Bead Buying Tips–Part III



Today’s post is a continuation of my previous posts about basic bead types, (Bead Buying Tips I and Bead Buying Tips II ) why and when you might need them, and some links to several online resources.

So, where was I? Oh yes, that’s right–I was planning to wax on about the wonderfulness of  spacer beads, so let me get right on that.

The Wonderfulness of Spacer Beads

It’s important to own a variety of “spacer” beads. Spacer beads are small or flat(ish) beads that you put in between your larger beads to create “visual interest”. (Warning: “visual interest” is a big phrase of mine…) Seriously, using spacer beads will make your projects look more sophisticated and professional (because of the aforementioned “visual interest”) and besides that, they’re fun. Spacer beads are often metal, but really, you can use any small bead as a spacer.

Metal Spacers

I usually prefer metal spacer beads myself–there’s wonderful variety (although simple is often best) and I love a hint of shiny metal to break up all the color. Rio Grande has a great selection of base metal and sterling spacer beads. Bali Silver beads are also very pretty spacers but often quite pricey. There are, however, some nice imitations in base metal that are much more affordable. Check them all out and see what you think.

I’m really crazy about African beads in general, but I especially love using African metal beads as spacers–often rough hewn, I love how they look against polished glass, gemstones, etc. I noticed Rings and Things offers a good selection on their site–in fact, I’m a little scared that I just found that link, as I just woke up the insatiable little bead buyer inside me!

Glass Seed Beads

Seed beads are tiny, like seeds, hence their name. They make great spacer beads, are super economical (per bead) and come in a wonderful array of colors and finishes.

Glass seed beads always have a “number” associated with them and it’s their size–it’s supposed to tell you how many seed beads per inch–a size “1″ seed bead is the biggest size and a size 15 is the smallest.

In my experience, people generally use seed beads sized between “6″ and “11″–and 11 will probably feel pretty darn small to you. (In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a size “15″, let alone used one.) Seed beads are often sold in tubes, small bottles or clear wrapped packs of 100s because they are so small.

I tend to use metallic, silver lined, and AB finishes the most. Although I usually buy my seed beads locally, I’ve provided a link below–I’ve never heard of this company, but they seem to specialize in seed beads. They sell them by the “hank”, but don’t let that freak you out–it’s actually the traditional way to sell them:

Delica Beads–A Specialized Seed Bead

“Delica” beads are perfectly cylindrical machine-cut Japanese glass seed beads. Use these beads when creating woven jewelry or for beading on a loom because they’re a very consistent size, and that really matters when you’re weaving beads.

Fire Mountain gems sells a lot of delica beads:

Bead Caps

Bead caps are like a spacer bead on steroids–almost opposite of a basic, they can make a dull bead fab and a fab bead killer, but they can be expensive, and you should probably just buy a few at first to get a feel for how to use them effectively. A good strategy might be to make a pair of earrings using one to “cap” the  main bead of each earring. Rio has a nice selection here.

  • Gemstones

These are kind of fancy to call a  “staple”,  as they generally cost much more than glass beads, but they’ll find you sooner or later, and you’ll suddenly desperately “need” some, so I might as well give you a quick overview.

Gemstones, or semi-precious stones (same thing) tend to be sold on strands, so the initial investment is usually greater than buying glass beads. Sometimes the strands are graduated, (getting smaller at the ends and bigger in the middle) which might affect your design plans, so think about that before you buy.

Some beginning beaders also wonder why those strands aren’t already considered finished necklaces-what’s left to bead for goodness sake? Well, the string holding them together isn’t strong enough for wearing, and there’s no closure or room to attach one, if it were. And once you start using spacer beads and mixing and matching, you’ll realize how not finished that strand was until you came along.

You’ll also find that there are a million stone names you never heard of–don’t worry, neither has anyone else really. All it means is that some semi-precious stones are more semi-precious than others, but the price usually reflects that. And these obscure stones are usually in similar colors to stones too expensive for the average person to buy–maybe you can’t afford lapis lazuli, for instance, but you can afford sodalite and get a similar look. And hey, that’s all good.

I usually buy stones locally, and while I’ve never bought from this online company in the link below, they have a pretty straightforward site that’s actually a little clearer about the whole gemstone thing than my usual suspects, so I thought it might be worthwhile to check out:

  • Pendants or Focal Beads

If you’re designing a necklace (and any artwork for that matter), it’s great to have a focal point that draws the eye in. Pendants can be that focal point and also function as an effective anchor for the whole design–from determining color size and length of your necklace, to providing a starting point for building your piece (just start with the pendant and work you’re way out from there).

Vitabeads has some great pendants in stone to inspire you and Fire Mountain Gems also offers a big variety, (some more exciting than others).

  • The Tip of the Iceberg

Okay, I’m sure there’s lots more, but that’s a start. Just remember–there are truly great beads in every medium: polymer clay, paper, porcelain, wood, metal clay, you name it.  It’s also important to remember that you can actually make many kinds of wonderful beads yourself for very little money–and we’ll be getting to that shortly!

In the meantime, get yourself some beads, make something cool, and show me your creations, I’d love to see!


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Categories : Beading, Supplies

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