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When I started doing bead embroidery patterns, I was totally clueless. All I had to go on were the amazing pictures of bead embroidery jewelry by people like Sherry Serafini and Heidi Kummli. There really weren’t any good, well-written instructions with tips and techniques for bead embroidery. So most of what I learned was through trial and error—lots and lots of errors!
ABOVE: Kinga Nichols creates bead art that is whimsical, unique, fun, colorful, and dynamic. Her designs are also wearable and make a statement!
Bead embroidery is similar to traditional embroidery in that it’s a secondary component of the fabric’s structure, creating unique and eye-catching patterns and designs that bring big texture and personality. Whether you want to learn how to put bead embroidery on clothing—and trust us, you’ll love seeing how decadent and beautiful your work looks after the fact!—or are looking for the best beaded embroidery tutorials and tips, don’t be deterred by the complex-looking patterns. Stick with us! We’re here to help you make your big bead visions a big reality.
If you want to know the secrets of making great bead embroidery, here are my top five to get you started. But be warned: once you start making gorgeous pieces, you won’t want to stop!
Top 5 Secrets for Great Bead Embroidery
1. The color of your medium matters.
In the beginning, I would get frustrated when the bright white of my beaded patterns medium would show through on my finished pieces. Using dark colors of beads was almost always a recipe for failure for me, and it was enough to make me want to give up. I eventually learned how to dye my white embroidery medium, but it was messy and took up way too much time.
Then last summer, I discovered Nicole’s Beadbacking, and ta-da! Problem solved! Not only do I love the thickness and durability of Nicole’s Beadbacking, I love that it’s a product made by a small business. And the beautiful colors inspire me to create pieces where I actually leave large portions of the bead embroidery medium showing through the stitching!
Read about our picks for the Top 5 Bead Embroidery Materials.
2. Don’t crowd your rows.
I think this is probably the mistake that almost everyone new to bead embroidery designs makes. Learning how to line up those rows can be tricky—you need to learn how to “see” where the thread path should go.
When I teach this technique, I usually show my students how to draw a light pencil lines on their bead embroidery medium that are approximately the same distance apart as the width of the beads they are using. If you don’t want to draw lines, try this technique:
- String your next set of beads, then push them down to where your thread is exiting.
- Pull your thread straight and line up those beads so that they are a comfortable distance away from the previous row. Look where the thread is coming out of the last bead you strung.
- Make a small point or dot on the medium at the exact point where the thread exits that last bead. Bring your needle straight down through that point to make your next stitch.
3. Keep your needle straight.
Did you know that the angle at which you stitch through your medium also makes a huge difference in how your beads lie within each row of bead embroidery? If you insert your needle at an angle through the medium, your beads will either be spaced too far apart or will bunch up against each other and make little bulges in your rows. Try as hard as you can to keep your needle exactly perpendicular as you make each stitch to keep your rows of seed beads nice and even in your patterns.
4. Reinforce each row of bead embroidery.
If your beaded embroidery row looks a little wonky, never fear. Try running your thread through the beads once or twice after you finish each row. The extra thread will help fill up those bead holes and make them line up straight like good little seed bead soldiers!
5. Practice your tension.
How tightly you stitch those beads down in each row also makes a big difference in your finished piece. Stitching too tightly will cause your medium to buckle and pucker, and will make it nearly impossible to add the leather or imitation suede backing properly. Stitching too loosely will, obviously, cause problems in getting your beads to lie straight, no matter how many times you reinforce.
As a beader, I tend to naturally bead with a tight tension, so it took a lot of practice for me to learn how to adjust my tension.
Branch Out With New Bead Embroidery Techniques
I was never a fan of traditional thread embroidery (ask my Girl Scout troop leader how many times I tried to learn how to do a French knot!). But now that I’m exploring its possibilities for jewelry making, I can definitely see the potential in traditional embroidery stitches when they’re used with beads. And lucky for me, the new FREE BEAD EMBROIDERY EBOOK gives me dozens of new stitch techniques that I can use not just for jewelry, but for adding a little touch of pizzazz to my clothing, accessories, and home decor items, too!
Do you have a secret for making great bead embroidery designs? What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started? Share your tips and secrets here on the Interweave blog!