So…in lieu of going to the Walnut Creek Bead & Design show this weekend, I found myself in San Francisco and took the opportunity to look inside General Bead, a store I’ve long known about and never visited. I have checked out their website, but I don’t remember having come away from it with a good feeling. I decided to look into their physical storefront today.
The store itself was on Minna, in the South of Market (SoMa) area. Minna in this area is kind of…run-down. The storefront almost seems to be off of an alley (the alley being Minna itself), in a way which very much reminded me of Mr. Zebra off of Telegraph in Berkeley (down to the spray-painted facade…and the local aroma, common to most urban areas here, which…anyone who lives here will know).
On going in, we were immediately greeted by an employee, who explained the method for ordering materials. This was kind. It was also nice that the store inside is not as modest as the storefront would suggest. In particular, they have a lot of Czech seed beads, in bags and in hanks. However, most of the stock is behind the counter and not accessible to the public. One fills out a form and the staff retrieve the items, which disallows close inspection prior to purchase.
It was noticeable that they had barely any multi-hole beads (though I did find some “Piggy” beads — just not in colors I would want), which is something that I can understand, as it’s difficult to tell which shape will be in demand at any one time (and new shapes are being continually introduced). I wouldn’t be surprised if trying to keep up with the multi-hole bead craze put some of the bead stores I’ve known (particularly Baubles & Beads, in Berkeley), out of business.
And, okay, I’m just going to put it out here right now: one of the packs of beads I got from them has what looks like part of the carapace of the abdomen, and two legs, of some kind of bug. I don’t want to post an image. I don’t want to remember it. At first I thought that it was a scale of a tiny pine cone. Then I identified two shed legs inside the package. So…thaaat is the gross part that I’ve been trying not to talk about so soon, but I might forget about it if I don’t mention it now.
But to be understanding, a lot of these beads came out of bulk packages behind the counter, in boxes, to be sealed up on exit in take-home packs…it would be incredibly easy for insects to live out their entire lives back there. Eating cardboard and stuff. Considering what the surrounding area looked like, I wasn’t entirely surprised…
That’s not to say that I didn’t like the experience, once inside the store. That’s to say that there are some bug issues, likely arising from the location.
I did take that hank of beads out (this was sealed at the store), and found a bunch of dust left behind inside the package. Then I went and got a fine plastic colander and bowl set that I purchased from the small Asian dollar store for $2 before it closed, and I used that as a large wash basin to wash the entire hank of beads. In Dawn dishwashing detergent. Twice.
I probably could have done more, but I passed the point of, “squeaky clean,” to the point that the oil from my hands began rubbing off on the beads. Because I am somewhat paranoid about germs…I didn’t want to wash these things until my hands cracked. There’s a fine line between being clean, and being so germ-phobic that one inadvertently exposes oneself to more than one has to.
These were rinsed many times, probably for about as long as I washed them, or longer.
Then I took them and put them in a little yogurt cup with some soft disposable hand towels, where they will be drying until at least tomorrow. I don’t recall having washed an entire hank of beads in this way in quite a long time, if I ever have at all. However, this is the third cup of beads I’ve washed, tonight.
Another was a set of what appear to be White Heart 4mm round druks from Michaels; that is, round beads with a white core (visible at the drill holes) and something red on the outside (red glass? a layer of dye?), which did bleed (brownish) a little. (Not all druks are white at the core; this is the first time I have bought a set like this, and it was accidental. I did buy actual solid-color transparent red druks, today. The thing is, it’s hard to tell that they’re red, because [as is my constant lament] the color is so intense. The White Hearts, on the other hand, are visibly red, which is why I got them.) I had set these aside primarily because I wasn’t sure if they were colorfast, but they’re seeming to hold up well.
The other wash round, this time, was two sets of Brown Iris Czech Ring beads (from General Bead), which I have since determined cannot be used with the inside of the hole, visible. This is largely because the beads themselves are not finished on the insides of the holes. The outside edges are fine. The inside edges are not. On top of that, I’ve noticed some crazing on the surface of most of these beads, probably from internal stress on the glass. They’ll just have to be used with that in mind. I have a use for them; I largely washed them because sometimes beads will just get dust on them, and it’s hard to see what they actually look like.
I’ve bought Ring beads on two other occasions, and can’t recall if they were similarly unfinished on the insides. The Olivine-color ones, which are 9.5x3mm and which I got a long time ago, are relatively fine on the outside and inside, and not crazed, though they also do look a little frosted and rough in the center. The Black ones I have, which are 8×2.5mm, look a little less finished on the inside edges, and I can’t tell if there is any crazing, because they’re black.
The ones I got this time, which are Brown Iris (basically a multicolored metallic finish, but more durable than Galvanized finishes at least were,at one time), are 7.5×2.5mm. Now that they’re drying, they don’t look too bad; rather like unfinished metal; but they still look unfinished, like the inside is not meant to be seen.
The big thing that I like about General Bead is its selection of size 6/0 Czech seed beads, which have been a bit difficult to find locally since Baubles & Beads went under. I believe the smallest pack of these available is 50 grams, which is about twice the size of a B&B vial (which I believe was 22 grams, though I’m not sure, especially as I don’t think it was noted at the store, and I don’t have a gram scale); the cost is also very decent, at around $3.50 for most of the 6/0 packs I bought. So that’s basically like paying $1.75 for a 25-gram tube (this could be the reason Yelp lists General Bead with only one “$” out of a possible “$$$$”).
The drawback I can see here is that a lot of their stock is either solid-color and opaque, or solid-color and transparent, without much funny surface treatment like Vitrail or Celsian or Apollo, or foil- or color-lining. Not that I miss the color-lining. :) However, transparent beads (even large ones) have a tendency to drop back in compositions. Solids tend to advance, as do metal-lined beads. But still, it is nice to have some subtle effects…like the Copper-Lined Rose Matte (Aurora Borealis?) beads I left there because I was pretty sure they were dyed.
I have read a lot of things about surface treatments not being permanent on Czech seed beads, however (and have had this issue before with Picasso beads, which are mottled from a surface treatment [some of which rubbed off, especially on my thread, while others did not]), so this could be a durability issue.
They did have some nice finds there, though, like bobbins of Super-Lon beading thread and Conso beading thread. I picked up a sample of each, to see if I like working with either. Also, there are odd sizes of Czech seed beads below size 6/0, almost down to the size of freakin’ sand; where you go, “how does anyone see these/fit a needle through these?” Their selection of druks and Fire-Polished beads is decent. They also have — man! — glass cabochons! In different colors! I picked up a few of these, just to practice bead embroidered bezels.
With that, I think I’m gonna go, for now. I realize I haven’t put up photos…I will either post a separate entry with photos, or come back to this entry and insert photos, later. I should have time tomorrow, before the sun sets.