Sewing Beads on Fabric: Write with the Beaded Backstitch

9 Jul 2014

Recently I spied a Facebook post by Candy Glendening in which she shared a picture of a fabric zipper-bag she made to hold her son's charging devices while he travels. Of course, Candy not only made the bag from her own dyed fabric but stitched her son's name on it, to boot. No one else is going to claim that kid's bag by mistake!

crazy quilt with beads nancy eha
Crazy quilt embellishments by Nancy Eha.
The post reminded me once again of how many creative surface embellishment ideas we fiber artists have at our disposal. From stitching, to embroidery, to sewing beads on fabric, and more, embellishing techniques are part of our everyday repertoire. It's that extra touch that makes even a humble bag a work of art.

When a bit of sparkle is called for, many artists turn to beaded embellishments. I've savored many of the early issues of Quilting Arts Magazine that featured beaded quilts by artists like Nancy Eha.

Those encrusted crazy quilt concoctions looked so complicated. But Nancy and the other featured artists showed how to break down the process of sewing beads into simple steps that produced intricate results.

One of the simplest beaded embellishment techniques is the beaded back stitch. You can use it to outline motifs, write words, or create lines.

Here is how to write a word with the beaded backstitch, taken from one of Nancy Eha's tutorials:

1. Write your word on fabric with a light colored pencil that will blend with your background or an air-disappearing pen.

sewing beads on fabric with the beaded backstitch
Sewing beads on fabric using
the beaded backstitch. Note, the example
above uses a 4-bead technique.
2. Come up from the back of the fabric with your needle at the beginning of the first letter and pick up three seed beads.

3. Hold the beads in place (following the line of the written word) with your non-beading thumb and pass the needle through to the back of the fabric, right next to the third bead.

4. Come back up with your needle between beads 1 and 2, pass the needle and thread through beads 2 and 3.

5. Pick up three more seed beads, hold them in place with your non-beading thumb, pass the needle down through the fabric next to bead 3, come up again between bead 1 and 2, and pass the thread through bead 2 and 3.

sewing beads on a short line
When sewing beads along a short line, such
as the R above, use two beads instead of three
for your backstitch. Photo courtesy Nancy Eha.
6. Repeat along the line you are tracing until you have written the entire word in seed beads.

Note: if you do not have room for three beads along the line, pick up two beads, come up between 1 and 2, pass through bead 2, and continue.

Use this stitch to add a little beaded trim to the edge of a collar, personalize an evening bag, or--if you're feeling ambitious--to embellish a crazy quilt.

Nancy will be teaching her methods for creating flowers and plants with beads in a four-week online course. Crazy quilters, embroidery enthusiasts, and beaders who have no experience or want to polish their skills should sign up for Seed Bead Botany now

P.S. What's your favorite embellishment technique for personalizing your projects? Leave your comment below.


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