A bead mat is a flat surface, sometimes with a lip or edge, that is used to hold your beads in place while you work and prevents them from rolling around. Bead mats may be made of different types of cloth, sticky rubber, foam or other similar materials.
Bead mats should not be confused with bead boards. Bead mats are best for seed bead designs while bead boards are used for planning and arranging beads for stringing designs.
Buying a Bead Mat
Bead mats can be purchased in a variety of sizes, styles and price ranges. The most economical versions are flocked velvet / felt bead mats, neoprene/silicone combinations bead mats that are similar to mouse pads, or sticky rubber bead mats. The most expensive is the Bead On It bead boards that are handcrafted bead mats with a flat wood base, covered with velvet and a rolled fabric edge.
The Bead On It boards range from $32 for a 6x11 inch board to $120 for an 11x17 inch board. The bottom of Bead On It boards are skid resistant and the tops of the boards are made with a material that helps all of the beads settle hole side up for easy beading. Many professional bead designers swear by them, but I don't have one, so I can't say if it is that different.
Types of Bead Mats
The cloth bead mats are made out of utility fabrics that are very soft and thick, usually with a velvety feel. They come in a range of sizes and colors, and often one package will have several neutral colors so you can choose the one that makes the beads for your project stand out best. Larger bead mats of up to 14 inches in size can easily be cut down with a pair of scissors to the exact size that you want. It can work really well to buy economy bead mats and use them to line the surface of a shallow tray or frame so that you have both a bead mat surface and an edge to keep the beads contained.
Packages of bead mats can be found at most local bead shops, and they are also sold online by bead supply companies.
Making Your Own Bead Mat
If you can't find a bead mat, there are a variety of ways you can make one yourself. I find that a mouse pad works very well and is similar to the neoprene/silicone combination bead mats. A piece of stiff felt can also work well as a beading surface since the needle doesn't get caught in it easily and it keeps the beads from rolling around. You can also make your own from pieces of a fabric like Vellux. Try your local fabric store and see what kinds of remnants they have for sale. Choose a fabric that is thick and has a velvety surface to prevent beads from rolling off.
You can make a framed bead mat by following a tutorial like this one, using a purchased frame and inexpensive bead mat.
A bead mat is easy to take with you - just roll it up and stash it in your bag. You can also park your needles in the mat, but make sure to take them out and store them properly before you roll up the mat.
Edited by Lisa Yang