Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bead Journal Project ~ Sept + Backing Discussion

Wooo-hooo! Two posts back to back... Depression must be lifting at last!!!

And I think maybe that's the subject of my September BJP piece... Depression Lifting... although I'm never sure because sometimes the beads and fabric change their implication or significance as I continue to bead.

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, in progress
This piece is a long way from finished. I've done some work in the upper and lower sections, but only the bare minimum in the center sections. It just began with four fabrics I liked at the moment and the intention to try folding the over-lapping sections around rat-tail cording to make a raised division between the sections. As it turns out, the raised divisions are not especially noticeable, particularly in flat photos. But it was still fun to try.

I had this little bit of purple ribbon from a gift that was just there on my work table... gotta use that! But it was only enough to do two of the sections, so of course, I had to make a trip to a rubber stamp store in Bellingham, WA to get more ribbons. Whoo-hoo, that was fun... at 15 or 20 cents a yard, I picked up quite a nice little stash of narrow, somewhat transparent ribbons.

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, bus token

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, vintage button

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, glass cabochon

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, vintage nailhead beads
Here are some detail shots to show the treasures I've used on this piece. The Sacramento coin with a cut-out heart in the center is a bus token, probably from the 40's that my Grandfather had in his coin collection. The vintage, abalone button is from another of my Grandfather's collections. The purple, carved-glass cabochon is a vintage piece I picked up somewhere in Germany years ago. The purple butterfly is a modern pressed glass bead, but the little transparent nail-head beads along the ribbon are definitely old (and long-hoarded by yours truly).

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, showing edges
Here's how my Sept BJP piece looks while I'm working on it, with the extra fabric around the edges showing. If you click to enlarge, you can see how I stitched the ends of the ribbons down so that my beading thread doesn't get caught around and tangled with them.

* * * * * *

OK, on to a discussion of backing for bead embroidery. I noticed a number of posts on the BJP blog about backing. Many participants are using Timtex, Pellon, Stiff Stuff, or some other type of thick, stiff interfacing as a backing. Please let me throw in my 2 cents worth about this subject.

The primary reason to use backing is to stabilize your work and keep it from puckering. If your tension is too tight, it can pucker no matter which backing you use or how stiff it is. Especially bead weavers (peyote, right angle, etc.) tend to have trouble with tension when doing bead embroidery because it's so important to keep your work tight when weaving. That type of tight tension is NOT so good with bead embroidery.

I've been doing bead embroidery constantly for over 20 years. (Gaaak! Can it be that long?!) Except for trying Stiff Stuff one time, I've ALWAYS used paper for my backing. It is very easy to sew through it, isn't sticky, doesn't add bulk, costs only pennies, and most importantly, it works! Here is a picture of the back of my September BJP piece.

Bead Journal Project, September, Robin Atkins, back side
If you click to enlarge, you can see the holes where I've put my needle in at what turned out to be the "wrong place." You can also see how I end the thread by "weaving" it under a few stitches. Also, notice how I've run a line of little stitches around the whole piece so I can see where my beading area is on the right side. I leave an extra inch or so of both fabric and paper all around the piece. When I've completed the beading, I will tear away the extra paper around the edges and fold the fabric to the center along the stitched guideline (as in the top picture of this post).

Then it will be ready to finish any way I want.

If I want to applique it onto another fabric, such as for a wall-hanging or quilt, I just whip stitch it in place around the folded edge. Or I could glue it onto mat board using book-binding PVA glue or other acid-free glue. The paper backing/stabilizer takes glue really well!

If I want it to be stiff, I can cut a piece of template plastic or acid-free mat board just slightly smaller than my finished piece and a lining of Ultrasuede or other non-woven fabric and make a sandwich with the stiffener in the middle. I could either whip stitch the lining to the top or use a decorative edge stitch.

I always use acid-free interleaving paper to back my bead embroidery, but any acid-free paper works, including computer paper, hemp paper, Sumi painting paper, scrap booking papers, etc. If any of you would like to try the interleaving paper, send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope (just one 42 cent stamp is fine), and I'll send you a free sample to try. (837 Miller Road, Friday Harbor, WA 98250) It's available through some art supply and archival supply stores, or you can purchase it through my website here.


  1. I like it! The colors are soft and pleasant and those nailheads are gorgeous.

    I was drawn to the ruffle though - for selfish reasons, I just tried that for the first time last night on a doll I'm working on and I enjoyed doing something different. My beading was feeling a tad stale so I've been reading your latest book to learn some new tricks and having a blast.

    I look forward to your finished piece

  2. Lovely piece! Thanks for the tips on backing.
    Marty S
    Crackpot Beader

  3. I love the colors you're using for this piece and the combination of fabrics is something I'm trying to work on this year...
    When I got your first book, One Bead at a Time, I tried the paper, but it just didn't feel "right" to me...I use a very thin iron-on interfacing if I don't want the piece to have any stiffness. What I have trouble with is the stickiness of the heatnbond I use to "baste" the cotton to the pellon...I'm going to try stitch witchery next to see if it feels any differently, lol!
    I love our (beaders in general) different preferences...long needle or sharps, nymo or fireline, pellon or's great to have such choices now...they sure weren't all there 20 years ago, eh!

  4. This is lovely... and I am not just saying that because purple is my favorite color :)

  5. Anonymous9:03 PM

    I love the way it looks now - can't wait to see what else you do to it!

  6. I'm sorry to hear you've been going through depression, Robin, but happy to hear it's going away.

    Your piece is lovely. Each of your piece is so full of surprises and inventions, it is always very exciting to discover them, a real treat ! (And an incentive to try harder in my work lol)


  7. Love the colors in this one, Robin! Beading through depression always works! :)

    pam T

  8. Hi Robin - I hope you're feeling better, I know it's a hard thing to get out of the hole having been there often myself. I love the colors you chose and the fact that you put a butterfly on the top which to me means transformation. And as always the beading is wonderful. I do see the raise edges, cool idea. Hugs

  9. WOW WOW WOW Robin I am blown away by your start on your page for September. I love the soft colors you are using. Its so pretty! I am really interested in giving the paper backing a try. I am using stiff stuff right now and have to say its ok but I am not thrilled. You are correct that it is hard to make the transition between embroidery and bead weaving. I am lucky, I have always been able to have a great fabric type feel to my finished peyote pieces. I know alot of people end up with a piece thats as stiff as a board! I did find in the beginning that I wanted to pull my stitches too tight. It take practice! I am excited to see how your page progresses! Also thank you so much for your kind words about my bead work and my blog. You truly made my day! A big hug to you! Tracey

  10. Just beautiful! I was instantly drawn to the colors you used, my favorite. The beads in close up are so pretty.
    Since this is my first real attempt at bead embroidery, I'd be afraid to use vintage (to me that's the good stuff). But as I get better and know what I'm doing, I'm sure I will break out my own vintage stash.

  11. To All ~ Thanks so much for your comments, support and understanding!

    To Kelly ~ I say, use 'em now! Of course, I'm a "Life's uncertain, eat dessert first" type of person. LOL

    To Tracey ~ Did you ever take a class from David Chatt? He's the master (in my opinion) of making fabric-like bead weavings.

    To Heidi ~ Oooooh, I'm so happy that you could see that raised edge!!! Thanks for telling me.

    To Grace ~ Your comment makes me glow... how nice that you're using my new book and techniques to get through the "flat" feeling about your work. Can't wait to see how you use the "ruffle."

    To Beadbabe ~ Yes, that icky-sticky iron-on stuff isn't much fun. Sewing through any type of glue is the pits. May I be so bold as to suggest that you give the paper another try? But you're totally on the mark about how great it is to have so many choices and so much freedom to find our own personal "best way!"

    Hugs to all... Robin A.

  12. Beautiful colors, Robin! I seem to fall into the camp of wanting something substantial to bead on. Just seems to go better for me with a firmer foundation.

    And, yes, we are so fortunate to have so many options at this time!

    Kathy V in NM

  13. Robin,

    It's so great to see your piece in progress. I especially like seeing the Back of it, with the paper evident. Years ago, my sweet MIL would admire the back on any of my projects before she even looked at the front, and now I find I enjoy doing the same. But how often do we get to see the back?

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and encouraging so many of us to venture forth into the wide world of beading fun.

    CathyW in Houston (who's happy to have electricity again!)

  14. I think your new page is looking wonderful. I too, can see the raised, rounded edges and think they add a wonderful, very subtle bit of elegance just as they do on pillows and clothing. I laughed when you said you came home with lots more ribbon than you went after. Isn't that how it goes!? I really felt even before reading the description, the uplifting movement on this piece. I feel it more I think, because it didn't rise horizontally but gradually swings upward. All your tokens are wonderful too. It's so much fun to add the treasures. Last year I beaded memories but the treasures didn't fit on those pages as well.

    I am using the Stiff Stuff since I am encrusting my pieces but now, reading how you fold the fabric to the back, add a stiffener and then the ultra suede backing I can see how it works. I was so worried about clipping my working threads since I needed to trim so closely but with your method that wouldn't happen anyway. I'll try it on October's page. To keep my same thickness as September's I'll glue the Stiff Stuff to the back instead of a piece of plastic and then finish as I did this month.

    I want to thank you for your comments on my page. "the circles for unity and completion, the square for stability, the hearts for love, the gift beads for friendship... OK, I know, I'm making all of that up." I am hoping for the unity and completion (and didn't even know I was going to put circles on my page) and I am finding the others. I thought it was a very good reading; as soon as I read it I felt the truth of it. Thankyou for your great insight.

    Hope that depression keeps going away and you have a happy birthday. Didn't I read somewhere this is your birth month?

    I'd say the BJP08 is off to a great start!

  15. It's a lovely piece. Our work is what gets us through the depression.

  16. Hi Robin! THank you for your wonderful comments on my blog! Your sept piece is coming along nicely! I love the detail photos, and the way you accent items with the beads! I will definately have to incorporate such ideas in my work! Breath deeply and let your beading ease and relax you!--Maria

  17. wonderful blog to read! i know when im down beading seems to take me to a soothing place..have a great weekend!

  18. Great information and it looks lovely! I *am* going to get around to trying beading someday!

  19. Beautiful work!!!

    I can say (from experience) that engaging in a creative endeavor is one of the best forms of therapy.

    Time flies, and you're in such a happy state. :) I definetly believe it's part of the healing process.

    So please, keep healing. :):):):)


  20. Anonymous11:33 AM

    so beautifull!!!!

  21. Hi Robin...I'm finally making the time to visit other BJP members and today is the day!

    I'm glad to hear that you are feeling better and have to agree that beading and being creative always helps to get me through.

    Your September piece is lovely and I love the colors! The treasures you are using and your beadwork, as always, is beautiful! I like the raised division between the sections of looks great!

    I finally tried using Japanese Sumi painting paper and I was amazed how stable and supportive it was and how soft it begins to feel! I definitely will be open to using it again in the future!

    I'm looking forward to seeing your completed page!

    ~Lisa ;-)

  22. Robin,

    I'm new to your blog, but just wanted to say that this piece in purple really resonates with me. It's amazingly intricate and well-designed, not to mention executed.

    Best regards,

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