Seed Beads: To Cull or Not to Cull

Apr 8, 2008

 

 

I guess I really didn’t know what “cull” meant until I started working with seed beads. If you look up the word in the dictionary, it means both “to remove” and “to select.” Each is an apt explanation for what you do while beading with seed beads.

Basically, culling consists of sorting through a pile of seed beads and separating those that are a bit off-kilter from the rest. A bit Darwinian, I suppose. Or maybe a little more like gym class, circa 1970, when kids were picked as captains and had to choose teams for dodge ball? The most athletic, perfectly toned kids got picked first. Then the big lump of normal kids got picked—they did the job well enough. And then there were the rest—the kid with a penchant for too many Hubba Bubbas; the skinny kid, all elbows and knees; and the kid with the broken leg.

But that doesn’t mean those picked last didn’t serve their purpose. The big kid could sometimes pull off a wicked throw. The skinny kid never got hit because he was a tricky target. And the broken leg kid cheered like mad on the sidelines.

And so it is with culling beads.

  • Unusually wide seed beads work great for decreases. Because they’re a little fatter—maybe a bead-and-a-half’s worth—they cleverly cover the awkward expanse made by the previous row’s decrease. This allows the beadwork to remain flat with little buckling.

  • Thin seed beads are perfect for making increases. Stitching two thin seed beads side-by-side is like making a one-and-a-half-bead increase instead of a two-bead one. When you’re working the next row and add a thin seed bead between the increase beads of the previous row you create a very smooth transition.

  • And totally dud beads (the ones with a broken leg) are known to be good luck if you throw them over your left shoulder.

  • Some people like to cull beads before they begin a project, sorting the regular, thick, and thin before they begin to work. Others, like me, dump their beads in a pile and cull as they go, “picking the team” from the bench, so to speak, throwing players into the game as deemed necessary. Either way works. It just depends on the type of captain you are.

Culling Seed Bead Types

 

Star of India by Jean Campbell 

When it comes down to it, culling is about minutiae. Making decisions on the micrometer differences of something as small as a seed bead is, well, pretty anal. But the practice will produce smoother beadwork, so I think is worth the little extra work. As you probably know, there are many different types of seed beads to choose from, and each measure up differently for culling.

  • Czech seed beads are the most high-maintenance when it comes to culling. Because of the way they’re made they’re naturally irregular, creating very textural fabric. Their crazy widths and shapes can work as an advantage, especially with sculptural beadwork when you’re making lots of increases and decreases. But this type is also the kind you’ll end up throwing plenty over your shoulder.

  • Japanese seed beads are considerably easier to cull, as they are more regular than Czech seed beads. But there are still subtle differences from bead to bead, so expect to do some culling.

  • Delicas are really uniform and require little culling. With these beads, since they lock together into such a regular and smooth fabric, the most important beads to toss over your shoulder are those that have angled ends. You’ll also find some slightly thinner and thicker ones, but you’ll need a really keen eye to notice the difference.

  • Aikos are absolutely uniform and require little to no culling. You’ll pay at the register for their uniformity, but many people are happy to pay the price!

 


 

 

Jean Campbell writes about beading and life every Wednesday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Jean, please post them on the website. Thanks!

 


 


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Comments

on May 19, 2008 1:34 PM

My culling usually involves (much to my dismay) my beading board getting dumped, and whatever we can find in the carpet is what gets used! I suppose that would also apply to the over the shoulder for luck thing too!

Comment by: | April 9, 2008

There is one seed bead that you did not mention in your article, they are Dyna-mites. Slightly more culling than delicas but you cant beat the price. I have had very good luck with them. I keep all the really odd ones in a container and use them as accent beads.

Comment by: Cheryl P | April 9, 2008

i really enjoy Jean Campbel. she is a little, um, different. always makes me smile. thanks, Diana

Comment by: | April 9, 2008

I'm always selective with picking what seed beads to use in my pieces. I didn't know there was a word for it! What I don't understand is what are these different types of seed beads you mentioned? I buy my seed beads from the dollar store, so I'm not familiar with the different types. What's the difference between them? Is it colour? material? (are they all made of glass?)

Comment by: Allegra C | April 9, 2008

You really made me laugh today because i went through that game this past weekend with the seed beads. Where can I find the Aikos seed beads? Thank you

Comment by: Marilyn M | April 9, 2008

Even though czech seed beads are more irregular they are great for bead embroidery! You often need a slightly larger or smaller bead to fit "just right". I've been told Traditionally Native Americans mixed 11s and charlottes for the beadwork on their pow wow regalia.

Comment by: Catherine B | April 9, 2008

To Allegra, yes, the seed beads mentioned above are all made of glass. They are just made in different places with different processes. The delicas and aikos mentioned above look perfect and exactly the same in size. The others are more irregular as she explained. Some of them also come in different sizes and with larger holes. I found the article interesting as I had never heard the term "culling" even though I do this on a regular basis. Jean, really enjoy your narrative and love the star of India, that's georgeous.

Comment by: Noreen N | April 9, 2008

To Marilyn M: Here is a website that carries the Aikos--bellomodo.com. Their phone number is 360-357-3443. They are located in the state of Washington. I have never ordered from them, but the website looks fantastic. Hope this helps.

Comment by: Noreen N | April 9, 2008

Another thing about seed beads: I make a lot of spiral bracelets, and I look for the beads with the largest holes for my core. Before I started paying attention, I had to break many a bead because the thread wouldn't go through as many times as it needed to. Now I pay attention, use the largest holes, and don't have near the problem!

Comment by: Rhonda K | April 9, 2008

I do mostly sculptural peyote on BobbleHead/Nodders (and anything that is small and not moving...i'll probably cover it!)and I need the"odball" beads,as I bead and come accross the little devils I set them aside in their own little home. If beads have a personality,,, the "oddballs" would have a diva's attitude!

Comment by: Lorna C | April 9, 2008

Jeam Campbell will be teaching at the Great Lakes Beadworkers Guild in Southeast Michigan in 2009. For info regarding the Guild, see www.greatlakesbeadworkersguild.org

Comment by: Kate D | April 9, 2008

Culling beads can be so therapeutic! I had just learned bead rope crochet when I was diagnosed with *** cancer. Throughout testing, surgeries, chemo, radiation and recovery I crocheted bracelets like crazy, all the while culling out the "bad beads" as if they really were cancer cells. The remaining beads formed beautiful ropes that were then closed at the ends to form complete circles. How symbolic, how therapeutic! I gave bracelets to those who were instrumental in my treatment and recovery, happy to have a token of my appreciation to offer. Jacquie

Comment by: Jacquelyn F | April 9, 2008

Jacquie, what a wonderful thing you did during your recovery process. I find anything with beads therapeutic. I am glad you are on the path to getting well. I am findings that I have to make something almost every day, otherwise I am not at rest with myself. Must be that artist thing. I certainly feel better after that if I am having a particularly stressful day! Good luck to you Jacquie.

Comment by: Noreen N | April 9, 2008

Yes, I also find beads therapeutic when the university load is too much to bear. However, they can also be the cause of stress when they just won't let the string through them!! Anyways, thanks to Noreen for the response! Is it possible to tell from looking at a particular isolated seed bead what kind it is?

Comment by: Allegra C | April 9, 2008

Allegra, Yes, the difference is clear. When you see a delica, you will definitely see the difference. I think you most probably have not seen one. The japanese seed beads and czech are harder to tell the difference. If you have access to a computer, I would Google or search for the names and look at the images, you will see the difference. Have fun!

Comment by: Noreen N | April 9, 2008

Regarding the culling of beads, there's another use. As long as they are glass beads, they can be used for lampworking and fusing.

Comment by: N B | April 9, 2008

I don't often do much work that requires consistancy in my seed beads, and when I do I make sure to use delicas to avoid the need to cull. However, we all find a bead that won't work from time to time - broken, discolored, problems with the hole, or just plain wrong size. When I come across these beads - no matter what type they are, I put them into a clear decorative bottle that I have on display in my guest bathroom. They have sparked many interested comments! A neat way to turn beads that would otherwise hit the trash into a treasure.

Comment by: Heather R | April 9, 2008

Jean: As a new but enthusiastic beader (beadist?) I am looking for instructions for basic techniques. I am not finding the information on the website. Maybe that is intentional, but so many of the projects are not free, I think there should be more basic technique discussion.

Comment by: Lila S | April 9, 2008

Lila - basic techniques are linked here: www.beadingdaily.com/.../index.html

And welcome to the craziness that is beading! Hopefully you will not have to hear your hubby complain because there are beads in the bed... (what can I say? I was at home sick and the beads were at hand...)

Comment by: Heather R | April 9, 2008

Jean: I really enjoy your witty comments and suggestions. You are an asset and welcome addition to Beading Daily - - keep it coming!

Comment by: Prudence F | April 9, 2008

I really enjoyed your article about culling/seed beads. I just thought it was me being fussy as I always make sure I buy the best quality seeds, they're a little more expensive but well worth it, and they save you so much time when threading, you're not continually trying to search out the best in a bad bunch! I'm from New Zealand and really enjoy your website, it's great - I just wish I lived on your side of the world and had better access to buy all the wonderful products you have over there (maybe it's lucky I don't, I'd be spending even more money on beads!!). Sandy

Comment by: Sandra G | April 10, 2008

I payed for 2 items to be printed a dragonfly and a neckalace and my printer was acting up and now I can't get back to the page to actually print them. Pleaase help me Caroline Anderson.

Comment by: Caroline A | April 10, 2008

So, true! I am constantly culling Czech seed beads! :D

Comment by: The Lone Beader | April 11, 2008

What a great idea from Heather R. with the decorative bottle full of beads! 99% of my work is in seed beads, so I learned all about culling in a hurry. I've saved a lot of "broken leg kids" and now have an idea how to show off my "cheering section" :-D

Comment by: Ellena A | April 11, 2008

thanks a lot Jean, for putting a word on one of the most time-consuming though important activity related to beads............. I'm a "culler" too, hahaha

Comment by: | April 11, 2008

No no, the most time-consuming beading activity is picking the colours hands down!

Comment by: Allegra C | April 11, 2008

I agree with Lorna. I tend to cull as I go and get excited when I find the "oddball" bead. I set it aside in "bead soup" bins I have sorted by color and use them in my freeform peyote pieces. These oddball beads can become stars in the right environment! I also buy castoffs and "seconds" beads from Shipwreck Beads just for my freeform pieces because of their character.

Comment by: | April 13, 2008

I am a "CAYG" beader. Cull as you go. I , too, have for whatever demon, posessed me at the time, have dumped my beadtray all the place. I have no explanation why it happened, 3x's in one week, mind you, but it took me forever to clean them up out of my chair, the table with my tools, and the carpet. More than a month later, I am still picking them up and I have vacuumed a few times. The one sound that really bothers is the clunking of beads going through my vacuum as I use Delicas the major percentage of time. I am not anal enough to pick them out of the cleaner, but I am anal enough to flip my Laz-y-boy over t get them. Aye yi yi. LOL

Comment by: Dorrie S | April 14, 2008

Hey, Dorrie-Next time you dump your beads, just put a nylon hose over the hose attachment on your vacuum before you suck them up. They'll all go into the nylon and you'll have your beads back like that!

Comment by: Jean C | April 15, 2008

I think there's something unsaid in your post about the role of irregularity. Traditional beadwork done with non-traditional materials looks, and is, "phony". If culling is the rule then nobody would be buying Cz seed beads. -John from Legendary Beads

Comment by: b o | April 21, 2008

Hi everyone, I recently,(within the last 6 months), began learning the time-honored tradition of handbeading. Jewelry, purses, even clothing and wall art! When I first became interested in bead work it was due to some examples of late 18th century pieces that my mother has from her grandmother as wedding gifts and jewelry. I guess my question is; where can I find "vintage" designs with directions? I'm a sucker for the old stuff and don't want to have to take my mother's hierlooms apart to find out "how-to" if I can help it. That is something my mother may have difficulty forgiving, even if I can restring the originals when I'm done. Also, how would I incorporate small faceted gemstones into the work? I have looked but the wire wrapping examples I find are for cabachons or tumbled/raw stones and fairly good size. I was lucky enough to acquire approximately 100 tcw mixed gems but most are .3 carats or less, and various cuts, everything form rounds to marquise. I really could use some input as I would like to use them in my jewelry making and beadwork. I find the presence of both mediums pleasing to the eye and am sincerely trying to respect the lapidary art as a whole but it seems they tend to be a little clannish with the ignorant or unintitiated. Any information would be greatly appreciated by me and my fingers! Thanks in advance, foxfyr64, tying one on in TX.

Comment by: P.L. M | May 4, 2008

Having lived in Maine the majority of my life, I have grown up knowing what "cull" meant. Inferior lobsters are also known as "culls" teehee...A great way to use inferior beads--especially those with no holes to speak of, and also a use for all those ends snipped from head pins--I found directions to make a "rain stick" (used in music making or simply for a soothing sound). Ths stick is composed of polymer clay, made into a hollow tube. The head pin ends are inserted through the tube crosswise and at varied places over the length and circumference of the tube to form a maze like structure within the tube. Patch any holes with additional clay and decorate as you choose. Bake the tube, add those culls, seal the ends of the tube with more clay and bake again. You will now be the proud owner of a rain stick created mostly of waste and culls! Cat.

Comment by: Catwren N | May 6, 2008