a guide to beads

For the most part, I have my style figured out. It’s classic and feminine with a touch of whimsy. I still try trends every so often (and usually fail miserably), but it’s nice to have a handle on what you feel good in and what is flattering on your body. While this is more of a positive thing than anything else, it’s also easy to fall into a routine of the “same old, same old” projects, like endless repeat makes (hi, how many versions of Vogue 8772 have I made now? a dozen?) and lots of the same silhouette in different colors and patterns. I happen to think that there’s nothing in the world wrong with that – as long as you’re making and wearing things you love, who cares? If you’re like me, sometimes a project comes along that very much your style or something you just really enjoy sewing, but it’s begging for a little something extra. Things like embroidery and trim and applique can do the trick, but so can something like beadwork and sparkly embellishment. (Did someone say sparkly?)

There’s plenty I can talk about with confidence, but I am by no means an expert in this particular area. I want to say that right off the bat. Beadwork is something I’ve dabbled in over the years, and what I know is a direct result of experimentation and practice. I’ve done a good bit of research and studied the placement of embellishment on RTW garments to get a handle on how to do it, and I’ve gotten really good at drafting the grid on my patterns for balanced, symmetrical placement. (It’s really not difficult at all. I’ll dedicate a post to that soon.) I’ll stock up on pretty glass beads a couple times a year when they’re on mega sale, and my notebooks are full of different design sketches and thoughts about bead/rhinestone combinations. I love the idea of embellishment like this, because it immediately makes a garment look more expensive and unique. It also adds character to an otherwise basic piece. We all need basics and there’s nothing wrong with them, but sometimes the basics are so uninspiring to me I can’t think of anything I’d rather make less.

I had big plans for Vogue 9197 in navy blue with embellishment for Christmas 2016, but I never got around to it. I’d like to revisit the idea this year, but here are just a few ideas for different clusters of embellishment. The options are endless!

I made a white blouse last year (another version of Vogue 8772), and I put the pussy bow ties on it (You can see it in this post). I never, ever wore it. It was in plenty of pictures, and it sure looked great on my dress form, but I knew I had to remove the pussy bow and replace it with a traditional collar. I did that a few weeks ago (I love it now), and I knew that doing so would make it a perfect piece in the black and white collection I’m working on. It was fine and all, but I woke up one day inspired to make it a little more . . . luxe. I played around with some color combinations, but I ultimately decided that something that had black, white, and gold in it would go beautifully with the other pieces in the group, like the black pants or floral skirt. Using those colors also keeps it neutral enough to go with lots of other things too, which I love.

For this blouse, I’m using black, glue-on rhinestones, gold bugle beads, and silver Swarovski hotfix crystals. (I’m planning to replace the clear buttons with black ones.)

This is what my grid looked like on the pattern. I like to get a rough idea for placement and then put either one of the beads or the whole design (depending on its size) on the pattern to confirm that the spacing is okay. You don’t want something too dense, and anything with too much negative space looks like an afterthought.

Most of the beads and crystals I use I’ve found in the jewelry department at JoAnn or Hobby Lobby, Just because something is labeled for one thing doesn’t mean it isn’t a great option for something else! I used to be wary of anything that had to be glued on, but there are some excellent glues out there that will absolutely keep your beads on the fabric permanently. I’ve used both of these, and I would recommend them. Both are easy to use, but the E6000 glue came with a few small applicator tips to make gluing small beads easier, which is nice. I used the Gem-Tac on the white blouse, and it was a breeze to apply.


I’ve been collecting various beads and bits over the years, and my stash includes pearls and glass beads and sequins and wooden beads, and a few hotfix crystals. I had no idea what hotfix crystals were until last summer, when I made this pair of earrings, and now I’m hooked. Hotfix crystals have a flat back with glue, and you use a special applicator that melts the glue and attaches the crystal. It’s really fun and super easy. For my first go-round with those crystals I bought the inexpensive tool that didn’t come with different size tips to fit different size crystals. Please don’t do what I did. I actually burned a couple test pieces because the tip was so much bigger than the crystal. It could have also been user error and keeping the tip on the crystal for too long, but I got this Simplicity applicator a few weeks ago, and it’s the one you need for these crystals. Plus, it plugs in so no need for batteries. I got this at JoAnn, but Darice is also a good brand and it’s available here.

Rhinestones, available in tons of different sizes and colors – and either glue-on or sew-on.


Glass beads.

Glass bugle beads are some of my favorites because they bring a very linear look to the party. They come in tons of colors and sizes too.


Most sew-on beads have a very narrow hole for the needle, so you’ll need a couple packs of beading needles. I say a couple because they are quite delicate, and I have broken a few along the way. Tweezers are also a good idea, because they do make placing everything in the right place much easier.

A few years ago, I had an idea for a beaded collar, just covered in glass beads and pearls. Each and every one was sewn on by hand, and it took forever, but I got comfortable with the process during that project. The collar was quite heavy and needed a little extra support, but I would absolutely do that again. I love the texture is adds and the various sizes of the pearls is really interesting to me.

This is another project from the archives. This skirt sold in a sample sale, but I eventually made another for myself in khaki sateen. There’s room for improvement in terms of placement and scale of the embellishment, but I still like it. All of those beads were sewn on too, which took forever. Forever.


After the black and white collection, I have some ideas ideas for a couple pastel garments, but then I’m really going all out after that for spring. Bright orange, rich cobalt blue, vivid grass green – I’m really excited about it. I’d like to include a piece with some embellishment, and this is what I’m playing with. I love the different shapes and sizes!

Adding embellishment like this does make the garment a little more delicate in terms of how you care for it. Just look for beads that can be washed or dry cleaned, and the same thing goes for the glue. I prefer making garments that I can easy peasy throw into the wash, but I don’t mind having to pay special attention to something every once in a while. Some of you asked about how I’m going to wash the white blouse. I will probably hand wash it, hang it to dry, and then steam out any wrinkles. Not low maintenance, but that’s alright. Sometimes it’s worth it.

The black and white collection is coming along nicely – I’ll have finished garments to start sharing with you next week. Until then, happy sewing!


P.S. A little more embellishment inspiration I found on Pinterest. I have a whole collection of saved images on Instagram too. So many great ideas!

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  1. Joy Little | 16th Feb 18

    Could you please list the pattern company and number of the powder blue dress with the beaded collar? It is just gorgeous. Your work is phenomenal. I love your website. Thanks so much!

    • Emily | 17th Feb 18

      Hi, Joy! I drafted the pattern for the blue dress with the beaded collar myself. It would be easy to copy though! Just add a collar to the bodice of a fitted dress and you’re in business! Thank you for the comment, and for the kind words!

  2. Joy Little | 16th Feb 18

    What is the pattern make and number of the powder blue dress with the beading? It is just gorgeous. You have phenomenal talent! I love your website.

  3. PsychicSewerKathleen | 1st Feb 18

    So beautiful! I’m amazed at how much work you put into your garments – I wonder about cleaning them with all that beading and glue? Does it hold? Do you hand wash or dry clean? When I saw that white blouse with that beautiful beading that was the first thing in my head 🙂

    • Emily | 2nd Feb 18

      Great question! Most of time, I sew the beads on, so those hold very well. Using glue-on beads is a relatively new venture for me, but there are glues out there that hold permanently, like the two I mentioned in the post. Just like most everything else, just avoid the cheap stuff! 🙂 I will probably wash this one by hand, hang it to dry, and steam the wrinkles. Worth it for a blouse that pretty!

  4. VJones | 1st Feb 18

    I love the look of beads added to certain patterns and your blouse is beautiful! However, adding beads and other embellishments does require some thought. I once purchased a beautiful skirt with a brad bead decoration on the seam and hem, and as a teacher, I often sat on a stool in front of the class. The brads pierced into my skin every time I wore it because I would forget about them and sit on my stool. Ouch! I finally had to stop wearing my cute skirt to school! So my point is, think carefully about the outfit-how and where it will be worn-before adding the embellishments. 😀

    • Emily | 2nd Feb 18

      If anyone puts thought into their garments, it’s me. Ha! None of the skirts I’ve ever made have embellishment on the back. It would be terribly uncomfortable. I’m a big believer in investing time into making clothes that are wearable and make sense for your lifestyle. I also believe in making unique pieces every now and then, even if they are saved for special occasions.

  5. Laura Grabow | 1st Feb 18

    I love ❤️The blue beaded collar. You could also make a detachable collar with beads and without to make cleaning and care easier.

    • Emily | 2nd Feb 18

      Yes, absolutely! I might revisit the beaded collar idea at some point, and it would be fun to make it a stand alone piece. <3

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