I'm going to start with some basic and easy techniques and hopefully I will expand this tutorial in the future.
In this tutorial I will show you the way I do things. This does of course not mean that there are no other ways to do the same things. Neither does it mean that what I show is the best way to do things.
What you need:
- Material to bead on. Ideally buckskin, I'll talk a bit about materials later.
- Needles. I use Sharp's 12 needles. Basically you can use any needle that fits through the hole in your beads.
- Thread. I use ordinary sewing machine thread, in a colour that matches the colour of the buckskin I work on. Make sure you use a thread that doesn't stretch too much.
- Beeswax (for waxing the thread)
- Scissors. You need a small pair with a sharp tip.
- Tape. A broad tape for taping the back of the buckskin (only required for buckskin or buckskin like materials - I'll talk about that a little later).
- A pen with a fine tip (for drawing guidelines).
- A Ruler.
- Beads. I mostly use size 11 seed beads. Of course you can also use larger or even smaller beads.
- A candle (not strictly necessary but I like it to heat the wax).
Let's talk about materials to bead on:
The ideal material is buckskin or a good quality imitation (i.e. a soft tanned leather with the grain off and the fibers intact). This will allow you to stitch only through the surface layer of the leather instead of stitching all the way through to the other side. Moreover, buckskin stretches. While this can cause problems (I'll talk about that later) it can also work to your advantage. Your stitches don't have to be super-precise because you can adjust them by pulling on the thread.
Nevertheless you can of course use other materials like e.g. commercial leather (even hard saddle leather), canvas or even wool cloth. With all these materials you have to stitch all the way through and if you use hard commercial leather you even have to puncture the holes for every stitch with an awl.
OK, time to begin! I will use imitation buckskin. Like buckskin it is very soft and stretches and as I mentioned above this can cause some trouble: We will draw some guidelines on the leather and while we work and pull the stitches tight the buckskin will pull and stretch and the guidelines (patterns etc.) will distort. To avoid that, we simply tape the back of the leather:
This will prevent the leather from stretching and distorting the guidelines and the beadwork. Since we won't stitch all the way through the leather it won't cause any problems and once the beadwork is done the tape can be removed. One word of advice concerning the tape: Try to get some good quality tape, not the cheapest stuff that is available. I've had a bad experience with some cheap tape once: When I was done with my beadwork and removed the tape, the tape came off but a lot of glue remained on the leather…
Since other (non-buckskin) materials usually do not stretch and you have to stitch all the way through, you don't apply tape to these.
I usually use a thread in a colour that matches the colour of the buckskin I work on. This helps to hide your stitches, even if they are not that perfect. For this tutorial, however, I'll use a dark thread since it will show better in the pictures.
For best results, the thread you use should fill the holes of the beads as well as possible (we're going to double the thread. I'll talk about this shortly). This will make the beadwork look neat and the work will be very firm. What you want is the thickest thread that will still fit through the eye of your needle (without giving you constant headaches trying the thread the needle).
Threading the needle and waxing the thread:
Take a double arm's length of thread. Thread a needle with it, then double the thread:
Now it's time to wax the thread. This will do several things:
- It will make the two threads stick together and act as one thicker thread. If you don't wax the thread, it will tangle and you will get a knot in your thread in no time.
- It will protect the thread from fraying and breaking.
- It will make the thread even thicker so it will better fill the holes of the beads.
To wax the thread heat a piece of beeswax over a candle and then pull the thread through the warm wax a couple of times:
Afterwards your thread should look like this:
As you can see the two threads stick together and act as one thread. If there is excess wax on your thread you can simply strip it off with your fingers.
Heating the wax over the candle is not strictly necessary but I think waxing the thread works better if the wax is hot when you pull the thread through.
While you work and pull the thread through the leather again and again, the wax will wear off. Once you notice that the two threads are starting to come apart, re-wax the thread.
I like to put the beads in a flat dish with a very low rim:
This is actually the lid of a small box that contained epoxy tubes. I started using these simply because I had them.
Put some beads into the dish (I use one per bead colour). You don't want a heap of beads, there should be only one layer of beads:
Now start picking up beads with the needle.
Pick the first bead up with the tip of the needle:
Push the bead to the back of the needle with your index finger:
Pick the next bead up with the needle…
…and again push it to the back of the needle with your index finger:
Pick up the next bead…
…and so on until you have picked up the desired number of beads. With a little practice this can be done very quickly.
Now we're done with the basics and ready to start working!