1/ 2/ Beads

I had initially intended to write my first post of the year about color, and all the custom colors now available on the website (here), but in delving into some research, I realized I haven’t yet shared anything about one of my most beloved and essential materials: Beads!

While they may seem rather unremarkable as a material, if you look closely, the history of bead use and production parallels the history of man over thousands of years, and an argument could be made that our relationship to beads reflects the consistency of human nature over the grand arc of time (to be made another day).



I like this summary of the history of bead manufacturing:

“Historically, from the 15th century seed bead creation, development, and production was centred in the traditional European glass making centre of Murano in Italy, before finally reaching Bohemia, and then to a lesser extent in France and Germany. France was particularly noted for its faceted metal seed beads, prompting Miyuki to introduce their Delica seed beads in 1982 as a replacement for these antique French metal cylinder beads.” (check out the full article).

I had no idea that was the impetus behind the invention of the shape and style of bead I almost exclusively use today! In terms of how seed beads were manufactured, the process itself remains very similar in modern times, though significantly more mechanized and requiring less labor than pictured here:

  A section from an engraving showing glass being drawn.  Plate from  Grands Hommes et Grands Faits de L’Industrie   1880

A section from an engraving showing glass being drawn. Plate from Grands Hommes et Grands Faits de L’Industrie 1880

This plate blows my mind: Beads required so much labor, and it follows that they were highly coveted throughout these early centuries of production. In this image, two workers draw a glass tube, which will eventually be sliced into rough beads (with a guillotine!) and then tumbled and finished to smooth the surfaces. The same technique applies today, though far more mechanized:

“If you were to visit one of the modern seed bead manufacturers you would still get a sense of the historic processes involved in the production of seed beads. That is once you had seen past the high tech computerized machinery and manufacturing infrastructure! Molten glass is moved from automatic furnaces to a melting pot, where compressed air is used to force the glass through a shaped hole in the pots base thereby determining the outline of the glass column, whilst also turning the centre of the column into a hollow tube. This cooling molten glass tube would then be moved across rollers and drawn out to the required cane thickness by machine, with the speed of draw determining the diameter of the glass tubes. The tubes would then be systematically cut into metre [about three foot] lengths. These tube lengths would then be cooled, quality controlled, and automatically cut into bead sized lengths. The resulting beads would then be reheated with carbon powder to provide smoothness, before before being washed and then reheated in a kiln to give a gloss finish. Additional treatments, where required, would then be applied and heat re-applied to set the colours and coatings.”



Delica beads are made by only two manufacturers in Japan: TOHO and Miyuki, my preferred brand. When I visited Japan last spring, I was gifted a book about production of Delica beads from a Miyuki representative who expressly visited ORU at a pop-up in Osaka! It was a sweet gesture, and the book "Dear Beaders" shows exciting glimpses into their refined process:



The technique I most commonly use to construct each piece is Peyote Stitch or Gourd Stitch, which is most often correlated with Native American craft, and rightfully so. The culture has managed to preserve the technique and traditions around it over time, and lovely pieces made using the technique are still being created by Native American people today. That being acknowledged, this technique, among many others, reaches back to around 3000 B.C. in ancient Egypt (just for reference, the Old Kingdom/Age of Pyramid Builders was 2686-2181 B.C.) The ancient Egyptians highly valued adornment and loved ornamentation, and jewelry was worn by both men and women of all classes. Woven beads were used in clothing and accessories, and were also important accoutrements for those passing into the afterlife, aka mummies.

Beaded Mummy Decoration, Saite Period, Dynasty 26 (664–525 BC)

 Beaded Mummy Decoration

Beaded Mummy Decoration

Explore more amazing images here:

Ancient Egyptians believed that jewelry not only enhanced the beauty but also provided magical and spiritual protection to its wearer.  

Bead manufacture and weaving techniques connect us to millennia of craft, human ingenuity, symbolism, and spirituality spanning continents and diverse cultures. I plan to continue exploring that in another post coming soon!

Wishing you a Strong New Year, dear friends!

xx, Agnieszka


This is one of my favorite images in the "Dear Beaders" book! I love guessing what all the equipment is, the tidiness, and the workers' sincere focus.

Agnieszka ZComment