Book review: ‘The art of bead embroidery: Japanese style’ by Margaret Lee

I love beading, so when I found out that this book, ‘The Art of Bead Embroidery – Japanese style’ by Margaret Lee had been released, I just had to get it! It’s published by Stitchology, who publish the Australian embroidery magazine ‘Inspirations’, so I just knew it was going to be good…..Art of bead embroidery

Margaret Lee really knows her subject. In the book, she goes into detail about the equipment you’ll need to do Japanese style bead embroidery, design ideas, various techniques such as how to stitch neat lines of beads, plus filling stitches too…..

Art of bead embroidery

There’s a detailed section on the tools you’ll need. I’ve been doing embroidery for over 50 years now, but some of these tools were news to me!

Art of bead embroidery

The techniques are explained with photos as well as neat diagrams in the typical ‘Inspirations magazine’ style.

Art of bead embroidery

About a third of the 116 page book is for the projects – nine in total. These are really lovely. They range from a small handbag mirror, through evening bags and glasses cases, to ones such as this lovely beaded box lid.

Art of bead embroidery

I loved the photography in the book – very atmospheric, and really gets you wanting to grab some beads and get beading!

I think this glasses case is my favourite project in the whole book – I like stitching with yellow shades, as it lifts my spirit. The design is a gorgeous flowing paisley pattern. There’s a matching small handbag that can be made from the same pattern – dimensions and instructions are given for both, and you just double the quantities of beads listed when making the bag.

Art of bead embroidery

At the end of the book there is a section for ‘case studies’, which is a kind of in-depth analysis of a couple of designs, without giving detailed instructions for how to make them, but explaining the design and execution challenges – interesting to see how Margaret Lee thinks these through.

As with the Inspirations magazines themselves, this book comes with pullout sheets of pattern outlines at the back of the book. If you love these designs, but feel that you’d prefer to just do them in embroidery (that’s what I kept thinking, anyway!), then these pattern outlines would be very useful.



A beautifully presented book, with lots of projects explained in detail with good photography. The projects list which techniques are used, along with fabric and bead quantities required, and build up from simple to complex throughout the book. I really loved the fact that Margaret lists the bead quantities per project in the format of a fraction of a 2″ x 1/2 ” tube – such as half a tube, or a third of a tube. Such an easy way for you to work out if you’ve got enough beads of the right colour in your stash!! This book covers an unusual topic, so if you already have ‘too many’ embroidery books, then this one could be justified simply by being that little bit different!


Not many, really. The contents page has the projects listed with names like ‘Hanami’, but not what the project is FOR – such as ‘glasses case’. So, if you’re looking for something in particular, it’s quicker to just flick through the book. Perhaps it seems a little pricey at £28 for a paperback, but this is an exceptional book.


I feel that Margaret Lee is the Jane Nicholas of the bead embroidery world. She has got an eye for detail and a neatness that really shines through. Her eye for colour is amazing. This book is full of her personality. Even if you never actually make anything from this book (despite your good intentions….) then this book is worth getting. I love it!


The Art of Bead Embroidery – Japanese style by Margaret Lee

Publisher: Inspirations

ISBN 978 0 9923144 7 7

Price: £28.99

Available from the publisher, Inspirations (i.e. Stitchology), the UK Distributor Search Press or from Amazon.


PS: This month’s Inspirations magazine, Issue 95, has an article and a project (which is not one repeated from the book!) in it. It’s to make the beading tools case which is shown open in the book, but we never got to see what the beaded side looks like! So, if you would like to ‘try out’ one of Margaret’s beaded projects for yourself before investing in the book, buying Issue 95 might be the way to go first  🙂


Are you interested in doll’s houses and stitching? Then why not visit my website, where you can buy doll’s house needlepoint kits to make all kinds of soft furnishings for one-twelfth scale dollhouses. There are over 280 kits to choose from, plus chart packs, fabric project packs, tutorials, and lots of eye candy to inspire you! Kits are available on 18 and 22 count canvas, 28 and 32 count evenweave, and 32 and 40 count silk gauze, so there’s something for everyone – from beginners to experts.


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How to make beaded barefoot sandals

The other day, I was looking on Pinterest for some images of beading – particularly beaded beads, which I find fascinating. I haven’t made any yet, but I’m tempted…

While I was looking, I came across what are described as ‘barefoot sandals’, which I had never heard of before. They look like you’re wearing sandals, but really they are a kind of necklace for your feet, and they are often marketed to women who are going to get married somewhere exotic and hot, on a beach in the Caribbean or somewhere like that. And the prices often reflect that kind of  ‘it’s a wedding so money is no object’ idea. That is, they can be EXPENSIVE. I don’t fall for that, so once I’d seen a few images of barefoot sandals (sometimes called ‘slave sandals’ or ‘thong sandals’), I was starting to think ‘I could make that – it doesn’t look too difficult’. Beading is one of those crafts that doesn’t have to be difficult, fortunately  🙂

I looked carefully at some close-up images to try to count how many beads I might need, then went off to surf for a good bead shop. I decided on The Bead Shop in Manchester –  their range was good, and they did a lot of stringing elastic too, so I could get all I needed in one place.

Sandal 1

All you need is about a yard of 0.5mm stretchy bead elastic (I used Stretch Magic), some number 11 seed beads, some clear rocaille beads for the ‘spacers’, some 6mm beads in various colours (I used pearl white and frosted white), and some strong glue such as G-S Hypo Cement (available on Ebay).

You string about three inches of seed beads onto the centre of the length of elastic first – long enough to go round your second toe. Then you put both ends of the elastic through a large bead, then divide the elastic again and string the same pattern of large beads on to each side, then thread both ends of the elastic through a single bead again, and so on, for about three inches (to reach up to your instep). Divide the elastic and start to thread beads, in the same pattern for each side, long enough to reach around the back of your ankle. You will need to try the sandal on at this point to check the length. When you are sure, tie the elastic in a surgeon’s knot, and put the strong glue on the knot to make sure it won’t come undone (keeping the glue off the beads). When the glue is definitely dry, trim the elastic.

The beaded barefoot sandals, when completed, look a bit like necklaces
The beaded barefoot sandals, when completed, look a bit like necklaces

They are a bit strange to wear, at first. You can just about feel the part that goes round your second toe a bit, like you would with toe-post sandals. But they are very pretty. I made mine so that I can wear them when I do Dances of Universal Peace – I usually dance barefoot then, and it’s nice to have something pretty on my feet, and not just completely ‘bare’ feet! I can see that I might end up with several in different colours, to co-ordinate with different clothes that I wear for dancing. It only takes about two hours to make a pair, after all.

Beaded barefoot sandals 2

What do you think of them? I love them!


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Finished embroidery: my birthday gift of a gorgeous Indian bag

I had a birthday recently, and one of my presents was this beautiful embroidered bag from India. The embroidery is hand stitched using various shades of metal embroidery threads and ‘purls’.  Lots of sequins and tiny glass beads have then been stitched on to fill the gaps between the main design motifs.

The front of the bag is embroidered all over with metal threads, sequins and beads

The thick stems of the plants are stitched using short lengths of purl (tubular pieces of very thin, tightly wound wire), which are stitched down using a variation of stem stitch.

A close-up of the embroidery

The bag measures six inches by eight, and is embroidered only on the front – the back and the interior is plain red silk, padded quite thickly, to balance the heavy embroidery on the front panel.

Isn’t it lovely?!


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Finished embroidery – my Shlama bag is finally completed!

The finished Shlama bag

This has taken me almost a year of so-called ‘spare time’ to complete, but I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out. It’s a drawstring bag to keep my MP3 player in, and measures 7 inches high by 4.5 inches wide, not including the fringe. I did a previous entry here about the progress of the stitching, when I was about half way through. ‘Shlama’ is Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) for ‘peace’ – it is the word that is embroidered across the lower part of the front panel, and is read from right to left.

Detail of the stitching

The stitches used include chain stitch, split stitch, long and short stitch, fly stitch and french knots. The gold Kreinik braid is couched down with silk thread. I added a few blue and gold seed beads and sequins, too.

I couldn’t quite decide how I wanted to finish off the assembly of the bag, which is why it sat in the hoop on my tapestry frame for far too long! Eventually, I just had to get on with it, as I was fed up with seeing it sitting there, very flat and not at all bag-like.

The front and back panels stitched along the bottom seam only

So, the first thing I did was cut out the front embroidered panel, and make a plain back panel the same size (lined with batiste, like the front, so that the weight would be the same). Then I stitched the bottom seam of the bag by machine, and pressed the seam open, grading the seam allowances.

Guidelines for the fringing, marked in pencil along the seam allowance

Next, I marked guidelines in pencil, to show exactly where the fringe needed to be stitched on.

Making the fringe, with saucers to hold each type of bead

I made each fringe length separately, attaching it to the seam allowance exactly through the bottom seam.

Detail of the fringe

I more or less made up the fringe pattern as I went – the pattern of gold/blue/gold/red etc. stayed the same but I just added a few gold beads each time to the beginning of the fringe length to make the  bottom edge shape graded.

The bag with the side seams stitched

Then I stitched the side seams – the first two inches of each side I stitched by hand, in case the fringing might get caught in the seam, but after that I finished it by machine.

The beaded loops for the drawstrings

I marked three points on the front and three on the back, an inch down from where the top edge was going to be, and stitched on two short lengths of seed beads at each of the three points, to make carrier loops for the drawstrings. Doing it at this point meant that no untidy stitching would show on the inside.

The scarlet silk lining, slip-stitched in place

Then, I put the lining in the bag, turned down the top edges, and slip-stitched them together. The lining was made from a small piece of scarlet shot silk which I’ve been hoarding for about 15 years for just such a purpose!

The plaited drawstring, and beaded tassel

The drawstrings were made from three lengths of Anchor thread, plaited together and then knotted to stop the ends from unravelling. The tassels were made by wrapping the same three shades around a piece of cardboard and then cutting the pieces all the same length, to make a bundle of two-inch pieces that I tied to the knotted plait ends, spreading them evenly around the plaits and folding them in half before tying them off again to finish the tassel, so that each completed tassel is about an inch long. The tying-off thread was then hidden by stitching a ring of gold beads around the head of the tassel.

With three layers of fabric on each side, the finished bag feels almost quilted, which is the effect I wanted – I need it to give a little protection to the MP3 player that I keep in it. I had originally intended the bag to have an inner pocket of some sort, to hold notes on the meditation tracks that I listen to on the player, but as I was putting it together, I realised that if I drew up the ties, then anything paper placed inside would get crumpled unless it was very small, so I abandoned that idea. I’m planning to make some kind of embroidered envelope folder, now, just for the meditation notes – any excuse to embroider something else!


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