Grizel's Machine Washable Beadwork - A Quick How-To

First, this is really easy, don't be decieved by all my gobbledygook, whenever I teach folks they go "That's it? That's easy!". It really is simple, you won't believe it. My students come back going! "WOW! everyone thinks I'm like a god now!" Really. Once you do it a few times, your' hooked. It progresses faster than regular embroidery.
I have been meaning to get the class section up for some time, I am slowly caving in to the pressure.
Yes, as far as my embroidery goes, everything is couched within an inch of it's life. No escape, no surrender.
Period method was to string all the beads on at once and then one by one couch them in place with a second thread. It's hard cumbersome and not durable, if a thread broke you could loose whole lines.
I have developed a method that is in looks almost Identical to period couching but is... gasp... machine washable and sturdy as a elephant and even can be worn in yes.. battle.
First USE good heavy cloth, broad cloth weight weave will pull apart and believe it or not, the weave will form holes and beds will flip around to the backside if you aren't careful.
I recommend you do pieces Oxford, light ca nvas, or even trigger type materials. They have a dense heavy weave. Basically if you can read a license plate through it it's too light. If you are doing accent pieces for light garb recommend you appliqué it on, hey it's period! And if the garment wears out, you simply remove it and apply to something else.

What you do is: You do a lazy back stitch to attach the beads: say... four down, go under up and back through two lay four... and forming anything from straight lines to complex tight curves in this manner.

* Once you get more adept you can raise the number, this is merely the step to get the beads where you want them. You can alternate the numbers as the shapes allow.

NEXT: You pass through the rows again laid once or twice to add more thread the inside, this smoothes curves and gives more to couch with.

NEXT: Couch two lines together, in much the same way you laid them down. Over two beads, under back up between the two you just stitched, and go over that row and the one next to it, continue until done.

NOTE: For fighters and things like medallions and heavy wear items I stitch this way over every crack. But one things your want a softer feel, you should do the outside three or four rows of sections and pieces in this manner (To make the edges sturdier) and then alternate a bit on the inside being sure not to skip over more than say every third bead. This will make the piece more flexible and supple.

I made up this drawing to try to help you visualize the technique, not too bad for 5 minutes work.



  • The only real problems is tension.
  • Always use a hoop and keep the material as tight a possible. (Bouncing quarters tight)
  • Always work from the center of your design to the outside, doing the other ways could cause your piece to "bowl" or pucker. Fill in areas the same way.
  • Don't pull the string until you turn blue, most of the time and firm tug to pass the crack of the beads is usually enough. This is something you learn in time. Pulling too much will make your piece bow upwards, convex... with practice you'll learn, and you're piece will flatten. Practice make perfect, you ought to see my first pieces.
    * TIPS: (or stuff I learned the hard way)
  • Use good beads. Buying Czech beads will help immensely, the cost is actually the same as the cheapo Taiwan beads available in crafts stores. Czechs are more uniform, the cheapos are odd in size and shape and sometimes color within the same bag. 8 or 10 grams of cheapos are like 99 cents at your craft store. 40 gr., or there abouts, of czechs are like $2.99.
  • Never use ink to draw designs, use pencil, always, use colored pencil even, NEVER USE INK, it will bleed and make you curse the heavens.
  • Always follow your drawn lines. If you bead line falls a bit shirt fine, but don't over shoot it, it will widen after the couching is done, and you may find you even need to remove beads from one end that is now too long and wants to draw up on you.
  • Always make sure lines of beads lie flat to begin with, no bowing of the lines, this will make your job easier from the start.
  • Use either beading floss or the premium sewing threads that are 100% long grain polyester, usually the more expensive ones. Not much more expensive, but they are worth it. Regular thread like Coats and Clark will fray on you sometimes in as little as three passes. I can work a good thread the very end god willing.
  • Use thread to either match the beads or the material. Matching the beads will result in a more solid look, matching the fabric will give you a more mosaic look.
  • Always keep needle nose pliers handy, they are your best friend. Stick a straight pin into the bead to be exterminated (believe me you'll know when) and grasp the top of the bead wit the pliers , cover the area with your hand, a cloth or something - coz' glass will fly and this is sharp TINY glass- and squeeze. (say a prayer, it was an innocent little thing) This will keep you from the sharp glass cutting the thread and making all this foe naught.
  • To wash pieces before (to remove pencil lines) or after attaching to garments I suggest a fabric wash sack . For small items merely tossing them in a sock and tying the top will work to protect the machine as well as the beads. For garb I say spend a few bucks (or use scrap material) and make a muslin or T-shirt drawstring bag, just shove the it in and knot it, throw it in and wash it. This is to mainly make, sure the beads don't grind on the metal sides of the washer.

That's it really. My handy tips and warnings were longer than the actual instructions, if they didn't make sense let me know!

Lady Elspeth Grizel Of Dunfort, OW, APFx2
MKA: Jen Funk Segrest
3217 Keays Ave, MIddletown, OH 45044
h:513-424-9202  or c:513-290-4749
My bead homepage:
My personal Homepage :  and another page at :

Copyright 2000 Jen Funk Segrest (Elspeth Grizel of Dunfort)