Bead Substitutions in Seed Bead Patterns: What Works, What Doesn't

Yes, I'm one of those people who sees seed bead patterns in a magazine and just has to make them right away. No, there's no waiting around to place a bead order or head up to my local bead shop to see if they have the exact beads that are called for in the pattern. When I gotta bead, I gotta bead!

But even with an extensive bead stash like mine, I still find that there are times when I don't have the exact same beads that are called for in a seed bead pattern. When that happens, it's good to know that there are ways you can substitute beads in your seed bead pattern so that you don't have to wait to start beading.

All sizes of seed beads are not created equal. Beaders who have been beading for a while already know this, but it can be confusing for someone just learning how to bead. Just because your cylinder beads are size 11o, that doesn't mean you can use them interchangeably with a size 11o Japanese seed bead. Cylinder beads tend to be more compact and slightly smaller than their Japanese and even their Czech counterparts, so if you want to swap out a cylinder bead for a Czech seed bead, expect to have to make some slight adjustments to your seed bead pattern.

If, however, your seed bead pattern calls for a size 15o seed bead, feel free to substitute a size 11o cylinder bead. These two seed beads are close enough in size that they can be substituted for one another with minimal adjustments to your seed bead pattern.

No crystal bicones? No problem! I'm one of those very rare beaders who does not have a ginormous stash of crystal bicone beads in all sizes and colors in her beading stash. (What I do have is a ginormous stash of crystal rivolis and stones!) So if I find a seed bead pattern that calls for a 3mm or 4mm crystal bicone and I happen to be fresh out, there are a few items I can substitute.

For some seed bead patterns, try using a gemstone bead of the same size. If your pattern calls for a 4mm crystal bicone, try replacing it with a 4mm gemstone or glass bead. You can even try substituting a crystal bicone with seed beads in sizes 8or 6o.

If your seed bead pattern calls for a crystal bicone to be used as an accent bead for fringe or on the bottom row of a ruffle, consider substituting them with 3.4mm Magatamas (fringe beads). The lovely little teardrop shape of these beads will add a different kind of finish to your beaded edgings, along with a bright drip of color!

I'm fresh out of bugle beads! What now? Truthfully, I haven't seen too many seed bead patterns lately that call for bugle beads, and that's a shame, because I really, really love using bugle beads in my beading projects. But if you find yourself without the correct size of bugle beads for a seed bead pattern, you can always try using cylinder beads instead. A size11o Delica bead is approximately 1mm from top to bottom, so you can calculate how many of them you would need to replace a bugle bead of a particular length in a seed bead pattern. Just remember that you'll have to treat that entire line of bugle beads as a single unit when you're stitching, and you may have to make some other adjustments to your seed bead pattern.

Even if you do have all the beads you need to make a particular seed bead pattern, don't be afraid to mix things up a little and make some substitutions of your own! Changing up the look of a seed bead pattern lets you express your own unique sense of style, even in your beadwork.

It seems like you can use seed beads to do pretty much anything, can't you? There's such an amazing array of colors, shapes, and sizes of seed beads available these days, it might be a little overwhelming for someone who is just learning how to bead with these little glass treasures. Never fear, seed bead expert Dustin Wedekind is here to guide you through everything you need to know about using seed beads in Getting Started with Seed Beads. Tap into Dustin's years of experience stitching with seed beads, as well as his passion for creating beautiful beaded objects, and before long, you'll be beading like a pro! Get your copy of Getting Started with Seed Beads and get ready to fall in love all over again — with seed beads!

Have you ever made substitutions with different beads in your seed bead patterns? What did you do? How did it work out? Share your experiences and your recommendations here by leaving a comment, and let's see what else we can come up with for seed bead substitutions!

Bead Happy,


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Jennifer VanBenschoten

About Jennifer VanBenschoten

Born in New Jersey in 1974, I escaped to the Adirondacks for the first time in 1995, making it my permanent home in 2000.  I have been interested in beads, buttons and making jewelry as long as I can remember.  It's probably my mother's fault - she was a fiber artist and crochet historian, and whenever she ordered supplies from one mail order source, she would order a huge bag of assorted buttons and beads for me and my sister!    

6 thoughts on “Bead Substitutions in Seed Bead Patterns: What Works, What Doesn't

  1. When I first started making jewelry patterns called for size 11 but I couldn’t find any so I used size 10 instead. Thank you for your e-mail on using different beads if you don’t have the ones that are called for.

  2. I am like you about crystals–I don’t have a large stash of them. I usually just buy the ones I need for a project and a few extra. If I can’t wait, I use what I have–glass or gemstone beads, magatamas or other drops, etc. I have an extensive stash of seed beads and other glass beads but not of crystals though I will buy them occasionally when they are on sale just to have.

  3. I wanted to make the bracelet on the cover of the October-November 2004 of Beadwork but I did not have 3mm cube beads! I was living in the Philippines where I could buy lots of beads but not cubes. So, I tried size 6 Japanese seed beads and they worked beautifully. I later discovered, the hard way, that size 6 Czech beads do not work. They made the bracelet pucker because of their slightly wider shape.

  4. I have found that sometimes not having the exact size beads leads to some really creative pieces. I almost never have crystals (I am a cheap beader :), so usually use glass pearls or czech beads or glass bicones instead. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out! YOu learn something from the effort…

  5. “Getting Started with Seed Beads” is one of the best books currently available for bead weaving explanations and seed beed patterns. There are so many patterns that I want to make and I love how the books is laid out according to stitch. “Mastering Beadwork” is a another fantastic book about bead weaving.