For centuries, seed bead production process has been enveloped in a shroud of secrecy. More so, bragging about the technique could cost the bead maker his tongue if not his life. This was not limited to Europe but also in Japan, where until today they still keep some of their seed bead production processes a closely guarded secret.
Seed beads refer to the small beads commonly used in bead jewelry and also textiles. These beads can also be fixed on other accessories as well, like handbags, lampshades, watches, leather bracelets, shoes and other decorative items. Working with seed beads are quite troublesome but the produce magnificent and intricate work of creativity and art.
For years, Europe has held the largest claim to seed bead production. Italy, Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia) and France to a lesser degree, were the front runners. The Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific countries have stepped in to provide a great challenge to the domination of the seed bead production industry.
Seed beads are created in different shapes, sizes and colors imaginable. They also can be transparent, translucent, foil-lined or opaque. They are typically made of glass, although sometimes metal and plastics are used.
Seed Bead Production Process
The first step is liquefying silica sand, and the desired color is added. Then, a piece of the molten mix is picked from the cauldron with a hollow long tube called a cane, and air is blown into the molten glass to form a bubble. This can be done by either mouth or with compressed air.
While the glass bubble is still hot and manipulative, the cane is stretched. The speed of the stretch determines the size of the seed beads by dictating the length of the cane. Sometimes manpower is used other times its mechanized machinery.
Once cooled, the canes are cut into beads, however, they look nothing like the end product, as they are dull looking with coarse edges. To smoothen and shape the beads up, they are put in a mixture of sand or clay and charcoal and tumbled carefully. They are then reheated at a temperature range of 500°C-800°C. This burns away the abrasive mixture leaving the bead and further adds an unseen shine. They are then washed, dried and polished revealing their true beautiful nature, shiny luster and colorful
Seed beads after production, are of different sizes. There are scales used to classify them and a measurement called the “aught”, being a standard of the number of beads that can be strung comfortably on the one-inch length of a cord. Another thing of note is that the smaller the aught number the larger the bead size. The most common sizes used are 8/0 and 11/0, smaller sizes of 15/0 are also available and are used in the very intricate designs of bead weaving.
Seed bead production is a systematic process that might seem easy yet complicated. Producing some of the most beautiful products used to create art.