For millennia, from the Great Plains of North America to the southern regions of Africa (and all the cultures and continents in between), beads have been used as a way to adorn garments and to communicate with others. The definitive guide to these beading traditions, The History of Beads, was first published in 1987 and is still an indispensable reference today.


Left: A-line Tunic with Armor Beading; right: Red Armor Beads

Throughout our own history, Alabama Chanin and The School of Making have incorporated beads into countless designs; from adding elaborate embellishment to classic outerwear to making a statement on a T-shirt. To enable you to adorn your own wardrobe and home goods, we offer Bead Mixes in curated colorways that fit your design style: subtle monochromatic looks or striking contrasts that add visual interest.


Left: Gold Armor Beads; right: Large Paradise stencil shown with couching and beading

The beading used in our own work has evolved and become more elaborate over time—with each bead meticulously placed with purpose to create a rich texture and give the fabric depth and dimension. To make this precise work possible, our design team first creates samples and then fabric maps to show every artisan the placement of each bugle, chop, and seed bead. Sequins are also used to add subtle sparkle. To fill larger areas armor beads, a mix of chop beads, bugle beads, and sequins are used. This combination of craftsmanship and impeccable supplies produce the heirloom quality pieces we pride ourselves on creating.


Left: A-Line Tunic with Beaded Stars using Armor Beading; right: examples of bead vials included in our Design Bundle

Along with The History of Beads, we are inspired often by other artists and cultures and the way they incorporate beading into their work. We recently hosted a photography exhibit at The Factory from Pableaux Johnson that showcased the intricate beadwork the Mardi Gras Indians use in their costumes. Sissi Farassat—photographer and dear friend of Natalie—uses detailed beading and stitches to transform photographs into tapestry-like pieces of art.


Sissi Farasset Me, Me, Always Me III, 2010 Unique photograph embroidered with Swarovski crystals 8 × 12 in; 20.3 × 30.5 cm

We encourage you to experiment with beading in your own work and even push it beyond fabric into other mediums—just make sure you’re using the right needle when you do so or you’ll cause yourself unnecessary frustration. And if you need beading inspiration, we’ve got a wealth of projects and ideas available on the Journal.


Share your bead inspirations with us in the comments of this post and explore some of our favorite bead-inspired posts from the Journal below:

From the Archives: Beaded Facets Coat

DIY Swatch Tote

DIY Kits for The Geometry of Hand-Sewing

DIY Check Skirt

Project 6

DIY Stars Tunic


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