Ideas for Making Fabric Beads
I love beads, I used to buy loads of them.
But you don't have to just buy beads, you can make some pretty awesome handmade beads too. A limited budget forced me to look at how I could make my own beads.
If you already have a stash of fabric, why not try making some fabric beads?
Below are some ideas and inspiration for you to make your own fabric beads.
So get your thinking caps on, have a look through the information below and get inspired.
Let me know what you come up with!
Nothing but Fabric
Of course the first stop when coming up with ideas for fabric beads is actually making the beads out of fabric.
This could take up a whole lens all on it's own because there are so many ideas and experiments that you could use.
You could make a really simple bead just by wrapping fabric around some stuffing. Of course you would be left with a funny rough bit of fabric sticking out at one end but maybe that would give you an interesting effect anyway. Check out the diagram below.
When I've made beads like this I've sewn them to the background textiles piece so that the funny gathered piece is hidden behind the bead.
You can stuff your beads with anything - toy stuffing, kapok, old fabrics, wool etc.
In this link you will find a few excellent tutorials for making different types of beads and buttons from fabric.
My doughnut-shaped bead (shown opposite) was an accident - I was trying to make the braided knot bead from the link below.
These beads were made from a long strip of fabric. I wrapped one end of the strip into a tight circle and then continued to wrap the excess fabric into circle until I was left with a donut shaped bead.
Think about how you could structure beads from a pattern.
Search for patterns for making globes - look at the kind of patterns that are used for sport's balls.
As you can see from the image opposite, you can make a whole cluster of fabric beads simply by taking a piece of fabric and pushing balls of stuffing into it from behind.
These are made in exactly the same way as the first example I showed you but the beads are not made from one individual scrap of fabric but a big piece or fabric and the beads are left all attached to one another. These beads were made by stitching balls of wool behind some muslin and stitching it into place. It creates a bobbled surface, rather than individual beads.
Above: An idea I had for a textiles piece featuring the bobbly bead technique from above.
When you insert stuffing into the back of a textiles piece you're going to warp the original shape so a square piece of fabric will no longer be square.
Wrapped beads are great if you want to produce a longer thinner bead (although this technique can also work well with shorter beads too).
They're great for showing off several layers at once - and can be very beautiful if you use more than one fabric.
Hot Air Gun
This is my favourite tool for fabric manipulation - but it also works well for melting plastics too. Just don't forget to wear a respirator and work in a well ventilated area because some of those fumes are pretty nasty!
Some people recommend "proper" craft heat tools but I've never had a problem with using the "bog standard" hot air gun for my textiles projects.
Heat guns are great for "welding" fabric and plastic together, removing the tops layers of textiles pieces, melting holes through fabric and singing edges so they don't fray.
Melted Wrapped Beads
Wrapped beads can also be melted into place to reveal all the different layers.
I use synthetic fabrics and plastic bags but you can also use Tyvek.
Above: This bead was made by wrapping a strip of silver plastic bag up with a strip of red synthetic fabric and then melting them with a hot air gun.
Opposite: A range of fabrics, net and silver bag were wrapped up into a bead and blasted with the hot air gun.
Tyvek comes in paper forms (they make envelopes out of it) and fabric. Both can be used to make beautiful wrapped beads.
Tyvek can be painted and sewn through. It can also be melted with an iron in patches and appliqued to textile backgrounds.
Make sure you have a separate soldering iron for craft work and electrical work because fabric and plastic will coat the tip of the iron and ruin it for finer work.
Soldering irons are a great way for melting your textiles work with control - unlike the hot air gun which is somewhat chaotic.
I've talked about using a hot air gun to melt wrapped beads but how about melting into them with a hot air gun?
You can create patterns from pressing the soldering iron into the surface of your wrapped beads and revealing the layer beneath.
Why not make your fabric beads into mini textiles masterpieces?
You can embroider flat pieces of textiles and make them into beads, like I have with the discs below.
These were made from one large piece of embroidered, layered textiles.
I cut the textiles piece into circles and sewed two circular pieces backsides-together.
The edge of the bead disc was satin-stitched* to hide the raw edge of the textiles and then beaded with sead beads.
With these discs you have a wonderful opportunity for decorating the flat side of your textiles pieces - you could even machine embroider imagery onto them - mini portraits or landscapes - bigger versions would also be great as Christmas tree decorations.
*A word of warning - because the layers by this point were very thick I broke my first bobbin case this way! So try not to make your bead textiles piece too thick in the first place!
The Bead Maker
This book have got some gorgeous instructions for making some fabric heart beads (from velvet - they're yummy!) and some embroidered cube beads which are worked around a cube of wood and have machine embroidery decorated sides.
The Bead Maker is a great book to start with if you're starting to think about making your own beads.
It has great tutorials for using polymer clay, felt, natural materials like seed pods, plastics and, of course, fabric and embroidery.
The obvious "textile" bead is the felt bead.
These can be simple or complex. They can be one plain colour or they can be decorated or stitched into.
Simple felt beads can also be used as a base for fabrics and textiles.
You could just as easily use bunched up wadding or even discarded fabric - this will give you a great base that you can stitch into.
When you're making felt beads it's nice to have a good selection of colours available - also think about adding yarns and other fibres to the surface of the bead as you're working it.
In the images below you can see how I felted a pebble.
This is a great way to make big felt beads.
Just grab any pebble that you love the shape of.
Wrap wool around it, felt it. Wait for it to dry.
Cut a slit along one side, take the pebble out, stuff the felted casing to make a solid shape and sew it up.
I'm thinking about covering this bead with hand embroidery but other options include needle felting into it or dyes.
Don't want to fuss around with attaching beads to your textiles pieces afterwards?
How about incorporating shiny materials into the fabric to pick the light up, just like a bead would?
The sample below was made by stretching out stretchy Lycra on a board, crushing blobs of silicone into the fabric, then rubbing gold (or silver) leaf into the silicone.
Once the stretchy fabric is un-stretched the metallic blobs remain stretched and raised from the surface.
In the lower part of the textiles piece opposite you'll see some silver dots - these are the melted remnants of a piece of metallic voile I found to cover the top of the textiles piece with.
When I melted the majority of the voile away I was left with a few metallic threads and the gorgeous silver studs.
The effect opposite was made with beads of hot glue gun - think about making beads by trapping layers of fabric or paper in between glue.
Glue gun glue can be used to make great blobs and studs (as you've seen opposite).
The glue can be embossed with rubber stamps and it can be coloured too.
The glue can even be stitched over - an easy way to make a line of raised stitching.
Covering Objects with Fabric to Make Beads
The Bottle tops used below could easily be covered with fabric to make big chunky beads.
What else could you use as a starting point to make beads?
I've already mentioned straws and wooden cubes above but what else could you use?
The bead below was made by wrapping a knitted tie around a used thread spool and then tying it in place with ribbon yarn and handspun yarn.
Bags as Beads
Green Bobble Bag
Bags as Beads?
The little bag I made (shown opposite) was inspired by a bobbly glass bead.
Think about how beads in other materials (like metal or wood, or glass) could inspire your textiles work.
How can you duplicate a certain look in textiles?
This book is full of techniques for making beads out of fibre, paper, polymer clay, metal and glass and contains many beautiful examples of each type of bead.
This book is another great starting point if you're interested in making your own beads.
Making Beautiful Beads: Glass * Metal * Polymer Clay * Fiber
This book contains some beautiful images of glass beads, which inspired the bag above.
I bought it because I was fascinated with making glass beads - I wanted to know how it was done - and there's a section about lamp-worked beads in this book.