What to do with that box of beads?
It depends what kinds of beads you have! Big? Small?

In the early days the 11th to 13th centuries -  small seed beads were more or less used on headgear and on lush embroidery pieces. Usually the embroidery was religious in nature (mitres, vestments, altar cloths) until the LATE 1700's when it became a ladylike pursuit.


Oftimes, it was on clothes, gloves, and even shoes of kings for state and official functions. The usual kinds of beads used were coral (dark red), pearl both freshwater and natural round sea ones but always small as far size. Most European countries had a natural supply of freshwater pearls from their rivers and those that didn't traded them with the ones that did. From what I have seen they were pretty prevalent as far as ecclesiastical garments.

Interestingly enough, the embroidery I have seen is almost -exclusively- German in the 11th-12th centuries. It was called Opus Tuetonicum from what I can find, and was meant to act as a sort of "faux" or pauper version of prized Byzantine enamels. A piece in 1200 Spain, but it is a multi-media hat with both armorial plates and beaded armorial charges, pearls and coral beads.


Black, green, violet purple, red, scarlet, several shades of green and blue and BRIGHT sunflower yellow (Believe it or not) are all period colors! Beads found were both clear and opaque, I have not found any signs of silver lined or Rochailles thus far, I hear they were making this variety of bead in the larger trade styles, also called foil lined. I just haven't seen them in period in a seed size. Their seed beads seem to be slightly different than our current plain seed bead, more like tiny bugles - looking very much like broken canes or tubes of glass versus the rounded smoothed ones we have today. But, I have found the latter kind more frequently than not. If you have any check 3 cut-seed beads, just like those....

Other than coral and pearls and the occasional early period ruby or emerald. I haven't seen much use of "gemstone beads" like  tiny lapis, or hematite, as many scadians do, they used glass, that was expensive enough as it was I'm sure.


Besides clerical clothing, I find seed beads most commonly in paintings on the heads or ladies - on hats, headgear, filets, padded rolls until the late1400's.

In the Elizabethan era it was mainly pearls used on costumes to stud patterns of fabric - not seeds.One of my biggest pet peeves is Eliz garb with seed beads all over it. They wouldn't have done it, it would have been (and is) too understated, and small. Eliz garb is about extravagance and dripping in excess. Something as small as a seed bead would have been lost on the big intricate fabric designs they had available to them.

I find in garb to approach period look, bigger is better. They used wide trims, in bold colors and rich fabrics, big patterns, big pearls. Big big big.


As far a necklaces, it is usually larger beads until the Burgundian era when they started making big gaudy wide collars of fine seed beads, sometimes using pearls and other beads.

If you want to do real period stuff I suggest headgear or embroidery. Believe it or not embroidery is sturdy and very easy! Read how next!



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