Bead embroidery and embroidery with beads, in my mind, are two different things.
When I talk about embroidery with beads I’m usually referring to regular embroidery featuring surface embroidery stitches worked in floss, with the addition of beads as accents.
Bead embroidery, on the other hand, is a specific embroidery technique, wherein beads adorn the surface of the fabric, and stand on their own as the decoration. It rarely involves decorative stitches with embroidery threads, and if it does, the visible stitches are minimal, compared to the bulk of decoration done with beads.
I have no idea if this is a “technically correct” distinction, but since I like to add beads here and there as accents on some of my embroidery projects, I’ve had to make a distinction in my head, and that’s how the distinction established itself.
Today, I want to show you, up close and personal, a book on bead embroidery, or the embellishment of fabric predominantly with beads. The book is The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee, and it’s a doozy.
Let’s take a look!
When The Art of Bead Embroidery finally arrived on my doorstep – I’d been waiting for its release for months! – I gave it an initial going-over, and then toted it around with me all over the place, to read carefully whenever I had the opportunity.
My copy, in its short time in my possession, has travelled many miles with me. And I’ve read it from cover to cover at least three times.
I’ve learned a lot! And I’ve been delightfully tempted to start almost every project in the book!
Margaret’s book begins with an introduction to bead embroidery, including a very interesting historical background. This grabbed me – I always like to know where a technique comes from and how long it’s been around.
From there, we jump right into the beads themselves, and this part is a goldmine for anyone trying to navigate the bead industry and who wants to know what’s what.
Margaret talks about the differences between beads, bead sizing, bead shapes, and bead finishes.
And she provides a nice chart that defines all the different finishes.
When I first started playing about with beads, the vast array of finishes, sizes, shapes used in bead manufacturing floored me. So I really appreciate this whole section!
Then, we move on to talking about equipment, tools, and materials.
Good information here! Many of the supplies, tools, materials used in bead embroidery share the field with other embroidery techniques, so if you’re already an embroiderer, there’s a good chance you’ve got everything you need – or close to it – to take up bead embroidery.
So, from frames, to fabric, to threads, needles, scissors, to beads, she tells you what you’ll need to get started with bead embroidery and how to set it all up.
Then we move on to the instructional sections. Margaret covers the common practices that are used in bead embroidery. The instruction is clearly written and accompanied by excellent diagrams.
Next up, there’s a short, but very enlightening, section about design concepts. This is where you’ll learn about spacing, overlapping, color changes and so forth, and how they effect the whole design.
Following a short section on finishing processes, we move right into the fundamentals of bead embroidery.
If this were a book on an embroidery technique involving decorative stitches, this section equates with the stitch dictionary, basically. This is where you learn the various ways of attaching the beads in certain patterns or layouts, to achieve the desired filling or outlining effect.
Margaret covers all the methods for beading design elements you’d run into in this type of embroidery – solid filling, techniques to create lines, background fillings, and so forth.
And then we move on to the projects!
The projects in the book are arranged from less complicated to more complicated, which makes them perfect for the absolute beginner. If you start with the first project and move your way steadily through them, it would be a good way to master the techniques of the art.
Right inside the projects section, Margaret has included a terrific troubleshooting guide. Chances are, as you start out, you’ll have to troubleshoot little things that might go amuck with the techniques as you get used to them. That’s the case in any hobby or pursuit, really.
At first, I thought this a strange place to include troubleshooting – normally, you see it at the end of any kind of instructional guide.
But after thinking about it a bit, I realized this is the ideal place for a troubleshooting guide! I like the fact that it comes before you actually launch into a project. It makes the reader aware of what to look for, what pitfalls we might land in, and helps us avoid them ahead of time.
Each project includes gorgeous photos, of course, of the finished piece (the book is published by Inspirations, after all, so gorgeous photos are a given).
You’ll find a list of techniques used, a complete materials list (including size, brands, color number of beads, fabrics, threads, etc.)…
…and the step-by-step instructions on how to work the project.
The projects are pretty darned sumptuous!
You’ll also find many different ways of finishing the items into usable accessories, from mirrors, to bags, to decorative boxes, pouches, and so forth.
If you love sparklies, I think you might find this whole technique really hard to resist trying!
Right now, I’d love to launch into one of these projects, and I’m having a hard time talking myself out of doing so!
I’m particularly enamored with Magenta Star (the project in the photo directly above, which is finished into a mirror compact with a little zipper pouch), Floral Parade (florals on a black background, finished into an eyeglass case), and…
…Paisley Party, which is finished into a bag, a clutch, or an eyeglass case.
And I also like Yuletide.
And Purple Iris.
And … see the problem?!?!
There are nine projects in the book, and each is beautiful!
One of the most fascinating sections in the book – and very instructive, even though it’s not a project to work through – is the section following the projects, where Margaret shows us some case studies.
She goes through projects she’s worked, and analyzes them according to a very specific planning template, which she gives in the book. This is a terrific way not only to track a project, but to record your thoughts, challenges, solutions and so forth as you work through it, or after you finish it.
One of the case studies Margaret presents is called Arabian Nights. She analyzes the beading of a piece of designed fabric, and reading through the whole process is an education in itself. Don’t skip reading the case studies!
Finally, the book ends with the pull-out pattern section, with all the designs right there, in actual size, ready to use.
In a Nutshell
I’ll give it in a nutshell: if you have an interest in beads – whether in bead embroidery or embroidery with beads – this is a book you’re going to want in your reference library. It will teach you a lot.
If you are already a bead person – if you stitch with beads often, or if you indulge in the art of bead embroidery already – then you probably already know about the book, and you’ve probably already taken the essential step and added it to your library. If you haven’t, you should!
Whether you’re a beginner or beyond, you’ll find the book well-written, thoroughly instructive, and wonderfully inspirational.
It’s a very classy book, just like Margaret’s previous book, The Art of Chinese Embroidery, which I reviewed here.
Where to Find It
1. You can find The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style through the following book affiliates:
The Art of Bead Embroidery is available, worldwide with free shipping, here through Book Depository. If it sells out, you can put your name on the waiting list.
2. In the US, you can find it through the following needlework shops (to my knowledge – there may be other shops carrying it, but I’m not finding it listed on their websites):
French Needle has it available here.
Wooly Thread has it available here.
3. You can find the book available shipping from Australia (US readers should check shipping costs) through the following sources:
4. In the UK, it’s available through Search Press, here.