Seed Beads: To Cull or Not to Cull
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!