Bead Embroidered Star Ornament

I continue to be amazed by the generosity of the beading community. A few months ago, I casually mentioned to Amy Clarke Moore that some of my Beading Daily readers wanted to learn more about bead embroidery. Not only did she create this fabulous free project, the Little Star ornament, she also agreed to share how she got started and her best bead embroidery tips. If you're not into ornaments, don't worry. Once you get the basic idea of this bead embroidery technique, you'll be able to adapt it for other projects.–Michelle Mach, Beading Daily editor

How I Began

I started bead embroidering in earnest ten years ago when I was the editorial assistant for Beadwork magazine (along with other Interweave publications). We had a staff project to cover a satin button with beads. I decided to embroider an image and started by drawing an outline on the satin and then beading the outline and trying to fill in with beads around it. I got frustrated, though, when I couldn’t fill in all the spaces around the outline very evenly. I started over and this time started in the center and worked out in a spiraling backstitch. Each time I reached the outline line on the satin, I placed a dark bead on the thread and my problem was solved.

At left:Little Star Ornament by Amy Clarke Moore

I was hooked. I couldn’t wait to start the next piece, and immediately walked to the neighborhood bead shop (yes—I was so lucky to live within a block of a bead store then) and bought more beads and smaller beads. Each time I started a project, I realized I needed a larger range of colors to get the subtle gradations that I wanted. Eventually I started working over drawings instead of just outlines to help me see the color transitions I wanted. As a weaver this idea came naturally—it was like the cartoon that weavers hold behind the warp threads to remind them of color changes.

Then I met bead embroidery artist, Marcus Amerman. He shared his technique of stitching right through the paper. I had been painting my images onto canvas at that point and wasn’t entirely satisfied with the process. I tried working through paper and it was great—I didn’t need a embroidery hoop anymore because the paper held the cloth stable. Soon after that, I started shooting photos of the images I wanted to bead and printing the photographs onto archival quality paper, stitching them to cloth, and beading. Over the years, I learned some things—here are a few of my tips:

Amy’s Bead Embroidery Tips 

Drawing your own star

If you’d like to try your hand at drawing your own cartoon for the star pattern, I say, “go for it!” It is a fun process. The trick is including enough value contrast, color, and gradation to create an image that will really pop when it is beaded. As you’re drawing, keep in mind that it will be translated into beads—so if you’re not completely satisfied with the drawing, try to see beyond it to the beaded image—it may be just fine. For more detailed instructions, see the tutorial for how to draw the star pendant on my blog.

 Seeing color

As you’re choosing your beads, take a moment to look at the colors in your star—look for the variations, the overlapping color that creates different colors, try to see as many colors as possible and go through your beads matching colors to the colors you see in the piece. When I’m creating my mixes for my bead embroidery, I try to include as many values and bead finishes in one hue as possible. You’ll find that even if you have every color of bead made, there are not enough colors of beads to match the colors in the piece. You’ll need to mix the colors as a painter would, except that beads don’t mix physically like paint. To mix colors visually, place two colors next to each other, step away, and see how your eye mixes them at a distance. Unfocus your eyes as you look—if you wear glasses, simply take them off. 

As you’re beading, match the color of the beads to the color on the paper underneath them. Use a variety of bead finishes to create a surface with depth and variation. Keep an eye on where you place the finishes so that you don’t create any unintentional lines. However, do place beads intentionally to create the lines of the drawing. For example, I used mostly dark brown matte beads to create the outline of the star because dark matte beads really absorb light and create depth. Each time you come around the circle created by the spiraling backstitch, you’ll create a part of the line. Don’t worry if it isn’t an exactly straight line. Your eye will make the adjustment when you step away from the piece. 


It will take some practice to figure out how closely you need to space your rows. You want them close enough so that you can’t see the paper underneath, but with enough space (a needle’s width—usually) so that they don’t start to bubble up. If they do bubble up, you can go back in and tack them down with some couching stitches (going over the thread).

At right: Spacing takes practice.

 Turning point

I had been beading in this style for years when a beading friend wondered aloud why, as I reached each edge in my spiraling path of beads, did I knot off, cut the thread, and start on the other side? He suggested that I just turn around. I had to admit that it had never occurred to me to just turn around and bead in the other direction. While intellectually I agreed this was the smarter and faster thing to do, it was a hard adjustment to make. I was used to beading all my pieces in a counterclockwise direction. To reach the edge, turn around, and do one row clockwise just seemed wrong. But I tried it, and after a while, it didn't feel so bad.

At left: A quick sketch showing the reversal of the thread direction.

Getting smaller

Now that you’ve mastered the spiraling backstitch technique over an image with size 11 seed beads, you may try smaller beads! I find that I’m able to get greater detail with the size 15 Japanese seed beads and there is a huge selection of color in this size. Try out the star ornament in size 15 beads to make a necklace pendant—just print the image a little smaller (maybe 1" by 1"). As always, make sure to bead with good light over your work to avoid eye strain. 

Amy Clarke Moore is the editor of Spin-Off magazine and co-author of Beaded Embellishment: Techniques and Designs for Embroidering on Cloth. Her article "A Sense of Color: How to Blend Color in Bead Embroidery” appeared in the February/March 2006 issue of Beadwork magazine. Learn more about Amy on her website, or her blog, 

Good News: We just launched the Beading Daily store! I'm excited that not only are we going to be able to offer you projects from our magazines and books, but we're also going to pay royalties to our designers! We're adding projects as quickly as we can, but I want to make sure that you're finding the kinds of beading projects that you love. Please take a look around the store, then fill out the new poll and help me pick out some dream beading projects! Thanks for your help!

New Poll: What kind of projects do you want?

Fleur Russe by Dustin Wedekind is one of the projects for sale in the store.

Michelle Mach is the editor of Beading Daily. She is still not finished with her holiday beading. How did it get to be the middle of December already?



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