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Designing Your Beads

Before you begin, you need to think about what you want to use your beads for. The beads are built on a "bead strip" module that allows you to string various size and shape beads in the same row. At this point you need to decide the maximum width you want for your beads. Unless you want to work very large, I'd suggest that you use a 4"-8" module and that, for the time being, you work mostly in 2" units. This will become more clear as we go along.

Make a variety of bead sizes and shapes for now and we will play with them in the next lessson.

Simple Beads

Spacer Bead #1: Square or Rectangular
The bead, seen in full 3-D, may be round or square or something else, but its basic profile is a square or a rectangle. That means that these simple spacer beads, like the little gold ones above, can be easily made, and in quantity, with strip piecing techniques. Since you will often use one of these on each side of a larger bead, you may want to make extra.

Each small bead will have side strips of background fabric added to bring the width of the module up to the desired bead strip width.
Determine the size bead you want. Example: For a 6" bead strip (6 1/2" with seam allowances), a 2" x 2" small bead works nicely. Cut a strip that is 2 1/2" wide (2" finished) and any length. Then figure the extra width needed-- bead strip width minus bead width, then divided by 2, plus seam allowances.

6 - 2 = 4 divided by 2 = 2" plus seam allowances = 2 1/2"

You would sew a 2 1/2" strip of background fabric on each side of the bead strip fabric.
In the illustration below, the sewn strips have been cut into three bead sizes.

Remember, both the width and the length of the bead can be changed in this technique.

Shaped Beads

Spacer Bead #2: Diamond-shaped
Because perfectly flat-ended beads tend to string awkwardly, you will also need some spacers that are pointed or rounded on the ends.

For a diamond shaped bead, cut a square of bead fabric and a square of background fabric in your bead size. Cut the background fabric into 4 identical squares.
Pin these squares into position, covering the bead fabric square and then sew diagonally across each of the small squares. (Crease the diagonal as a guide if you need to.)

Trim the seam allowance across the corners to 1/4". Press, flip open and press again. Pressing the seam toward the bead fabric will give a bit of added dimension to the bead.

NOTE: This is much like a technique sometimes used for making Flying Geese blocks with one important difference--you have not added extra seam allowance for the center.
In Flying Geese you want to end up with a perfect point, but for a bead block, you do NOT want the point. The small flat end will give the illusion of beads connected on a string without actually having to include the string in your block. On the sides, it will give you a blunted rather than a sharp (i.e. "dangerous") point.

Long Bead #1: Pointed Ends
Repeat the process for the Diamond spacer bead, except that you start with a rectangle of the bead fabric and a matching width square of the background fabric. Cut the big square into four smaller ones. Pin a small square to each corner of the bead fabric and sew diagonally across the corner. Your bead will look something like the red ones above.

Long Bead #2: "Long Diamonds"
This time cut two matching rectangles. Cut the background fabric rectangle in half, both vertically and horizontally to make 4 small rectangles. Pin these into position, covering the bead fabric as before. Sew corner to corner on the 4 small rectangles. You may need to mark these diagonals lightly because they will not be 45 degree angles. Your bead will look something like the blue ones above.

Round Beads

If you want round beads they can always be appliqued. Pieced round beads are best done with paper piecing. Since all you need here is the illusion of a rounded bead, trimming off the corners with just three added strips will be adequate for all but the larger bead sizes. You can adjust the number and/or placement of the stitching lines to change the shape of the bead.
For a pattern (4") click here. Enlarge or reduce to fit your needs.

Combination Beads

The little drop beads above are a combination of long diamond and half round piecing.

Complex Beads

Now we need to think of our bead as a complex object rather than just a shaped one. Look at the diagram just below. I've drawn this pointed bead in three sections: two end points that resemble flying geese, and a center square (which would be a rectangle in a longer bead.) Note: Be sure to add expander strips of background fabric if needed to bring the individual bead to bead strip width.

If you construct the two end sections using the matching squares technique that we first used in the diamond bead, then you can do almost anything you want to (or can fit) in the center section. Here I've made it into a miniature 4-Patch. If you like to do mini's, this is your chance to get as complex as you want to.
More ideas:
  • Applique a fabric, an embroidered or lace motif.
  • Use a print or contrasting solid.
  • Sub-divide the space vertically or horixontally (or use a small printed stripe.)
  • Use gentle curved seam piecing to make a swirled bead.
  • Make two solid beads in different colors. Stack them both together, then slash them at an angle and sew contrasting halves together.


    In the next lesson, we will talk about "stringing" your beads and combining them into quilts or other uses. I hope by then some of you will have been able to send some photos or even blocks to be scanned. (Be sure to include a self addressed stamped envelope if you want them returned.)

    Lesson Two There are a lot of images so it may load a bit slowly.