Beading with Fly Stitch

Margaret Ball 2004

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 Many common embroidery stitches can be worked with seed beads instead of embroidery thread, with wonderful decorative results. Fly stitch is one that converts particularly well and allows you to make great use of the freedom in using seed beads as your "embroidery thread"; by changing bead colors and sizes as you go along, you can use the stitch for overall decoration, beaded dangles, broad beaded lines or intricate braided-looking trims.

To practice beaded fly stitch, all you need is a beading needle and thread (Silamide, C-lon or Nymo), a selection of seed beads, smallish decorative beads (nothing over 4 mm), sequins, and, of course, a firm, smooth surface to bead on. An 8 x 10" piece of plain, light colored muslin that has been stabilized with iron-on interfacing or by bonding to felt is a good practice fabric. You can draw guidelines with an ordinary pencil. The stabilizing should make it firm enough to hold and bead easily, and the stitches will show up well on the smooth surface. I recommend trying out any new beading stitch on a practice piece like this before you start sewing on your precious crazy quilted silk and velvet work. Save the practice pieces; in time they'll be your library of beading stitches.

Because fly stitch is a looped stitch (one in which the second thread crosses over the first and holds it in place) you first have to decide how you're going to handle the two lines of seed beads you will create in each stitch. There are three basic ways to cross bead stitches. Thread Crossing Thread (TCT) works best for a standard-form fly stitch with the distinctive Y shape.

TCT: Lightly pencil in three parallel guide lines on your sample fabric, the first two about 1/4" apart and the bottom line about 3/8" below the middle one. Bring the needle up at A on the top guide line, string 8 seed beads, and bring the needle down at B, about 1/4" from A on the top guide line. Bring needle up at C, halfway between A and B on the middle guide line, and pull thread across previous loop between beads 4 and 5. String on four seed beads and bring the needle down at D, immediately below C on the bottom guide line.

One obvious and easy variation on this is just to change the number of beads on the anchor (second) stitch. You can just stitch down between beads 4 and 5 of the first stitch without adding any beads, to create an invisible anchor, or you can use anywhere from 1 to 6 beads. (More than six and the anchor stitch will start to become unstable; you never want a long line of beads with the thread connecting them to the fabric only at start and finish.) In this sample I increased the anchor stitch from 0 to 3 beads and back down to 0.

A beautifully symmetric stitch can be made by using bugle beads with your seed beads. Because the sharp edges of bugle beads can cut thread, it's always best to "frame" the bugle beads with seed beads so that the thread isn't straining against the edge of the bugle. The stitch sequence here is the same as before, only the beads you string are different. Bring the needle up at A and string 1 seed bead, 1 bugle bead, 2 seed beads, 1 bugle bead, and 1 seed bead; bring the needle down at B. Bring it up at C, draw the thread across between the 2 seed beads in the middle of the stitch, string 1 seed bead, 1 bugle bead, and one seed bead, and bring the needle down again at D.

Another easy variation: after stringing on the four seed beads of your anchor stitch, add a sequin before you bring the needle down. The seed beads will hold the sequin in place.

Of course, there's no law saying you have to work fly stitches in a line. Here they're worked in a circle, with all the anchor stitches going into the same sequin.

Try stringing a sequin at the beginning and end of each loop stitch. Again, the seed beads will hold the sequins in place.

This shows a double row of fly stitches worked opposite each other, with the loop stitches in each row sharing sequins. For added interest, the loops are worked with bronze metallic beads and the anchors with silver-lined glass beads.

You can use slightly larger beads instead of sequins to embellish the loops and anchors of your fly stitches. Small (3-4mm) crystals, gemstone chips, and freshwater pearls all make great additions.

By stitching back through the beads of the loop stitch, you can create an interlocking fly stitch that makes a tighter, closer line.

Loop 1: bring needle up at A, string 3 seed beads, bring needle down at B. Come back up at A, stitch back through first three seed beads, string 9 more, and bring needle down at C. Come up at D, cross thread of first loop between beads 6 and 7, string three seed beads and bring needle down at E.

Loop 2: Bring needle up at C, stitch through the last three beads of the previous loop, string 9 seed beads and bring needle down at F. Come up at G, add 3 seed beads, bring needle down at H.

The anchor stitch doesn't have to be three seed beads, of course; it can be any number of seed beads with a sequin or larger bead, or some other combination; here I've used a bugle bead buffered by a seed bead on each side

Once you're comfortable with the interlocking stitch, try working it to form a circular motif.

Lightly pencil a small circle (about the size of a 35mm film canister). Mark center; divide circle into 8 segments. You will start and end each loop on a segment marker.

Loop 1: Bring needle up at A and string 3 dark, 6 medium, 3 dark seed beads; needle down at B. Bring needle up between beads 6 & 7 and anchor with 3 to 6 light beads, whatever it takes to get to the center of your circle.

Loop 2 : come up at B, go through last 3 dark seed beads of previous loop; string 6 medium and 3 dark; down at C, anchor as in loop 1. Work subsequent loops in the same manner

This is the simplest possible circular form. Starting with a larger circle, and using more rows of fly stitch, you can create complex mandala-like motifs like the one pictured at the beginning of this article. Or you can work interlocking rows of fly stitch with sequins or beads, or add dangles, or change colors within a stitch, or change colors from one stitch to the next. There is literally no limit to the things you can do....and this is just one stitch! Imagine what beadwork you could make using the full range of embroidery stitches!

Introducing the Author

Margaret Ball is an incurable fiberholic who quilts, embroiders, beads, dyes fabric and yarns, and knits (not all at the same time though!) She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two teenage daughters. She is supposed to be working on a sequel to her science fiction novel DISAPPEARING ACT (scheduled for publication in October 2004) and is sneakily working on a book about bead embroidery which her agent doesn't know about. She can be contacted by email at or through her website,

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