3 Beading Mysteries Solved: Learn the Whys of Seed Bead Techniques

Jul 21, 2010

There's this tale about a woman who would always cut the ends off her pot roast before putting it in the pan to let it bake. Her daughter asked her why she did that, and she realized she didn't know. So she called her sister, who also cut the ends of her pot roast off, but they realized neither of them knew why. So they called their mother. . . "Mom, why do you cut the ends of a pot roast off before you bake it?" "Well, silly," the mother replied, "I need it to fit into the pan, don't I?"

I'm always reminded of this story when I realize I'm doing something without knowing the reasons why I'm doing it. And, as I've grown older, I realize I'm becoming even more of a questioner who demands answers to those whys.

But how does this relate to beading, you might ask? Well, as I'm sure you've discovered, there are quite a few mysteries with beads and beading techniques that we just blindly follow without knowing the reasons why. Here are just a few of them off the top of my head that I researched while editing Beadwork, a bimonthly magazine filled with great projects and beadworking know-how: 

Why the "°" after seed bead size listings?

This symbol stands for "aught," an old-fashioned term that refers to the number of strung seed beads it takes to reach an inch. That's why when you have a large bead size number, your beads are smaller. For example, it will take about 11 size 11° seed beads to fill the same space that 8 size 8° seed beads would.

What's the AB mean on a seed-bead finish?

You might know what an AB finish looks likethat grease-spill look that we all lovebut did you know it stands for aurora borealis, a reference to the northern lights? What you might also not know is that the term in beading comes from a challenge from Christian Dior to Daniel Swarovski to come up with that aurora borealis look in a crystal-bead finish.

Why do we wax our thread?

When you rub wax on a nylon thread like Nymo or C-Lon, you're compacting the tiny fibers that hold this type of thread together, preventing it from fraying. The added benefit is that the stickiness of the wax helps with thread tension, and the added thickness of the wax helps fill bead holes. But what you should also know is that not all thread is built like those nylon threads. Braided beading thread, for example, doesn't really need to be waxed to prevent fraying because it's built differently. That's not to say, however, that adding wax to this type of thread is unnecessary. On the contrary: waxing braided beading thread works great for helping with thread tension and prevents the thread from tangling.

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Mysteries solved! What other bead mysteries are lurking in your mind? Share them on Beading Daily and I've got a feeling you'll get answers from your fellow beaders.

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Larry.Linson wrote
on Jul 21, 2010 7:56 AM

Jean, in regards to "number of beads per inch after they are strung": I seem to remember that the "number of beads per inch" is when they are laid side-by-side(as in ladder stitch), not when they are strung end-to-end.

NicoleT24 wrote
on Jul 21, 2010 9:35 AM

On braided line waxing... I was told by a textiles restoration specialist and beader that waxing braided line (such as fireline) does have a purpose. That the wax protects the thread from becoming brittle over time thus increasing the longevity of the piece and reducing the chance of breakage. She recommended heavily waxing braided line. I'd love to get absolute verification of that, but when I think about it, it totally makes sense. I've been a waxer ever since :)

on Jul 21, 2010 10:33 AM

Jean, you are wrong about the aught meaning beads per inch, I'm sorry to say. Aught comes from the engineering and manufacturing standards for wire gauge. I can't tell you how many people spread this misinformation though. It's even in textbooks! However, if you actually measured beads per inch, you would find that measure inaccurate. The reason why I know this is because I spent many years involved in the medical field. All of their sutures, needles, etc are measure using those standards. Here's a web address that can explain the info: www.sizes.com/.../wire.htm   If you scroll down to the bottom it has information on several standards. Or one can do a search 'wire gauge standards'.

Unfortunately, it still doesn't really solve the mystery. I even called Miyuki Beads in Japan to ask them how they arrived at their 'aughts'. I talked to the engineers and they didn't even know! It could be 11/0 etc based on either the size of the hole (the rod they produced the beads on), or it could be the same diameter as a wire of the same gauge. I have really reasearched this because it bugs me not to know. I mean, who calls Japan to ask questions like that?! lol I think the true answer has been lost in the maze of industry practice...

nlevine2 wrote
on Jul 21, 2010 11:47 AM

I really appreciated this "mysteries solved" posting. For what it is worth, I have discovered an additional way to unkink your thread as you do off-loom weaving. Cut a inch or so piece from a fabric softener sheet and fold it in half. After you've waxed your doubled thread, run the softener sheet piece up and down the length of the thread and keep the piece handy. You use the wax and the fabric softener sheet every time the thread looks "twisty." The wax will hold the two pieces of the thread together more or less, and the softener sheet will keep it from kinking. Works for me.


YvetteF3 wrote
on Jul 21, 2010 12:25 PM

Every time my husband asks me why I do something the way I do and I smile at him and say, sweetly, because the ham wouldn't fit in my pan (it was ham, not roast in the story I heard), he knows exactly what I mean. Because that's the way  my Mom/Grandmother/Great Grandmother did it.

I love that you question the way things have always been done and explain the reasoning. I use Fireline almost exclusively and don't wax, but now I am thinking perhaps I should try it. Thank you for a very helpful article.

Kat Designs wrote
on Jul 21, 2010 5:17 PM

Jean, what a great blog about seed beads.  I get questions all the time from my students about seeds, and I always feel like an idiot since I'm not a weaver (needle phobic!), but I do use them from time to time.  The magpie in me just buys cuz they're "pretty".  I remember a time that I collected 6's for no good reason other than I thought they were cool.  I finally devised a stringing project that uses all those 6's.  Thank goodness.   But then the project got me started on collecting different sizes other than 6's in all shapes & sizes except for 15's & smaller.  I'm crazy, but not that nuts!

Cat_P wrote
on Jul 21, 2010 10:07 PM

I'm a curious one myself- I question everything because I like to know why something is done and what reason. It's amazing how much can be improved upon when you question everything :)

on Jul 23, 2010 1:29 AM

Thanks for the tip on using a fabric softener sheet, nievine2! I do a lot of circular peyote stitch and I tried using a fabric softener last night. It worked great!