Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Tiny Beads for Miniature Embroidery


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When I was finishing up my miniature embroidery piece a while ago, I ran into a little dilemma. The piece called for beads speckled here and there on the original design. I was going to sew some on… but…

… I forgot that the miniature embroidery piece was so much smaller than the original design was intended to be! The beads called for were Mill Hill Petites, which are size 15/0. They’re relatively small, but they look huge on a miniature piece.

Not knowing too much about sizes of beads (I’ve not done a lot of bead embroidery – just used them as embellishments here and there…), I wrote off the beads entirely.

One day, though, I was perusing Robin Atkin’s site, Beadlust, where you can see some drop-dead-gorgeous examples of bead embroidery. I left a comment mentioning my lack of teeny tiny beads, and Susan Elliott of Plays with Needles kindly responded and recommended Beadcats, an online bead store that features vintage beads that are … well… tinier than I ever thought beads could be!

Look. I am a downright weird-o when it comes to embroidery supplies. I was on a kick of sorts. I felt I lacked beads, that beads were something suddenly essential to any embroidery that I was ever to do again in my life, and that I had to have beads. Beads! LOTS of beads.

And now I have exactly that – lots of beads.

Vintage beads for embroidery in sizes 16/0 - 24/0

The sizes range from 16/0 – 24/0. Remember that Mill Hill Petites are 15/0. The higher the number, by the way, the smaller the bead (like needles… and wire).

Not knowing much about beads – that they are actually classified beyond just color, in jolly categories such as “greasy” or something to that effect – I felt obliged to try all different types and descriptions. Greasy beads, by the way, look eerily greasy. And little bags of teeny tiny black beads look eerily like tiny caviar. Opening the package and exploring the beads was an interesting experience!

But what amazed me, and what I want to get across to you, is the size of these beads. Mill Hill Petites, the common “little” seed bead you can buy at any bead-carrying craft store, hasn’t got anything on these when it comes to being “petite”!

Vintage beads for embroidery in sizes 16/0 - 24/0

It’s really hard to get across sizes online. In the photo above, the metallic pink bead looks remarkably large, and yet it is a 15/0 Mill Hill Petite. The blue is a 16/0 vintage bead. The black is a 23/0 vintage bead.

That black bead can get lost under your fingernail. It could be mistaken for a speck on a table. A speck of something really small, that is. Horton Hears a Who comes to mind here!

Vintage beads for embroidery in sizes 16/0 - 24/0

The black bead practically fits in the hole of the Mill Hill Petite. I’m pretty sure it would’ve fit, with a little manipulation.

Vintage beads for embroidery in sizes 16/0 - 24/0

Guess what? It was really hard to stack those little guys up and get them to stay put. They had some sort of serious static charge running through them that made them want to dance around a bit!

Anyway, that was my adventure with teeny tiny itsy bitsy super-dee-duper small beads. Have I actually done anything with them yet? No. I’m not exactly sure what one does with such things that small. But I am sure they have a purpose, or they would have never been made! I look forward to the discovery of that purpose some day. I suppose I better do it while I’m still in my 30’s… or my eyes may revolt!

Do you embroider or embellish with beads? If so, have you ever used beads in sizes 16/0 – 24/0? What do you use them for? Can you recommend any books? Can you recommend any websites with photos and ideas? I’d love to hear something about these intriguing tiny things!


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(32) Comments

  1. Thanks for telling us about this find. I’d like to know what needles you find that can go through these beads (not to mention the 100 ct silk gauze)!

  2. Beadcats sells needles as well – they recommended a size 16 beading needle, so I bought some. I haven’t tried them yet, but they apparently work with this size bead…

  3. I use beads in everything I make – love love love beads and buttons. Anyhoo, those tiny beads under size 15 are crazy to work with but on tiny items they add a nice sparkle. They are really great for Peyote stitch for things like thimble cases http://www.shipwreckbeads.com/catalog/Books-and-Videos/Beading-Books/Beaded-Bags/Thimble-Catchers-and-Needle-Cases/ , covers for wooden needle cases http://www.shipwreckbeads.com/catalog/Books-and-Videos/Beading-Books/Beaded-Bags/, and necklaces because you can get great detail on a small scale. But I’ve used them on mini art quilts, tiny cloth doll clothes, brooches, ornaments, etc. I love them.

  4. HI Mary! It was great fun to see your haul from Beadcats. Many of the tiny beads were used in beaded pursemaking. I am lucky to own a few samples of this vintage beadwork. In fact, once you get used to looking at vintage beadwork in museums or antique stores — you get really spoiled. It makes our contemporary beaded purses looks clunky — kind of like cross stitch on 14 count versus 40 — if that makes sense.

    I rarely do cross stitch but when I do, like to do it small so that it looks like a painting — in fact, old berlinwork patterns are fabulous for that — anyway, when you reduce your thread count down to 40 count or smaller — the ONLY beads that will work are those super small ones.

    I have also used many, many of the tiny gold ones on some finer embroidered ornaments where the motifs were small. I found two antique purse frames in Paris once and I have a dream of knitting my own one day — the problem is finding a source for these teeny-tiny beads — they just aren’t available in large quantities anymore because they’re not being produced. Oh well, keep me in mind if you ever run into an old storehouse somewhere with loads of teeny-tiny beads — I’ll be right there on the next flight.

    Thanks for the post. Can’t wait to see what you do with them…

  5. I have used beads for forever, 8’s to 16’s I have some smaller but have not had a reason to use them yet. I haven’t found many books on the subject of miniture beads. As to a needle, I suspect that a 16 would work nicely. Let us know how it turns out.

  6. I recently bought a top in a thrift store and the fron was covered in those teeny tiny black beads; and yes, there are some missing, so thanks for letting me know that they are available somewhere in the world.

  7. I love the photo comparison! That really puts things into perspective! I have a ton of size 15 and I always thought they were teeny tiny little things! HAHAHA. i can see that I am wrong there.

    Thanks for sharing the tiny bead resource link too!

  8. hi Mary……….I’ve been into beads for a long time but just recently found out about the size numbers….so very simple!! The size (like say 14) tells you how many you’d have to line up, hole to hole, to make an inch.

    Doing a bunch of bead embroidery now with Crazy Quilting. See books by Nancy Eha.

    Long time fave though is to bead entire design elements on needlepoint canvas. Yep, one stitch at a time. If you ever want to try that, use number 11’s on 13 mesh and number 14’s on 18 mesh, one bead over each canvas thread intersection. Beautiful.


  9. This post was a delight. I love your descriptions of tiny caviar and the desire to have LOTS of beads. Absolute classic! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Hi Mary,
    I’m afraid I can’t offer anything helpful. Just wanted to say I enjoyed the blog about beads and that I really love Mill Hill beads. They are a very good quality bead and the colors are very nice.
    I’ve looked at those tiny beads before, wondered about them, and my reaction has always been instant intimidation. I’m just not ready for that yet!
    Thanks for the info! It was fun to read.

  11. I do use beads, but I have no real info or formal experience.

    I started using them in my needlework a couple of years ago. I don’t often use them, but I have a considerable collection at this point of beads of different sizes/shapes. Some really, really tiny ones too. There’s a local bead shop that has some beautiful stuff, and I like to go in there and see if I feel inspired by any of their beads. Sometimes I do and I bring them home. I love getting inspiration from weird places.

    I particularly like using them in hardanger. You can use some larger ones in the bigger windows, or you can thread tiny ones over/around the lace you’ve made inside.

  12. When I use a beading needle for the Mill Hill petites, I have trouble threading it with regular DMC floss…I can`t imagine a beading needle smaller than that…what would you use for thread???

  13. Hi Mary,

    Well, I made another paisley tonight and just happened to use my tiniest beads on it. Here’s a link: http://stitchinfingers.ning.com/photo/very-berry-paisley-309?context=latest

    I have about four packages of Mill Hill petite beads. “Petite” is the closest they come to a size on these packages. The larger beads are fatter, a size 6, and the largest seed bead I have, about the same as a pony bead, I think.

    I think these smaller beads look like dew drops.


  14. MJ,
    To attach my petite beads I used a very thin quilting needle that’s only an inch long and my thinnest Nimo bead thread. I chose the short needle rather than the longer beading needle which I felt would have been awkward to use with those tiny beads. It went just fine.

  15. I call beads that small “bead dust”!
    I love Beadcats…they are in my area, too, and have an “open house” (literally, one of the owner’s houses is turned into a store) with all their inventory out for sale every year before Thanksgiving. (Otherwise, they are mail order and bead show sellers only.)
    They are the nicest, most talented people…and their service and prices are the best!

  16. I've just recently gotten into adding beads to ribbon embroidery. It all started off as a NERO pouch embellishment, now I can't stop sewing 🙂 Thanks to the link to beadlust, its an inspiration. I don't think I can take on another hobby (already penciled in sewing pouches, embroidering and jewelry for this week) but I love seeing the wonders that people craft. Thanks!

  17. I’d love to have you email me where you found the 16/0 and smaller beads, because I’m desperately seeking them to make barbie jewelry for my nieces and such. Please email me with any information you’re willing to share on sources to purchase them. Thanks!

  18. Wow! This is a marvelous post & I was so glad to find it while searching online for information regarding vintage 24/0 beads! The photos you took with the three beads together really help a lot to put the sizes in perspective (something that is frequently hard to get when you’re buying beads online).

    Thank you also for the links to places with the tiny beads!

  19. Thank you for sharing all your information and places where you found 24/0 beads. I use them all the time in my work. I make 1/4″ scale chandeliers, and add beads to my tiny 1 1/4″ dolls. Go to http://www.petitentiny9.blogspot.com to see my brides covered in tiny tatting and beads. If anyone has beads they would like to sell I am interested.

  20. Dear Mary

    I was just researching bead sizes and I came across your article on sizes wonderful thanks. Do you think the size 15 is small enough for eggs? as I would like to put some beads on an egg I’m currently embroidering. Shame they don’t make 24 any more.

    Regards Anita Simmance

    1. Hi, Anita – yes, I think they are. The gold beads I’m using on my current egg are 3mm pearl shaped beads, which are pretty large, compared to the 15’s. I suppose it probably depends on the size of the egg, though, too, and what you’re doing with them. But I think the small 15/0 seed beads (like the ones Mill Hill makes) would work well… MC

    2. Dear Mary

      Thanks so much for your reply I’ve just ordered some 15 from Mill Hill so will see. I will send you some photos I’m on egg no. 5 and the silk ribbon is so much better than the satin.

      Regards Anita Simmance

  21. I was just searching for antique seed beads 20/0’s and smaller when I came across your blog. I’ve been collecting and beading with antique seed beads for over 35 years! My grandmother gave me my first tiny size 18/0’s-20/0’s when I was about 9 years old. Since then I’ve amassed a large collection of antique and vintage seed beads. Many are micros 16/0’s and smaller, & I also have quite a few hanks of the 3 cuts from the 1920’s. The majority of the 3cuts are larger though. Anyway, I plan on selling off my extra inventory as soon as I finish inventorying them. I’m almost done and only have 1 more drawer to go. If anyone is interested, let me know. I will trade for other beads, but really the only beads I’m looking for right now are the antique true cuts. If anyone has some or knows someone who does please, please let me know. Btw, a size 16 needle will only work on very few of the micro beads. I use a twisted wire needle. I think I purchased them last from a place in Oregon. If anyone wants more info a about them, just ask. I can give you my email. Danielle.

  22. I am looking for size 24 – 26 size seed beads in all colors. I am going to Prauge next week where they make the Czech glass beads. I don’t know if they make them that small anymore. Do u have any

  23. Thank you. I’ve been thinking about doing some Micro bead embroidery… like some mandala earrings… but had no clue where to find tiny beads.
    Thank you again…BLESSINGS

  24. What size beading needle do you use for the 16/0 and smaller beads? I can’t seem to find one that will work for my 24/0 black beads like yours!

    1. Hi, Hayley – I have not yet conquered that problem. I was happy to find these beads, but since then, I haven’t used them on anything. I never tracked down a needle, either! :-/

    1. Hi, Anna, I’m in Kansas, in the US, so I’m probably not the person to ask for this information. Have you contacted any designers or teachers in South Africa? Maybe Hazel Blomkamp or Trish Burr or Di van Niekerk could help you? Best of luck!

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