Crazy Quilt Beading

The annual Fiber Arts Festival was July 24th and 25th at Bonanzaville in West Fargo. Fargo resident Virginia Dambach taught a class on embellishing crazy quilts and brought just a small portion of her collection of beads, trims, and embellishments. Students were provided their choice of pre-stitched blocks. The class went over creating a silk ribbon sunflower with beaded center, two styles of beaded trim, a dragonfly landing upon a dandelion, spider roses, a wispy dandelion, and added ribbon and lace. You will learn how easy the beading techniques are later in this article.

This example block was created using collected items from museums, shops, stashes, and other strange places, much like a scrapbook of stitchery. The "frame" is a set of 9" stretcher bars with a ribbon trim along the edges. You can assign much meaning to your own crazy quilt blocks by adding embellishments and stitches from vacations, traveling, events, or special occasions in your or your family’s lives, truly creating something unique from memorable experiences.

This article focuses more on some specific embellishments with beads to add dimension to your project. Let’s start with the sunflower. The sunflower petals are done with 7mm silk ribbon with a ribbon stitch. The leaf is a pre-made silk leaf. The stem of the leaf is couched down with the sunflower petals worked over it to hold it in place. The center of the sunflower was created from a "bead soup" provided by Virginia. As you can see, the beads were a variety of sizes, colors, and finishes. Working from the outer edge into the center, sew down each bead separately. This allows you better placement so the background fabric doesn’t show through. You will need a thread made for beading such as Nymo. Because the holes in the beads will vary in size even among the same type of beads, you will want to have several sizes of beading needles to choose from.Some options are John James and Colonial. A bead mat will allow you to pour out several beads and they will stay put until you are ready to attach them. Our Tacky B.O.B. (Box fOr Beads) works great.

To attach a single seed bead, you bring your threaded needle up where you want to bead to be. Thread the bead onto the needle and down the thread to the fabric. Position the bead where you want it to lie and take your needle down through the fabric just to the outside of the bead. If your bead seems to pop up off the fabric then the thread stitch was too short when you went back through the fabric. You can run your needle back through the bead one more time to help secure it in place and reduce stress on a single thread. Every so often you can also make a knot on the back of the fabric, especially when there are so many beads being attached. It would be horrible to have a thread break and the beads come off.

The next area worked was the beaded trims. The first one is the feather stitch done first with variegated embroidery floss. After all the "branches" were stitched using the feather stitch, a single seed bead was sewn at the tip of each stitch. Mill Hill has a wonderful selection of seed beads. Try to match the thread to the bead and not to the fabric so your thread won’t be as noticeable. That can be challenging because beading thread comes in a limited array of colors.

The second trim is made entirely of beads. This "bead soup" included seed beads, bugle beads, and faceted beads. Bugle beads are cut from a long tube of glass called a cane. The beads can be irregular lengths so you want to sort out the length you need for your project. Bugle beads have sharp ends so it is important to reinforce the beads. You can do that either by stitching through the bead twice or adding a seed bead to each end. This fan design was created by using the larger bead at the center and then a bugle bead and a seed bead for each spoke. To make sure the beads don’t pucker, push the bead group down to the fabric and let them lay where you want them. Make your stitch through the fabric at the end of that grouping. Don’t try to guess where the end might be! You will spend a lot of time unstitching your beads. Spend the extra second checking the placement and save lots of unbeading minutes.

The dragonfly is next. This bead soup packet contained seed beads, bugle beads, and two faceted beads for the eyes. The ribbon stitch with organza ribbon makes up the wings, which are stitched after the body is beaded. To make the raised body, you lay down a 1" piece of rattail cord. With your beading needle, come up on one side of the cord at the top. String on about five seed beads and push them down to the fabric. Don’t put your needle through yet, but with your fingers see if the five beads will go over the cord and lie nicely. If the line of beads bulges, then remove one bead and see if it fits better. Add a bead if it doesn’t cover the cord. When you are satisfied with the results, make your stitch on the other side of the cord. Come up on the other side of the cord, string on your seed beads and go down on the opposite side. Repeat this until you get to the end of the rattail cord. To finish the body, create one ridge with three beads. To create the tail, pick up a seed bead, bugle bead, and another seed bead and pull your thread through. Do that two or three times to get the length you want. If the beads in the tail don’t appear straight, you can often fix that by running your thread through the entire length of the tail.

As you can see, beads can be used as an accent to other stitching or as their own elements. Different types of beads can be used to create different effects.

The possibilities seem almost limitless when it comes to beading and crazy quilting. There are great reference books available to help you get started or to give you new ideas.

One idea that has been bouncing around in my head is to do a crazy quilt Christmas tree using old family jewelry. Many years ago a popular craft was to take old jewelry and paste it to a wooden board that had been painted or covered with felt to look like a Christmas tree. Has anyone tried doing something like this in crazy quilting? I would love to hear about your adventures into crazy quilting. Is there a self-help group for people addicted to crazy quilting??


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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