Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Heartbreak of Bead Soup or...

Every Beader Should Know a Soil Scientist and a Bored Child

One look at my office (or my house, for that matter) will tell you that I am not a paragon of neatness. Predictably, my beading
workspace is a jumble of bead containers. Since I have the attention span of a gnat, I tend to flit from one color scheme to another, which only makes the jumble worse. But of greater consequence is that it contributes to that bane of beaders – bead soup.

While I do make some (OK, not very much) effort to corral beads into their containers as I finish with them, I inevitably allow a hodgepodge to accumulate around the edges of my beading tray. Every so often, I pour the buildup into a Ziploc bag. As the bag gets heavier, so does my guilt. Delicas aren't cheap, and bead soup seems like such a careless squandering of resources.

When I hefted my Ziploc bag of bead soup onto the postal scale at work, I was shocked. More than half a pound. That translates to almost 300 grams. Think of the per gram cost of Delicas. Yikes!

Of course, the bead soup wasn't all Delicas but rather a mix of sizes and types. It occurred to me that there had to be some way to run the soup through a sieve and at least separate out the sizes. But where to find such a thing? A kitchen strainer was too fine. A colander was too big. After doing a bit of poking around on the web, I discovered that sieves are A) quite
expensive and B) a tool commonly used by soil scientists.

Aha! My office suite mate is a soil scientist (whose wife is a beader – how fortuitous!). I told Nels my idea and he promptly trotted off to the soils lab and brought me a stack of eight nested sieves. “Just pour the beads in the top,” he said. I
did, and within a few seconds, I had the beads sorted into three batches, ranging from 6/0s and 8/0s down to the Delicas and 14/0s.

Of course, the colors were still mixed, but it was progress nonetheless. At that moment, another of my work colleagues (a biochemist) mentioned that she would have her seven-year-old daughter Alex with her at work for the next few days. “Do you have any little tasks that might occupy her?” Oh, boy, did I ever!

The next day, I set Alex up with a bead mat, scoop and tweezers. Her mom raided her lab for a bunch of “weigh boats,” which
are little square trays just perfect for beads, and Alex happily spent the day sorting. By the end of the day, she'd worked her way through about half of the bag of largest beads and had done an impressive job categorizing. (I do plan to pay her, by the way!)

The next time I'm confronted with a bag of bead soup, I may not have such excellent resources available to me. And we all know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I'm curious about how other beaders deal with this. I hope there are some creative solutions out there that will work even for the organizationally-challenged.

Article by Frances of bebop beads.


  1. i have a little "catch all" tray for wire, gemstones,findings,and of course delicas. i used to try to be good and keep it all separated, but i work at a small writing desk in our hallway, so that didn't last long. i usually take out the gemstones and any big beads and findings i can save, but after a few months i say a little prayer of offering to the bead gods and into the trash it all goes. i used to feel guilty, but not any more. days digging through bead soup are days not spent beading.

  2. I am laughing, yet filled with admiration at your ingenuity.

    I have bead soup but no little kids to sort it! I keep thinking I will use it all on one little bottle and see what it looks like, but somehow I never get around to doing it. I just keep scooping the leftover beads into the soup! Lovely post, thanks for writing it!

  3. You would hate me - I have a tendency to turn most of my seed bead stash into 'bead soup' as I love to make freeform, and the only way to ensure a truly random distribution of colours throughout a whole piece is to mix up a big batch of bead soup before I start and then work with a spoonful at a time so I can't subconsciously pick more of one colour than another. I almost always overestimate, but that doesn't matter, I have lots of ziplock bags of different colour schemes and eventually they all get recycled into new mixtures!
    I will admit, I do love sorting beads though, it's very therapeutic - but I rarely indulge in it as it takes time I don't have, and chances are I'll end up mixing the results into another 'soup' anyway!

  4. Am I a freak of beading nature?! I have no bead soup!

    I work my projects on a long skinny tray with a cloth on it. If I get tired of that project before I finish it, I put the cloth with the beads on my 'art table' - said table has three unfinished projects on it now. A new cloth goes on the tray and I can start the next project.

    When I actually finish something, I separate the beads and put them back onto their containers.

    I usually work with small piles of beads, but any leftovers go back into their little flip top containers.

    And don't think I'm organized either, I'm a mess! There are so many supplies on my art table, I can't work at it, but there's no bead soup.

    I think I may be missing something!! LOL!

  5. I put my daughter and her girlfriend to work for a couple of days and they bagged up size 8's and 11's and I gave them all to her friend along with a bunch of clasps and earwires. There were probably a couple of hundred grams, but oh well.

  6. I do freeform with some of it and th rest gets combined aith larger beads in these long strand necklaces that I make. They can be worn many different ways, go with anything and sell like mad at my home parties.

    I love your idea too though, to bad we don't all have soil trays and kids at our disposal!

  7. Loved the article. I might be in trouble here, but I MAKE soup!! I love all of the colors mixed together,swirling into to its own unique piece. I do have a random box that gets cleaned out every few months when we need to get to the kitchen island!!

  8. Thanks for sharing this article. I have my own bead soup stash. As a Gemini, I go from super organized to "devil may care" on a dime! However, I could never bring myself to purposely throw a single bead away! I have yet to make a "bead soup" item, but someday I will! Meanwhile, I'll just continue to add to the bowl!

  9. I love it, this was a great article :)
    I usually just pick out colours I need later on, or make something from the mix myself. Like a multi-coloured daisy chain for a special little girl.

  10. I've been traveling so much lately, and wanting to take my materials with me, that thus far I've managed to keep things pretty well organized (which is really odd for me.)

    Sometimes, if I need to pack up and go real quick after I've finished a project, I'll dump all of the beads into one little ziploc - this keeps my sorting to just the beads from that project, instead of combining leftovers from multiple projects.

  11. I don,t have a lot of bead soup any more.I made it a rule quite awhile back to sort each and every little bead into its proper container before i allow myself to start a new project.I also try to keep beads seperated as i work.
    this strategy doesnt always work out perfectly but it sure cuts down on the mess.

  12. I love it! Susan, you are not a freak of beading nature as I don't have bead soup either. I've learned it's easier to do it as I go than to end up with 1/2 a pound of bead soup! :)

  13. No bead soup for me either. I'm the Queen of Neat, Tidy and Orderly. Must be because my moon is in Virgo. You've seen the tray I bead from in my blog and when I'm done...the beads all go back into their own individual containers. I'm a bit compulsive about it, but it's satisfying for me to work this way.

  14. What beautiful work with so much detail!

  15. I have a paper cup that the beads just cover the bottom of the cup Only because of my first custom bracelet was of a co-workers daughter and I kept taking it apart. SOme day I will make and oops bracelet with them.

  16. Wonderful piece, great story, and a solution only a left-brainer could provide for such a right-brainer problem!

    Like a few others here, I only have intentional bead soup, for which I have specifically developed and refined the recipes :D Oh, okay, that's not completely true, I do have three bags of blues, greens, and reds that are mixes of various seed and glass beads that I used for lariats a two years ago.

  17. I have no bead soup either :(

    Great article though and lots of interesting comments!

  18. I am still laughing over this article.

    My bead soup is usually generated when I tip over my bead dishes as I'm working. I spend an hour on my hands and knees picking them out of the carpet! So, my bead soup also includes carpet fuzz. I'm usually so turned off by the result that it sits on my table for a few weeks until my guilt takes over and I pick out all the fuzz and resort the beads.

    I consider it part of my artistic process now, since I spill beads so often!

  19. Great story! I wish I was lucky enough to have such great resources to help! I guess I'm in the minority - as I tend to put all of my beads back in their containers when I'm done with a project. Now, of course, the beads that end up on the floor due to human - or feline - intervention, well those go into a small herb jar for future consideration.

  20. This was a great article and all the responses are so good, too!

    I have managed to keep my beading supplies fairly compact and they sit by a chair in my livingroom unless they are traveling. I work on a lap table out of flat metal tin boxes (like a cd or gift card comes in) that are lined with polyester felt. I keep my beads mostly in plastic tubes with screw on lids, sorted in ziplocks by color.

    When working on a project I dump the colors in piles in a tin and pick the color I want as needed. If I finish the project and still have a lot of beads in the tin I might start another project in the same color family or just add another color and start new. Or I will dump the soup into an empty tube or even pour it into the bottom of the appropriate color ziplock containing tubes.

    This morning I finished a bracelet with left over tube of soup and it turned out great, so I will be doing this more!

  21. Great article! and I'm so glad I take the time once a month to sort out any "mixes" so my bead soup is still really small :-) I admire your ingenuity, patience and perseverance... I would have given up :-)

  22. I have many, many, many bags of bead soup.

    My beads at the end of projects goes into a big bag, then rather than sorting that into sizes,and colours etc, I only sort into colours.

    That way, I have random bags of specific coloured beads available. If it turns out that the leftovers of a project are all in the blues, it gets tossed into the blue bag directly.

    when the colour bags get close to being full, I create a freeform project in that colour scheme. Or, if I'm working on a project and only need one or two beads in a certain colour, I go to my handy bead soup stash rather than anywhere else.

    I'm getting the sense that I'm in a minority when I say that I like working from a bead soup... at least for more freestyle projects.

  23. Lol yeah im crazy...I BUY BEAD SOUP and then separate the colors shaped and sizes lol they are so much cheaper that way! Not to mention you may end up with beads you never would have purchased otherwise but end up falling in love with them! as well as the awesome new and interesting color combos you discover. Along the way :-) I truly love my beads and don't mind spending a little extra time caring for them in order to obtain a larger and more varied collection of them!