The critical thing about a beading mat is its texture: it should be just rough enough to stop your beads from rolling about, but should not have a thick pile that the beads can hide in.
You can buy inexpensive beading mats from craft shops or most bead shops.
Beading mats are usually available in a range of colours. Whilst it is perfectly possible to manage with just one colour, it can be helpful to have a range of colours. If you are using very pale beads, they will show up better on a darker coloured mat. If your beads are dark, then you will definitely need a paler beading mat
To save you some time and money, I’ve found a great set of three beading mats right here:
Make your own mat
If you want to make your own, you can do so. Just take care when you pick the material.
Something like cotton or silk will not prevent the beads from rolling. So, it won’t work terribly well.
A material like towelling will have such a thick pile that you may find yourself losing beads within it. So, this is really not ideal either.
Velour is a good choice. Or, you can try felt, but be warned… The felt will shed fluff and this may end up getting tangled in your beads! When you can get a mat for under £1, I do wonder whether it is worth making your own!
Travelling with beads
Do you like to travel with your beads? Or, do you work in an environment where you are constantly having to pack your beads away between sessions? Then, you might consider ways of also transporting your beading mat.
When I am just working at home, I set my beading mat up on a tray so I can carry it around from one room to another. If you are thinking about travelling outside your home, then it would be worth investigating some of the specialty bead carrying kits.
You might also want to think about a great product from the Beadsmith. It’s not expensive, but it is fantastic for travelling. A sticky board.
The board is covered with a really special material so your beads will actually stick to it. This is amazing if you do crazy things like me and bead on trains and planes…
…did I tell you about my Easyjet experience? Let’s just say, I was ‘trapped’ in my seat with the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign on due to turbulence. However, my beads weren’t ‘strapped in’ and they decided to jump… So I had to ask a passing stewardess to scrabble around on the floor to retrieve the escapees… Was I a popular passenger? I’ll leave you to decide…!
Anyway, I wish I had had a Sticky board back then! So, to save you from similar dramas, I’ve pulled out a link here and it’s an amazing price. Maybe you even want more than one at this steal!?
Bead On It Boards
If you are happy to spend a more significant amount of money, then you might like to consider a ‘Bead On It’ board.
These boards have been developed in the USA and they provide some special features. The board is rigid, with slightly raised sides to prevent the beads from falling off.
If you are bead-weaving, then this is a huge benefit. It means that your beads are all ready for you to aim the needle directly into the hole. It must be said that this special quality applies only to seed beads, not pearls or crystals. Although the lovely fabric of the board still makes it great for these materials.
The sturdy structure of the board means you can carry it around safely. You can also stack boards on top of one another if you have several projects on the go.
These boards also come in a range of sizes and colours, so you can pick what you need.
Silaba Crafts Beading Trays
More recently, in the UK, Silaba Crafts launched their own beading trays. These look very similar to the beading boards and have all the same advantages of the sturdy frame, special material and a fabulous range of sizes and colours.
They have a couple of extra advantages over the Bead On It Boards: amongst the variety of shapes, you can select a special ‘curved’ the curve resting against your body. It’s absolutely perfect for holding the tray directly on your lap, rather than sitting at a table. So, if you are one of those beaders who enjoys beading in front of the TV on the comfort of your sofa, this gives a really comfortable, yet sturdy support.
Secondly, you can buy specially designed ‘Dilly Pads’ or ‘Dilly Dots’. These have been created to sit on the tray, fitting against a corner, and they have a small indentation that will hold a pile of beads. You can see a couple in use in the photo.
This is a brilliant innovation to keep the beads separate as you are working. I know from experience that beads are very fond of playing together. So, it can be very hard to keep your separate piles from rolling into one another on a beading mat or beading board, especially if you have to move the tray/board/mat while you are working.
Silaba Crafts offer you the chance to create your own custom-designed tray. So, you can choose the size and shape of your board. Then pick the fabric that you wish to have covering it.
How to choose the perfect mat for you
So, as you can see, when it comes to beading mats, there is plenty of choice. How do you decide which is right for you?
Think carefully about how much you want to spend on your hobby and the time and place where you are going to be working.
If you are on a tight budget, maybe just starting out, then a beading mat is perfectly fine. You can combine it with the beading tray. Plus, I make my own ‘makeshift’ pads to separate out beads… Just get the plastic lid from a yogurt pot or small ice cream tub. Then line it with velour or felt and it does the trick… For just a few pence!
If your beading is a serious hobby and you are willing to spend money, then I really cannot recommend the sturdier beading trays strongly enough. From my own experience, one is certainly not enough!