The aught sizing system is probably one of the things that frustrates new beaders the most, along with the first few rows of peyote stitch. Although it’s easy enough to remember that the larger the number, the smaller the bead, even seasoned beaders can get confused sometimes. After working with beads for a while, we start to associate their aught numbers to them and all is fine, until we come across a size that we don’t use very often. While I was putting this post together, I had a moment where I couldn’t remember if 7/o comes before or after 8/o.
The word aught – meaning null, or nothing – is sometimes used to size things that are smaller or larger than standard. A product might come in sizes with regular integers as well as aughts. Seed beads are always and – as far as we know – have always been sized entirely with aughts. Though it’s not completely confirmed, the general story is that each size refers to how many beads will fit into an inch when lined up side by side, with the holes facing up. If true, that rule was created many, many decades ago. Although the overall process for making seed beads hasn’t changed much, standards have, and there are a lot more seed bead makers in the world today.
I decided to test out the aught sizing theory, and compare how each bead size measures up to an inch, as well as each other. I gathered one color of each size in every brand I had available, and counted out the quantities to match each – fifteen 15/os, eight 8/os, etc.
I wasn’t surprised that the 15/os didn’t quite measure up. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any of the beads to match their size exactly. What’s interesting is just how close these beads came to making the full inch length. Spoiler alert: almost no other bead sizes came quite as close.
Preciosa 11/o and Toho 11/o
Another interesting development was that all of the 11/o seed beads came in at almost exactly the same length. The TOHOs are a little bit longer, which isn’t surprising since they tend to be a bit on the bulky side. Otherwise these seed beads were all pretty much the same when lined up this way, even though they can seem drastically different in actual beadwork.
Matsuno 11/o and Delica 11/o
I included 11/o Delicas in the test, even though they are sized by a completely different scale than round seed beads or rocailles. I thought it would be interesting to see the difference, and since I happen to have some, why not? It’s interesting to see just how diminutive they are next to round seed beads of the same size.
Vintage Czech 10/o and Matsuno Dyna-mites 8/o
I only had white-hearts in size 10/o, and I wish that I had a few more styles to test out. After only 3 sizes, a pattern seems to emerge. Except for the Delicas, each size seems to get progressively further away from the 1 inch length as we go up. What makes this very interesting is that these particular 10/o seed beads are vintage – which could mean that bead sizes haven’t changed much in the past 50 years or so. It makes one wonder just when the 1 inch standard fell by the wayside.
Preciosa 8/o and TOHO 8/o
The 8/o seed beads sort of smashed the reduction trend, as each brand came pretty close to the 1 inch mark. Unlike all of the other sizes so far, there was less than a full bead’s length left to fill. Once again, all 3 brands came in at almost exactly the same length.
Preciosa 7/o and TOHO 6/o
The 7/o beads so far have the record for being the closest match. It almost seems that the shrinking trend in the smaller beads has reversed for the larger ones. The inconsistency seems to make the entire theory of aught sizing origins rather unusual. Imagine what our seed beads would look like if they all followed the 1-inch standard!
Preciosa 6/o and Matsuno Dyna-mites 6/o
Finally we have the 6/o seed beads. This group was the only one with a noticeable size difference between brands. It could be argued that accuracy is more important with the smaller bead sizes, as they tend to be used in large quantities at close quarters. On the other hand, it’s really hard to make a nice Cellini spiral if your 6/o beads are way too big.
How did you feel about aught sizing when you started beadweaving? Which size is your favorite?
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