Beads, shiny beads

This is a great shot of how my coffee table currently looks. Beads, beads, beads, a marked-up temari, embroidery cases and the V&A’s latest magazine that I thoroughly blame for causing the bead situation in the first place. They have a Fabergé exhibition coming up soon and so had the most wonderful jewel-encrusted piece on the front cover which left my inner magpie hankering for shiny things…

On the ‘list of things I have wanted to do forever’ is playing around a bit more with bead embroidery. I love shiny and ostentatious embroidery and half the fun of textile art is playing with the wonderland out there of colours, textures and effects. Beads come in such a treasure trove of types and colours and do feel like the ultimate indulgence for that!

Playing around usually means sampling which is one thing I’m really terrible and making myself do. I look at Mary Corbet’s samplers works of art and think they look like fun projects rather than just doodling but when it comes down to putting down the stitches myself I am intimidated by the lack of plan and it end ends up on the unfinished pile.

One idea I had a while ago was using small card designs as a way of sampling – it was a good way to make projects not too much of a time commitment as it is heart-breaking when something doesn’t look ‘quite right’ and let’s face it, while the design process is rarely perfect, it is usually where a few bad ideas get weeded out. It turns out said card blanks have ended up being a staple of my machine embroidery work, the golden moment for some hand embroidery hadn’t quite come about.

I have some cards with 4, 4 x 4 cm squares that I thought would be really cool for this type of sampling and so decided what I would do is try a different stitch type and colour in each quadrant. It turns out I own significantly fewer beads than I thought (and to my horror, even fewer sequins!) so there was a restricted range to work with.

I ended up using some stitches from the RSN’s Bead Embroidery book – which it turns out is a great book for ideas and stitch illustrations but not the easiest one to work with. I’ll post a full review at some point. For each quadrant, I went for a particular type of stitch, with two to contain lots of seed stitching with a single heavier stitch line and the others to have several rows of the same types but with different kinds of beads.

The fabric is a gorgeous Khadi fabric from The Cloth Shop that of course seem to have stopped doing it. It’s very irregular as you can see from the close ups but a similar weight to medium weight calico, so supports the stitching well with no backing. The uneven weave does occasionally pose a few challenges but I am smitten with this colour and I think having a highly uneven fabric base to work with also works well for a more ‘free’ type of stitching.

This was a lot of fun to do. Bead embroidery just looks fantastic, full stop, no matter what you do with the placement or how you get it wrong. Shiny things are shiny and wonderful regardless. I would say the one complexity over thread embroidery is thinking about how to best secure the beads, particularly if you’re making a garment or something where the embroidery will need to ‘live’. This is fun because you can create lots of interesting layered and textured effects but requires some extra engineering.

The purple row is dodgy pseudo-detatched chain with 7 small beads on the loop part. The one problem I had is that many of the beads I have were bought in Sapporo in a craft shop that was closing down and so are various assorted unlabelled bags so I am not completely confident on my bead sizes and don’t have a good set of calibration references to work against. Take all quoted numbers with a pinch of salt. I think these are seed or round rocailles in 15/0. Needles were a size 12 John James bead embroidery which worked very well with the mystery probably Nymo beading thread.

The purple and white are Delica size 11/0 in a longer detatched chain with the two parts in the different colours. The Delica beads are square, which works beautifully for beadweaving but can give a jaunty look for the embroidery. I deliberately tried to create a sense of flow and movement in the line to match with this. I like it but I’m not sure if it falls into ‘too subtle to look intentional and not like a mistake’.

The blue section is all done in variants of backstitch. The central line is a whipped back stitch but can I just say trying to lay bugle beads with backstitch is a royal pain to get the spacing right. I worked this one with two needles as I went and it’s seed beads (probably 11/0) in sets of four for the whipping. Really easy to do and I love the final effect. So much fun you could have with this one! The sequin line is just backstitched sequins with overly crowded beads on top (a mixture of the seed beads in the other two motifs in this quadrant) which gives it the irregular look. The other line is a woven backstitch, again with a partially raised main line of backstitch by deliberately packing the beads too close. Lots of fun to do and deceptively simple, though I would recommend adding in some extra securing stitches to keep everything from running around too freely.

The green is all stem stitch and I can confirm that stem stitch isn’t the best combination with beads. It feels clunky and unnatural and is a real pain to keep the stitch angle consistent as you can see from my middle row that just goes for a walk towards the end. I have no idea if I managed to follow the semi-incomprehensible instructions for the sequinned row and given the stitching doesn’t really look consistent I assume not but I do love the wild wiggly caterpillar effect that is going on unintentionally. The bugle and seed beam (8/0) was refreshingly simple, though again tricky to really  keep that angle in a way that isn’t the case with just thread.

I’ve got some more work to do on this one but I wanted to try and keep a semi-decent record for myself as otherwise I’ll forget all the cool effects I did and didn’t achieve. It was definitely very fun to stitch and the chain and backstitching was refreshingly straightforward. I love how the more organic and free stitches do just look really interesting though, beads definitely lend themselves to experimentation well. Going to be interesting to get this one mounted in the card… but in the meantime, pretty shinies!

8 thoughts on “Beads, shiny beads

    • I found some weird method of partially sticking the needle through the fabric (but not passing the eye through) and poking the bead and trying to lever it as flat as possible was a good estimation but I think going forwards is even more straightforward!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. […] of the card blanks I bought has this ‘window’ design that I thought would be perfect for small sampled embroidery pieces… but what about filling the window with embroidered stained glass? I can’t claim credit for the […]


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