Top 5 Bead Embroidery Materials

Bead embroidery, to me, is like coloring with a brand-new box of 64 crayons when I was younger. The points of the crayons are all perfect, the color range inspiring, and time not a factor. The pages of the pad were blank and you could really just draw all your dreams. How does this compare to bead embroidery? Well . . .

ABOVE: Kinga Nichols’ creativity and mastery is visible in each of her beautifully bead-embroidered pieces.

Bead embroidery design by Tammy Honaman; glass bead focal by John Winter. Pendant/brooch

Bead embroidery design by Tammy Honaman; glass bead focal by John Winter. Pendant/brooch

For me, a day of bead embroidery includes gathering supplies—and they all add up to a lot of color! And, when everything is all in one place, the possibilities are endless and my creativity meter is off the chart—so much so, it’s hard to focus on just one design! Plus, once you start beading, you really have no boundaries or direction—it’s all up to you and a whim. Just like coloring in a blank page.

Attention Grabber

An assortment of focal options, including Czech glass buttons, gemstones, lampwork cabochons, raku components, and pool ball cabochons.

An assortment of focal options, including Czech glass buttons, gemstones, lampwork cabochons, raku components, and pool ball cabochons.

To get to a place of calm, so I really can create something, I start by deciding what I’m going to make: earrings, cuff, collar? Most bead embroidery is done around a focal and the focal typically has a flat back. Once I know what type of jewelry I’ll be making, I choose my focal. I keep a large assortment of cabochons and buttons on hand, all made from different materials.

Cabochons, by nature, have a flat back so they’re ready and waiting for the next step. You can usually remove the shank on a button so it has a flat back but use caution – the removal process can cause the surface to crack. If removing the shank isn’t an option, there are other ways you can make this work! It’s a simple as following the instructions for how to prepare a crystal Rivoli.

To Blend or Not to Blend

beadbacking for bead embroidery

There are many types of bead backing available, pictured is Nicole Campanella’s BeadBacking in a range of colors.

For bead embroidery, the focal and beadwork are built upon a substrate or foundation. When choosing this material, keep in mind, it’s nice to use something that is stiff enough to hold up to the rigors of stitching as well as wearing. There are many materials on the market now—a nice change from “back in the day!”

Bead embroidery fish design by Kinga Nichols

Bead embroidery design by Kinga Nichols

You can choose a backing that is white or colored and then choose if you want the backing to blend with your bead embroidery materials or contrast, which would offer an added design element where it peaks through. The bead backing can be cut to shape after beading, or before, like Kinga Nichols does with her whimsical designs. Kinga offers this tip and many others in her online workshops; to learn more about Kinga read Bead Embroidery Artist Kinga Nichols Shares Her Perspective on the World.

Like a Needle Pulling Thread

bead embroidery examples

Left to right: pod cabochon by Marianne Kasparian of Maku Studios, lampwork cabochon by Amber Higgins of Worn Beadies, lampwork cabochon by Kris Schaible, lampwork cabochon by John Winter.

(Can you guess what song is on my mind?) Needle and thread are essential in bead embroidery. It is recommended you use a beading needle and it’s good to have a range of sizes on hand. I often start my work with a size 10 or 11 (as long as the beads I’m using are not too small). As you create your design, you may find some beads get filled with thread and that size 11 no longer fits! This is when you switch to a finer needle, like a 12 or 13. (The higher the number, the finer the needle.)

beaded fringe

Fringe can be made to any length. In bead embroidery, the fringe is usually kept closer to the surface, so fewer beads used. But, there really are no rules!

Also, some common bead embroidery stitches, like “stop stich” or fringe, are designed to work with a smaller bead at the end, which could also require a finer needle.

As for thread—as you can see in the image above, the beads used are all a bit different and they range in colors. My suggestion here is to use your favorite thread or the thread best rated for the type of bead you’re using. You can choose a color thread that blends with the beads or one that stands out as a design element—the choice is yours!


From Seed Bead Embroidery: 3D Layering Bezels with Kinga Nichols

From Seed Bead Embroidery: 3D Layering Bezels with Kinga Nichols

Well. Here is a fun topic, also without boundaries! No bead is off limits!

My challenges to you:
– Find a way to use your favorite bead so it works well in your design.
– Push your boundaries and try beads you don’t think will work, then let me know how that went for you.


Bead Embroidered Cuff by Tammy Honaman

Bead Embroidered Cuff by Tammy Honaman

When finishing up a bead embroidery design, you’re compelled to hide the underside of the bead backing as you can see all your stitches! You also want the side that will be against the wearer to be comfortable. There are a few lightweight, smooth materials on the market that are suitable for this task. The one I prefer is called UltraSuede. It’s suede like in texture, easy to sew through, and is available in many colors.

These are just the beginning of your bead embroidery day. Next up would be the stitches and all the ways you can take them. Let the experts guide you as you build your skills. Start with the fundamentals in Learn How to Bead Embroider; choose one of the many downloads by Sherry Serafini, like Bead Embroidery: Four Great Lessons Bundle, and be carried away on a magnificent journey through the art and talents of Kinga Nichols.

Ready for a challenge? Grow your skills with Kinga in Advanced Bead Embroidery Master Class: Bezels, Focals, Closures, Finishing Touches, and Troubleshooting.

Tammy Honaman
Editor, Beadwork magazine

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