I went to Zen Chu on Petaling Street, Glister Fashion and Beading DIY on Jln Tun HS Lee, and Macy's on Jln Sultan. There used to be another store, Wan Fatt, but it has now closed down.
Zen Chu had lampwork glass beads, which the other places didn't have. However, it didn't have a wide variety (for silver foil ones, the 12mm flat round beads were only available in one colour, but they had ovals in a variety of colours. No squares, cubes, rounds, or hearts). Most of the lampwork glass beads have inlaid flowers, if you like that sort of thing. They also had cat's eye beads, which the others didn't have. Their selection of charms, spacers, beadcaps and links/connecters is limited (a lot of Pandora beads/charms, though, if you're into that, and sliding charms for flat bracelets).
Glister Fashion had shell beads, which the others didn't have, and by this I mean the rhombus type of shell beads, like so:
Image is, obviously, from Pandahall.com
They also had porcelain beads, which again the others didn't have -- although they didn't have very many of those. And they sold chain off spools, more types of chain than the other two places (Zen Chu only seemed to have pre-cut chain, not bought off a spool). Another plus point: they have gold-filled findings if you are looking for those, and CRIMP PLIERS -- I had despaired of finding those in Malaysia! -- and wigjig thingies under the Artistic Wire brand, if you are into working with wire. They have quite a lot of metal beads (spacers, etc.) but I didn't look at those closely because it was the first shop I visited and I didn't think the prices were all that cheap. I planned to go back, but by the time I had finished at Zen Chu (the last shop I visited), it was 6pm and Glister had closed.
Beading DIY mainly focuses on pearls and gemstones. They have all kinds of semi-precious stones. I bought red coral (dyed) beads in three sizes, lapis lazuli beads, black line agate faceted oval beads (15x20mm), hematite oval twist beads (10x15mm), mookaite beads, and a strand each of turquoise, tiger eye, red coral, amethyst, citrine and lapis lazuli chips. Total cost came up to RM195. They had a very limited amount of metal beads and findings.
All three had the usual glass crystal bicones, faceted glass rondelles and faceted round glass beads, and both Zen Chu and Glister had faux pearls -- Glister also had real ones. In fact, both Zen Chu and Glister also had a few semi-precious stones, but I didn't look closely at the price. In Glister it was because I didn't actually intend to buy gemstones to begin with (I know you are laughing); in Zen Chu it was because I had already bought so many in Beading DIY!
Macy's only has plastic beads. Even their supposedly wooden beads are labelled "Wood plastic beads". They are the place to go to for seed beads, though. They have seed beads in all the colours and sizes you could want. Unfortunately, most of the packets aren't clearly labelled, so you will have to guess the size by looking at the beads. They have hardly any charms, metal beads or findings.
BUT they have E-6000, an adhesive which many jewellery makers swear by (I discovered this through Google). E-6000 is used to glue cabochons onto (into?) bezels and attach other jewellery parts together which otherwise can't be fastened securely, and it is reknowned to have amazing bonding power -- a stone affixed with E-6000 will never fall out of its setting. At least, that's what a lot of jewellery designers have said; they swear by it.
Problems: In all three places, labelling of the items was very poor. When I started jewellery-making about a month ago, I bought all my stuff online. The very first place I went to was local website beading.my, which sells all the basics and a lot more besides. What I like about beading.my is that everything is clearly labelled. If it's silver-plated, they tell you it's silver-plated. If it's silver-filled, they tell you it's silver-filled. They even tell you whether it's silver-plated brass, silver-plated iron, or silver-plated pewter. They give you all the necessary measurements, including the size of the bead hole. I always know exactly what I'm getting.
In all the above brick-and-mortar shops, nowhere could I find such detailed information about the beads and findings I was looking at. I had no clue what materials they were made of, or what sizes they were. In Zen Chu, the headpins and eyepins were labelled by length but not by gauge. The guy said you have to look at the pricing, and if two packets are the same length but different price, then the more expensive one is a lower gauge (thicker). But I still wouldn't know what the diameter is. This is important, as all you need is for the headpin to be just 0.1mm thicker and it may not be able to go through certain beads because their holes are so small. That has happened to me before. On beading.my I know exactly how thick my headpins are going to be, which helps a lot.
If beading.my is so great, why did I check these stores out? Why not just stick with beading.my? Well, for one thing, it's good to have alternatives :) And while beading.my does have a variety of metal beads and charms, I feel it is limited in terms of bead caps and spacers. Plus, the variety of glass beads is moderate; for example, Czech glass beads are mainly available only in two shapes: faceted rounds or superduos. Unfaceted Czech rounds are only available in 4mm. "Chinese crystals" (faceted glass) are mainly available only in rondelle, round and tear-drop shapes -- at the time of writing, only four colours are available in 6x4mm ovals. They don't have cat's eye beads or crackle glass beads; neither do they have shell or mother-of-pearl items.
Basically, I want a greater variety of beads, especially different shapes and sizes, to make my jewellery more interesting. I've been poking around on Pandahall.com (based in China) and on that site they offer a huge variety of beads in all kinds of shapes and sizes, made from all kinds of different materials. I ordered a bunch of stuff from them and shipping cost one-quarter of the total amount I paid, but it was worth it. They sell in bulk, so you'll get stuff in huge quantities, but they have "mixed products" lots where they offer the same item in a mix of colours, so although you get 20 strands of, say, 6x4mm faceted rondelles, you get them in maybe 9 colours. It's a great way to build up your stock.
**(Having said that, I ordered hematite from them, and now I have a whole bunch! If you are looking for some hematite, please check out my offer at the bottom of this post.)
This, THIS is why you need beads in different shapes and sizes. Necklace by Teryn Ashley; see her tutorial over at Vintage Romance Style.
Don't get me wrong, I love beading.my and will probably continue to use them as my main supplier of findings, especially for all the basics, plus connectors/links and charms. They deliver very promptly, usually within two days of placing my order and making payment. Convenient and professional -- what more could you ask for?
Overall, I'm quite disappointed by the lack of variety of beads and spacers and bead caps in the stores I visited today. Also, all of them sold only ordinary monofilament thread (similar to nylon fishing line) which I had read is not suitable for beading -- especially bead weaving, and also stringing crystals, which have sharp edges and would easily fray the thread. However, I've read that there's a new type of bonded nylon thread which is better (stronger) than monofilament, and also used for fishing. The recommended brand is Firewire -- I got it from a fishing tackle store in Taman Mayang Jaya in PJ, but you can also get it on beading.my. The fishing store only had it in smoke (dark grey) or moss green, and it was RM45.10 (6lb test, 114m spool). Beading.my offers it in clear for RM35, 50m spool. I guess if you're making things just for fun, it's okay to use monofilament thread, but I'm a believer in using good quality materials. To me, if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing right. Plus, I might eventually want to sell my creations :p I can't sell things not made with quality materials!
Apart from bonded or fused nylon thread, you can also use beading wire for stringing beads. This is also available on beading.my. Beading wire, so google tells me, consists of strands of wire woven together and covered by nylon, thus ensuring the "thread" is tough and lasting. It's wire but it's very flexible and can still be knotted like a thread. You're recommended to use 19-strand beading wire because 7-strand can be a bit stiff (good for chokers, I hear). Apparently, the more strands it has, the more flexible it will be.
Other stores. I didn't manage to go to K&K Crystal Sdn Bhd, which is located in GM Plaza along Lorong Haji Taib 5 (near Chow Kit), or Syarikat Bunga Reben, either on Jln TAR or or Plaza City One along Jln Munshi Abdullah. Those will have to wait for another day.
By the way, if anybody needs hematite, I have 15 strands of oval twists 8x5mm (51pcs/strand) and 10 strands of drops 8x16mm (26pcs/strand). I'll probably never finish it all within my lifetime, so I'll be happy to trade or something. Contact me on gmail - wilfulsunflower.