Buying Seed Beads


With an overwhelming number of types and colours of seed beads on the market today, it can be really confusing when you set out to a bead shop or bead fair. However intent I am upon buying seed beads, I often find myself so overwhelmed that I end up coming home with nothing! So I am about to offer you some tips for buying seed beads to help you build a useful stash.

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Buying Seed Beads: Traditionalist or Modernist?

The first question to ask yourself is what kind of things do you want to make with your seed beads? Back when I started beading (in 2003), seed beads were mostly just little round or cylindrical objects with one hole through them. I’m talking about rocailles or delicas here.

Buying seed beads got more complicated with all the new shapes emerging. Kheops Christmas decoration by Katie Dean, Beadflowers

At some point over the years, different shapes started coming to market. (I hesitate to say ‘new’ as I was recently reading a fascinating article about vintage seed beads. Surprisingly, many of them also came in shapes that we thought were new to market today!).

So now you can find beads with two holes (Superduos, piggy beads, Lentils, Chilli beads, Tile beads, Silky beads,¬†Kheops – I could go on…). Or beads with three holes (Trinity beads, arcos to name just two). Even beads with four holes (Quadra Tiles). In addition, there are all the different shapes: triangles, diamonds, hexagons, squares, ovals, round. (Use this link to find out more about all those different beads).

Add to that, the choice of colours and bead finishes and you are overwhelmed!

New beads bring new project types

The change in bead types has inevitably led to a change in the type of beading projects you can make. For all those years with the basic seed beads, people were happily beading jewellery, amulet bags, three-dimensional objects using these beads. So all those options are still on the market.

With the advent of new shapes, it became possible to create complex looking jewellery designs by mixing up these types of beads.

The difference is, while it was possible to make a complete project with rocailles or delicas, you will not be quite as successful if you try to make a complete project with one type of shaped seed bead. You are going to find that you need to mix in the basic seed beads as well.

How does this affect your choices?

So, when it comes to buying seed beads, this leads you down a choice of paths that I have called ‘traditionalist’ or ‘modernist’.

The first refers to those who want to use just the rocailles and delicas. This still leaves you big decisions to make in terms of manufacturer or brand and colour. So I will come back to that below.

If you consider yourself a modernist, then you are going to be buying seed beads in all shapes and sizes. So you may need to make a few more decisions about how to direct your spending in this area. Again, I will come back to this below.

How do you know whether you are a traditionalist or a modernist?

Well, that is simply a matter of taste. I’ve been peppering this section with some beading designs in both styles. In the images above, I showed you some jewellery made in both styles.

Below, the gingerbread house is made entirely from delicas and rocailles.

Gingerbread house beaded box pattern by Katie Dean.

All of these patterns offer a variety of styles, techniques and are designed for different abilities. So it is really just a matter of taste as to the road you choose to follow.

Buying Seed Beads According to Budget

If you are on a limited budget – who isn’t? – then you really want to focus your spending power wisely. My top tip for doing this is to try and plan.

When you find yourself faced with a shop or hall full of beads, it is so easy to get carried away and spend all your money on the first things that please you. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing this. But you may come home and find you have such a random collection that it is difficult to turn your beads into a sensible project.

So, it is well worth taking some time to plan ahead.

If you are a designer, then try and think up some ideas so you have a bit of structure. Or make a note of some beads that you already know you want to try. Maybe you want to focus your attention on a bead that has recently come to market. Then you can focus on creating the designs that are right ‘on trend’, for example.

If you are an avid beader who follows patterns, then take some time before your shopping trip to find some new patterns. This will automatically give you a shopping list. If you have cash left over after buying the beads on your list, then you are free to make those impulse purchases that may take you in new directions!

Thinking About Brands

I’ve written a whole article on seed bead brands and you can find it here. So I’m not going to repeat myself now. What I do want to say though is, if you decided to go down the ‘traditionalist’ route, then you need to make some decisions about seed bead brands.

Although seed beads have a standard sizing system, you will find there are quite significant differences from one brand to another, so you want to be aware of this and not mix brands within a project.

I started out buying from my favourite bead shop, so I was just buying the one brand that they stocked at the time. Then, as they began to stock other brands, and as I began to try other designs, I found myself branching out into different brands. I discovered that, from a design perspective, each brand has different qualities which make it more or less suited to some types of project.

If you are thinking about just a small stash of seed beads, then you can get along very nicely on just one brand. However, if you use other designer’s patterns, you will find different brands being recommended. You will need to use those brands, so this will lead to you buying seed beads in a great range.

It means you may end up with the same size and same colour, but in different brands, for example. Just something to think about…

Choosing Shaped Seed Beads

If you have decided to try the modernist route, then you are going to be throwing yourself into the fun pool of shaped seed beads. There are new shapes coming onto the market pretty much every week. And, even as a professional, it is impossible to keep up with all this change.

I can understand why a lot of beaders decided to bury their heads in the sand and simply ignore this part of the market altogether. But, if you are brave enough to venture in, then it is a very rewarding place to be.

You will find you can create designs that look really complex, but actually have very simple thread paths and techniques. The easiest place to start is by finding a pattern that you want to try and then buying the beads you need.

However, if you find yourself in the bead shop, unintentionally browsing the new bead shapes, then just go with one that fascinates you. It is really the shape, size and finish that is the draw here I think.

If you like triangles, then you may find yourself drawn to Kheops. If you prefer gentler shapes like curves, then you have all sorts of choices. My advice is, just be brave and pick a shape that fascinates you. Find a colour that draws you in, and then buy that tube of beads. You can either go home and experiment yourself or go and get online and search for patterns that use that type of bead.

Odds are you will have to buy some extra beads for the project. But look on the plus side: it’s a convenient excuse to visit a bead shop again!

beadwork colour scheme

Thinking About Colours

The last overwhelming choice you will face when you set out to buy seed beads is colour. It may not surprise you to know that I have a series of articles about how to choose bead colours. So if you struggle with colour then they are well worth a read. You can find them all here.

As I see it, when it comes to buying seed beads, you have a couple of options.

Either stand in the shop and see which colours draw you in, then buy those beads.

Or, make a decision before you get anywhere near the shop! The decision could be based on your favourite colours, on the colours that will match the clothes in your wardrobe, or on the colours that the designer has used for the pattern.

If you are making something for someone else, then the decision will be based around their favourite colours. If you are a designer, then it is maybe a good idea to do a little research into the colours that are ‘on trend’ for the season.

Four Steps to Buying Seed Beads

To summarise what I’ve been saying, there are really just four simple steps to go through every time you go out to buy seed beads.

  1. set your budget (optional!)
  2. choose the design you want to make – this will dictate the bead types and brand
  3. decide on your colours
  4. buy the beads

…oh, and there is a step 5…add a few impulse purchases to keep your bead stash alive!

So, off you go – you can find loads of brilliant pattern ideas here. Or inspiring bead books with lots of projects here.

And I’m sure your local bead shop will be thrilled to see you. Remember, every penny/cent you spend on beads is also putting food on the table for someone else. So, you never need to feel guilty about indulging in your favourite hobby!

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4 Responses

  1. On the other hand the shop owner selling you the beads has to make decisions based on the four points you have described above. We can’t all get all the colours and shapes and sizes that we would like to stock. So my other point to make is: don’t be disappointed and write off your local bead shop if they don’t have everything you want. We have to make choices too and that is harder because we are faced with the multitude of colours and shapes presented to us by manufacturers and their representatives.
    Online free and purchased patterns are great but the pose other issues for your LBS. So, in conclusion visit your LBS first and then go searching online. LBS won’t survive if you don’t give us first choice ion where you shop.

    • beadflowers says:

      I totally concur with this – there is nothing like seeing and feeling beads in the flesh: however good the online photos and descriptions are, they still don’t really convey the size, shape and colour like seeing the real thing. I have written in other articles about the difficulty in buying online when it comes to choosing colours. I would also add that, although LBS make tough decisions because they can’t stock everything, I have always found them to be most helpful if you are looking for a bead that they don’t have in stock. So, thank you Jennifer for making this really important point. And to everyone reading my article, if I implied that online shopping was sufficient, it wasn’t my intention. Online has been a life saver for me as I can’t always get to a bead shop, but it’s still no substitute for actually choosing from the beads in real life!

  2. Shahieda Salie (Kayla Salie on Facebook) says:

    thank you for this. i love beads. a few years back i had a break-in at my house and all of my beads and bead books got stolen. by then i had about 600 colors of beads delicas and muyuki.
    i started again. now my problem start again i’m in italy not speaking the language of yet. my favourite bead shops very far away.
    saturday past had my first visit to a beadshop in milan bought alot of beads ive no idea what i’m going todo yet. september 30 i’m going to the hobby show in milan and yes i’ll going to end up with more beads i’ve no idea what i’m going to make. great fun after that.

    • beadflowers says:

      Wow – that’s awful! I can’t imagine losing my entire bead stash like that. It takes years to build! I’m glad you are now looking at re-building your own stash – it’s exciting and I am sure you will find new colours and new beads that you never had before. So cherish every time you make it to a bead shop and I do hope you enjoy the show in Milan. Then have lots of fun making some gorgeous beadwork!

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