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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The Art of Bead Embroidery, Reviewed


Amazon Books

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!

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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!

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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!

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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).

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

You’ll find a list of techniques used, a complete materials list (including size, brands, color number of beads, fabrics, threads, etc.)…

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

…and the step-by-step instructions on how to work the project.

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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…

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

…Paisley Party, which is finished into a bag, a clutch, or an eyeglass case.

And I also like Yuletide.

And Circles.

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!

The Art of Bead Embroidery: Japanese Style by Margaret Lee

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:

It’s available on Margaret Lee’s website here.

It’s available on the Stitchology website here.

4. In the UK, it’s available through Search Press, here.


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(11) Comments

  1. Will I ever learn to not read your book reviews? Probably not 🙂 Yes, another book has been added to my wish list. When/if I make it to retirement, I’ll have enough needlework to keep me busy for years, just from books based on your reviews.

  2. The book looks very interesting!

    As someone who noodles around with beads and thread on fabric, I agree with your designations. Embroidery with beads is more floss/thread than bead, and bead embroidery is just or mostly beads, usually attached with beading threads. It all depends on the beads-to-thread ratio. Or at least, that’s how I see it.

  3. Dear Mary

    I really bead embroidery and have delved into it with various projects. The Art of Bead Embroidery looks like a very useful instructive book with lots of projects and tips and techniques a must have if you want to learn or are interested in beads. I love the mirror compact and pouch beautiful and there seems to be lots of projects in the book which is great. This will definitely go on my wish list for future books. Thanks for reviewing the book and sharing your thoughts with us and for the photos and links to book depositories.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. I have owned this book for just over a month and like you, have read it cover to cover. It is a real keeper!! I just need to finish up a few UFO’s and then can dive into creating some of the awesome projects. Can’t wait. I am curious to see if we pick the same one 😉

  5. Wow… and another book goes on my wishlist.
    I’m looking forward to the day, when I could start my own little project with bead embroidery.

    Do you know where this special mirror could be bought, used for the project in the book? Has it a special name, because of the possibility to add a piece of (embroidered) cloth to it? I was not able to find such a thing here in Germany… maybe it’s only avaiable in the UK, US oder Australian internet-shops?

    Thanks for your review, I love how you are writing.
    Happy greetings from Steff

  6. As a bead embroider you are correct in the fact beads are the focal not the tread. most times a beading thread specifically used for glass beads is used. For the most part it is done in a simple back stitch with bead making your design. There are however other beading techniques that require a myriad of different stitch but are not stitched onto a foundation.
    If you would like a easier book to start with I would recommend Jamie Cloud Eakin’s book “Beading with Cabochons” in it she teaches you the basics ways to bead embroider and create one of the main functions of bead embroidery which is jewelry. She has many great examples of bead embroidered jewelry and how to finish the edges using other stitches than the back stitch.
    To me the is a much better beginning book for the bead embroiderer, Japanese bead embroidery has different stitching techniques from what I have read and I will be honest I do not know much about it (need to go do some research love to learn new techniques hehe). Where many of the readers here are well versed embroiderers as it is you may find it not hard to do.
    Jamie Cloud Eakin also has another book called Dimensional Bead Embroidery it is a little more advanced and shows how to make more elaborate jewelry and other fun things.
    Finally if you would like to see some really elaborate bead embroidery head over to Facebook and go to” battle of the beadsmith: official page “and here there is a competition being put on by beadsmith a large supplier of bead embroidery supplies from people all over the world. Some have combined many techniques such as embroidery, bead embroidery, soutache (another Japanese embroidery technique) and bead weaving to create amazing designs.
    Hope this helps 🙂

  7. This is one of the clearest and most useful book reviews I have ever read. My general reaction to Amazon’s reviews is “Don’t waste my time.” But your review tells me what I want to know as someone who loves to embroider and have a limited budget to spend on my already overly-generous collection of reference books. I will be picking this one up soon. Thank you for providing the kind of information I want before I make a book buying decision, and in an engaging way. I will be paying attention to your website now that I have discovered it.

    1. Thanks, Maria! 🙂 I’ve got a lot of needlework book reviews on here, so if you’re looking for anything in particular, feel free to search by title, using the search feature in the main menu. You can also browse through some of the my needlework book review titles, listed here: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/books-links I haven’t updated that page in a while, but there are quite a few there already to get you started!

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