In the embellishments article we defined a bead as a "small, often round piece of material, such as glass, plastic, or wood, which is pierced for stringing or threading." Glass beads come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The one most of us use are called seed beads. These beads are round in shape. The size of the hole and actual shape of the bead will vary among manufacturers.

Glass beads are sized in millimeters (mm) and sold by weight (grams). You’ll also hear the beads referred to by aught. This is another measurement that tells you approximately how many beads you can get in a standard length. Using this measurement for a size 8 seed bead, you could see it shown as #8, 8/0 or 8 degree. The important thing to remember is that the higher the number size, the smaller the bead."

Two other articles with beading information:

Work Basket

Fabric – When choosing a fabric for doing your beading on, it must be strong enough to support the weight of the beads. Also, the weave of the fabric needs to be small enough that your beads won’t slip through to the other side. So, most of the fabric you are doing your needlework on should be fine.

Thread – You will need a thread that is fine enough to go through your beads. A few of the attachment techniques will require you to make several passes through to secure the bead. The color of the thread should match your fabric or the stitching you are putting the beads on. Silk thread, such as the threads offered by Kreinik is a great thread for beading because it is very strong and comes in a variety of colors. Perhaps it is the thread you have already sewn your project with! You can also use Nymo which is a specialty beading thread made from waxed nylon. Before you start stitching with Nymo you should always give it a little pull to remove kinks and helps the beads to lay down nicer later.

Needles – Because the beads are usually tiny, you will need to get several sizes of beading needles. The needles are thin and the eye is usually the same width as the needle shaft. They come in a variety of sizes and lengths. Here is a general rule of thumb on the size of needle to use:

Bead size Needle size
10 or larger Size 10
11 and 12 Size 12
13 and 14 Size 13
15 and smaller Size 15

John James has a set of beading needles size 10 and 12 in the Pebble collection. You can also buy them separately in packets of 4 (size 12) or (size 10).
Mill Hill carries several sizes including their long beading needle.
One of my favorites is the Easy Eye because you just open up the wire and put the thread or filament through, there’s no actual eye.

Hoops and frames – If your stitched piece was done in a hoop or frame leave it in the hoop until the beading is done. This will keep the tension even and will help you place the beads right where you want them.

Other tools

A thread conditioner is a wonderful product that keeps your thread from tangling and makes it easier to stitch.

One of the hard things about beads is keeping them under control. Rather than lick your finger and stick it into the bead pile, try the Bead Nabber. This thimble-like device fits over your finger and will easily pick up beads and hold them for easy threading. Another great invention is Tacky B.O.B., the bead holder. You can pour a small amount of beads onto the tacky surface and pick them up with your needle.

Pliers may not be a tool you carry in your stitching bag on a regular basis but they can be great tools when you have to remove (which really means crush) beads that end up in the wrong spot.

Attaching a Single Seed Bead

For most of your bead placements, you are going to be stitching into the fabric or canvas just beyond the width of your bead. This article will talk about two ways to attach a single seed bead where the bead hole is not seen from the top of the piece.

For a cross-stitch piece, most of the references indicate you want to use a half cross stitch, which will cause your bead to lay slightly on a slant. Whether you start from the upper or lower left corner, doesn’t make a difference. What is important is you always use the same slant for stitching. Imagine that the area where you are placing the bead is a square, divided into nine points. Your bead will cover section 5 when it is stitched down. If you start at 1 and go through the bead to 9, your bead will have a different slant than if you go from point 7 to 3.

Attaching a single bead with a whip-stitch »

Attaching a single bead with a back-stitch »

Attaching a pair of beads with a back-stitch »

Attaching Bugle beads

The thing to keep in mind when working with bugle beads is that they are made from a long piece of glass. When the bead is cut, the ends can have sharp edges which can cause your thread to fray and eventually break. If your design allows for it, you can help prevent this by adding a seed bead at each end of your bugle bead before stitching it down.

You can do a whip stitch or a back stitch to attach a single bugle bead.

Back Stitch Bugle Bead »

Whip Stitch Bugle Bead »

In looking at the designs we have in stock, most of the time you would only be placing one sequin on a design at a time. Here are some instructions on how to attach paillettes (metal sequins). You can attach them using Method 1 with the thread holding down the sequin. Method 1 shows you how to secure a sequin with a bead on top.

Attaching Sequins »

Today we covered just a few techniques you can use to attach beads and sequins to your project. If you want to learn more about how to add lines or loops of beads, a great recommendation is the A-Z of Bead Embroidery book.

A fascinating part of the New Orleans activities that few people know about is called the Mardi Gras Indians. This group has a very long history some of which was violent in the beginning. The chiefs wear elaborate beaded costumes. Here is a link that shows one chief’s costume. There are additional links on this website that explains more about this cultural event.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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