Beading tutorial: peacock earrings

Beaded peacock earrings by Lynda Makara

Beaded peacock earrings by Lynda Makara

Anyone with basic sewing skills can make a pair of peacock earrings like the ones in this beading tutorial. You just need a few simple sewing tools, along with some wire, needlenose pliers and, of course, beads!

This is a new beadweaving technique that I developed, and I’ll explain how it came into being.

You can use this technique to make earrings in any shape, without being limited to rectangular and geometric shapes in traditional beadweaving. I’ll also recommend some books for anyone who wants to learn more about beadweaving with a needle and thread.

A new bead technique is born

This all started when I asked my friend what she’d like for Christmas. She wanted some peacock earrings to match a top she has with a peacock feather design. She did not want actual peacock feathers, nor did she want anything with dangling fringe. Then she showed me the top so I could see the colors she wanted.

Basic beadweaving with a needle and thread follows a pattern plotted out on seed bead graph paper. It creates a series of vertical rows that are attached to each other by looping around the previous row every third bead or so. The end result is a rectangular strip of fabric woven out of seed beads. A few bracelets I’ve designed and made with this beadweaving technique are shown below.

The curved outline of the peacock feather design had me baffled for a while. I considered trying a peyote stitch, but that still would not have given me the right shape and I couldn’t figure out how plot out the design on graph paper. With Christmas fast approaching, it suddenly occurred to me to try using wire for the outline and then fill in with beads. I decided to abandon the graph paper and totally make it up as I went along. And so, a new bead technique was born.

Supplies you’ll need for this beading tutorial

To get started you’ll need:

  • 24 gauge beading wire
  • needlenose pliers
  • 11/0 seed beads
  • fine embroidery needle (a #9 or #10)
  • regular sewing thread to match your beads (and maybe some wax)
  • clear nail polish
  • earring wires
  • light-colored fabric
  • small embroidery hoop
  • embroidery scissors

A look at some of the beading supplies

beaded peacock earring supplies

tray with beading supplies for peacock earrings

A closer look at the needle in the bottom right corner of the pink tray. See how tiny that is?

beading needle

Beading needle

Bead selection

When doing beadwork, it’s important that the beads be a uniform size. For the best results stick with one brand of beads. My favorite is Miyuki Delica.

I like the 11/0 seed beads because you can get a more detailed pattern with them. I also prefer to use mostly silver-lined glass beads because they’re super shiny. Then I throw in a few matte, opaque or metallic beads for texture.

Choose your bead colors. Using several different shades makes it more interesting. For the outer portion, I used turquoise, green and aqua. The outline was done strictly with turquoise. For the rest of it I alternated the turquoise beads with the green and aqua beads. Roughly, three turquoise beads, one green bead, three turquoise beads, one aqua bead, and so on.

For the “eye” portion, the top was a dark sapphire blue, the bottom was a mixture of orange and brown metallic. The center was opaque black.

Working with beads

seed beads on towel

Seed beads laid on a towel are easier to control

To keep your beads from rolling all over the place, put them on top of a textured fabric. I use the small pink tray covered with a piece of terrycloth. The beads are easy to pick up from the cloth with the needle. You can see I have several small piles of beads ready to go. This is also a good place to stick your needle when you’re not using it.

When doing beadweaving, should you find a bead that doesn’t slip easily onto the needle, just discard it.

The peacock earring pattern and the wire frame

peacock earring design in embroidery hoop

Peacock earring design in embroidery hoop

Sketch your design on paper. When you get something you like, draw it again onto a piece of light-colored fabric. The design I ended up with was a leaf shape with what looks like an eye in the middle. The whole thing is about 2 inches long. Then put the fabric in the embroidery hoop.

Next, cut off a piece of wire about 6 inches long using craft scissors or the cutter on the needlenose pliers. Bend the wire about a half inch from one end. That’s going to be the starting point. I also put a little piece of tape on the end to keep the beads from coming off. Put some beads on the wire until there are enough to complete one side. Check the length against the pattern. Make a note of how many beads were used. In my case it was 50 beads.

Make a bend in the wire with your fingernail at the halfway point. I tied some thread there also because the beads will slip around until you get both sides completed. Put the remaining beads on the other side. Twist the wire at the top. Make sure the wire frame matches the pattern by laying it on top of the fabric pattern.

The completed peacock earring frame

peacock earring frame

peacock earring frame

All the beads are on the wire frame and the wires are twisted together at the top.

The wire frame is tacked down to the fabric on top of the pattern. There are stitches at the top, bottom and sides. This stabilizes the piece and allows you to view the pattern as you go along so you know when to change colors. You will not be stitching beads to the fabric.

Adding rows to the frame

Thread the needle with about 36 inches of thread. Since the eye is so small, you might need to use a needle threader or a piece of monofiliment thread looped through the eye. You’ll be working with a double thickness of thread. Bring the ends together but don’t tie a knot.

Make a knot around the wire frame at the top, leaving a tail about three inches long. The tail will be woven in later. Put a dot of clear nail polish on the knot.

Put three beads on the needle, sliding them all the way down. Make a loop around the wire frame three beads down from the knot. Make sure you don’t go through the fabric. The needle goes under the wire and back through the loop. (You’ll see that below.) Pull the slack out of the thread but don’t make it too tight. The rows of beads should lay flat against each other. Repeat the process with the next three beads.

The beads aren’t counted but each row will have fewer beads than the previous row. Sometimes you’ll only need to skip two beads when making the loops, especially around the middle of the design.

Peacock earring loop stitch

making the loop stitch

Making the loop stitch

Changing thread

It’s time to add a new thread when you’ve got a couple inches left of the old thread. Before changing the thread, make a knot with the old thread by doing the looping stitch twice. Put clear nail polish on the knot. Weave the needle back through a few of the beads in the row you’re working on, then skip to the previous row and weave the needle through going in the opposite direction. Pull the needle out and snip off the thread close to the beads.

With the new thread you’re going to make a knot like you did before but you’re going to weave the ends in first. Go up and down through the previous rows until you’ve woven about an inch of thread. Then bring the needle out, make the loop knot and weave the needle back through the last row you were working on until you get to the place where you left off. Continue adding beads and looping.

Changing colors as you’re beadweaving

changing bead colors

Changing bead colors

I did three rows of turquoise beads before I got to the eye portion of the design. You can see on the fourth row I started adding the sapphire blue beads, then the orange and brown beads.

Finishing the earring

beadweaving complete

Beadweaving complete

When the wire frame is completely filled in, loop the center rows together. Hurray! One earring is done! Now you just weave in the thread tails, release the earring from the fabric, and start all over again with the next earring.

The most important thing is to make sure the second earring is the same size and shape as the first one. Don’t worry about the pattern being exactly the same. Since we’re just winging it as we go along, they’ll be close but probably not identical. But then, no two peacock feathers are identical either.

Adding the earring wire to the peacock earrings

the finished peacock earrings

The finished peacock earrings

At the top of each earring there are two loops of wire. Take one wire and bend it around the needlenose pliers to make a loop large enough to accommodate the earring wire. Cut off the excess. Take the other wire and wrap it around a couple of times, then cut off the excess. Now you have a unique pair of peacock earrings!

My friend was thrilled with her earrings. And I have to say, they looked pretty good on her. Then she said, “Hmm, what can I have you make for me next.” Looks like I’ll have another project soon!

Peacock earrings and top

the peacock earrings with the inspirational top

The peacock earrings with the inspirational top

My friend’s peacock top with her new peacock earrings.

Easy beadweaving variations

Alternatives to making a peacock feather design

Instead of making a peacock feather design with beads, you could mix three or four different shades of the same color. Sprinkle in a few silver or gold metallic beads too. Or could use one color of beads with an iris (iridescent) finish.

You’re not limited to the peacock feather shape used in this tutorial. Experiment with different shapes. Use your wardrobe for inspiration with the colors and patterns.

You could also make a pendant instead of earrings. Or how about some beaded ornaments for a holiday tree. I hope these suggestions will spark an idea for yourself or a friend.

Going further with beadweaving

Working with beads can be addicting! After making your peacock earrings, why not try some other beading projects. I’ve made pins and several cuff bracelets (pictured below).

A few of my bracelets done with traditional beadweaving

beaded cuff bracelets from my original designs

Beaded cuff bracelets by Lynda Makara

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