Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Raised Bead Embroidery

A Drift of Pearls and Coral Forms

Perhaps there's something in the air. Lately I've been experimenting a little with RAISED bead embroidery and judging from the response I got on All About Beadweaving when I posted a progress photo of my recent efforts, many others are also interested in trying this technique. So despite my limited experience I thought I'd share a little of my process in case it might inspire someone else to try it too.

This is the finished cuff. For want of a more inspired name (suggestions are more than welcome!) I've called it A Drift of Pearls and Coral Forms.

The thing that I am most curious about the work of others is the thought process behind a design. I figure if  I'm interested in that sort of thing others must be as well, so if I'm wrong and you are not, bear with me while I explain mine...Usually I use pearls as accent beads, a few here and there but recently I went on a bit of a shopping spree when I found some on sale so I was feeling flush and wanted to do something 'en mass' with them. I had one strand called 'pewter'. A lustrous deep grey with a golden sheen and flashes of blue and mauve. I tipped the strand out on my bead mat and played. They arranged themselves in a sinuous, organic drift. Which made me think of the way ocean tides push and pull sand and shell particles into drifts, which lead me to think of macro photos of coral formations I'd seen and noted would be perfect to try with raised bead embroidery. I quickly sketched it out on some white foundation and dove for the beads...

I wanted to keep it monochrome so the colours of the beads didn't compete with the beauty of the pearls. I found some Gold-Lined Black Diamond AB seed beads which were a perfect match for the pearls, added some Swarovski 8mm rivoli in Crystal AB because the purple/blue flash of the AB coating picked up nicely on the colours in the pearls as well as adding light and sparkle to the palette of dark pearls.


Before I tried it, I was a little intimidated by raised bead embroidery. So far I've found it quite easy as a novice to get reasonable results. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that it is laborious, if you're looking for something low effort don't try it (or any other form of bead embroidery for that matter!) However, if you get into a good rhythm it can be quite meditative. The trick is to not think about how long its taking. Otherwise it does get frustrating. The upside is that once the padding is down there is no backstitching to do at all. 

First you have to create the padding for the beads to sit on. I do this with layers of ordinary felt from the craft shop cut into pads that are sewn down with small stab stitches in ever increasing sizes until they are covered with a final layer, the actual size and shape of the object you are creating. It would be quicker, but you cannot glue the felt layers. Stitching them down creates a nice, smooth domed edge for the beads to seamlessly roll down off. Use as many layers as required to achieve the desired height. Most of the 'corals' in my cuff have only three layers.

Fig 1.

You can see two corals (they look more like donuts at the moment!) covered with felt in the photo above. The one on the right is complete and the one on the left has only two layers applied so far. Hopefully this illustrates what I mean about each subsequent layer being bigger in circumference than the previous one. When making the stab stitches, come up from the underside of the foundation outside the felt and come down into the felt, not the other way around and try to match your felt to blend with the beads you will be using in case of gaps. Although I have used permanent marker in the past to colour the felt when I've changed my mind about colours.

Fig 2.

Figure 2 shows all the corals covered with felt and one is already clad in beads. When applying the beads, come up from the underside of the foundation just far enough outside the felt to accommodate for one bead width, whichever size you are using, pick up enough beads to span across the felt and come down on the other side, again, just outside the felt. Because my shapes were round the outer circumference was much larger than the inner one. To allow for this I started by picking up a few size 11 beads then switching to size 15's. This was still not enough to accommodate for the change in radius so in some places I had to come up from the outer edge with shorter lengths of beads and sew down into the padded donuts themselves. This is no problem, just watch your tension that you don't pull to tightly and distort the padded shape. The important thing is to get the beads to lie close enough to each other that no felt shows through. I also find it helpful to draw guidelines marking the direction that I want the strands of beads to lie in - you'd be surprised how easy it is to veer off course. You can see I've done this on the central donut just above and to the right of the one already covered in beads.

That's really all there is to it. It's pretty simple, it just requires patience. I am pleased with how this cuff turned out and hope to revisit the coral forms again in a future work.

I hope someone finds this useful and if any of you do end up giving raised bead embroidery a go I hope you'll share the results with me!


  1. Gorgeous Results!! Thanks for sharing your inspiration and process. I think it's is equally as interesting as the final project.

  2. And BTW, that would have been my impulse with the little spaces between as well!

    1. Thank you, as always Marsha! If you look closely at the spaces you might be able to see a coiled metal wire. When I purchased it (online) I was expecting something more like bullion wire but it was much too soft and springy and I thought I'd never get much use out of it. Turns out it's perfect for filling in the tiniest of gaps that even a size 15 couldn't dream of getting into. It gave me an unhealthy amount of pleasure cutting it into segments as short as two coils long and cramming it into every offending space I could find. In hindsight though, I would have preferred a decorative fabric laid over my foundation but that would have required a stash of fabric to rival the bead stash (I bet you've got one!) or a level of planning that I'm just not capable of!

  3. wow, that's really good & you work so fast! i swear I spend more than half my day doing nothing but running around all the same. I will have to get to work on the stumpwork kit I picked up, I've been wanting to try ribbon embroidery but I went & priced supplies today & almost fainted! Like when I started beading I suppose. I'm trying to think of a way to combine everything but when Im older (like 50, 36 now) I hope to make the most wicked cool artdolls with my combined talents. anyway, im off to work on a cross stitch now, unfortunately the beads have not been whispering to me lately. bec (cleo khat on fb)

    1. Thats interesting, my impulse is also to incorporate some embroidery techniques into my beadwork but I agree with you about the expense! A couple of skeins of cotton and before you know it you've racked up a $50 bill. Luckily when I was pregnant with my first child I became obsessed with making those flower fairy cross stitches and by some miracle managed to hold on to the leftover thread (considering she's 21 now and I'm the opposite of a hoarder, it is a miracle). I just bought a piece of prefinished linen, some larger needles and a cheap plastic hoop and today I'm going to try out some long and short stitch. Wish me luck!

  4. Absolutely beautiful! The colors, the materials, the design just sing. And thanks for sharing your process. You've inspired me to give raised bead embroidery a go.

    1. Thank you very much Penny! Good luck with it!