The delightful aspect of quilting is the ability to add bead art to your quilts. Bead embroidery is a craft where you actual create a design or picture using beads. It is a step above adding decorator beads to your quilt. This part of quilting takes a great deal of patience. Practice on small project before actually adding one to your quilt.
The first step in bead embroidery is to select your pattern. Choose a design that will match the theme of your quilt. For example, if you are doing an angel quilt it would be best to select an angel picture or perhaps a small halo depending on the size and design of your quilt. Make sure that the design size will fit into the section of the quilt when making your selection. Once your design is chosen, it is time to transfer the pattern onto the quilt section or your practice fabric.
For transfers you have several options. You can use chalk to trace your pattern. You can also use tracing paper or transfer paper. Stay away from permanent markers or pens because these can bleed and ruin your quilt. Keep a clean copy of your bead embroidery pattern to follow while you're creating the section.
The majority of bead embroidery designs will need 11/0 seed beads, 3/0's charlotte beads, and 15/0's tiny beads. It is really up to you which type of beads you think will look nice in your design. Select the colors of beads that you will need. It is recommended to purchase more beads then you think you'll need for this part of the project since they can always be added as singles throughout your quilt later on if you end up with extras. Take your pattern with you to the store and use it to determine if the bead sizes will fit nicely across the design. This will also help you in matching colors.
One more step is needed to before sewing your beads onto the quilt section. You will need to back the section with substrate fabric piece or with a heavy starch spray. This will keep your quilt section from puckering later. Once the fabric is slightly stiffened it is time to frame it. You can use a traditional embroidery frame to actually sew the bead embroidery design together.
The key is to not pull the fabric too tight in the frame. The material should be pulled enough to allow the beads to lie side by side but not so tightly that when removed the piece will cave in on it. Now you are ready to attach the beads to the design to create your bead embroidery picture. The key is to have the beads lie flat in individual rows between the pattern lines.
You can either sew the beads individually in rows or you can load your needle with up to four beads at a time. Recommended stitches are the lane stitch, for multiple beads and the back stitch, for single beads or multiple beads. Line beads on the pattern, load to the needle and attach to design one row at a time. Do not try to work your design like paint by number because you will be switching rows, which will cause the fabric to pucker or the beads to not lie flat. When your bead embroidery is completed, you will have a gorgeous design or picture for this section of your quilt. You can add the additional beads to other areas of your quilt or set aside for another bead project in the future.
Many quilters find that the bead embroidery sections are great for the centerpiece or one along each inside edge of the quilt. They take time and patience but can be a wonderful addition to your quilts.
Jan Myers is the author of numerous articles and books on topics from organizational development and leadership to quilting. It was her avocation, the love of quilting, that inspired the popular online membership site for quilters known as the "world's largest quilting bee" at http://www.QuiltingResourceCenter.com .