Bead Embroidery – butterfly hairclip

beaded embroidery in backstitch or 'lazy squaw stitch'On Wednesday we learned how to embroider with beads by adding beads to a simple backstitch.Today lets have a look at a more traditional bead embroidery stitch. This stitch is also called backstitch (or ‘lazy squaw stitch’ by some Native American beadworkers – thanks CraftyBloke for that little tidbit).

This stitch is time-consuming but simple to do, and forms a nice unbroken line of beads on the surface of the fabric, which can be formed into loops and curves, or used to fill in spaces as if painting with beads, one brush stroke at a time. Bead onto felt or interfacing to make appliques or jewellery pieces, or bead directly onto clothing to transform the most ordinary garment into something special.

You’ll need:

  • Base fabric – I used felt as I wanted to cut out my finished piece without having to worry about fraying. You can use any fabric – if using a softer or stretchy fabric, baste or tack a piece of ordinary paper to the back – you will work through the paper as well as the fabric, which will make sure your design comes out even. Dampen the paper to remove it easily when you’re done.
  • Beads – any beads you like: seed beads, delicas, cylinders, or even larger beads. I used size 14 glass seed beads from the 100-yen shop.
  • Beading needle small enough for at least 2 passes through your beads
  • Strong thread – nylon or waxed.
  • Marker, pencil, or iron-on embroidery transfer
  • for this project, a sleepie grip or hairpin

Begin by transferring your design onto your fabric, by drawing, tracing, or ironing on a transfer. I freehanded a butterfly and added a rough idea of how I wanted to fill it in. You can plan your filling in ahead of time, or as you go. If you like to plan ahead, you can use coloured pens or pencils to sketch your design on the fabric. If using marker pen, do a spot test first to make sure the lines will not bleed into the fabric.

How to embroider with beads - backstitch

Thread your needle and knot the end, then bring the needle and thread up through a line of your design.

Pick up three beads, then making sure they lie flat and even on the fabric, insert the needle down into the fabric exactly at the end of your row of beads. Bring the needle up again just behind the last bead strung, and pass it through that last bead. Now add another three beads and repeat, until you have completed the outline. If you are going round a sharp corner, you my find you need to work through the last two beads rather than just one, to get your beads to follow the outline exactly. Follow your instincts ;)

Once you have finished your outline, you can start to fill it in. Add lines of beads in the same wayas you made the outline. You can work in straight lines, concentric rings, whatever works for your design. You can see that I used a mixture of straight lines and curves of varying lengths.

stitch a sleepie grip to the back of your beaded pieceTo make a hairclip like mine, cut out your design as close to the edge as you can without risking cutting the threads, and stitch a sleepie grip or hairpin to the back.

This is not a quick craft – my little butterfly took nearly 3 hours to bead. It is very satisfying, though, as you are not constrained to straight lines or grids, you can mix up colours, sizes and textures, layer beads over each other to make 3d forms, add fringes, and really let your creativity loose!

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