Beading is Fun!


Beads – Size Matters
by Felicity Walker

Picking out beads is one of the most enjoyable parts of making your own jewelry. There are so many color combinations, complementary beads, beautiful handcrafted beads and unique beads; it’s easy to get lost in the process of looking at beads.

As easy as it to get lost playing with beads, there are a few facts that are helpful to know about beads.  When you are armed with a little knowledge about beads, you’ll have an easier time reading instructions or have a conversation about beads with a sales person.  So let’s look at one of the basics of beads – their size.

One of the best things about beads is that they are consistent in sizing.  Not all the beads are the same size, but most use the same method of sizing.  Most beads are measured using the metric system; they are sized in millimeters.

For Americans who have desperately been trying to avoid converting to the metric system, this may seem a little intimidating.  But before you know it, you’ll be thinking in millimeters. 

Most bead stores lay out their bead inventory in small individual compartments.   Usually, the compartments are labeled with the size of the beads and the type of beads.  For instance, you’ll see a compartment labeled “4 mm blue agate”. 

· Small round beads are sized generally from 2mm to 10mm. These beads increase per millimeter size – 2, 3, 4mm, etc.
· Medium to large round beads begin in sizes 12mm to 32mm.  Generally, at this size, the beads range in even sizes 12mm, 14mm, 16mm.

Another popular bead shape is oval beads.  These beads are measured by their length and width.  So, oval beads range from 8mm x 6mm, 10mm x 8mm, up to 40mm x 30mm.

Generally when beads are extremely large, they are referred to as cabochon.  A cabochon is a large stone or glass bead.  These beads can be a beautiful centerpiece to a necklace or bracelet.   Many jewelry designers opt to use cabochons as a setting for wire wrapping, for beading around the cabochon with seed beads, or the cabochons are used in a bezel setting (a metal setting that holds the stone and has a bale attached – a fixture at the top of the setting that makes it easy to use in stringing).

Most of the time, the cabochon is an oval cut, but there are some beautiful glass and stone cabochons that are other shapes.  In the case of an oval cabochon, the front of the cabochon is rounded, while the back is flat. 

There are far more shapes of beads than merely round or oval, but these are certainly the most common.  Now that you have an understanding of how a bead’s sizing is described, you can have more confidence mixing and matching different colours and styles of beads.


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"The Ultimate Bead Lover's Guide" is a wonderful resource for learning about beading.  It covers everything you need to know to get started in beading, as well as lots of more advanced hints and ideas.  

Click here to find out more.