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Bead Embroidery for Embellishment

Bead embroidery is a nice way to add extra dimension and detail for the textured embellishment of cloth.

Beads, buttons, or charms can be part of the finishing process and added on top of stitching at the end, or they can be integrated beadwork as the design is stitched to create a bead tapestry.

Types of Embellishments

  • Seed beads or rocailles are available in every color and finish you can imagine. Sizes commonly range from 15 (very small) to 6 (pony bead size). Whether written as 11, 11/0, or 11°, it all means size 11.
  • Drop beads are designed to hang down. Watch that the hole is at one end so it will hang from the textured embroidery properly.
  • Charms are usually made with the hole is at one end so they will hang properly. Make sure a charm is not too heavy or it could distort your bead embroidery over time when you hang the work to display.
  • Buttons can have holes on top or hidden on the back. Any style works, but a hole on the back can cause the button to droop forward even after it's attached.
  • Sequins can be overlapped in rows, but they are often secured individually with a tiny bead on top.

Bead Size Relative to Count

If you are integrating beads as you work on a charted design, it is best to match the bead to the fabric or canvas count. Use size 11 seed beads on 14 count aida and canvas. Use smaller size 15 seed beads on 11 count. Beads larger than the count size must be carefully spaced on alternating stitches or even farther apart.

Use needles that fit the beads. It's best to check that a bead passes over a needle before you thread it to stitch -- Trust me, I learned the hard way!

Beaded Cross Stitch

Work the first half of the cross stitch X. Add a bead to the thread and complete the second half of the X. Or you can do the half cross stitch and apply a bead on the first stroke. As always, be careful to consistently go in the same direction.

Beaded Needlepoint

On canvas, use the half cross stitch or tent stitch for bead embroidery. Apply one bead per stitch if they are sized properly. Large beads or charms need to be carefully spaced to avoid crowding.

Beaded Backstitch and Lines

Using beads that are the proper size for the fabric count or slightly smaller, work the backstitch and apply one bead with every stitch. Be careful to keep the tension even. A line can also be created by couching a string of beads. Couching means securing by looping over with a fine thread. This technique is often used to attach thick cords to the surface of a fabric. See an illustrated example of couching under crewel stitches.

Shepherd's Bush is known for using bead embroidery to embellish their designs. You can buy a prepackaged charm pack that includes various charms, beads, and buttons. They are designed to be used with the Christmas stocking patterns, but you could use them to embellish anything.

A Note on Safety

If you are adding beaded embroidery embellishments on a toy or blanket for a small child, please remember that beads and buttons are a choking hazard. Take a look at the crewel embroidery stitches you can use to safely decorate items for babies.

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