Beading Supplies: Shopping, Finding, Sourcing, and Acquiring Those Hard to Find Beads
This is the first in a 2-part series about how to get the most out of your local bead shop and online sources. If you’re a bead weaver, you might have encountered this problem: You find a project you’re excited to try but then spend way too much time trying to locate the necessary beading supplies. You might have even given up on a beadwork project because the materials were too difficult to source. Learn some of the tricks Melissa Grakowsky Shippee uses to quickly find beading materials on the Internet.
Internet Bead Questing 101
by Melissa Grakowsky Shippee
[Editor’s Note: Because Melissa doesn’t have a local bead shop, she has found it necessary to shop online to locate supplies. We also recommend checking with your local bead shop when possible for help with finding the beads and other bead weaving materials you need. Stay tuned, as a follow-up article focuses on how to get the most out of your local bead shop.]
As a member of the millennial generation, I grew up with computers. By the time I was in early high school I had access to the Internet at home on a 14.4k dial-up modem and AOL. Therefore, I had a lot of time to learn about the Internet from the many hours I spent web surfing as an adolescent. Now that I’m a beadwork artist with my own online business, I’ve found that the many hours I spent playing on the World Wide Web gave me a great advantage in finding the beading tools and supplies I need for my business.
If you’re a bead weaver by trade or hobby, you might have encountered this familiar problem: You find a beading project you’re excited to try in a print magazine or online publication but then spend way too much time trying to locate the beading supplies necessary to complete the project. You might have even given up on a beadwork project because the materials or tools were too difficult to source.
Although I wouldn’t call myself an Internet expert, I’m quite skilled at efficiently locating beading information and materials online. Time is precious — and expensive, if you’re a bead weaver by trade. Read on to learn some of the tricks I use to quickly find beading materials on the Internet.
Most of the time, I don’t like to favor one brand or company over another. However, in the case of Internet search engines, I think Google is far superior. Therefore, the following instructions reference several Google search-engine tools that might not be available on other search engines.
Finding Seed Beads
When you’re searching for seed beads online, it can be helpful to have both the color name and the manufacturer number. The color name describes what the color and finish look like — for example, “translucent matte raspberry AB.” The manufacturer number is a number and/or letters that the manufacturer assigns to a specific color.
The color name listed for a particular seed bead might not always be the same, depending on which publication, online vendor, or bead store assigned it. Some bead stores and online vendors like to use the color name that the manufacturer or distributor uses, which is the color name those stores reference when they order the beads wholesale. I personally use this practice because others do as well; I think this makes it easier for my customers to locate the same bead again. However, other bead stores, online businesses, or artists might rename a seed bead color to something that they feel better describes the nuances of the color.
Seed bead manufacturer numbers
In the U.S., we have access to three major Japanese seed bead manufacturers: Miyuki, Toho, and Matsuno. Each manufacturer has its own numbering system, so a Miyuki #40 and a Toho #40 will be completely different colors. The manufacturer numbers from one company don’t correlate to the manufacturer numbers from another company. Something that further complicates the numbering system is that one popular importer in the U.S. renumbers many of its seed beads.
Because many online stores, brick and mortar shops, and bead weaving artists use this distributor as their seed bead supplier, the number you see on a tube or bag of seed beads might not be the manufacturer’s number. Also, you might not have a number at all, depending on where you found the project.
Where to start
Knowing both the color name and the manufacturer number (or even the number that a distributor uses when renumbering its seed beads) is extremely helpful in finding the correct seed beads. Therefore, the first step in searching for seed beads online is to find any of this missing information for the beads you’re searching for.
If you have only a manufacturer (or distributor) number, you can enter the manufacturer name and number in Google Search to quickly and easily locate the color name (e.g., enter “Toho 221” without a number sign). The search results will include a list of websites that reference or sell that seed bead color. If you scan the search results, you’ll see what each website calls that color bead. This information is often in the title of the webpage, which is hyperlinked and blue on most web browsers. You might find a few variations in what each website calls that color, but the color name that shows up most frequently is likely the manufacturer’s color name. This is the color name that you can reliably use to find that color bead.
A word of caution: “Miyuki” and “Matsuno” are both Japanese names in addition to being seed bead manufacturer names. So if you’re searching for Miyuki or Matsuno color names, it’s helpful to also include “seed bead” in your search for the color (e.g., “seed bead Miyuki 147”).
Searching Google images
If you have only a color name for a seed bead but no manufacturer number, you can often find the color number by entering “seed bead” along with the color name in Google Search. Your color name search might yield results with a few possible color numbers. This is where Google’s image search comes in handy.
Click Images under the Google Search bar to see images of seed beads for sale on various websites. Then, click the image that most closely matches the seed bead color whose number you’re searching for. In the image preview, you’ll see some of the text that appears on the website that houses that image. Click the Visit page link to go to the website. The website typically lists the color number, sometimes at the end of the product listing or in parentheses. If you repeat this process several times by clicking different images, you might see the same color number multiple times. In this case, you’ve likely found the correct color number.
Searching by color and manufacturer number
Once you have both the color number and the manufacturer’s (or distributor’s) number, finding a seed bead online is easy. The best way to ensure that you find the correct bead is to include the bead size in the form of size number, slash, and zero (e.g., “8/0”); the color name (e.g., “metallic bronze”); and the color number (e.g., “Toho 221”) in Google Search. If this type of search gives you limited results for suppliers, try removing the color name and using just the size and color number.
Another option is to try spelling out the seed bead size (e.g., “size 8”) rather than using the standard notation of the size number, a slash, and a zero. Some suppliers use the “size #” notation rather than the “#/0” notation.
A regular search often provides good results. However, you might want to limit your results to webpages where you can buy what you’re looking for. Click the Shopping link under the Google Search bar to see a list of items matching your search that are actually for sale.
Finding Czech Glass
Manufacturers in the Czech Republic were the first to produce the type of glass seed beads we’re all familiar with. They do still produce seed beads to some extent. However, they produce many more of the larger pressed-glass beads that now come in a staggering variety or shapes and sizes, many with variations in the number of holes in each bead.
SuperDuos, fire-polished rounds, glass round druks, two-hole lentils, Rullas, par Puca beads, DiamonDuos, daggers, and cushion rounds are some examples of the vast number of glass bead shapes supplied by just a few different manufacturers in the Czech Republic. Depending on the bead shape, you’ll sometimes find a manufacturer color number — but more often just a color name.
Finding a particular Czech glass bead is as easy as entering the bead shape (e.g., “fire polished round”), size (e.g., “6mm”), and color name (e.g., “sueded gold rosaline”) in Google Search. Because the Czech bead color names are sometimes long and very descriptive, most online stores and bead shops don’t rename the colors for these beads.
Finding Swarovski Crystals
Swarovski crystals, like seed beads, often have a color name and a number associated with them. However, in the case of Swarovski, the number is called an article number. An article number is a number Swarovski assigns to a particular bead or stone shape. Every single shape of bead, stone, and pendant that Swarovski makes has an article number assigned to it. For example, the faceted bicone bead that’s commonly used in bead weaving projects is article #5328, regardless of the size or color.
Searching Swarovski article numbers
The article number can be extremely useful in finding a Swarovski bead or stone online. I often enter just the word “Swarovski,” the article number, the size, and the color into Google Search. Often the name of the bead or stone shape isn’t necessary to generate good results. Exceptions include rivolis, pearls, and bicones, which often are listed on e-commerce websites only by name rather than by article number.
Searching Swarovski colors
If you want to see what colors are offered for a particular Swarovski product (whose colors are much more limited than that of Czech glass or seed beads), try doing a Google Images search for “Swarovski” plus the article number. The images that appear will be mostly the shape you searched for, in varying colors. Not every image displayed will link to a website that sells the product, but many will.
Clicking an image will show you some details from the webpage that houses the image. You can then click the Visit page link to go to the website for more information or to shop. You can also click the Shopping link for online stores that sell what you’re looking for. In addition, you can compare prices from the list Google generates, as well as filter the results within a certain price range, seller, or category. However, not all websites that sell beads will show up in the Google Shopping search.
The Google Images search is also a good way to look up a Swarovski color to see what it looks like photographed in different light, by different photographers, etc. It’s often helpful to see multiple photos of a product before you buy online, to get a better understanding of the color. Images of Swarovski products can vary dramatically in how they make the product look.
Final Search Tips
If you’re looking for beads online, Google is your friend. The Google search engine has many features such as the Images and Shopping search variations that will help you track down the beads or stones you need to complete a project. Keep notes regarding which websites have the best variety of beads; this will save you time when you need to search again in the future and can help you reduce the number of vendors you need to order supplies from.
Remember, searching is a process. The more time you spend looking for the beads you need and experimenting with the Google search engine’s features, the better and faster you’ll get at locating supplies in the future.
- To see Melissa’s designs, visit her website, MGS Designs.
- For even more beading resources, see our Top 2017 Websites Every Beader Should Visit.
Coming Soon! Watch for a follow-up article on how to get the most out of your local bead shop.
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