Organize Your Beads

“Where are my Miyuki 310 black matte beads?!!”

It was 4 AM on a Sunday morning, and I’d been beading all night. Now, I was looking for some matte black delicas to finish a project. Where were they?!! I couldn’t find them anywhere. They had to be there somewhere!

Well, I turned the house upside down, and when my husband John came home from a field exercise, he found me in tears with little bags of beads all over the living room. He had been in the desert for two weeks and came home filthy and exhausted. That great man was so calm and understanding. All he did was wrap me in his arms and start to laugh.

Here we were. We could face instantaneous deployments, long overseas separations, change-of-station orders telling us we had to move with a week’s notice – all faced with a calm demeanor – yet here I was crying because I couldn’t find the beads I wanted. We held on to one another till I couldn’t cry anymore and had to start laughing, too.

That was the day the spreadsheets began. It was in 1985, I think. The lists began on graph paper, because we didn’t have a computer. First, I went through the standard beads. The numbers were not consistent, and it took several months to figure out the several sources for round beads. The most common type back then was the Czech seed bead. Every vendor had a unique numbering formula. There was no standard numbering system and there still isn’t.

I went to all of my favorite bead stores and asked if I could make a list of their beads. Boy, did I get some strange looks. “You want to what?” “Why?” “Just buy the beads you like!” I spent hours trying to explain that I just wanted to be able to keep track of my bead collection. Everyone thought I was crazy. I had lists set up by store, by size, by color – in fact, by any criteria I could think of. Well, this became a catch-as-catch-can project, so I set the Czech beads aside.

Mind you, this wasn’t a full-time pursuit. Life kept coming at us from lots of different directions – a tour in Korea for me, deployment to Beirut for my husband, and a lot of various other interruptions that come up in the course of a military career. On the up side, I found a lot of bead stores in Korea and Japan.

By now it was 1990, and I was completely frustrated. I knew Czech beads were not what I wanted to work with. I began to work with beads that came with more information. These turned out to be the Japanese seed beads. The Japanese beads I had been buying came in labeled tubes, so I started making my list of all the information on each label. The delicas were easy to list. Each color had its own number, and the colors were consistent.

One day, I found a new magazine called Bead & Button. Wow! They listed the beads for an amulet purse by the manufacturer’s number. Most bead stores had a few colors of the new delica beads. Lo and behold, most stores sold them by manufacturer number! I could finally find the beads I wanted and easily keep them organized on my spreadsheets.

Eventually, we got our first home computer – the Commodore 64. It didn’t do much by today’s standards, but it did keep lists beautifully. Next, I discovered ClarisWorks and computer spreadsheets.

I can now make spreadsheets listing all bead colors by number. In fact, since the Internet has become so readily available, I have gone to the manufacturers’ websites to get the most up-to-date information and complete bead lists (Miyuki, Matsuno and Toho are my favorites). Click on the links to see my Miyuki delica seed beads list and Miyuki round seed beads list in PDF format.

Of course, I go a little overboard. I print out one set of spreadsheets on card stock. On these I sew a sample of each bead, and then I put these bead pages in a 3-ring binder. A second set of spreadsheets is printed on plain paper. This set is kept in a folder with a check mark beside each type of bead in my collection and goes with me to the bead store. The staff at Harlequin is always amused by my many lists.

I realized that my beads were only organized on paper; the actual beads were stored in a vast assortment of containers. I still had to hunt down the beads I wanted. By this time, I was out of the Army and now working as a jeweler.

In the jeweler’s environment, I learned a lot about keeping little things organized. The secret was uniformity. All the little bits were kept in identical containers that were clearly labeled and sorted by type. Silver findings were kept in the silver cabinet. Gold findings were kept separate from gold filled and silver findings. (In case you’re wondering, “findings” is a jeweler’s term for all of those little jewelry-making parts like earwires, clasps, spacer beads, etc.) We had to keep track of everything for inventory and security purposes.

Organized Seed Bead StorageI applied everything I learned there to my own beading collection. If you ever get to a gem show, they have plastic jewelry trays that stack together so nicely. These trays hold bead containers in orderly rows, each with its own label. I ordered my containers from Flex-Products, but you can find plastic storage containers at many bead and craft stores, too. Bear in mind, uniformity is what’s important.

I love that my beads are finally organized in little containers, labeled by manufacturer and color code, and filed away in numerical order. I can find the beads I want at a moment’s notice. It’s heavenly.

If you think all of this is crazy, you should see my Lego collection!

by Beverly

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