A Few Things to Consider Before You Get Started
- Where are you most comfortable - using a table or with your tray on your lap?
- What kind of lighting is available?
- Do you want to be able to move your beads easily from room to room?
- Do you want to be able to bead while traveling?
- Do you have cats or small children that might accidentally tip or knock over your beads?
These are all things you want to think about before you choose a beading mat, tray or board.
Beading mats are great for when you can set up on some kind of table or tray with raised sides. They are inexpensive, costing around $6 for a set of 3 large mats from most beading supply companies or at your local bead shop and are easily packed into a bag. They come in a range of sizes, and the larger mats can also be cut down into smaller sizes. The plush surface prevents the beads from rolling away, and also makes a great place to stash a few extra needles while you work.
One of the drawbacks to using a beading mat is that you must have a firm surface under the mat such as a book or table. They don't provide a stable surface for beading unless they are placed on a table, tray or other hard surface.
Another option to a beading mat is a simple dish towel. Like the beading mat, these are inexpensive and can be found at hardware and grocery stores. If you find yourself in a pinch for a beading surface, a clean and dry dish towel will work as a perfectly good bead mat.
If you use a dish towel, be aware that the towels with patterns may make it hard to see your beads. Your needles may also get stuck in the towel while trying to pick up beads, depending on the type of fabric used to make the towel. But in a "beading emergency", a dish towel placed on a book, table or lap desk will make a good work surface.
Velvet jewelry pads, available from many jewelry supply companies, are a great way to hold and organize beads while you stitch or string. If used by themselves, they should be placed on a table or lap desk because they do not have high sides to prevent beads from rolling off the pad. They come in a wide range of colors and sizes, and the smaller sizes are easily packed into a bag for travel.
Some velvet jewelry pads can also be placed into trays with raised sides that will prevent the beads from rolling off the tray and onto the floor. Or, you can place a velvet jewelry pad into a picture frame of the same size that has had the glass removed to make a beading work surface with raised sides.
Ceramic bead dishes are a very popular way to organize up to a dozen different colors of seed beads while you stitch. They are usually light in color so it is easy to see the beads, and because they are ceramic they are harder to knock over than a beading mat. The high sides of the little wells prevent the beads from rolling away and make it easy to scoop up the beads on your needle.
Ceramic bead dishes work best when they are placedon a table, lap desk or other stable, hard surface. One drawback to using them is that it can be difficult to get your beads out of the dish when you are finished.
Avoid using bead dishes that are made from plastic, as the static charge that builds up will make it difficult to pick up your beads.
Bead boards are primarily used for stringing projects, as they were designed so that you could lay out your beads to see how they look next to one another. They can also be used for assembling necklaces and bracelets that are made of beaded components to get an idea of how the finished piece will look.
Bead boards are extremely lightweight and are available from most local bead shops and online bead supply companies. Most bead boards are light grey in color, making it easy to see your beads and findings as you work.
It is best if bead boards are used on top of another stable surface such as a table or lap desk to prevent the beads from rolling off the board and onto the floor.
The Bottom Line on Beading Mats, Trays and Boards
Don't feel like you have to settle for just one of these options. When I can set up on the dining room table, I usually use a bead mat or a work pad. If I'm beading in the bedroom or on the couch, I use a work pad in a fitted tray from Designer's Findings. And if I'm stringing or assembling a series of components, I almost always use a bead board.
Like with anything else in beadwork, take the time to find out what works best for you.