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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Testing... 1, 2, 3, 4... 5... 6...

I have been thinking about making bead embroidered clothing for almost four months now.  And it has been hard to start, because I knew the results would not be very swell the first time.  But I am going to share my struggles.  Because both of us can learn from my mistakes, eh?

 Lesson #1
If I want to keep using quilted dupioni silk as a base, I need to contrast the embroidery with the silk color.  Matching it doesn't work.  I am used to working in the super-bling of rhinestones, but the beads do not have enough punch of their own, (unless I am planning to be very subtle) to be the same color as the busy textured ground.  If the ground was not quilted, it might work.  I do like seeing some fabric in this piece, but I can also imagine loving entirely filling the graphics with beads.  But, wait... weight!  But the idea of using floss in conjunction with beads is pretty juicy too!

Lesson #2
I was so excited when I realized that I was finally ready to give this a try, I did almost zero design work.  I just flew by the seat of my pants.  I grabbed a quilted vest I owned, patterned a similar vest, chopped it out and laid out applique on it as fast as I could, so I could start working with the beads.  
Fine, but if I want to produce something gorgeous, I need to plan.  And since I am planning to make the garments myself, I need to start with the design of the garment, and THEN the design of the embellishment.  No more wasting energy on making it up as I go along.  

Lesson #3
I don't think I want to use bead backing.  I want the garments to stay as supple as possible, so tension is everything.  And I have a notorious tight hand with a needle. So I must pull the thread taught and STOP.   I don't really see a way to put the work in a hoop, so I have had to learn to keep it completely flat where I am working, so I do not cram in too many beads, another of my favorite things to do. Every time the lines buckle, too many beads is the problem. Took me a long time to catch on.  
 I started at the top and worked my way down with the scroll work.  You can see how my edges improved as I went along.  They REALLY SUCK the the top.  It is much easier to work over the extra layer of fabric where the applique is, than to stitch free form without the added stiffness of the applique.

Lesson #4
Finishing the garment is going to take time, and I have to account for that.  I imagine that what I want to make will be mostly tailored things, vests, jackets, coats...  And everything will need linings.  I am an adequate tailor, and hopefully my skills will be sufficient to the task.  

Lesson #5
There has to be a way to clean these garments I want to make.  I purposefully chose beads with various finishes from various manufacturers.  And I will send the thing to the dry cleaner and see what happens.  Eek.  That will be a grand lesson.  I know Miyuki has a list of beads they consider to be colorfast.  I imagine Toho does too.  No idea about Matsuno.  We shall see.  This was the thing that was maybe the most frightening to me, but the stores are full of fall and winter party dresses. Many of them have beadwork, with beads that look less permanently attached and of lower quality than mine. 

Lesson #6
 I need to think about closure as part of the design.  I have some awesome Chinese frogs I thought would close this garment, but nope, WAY too busy.  I ordered gold snaps.  FROM TURKEY!!! Because that is where I could find nice brass snaps.  Really?  Really!  So the closure will have to wait a bit.  But I think I am ready to do some sketching for a second effort.  


  1. The vest looks wonderful all over to me Marsha! First rate! If it were me, I'd still be standing at the cutting table, scissors in hand, sweating away with fear. Did you back the appliques so the edges wouldn't fray? If that's a trade secret, no answer necessary. I love what you are doing...I even like the matching color leaves with the fabric...they provide contrast with the brighter leaves and add depth. Can't wait to see what you do next! JeanneEvans

    1. Jeanne, I fused the appliqué in place and then machine stitched the edges. Then I made sure to cover the stitching with beads. I see a tiny fray at the very edge, beneath the bead, but I don't think it is a problem. I will see when the cleaning happens. The edges could be turned, but that would take more time. :)

  2. You did an awesome job of it.....and all the points you made are so spot on; I am in the middle of beading a fabric bag myself right now and I have had to walk away from it several times out of sheer frustration.

    1. Thank you Naan! I thought I SHOULD start with a bag, but that never happened. Lol. I will look forward to seeing it!

  3. Nice Job! Love the colors and design. I do think you might be better off turning appliques under but your right it is more work. And I thought if you used tear away interfacing underneath as you bead it might give you a more solid work table. I cant wait to see it finished.

    1. Jennie, thanks. Obviously, some of the leaves, the elm shapes, could have been turned. The oak and maple leaves are so very complex that it is hard to imagine getting those edges to turn. I ripped some of these leaves three times before I was happy and I saw no fraying past my line of stitching. I will be very surprised if they ever do.

  4. Very nice job, Marsha! I love the colors you used. I have also been thinking about bead-embroidered clothing, but for dolls. I'm thinking... maybe one of those square tambour embroidery hoops could work? They come in all kinds of sizes.

    Can't wait to see what you do next!

    1. When I worked at the Guthrie, we sent things off to NYC to be bead embroidered and we just marked our patterns out on the fabric, but did not cut anything. My understanding was that the embroidery was done on a huge frame. I have to look up tambour hooks, and how that all works, but in my memory, that was like a chain stitch, and if one came off, the rest were in peril. I really like holding a needle, and I think that is how I want to do this thing. Thanks for reading and for your comment and suggestions!