Some years ago, while walking through a quaint and arty area in Montreal, I spotted a painting of an owl in the window of an art gallery. It was largely made up of metal parts, but what really stopped me in my tracks was the clock face that was its pot belly.
That owl inspired me. For hours I found myself thinking about how I could translate the idea into embroidery. By the time I got home from Canada, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and the moment I was over my jet lag, I sat down and drew an owl with Jacobean flowers in its belly.
It started me on a most enjoyable journey, one that resulted in a book of African animals stitched in the colors of their native landscape with crewel embroidery techniques. Among the many stitches I used for texture, I added beads for sparkle and variety. These techniques will help you make beaded flowers to add to your own embroidery projects.
General Notes and Abbreviations
- PU: Pick up
- GT: Go through (pass the needle through a bead)
- GU: Go up (pass the needle toward the petal tip)
- GD: Go down (pass the needle toward the flower center)
Use size 11 or size 15 beads, with a size 12 beading needle or a size 11 sharps quilting needle with fine beading thread.
Before you attach beaded items to fabric, it’s vital to check that the thread is colorfast: Wind some onto a plastic floss card, plunge the card into very hot — almost boiling — water, remove it, and pat it dry on a light-colored towel. If there’s no color left behind on the towel, the thread is safe to use.
Note that when working each component of these objects, your stitching tension should be extremely tight. If it isn’t, the elements will be floppy, which isn’t ideal.
Starting a Flower
Try to work each flower with a continuous strand of thread, up to 5 feet long. A single thread may not be possible with larger flowers.
First, PU 1 bead. GT it a second time without snagging the thread. Pull it toward the end of the thread, leaving a 6-inch tail. This will act as a removable stopper bead.
In each petal, you’ll need to GT the first bead a few times, and when you’re using size 15 beads, the holes may become clogged with thread. Where the process for size 11 and size 15 beads is different, two diagrams and their instructions are provided.
If you need to start a new thread, finish off at the completion of a petal, starting your new thread with a new petal.
Ending a Thread
- Work the needle and thread to the top of the petal or leaf.
- Work a half hitch over the thread that runs between the bead you’ve come out of and the bead next to it, as follows:
- Take the needle over the beading thread, then under it. Continue by going over and under the working thread.
- Pull tight to form a knot over the beading thread.
- Take the needle back down the bead you came out of.
- Pull tight until you feel the knot click into the bead. This will pull the knot into the bead and make it invisible.
- Work down a few beads, bringing the needle out on the wrong side, and snip off the thread.
Starting a New Thread
- Work up a few beads with the new thread coming out of a different bead, close to where you ended off.
- Make a half hitch over the interleading thread.
- Having pulled the knot into the bead you came out of, work down the beads of the petal until you exit the bead at the bottom.
- Continue adding beads according to the pattern.
Make a Four-Bead Flower
A four-bead flower has a "backbone" of four beads. Referring to diagram 1 (above) and working with 5 feet of thread:
- PU beads 1 to 5.
- GD bead 3.
- PU bead 6.
- GD bead 1.
- GU bead 6.
- PU bead 7.
- GU bead 5.
- GD bead 7.
For size 11 beads: Referring to diagram 2a (above), turn your work over and work down beads 6 and 1, exiting the bottom bead. (If you’re using size 15 beads, refer to diagram 2b, below.)
- GU bead 2.
- PU bead 8.
- GU bead 4.
- GD bead 8.
For size 15 beads: Referring to diagram 2b (above), turn your work over. GD bead 6, and then follow the instructions in diagram 2a, top.
Referring to diagram 3, add the second petal:
- GD beads 2 and 1.
- PU bead 9.
- GD bead 1 and GU bead 9.
- PU bead 10.
- GD bead 2 and GU bead 10.
- PU beads 11, 12, and 13.
- GD bead 11.
- PU bead 14 and GD bead 9.
For size 11 beads: Referring to diagram 4a (above):
- GU bead 10.
- PU bead 15 and GU bead 12.
- GD bead 15.
- Continue down beads 10 and 9 to the bottom.
For size 15 beads: Referring to diagram 4b (above):
- Follow the instructions in diagram 4a.
- Continue down bead 10.
- GU bead 14.
Referring to diagram 5a (top) for size 11 beads or 5b (above) for size 15 beads:
- GU bead 14.
- PU bead 16 and GU bead 13.
- GD beads 16, 14 and 9.
Following the instructions for the second petal, continue adding petals until you’ve completed the fifth petal. As you finish the last petal and prepare to follow the instructions for completing the flower in the next section, be sure to end at the tip of the petal. You'll work down the side of the last petal again as you join the petals to complete the flower.
Join Petals to Complete a Flower
In the final stages of the fifth petal of the flower, you’ll need to work on the wrong side to join the side of that petal to corresponding beads on the side of the first petal with a square stitch. The number of beads you join will depend on how many beads have been joined in the construction of the flower, varying from two to four, and even more if the flower is large. The instructions below relate to a 10-bead flower, but you’ll follow the same pattern to finish any size flower.
Referring to diagram 6 (above), in the final stages of the last petal:
- GD beads 92 to 86 (the 4th bead from the bottom) of the last petal.
- GU bead 23 (the 4th bead from the bottom) of the first petal.
- GD beads 86 and 79 of the last petal.
- GU bead 16 of the first petal.
- GD beads 79 and 62 of the last petal.
- GU bead 15 of the first petal.
- GD beads 62 and 48 of the last petal.
- GU bead 1 of the first petal.
- GD bead 48 of the last petal.
Because you’ve been working on the wrong side, you’ll see many of the threads that run up the side of the beads. Turn your flower over, and these working threads won’t be visible.
Attach Flowers to Fabric
Thread the longer of the two tails of thread at the base of the completed flower on a needle, and insert the needle through the fabric at the point where you’d like to place the flower. Bring the needle up in the small gap in the center of the flower at approximately the place where two petals meet. Work a small couching stitch over the thread or threads that run from the bottom bead of one petal to the bottom bead of the adjacent petal, continuing around the bases of all the petals. Come up through the fabric behind one of the petals approximately level with the second or third bead up from the base of the flower. Take the needle through the closest bead and back into the fabric. Attach a second petal through a bead, at the back, on the opposite side of the flower.
If you have enough thread left on the needle, come up in the center of the flower. (If not, end off that thread and use the remaining tail.) Pick up as many beads as you need to make a stamen in the center of the flower. Consider using a different, larger bead at the top.
Bring the needle back down all the beads, except for the top one that acts as a stopper bead. Go back into the fabric and either end off or come back up a few more times to make stamens as needed. Use small beads for the stalks and larger beads for the tips of stamens, running up the line of beads, through the final (stopper) bead, and back down. End off that thread, and come back to place twigs and small branches around the flowers.
Bring the needle up through the fabric from underneath the petals of the flowers so that the twigs radiate from the flowers. Make a variety of lengths. If the twigs or stamens won’t lie the way you want them to, place a small couching stitch between two of the beads in the stalk, close to the base.
Hazel Blomkamp travels the world teaching embroidery and fine beadwork. This is excerpted with permission from her book Crewel Creatures, published by Metz Press and exclusively distributed by Search Press.