• Kathy Mattes

Just What Are Seed Beads?

I use a lot of what are called seed beads in my work and you might be wondering what they are. I will share some information here about seed beads to give you an idea of the components that I use the most in my work.

Let’s start with an edited description of seed beads from Wikipedia:

Seed beads or rocailles are uniformly shaped, spheroidal beads ranging in size from under a millimeter to several millimeters.

Seed bead is also a generic term for any small bead. Usually rounded in shape, seed beads are most commonly used for loom and off-loom bead weaving. They may also be used for simple stringing, or as spacers between other beads in jewelry.

The largest size of a seed bead is 1° ("one-aught") and the smallest is 24°, about the size of a grain of sand. Most modern seed bead work is done using seed beads ranging in sizes 6°, 8°, 11°, and 15°. Sizes 6°, 8° and 11° are often used in bead weaving, as well as bead knitting. The seed beads smaller than 15° have not been in production since the 1890s and any in existence are usually considered antiques.

The very small holes in the centers of most seed beads means that stringing them usually requires the use of a specialized long narrow needle called a beading needle, and thread that is strong enough to withstand usage over time.

There are several manufacturers of seed beads and each one has its own focus. The most commonly used beads are either made in the Czech Republic or in Japan.

Czech seed beads are typically donut-shaped and more irregular than Japanese seed beads. This difference, an attribute often valued, makes Czech seed beads perfect for use in freeform work, stringing projects, and anywhere a more organic feel will work.

Japanese seed beads are generally more uniform in shape, the hole being larger, more square, and taller than Czech seed beads. This uniformity is desired in certain projects where you want the beads to sit neatly next to each other (see photo).

Japanese seed beads are generally more expensive than Czech seed beads because of the extra steps that are taken to ensure this uniformity. Having said that, Czech beads are also considered of good quality. Seed beads of poor quality are made in other parts of the world and are available at a lower cost. It depends on the use which type of bead you might select.

I occasionally use vintage seed beads as well, as they come in some wonderful colors. They tend to be more like Czech beads, in that the result is more textured because they are not as consistent in size and shape. Many of my beaded scarves have been made with vintage seed beads.

Seed beads also come in many other shapes and sizes, and I will leave that for another day.


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