Beading How To: Applique Stitch

We've recently had some inquiries from those of you wanting to learn about different beadwork techniques, so Michael from our Sioux Trading Post offered to give us an intro. Today, he shows us how to do an applique stitch.


What to know about this stitch
This stitch is probably the one where you'll have the most freedom in creating your beadwork design.

What you'll need

  1. Two (2) needles.
  2. Two lengths of thread - one will be doubled, and the other will be a single length.
  3. Bees Wax - this keeps your thread stronger, keeps it from tangling, makes the thread slightly sticky to help the beads stick to it, and it smells good.
  4. Beads - these can be Czech or Italian, loose or hanked.
  5. Material to sew on.

Note about Materials: Braintanned leather is wonderful to bead on, but you can also use commercially tanned leather, cloth, or felt (felt is good because the edges don't ravel). If you're just practicing, any kind of cloth may work, but if you want to make it a little heavier (if it's kind of flimsy) iron some interfacing or Pellon onto the backside and just sew right through it.

How to begin

  1. Start the stitch with the needle with the doubled length of thread (this is the thread that will hold your beads).
  2. Take this needle and come up through the leather.
  3. Using the same needle, add your beads (these can be loose, or from a hank).

Make a stitch

  1. Holding your string of beads to your material (it may take some time for you to find what's comfortable), take the needle with the single thread and come up on one side of your row of beads and go down on the other.
  2. Pull the stitch snug (you want to make sure the stitch stays between two beads).
  3. Repeat every 2 or 3 beads.
  4. When you're finished (or reach the end of your thread length), just tie it off.


  1. With this stitch you want to go all the way through the hide.
  2. If you're not counting*, the trouble with this stitch can be knowing where you were, so an easy way to keep track of your stitches is to leave a little loop of thread showing on your current stitch and wait until the start of the next to pull it tight (instead of pulling the stitch snug on the way down, wait to pull it tight on the way up for the next stitch).
  3. Remember to keep your string of beads together.
  4. Make sure you always "come up" on one side and always "go down" on the other to maintain continuity.
  5. Start with your borders and then fill in the design from the outside in.

*Beading should be calming, meditative, and entirely fun, so DON'T count…leave that little stitch loop to mark your place.

Draw or photocopy your pattern on a piece of paper. Sew your paper pattern onto your material and then just sew right through the paper (and your material). This is almost like "bead by number" - it's a real old technique and a very traditional way to bead.

Uses of this stitch
This stitch is great for making naturalistic designs and really lends itself to almost any type of design. I prefer this stitch because its tidy. It does use more stitches (and can take a little longer) than other beadwork techniques, but this also makes your beadwork stronger and doesn't tend to snag as easily.

Kinds of beads to use for Applique (Czech or Italian)
Both will work, but the Italians may be better suited due to their "charming irregularities"…some of the more oddly shaped may fit nicely into a little odd corner you've created in your design…especially when you start to "fill in" your design (to fill in, just add another row next to your first one).

Historical notes about this stitch
Certain tribes had different beading styles, techniques, colors, and designs. These absolutely varied from region to region and from tribe to tribe within those regions…and this stitch was mainly used on the East Coast and up into the Northern Plains as it went into the Basin Area and over to the Coast…that was where the Applique Stitch was the most prevalent.

North American Indian people had used porcupine quills or moose hair (they'd done hand-working for a long time, [so when beads were introduced] they came up with this technique on their own. It also became a time-honored European stitch as well.