Following on from our Handmade Showcase post earlier this week, we thought we’d publish an introduction to freeform embroidery. You can use this technique to make beautiful bead embroidered jewelry, such as earrings, pendants, statement necklaces and bracelets.
Freeform bead embroidery is fun because you can be really creative with your designs! In this tutorial, we’re showing you how to embroider around a hand-drawn pattern, including how to embroider around small cabochons.
To get started with bead embroidery, you’ll need the following materials:
- Round seed beads (as as Toho rounds) in any size and color.
- Beading needle in size 10 or 12.
- Nymo beading thread.
- Flat back stick-on or glue-on cabochons (we’ve used faux pearls).
- Beading foundation such as Lacy’s Stiff Stuff.
- Jewelry glue such as E6000 (optional)
If you’ve never seen beading foundation before, it’s a very stiff material that looks and feels a little bit like flat felt (only stiffer). It’s great for bead embroidery, because the edges won’t frey, like felt sometimes can. A beading needle will glide through the fabric even though it’s super tough!
The first thing to do is draw a patten onto your beading foundation with a pencil. Be as creative as you like, but you may want to consider drawing some flowing curves and spirals to begin with.
If you’re using stick-on cabochons, place them onto your beading foundation where you want them, so that you can bead around them. It’s fine to use stick-on cabochons for practice attempts, but if you’re planning to make some jewelry right away, you might want to glue those on with E6000 or similar gemstone glue.
To start bead embroidery, thread your needle with Nymo beading thread and come up through the beading foundation from the underneath, along one of the lines you’ve drawn. (Don’t worry about knotting the thread yet.)
You may find it helpful to start next to one of your cabochons or at the start or end point of one of the lines.
Thread on 4 seed beads and make sure they’re sitting along one of your lines neatly, close together. Pass your needle back down through the beading foundation, right next to the last bead, making sure to follow the line as you do so.
Turn your beading foundation over and leaving a 6 inch tail, tie both ends of your thread together on the underside with a double knot.
Then go back up through the beading foundation with your needle, making sure that it comes out in the middle of the line of beads you’ve just sewn on. Your needle should pop up after the first two beads as shown in the step 4 photo.
Pass your needle back through the last two beads to get your needle into place ready for picking up some more beads. You’ll be basically doing a backstitch sewing technique!
By going back through the seed beads in this way, you’ll be securing them to the beading foundation, so that they will follow the line you’ve drawn without moving around too much.
If you’re bead embroidering around a cabochon, sew all the way around as shown in the step 6 photo. Your aim will be to make sure the beads sit closely together without them being packed too tightly!
This can be tricky sometimes, but you can sometimes use smaller beads (size 15/0 seed beads for example) to fit gaps that are otherwise too small to fill.
Continue sewing beads around your hand-drawn lines as shown in steps 7 and 8! You can pick up more than 4 seed beads at once if you want to. We’d recommend sewing on no more than 8 seed beads at a time though as the more beads you sew on at once, the looser your bead embroidery work will be on the foundation fabric.
When you’ve sewn around your lines, you can then fill in the white spaces on your beading foundation with other beads. For a neat look, continue to work around the lines you’ve already created as shown in the Step 9 photo above.
Below is an example of other shapes you can make using bead embroidery techniques. You can make flower petals and leaves in the same way. We’ve used rhinestones to make the center of the flowers in this photo and smaller gold seed beads to fill the insides of the leaves.
Using different sizes of beads like this helps to create interesting textures and dimensions in your jewelry designs. Feel free to use larger beads and different shaped beads too!
How to turn your bead embroidery designs into jewelry
You can cut around your bead embroidery pieces to make different pieces of jewelry. You should trim the excess fabric away as close to the beads as possible, while taking care not to cut through the thread!
You might notice when making your bead embroidery sample that the underside of the beading foundation doesn’t look quite as pretty as the beaded side!
You’ll be able to see your stitches so when turning your bead embroidered piece into jewelry, you’ll need to cover it with a backing. You can use ultra-suede, leather or felt for the backing.
To stick the backing to the underside of the beading foundation, you can use a little glue and then join the edges of both the backing and the beading foundation with a beaded blanket stitch.
You can then attach findings to the bead embroidered piece by sewing them into place. To see what kind of jewelry you can make with bead embroidery techniques, take a look at this bead embroidery handmade showcase post here!
We hope you find this tutorial helpful! Why not check out the tutorials section of our website?
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