A craft jeweler’s stock management

Two things that have happened recently are having obtained supplies for jewelry making; and then, storage solutions for the same supplies.  I was able to visit the Japanese dollar store yesterday and pick up a few sets of small clear polystyrene boxes with drawers.  These cost about $3 each.  Then I stopped by the plastics store and picked up more clear polystyrene vials than necessary…I ended up using about $9 worth of vials (the extra small size of vial was $0.20 each), whereas I bought many more than I needed because of not knowing how many I did need.  I should note to myself that the variant of vial I have termed “extra small” (out of XS, S, M, and L) is the one I used the most of, by far (I wonder if they would let me exchange the bigger ones for more tiny ones?).

I specify “polystyrene” because it’s something I’d want to remember; it struck me as odd but logical that I would find two instances of the more optically clear plastics and that both would be the same material.  These aren’t white polystyrene foam (a.k.a. Styrofoam); they seem to be made of the same material CD jewel case covers are made of, according to Wikipedia and some conjecture.

The largest benefit to using these is that it makes it very apparent what my stock consists of, enabling me to forego using multiple tiny plastic bags (which I usually have used until they fogged up and shredded apart, or no longer zipped shut).  With the system I have now, it’s very clear what I have to work with…and the vials are reusable.  The only drawback is that they don’t cushion the beads from knocking against the inner walls.

I also have been kind of torturing myself with looking over beads…I have the either fortune or misfortune of knowing several reputable bead suppliers online, which have been in business for years.  Since my regular two bead stores closed down, it’s been kind of a pain to get access to quality, low-cost (or unique) beads and components (I don’t assume craft or fabric stores to have quality beading supplies, though these are the materials I started out with as a child); right now it is apparent that the prices of designer beads are also…not cheap.

However, I’m seeing that most places sell these in small quantities (10g, which is not a lot; I’d say this is a 3″ vial?…or in multiples of 30 or 50, if I’m recalling correctly).  The benefit of this is that it’s possible to buy very small quantities of beads in large color ranges, and not, say, have to buy an entire hank or half-hank of Czech seed beads or 30 grams of Japanese seed beads, if you only need a little.  The great advantage of this is that you aren’t stuck with an entire 30 gram vial of a color you’re never going to use, if you get home and realize under natural lighting that the colors you’ve chosen for a project don’t actually coordinate.

The brick-and-mortar bead store that used to be closest to me used to unbind hanks of the Czech seed beads (I think there are 12 strands per hank?) and sell them by the strand — which was super convenient, and probably saved me a lot of money, in the short term (while still allowing the store owner to make a sizable profit — though I am not certain it was sizable enough to keep her in business).

Of course, do I need six entire strands of size 13º gold Charlotte beads when I’m just trying out a button pattern I found in a magazine, or is that overkill?  (Size 13º is very small, a little bigger than a poppyseed; the designation “Charlotte” indicates that there is one facet ground into one side of the bead.)  Gold, by the way, is one of the more expensive finishes…half a hank is an investment!  I wouldn’t want to work with anything smaller than 15º beads, which are smaller than 13ºs…at that size, it’s easy to split a bead with a needle that’s too wide.  Then, also, the thread and/or wire has to be really fine to go through beads this size…and at that diameter, things can be really fragile; both the beads, and what they’re strung on.  I’ve also broken needles — fine needles, even! — trying to pull them through beads.  Size 15ºs should probably be strung or woven with an ultrafine steel twisted wire needle…which won’t break just because it’s bent.

The bead sizes go smaller, but it’s hard enough to see the 11ºs (larger than 13ºs), which are basically the standard size you would be most likely to encounter, followed closely by size 8ºs, and more rarely, size 6ºs — the latter of which I think are also called “E” Beads.  I have very rarely seen 3ºs, which appear like plastic pony beads (except I think they’re usually glass if they’re given an “aught” size — that little “º” reads as “aught,” so 11º reads as “eleven-aught”), and are large enough to be strung onto braids (hence, the term “pony bead.”).

I wouldn’t put these onto a kid’s hair, though:  the plastic beads are much safer and lighter.  There’s the danger of glass chips (even flying glass chips) from the beads knocking together, and stress on the scalp, if a lot of the glass ones are used to decorate braids.  Of course, though, when I was a kid and had braids, I wanted this.  I don’t think we ever did it.  (Of course, though, now I know how to add wrapped ends to the ends of my braids!…though that doesn’t really help the bead angle.  I wonder how they would stay on…?  I’d probably need a seam ripper to remove the wraps, as well…)

Anyway, I started out this post thinking about the two-hole beads I bought, recently.  I only got very small amounts, but it’s really made me want to get more; the design possibilities are just…something I hadn’t thought of.  In addition, the designer Czech beads (which I personally prefer to most of the more angular, Art-Deco-looking Miyuki two-hole beads; the exceptions being the Magatama lines) are going on and off of the market all of the time.  There are some beads that are not easy to find, now, which were common a year ago, and new ones are out now that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen in-person.

On the other hand, from looking up a lot of this stuff just briefly, I think that the real issue is that each individual online outlet only carries a specific range of beads; so to get a diversity of them, it’s necessary to target a number of different outlets.  I think the companies that make the beads (as versus the ones that sell them) are trying to drum up new business and interest in beadwork, but the sudden introduction of new beads all the time can be disorienting.  It used to be that we were just working with bicones and rounds and ovals and drops and cubes, and now it’s really…it can get overwhelming.

That’s not to say that it isn’t nice:  new bead shapes and bead hole placements, and creative use of multiple holes, are a goldmine where it comes to designing — especially with the finishes available now (especially if I compare them to my fabric-store beads in sixth grade which had colors which obviously rubbed off).  It’s just really a challenging process to be given what basically amount to new Lego blocks every few months, and be competing with published and accomplished designers to find excellent uses of them.

Actually, I did kind of withdraw from the beading scene after my magazines started putting out designs which relied upon the two-hole and specially shaped beads, many of which were only available online.  I’m not an early adopter…I already know this.  🙂  And I’m really cautious online, which is probably the biggest pain about any of this.  I kind of just don’t trust the Internet in the first place, though it’s relatively easy to see why this is:  my formative online years were not sheltered.

Another reason why I almost permanently Withdrew from my online program…


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Haru ("Codey") is a third-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

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