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  • beading stitch
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This stitch is a line of adjoining eyelets, sometimes tapering in size, to form a single motif. They are created by piercing the fabric with a stiletto and then oversewing the eyelets; this method is quicker than working a series of eyelets individually.  It is used in Ayrshire whitework where it often forms a curved petal or leaf vein.

See ladder stitch for a similar but subtly different stitch.

Confusingly, this stitch has no connection with the use of beads.

Working lines of adjoined eyelets has been part of various whitework traditions for centuries but this method seems to date from the early 19th century when it became one of the hallmarks of Ayrshire whitework.  The handkerchief at the end of the entry is from the 19th century and has approximately 300 eyelets in the beading border alone.

The name is first used in print by Mary Thomas in her 1936 Embroidery book.

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The size of the eyelets can be increased by choosing a larger stiletto or a looser weave linen.


Use a stiletto or large chenille needle to create a series of holes within the shape. Leave at least two or three threads of the fabric between each hole.


Overcast the edge by bringing your needle up just outside of the running stitch and taking the needle down into the hole.


Between each hole, lay a thread across to the opposite side to create a bridge.


Overcast back over the laid thread by bringing the needle up in one hole and down into the adjacent hole.


Continue in this way down one side of the shape.


Repeat for the other side.


Structure of stitch

Embroidery Techniques

Identifying beading

Beading can be distinguished from a line of individually-worked eyelets by looking at where the eyelets touch.  Individual eyelets are completely encircled with a continuous line of oversewing; beading eyelets ‘share’ the oversewing with the next eyelet, i.e. the oversewing links one eyelet to the next.

The main differences between beading and ladder stitch is that the former tends to have larger holes, the holes can be tapered in size and there is more overcasting around and between the holes which tends to make the outline more defined.  Some historic pieces seem to feature rows of eyelets which are a combination of both stitches: they are less overcast around the edges than beading, but steps of the ladder have more wraps than ladder stitch.


Examples of beading

19th century whitework handkerchief

The straight border edge is worked in beading. A similar stitch (ladder stitch) is used for the edge of the petals. Both stitches form a row of eyelets: beading holes tend to be larger and there is more overcasting along the edges of the row of eyelets so the outline is more defined. The embroidered area is less than 15cm across.

Image courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art

Accession number: 1936.717