Glass Beads We Love – The Hidden History of Bugle Beads

From Jennifer: I think I love the stories behind my favorite glass beads for bead-weaving almost as much as the beads themselves! For me, bugle beads bring back memories of when I first started learning how to bead — I made dozens of pairs of beaded earrings with lots of bugle bead fringe. I collected bugle beads for fringe on my peyote stitch amulet bags, too. But Perry Bookstein, owner of York Beads in New York City, has the inside scoop on Czech bugle beads. Check out this awesome guest blog all about one of my favorite kinds of glass beads!

Bugle beads are a versatile addition to any beadwork. They can add length to fringe, texture to bead embroidery, and can even be a great substitute for genuine heishi beads. Yet sometimes it seems as though beaders have forgotten about this once-popular glass bead.

Bugles are made just like any other round seed bead where the glass is pulled through a shaping tube, but bugle beads are chopped at a slower interval, resulting in the longer length. Standard sizes of bugle beads start at size 2 ( 4mm), and range all the way up to 35mm. Bugle beads really give you a lot of value for your dollar, too: a kilogram of size 2 bugle beads contains over 20,000 beads! The shape of bugle beads is by nature more organic, and imperfections can be tolerated more than in other seed bead shapes where uniformity is more important. (Think about your favorite bead-weaving stitch done with bugles instead of round seed beads!)

When I started in the bead biz back in 1984, there was as tremendous demand for size 2 bugle beads in crystal silver and crystal aurora, mainly due to the bridal industry. These colors were not available from suppliers in China and India the way they are today. Sales of these colors and sizes of bugle beads from Czechoslovakia were brisk, but because of the political climate during the Cold War, we just could not keep enough of them in stock at our little store in the heart of Manhattan's Garment District.

Around that time, we discovered that we could purchase bugle beads in a large lot from the Matsuno company of Japan. These Japanese bugle beads were just as good, still strung on cord in hanks made with nylon string, even if the cost was a little higher. At one point, we had 2,500 kilograms of bugle beads lined up against the walls of the office! Lucky for us, the "shower necklace" was born and became popular, using a hank of bugle seed beads, a pair of end caps, and a fancy clasp to create a very trendy beaded necklace. These same necklaces, originally designed by one of Miriam Haskell's team of artists, can still be seen at chain boutiques like Claire's in most shopping malls.

Today, while plenty of bugles are still used on garments, most are used to create beadwork overseas. I still see bugle beads being used for fringe in long, dangling earrings and in bead embroidered neckware, but the demand for bugle beads in the wholesale and garment markets has dropped dramatically. I can remember when artists or bead resellers would buy a half kilo of bugle beads, and they would be set for life. I heard stories of how beads were stashed under the bed while beaders pondered, "How am I ever going to use all of these bugle beads?" These days, most bugle beads are bought and sold in quantities of about 10 grams, or even by the hank, and they can be purchased from most local bead shops or online. While large wholesale orders have gone down, this is the perfect way for beaders to buy just what they need for a specific project.

I still recommend, however, that if you see an unusual color of bugle bead in your travels (like the deep rose pictured here) or a Picasso stone finish, buy as many as you can afford, because if you run out, you may never see that color or finish ever again!

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