What are seed beads?
Seed beads, which can sometimes also be called rocallies are round beads with a threading hole that come in various sizes. They start at under 1mm and go all the way up to 6.5mm. The term ‘Seed Beads’ is actually a generic term that can be used to define any small bead. Normally they tend to be round in shape and are mostly commonly used for creative projects like off-loom bead weaving or making small but beautiful pieces of jewelry.
A lot of home craft people make things like simple friendship bracelets, earrings and christmas decorations but they also use them as spacers between other beads in larger projects they might be doing. The larger seed beads tend to be used for things like clothing enhancement or decorating home furnishings. Seed beads can be used with other crafts like crochet and can make firmer crafts by using soft, flexible wire.
The largest seed is called a 1/0 (Pronounced “one-aught”) and the smallest seed bead is size 24/0 which is about the same size as a grain of sand and used to be used to create the most detailed work.
Seed beads are split into classes to help define the different sizes better.
The most commonly used seed beads are size 5/0 and size 6/0 and for those in the know they refer to them as “pony beads” rather than “seed beads”. Size 3/0 and 4/0 are normally referred to as “trade beads” and the largest seed beads are called “Crow beads”. Most homemade arts and crafts projects using seed beads use beads between 6/0 and 15/0.
Sizes 6/0, 8/0 and 11/0 are most popular in bead knitting. Because of this trend towards those sizes, beads smaller that the 15/0 have not been in production since the 1890’s so any that you see for sale are likely antiques.
The wound method and the drawn method, are two techniques used to produce seed beads. The more traditional technique is the wound method that bites into your time and is shunned by modern bead producing companies.
The drawn method is the preferred choice to make seed beads.
Eastern Europe saw a thriving bead industry before world war 2. The Austro-Hungarian empire and the republic of Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy and France, were all big producers of beads. The beads were made of various materials such as glass, steel, and aluminium. They were cut in a particular way, often referred to as “three-cut” faceting or steel cuts. A number of factories that produced beads were destroyed during WW2. A number of beads that are now considered vintage, were then introduced to the western markets in huge amounts after the fall of the iron curtain.
Japan, India and the Czech Republic are the major makers, and exporters of high quality beads. Japanese make fewer styles than the Czech, but their beads have bigger holes and equal size, and shape. The Japanese beads also have a uniform finish. A number of french beads are used in repairing antiques as they are available in colours that were available during the old times. The seed beads made in Taiwan & China are comparatively of lower quality. The difference lies in the finishing. The beads from other countries have different sizes, shapes, and finish. Beads that have been dyed might rub that colour off on your clothes, thus ruining them, while the ones that have been coated can peel off the outer coating, showing a different colour beneath. The cheaper the beads are more susceptible to wear and tear over time.
Colour and finishes
Colour Lined : The process in which the inside of the beads is coated with colour, is not very long lasting and the colour might change with time.
Transparent : these beads are made of glass which makes them see through.
Matte : the texture applied is on the most minute level. This gives the matte finish look.
Opaque : the bead is covered with a colour that stops you from being able to see through it.
Luster : the bead is made in imitation of a pearl. The effect is given to the surface of the seed beads.
Translucent : light cannot pass properly through the beads, but you can see some light through it.
Copper Lined : A coating is applied to the inside of the seed bead that is copper in colour and reflects a reddish light.
Silver Lined : the inside of the bead is covered with a coating of silver colour.
Bronze Lined : the inside of the bead is covered in a bronze colour coating that reflects light that is brown in colour.
Aurora Borealis : commonly referred to as AB, these beads are coated with colours that bring about a rainbow effect of the surface.
Different formulas are implemented in making the colours of these beads that are kept secret from the public. Some of the recipes were lost during WW1 like the recipe for true black glass.
Colour patterns in beads are made with colours used in concentric layers to make glass rods. The beads are produced by seed bead machinery that softens glass rods with heat, that is then put into a steel die stamp that helps mould the bead with another needle that makes the hole. The steel in the dies of the manual and automatic machinery wears out and it has to be replaced quite often.
There are a number of different types of seed beads including plastic cylinder beads, charlotte cut beads, and bugle beads. These beads can be used in different ways to create artistic patterns or just to pass the time. The choice is yours to make. Have fun!