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Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Mind Your Own Beeswax… er, for Needlework

 

My sisters and I said that a lot as kids. I guess we thought that “mind your own business” was a bad thing to say… or maybe we thought “mind your own beeswax” was a funny thing to say (We were probably a bit nerdy in that regard.) In any case, it isn’t the most polite thing in the world to say!

I really don’t mean mind your own beeswax. In fact, what I mean is find your own beeswax. Beeswax is an essential ingredient for goldwork embroidery. It’s used to coat the stitching threads that hold the real metal onto the fabric. It helps protect the stitching thread from abrasion. To use beeswax for goldwork, run the stitching thread two or three times through your cake of wax, and then run it slowly through your fingers to smooth out any bumps of wax and kind of “melt” the beeswax onto the thread.

Beeswax is used for other needlework adventures, too. Hand quilters, for example, will often use it to stiffen sewing threads, to smooth them, and to prevent tangling. So it’s not just essential for goldwork – it’s also nice to have on hand in your needlework supplies for other needlework pursuits.

But there’s beeswax for embroidery, and then there’s Beeswax for embroidery. I don’t like the kind of beeswax that flakes all over the place. Even after running the thread through your fingers, inferior beeswax products tends to “peel” and flake off your thread as you stitch, leaving residue behind. No, no. It won’t do! For example, that pale yellow round of “beeswax” that comes in a clear plastic, slotted disk and is widely available in the notions section in sewing stores? There’s just something not right about it. It’s flaky. It’s pale. And did I mention that it’s flaky?

So instead of turning to your sewing notions aisle, where else can you find beeswax for your needlework?

Beeswax for Hand Embroidery

Well, believe it or not, when I want good beeswax for needlework, I look for it in weird places. Tool shops, for example. Hardware stores. Whole foods stores. Places like that. The little four ounce block above is available in some machine and tool shops. I can’t remember where I got that one – it was a small town hardware store out here in the Midwest somewhere. I have about six of them, and they’re good. They’re not flaky, and they’re a very convenient size.

Beeswax for Hand Embroidery

The beeswax disk above came from Hardwick’s Hardware in Seattle, Washington. (Their web store isn’t in operation right now, but they have an interesting website – and a Really Interesting store, if you ever happen to be in the vicinity!) It’s nice 100% beeswax, somewhat softer in feel, and again, no flakiness. It’s a little less convenient in size than the stick above, but for a stationary stitching station, it’s great.

Beeswax for Hand Embroidery

Um. Then there’s this fellow. I bought this dainty little piece at The Merc in Lawrence, Kansas. The Merc is a co-op whole foods market. They also carry the round disk, like the one from Hardwick’s, as well as the four ounce bars in the top photo.

Beeswax for Hand Embroidery

For portability and manageability, these two are my favorite, and actually, I like the stick best, because it stores and transports really easily.

Beeswax for Hand Embroidery

And for ridiculousness, I kind of like the big block! It’s a pound and a half, and not suited at all to toting around with needlework stuff, or even to sitting at a needlework station. It’s just too big to use as is. I bought it because… because…. well. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s because I like beeswax and think that everyone should own a 1.5 pound block of the stuff! But actually, at the time, I had some idea about it. Some idea that I would make my own little pats of beeswax for stitching. Some lost idea that I would actually go to the effort to make my own beeswax cakes. Some silly idea……..

You can often find good little pieces of 100% beeswax that fit well into your needlework supplies at specialty needlework stores. They have all kinds of decorative little lumps of the stuff available out there, in stores and online. You don’t have to settle for the flaky stuff! One particularly cute beeswax clump is the beeswax hedgehog at Hedgehog Handworks, and it’s a nice wax. You can also recycle leftover 100% pure (untreated) beeswax candles (like these that adorned our table at Thanksgiving) and use the unused parts for your threads. And of course, don’t overlook candle makers and candle-making supply stores. You can find nice bricks of 100% pure beeswax in many of them – but make sure it’s not been colored or adulterated.

So don’t settle for flaky beeswax for your stitching! Look for the good stuff at unlikely places, and you’ll be happily surprised by the difference in feel and result while you stitch!

Post Script: I’m talking primarily about using beeswax to coat threads for goldwork. Most threads for goldwork are gold-colored or yellow and not meant to be too noticeable. Running colored threads through beeswax darkens the thread and dulls it. It’s not something I’d do for regular embroidery, even for taming unruly threads.

 
 

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(21) Comments

  1. Outside the US, beeswax blocks of good quality are pretty easy to find. Usually someone at the equivalent of the local farmers’ market is a beekeeper. I think the best I’ve ever picked up was from a beekeeper in Varna, Bulgaria. A 400 g block (almost a pound) for about $3. Beautiful, fragrant stuff! I love beeswax.

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  2. And then there’s your local Russian or Greek Orthodox church where the votive candles are long beeswax tapers made by nuns. When I run out either for goldwork or for metalwork (lubricating saw blades) I pick up a few tapers on Sunday morning, infact it’s years since I bought beeswax from a regular source.

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  3. I found a block (probably about 4oz) at the cobblers. I wasn’t looking for beeswax, I was having shoes repaired, but when I saw it I had to buy it. Not only is is better quality than the flakey stuff you described, it is better value.

    By the way, we also used to say “mind your own beeswax” when I was a child.

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  4. I’m lucky that there’s a local beekeeper and I can purchase wax (and local honey!) just about anytime I want it. Many people would be surprised, but if they look around, they might have a local beekeeper too. I love beeswax for my embroidery threads, but mostly I use it for my hand-sewing projects to keep the threads straight and strong while I’m working.

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  5. What about Thread Heaven? It’s used for beading, but is not beeswax. Firemountain Gems also has beeswax – the good type – that is used to condition threads for beading.

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  6. My Mom used beeswax when I was young but I never understood the purpose. More recently someone told me about ThreadHeaven for stitching. I have no idea what’s in it (I can’t read the fine print). I did buy a little blue box of it but my husband is using it now for his stitching. Do you have any thoughts on how it compares to beeswax?

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  7. One thing I’ve found that helps, even with good beeswax, is to hold the thread in my hand for a good 30 seconds to a minute, hand width by hand width, to soften and melt the wax into the thread. I was taught to actually iron the thread to melt the wax into it and that works, too. But I found the heat from my hand holding the thread is enough (I don’t generally have cold hands, which helps).

    One favor I received at an EGA event was a small waxer. The group used wire and connected two small buttons a short distance apart. They then packed beeswax into the space between the buttons. It’s nice and handy and the buttons protect the beeswax (I still keep it in a small baggie in my sewing box).

    I love the smell of beeswax!

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  8. Beeswax can be redeemed if it gets dirty and has little pieces of whatever gritty/fiber-y stuff it might have picked up when dropped or something. It’s just a matter of melting it in simmering water, then pouring, while it’s still quite hot, through a screen small enough to strain out bits and pieces. I use a large-sized SS kitchen strainer. The wax will then cool at the top of the water and can later be taken off in a chunk.

    When we recycle beeswax for the hives (bees then recycle it for comb) we follow the above procedure to remove wings, legs, dirt, etc that might transfer/potentiate disease. I have also used it to redeem plenty of wax over the years and I snitch some when I want it for the house.

    I suspect that the cake often sold for needlework that’s flaky has had some paraffin or the like added to it to raise it’s melting point so it doesn’t sag in the package as it’s stored/shipped, etc.

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  9. Dear Marymentor:
    Help. I”m a bit confused. You said that beeswax is “….essential for goldwork embroidery” and this sounds like a real must for me. When working with Kreinik gold filament (www.kreinik.com) I found that the gold was flaking off the thread, as it was passing through the fabric in the pastoral that I”m still working on. Really was a mess! So beeswax would help..yes?. Now my problem. You also said that beeswax will “dull the color ?”. I do want my gold work to glitter and shine like yours does. Can you clarify ?

    I depend on your site, as opposed to others that I just peruse. I like the fact that you use lots of pictures and take the time to explain. Your method got me through my novice days in embroidery and I always learn a lot from you….Thanks….Judy in Pittsburgh

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  10. Believe it or not, I bought a big block of beeswax at Michael’s craft store using the 40% off coupon from the Sunday paper. I then melted it down and poured it into seashell candy molds with a bit of ribbon to make it a bit easier to hold. It is lovely wax, not at all flaky. It has a nice, mild honey fragrance. And we used to say “mind your own beeswax”, too.

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  11. Ah, yes, beeswax! First, if your beeswax is flaky, it probably isn’t 100% beeswax. It has been “cut” with the less expensive paraffin. That is what happened to those slotted plastic cases of wax in the notion section of shops – in the beginning it was 100% beeswax, but to increase the profit margin, they started replacing most of it with paraffin. For many, many years now I have been making small, cute molded beeswax for stitchers. I always encourage my students to wax their “working” threads, and NOT their “embroidery” threads. The wax makes the working threads, stronger and easier to manage, but waxing an embroidery thread would change the appearance of the thread that you chose for its “looks” in the first place. Couching metals would certainly be considered a “working” thread. In French Handsewing, which I taught for many years, wax is necessary. But in working with white batistes and white laces, found that the golden color (beautiful as it is), was a problem, so I use a cosmetic grade bleached beeswax. Another little note: pets love beeswax! As I said, I give my students small molded wax, and every once in a while I get a report that their dog or cat got into their sewing basket and chewed it up. I guess that delicious smell is as appealing to them as it is to us!

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  12. Well Mary, you can use that big block of wax like the ancient Egyptian women did. Add scent to it and mold it into a cone shape. Put it on top of your head for a night out and as you dance your body heat will melt the wax giving your hair sheen and scent at once. Would not try to comb out in the morning!! lol

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  13. Hi, all! Thanks for your input about beeswax!

    Jacquelin, I almost sprayed coffee on my computer screen when I read your comment! The “visual” on that, trust me, is scary!!! Um. If I ever get the urge to dance around with a cone of scented beeswax on my head (lighted, no less) I will definitely blog about it!!

    Bobbi – Thanks very much for your information – good stuff! I can’t believe I forgot to mention the smell. That’s my favorite thing about beeswax!

    Cynthia – I’ve not found beeswax at my local Michael’s, although I have looked. I wonder if it’s a regional thing? Candy molds are a great idea, and I will probably get some of some sort, to melt down my larger block, to make some nice little beeswax molds for my needle arts class. We’ll be doing a tiny bit of goldwork last quarter, and will need small individual pieces.

    Judy! Sorry about the confusion. Let’s see if I can clear it up. Beeswax is for the working thread – that is, the thread you use to couch down real metal threads. It isn’t for running metallic threads through, or any kind of decorative thread. It’s just for the thread that you use to stitch metal threads down with. The couching thread for goldwork is usually yellow, and it’s made of either silk, or cotton, or polyester. Yes, metallic threads often have problems with the gold coming off or with the thread bunching as it passes through the fabric. They are better suited to counted work, where you have holes in the fabric already. With surface work, you have to make sure your needle is making a big enough hole for the metallic thread to pass through easily.

    Concerning Thread Heaven – I think it’s made of silicon, or at least has silicon in it, if I remember correctly. I’ve used it for rayon threads that need taming, but I’ve not used it to coat threads for goldwork. I’m assuming that it would work fine for any thread application. It’s gone through considerable testing and the company that produces it really stands behind it. I’m not opposed to using it at all – I just don’t normally use it, unless I have an unruly thread.

    Thanks again for all your comments! They’ve been really fun to read!

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    1. Since we were discussing beeswax more recently……. What Jacqelin said was true. If you look at tomb paintings and murals etc, you will sometimes see women with a dome of wax on top of their head. Since most women preferred wigs then, combing hair in the morning was no biggie. The domes were not lighted, it was body heat or the weather (desert) that would melt the wax, releasing the scent into the air.

  14. The Thread Heaven website has some interesting information on it, but doesn’t actually say what’s in it. I’ve used it on rayon threads and like it, but I prefer the feel and smell of real beeswax.
    I’ve found the little blocks at a local farm store and an auto supply store.
    When I lived in the Netherlands I bought 2 2kilogram blocks of local beeswax from a neighbor (along with some lovely alfalfa honey). The texture is like silk and it has a very heavy honey scent. I bought it to make some votive candles and some little waxers.
    Besides for sewing, I use it to wax sticky drawer slides, polish woodwork and de-squeak hinges. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

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  15. I buy mine at a local chanderly that deals exclusively in beeswax products. They sell it ‘unmoulded’ – in ice cube trays by the 1/2lb. It’s the perfect size for needlework, sits flat and I have more beeswax than I will ever, ever, ever use|! 🙂

    Claire

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  16. Bead stores also carry beeswax; it’s highly recommended on beading thread, partly to protect it from the edges of the beads. There was an article a while back in either Bead’n’Button or Beadwork magazine comparing beeswax and Thread Heaven – it was mentioned that TH isn’t the best when you’re using doubled thread, because one of the things it does is put a static charge on the threads so they try to separate (from each other, not within the strand).

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  17. The Ohio State University has a honey bee lab in rural Ohio. Not only can you purchase incredible tasting honey in a variety of flavors, they sell 100% beeswax. All sales can be conducted online. Bonus that purchases help support vital honey bee research. http://Www.HoneyBeeLab.com

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  18. hi M?ary,
    i do Brazilian emb. Can beeswax be used for rayon threads? Also, have you heard of “Bohin Beeswax with Holder”? I want to buy it, but couldn’t find any reviews on it…
    Please reply

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  19. Hi Mary, I have been using the cheap flaky wax on my embroidery thread, not by choice but, that’s what my husband brought home. After I run the thread through to coat it, I take my electric embossing tool and run it down the length of the thread, you don’t need to hold it in place at all. It works really well and the thread shines beautifully. You could also use a hair dryer or a pipe line heat gun, I tried both so I could let you know if it worked or not. That’s all I got for you and to thank you so much for all your information.

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