What is bead embroidery?
So, your starter for ten… Can you tell me, what is bead embroidery? No? Then, you’ve come to the right place to find out. This post will give you a bit of background into this style of beading. Then, in the other posts in this section of My World of Beads, I will teach you the different bead embroidery techniques.
Bead embroidery has been around for centuries. You can use it for all manner of things. Think decorating clothing, creating elaborate costumes for the stage, handbags and accessories for occasion-wear and, more recently stunning beaded jewellery.
What is Bead Embroidery?
Very simply, bead embroidery involves stitching beads onto fabric. You can use the beads to cover large portions of fabric, or just add small decorative elements. Traditional materials for this style of work are seed beads, pearls, crystals and sequins.
Now, I also think that you can classify bead embroidery both as beadwork and as sewing. So, you may find dress-making or couture courses that cover elements of embroidery with beads. There is huge overlap in the techniques. So, many of the traditional techniques that you see beaders use, will have been used by dress-makers and fashion designers for centuries. However, as the beading world has evolved, so too has bead embroidery.
What is the link with beading?
For starters, many bead embroidery projects also incorporate elements that are made with traditional bead-weaving techniques. For example, cabochons. You may see elaborate bead embroidered jewellery designs where sections are created using bead embroidery and these are linked with traditional bead-weaving sections.
Then came the advent of the new shaped and multi-holed seed beads. These beads work just as well in bead embroidery as in traditional bead-weaving projects. But they may require you to innovate as you work out how to attach them. Having said that, any innovation you need to make is going to be based upon traditional techniques. So you will still want to start by learning the basics.
It took me a long time to start trying this style of beadwork. In some ways I think the techniques are easier than a lot of bead-weaving. You do not need to worry about complex thread paths linking beads. Everything is attached directly to a material backing. Much of the skill lies in keeping your thread as unobtrusive as possible.
You also need considerable skill to align the beads neatly. That’s how you end up with clear and even patterns. But this is something that you can develop easily with practise.
What is the difference between bead weaving and bead embroidery?
For me, I see a distinction between bead embroidery and bead-weaving. I think of the former as like painting with beads. The latter is more like engineering, I feel.
Both styles require you to understand how to use colour, texture and create a pleasing design. But I see bead embroidery as focusing more on pattern and texture, bead-weaving as focusing more on structure. So, if you want to try and look at it in terms of art, then think of bead-weaving as sculpture and bead embroidery as painting.
Seen in this light, that may explain why I came relatively late to bead embroidery. I think my school art teachers would be surprised to learn that I have ended up working in any artistic industry… I was far from a ‘model’ art student! However, one teacher made clear to me that I had no talent whatsoever as a painter. Unfortunately, I think this childhood lesson has stuck with me. So finding the courage to try ‘painting’ with beads took me a while.
Now I’ve done it, there is no turning back! I am fascinated with the process of learning how to arrange beads. It is so much fun experimenting with ways of creating pattern, texture and generally pleasing designs. I also find the process of embroidering very soothing. But perhaps that is less surprising as I learned to sew long before I learned to bead.
So, if you, too, would like to give this style of beading a try, I’m going to take you through the basic techniques.