center of the kiln hole allows the glass to form around it, creating the bead hole. As we moved down the stairs, we saw the long thin strand of red-hot glass extruding out of the bottom of the kiln. The strand flexes around a wooden or porcelain log. It then stretches on a conveyor belt for 30 to 50 feet at which point it is laser cut into meter long rods.”

It is a fast process. “The worker at the end checks the rod for internal and external sizing and then they are bundle tied for bulk storage.” Cain said she was surprised to learn that only one bead color and size is made at a time and they make about five years’ worth!


I have used Toho beads and appreciate their consistency. I also appreciate the lesser consistence of Czech beads, as they add a texture to my beaded ropes and scarves that is not available with Toho.


There is no perfect bead for a project, just the right bead …Bead making requires a lot of hands-on work and inspection,” she said.


In spite of that, Toho is one of the highest regarded seed bead manufacturers in the world. Their beads are precision made so bead weavers can create consistent bead stitches, loomwork, and other styles of beadwork. TOHO seed beads are tested for durability and wear, light sensitivity, and other factors that are important for making long-lasting, wearable beaded jewelry.




There is no perfect bead for a project, just the right bead …

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