Eight element kongo gumi/round braids with beads are one of things that are drawing people to the art of kumihimo. Because it is quick to learn and has a world of possibilities, people who don't have a background in either fiber or beading arts are finding themselves drawn to braiding. Unfortunately, a new braider may find the varieties of materials available to them both overwhelming and confusing. It's my hope that this info-torial series will make it easier for a new braider to figure out what materials are best for their desired results.
This info-torial is set up around size 8/0 seed beads, probably the most common size used today in making beaded braids. I've made a sampler with beads from each of the major Japanese brands, as well as Czech and Chinese seed beads to help give a sense of what each bead looks like braided up, and also to highlight any differences. The sampler was braided using a Beadsmith brand foam disk and eight elements of regular/Tex 210 S-Lon cord in white for the best contrast. Each sample has five beads per element for a total of 40 beads. For purposes of the sample, I used the beads straight out the package and did not cull any for size, only for broken holes. If you want more information about seed bead sizing, or how beads are made, check out Big Bead Little Bead's guide.
Round size 8/0 seed beads
The above photo shows the three round beads from the major Japanese manufacturers along with round beads made in the Czech Republic and China. Note that while the Miuki, Toho, and Czech beads are each relatively round, the Matsuno beads are bit longer and the Chinese beads are many odd shapes.
Matsuno 8/0 seed beads
Major US distributor: Fire Mountain Gems, who use the trade name "Dynamites"
Size of sample: 7/8 inch=21 mm long, 7mm in diameter
Notes on sample: As you can see, some Matsuno beads are a bit bigger than others which means that they don't fit as closely together. However, as they are little longer than the other Japanese brands they cover a lot of area with less beads.
Miyuki 8/0 seed beads
Major US distributor: The Beadsmith/Helby and Caravan Beads. As these two companies are the major suppliers to bead stores in the US, Miyuki seed beads have become the most common brand available.
Size of sample: 3/4 inch=19 mm in length, 6mm in diameter
Notes on sample: The beads are very even in size, making a tightly braided piece. Miyuki is always expanding the colors, finishes, and quality of their beads.
Toho 8/0 seed beads:
Major US distributor: Bobby Bead. Like The Beadsmith/Helby and Caravan Beads, Bobby Bead also supplies bead stores.
Size of sample: 3/4 inch=19 mm in length, 5.5mm in diameter
Notes on sample: Toho beads are the roundest of the three Japanese brands. They fit together well, but their roundness causes them to space out a bit more than the Miyuki beads in braiding.
Czech 8/0 seed beads:
Major US distributor: Preciosa Ornela, although there are many other makers and distributors of Czech seed beads.
Size of sample: 11/16 inch=18 mm in length, 6mm in diameter
Notes on sample: Czech seed beads are known for their reasonable price and quality, as well as the variety of finishes. However, as you can see in the sample above the beads themselves can be uneven in size—compare the glossy brown opaque bead under the letter "C" to the one under the letter "h" in the photo to get an idea of the size differences that can occur—so there is a higher amount of culling than with the Japanese manufacturers.
Chinese 8/0 seed beads:
Major US distributor: Darice. These are the seed beads your are most likely to find at "big box" craft stores like Michael's, AC Moore, Hobby Lobby, or Joann Fabric.
Size of sample: 1 1/16 inch=27 mm in length, 7 to 8mm in diameter
Notes: These beads were the least expensive beads in my sampling, and the reason why should be obvious. The sizes are very uneven and there were a high percentage that were broken or otherwise unusable. This sample also shows the problem with metallic finishes. Unless they are duracoat or permanently galvanized, metallic finishes can rub off while working with the beads. This is true not matter the manufacturer, it just so happened that the only 8/0 Chinese beads I could find showed this effect. For more information on bead finishes, see these Beading Daily articles--Part One, Part Two.
8/0 tube beads
The above photo shows 8/0 hex beads, where a glass tube has six sides cut into it before being cut into beads and 8/0 Miyuki Delica cylinder beads. Hex beads are made by both Czech and Japanese manufacturers, the ones in my sample are of Czech origin.
8/0 hex beads:
Major US distributor: Hex beads are made by Miyuki, Toho, and Czech manufacturers.
Size of sample: 7/8 inch=22 mm in length, 7mm in diameter
Notes on sample: Even from the Japanese manufacturers hex beads tend to be uneven in length.
8/0 Miyuki Delica seed beads:
Major US distributor: Same as Miyuki round beads, although this size Delica is less commonly found in bead stores.
Size of sample: 1 inch=25 mm in length, 7mm in diameter
Notes on sample: Delica beads are probably the most precicely cut and manufactured seed beads in the world. Their cylindrical shape is designed for loom beadwork and bead stitches like peyote, but I find them to make a nice braided piece as well.
Another view of the main sample: