For stitchers who are interested in adding sparkle to their embroidery using beads, you’ll quickly find that some kind of bead tray is a good thing to have on hand.
A bead tray is pretty much just what it sounds like: a tray (or something similar) where you put your beads while you’re working with them.
It keeps your working beads confined, so that they don’t roll about on the table, but it also allows you to easily access them with your needle.
I imagine bead embroiderers who have been at the whole Bead Thing for a long time have definite preferences for a work tray. I’m not super particular about mine – at first, I simply used the lid of a small gift card tin. If I ended a work session, but I wasn’t finished with the beads in the lid, I’d just put the base of the tin upside down into the lid and my beads would be covered and contained until the next session.
But I noticed that, when I was working with just the tin lid, the beads had a tendency to be very active. They’d scoot and slide, pop away from the needle, and sometimes, with a shiver or a shake, they’d dance a jolly jig. Give the lid a bump, and they’d fly. Ornery, I tell you!
At first, I was going to line the inside of the tin with some velveteen, in the same style as this goldwork tray that I use for cutting and containing real metal embroidery threads. Any fabric with a nap (like velvet or velveteen) – or even just a rough surface (like felt) – will go a long way to keeping beads calm and easier to manage.
But then, instead, I decided to get tacky.
These tacky bead mats by Beadalon are pretty interesting. They’re made from a flexible, translucent, ocean-blue silicon (or something similar) that has a perpetually tacky surface, but not a sticky surface that leaves residue.
This particular mat is not the type of mat you’d use as a stand alone bead mat. It needs to be inside something; otherwise, it will become a dust and grime magnet pretty quickly.
Apparently, the mat fits perfectly inside a dismembered CD jewel case. But I didn’t have a jewel case on hand. And I don’t like jewel cases, anyway. They invariably crack on me. They’re not all that attractive. And the lid is attached to the case, which means that the “footprint” for the case, when it’s open, is twice the size.
Enter: the handy-dandy gift card tin.
I always have gift card tins on hand in my workroom. I use them for storing and organizing small tools; I use them for little portable tool or project boxes (they tuck easily into a project bag); and I use them for gift cards for birthdays and whatnot. They’re just the best little things to have on hand! They come in various sizes and are available at pretty much any craft-related store. Sometimes, they’re rectangular; sometimes, they’re square or round. The rectangular and square are the most useful. The round tins don’t store and stack as easily.
I foraged about in my workroom and came up with a square tin, just smaller than the tacky mat. The tin is less than 1/2″ deep and about 4″ square.
I removed the mat from the packaging, but I didn’t remove the protective plastic covering each side of the mat.
Taking sharp craft scissors (a craft knife won’t work – it doesn’t slice through the substance; you definitely need the double cutting blades of scissors here), I trimmed the mat in small increments, rounding the corners of it, too, until it fit snugly inside the base of the tin.
Then, I removed the protective plastic covers from each side of the tacky mat (both sides are tacky) and situated it cozily inside the tin. This required a little manipulating, but eventually, it was all tucked in. The tacky underside keeps the mat sticking in the tin, and the tacky top surface is where the beads stick.
And golly, do the beads ever stick!
Again, there’s no residue on the beads at all. But they do stick like the dickens to the mat.
The Advantages of a Tacky Bead Mat in a Tin
There are lots of obvious advantages to this approach to a bead try:
There’s no rolling about of beads.
I can use more than one kind of bead at a time and they’ll stay separate on the mat.
There’s no accidental spillage.
No bead chasing with the needle. They stay put during extraction!
I can close the tin and leave the work surface as is, to return to it the next time.
It’s portable and the beads don’t shift. I can slide the tin into a project bag and open it up 100 miles away, and find all the beads in the same spot.
It’s easy to use, if you’re not working at a table. You can use it while you’re sitting on the sofa, for example, and not have to worry about tipping the beads onto the floor.
The closable tin keeps the surface clean.
The Disadvantages of a Tacky Bead Mat in a Tin
And there are some disadvantages, too:
The beads really do stick, so you have to get used to the leverage it will take with the needle to remove a bead. It’s not hard to pick them up (it doesn’t take any muscular strength or anything!), but it is different from picking them up from a cloth surface or a smooth, hard surface.
It’s also slightly more difficult to pick up a line of beads on the needle at one time, because, when you initially dump the beads on the mat, they don’t necessarily dump out in a nice neat line. Again, it’s not hard to do, but it’s different from picking up a line of beads from a different type of surface.
That weird rubbery surface takes some getting used to – the needle pokes into it, rather than sliding off it, as you pick up beads.
Finally, the real disadvantage (the others just take some getting used to) is the fact that, when you’re finished with a bunch of beads but you have leftovers on the mat, you can’t just pour them into a container. You have to pick them off the mat.
Overall, I like my little portable bead tray! It’s convenient, it’s attractive, it’s useful, it’s portable, it’s compact, and it does a good job keeping my beads in place while I’m working with them.
Where to Find
If you have a local needlework shop, check there first. Since beads are used in all kinds of embroidery, including cross stitch and needlepoint, local cross stitch and needlepoint shops might carry some beading accessories.
I checked in person at JoAnn’s, Hobby Lobby, and Michael’s, which are the three big craft stores within relatively easy driving distance of me, and I didn’t find the mats in stores. They’re also not listed on their websites, though they do carry other Beadalon products. You might be able to ask them to special order the mats at individual stores.
You can find Beadalon tacky bead mats online through Amazon, and it’s also available through bead shops online, like Artbeads, where it happens to be on sale right now.
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