While it takes more stitching than
the medieval method, Lady Grizel of Dunforts method for
stitching seed beads is so secure that she claims the finished
product is actually machine washable. This is what well
use for our beaded boxtop.
Grizels method has three steps. The beads
are STITCHED down onto the fabric, then they are LACED together,
and finally they are thoroughly COUCHED. By the time were
finished, each bead has three or four independent threads holding
it down, and the chances that it will come loose any time soon
are minimal indeed.
Here are the steps.
Step 1: Stitching
Thread your needle, knot the end, and come up through
your fabric where you want to start laying down beads. Thread
a few beads on your needle three or four is a good number,
you may want to use just one or two in a tight spot or on a curve.
Lay the beads down along the design line. Plunge your needle back
into the fabric a little beyond the last bead you dont
want to pull the beads so tight they buckle, but neither do you
want them loose.
Bring your needle back up at the beginning of your
little group of beads, and go through them all again. Now thread
a few more beads on your needle. Lay them on the design, plunge
your needle, then bring it back up at the beginning of the new
group and go through them again. Repeat this its
called lazy backstitch until the lines of your
design are covered, or until you want to stop and secure the beads
youve done before going any further.
Youll notice that once all your beads are
laid down on the fabric, your beadwork becomes just as portable
as any other kind of embroidery, since you no longer need to carry
jars of loose beads around with you.
Step 2: Lacing.
With a new thread, working entirely on top of the
fabric, youre now going to lace your rows of beads together
into a solid unit. Again, take care that you dont pull your
thread so tight that the beads buckle or become distorted.
Bring your needle up at the beginning of a row
or group of beads and go through them all at once. Go through
the next row of beads in the opposite direction, from right to
left. Go on to the next row, left to right again and so forth.
When youre done with this first round of
lacing, turn your work around and lace each row again from the
opposite direction. Each bead row will have two lacing threads
through it in opposite directions. This insures that all the rows
of beads are securely held together at both ends of the row.
Step 3: Couching.
Now youre going to go back and do what our
medieval forebears did, couch between beads.
Bring your needle up next to a row of beads. Take
a small stitch over the row, in between two beads so that all
youre really stitching down is the thread between them.
Tug gently on the thread if you need to so that it pops
down between the beads and is invisible.
You probably dont need to couch between every
bead. Every two or three beads is plenty, since youve secured
them in two ways already. Griz suggests that when you couch, you
take a stitch over two rows instead of one, and that you take
your next couching stitch over one of the rows you just did plus
one new one. This cross-links the bead rows, making it even less
likely that beads will be lost. If you have trouble with your
thread showing, be patient with it, and poke it with your needle
if necessary to make it pop down out of sight.
When your beads are thoroughly couched, youre
done. Take your work out of the frame, trim it as needed, and
apply it to your project using stitching or glue as appropriate.
Finished beadwork can be gently pressed (as long
as none of the beads are plastic) by laying the beadwork face
down over a thick towel or other cushioning.
When machine-washing garb that has beadwork on
it, its a good idea to put the garment in a muslin bag to
keep the beads from hitting the sides of the washing tub and becoming
broken or scratched.
For this project, I chose a small cylinder-shaped
pasteboard box, about three inches across and a couple of inches
tall, from the local craft store. The bead embroidery is for a
central motif on the top of the box, and for a border to reach
around the bottom half of the outside, below the edge of the lid.
I worked the beading in #11 seed beads on washed cotton velveteen,
backed with heavy linen, stretched in a roller frame. This worked
very well, except that I made the mistake of choosing a very dark
color of velveteen, which meant it was hard to mark the pattern
on it, and I needed extra good light to be able to work on it.
I solved the pattern-marking problem by drawing
the pattern out on white paper, basting the paper to the cloth
(see above), and taking small running stitches along the pattern
lines. The paper can then be torn away and the lines gone over
with chalk or marking pencils.
|The top motif and border pattern are both
from a book on the enamels of Limoges (1100 to 1300); these
motifs were originally enameled on metal, but they seemed
appropriate to translate into simple beadwork. The original
enamels also inspired my color scheme of turquoise blue,
deep blue, gold and white. The outline [below] is actual
size for the box I used.
Actual size pattern
for top motif
||The beads I used were ordinary glass seed
beads from my neighborhood bead store. There are about 400
beads in a strand; colored beads come in packages of about
12 strands, and the gold beads (which are faceted and plated
with real metal), 2 strands for about the same price. The
center motif and border take just about 2 strands of gold,
one of dark blue and less than half a strand of the other
Bead diagram (very
Once the pattern was marked, I began at one end
of the border, just laying down a line of beads at first. It took
a little experimenting to discover how many beads made the right
size and shape of teardrop that wouldnt become
too fat when outlined with the gold. After Id done a few
border motifs, I started working on the top motif, working from
the center outward. I had the same problem here, figuring out
how many beads to use where, so Ive drawn a diagram at the
bottom of this page to give you an idea of approximately how many
beads the motif takes and where to put them. Since real beads
arent all exactly the same size, yours wont look exactly
like this, but it gives you an idea of where youre going.
Once the beads are all laid down, laced, and couched,
the finished beadwork is gently pressed and then cut out (with
seam allowances!). The top circle and a narrow straight strip
are sewed together to cover the lid. The border and a plain cloth
circle cover the boxs sides and bottom. The pieces are carefully
glued onto the pasteboard with fabric glue and let dry. Last,
a cord is glued along the edge of the lid to hide the raw edges.
Actual size pattern for border
Grizels main bead page:
Nine pages of instructions on Grizels method
of bead embroidery, with abundant illustrations: http://www.medievalbeads.com/notes.html
(available for viewing on line or as a PDF)
Survey of bead types (not all of them period for
dates before 1600):
My thanks to Grizel and to Mistress Catherine Lorraine
for helpful suggestions with this article.
My thanks also as Guild Chronicler to Maud de Clayton, Juliana
Sattler, Jakob der Jude, Wilhelm der Grosse, Ghislaine dAuxerre,
and Her Imperial Majesty Elisabeth Grey, Empress of Adria, for