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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Beads, Embroidery Kits, and Weighing Things


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“Weighing Things.”

It sounds as if I’m going to write about profound, thoughty subjects.

I’be been weighing things in my mind.

And I have been weighing things.

I’ve been weighing tiny things! Beads, as a matter of fact.

Have you ever thought about the embroidery kits that we use and enjoy, and what it takes to put them together? I think about it every time I encounter a new kit. The packaging, the arrangement of supplies, the amount of thread, the extra touches. The box or bag. The labeling. I notice it all, and I think about it.

Let’s talk about beads in embroidery kits, for example…

Beads in Embroidery Kits - weighing and packaging

When I come across an embroidery kit that includes beads, I’m always and forever curious about how they’re packaged, and about how the designer (or kit packager or manufacturer) decided on that specific quantity of beads.

After all, when you purchase an embroidery kit – especially one that’s a little pricy – it’s rather annoying to run short on any of the supplies in the kits. I’ve had this happen with beads and with threads. This is why I pretty much always try to use whole skeins or spools of thread in my kits, even if you only need a portion of the skein or spool. Not only does it guarantee that you don’t run out of thread, but it also gives you extra thread to play with later, or it gives you room to make corrections without stressing over your supply levels.

Beads are funny, though. They are such tiny things.

And imagine you only really need 10 or so for a given design.

So what does one do, when preparing kits that have beads in them, for designs that don’t require a lot of any given color or type of bead?

Do you count out a specific number of beads? Do you guesstimate, visually, the approximate number?

The former would be tedious, it would take so long for kitter, and it would really limit the stitcher to all kinds of stressful scenarios: What if I lose one? What if one is broken? (It does happen.) What if I spill them all!? What if my stitch tension is slightly different, and I need 12 instead of 10?

The latter is tricky. What if the kitter errs on the visual estimation and shorts the kit a bead or so? How does the kitter ensure consistency between the kits, so that costs can be calculated and supply levels maintained?

Beads in Embroidery Kits - weighing and packaging

In the same way that I prefer to use whole skeins or spools of threads when making my own kits – and in the same way that I prefer purchasing kits that incorporate whole skeins and spools of threads – I like kits that have more beads than possibly necessary for the project in the kit.

This ensures that the stitcher doesn’t stress over possibly running out. It also ensures that the stitcher has a surplus to play with or to make up for any corrections.

It ensures that I (as the kitter) know exactly how much is going into each kit, exactly how much that amount costs, exactly how much I have in inventory, and so forth. And the cost difference, really, in comparison to the whole kit, ends up being almost negligible.

If I’m preparing a kit, for example, that has 15 threads in it (which would be the bulk of the cost of the kit) and 10 different types of beads, I can spend significantly more time counting out individual beads and charge, say, $0.20 for the quantity of beads in the kit (beads plus slower labor). Or I can provide more beads than necessary, package them more quickly, and charge $0.50 for those beads.

In the overall scheme of the kit cost for the consumer, that $0.30 difference is not going to be monumental. And even if it seems like it could be (the difference between $2 worth of beads in the whole kit, versus $5 worth of beads), the cost difference is made up for by providing peace of mind, because the stitcher has plenty of the supplies necessary for completing the kit.

So I weigh my beads.

Beads in Embroidery Kits - weighing and packaging

And weighing beads is a strange and wonderful experience.

First of all, you can’t just weigh beads on any old scale. You have to have a micro scale that weighs in milligrams (like a jeweler’s scale or a chemist’s scale). The scale has to be consistent. It has to have the option to tare (or zero out the scale), so that the receptacle for the beads isn’t figured in the weight. You should be able to calibrate the scale if necessary.

Fortunately, affordable and accurate micro scales are available fairly widely these days. They’re used for all kinds of things, but I only use them for beads. I have two, so that two of us can weigh beads at the same time.

Secondly, you have to work in miniature. The beads are small, the bags are small, the scale is small, the little pan and the little scoop are small – everything is very small. I love moving into that small world of work when I’m weighing beads!

Thirdly, you can’t have a lot of movement in the place you’re working – no fans on, no big vibrations. Even your own movements end up being slow, delicate, light. You don’t want to sneeze, breathe heavily, sigh deeply, and so forth.

And fourthly – and perhaps this is particular just to me – silence seems to work best when I’m trying to work efficiently at the bead scale. Too much noise, and I find myself having to measure twice or more times per tiny batch! Quiet and calm keep me accurate and quick.

Beads in Embroidery Kits - weighing and packaging

One thing I’ve noticed when working with beads in this capacity is that, in my mind, the lone, individual bead suddenly becomes a real, measurable, and precious little commodity. I take care not to have too many strays!

The difficulty is that you can go nuts chasing down one bead now and then. It’s not worth the time! But it’s expedient to work with extra care, so you aren’t chasing beads or losing too many along the way.

Beads can be ornery, by the way. The tiniest bit of static (don’t work on a plastic table without some kind of mat on it!) will cause them to repel each other and literally fly off the table.

Beads in Embroidery Kits - weighing and packaging

Beads can be so simple on the one hand, and so spectacular on the other.

Or they can be a combination of both.

They are little, but mighty.

I love ’em!

Beads in Embroidery Kits - weighing and packaging

Over the years, I find myself incorporating beads more frequently into certain types of embroidery projects. They add texture and sparkle and interest to a project, in a way that most thread can’t.

The variety of types, finishes, sizes, and colors of beads make them a fascinating addition to my studio supplies, too. I don’t want to go overboard with beads – and I don’t really want a huge stash of them! – but I find that I’m wildly attracted to the little things.

I’m pretty sure there’s a crow inside me somewhere.

So that’s a little bit about beads, just for your interest. If you ever purchase a kit that has beads in it, keep in mind that somewhere, somehow, those tiny things that can make such a difference in the finish of a wowser project were weighed or counted out just for you, for your stitching pleasure!

Happy Monday, my friends!


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(20) Comments

  1. Oh Mary! This brings back such memories. I few years ago a friend and I designed and kitted a beaded scissor case. On the front was a dragonfly that had two expensive crystals for the body and two very expensive, very tiny black crystals for the eyes and a small number of bugles and seed beads for the tail. These we counted out and put into small bags. The beads that outlined the wings we measures by threading them on a length of thread and the beads for the background we weighed out as you did. We allowed 10% surplus over the quantities used in our models. It took us days to count, measure, and weigh the beads for the kits. Like you, I cannot looked at the contents of a kit without thinking about the work that has gone into its preparation for my stitching pleasure

  2. You and Julian of Norwich. or, embroidery as a spiritual exercise.

    “One thing I’ve noticed when working with beads in this capacity is that, in my mind, the lone, individual bead suddenly becomes a real, measurable, and precious little commodity. I take care not to have too many strays!”

    “And with this insight he also showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand. It seemed to me as round as a ball. I gazed at it and thought, ‘What can this be?’ The answer came thus, ‘It is everything that is made.’ I marveled how this could be, for it was so small it seemed it might fall suddenly into nothingness. Then I heard the answer, ‘It lasts, and ever shall last, because God loves it. All things have their being in this way by the grace of God.’”
    (Revelations of Divine Love, Chapter V)

  3. Oh Mary, I do love beads. Reading your article makes me want to buy a scale and start weighing my beads just for the joy of being able to play with them. Thanks for a wonderful Monday morning start.

  4. Merci, Mary! You remind me of a lovely quote from the artist Joseph Cornell, “ Tiny is the last refuge of the enormous.” xx

    1. You can find seed beads online through all kinds of bead retailers. I use Fire Mountain Gems, Aura Crystals, Caravan Beads, and lots of other sources. I select the size based on what I’m embroidering and how I want it to look.

  5. Such a nice peep into your world of making kits, Mary. I am especially delighted that you recognize your inner crow

  6. Mary, you forgot to add the part about when you drop your bead container on the floor & have to find all of them so you will have enough for your project (oh, that’s just me)?
    I do love to use beads in my projects but for some reason I have a problem finding interesting projects & patterns that use beads. I would love to know if you have come across any good books or designers that you like. I am always so amazed with your stitching. I know you have had a lot of experience but it’s just facinating. Love your work!

  7. A scale is nice. I don’t have any but since I had my stroke I am indulging in loom beading because you could practically do it with one hand. Nice article about the kits (and kitters)!

  8. Oh, I love beads and add them when I can, even if directions don’t call for them. Looking at your photos, it seems that you just run the thread in one side and out the other into the fabric. And yet every bead sits perfectly, no leaning to the side. After I use beads and want to take a photo, I have to carefully nudge each bead into the proper position. 🙂 I’ve tried different ways to keep them up but too often the thread shows more than I like. Suggestions? Or perhaps you have a blog about this already. I need to look into that.

    1. Hi, Irene – I pass through each bead (if they are individually stitched and spaced apart) at least twice. Sometimes, three times! If they are in a line I string them and then go back and couch between each bead, and then I pass through the whole line again.

  9. I know you’re in the process of preparing something sparkly & beady & amazing – I can’t wait to order it – whatever it is!!!

  10. Hi Mary,
    The website http://www.riogrande.com has pdf reference materials on everything beads. Bead sorting language is universal to mm sizes, their properties, and the gross weight. Equal gross weight …. To different mm sizes; to how many pet a gross weight.

    The Rio charts have also calculated “How Many” 6mm glass beads to a 16″ hank. The same for any mm bead size too. (I think you can find this on google too.) And vice versa the hank length and how many you need to buy for your 8 mm bead.

    I used to count out beads till I learned they have an Inventory cd program where you can enter all the different variables like material, mm size, weight / cost..(how many hanks) etc. …and then with one click it calculates wholesale cost PER bead. And then take that same bead at retail markup.

    So if you have 20 6 mm glass beads …. One can accurately price that out …. Say, for a kit.

    They’ve gotten better…. I used to count all my beads and price necklaces per each part. OR I’d take the gross and divide that by 1000. ..Riogrande has excellent customer service too.

  11. Dear Mary,
    What a wonderful assay you have written about weighing beads! I just finished a project with a lot of beads in it. I know how much work was done by the person who was preparing all the materials. I appreciated her work very much. She is the member of your group and I am sure she will love what you have written about preparing kits with beads. Thank you again!

  12. Dear Mary

    I love beads and didn’t realise the work involved with beads in organising embroidery kits. I do admire all those who put together these kits for us to embroider and enjoy the experience, thank you. As I said I love beads I think they make such a lovely addition to embroidery or any crafting which involves adding beads and they come in so many different colours, shades and sizes that the mind boggles at the array of such lovely additions to any embroidery. Thank for sharing with us the world of making kits with beads and for your hard work at putting together such lovely additions.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  13. “I’m pretty sure there’s a crow inside me somewhere.” Haha! Mary, thank you so much for all of your posts, including this one. You’ve taught me so much over more than a decade of following your work. I’m starting to plan a huge and emotional new project, possibly working with silk threads for the first time, and now I’m thinking maybe it needs some beads too? You may very well get an email asking for advice before it’s all said and done, but it’s a project that I’ve researched extensively on your site already and I’m so grateful.

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