Beading embroidery and cross stitch projects doesn’t have to be hard, and it can add a wonderful flash of bling to your pieces. This cross stitch tutorial demonstrates the various kinds of needles you can use, how to stitch your beads on and read the pattern, and how to keep your beads from rolling around while you work.
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The first thing you’ll need to do when adding beads to your pattern is look at the recommended type and size of beads. There are hundreds of types of beads in many sizes, but only a few tend to be used when embellishing stitching. The most common type of bead found in cross stitch patterns are seed beads. They are very small, but pack a lot of punch when it comes to adding bling to your project. In the tutorial, the size of glass seed beads demonstrated is size 11.0 (Mill Hills brand), which are also called 2.5mm size. There is an even smaller seed bead (size 15), and they also come in a wide variety of colours and bead finishes.
Once you know what size of beads you need, you can select the needle that is best for your project. In the video, I demonstrate two big eye (also called wide eye) needles, a regular embroidery needle, and a beading needle. The big eye needle is great, you just split the “eye” of the needle apart with your fingers and thread your floss through like you would any other needle. You can use the loop method (so the two ends will dangle from the eye of the needle), or you can use one strand of floss threaded normally. When using a big eye needle, handle it more gently (particularly for the longer needles shown in the video), and make sure that if you’re using two strands of floss that they will fit through the hole in the bead. If using a regular embroidery needle, make sure the eye of the needle will pass through the bead without catching. Most beading needles will pass through a seed bead no problems, but be aware that they do have a bit of flex to them, and are incredibly sharp. To thread the regular embroidery needle or a beading needle, you’ll need to use a needle threader as they needle eyes are very fine. Make sure to hold where the wire in the needle threader is anchored, that will help prevent the wire from being pulled out of the threader in use.
For floss, choose one that’s a similar tone to your fabric if possible. That helps the stitches holding the beads in place be less visible. You can get special waxed thread for beading from craft or bead shops, or you can use one or two strands of DMC embroidery floss (one strand if you’re not using a big eye needle). If using nylon beading thread (it’s like a very fine fishing line, it’s pretty much invisible when stitched with), make sure the ends of your thread are well anchored. As it’s slippery, it is easier for the pure nylon thread to come loose from the back of your projects.
Before you start stitching, have a look at your pattern and see how the beads are charted. Some patterns will have a full cross stitch under the beads, some will have only the bead on the fabric directly. Always stitch your beads last, as you don’t want them getting in the way of your cross stitches or backstitch. You can see in the image below what your chart may look like if the bead is being placed directly on the fabric (showing the cross stitches as colour blocks).
One method is to start at the bottom of your fabric and work up to attach your beads, but it really is up to personal preference. If you’re stitching with a hoop, make sure to keep the tension on the hoop less. You don’t want to crush the beads in case you need to move the hoop over an area of heavy beading. If you’re unsure whether the beads will be safe, stitch in hand (without using a hoop), or use a larger hoop that won’t touch any of the beading.
If you’re concerned your beads are going to run all over the place (or you may knock them over), a sticky bead mat like I show in the tutorial is a great option. You can also get little tins that have the sticky mat in one side, and a magnet on the other to hold your needles in place. You can also use an artist’s palette or segmented tray to keep different bead colours separate and prevent them from rolling around too much. If you spill beads, put a nylon stocking or sock over the end of your vacuum hose. Holding tight onto the sock so it doesn’t get sucked up the hose, vacuum up your beads. They will be suctioned to the sock, and when you turn the vacuum off you can drop them onto a tray for easy sorting.
Caring for your beadwork
One thing I didn’t mention in the video was to be careful with certain types of beads when washing or pressing your stitching. Some beads are sensitive to detergents, usually the manufacturers of the beads will indicate which beads shouldn’t be washed. For one hand wash (like at the end of your stitching project), most beads will be fine, but do check with the manufacturer to be sure. Also be careful if you’re using the pure nylon thread, some brands may be more or less heat resistant when ironing. Always iron around your beads, don’t press them directly. If you’re not sure, do a small sample test using your chosen thread and beads on a scrap piece of fabric, and see how they react to washing and heat.