Beads are thought to have originated from Egypt. Ancient Egyptians in the process of mastering the technique of glass beads production aimed to diminish their size and to make them more elegant. The name known to us has come from the Arabic language: "busra" or "buser" where it means "false pearls". After conquering Egypt, the Romans took over the skill of creating glass and beads. Starting VI century the Byzantine Empire has been producing glass goods and importing them to Venice.
This medieval state has been the major producer and exporter of beads for a quite long time. Venetian beads were very popular in the European countries and also were successfully used by European colonizers in America and tropical countries as an exchange item for the slaves. The Renaissance period has left us a large heritage of beautiful Venetian bead masterpieces: necklaces, earrings, bead necklaces, and embroidery works. After the XIV century the bead production developed in England as well as all around Europe: in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Germany.
Nowadays there is such a wide choice of forms, sizes and materials of beads that it is hard not to engage yourself in beading embroidery. Beads are made from various materials: glass, metal, plastic, bone, wood, natural stones, etc.
Beads texture can be transparent, semitransparent or opal. Beads texture can also be non-transparent, brocaded. Opal beads come from slightly milk glass. Brocaded beads made with silver lined or gold lined covering of the inner hole surface. This effect creates a sparkling with colors lining the inner hole surface covering. Transparent or semitransparent beads can be painted white to highlight the color.
Besides, there are different kinds of bead coverings: iridescent covering like "Aurora Borealis", "gasoline covering" or fleur-de-lis, glistening covering (non-transparent beads with a glistening covering are called pearly, transparent beads with a glistening covering are called "Ceylon"), matt, silken, covering with paint and so on.
The diversity of forms is also amazing. You can find round (the most widely spread) beads, chopped, short 1-5 mm large cylinders, bugle beads cylindrical beads of 5-15 length that may be not only round but also cut, fibrous, twisted, with gored edges, in the form of leaves, flowers, crystals, stars, etc. Moreover, the holes in the beads can be round or square, which makes a different effect.
Bead sizes range from 1/0 to 21/0. These figures show how many beads will fit into one inch. The less the number is, the larger the beads are. This symbolic system is used by all producers, however beads of the same identification mark but from different producers vary significantly.
The main producers of beads are the Czech Republic and Japan. China, Taiwan, India and Russia also produce beads.
The most available and the inexpensive beads are Chinese. Chinese beads have some disadvantages: they are lop-sided in forms and sizes, very fragile, unstable covering. Cutting may have sharp, sometimes uneven edges and can cut off the working thread. Masters of beading embroidery try not to use it for beading the sheet as it turns out to be uneven. However for works where unevenness is necessary, for example, creating trees from beads, Chinese beads are irreplaceable. According to their features Taiwanese and Indian beads are similar to Chinese.
Czech beads are better quality and even in size and form. They have diverse colors and coverings. Though there might appear beads of poor quality beads of different sizes or with small holes. Czech cutting also has sharp edges. Besides, colors in different runs may have different shades. The most famous bead producer in Czech Republic is Preciosa, earlier known as Jablonex.
Japanese beads are the highest quality. These beads are almost ideally formed and sized. Cutting usually has well-cut edges. Moreover, Japanese beads are famous for the diversity of forms with an off-centered hole (or magatama), in the form of crystals, drops, hexahedrons, triangles, etc. Japanese beads are comparatively bigger than Czech and Chinese. So Japanese beads of the 11/0-12/0 sizes correspond approximately to the Czech ones of the 10/0 size. The most famous bead producers in Japan are TOHO in Miyuki. Cylindrical beads made by Delica у Miyuki and Aiko у TOHO are also widely known. The most beautiful goods are made of Japanese beads. Another producer is Matsuno, but the quality of these beads yields to the quality of TOHO and Miyuki.
Glass beads are often used together with beads. Their diversity is astonishing as their size is unlimited. Glass beads can be seen in simple wooden beads, exclusive glass hand-made beads, and elegant encrusted beads.