Some of My Favorite Beaded Embellishment Techniques

embellishment techniquesWhen someone asks me what's the difference between contemporary art quilts and traditional quilts, one of the first things I think of is embellishment, especially beads and encrustation.

Beaded embellishment is just not something you are going to see on a traditional quilt, but it does pop up in the art quilt world. And it makes for eye-popping quilts.

Two of my favorite articles from Quilting Arts on beaded embellishment are Andrea Stern's pieces, Extreme Embellishment I and II from the Spring and Summer 2004 issues. Andrea mixes beads of all kinds, found objects, laminated images, copper mesh, wire, and more to encrust and embellish the surface of a quilt.

Here are some of her tips for sewing beads on fabric and making your quilt embellishment more interesting and personal.

Andrea's Embellishment Tips

Add visual interest by mixing beads. Make custom mixes using beads with different finishes (matte, shiny, opaque, rainbow) as well as by throwing in beads of contrasting colors.

A transparent bead will often appear darker when sewn down. Try to match your thread color to the bead to enhance the color or produce contrast. Background fabric color or pattern will also affect the bead's appearance.

Beads can be altered using etching cream.

Have several needles threaded so you don't have to stop after each thread to start a new needle.

beaded embellishmentIf you're using different size beads in the same piece, it may be easier to sew the flat beads first, then the bulky ones. Threads tend to catch on bulky items such as buttons or sequins.

Another of my favorite beaded embellishment articles is the one featured on the cover of our Spring 2005 issue, Fun with Silk Rods, Cocoons, and Bark by Stef Francis. I just fell in love with the bell-like "embellished jesters." Others must agree, because this one on of our most asked-for issues.

Here are Stef's directions for layering the cocoons to make the "jester."

embellished jester

1. Using sharp scissors, take one cocoon and cut a zigzag pattern into it, beginning at the open end. Slide an intact cocoon into the cut one.

2. With a sharp hand needle and metallic thread, stitch through the center of both cocoons so that the thread emerges on the outside at point A (see figure 1).

3. Push the needle back into the inner cocoon at B and come out again at A. Enter the inner cocoon at C, come out at A. (You may find a thimble is useful.)

4. Continue around until the cocoons are safely joined. Then embellish with beads, sequins, and stitch.

beaded embellishment ballThat same year, in the Winter 2005 issue, Margaret Ball offered readers a tutorial on Hyperembellishment, creating layers of hand embroidery, machine embroidery, beading, and found objects. She then covers the area with a sheer layer, such as tulle, and irons it (with parchment paper protection) to fuse it all in place. And that's just the beginning of her embellishment escapades!

When I think about it, 2004 and 2005 were very rich years for beaded embellishment articles in Quilting Arts. If you don't already have these issues, they're now available (eight complete issues, just as printed) on one handy CD, the 2004 – 2005 Quilting Arts CD Collection.

So, what are your favorite embellishment techniques? Have you ever made these jesters or done encrusted embellishment? Leave your tips and suggestions below!

Other topics you may enjoy:


Embellishing, Quilting Daily Blog, Sewing Techniques

5 thoughts on “Some of My Favorite Beaded Embellishment Techniques

  1. I was seduced by the “thrill of the gleam” of glass beads many years ago and havd never looked back. Some of my friends call my work “Needlework Obsessive”, as 1 square inch of heavy beading takes 1 hour. (Search under my name, Nancy Smeltzer, to see some of my beaded quilts in the Photo Galleries). I appreciate Andrea’s suggestions to work from flat to larger pieces, but I use so many buttons in my pieces, that I work from the opposite direction, from largest to smallest, and put up with the envitable tangling of the sewing thread used to couch down the beads. I use the colors of the fabrics that I’ve appliqued on to dictate the colors of the beads that will be later sewn on, I have several pieces going at the same time, for as I get closer and closer to completing a piece, it may weigh as much as 25 pounds,and then becomes not so portable for when I travle or have a doctor’s appointent.

  2. I am a beader most of the time but these tips make me want to start quilting also! Where do you get the cocoons to make these jesters? They remind me of flowers.

  3. Maybe many of you know this, but I found out the hard way: if you heavily bead and embellish a piece of cloth it will shrink! Lesson learned: cut to size when you are finished.

  4. Except for pinching if not wearing green, those are my only memories of St. Paddy’s day. Thank you for sharing embellishment techniques. I’m a new quilter and very interested in the new ways to express my creativity

  5. Last year members of my art quilt group each chose a Van Gogh painting and made a small quilt. I had hand appliqued a vase and after quilting the background, it became loose. I thought of stuffing it from behind or unstitching/restitching but I ended up randomly encrusting the entire vase. My most recent quilt includes a doll which is also encrusted–I am totally hooked. Future plans include beading a piece of fabric, following the colors and lines.