Select Page


Currently viable crafts




The craft of attaching beads to one another with thread or wire, or sewing them to cloth.


Status Currently viable
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised UK
Origin in the UK



Beads have been used by cultures, religions and subcultures for personal adornment, communication and trade for thousands of years. Today, we see beads used in artworks, jewellery making, embroidery, costume design and more.

In the UK, beadwork has been an important art form since the Middle Ages, when elaborate beadwork was used for both decorative and pictorial purposes. From the Renaissance to the 17th century, beadwork was a popular form of decoration for the wealthy and included decorations for clothing, apparel, objects and pictures.

In the 18th century beadwork fell out of favour, but became popular again during the 19th century. A great many women’s dresses were richly ornamented with beads of all kinds and beading could be found on many small articles such as gloves, belts, purses, bags and parasols. Beadwork as dress decoration recurred periodically in the 20th century. Today, beadwork is a popular hobby that takes inspiration from beading traditions all over the world.



Beads come in a variety of materials, shapes and sizes. Beads are used to create jewellery or other articles of personal adornment; they are also used in wall hangings and sculpture and many other artworks

Beadwork techniques are broadly divided into loom and off-loom weaving, stringing, bead embroidery, bead crochet, bead knitting, and bead tatting.


Local forms

Beadworking has extensive social, economic and religious meanings and functionalities. Because of that the beading products and processes have multiple distinct forms and patterns around the globe. The local forms are varied from small decorative single beads that at a time served as a currency (called chevrons) through to lighabi, beaded girl’s aprons used in South Africa and Zimbabwe.



Allied crafts:
  • Lampworked glass beads
  • Polymer beads


Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Beadworking is labour and cost intensive comparing to alternative mass manufacturing methods
  • There are significant issues for makers resourcing and accessing quality beads
  • Also present are issues with costs and resources of bead kits and patterns
  • There is a lack of comprehensive and widely accessible beadworking training


Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known


Other information




  • Beadwork on Wikipedia
  • Beadwork on Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Vail, Juju, The Beader’s Handbook (Octopus Publishing)
  • Woods, Dorothy, The Beader’s Bible (David & Charles)