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Off the Beadin' Path by Nancy Eha
Book Review and Project by Emily Hackbarth

Nancy Eha was kind enough to send me a copy of her book Off the Beadin' Path: Discovering Your Own Creative Trail of Bead Embellishment for review. There are a couple of things that make this book stand out in my mind. One, it's more of a inspiration/idea book than a project book, and two, the book focuses on surface embellishment rather than off-loom weaving.

Most bead books are either pattern books or project books, this is neither. Instead the focus is on helping you to free yourself creatively and on giving you many new techniques to use in expressing that creativity. The first four chapters talk about ways to hush that little critical voice that's always pointing out your "mistakes" and uncover the other little voice that is so often drowned out, your own creative voice. Nancy believes, and I agree with her wholeheartedly, that we all have plenty of creative energy inside us, the trick is to let it out. This book is designed to help you do this. Along with the concrete exercises outlined in the first four chapters, each additional chapter contains "challenges" which encourage you to explore and build upon what you learned in that chapter.

What you will learn is the other thing that makes this book special. There are many, many wonderful books out there on bead weaving, but very few on the subject of bead embroidery. Not only will you learn several different methods of applying beads to fabric but you will also learn tons of stitch variations for creating texture and even a few ways to alter the surfaces you work on themselves to create even more visual interest. The book also includes solid advice on preparing materials, testing beads for color fastness, choosing thread, needles, and fabrics, proper lighting and more. Nancy really went all out to share her accumulated knowledge with us and I, for one, appreciate it very much! I really feel like I learned a lot of "new" stuff from this book, and that's unusual for me. You can read more about the book (including an excerpt from the "Exploring Possibilities" chapter) and find out how to order the book at Nancy's Website: http://www.beadcreative.com. While you're there be sure to visit Nancy's gallery, talk about inspiring!


After reading the book I was inspired to create a project incorporating some of the stuff I learned from the book. I asked Nancy and she very generously gave me permission to share some of her techniques with you. I should tell you that A) this is easier than it looks and I have no traditional sewing experience at all. And B) any misinformation contained herein came straight from ME, not Nancy.

It would run contrary to the purpose of Nancy's book for me to lay out a step by step design for you to follow, the whole point here is to let your creativity run wild! So what I'm going to do is explain the methods I used to construct this piece and leave the design part up to you.

I decided to use some pre-stiffened felt I found at Michael's Crafts because I already had it on hand and it has the advantages of being easy to sew through, stiff and non-stretchy so I wouldn't have to worry about distorting the fabric as I worked. It's called Eazy Felt by CPE, it comes in lots of different colors and you get a big sheet for under a dollar. I chose black. A neutral color or one that matches your predominant bead color (if you're planning ahead) would also be a good choice.

Cut out a piece of felt in the shape you want to use. I used a kidney shape 'cause that's the shape that popped into my head at the time. :-) Then use the shape as a template to cut out another matching piece of felt. You may wish to treat the felt with Fray Check before proceeding. I haven't had any trouble with fraying yet though.

Then I decided to put a cab in the middle of it because I had some cute little turquoise cabs that Aunt Molly sent me and one of them turned out to be kidney shaped. I took that as a hint. The one you see in the pic is a different one, I had already beaded the one I used before I started scanning. This part of the project didn't come from Nancy's book. I had the basic concept in my mind from things I'd read and from a class I took from Rayney King. Basically what you need to do is anchor the first row of beads to the fabric somehow and then build up and around the cab to hold it in place. There are lots of ways to accomplish this. Instead of starting with a predefined plan, I chose my beads first instead, then came up with a method that would work with the beads I wanted to use.

Rayney is not going to be proud of me, but the first thing I did was glue the cab to the felt. It's not necessary to glue the cab down, but since I'm new at this I felt I would be more likely to get the result I wanted if I had the cab there to guide my stitches. Once I get more comfortable with this process I will probably stop using it. It's up to you whether you want to use glue or not. The type of glue you use doesn't matter too much as long as it doesn't hurt your fabric. I just used a drop of super glue because it dries fast an I'm very impatient! (g) It's not really made for fabric, but since the beads will hold the cab in place all I needed was something to hold it still for a while until I got my bezel going.

As I mentioned before, the first thing we need to do is anchor a row of beads around the cab to build from. I got this idea from Rayney's class. She does it somewhat differently though. Take a length of thread that is twice as long as is comfortable for you (I used Nymo A), double it and knot the ends as if you were sewing.

Come up through the back of the felt near the edge of your cab. Not *right* next to it, leave room for a bead to lie flat beside it. Pick up one size 11 bead, one size 14 bead, and another size 11 bead (I used matte blue 11s and silver-lined teal 14s). Go down through the felt so that the two size 11 beads lay flat, hole down, next to each other.

Then come back up through the felt and the 3rd bead. Pick up a 14 and an 11 and go down through the felt again so that the size 11 bead is laying flat next to the previous size 11 bead. Come up through the felt and through the size 11 bead you just added.

Continue around the cab adding stitches of one size 14 bead and one size 11 bead in this manner until you reach the point where you started. The final step in this row is to go down through the very first size 11 bead you added. Then come up through the size 11 bead next to it. Then you are ready to start the next row.

Go through the size 14 bead that is closest to where your thread is coming out. Pick up a size 11 bead and go through the next two size 14 beads. Pick up another size 11 and go through the next 2 size fourteen beads. Continue around the cab adding one size 11 bead between each pair of 14s.

Weave through any intervening beads until your thread is coming out of one of the size 11 beads you added in the previous row. Pick up 3 size 14 beads and go through the next size 11 bead you added in the previous row. Don't worry if they don't lay flat, they are not supposed to. Continue around adding 3 size 14s between each size 11 from the previous row.

Continue through the first two beads of the first 3 bead set you added in the previous row. Pick up 2 size 14 beads go through the middle bead in the next set of three. Continue around the cab adding sets of two 14s between the middle beads of each set of three from the previous row. At this point, the netting should start to tighten around the top edge of the cab. If this row is either too tight or too loose to fit your cab, you will need to experiment with adding more or less beads in each stitch. You might also need another row depending on the cab.

Pull your net tight, weave your thread back into the net and down through the felt. Knot your thread at the back of the felt and snip.

Now comes the fun part! Here is a picture showing where I used each of the following stitches:

The picot is the same as the stitch you used to build your base row around the cab so I won't go over that again.

Couching (also called double-needle applique) is a method often used in Native American beadwork. It's used to make rosettes, outlines and other rounded flowing shapes.

The technique is simple although mastering it takes some practice. Knot your thread and bring it up through the fabric. String on a group of beads and arrange them however you want them. Thread a second needle, knot the ends and use it to tack down the first thread every three beads or so by coming up between the 3rd and 4th beads, going over the thread and back down through the felt again. Alternatively, you can get the same effect with a single needle by working back from the end to the beginning with your original thread.


Back stitch has a similar effect but it only uses one needle. With a knotted thread, come up through the fabric and string on three beads. Push the beads back so that there is no gap between the beads and the anchored end of the thread. Go down through the fabric as close to the third bead as possible but not so tight as to make the beads hump up. Then come up through the fabric again between the first and second beads. Thread through the second and third bead to put yourself in position for the next stitch. If you used beads that are considerably larger than seed beads, try back stitching through each one individually instead.

Stop stitch is named after the stop bead at the top of a stack that keeps your thread from slipping back out of the stack. Knot your thread and come up through the fabric. Pick up a stack of beads with a seed bead being the last bead in the stack. Skip the seed bead and go back down through the rest of the beads in the stack. I used different sized stacks a lot in this piece, some stacks of one E bead, one size 11 seed and one size 14 seed bead as the stop bead in some places and short stacks of one E bead and one seed bead in other places, etc. You can do them singly or in groups or rows. If you are doing a row, bring your thread up next to the first stack making sure to allow for enough room for the second stack to sit flat on the fabric. Then add another stack, and so on.

As you can see, a lot can be done with only a few very simple stitches. The trick is in using lots of different sizes, shapes, colors and finishes to create depth, texture and visual interest. Nancy's book contains tons more stitches you can use to create texture as well and I haven't even tried all the great stuff in the Crazy Beading section yet! If you are into embellishing quilts or enhancing fabric rather than completely covering it, the Crazy Beading section is going to be a real treat for you.

Back to our project. When you are finished embellishing your piece of felt it's time to back it with the other piece. If you want to make a brooch out of it, cut a slit in the second piece of felt near the top for the functional part of the pin back to fit through. Glue the pin back to the embellished piece. Make sure to match it up with the spot where you cut the slit in the other piece. E6000 is a good glue to use for this. Let it dry then use more glue to glue the back piece to the back of the embellished piece.

When it's dry, you can use a variation of the picot stitch to cover the raw edges. Knot your thread and sew through both edges. Pick up a bead, sew through both edges again and go up through the bead.

Pick up two more beads and sew through both edges again. Go up through the second bead. Continue around the edge adding two beads at a time in this manner until you reach the spot you started at. Then go down through the first bead you added to complete the circuit. Knot your thread and sew into the felt to hide the end and you're done!

Nancy recommends using the edging as a base for further embellishment, fringe, or even peyote stitch. Mmm, the possibilities are endless!

Nancy's book also contains lots of other exciting edging stitches you can use. Can you tell I liked this book? The BeadWrangler liked it too, you can read her review here.

~Emily Hackbarth

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