Bead Embroidery

The International Quilt Festival in Houston was amazing, as always. It’s so incredibly inspiring to see all of the quilts and quilt-related pieces that people have made. It was the 40th anniversary of the International Quilt Festival, and as part of the celebration they had a huge collection of red and white quilts on display.


The classes I took there were great, too. I learned how to do reverse appliqué by machine, how to work in a single colour to make small collage quilts, and how to sew with silk. I also got some great tips on getting more productive time in my sewing room.

Since returning home, I have finally finished a little beading sampler that I started in a bead embroidery class in Houston 4 years ago. The class was taught by Nancy Eha, and was fun and informative. I came home with a partially completed sampler of beading stitches and techniques.


I picked this up again last April, and started adding more beads. I have Nancy’s book, Bead Creative Art Quilts, to refer to, so I tried out a few more of the stitches and ideas in the book.

One of the techniques I learned in class was how to use bead embroidery to attach a cabochon to fabric. A cabochon is a stone with one flat side and no holes, so it has to be attached with plain or beaded stitching that circles the perimeter and tightens in as it is raised. I used this blue glass cab as the centre of a flower.


The squiggle in the middle of the sampler is a piece of rayon cord covered with beads. The cording is stitched to the fabric with a running stitch. Then the cord is covered with beads (page 27 in Nancy’s book). I was adding them in a fairly random fashion.


I used a mixture of seed beads, bugle beads, and square beads.


We learned a number of ways to create dimension by stacking beads on top of each other. This wavy fence is made from bugle beads topped with loops of seed beads. They are attached to each other by having adjacent circles share a bead.


Here is a flower stitched with a grid of bugle beads and some seed beads. This photo also shows a few of the other bits of beading that we learned in class.


I stitched a snowflake using seed beads and thread (page 67) and sewed it onto the sampler.


I thought that the beaded cord looked like a flower stem, so I stitched a few little curlicues branching off of it.


Of course, the flower stem needed a flower. I didn’t have much luck trying to sew one free-hand, so I drew one out on a piece of Golden Threads paper, pinned it to the fabric, and stitched over that.


It worked pretty well, although I found the paper a little bit hard to remove once the beading was finished.


At this point, I decided that there was enough beading, but there was some empty space that needed something in it.


I recently bought a couple of books on embroidery, one of which is The Stitches of Creative Embroidery by Jacqueline Enthoven. I thought that this piece was a great chance to try out a few stitches. There’s a whole section in the book on the chain stitch and different ways to use it (starting on page 121). This little fern is made from the basic chain stitch. A few straight stitches and French knots fill in the swirls.


I used chain stitch to surround the petals of my large beaded flower, too.


A single chain stitch (or Lazy Daisy stitch) makes nice tulips (page 127), as well as leaves.


Some single chain stitches in lines of feather stitch makes grass (page 108).


All of the bead embroidery was done on fabric basted to a piece of batting. I added a backing fabric after the beading was finished. To hold the three layers together I quilted the sampler with curved lines of long running stitches using two strands of embroidery floss. I marked the lines first with a chalk pencil. When the quilting was finished, I trimmed off the excess backing and batting.


I decided to try a new-to-me method of finishing the edges of this piece. A long time ago I downloaded a free e-book from the Quilting Daily website that included a tutorial on using a facing to finish the edges of an art quilt (located here). The facing folds to the back of the quilt, with mitred corners and hand stitching along the edges to hold it down.


And at last, here is the finished sampler:


(as usual, click on the photos to enlarge them)


Little Red Fish

I’m going to the International Quilt Festival in Houston again this fall, and I’ve signed up for a couple of classes there. Going through this year’s class listings, I started thinking about the classes I’ve taken there in the past. I have some partly finished projects from those classes, and it seems like a good idea to dig those out and finish them. I have a bad habit of bringing things home from classes and putting them away, adding them to the stack of UFOs hidden in the closet.

This one is from two years ago. I took a class with Judith Baker Montano to learn how to make an under-the-sea piece using fabric and embroidery and various other embellishments. I’d done quite a lot there, but had not had enough time to finish it in class. I got out the partly finished piece and all of the materials from the class kit. Most of the background was done, and I decided that all I really needed to do to finish it was to add some embroidery and beading to the foreground.

This picture shows the work in progress, with some newly added embroidery. I’m not very experienced at embroidery, which made it hard to decide what to do. I followed some of the stitches in Judith Baker Montano’s book, Elegant Stitches. I definitely want to get more practice with embroidery, so that I have some experience to draw on when working on something like this.


Originally the piece was supposed to end up being 7” by 10”, but I decided I’d make it smaller so it could become a page in my sketchbook of small quilts. I used a piece of card stock with a window cut into it to see how it would look trimmed down. 


At this stage, it looked almost finished to me, but I thought it needed a focal point, so I added a bigger red fish to the foreground. I also added a few beads to the orange brain coral, and a bit more ribbon embroidery. Here’s a close-up of it, after I trimmed off some of the excess canvas.


To finish the embroidered piece, I first hand-basted the edges through all of the layers of fabric. Then I used a small zigzag stitch to attach a length of textured yarn all the way around.


Here it is, all ready to mount on a quilted background.


The final task was to make the quilted 8” by 8” page to mount it on. I chose some batik fabric for the front that I thought looked a bit watery.


For the back, I used a piece of batik that had shells and other sea critters on it. I layered the two fabrics with batting in between, and quilted around the shells, filling the spaces in between with some free-motion doodles. This is a fun way to get in some free-motion practice. Next, I used a couple of rounds of zigzag stitching to finish off the edges.


I mounted the embroidery piece on the quilted page with a straight line of machine stitching, and finished off by adding the grommets so I could add it to my sketchbook. Here it is, all finished.


I have a couple more class pieces I’d like to finish off before the end of October rolls around. I’ll post them here when they’re done.

Beads, Beads & More Beads!

I’ve taken several classes on bead embroidery over the past several years. In all of that time I’ve never done much more with the knowledge than class samples and bits of embellishment on small quilt projects. I recently had another bead embroidery class, and this time I finally continued on and finished a small piece. The finished size of this piece is 14 cm by 9 cm (5.5 “ x 3.5”).

Finished Bead Embroidery

I didn’t have an overall plan. I started by attaching three small Shisha mirrors using three slightly different techniques. From there I kept adding beads and sequins a few at a time, and trying various stitches. A few times I decided I didn’t like something, and so removed it. I tried to use some basic design concepts like the repetition of elements, and balance of colour and design placement. Overall I’m pretty happy with the end result. I’m not completely sure what I will do with this small piece. I’ll probably make a small quilt to serve as a background, and mount the beaded piece on top.

The following photos show the piece in progress, from start to finish. All photos can be clicked on to make them bigger.

The first thing I did was start to connect the mirrors to each other with a paisley shape.

Beading progress picture 1

I added a few more elements on the piece. The small silver circles are large sequins with a bead in the middle. I started to fill in some of the background space with orange.

Beading progress photo 2

I added a sort of bugle bead crown to the top edge of the paisley shape, and added some more orange seed beads to the background.

Beading progress photo 3

The beads in the upper right form a herringbone pattern. In the lower right I added some more sparkle and some texture. The orange beads I was adding as background fill were too bright, and I thought they competed with the more muted purple and green, so I removed most of them.

Beading progress photo 4

A few more elements added in. The green bugle beads repeat the curved bugle beads in the centre.

Beading progress photo 5

And a few more – repeating some of the black beading from the right side to the lower left and bottom.

Beading progress photo 6

At this point I tried out several different beads to use as background to fill in the rest of the space. Everything seemed to overpower the matte-finish purple ones. In the end I decided to just continue using the purple. I removed the remaining small section of orange seed beads, and also the triangular beads I’d put around the central mirror. A few more bright green bugle beads helped set off the central paisley motif.

Beading finished

I learned a lot from this exercise. My control of the stitching improved, and I tried out a few new-to-me stitches. Overall I think the piece is a success. In future I think I’d plan out my design a bit more at the beginning, and settle on a more clearly defined focal point (or points). I’d leave the background beading for the end. I would also plan out the background stitching direction before starting, to be sure that the flow of background beads worked to draw the eye towards the elements I want emphasized.

I also learned the value of having a variety of sizes and shapes in the same colours of beads. It provides greater opportunities for design.