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About Beads

I will continue to add information about beads in regular updates. This information stays up on Inside Beads for reference.  Other information such as my experiences with a particular bead will be replaced in updates.  I read  all sources available for bead identification including magazine and book articles.  I keep monographs by Peter Francis, Jr., as ready references.   I will include information about vintage beads I find on bead hunts here and on my Inside Purses page where I cover the area of vintage beads and fiber in all types of vintage pieces.

Seed Bead Sizing for Czech Beads

What does the “slash zero,” mean when it is added to small bead numbers such as 6/0, 8/0 and 11/0?

Today seed beads are much more uniform than they were in the past.  The Industrial Revolution brought mechanization to all facets of our lives, including improved seed beads in uniformity, bigger holes, new finishes and more colors.

Pull out a ruler and set it on your worktable.  Line up 10 size 6/0 beads next to the ruler with the bead holes facing up.  You will probably find they are closer to 7 beads to the inch than 6.  Most 6/0 beads today are actually 7/0 beads.  The same goes for other beads such as 8/0 is about 9 beads to the inch and 11/0 is about 12 beads to the inch.  Seed beads as we know them today are round squatty beads.  This measurement is not meant for cut beads and other odd shaped small beads.  No matter which way you try and measure, by millimeter or inches, the smallest beads such as 18/0 to 24/0 will be difficult to distinguish because they are so small and irregular.      

When small glass beads became popular, every manufacturer had a different sizing system or none at all.  It became necessary to come up with a common bead sizing for beads too small to measure by current means in the 1840’s.  The “null” bead classification was invented.  The null bead is designated as 0 and a slash is placed before the 0. The bead size was set before the slash, example, 18/0.    The larger the number set before the 0, the smaller the bead size and the smaller the number set before the 0, the larger the bead size.   Beads much larger than these /0 beads started with a #1, #2, etc.  Using the null bead differentiated between the larger beads and the very small beads.

Do not get confused with measuring beads for bead loom weaving or square stitch where all the beads line up sideways.  The beads set sideways and you get more beads to the inch than when the holes face up.  See for yourself:  String about 20 size 11/0 beads and keep them snug.  Line the strand up against the ruler.  Count how many beads are in an inch.  If you do not use 11/0 beads, then use the size bead you have.

Information Resource:  My Restoring and Collecting Antique Beaded Purses by Evelyn Haertig , which includes extensive information about the null bead.

Glass Beads - Permanent Finish or Not?

  I base this information primarily on small beads from the Czech Republic,
Japan and Italy, those equivalent to what we call seed bead size.

Cleaning Beads That Have Skins Pealing:  CLR,   Dow Bathroom Cleaner and bleach are some of the materials I have used to clean beads of their shedding surface.  I stick them in a glass jar, cover them with one of the above liquids for 2 to 3 days.  Then I remove them, rinse them off and let them dry.  Usually the outside coating will easily shed.  Do not mix any cleaning liquids together as they can become toxic.  Handle them just as you would when cleaning bathroom and kitchen areas. 

Coated (New):  These are new beads that look a lot like the galvanized, some very bright and others matted, all very lovely and many with a rainbow or AB finish.  Many of them are metallic colors.  They are much praised by some of the bead distributors as a permanent finish.  Not!  They do hold their finish much better than previous coated beads, however, much wear in a humid climate like Florida or Singapore, or a very cold climate like parts of Canada will deteriorate the finish.  These beads are still  transparent clear beads underneath that will eventually peek through.  They are also more expensive beads.  I would advise against using them in a project you spend hundreds of hours on only to eventually have naked beads here and there.  Also, any pieces that come into contact directly with your skin, thereby getting a dose of sweat, perfumes and other chemicals we douse on ourselves should be avoided.

Color Fade:  A good rule to follow:  If the color is unnatural to "Nature," living and growing vegetation and florals, then it will not last.  Even in paints and fiber dyes, unnatural colors will tend to fade with time.  Various types of beads will fade if they are very brilliant unnatural colors.  Some of the newer Japanese brilliant colors are more permanent, but not all.

Color Lined : They are transparent beads and have colors added inside after the bead is created.  They are often a  clear transparent bead with another color lining the inside, but may be a transparent color such as green with a brown lining.  They are very distinct as color lined beads.  If you put them up to the light, you will see the transparent bead rim and where the color starts. Most of the color-lined beads keep their color unless they are laundered (on clothing) or worn out in the sun often.  Color lined beads that are very old may lose some of their inside lining when they are re-strung and the thread rubs against them. Again, the unnatural colors, very intense brilliant colors such as fuchsia will fade to some degree with time.  I  use color-lined beads in many of my pieces because they are so lovely and for the most part dependable.  The color added in color-lined beads does not peal off like coated beads where the final coating is added on the outside of the bead.

Galvanized: They are usually very bright shiny metallic colors, hot violets and pinks, sparkly bronzes, brilliant gold and silver and the colors will flake off.  The coating is added after the beads are made.  It is just as if you took a paintbrush and painted a bunch of beads and then heated them to get the paint to adhere to the beads.  When I receive galvanized beads as gifts, I clean off the surface and use them as clear beads.  The coatings will also come off as you work from the sweat off your hands.  Those lovely charlotte 1-cuts that look gold have a coating and will come right off with very little wear.  If you can't do without them, use them for earrings and other jewelry that does not touch your skin or get rubbed regularly.

Lead Enhanced Beads: Lead is no longer an ingredient for making beads, it is a hazard to the glassmaker.  Lead was used until about 40 to 50 years ago when it was realized that lead was dangerous to those working with it.  Once the bead is made, there is no danger involved with the beads unless you ingest them.  When lead is added to the bead, it brings out highlights and has a luminous appearance that is unique.  When you look at many portrait and figure paintings, you will find those with lead in the paints bring the most awesome luminescence to flesh tones but are so deadly to the painter.  See the White Hearts listing for more information on white hearts with a lead finish.  Some of the most gorgeous plastic beads made in the USA were those made in the 1930's and 1940's with a lead finish.  Again, these beads are perfect for beadwork but keep them away from tiny children who love to chew everything.

Gold Added: Some beads have real gold added to the finish or combined in the bead making process.  Some metallic bronzes, browns and reds have gold added to give it the awesome finish.  These beads are usually at least five times more expensive than other beads.  When beads are purchased in kilos, they are sold by weight and those with gold are heavier, so you get fewer beads in a kilo.  I have found the finish on most of these beads to be permanent, however, some can eventually tarnish from perspiration and continued skin contact.  When you see beadwork with these beads included, they will stand out as elegant and remarkable

Matte and Semi Matte:  The matte finish is a new look for beads.  They have been treated with an etching compound that actually eats away part of the outside surface.  If you wait too long to rinse them, they can end out with a very pebbled surface.  I quickly decided I prefer purchasing the beads already matted.  Beads that have been fully matted look like they have a frosted coating or smooth outside surface, while semi matte beads may have shiny and smooth surface areas.  When you make up a beadwork with matte beads, they feel squishy and make tiny noises when you hold them and they are rubbed up against each other.  Nice textures can be obtained mixing matte and shiny beads together.  Many of the matte beads you see are the same beads you purchase that are shiny, they have just been etched to change them. There are also beads manufactured that are coated with a finish that resembles matte but are not permanent.

Pearlescent and Ceylon Lined with Color:  Some beads, often having a pearlescent appearance, sometimes called Ceylon, have a darker hue of the same color as the bead added to the inside to heighten the overall color of the bead.   This inside color is not always permanent.  The problem is it may be a year or two before the color fades and one cannot always know in advance this will happen.  Again, the brilliant colors, especially lavenders, pinks, violets and reds are suspect. 

Permanent Finishes:  Beads receive new names all the time.  It is difficult to keep up with them.  Opal, opaque, rainbow, iridescent, iris, most pearlescent, transparent, AB finish and matte are permanent bead finishes.   Metallic iris beads such as purple, green, blue, brown and bronze iris are permanent finishes.  They do not look like the galvanized beads at all.

Silver Lined: They are transparent, crystal and opal finish beads that have a lining inside that looks like foil, such as aluminum foil.  It could also be thought of as a mirror finish.  Many brilliant colors can be obtained with silver lined beads, such as reds, purples and greens, gold and silver without them being subject to fading.  The inside finish seems to last unless they are very old beads that are being re-strung. Now silver-lined beads are available in rainbow colors, which adds even more glitz to them.  The rainbow effect of these beads makes it possible to match them to solid color beads  in a project.  The holes in silver lined beads are usually round but sometimes square.  Many older silver lined beads have square holes.  I was told many years ago silver lined beads were "rocailles."

Rainbow, Iris and AB:  Today all three terms often mean the same type bead.   Some of these beads are one color and then there is a highlight over the entire bead.  Some of these beads may have several shades of a color and also have a highlight.  Often bead finishes appear as tiny colors of the rainbow on each bead as you view it.   We are usually familiar with the AB finish on 4mm and larger beads.  The AB finish is also identified on some seed beads.   All three of these terms are used by distributors for describing their beads; some prefer one name and other another.  Some use all three terms for different beads they stock.  A Metallic Iris bead is an opaque bead and the green will have 3 or 4 shades of green plus some bronze or copper beads sprinkled in.  A Forest Green Rainbow is also an opaque bead and has several shades of green plus some blue included.  A Red Iris may be a transparent bead with a gold highlight on each bead and no other color included or may have some other red shades added.  A crystal iris is a crystal bead with an AB finish, colors shine on the surface like a bit of the rainbow.  AB can be interchangeable with rainbow and iris for many beads.

Rocailles:  Information I gathered was originally only silver lined beads were identified as rocailles.  Some silver lined beads have square holes and others have round holes.  Today, bead terminology is so muddled that some bead companies list all their seed beads as rocailles.  Recently in reading Diane Fitzgerald's newest book, Beading with Brick Stitch, it is stated that the name "rocaille" is the French name for all seed beads.  We continue to learn more about beads every day.

Striped:  These beads have one or more stripes of color running along the length of the bead.  All the stripes may be one color or more than one color. This is a permanent finish and adds little highlights of color to the beads.  Most of the stripe beads I have come across are Czech beads.  These beads are often found in with beads the African traders call Christmas Beads.  This finish is seen on various size seed beads but is also a finish applied to larger African beads.   Prices vary on stripe beads, some of the more unique matted finishes are more expensive.  These beads are often used as eyes in totems and fetishes because the stripe can appear like the eye center.  Most stripe seed beads today can be found in sizes as small as 14/0 with sizes 11/0 to 4/0 being the more common.

White Hearts (Cornaine D'Allepo -French) These beads have been produced for at least 700 years and probably longer.  White hearts have two layers, the inside core is white and the outside layer a color such as red, green, yellow, pink, mauve, amber and blue.  Red has always been the most popular and  produced color.  In the 1600's beads were more tubular shaped and had green cores, which made the bead appear black in the light.  In the 1700's the shape changed to a more flattened (top and bottom) and rounded (sides) bead like seed bead shapes today.   Some cores were green and others white.  The smallest white hearts I have ever seen are 16/0 on an antique bag I cataloged at a museum.  Lead was added to some of the white hearts in the past.  See Lead Enhanced Beads for more information.

Beady Information

Beads with Multiple Names
New names are routinely given to beads that have been known by other identifying names for years.  This is unfortunate because it confuses many buyers and those new to beads. I will add to the list as time permits. 

Roller Beads   Crow or pony beads in 6mm and 9mm plus very irregular beads a little smaller

 Very Bad Beads   (What's your very bad bead experience?  I will add it to my list.) 

  • Beads that flash you by shedding their coating and getting naked.

  • Beads that manage to get stitched into your work only to later show you they are cracked, chipped or odd shaped and you have to use pliers to schmock them out of your work.

  • Beads that are so very pretty, then two years after you finished your beadwork, begin to fade from bright to several shades of pastel. 

  • Gemstone turquoise and coral beads advertised as "natural" only to find out later they were dyed.

  • Amber beads you paid big bucks for only to find out they are plastic or resin with insects dropped in or inclusions that resemble the inside of an amber bead, or you have copal, a younger amber rather than amber which is many millions years old.  You thought you were purchasing Baltic Amber when you actually purchased less valuable amber from another area of the world.

  • Opal-like cabochons that are plastic and you were told they were opals when you purchased them.

  • A bead you paid a primo price for and were told you would never find that bead again, only to find it later for half the price at another store.

  • You purchased a bead you thought was meteorite and found out later it is a natural stone from Earth.
  • Pearls that were once beautiful turned dark and ugly.
  • Bone beads that turn stinky smelling, almost acid after you wear them.   This is often due to your own body chemical reaction or from storing the beads in closed plastic containers.
  • Beads you found on a bead hunt and a so-called specialist told you they were a valuable material when in fact were a coated bead.  Example:  Beads that are supposed to be vintage and made of coal and later the coating flakes off.

Note:  Storeowners often purchase beads from various sources including people who stop by their store with a bargain for cash.  The storeowner is not always a specialist in every bead type and may think a bead is made of one type material when it is actually another.  Store owners also purchase bead material that they may not have a source for reordering and believe the bead is no longer available, so they let you know they believe the bead can not be found again.  If you are planning a piece that needs a specific number of beads, they want to make sure you purchased enough beads for your project while they have them.  What one storeowner pays for a bead may not be the same as what another pays for the same bead, that is why you may find such a difference in pricing between one shop and another on certain types of beads.

Note:  Some people state they are bead experts and when people ask them to identify a particular bead, they state an identification of the bead when they actually do not know what it is.    These individuals just cannot admit they sometimes do not know.  There are many people who know a lot about some beads but not about all bead material.   Then there are the real experts who know just about everything about beads.  It is unfortunate one of our very knowledgeable bead experts, Peter Francis, Jr. is no longer with us.

Smallest/Largest Beads for Beading
To my knowledge, the largest size is 1/0 and the smallest I have heard about is 28/0.  The smallest beads I have ever seen and own are about 25/0 to 26/0.  The smaller the number, the larger the bead; the larger the number, the smaller the bead.  The most common size beads used by beaders are 6/0 through 14/0.   Sizes 16/0 and smaller are vintage beads.  There are now cylinder/bugle type beads being made that are about   the size of an 18/0 to 20/0 seed bead.  The Czech Republic is making some small cylinder type beads and I have heard there are some originating from Japan.  We can only assume they are easier to manufacture than the more rounded 20/0 seed beads of the past.  It is difficult to categorize small beads into exact sizes.  A size 18/0 bead strand from Italy will usually have more than one size bead because such small beads were difficult to keep uniform.  A strand is about 3" to 5" long.  A size 18/0 Czech bead will also have more than one size in a strand of beads and those beads may not be the same size as the 18/0 beads from Italy.   Small beads from various glass factories were made in different sizes that did not match up with each other.  If you find a small hank of beads intact, consider yourself lucky.  If you find a bunch with several hanks intact, it is your magic day.  It becomes more difficult today to find complete hanks or a bunch of hanks tied together just like they came from the glass factory after being strung.  I do have some of these tiny hanks in bunches.  In the past I would have just snipped them off and used them for bead crochet or beading.  Today, I am trying to salvage the history of tiny beads and keeping these little bunches as they originally were for historical preservation.    I use the beads I find that are loose or only on a few strands rather than in a hank.

Antique Bead Information
Much of the information we know today about small beads is from the study of antique beaded bags.  With the exception of the late 1990's up through today, more small beads were used in the mid-1800's than any other period for beading creativity.  Check my Inside Purses page and watch for updates there.  I include bead information along with the purse history.  For instance, cut metal beads were made in the USA and France in the 1800's.  Those made in France were of a much higher quality and did not tarnish as easily as those made in the USA.  If you have cut metal beads from that time frame and they are all rusted, it is more likely they originate from the USA or did not receive good care over the years.   I have cut metal beads from both France and the USA.  It is difficult to be sure where the cut beads originate from.  I am guessing those cut metal beads I have that have very little or no rust are from France and those beads that are badly rusting no matter how much care I give them, are from the USA.  I can only guess this difference is due to the metal and process used in each originating country. Your care of either type beads will make a great difference on how well they keep their finish.

Glass Disease
This has been the subject of much discussion recently and I am still compiling information.  What I do know is glass beads that have glue affixed to them and are attached to leather and suede can deteriorate over time.  There is a chemical change that takes place with the fibers and glues together resulting in possible destruction to the glass.  I do not glue down my cabochons before beading.  I quit using glue when I began to learn about the dangers of glues and fixatives when used on fibers.   However, if you are making stud earrings and certain types of pin backs, you have no choice but to use glues.  Glues can adversely affect some gemstones such as amber and opal.  When I receive more information about glass disease, I will let you know.  Meantime, don't use glue on very expensive designer beads as a means to add them to fiber or other materials.

Care and Maintenance of Natural Beads

A year or two ago I listed information about natural materials and their care and then discarded the information with the next update.  I continue to receive questions about these materials and have decided to keep some basic information posted as a reference.

Pearls and Amber 
Put perfume and cosmetics on first, then allow time for the perfume to settle before putting on the jewelry.  Perfume can destroy both pearls and amber.  Perfume will coat amber with a fine crackled layer that will be very difficult to remove.  If your amber has been coated, you will need to go to a lapidary/gem store for Rx.  Amber can easily break or shatter if knocked onto a surface or other jewelry.  Never wear amber with other jewelry that has lumpy pieces or heavy material that will bump against and crack the amber.  Amber is tree resin, several million years old.  Copal is young amber only a few million years old.  Give them both the same care.  Pearls are the Ocean's treasure, treat them as such and be thankful such miraculous natural beauty exists.  More expensive pearls should be re-strung every year if they are strung on silk or other soft fibers.  Residue from cosmetics and perfume worn permeates the thread and pearl holes.  A chemical change takes place and destroys the pearl nacre.  The pearl will eventually turn dark ugly mottled colors.  Once this happens, you cannot repair the damage.  Pearls should be laid flat when they are not worn and kept in a soft cloth or fabric lined case.   Take time to plan out a design when you are adding pearls to a project, especially the more expensive or unique pearls.  Amber should also be kept separate from other jewelry to keep from being damaged.  If you have a big necklace with large pieces of brass and other materials and an amber or copal bead incorporated into the piece, put a piece of soft cloth around the amber/copal piece when storing it to keep it from getting chipped by the metal beads.  There is no reason you can't have a beautiful piece of amber incorporated in with other big chunky beads as long as you take care in your wear and storing of the piece.  Both pearls and amber stay in better condition when worn occasionally.  They do not need the cosmetics but do need contact with their owner's skin for revitalization.  Do not store pearls in plastic, they are like fibers, they need to breath.  If you put them in a sectioned plastic container, keep the lid cracked so there is air inside.

Most gemstones are like glass beads, pretty sturdy as long as you treat them with a little care.  There is no gemstone or glass bead that likes being smashed in with a bunch of other jewelry pieces.   Surfaces can eventually get scratched which is a real bummer.  I have a gemstone alligator with a short snout because it got mushed around in other beads and the end cracked off.  I have broken beads here and there because I did not take the time to put them away and just dumped them back into the pile.  We all booboo now and then.  I have gained great respect for beads after a few of these mishaps and take special care with my more exotic beads.  Labradorite is a most gorgeous gemstone material with lots of little sparkle flecks, don't let a strand of these beads get smashed in with another heavier agate bead and get some of the sparkle smashed.  Opals are very dainty and of need of much care.  They can crack if they get too dry.  If you are traveling from a wet area to a dry and spend a long period in a dry climate, dampen the outer edge of the opals occasionally with water or rub them with your hands, your body oils will keep them lubricated.  Although jade is durable, it can be scratched when left smashed in with other gemstone beads.  For gemstone and glass beads, it is best to store necklaces so that they do not overlap each other and loose beads should be laid flat or strung.  If they have to be stored in a baggy over a period of time, make the bag snug instead of big and loose.

Bone is pretty sturdy but can pick up odors, which will stay with the bead.  Some people's bodies put off more acids and after wearing bone pieces, the bone will smell yucky.  If you find this happens with bone, make sure you wear them as earrings or as jewelry that hangs down far enough your clothing sets between you and the bone.  Don't store bone in plastic containers that are airtight, this will also cause a chemical change and the bone will pick up a smell from the plastic container.  If the container is not airtight or is open, there should be no problem.  Do not store horn or antler pieces in plastic either.  Never try to change bone appearance by cooking it in tea, it will most likely smell up the house and ruin the bone beads.

Ivory and Vegetable Ivory
Ivory is no longer legal to import into the USA.  Many people have ivory from years ago before this law came into affect and some have ivory carvings or beads handed down from generation to generation.   Any ivory that is legal to purchase today is from estate sales and ivory purchased prior to the law and being resold in the USA at bead stores, auctions and shows.   Fossilized ivory is different and legal to bring into the USA.  No elephants were destroyed by human hands for jewelry inclusion of fossilized ivory.   Ivory becomes more transparent with age and wear.  Body oils will slowly change the ivory to a more transparent appearance.  Ivory can be scratched and perfumes can affect it, use the same care as you would for amber and pearls.  Do not cook ivory in tea to make it look older unless you know what you are doing, you may ruin it.  By the way, the larger palm nut, sometimes called Tagua and vegetable ivory, is an excellent replacement for ivory.   Absolutely awesome beads are being carved from them today.  Exotic woods also make lovely carved beads.  Larger nuts are found in South America and some areas of Indonesia, and I am sure other areas of the world as well.  Small nuts with the same texture can be found in Key West and the Philippines, again I am sure they can be found in other areas as well.   You can pick up these nuts in Key West that have fallen off the tree, remove the shell, clean them and hand drill them.  They do need to be polished but do not use a tumbler with water; they will turn to mush.  A piece of soft leather will help in the polishing the nuts.  Most of these small nuts are about 8mm to 12mm in size and are naturally oval shaped.  I have a whole necklace strung of the palm nuts in Key West.  I shelled them, cleaned them and drilled them.  I also have a strand from the Philippines and you can hardly tell the difference between them.

Nuts and Vegetable Ivory - Drying Out/Cracking
I have all kinds of nuts I have collected over the years.  Some of the carved olive pits, pecan shells, avocado pits sections and other nuts have dried out and cracked.  I also have a couple of larger palm nuts that have dried and cracked.   This makes me wonder if the awesome carvings being created today with vegetable ivory have some type of protective coating layered over them to keep them from drying out over time.  This requires further research and emails to some of the companies carving these items.  I will let you know of my results when I receive feedback.  If you work with this material and can give me some input, let me know and I will include your website here in one of the updates.

About Endangered Species
If you are traveling out of the USA and have jewelry made from a species that has become endangered after your purchase or inheritance and you want to take it with you, check with Customs first.   You will need to have photos and information about the piece to prove you owned it when you left the USA.  Otherwise, it may be confiscated or you could be subject to laws as if you brought it into the USA illegally.  It is best to leave this type bead material in a safety deposit box when you travel outside the USA.  No matter what part of the world you live in, if you are planning to travel elsewhere, check with your local customs office or official with any questions you may have regarding this type material.

Seeds and Pods
There are many types of seeds and pods that can be used for beads.  Some only need drilling, others have natural holes.   Some may need cleaning.  Look in your local library for books covering dried flowers and herbs, driftwood, how to make jewelry with natural materials, craft how to articles of the 1970's, Native American crafts and Mountain Man crafts.  Some seeds are poisonous if ingested and you may not want to have them in your house if you have small children.

You will find many shells in diverse shapes at various beaches.  Take care in what you pick up.  Some shells may have particles imbedded that will crawl out later to surprise you.  Shells need to be cleaned and dried before incorporating into jewelry.  You will find information about preparation of them in the same type books as those for seeds and pods.  There are some shells that are poisonous, it is not likely you would find one alive on the beach; however, a trip to the library and research on shells would be a good idea.  If you are lucky, and in an area with local shops selling shells, the shop owner may have information about the shells and cleaning process or a book with such information.

The conversion charts for Inside Beads and Inside Threads have grown considerable.  So, I have given each of them their own page.  More information will be added to these bead and fiber guides as time permits.

You will find beading supplies at my Beadwrangler Mall which also contains extensive information pages on beads, thread, needles and lots more!

Click below for more information pages.

Inside Beads Inside Thread
Needle Info

Beadwrangler's Bead Guide

Beadwrangler's Thread Guide

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