Types of Bead Embroidery Foundations

Backstitch bead embroidery tutorial
Lisa Yang

A bead embroidery foundation, one of the key bead embroidery materials, is the base fabric that you stitch the beads to while creating your design. When working in bead embroidery, there is a wide variety of different types of foundations available for you to use. The type of bead embroidery foundation will influence the intricacy of your design, as well as how long it will last and how to care for your beadwork.

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    Paper as a bead embroidery foundation
    Lisa Yang

    Some of the original bead embroidery foundations are paper products, such as card stock, index cards, and poster board. Older bead embroidery books and patterns often specify this type of foundation. 

    The benefits of a thick paper backing are that this type of material is inexpensive and easy to find at craft stores—and in a wide variety of interesting colors and patterns! It is easy to cut and shape to your project. 

    However, there are several negatives with a card stock foundation. They don't hold up well over time and can disintegrate if they become wet. They are also not suitable for very dense stitched projects where the stitches may be close together, causing the paper area between stitches to rip. This is especially true with backstitch bead embroidery, one of the most popular bead embroidery stitches.

    The best types of bead embroidery projects to do on card stock have beads that are loosely spaced apart and are used in greeting cards or other decorative (not wearable) uses.

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    Fabric Interfacing

    fabric interfacing bead embroidery foundation
    Lisa Yang

    Fabric interfacing is a popular choice for working bead embroidery. It comes in a wide variety of thicknesses and types. Interfacing is not typically used on its own as a foundation but used to add body to fabrics to make it easier to stitch without stretching. Stitch stabilizers can also be used in the same way.

    Interfacing is widely available at fabric and craft stores and is relatively inexpensive. It comes in whites and can be colored with dyes, paints or markers. It is often sold by the yard, so it can be good for larger projects and also be very economical. Some varieties can be ironed on to fabric and wash away with water, while others can be put through a printer to make more complex patterns. Still, other interfacing and stabilizers have peel and stick backings.  One of the best aspects of fabric interfacing is that needles will pass through it easily without bending or breaking.

    On the negative side, embroidery interfacing may not always keep its shape over long periods of time. In addition, larger beads may pull the fabric and warp the design over time, even if a stiff piece of cardboard or plastic is placed under the beadwork.

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    Lacy's Stiff Stuff

    Lacy's Stiff Stuff beading foundation
    Lisa Yang

    Stiffened felt is a variety of felt that has few loose threads and is stiff compared to regular fabric felt. It can be purchased in craft stores or online. Stiffened felt is an economical and easy to find beading foundation. There are several foundation materials that are similar to stiffened felt that are sold specifically for bead embroidery.

    Lacy's Stiff Stuff was specifically designed for bead embroidery and is the preferred foundation for many well-known bead embroidery artists. A stiff cardboard like felt fabric, Lacy's Stiff Stuff is easy to cut to shape, holds its shape very well, and is easily pierced with a needle without it bending or breaking.

    It is easy to glue cabochons, stones or other components to the foundation and it can be colored with dyes, inks or markers to be less visible in the beadwork. It is only available in white.

    Lacy's Stiff Stuff can be harder to find than other foundations and it is more expensive. The largest sheets are 8 1/2 by 11 inches, so they are not suitable for larger projects. 

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    Nicole's Bead Backing

    Nicole's Bead Backing bead embroidery foundation
    Lisa Yang

    Nicole's Bead Backing is the perfect material when a white foundation will not do. It is a stiffened felt-like material that comes in a glorious variety of neutral and bright colors.  

    Nicole's Bead Backing is less expensive than Lacy's, but it is slightly less stiff. It still holds up well and is easy to stitch through without bending or breaking needles.

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    Ultra Suede

    Ultrasuede bead embroidery foundation
    Lisa Yang

    Natural and imitation leather and suede fabric are often used as a backing in bead embroidery, but they can also be used as a foundation material for bead embroidery.

    Natural leather and imitation leather, such as ultra suede, holds its shape well over time.  It comes in a wide range of colors and is available at fabric stores, craft stores and from many online fabric stores too. It can be purchased in smaller pieces or by the yard—or it can even be purchased in mixed bags of scraps.

    Leather and suede are great for doing bead embroidery with heavier beads and cabochons, stones or other large beading components. 

    Natural and imitation leather and suede fabrics cannot usually be dyed or colored, although they come in such a wide range of colors that you should be able to find the right one for your project. These fabrics are often thick and may be difficult to get a needle through. Make sure you take the thickness into account when purchasing.

    Leather and suede are more expensive than other types of foundations and require care to keep them in their best condition. They should not get wet or be stored in humid or damp conditions which can cause the natural materials to break down or deteriorate.

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    Choosing the Best Embroidery Foundation

    Completing Back Stitch
    Lisa Yang

     Here are some tips to choose the best bead embroidery foundation for your project:

    • Experiment with different types of bead embroidery foundation to find out what works best for you and for each project.
    • Do a test on a small piece of foundation if you are using fabric dyes, inks or markers to see what the color will look like before you begin to stitch your project.
    • Stitch up samples on each of the different types of bead embroidery foundation to see what type of beads work best with each one.