When you start beading, the different seed bead sizes can be very confusing. Worse than that, it turns out that the same size of seed bead can actually vary a little bit from brand to brand! How does this affect your beadwork and what do you need to know? Well, read on, and I will explain the differences and take a look at why they matter. Then you’ll know which seed bead brands to look for and why.
If you are looking for a post about the sizing method for seed beads, then this is the blog post that you need.
How do seed bead sizes vary?
Let me begin with a common assumption. When you start beading and someone explains to you that seed beads are available in different sizes, 15, 11, 8, 6 and so on, this seems confusing enough. However, it doesn’t take too long to get your head around the sizing system. It is natural enough to then assume that a size 11 is a size 11. Unfortunately, as you continue with different projects, you may come to realise that this isn’t the case. Firstly, you may see different patterns list different brands in their materials list. Like most beginners, I made the error of ignoring the brand and just using the size of bead that I happened to have in stock. Sometimes this is fine, but sometimes I would find that the project just didn’t sit right. I might think it was my fault: perhaps my tension was wrong, or perhaps I had misunderstood an instruction as all this was new to me. Not necessarily: depending on the nature of the design, it may only work properly with a specific brand of seed bead.
Why is this? You may well ask. The simplest way to explain this is through an illustration. I created a little set of samples to show my students when I’m teaching. I took the leading brands of seed bead, the ones you are most likely to be buying, and stitched a little sample of Peyote stitch with each brand. Take a look below:
What is immediately obvious in my actual sample, but not so obvious from the selection of photos, is that the five samples are all slightly different sizes, even though they were all made with size 11 seed beads! Each sample is made with 14 rows of Peyote stitch, with five beads per row (count them up if you don’t believe me!). In order to help you really see the difference in the seed bead sizes, I’ve marked the width and height of each little sample. You will see that the difference is only as small as 1-2mm, but of course, the larger the sample you are beading, the more this tiny difference matters: it is magnified as you work.
How do I know which seed bead brand to buy?
There isn’t a simple answer to that question, but I am going to give you a few simple rules that will help you to avoid beading errors caused by seed bead sizes.
Rule number one: if you are buying seed beads for your own pleasure, then it really doesn’t matter which brand you choose. Buy whichever your local bead shop sells, or whichever has the colours that you like, but do scroll on down to check the essential tips about mixing seed bead brands…
Rule number two: if you are buying for a specific project, then make sure you buy the brand that the designer has specified. If you choose to substitute a different brand, then don’t be surprised if you find that the project doesn’t work quite as well as it should. What if the designer hasn’t specified a brand? In that case, just use your favourite and see what happens. There are two broad reasons why a designer may not specify a brand. Firstly, it may not matter, but again, scroll on down to read the essential information about mixing brands! Secondly, the designer may not be very experienced and may not realise that the brand matters (I’ve been there!), or may not even know which brand they used. Some bead sellers are better than others at labelling their stock. Remember, it’s not just you new beaders that might be confused about brands. Some people can live for years in the happy belief that seed bead sizes are consistent across manufacturers and brands. Only when you try the little sample experiment like I did, do you really understand how great the differences can be.
Seed bead sizes and mixing brands
You may be a step ahead of me here, but the next question to ask yourself is, what if I mix seed bead brands? Well, the answer is, it may not be pretty…or then again, it may lead to great things!
What do I mean by that? Well, take a look at the next little sample I beaded. I made a strip of Peyote using each of my brands, beading six rows with each brand of size 11 bead (refer back to the labelled samples above, comparing the colours if you need to know which is which). I added in the delicas just to illustrate how different they are to the other seed beads. Notice how uneven the strip is: the width goes in and out as I change colour. This is what will happen to your beading project if you mix up brands. Whatever the project, whatever the stitch, the minute difference in sizes between the brands will have an impact on the finish.
In this little strip it creates unevenness. Think what it might do to a tube, or a geometric shape. Think how it might affect a project where the seed beads have been used to fill in spaces between other beads. So, the negative impact could be a project that looks uneven and untidy, or perhaps doesn’t sit properly (for example in a circular shape) if you have mixed your brands or used a different brand to the designer of the project. By all means build a mix of brands within your stash, but just remember to label each tube with its brand as well as its size and colour, then you won’t fall into the trap of using multiple brands within the same project.
However, for the curious amongst you, this knowledge can bring some positive effects. I recently saw someone wearing a twisted herringbone rope that had been made mixing seed beads (I’m not sure which brand) with delicas. The very subtle difference in the sizes gave the rope a gorgeous texture. So, if you like to design, use this knowledge to your advantage. Try mixing brands to see how the different seed bead sizes can be used to create deliberate textures or design interest.
If you are looking for beads for a particular project, then being aware of which brands are larger or smaller, can help your decision about which brand to buy. If you are curious to learn more, then I urge you to conduct your own experiments – I would be interested to hear about the results, so if you make an interesting discovery, do share it in the comments. At the very least, I hope this will help you to understand that there is more difference between seed bead brands than just price.
If you have found this post helpful, then please share it with other beaders, or feel free to link to it on your own blog or website. Thank you for reading!