Beaded fabrics can be luxurious, elegant and striking, or fun and glitzy. There are several different methods for sewing beads onto fabric. Beads can be used to accent embroidery or used by themselves. It's hard to machine-sew beads onto fabric, so the majority of bead embroidery is done by hand; it's possible to machine embroider a design and add beads afterwards, however. Beads should be colorfast and have no sharp edges, as these can fray or cut threads.
Running stitch is a very easy stitch. The thread passes over and under the fabric, making a row of stitches. Running stitch can be used to sew beads onto fabric; a bead is simply slipped over the needle every time a stitch is made on the right side of the fabric. Beads attached with running stitch can be double-sewn for extra security.
Couching stitch can be used to attach threaded strings of beads to fabric. Stitches are made between each of the beads, holding the thread to the surface of the fabric. This sewing technique is used to make a type of bead embroidery called laid work. The strings of beads that are supplied prethreaded will typically need to be restrung, because the thread used is weak and likely to snap. It may also be desirable to tie knots in between the beads, especially if expensive beads such as pearls are being used.
Lazy stitch allows larger areas of fabric to be covered with beadwork more swiftly than with some other methods. The needle is brought up through the fabric to the right side and five or six beads are strung on the thread. Then the needle is pushed back down through the fabric, making a stitch. Further stitches are made in parallel.
Beads and Sequins
Beads can be used to secure sequins onto fabric. The needle is brought up through the fabric and the hole in the sequin. A bead is strung onto the thread. The needle is passed back through the hole in the sequin, making a stitch. The bead is too large to slip through the hole in the sequin and thus holds it in place. This is somewhat labor intensive but can look effective, especially if contrasting beads and sequins are used.
Tambour beading, also known as couture beading, is a very ancient craft. The beads -- typically seed beads -- are strung on a length of thread. A pattern is traced onto the reverse or wrong side of the fabric, which is drawn very tightly across a square frame. A hooked needle is used to draw the thread up through the fabric from the reverse side, creating a chain stitch on the back of the fabric that secures the beads on the front.
Machine Embroidery and Beads
Beads can be used to accent machine embroidery. They can either be sewn around or alongside machine embroidered motifs, or used to fill blank areas of a design with other design elements made up of machine stitching. The machine stitching should be completed before the beads are sewn in place as beads can be damaged by (and can damage) domestic sewing machines.
Sections of beadwork can be woven using a bead loom or woven off-loom. They can then be sewn onto fabric. The woven beadwork pieces can function as trim or decorative elements for a fabric project, or the fabric can simply be a backing to make beaded accessories more pleasant to wear.