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Introduction to Bead Embroidery
Part One - Preparing your Fabric or Substrate for the Beads

Bead embroidery can be one of the most expressive, most satisfying methods of beadwork you will do. It's like painting with beads; forms create themselves, patterns flow and the beads know where they want to be. It is almost subconscious, you will be surprised at how it evolves.

Many people shy away from bead embroidery  as it seems complicated and there are very few instructions available. A few excellent books have been written about bead embroider but it is hard to find patterns and easy to follow projects.  People like Mary Tafoya, Ann Benson, and Robin Atkins are creating gorgeous things and making it easier for the rest of us to get in on bead embroidery. 

This two part series is designed to help answer some of your questions about bead embroidery, and to set you on your way. In this first installment, I will show you how to choose a fabric, pick a design and get ready to embroider with beads on fabric. You can skip steps involving the preparation of the fabric if you use a product such as Lacy's Stiff Stuff or leather, which I like to do, too.  The "stiff stuff" will take an iron on transfer, and you can freehand draw on it, too.  

Items You Will Need

Woven Fabric
A 28 count Linen (available at most craft stores in the cross stitch section) will work well. So will high thread count cotton bed sheets, just remove then from the bed first! Also, colored fabrics, patterned fabric, pretty much anything you'd like to use will work.

Beading Needles
 Just good ol' size 12 beading needles, unless you are working with teeny tiny beads, then use a smaller needle.

Thread
I use Nymo D, unless I have really small beads, then (of course) I use a smaller Nymo. Since the thread is not (usually) an integral part of the design, there is no need to purchase separate embroidery floss, unless you just want to.

Beads (of course!)
All beads can be worked into a bead embroidery. Delicas, Czech seed beads, Japanese seed beads, larger beads, you name it, it can be worked in!

Backing Paper
Found in yardage stores, the type I use is made for backing machine embroidery, but works very well for bead embroidery.

Items You May Want:

An Embroidery Frame
I use this instead of a hoop. A hoop can pull your work too tight, thus causing buckling. With a frame, you can control the tension better, and you have something to hold on to. You can even purchase a stand for these, so you can work in a chair or at your worktable, with both hands free.

Pattern
I'm going to show you how to start by using an iron on transfer. I think it is easier the first time to go with a pattern, and then embellish that. But you may prefer to go strictly free form.

Colored Permanent Markers or Colored Pencils
You can get some interesting effects by marking out a pattern with colored pens or pencils, and then beading over that with clear beads. Of course, you can also make your design with the colored pencils, and bead right over that.

Ok, Let's Go!

1. Start by choosing a piece of fabric to work. I used a piece of old cotton sheet for this design.

2. After pressing the fabric, I used an old needlepoint trick and covered the raw edges with some paper medical tape. The tape comes off easily and leaves no residue. You can even press it down with a warm iron to make sure it doesn't begin to fall off while you work.

3. Here I have ironed on the transfer, placed the fabric in the frame and am preparing to place the tear away paper on the back:

Notice how I have not stretched it too tightly. I left it loose so that the beads will lay properly. The iron on pattern is centered, so I can start with it and build from there.

4. Next, we are going to attach the backing paper to the fabric. This can be done with either a beading needle and Nymo, or a regular sewing needle and thread. I use the Nymo, because I can't find my regular sewing box at the moment!

5. Cut the paper to the desired size. I cut this to a bit more than the pattern size, so that if I decide to go further with this design, I can.

6. Using a running stitch, attach the paper to the reverse side of the fabric.

7. Now, let's focus on the image on the fabric. Since this is a simple iron on transfer, I don't have to worry about it much. However, if you are working in freeform and want to sketch out a basic pattern, you can do this with a sharp #2 lead pencil. Be sure to keep a sharpener handy, as the fabric will wear down the pencil quickly, and the line may become blurry. See where I have used the pencil to add a circle around the pattern along with my initials? This is the area I want to fill.

Tips, Tricks and a Few Ideas

A few other tips you may find useful are to lightly spray your fabric with a bit of sizing. This will give it some body if it seems too soft to work. Of course, when doing any ironing, be sure to use the lowest temperature for that particular fabric.

Take care when using colored pens on fabric, and do a test spot first. Some fabric may cause the pens to bleed and make a mess of any fine lines. Fabric sizing or starch will help keep this from happening, so try using it if you can iron your fabric.

If you notice a residue from your pencil on the fabric, don't brush it away, as this

may cause it to smear. Turn the work over and blow through the fabric to eliminate the particles.

Keep the frame tension loose. Remember, it's just meant to hold the fabric, not to stretch it!

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