For seasoned jewellery makers, rocaille beads are a must-have. These small, round, glass beads are even in size and are durable, thus perfect for craft use. Rocaille beads are also called seed beads, mostly because of their size and shape. These beads are dual-coloured, and the versatile reflection between beads of the same colour creates multifaceted jewellery.
Rocaille means "uneven surface" in French. Originally the beads were irregular in shape, thus the term "rocaille." They were first used in 1647 by the French for trading with Africans and other colonies, as well as with Native Americans for furs. The colourful beads were used by Native Americans to decorate clothes and even weapons. After 1900, when tourist traffic increased on reservations, bead-working increased to create pieces for sale. Beadweaving is still popular today around the world, as supplies are readily accessible.
Rocaille beads come in a wide variety of colours and finishes and are available from 1.3mm in diameter to 6mm. The inside of the glass bead is a different colour than the outside; traditionally it was silver, but now it's available in a variety of colours. Although all rocaille beads are seed beads, not all seed beads are rocailles; the difference is in the glass construction of the rocaille beads. The outside sheen, either clear or iridescent, creates a unique finish for each bead.
There are two types of rocaille beads: round-holed and square-holed. The round are traditional rocailles, but recently manufacturers have been bevelling the inside edges. This creates further dimension to the bead's colour by creating angles for the exterior finishes to reflect upon.
Beadweaving is the primary use for rocaille beads. Beadweavers use looms to thread beads, and the end result is a tightly woven piece of jewerly. For bigger pieces, a loom isn't needed, and the beadwork is called needleweaving. These pieces can decorate clothing or items around the house, like lampshades.
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