Bead embroidery is the technique of making designs on fabric using beads instead of, or in addition to, embroidery thread. The beads are attached with either a tough beading thread or several strands of standard embroidery thread. A variety of knots and stitches, usually those that are also used in traditional embroidery, are used to hold the beads in place. Beaded designs have a lot of appeal because they are three-dimensional and the beads provide a rich, varied texture that can’t be obtained with conventional embroidery.
Any fabric can be used for bead embroidery. Backing will often need to be applied to provide adequate support for the weight of the beads. The fabric should be placed in an embroidery hoop or similar device that can hold, but not stretch, the material. For a stand-alone design, such as a bracelet or a necklace, use very heavy material such as leather or suede as backing; a lighter backing will work for other material. The completed design is either created directly on the desired article or cut out and worn alone or stitched to another item.
When choosing what needle to use, the main requirement is that it is able to fit through the hole on the beads. Tiny seed beads require a small, sharp needle, while tube beads, pony beads and other beads with a relatively large hole allow the use of a much larger needle. It is always possible to use multiple needles to accommodate work with various sizes of beads.
Many people who do bead embroidery use patterns that are either ironed or drawn on the fabric. Iron-on patterns can be purchased from craft or fabric stores. They don’t have to be specifically intended for bead embroidery, because any design meant to be applied to fabric will work. Patterns can also be drawn freehand on the fabric with a pencil or disappearing marker. The main purpose is to give the beader a guide for the project.
Virtually any kind of beads can be used for bead embroidery. When working with beads, different sizes, colors and styles are used to create different effects. Faceted beads give a geometric look while tube beads fill in shapes or outline areas of the pattern. Smaller, round beads are often attached in groups of three or four and are used to create spirals, circles and other free-flowing designs. It ultimately is an artistic decision made by the beader as to what kinds and colors of beads to use.