Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Bead Mats

For years I have been saying that I would never use a bead mat, nor would I permanently line my beading tray with any kind of fabric or fiber. To me, the idea of handling an unwashable piece of fabric or foam for several hours a day is kind of gross. Although we beaders don’t necessarily rub our fingers all over our workspace during a course of a project, the idea that I can take everything off of my bead tray at any time and give it a good wash is very reassuring. It doesn’t exactly get grimy, but dust is definitely a concern. When I’m beading, I like to know that my space and tools are neat as they can be.

My Favorite Beading Tray

A few months ago I got a simple bead mat as a freebie with a bead order, and it sat in my beading cupboard for ages, still in the package. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t really have any reason to use it. But now that I’m juggling at least two projects at a time while making tutorials and designs for my shop, I need another mini workspace that I can easily put away. Since I still haven’t found a replacement for my dilapidated bead tray, I’m already behind. So, one night while moving from one project to the next, I decided to get out the bead mat.

Using a Bead Mat

Since the project that I was working on – the patchwork cuff tutorial – required a lot of bead colors, the bead mat did come in handy for keeping little piles of seed beads steady. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I couldn’t simply place the mat on my table and start pouring beads onto it. I needed a portable backing for it, so I grabbed a cookie tray out of the cupboard. It looked a little awkward, but worked just fine for middle-of-the-night beading. Since then I’ve been swapping back and forth between my old bead tray and the new one when necessary, though I’m still on the hunt for something bigger and washable. To me, the cons still outweigh the pros with bead mats.


1. The matte surface prevents beads and tools from moving around much.
2. It’s lightweight, and stores easily when not in use.


1. I’ve only used it for 3 projects and it’s already starting to collect…stuff. I don’t know where those red and blue threads came from. All of my nymo is black and green.
2. It’s pretty small, and if I don’t use cups and saucers, the beads get all mixed together. It takes forever to clean up.
3. It’s square when everything else I have in my space is round. (That’s not really a con, but I ran out of complaints.)

4. I'm afraid of what will happen if I wash it. Will it fray, or get filmy from the soap? And if I were to glue it down, I’d never be able to wash it, beyond shaking it out.

The Brittle Bead Tray

Over the summer I’ll be keeping an eye out for two suitable beading surfaces that will fit in my workspace and hold all of my beading implements at once. I considered momentarily using the cookie tray by itself, but it has a giant poinsettia in the middle and I’d really prefer a neutral surface. Until I find the perfect pair of bead trays, I’m stuck with one that’s falling apart and one that looks like I slapped a door mat on a cookie tray.

What kind of beading surface do you like to use? What features work best for you?


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  1. Why can't you wash it? All of my bead mats say they are washable.... I think they need to be washed at 30 degrees in the washing machine, but you could easily handwash it at the sink with a drop of laundry liquid, or even dishwashing liquid. Then just let it air dry. I have two "Bead Buddy" boards with fixed mats, and I've wiped them over with a damp cloth and that shifts fluff and dust easily. I love my bead mats, and use them in the base of IKEA "Smula" plastic trays and the standard sized bead mat fits flat in the bottom easily. I got so frustrated with bouncing beads before I got them.
    Hope this helps!

  2. Are you sure you can't wash it? It looks like fabric. I wash my Vellux mat when it gets grungy.

  3. I'm sort of in the same predicament you are in now. My wheels have been turning for ideas myself. The latest thought I've had is Vellux, Velcro and a suitable tray...stick it on and peel it off to wash. Another thought...if the cookie tray could work for you, but the poinsettia is understandably distracting, you could spray paint the tray or decoupage it with a neutral background. For me, it's a lot easier to replace a serving tray than to find a comfortable work surface.

    1. Believe it or not, I'm terrible with DIY. I can barely get to the point of buying the materials, let alone completing a project satisfactorily. I think I will keep some kind of resurfacing in mind, though! The cookie tray fits so nicely in my workspace and in my bead cupboard, too.

  4. I made my own bead mat using felt and foam and it look pretty much like that. It didn't take long for it to become covered in fluff, more annoying was the fibres and fluff that was somehow being worked inside my beading. I solved this by placing a lint free cloth on the mat (I bought two so I have spare between washes). Not only does this stop the fluff it folds in on itself keeping every bead within the area. I make use of an upturned shoebox lid to give it a bit of stability when moving about.

  5. Why won't you be able to wash it? Vellux is absolutely washable - I wash my bead mats all the time because they certainly do get grimy. If the instructions say Do Not Wash - maybe it's because of the printing on the material, which might melt in the dryer.

    I couldn't work without my bead mats, and a few years ago, I found a vellux blanket at a deep discount store ($3.00 for a twin bed size), and cut it up into a variety of sizes, and the resulting quantity makes the mats almost disposable (but I don't toss, like I said, I wash).

    Of course, the rule is always - whatever works. But there's no reason why you can't wash your mat. Just don't put it into a hot dryer.

    1. I would love to have a piece that completely covers all of my 'elbow room'! I will keep an eye out and perhaps create a gigantic bead board that my projects can really stretch out in.

  6. I've found that what bead mats are made of is essentially the same thing as Vellux blankets. I bought a couple beige king sized ones at a yard sale for just a couple bucks, and can cut pieces out to whatever size I need. They are also washable by hand, though I suppose they might degrade along the edges if they were washed too many times. Since I have plenty, and there is pile I both sides, I can also cut two pieces and sort of lock them together by pushing between piles of beads when I need to leave a project for a while. I've also used some little 4x4 pieces and a candy box to make a portable box for one project, separating the project, the scissors, and the two colors of beads on three different layers all held securely by several layers of fabric. The beige is the best color I've found, as it shows almost every color of bead and thread. Since I've only cut into one blanket so far, I occasionally sit on the floor on the other one when I need to sort large quantities of beads, or work on really complicated projects.

  7. Hi Mortira, I have indeed been enjoying your blog lately!
    Bead mats: Totally washable. If you have an unwashable bead mat, by all means get rid of that! But there is a certain kind of fabric that is perfect - sometimes I hear the term "velux" for the material - you can find a relatively inexpensive blanket or use an old one that you already own - quality/price doesn't seem to be an issue - and custom cut it for your own needs (say, to perfectly line your baking sheet! :) and have way more mats than you need, that are actually designed to be machine-washable (same as the blankets are designed to be). Bead shops will very happily sell you neatly cornered rectangular mats, cut very nicely, for a few bucks per 9x12 or 11x14.
    But all you need to do is get a big cheap velux blanket..For heaven's sake don't buy an expensive one!...if you live near a warehouse club that might be a good place to look but they're around... throw the whole thing into the wash, cut them up and wash them again if that's what you'd like for cleanliness, and after a great long cycle of using and re-washing, you might want to cut new small squares off as others wear out (I've never had a "homemade" velux beading mat wear down...unlike Beadsmith or whatever brand, which seem to wear out whether you wash them or not.)
    So replace as necessary. Even if you still get creeped out about re-using items ("creeped out-ness" can be a very personal thing!), a king size blanket should last you a pretty long time. :)
    And the carry-with-you bead trays with fabric mats firmly affixed to each side? when you open it just add your own liners, with your own cut-to-order velux bead mats.
    I hope some of this helps you.
    What it's done for me is give me stacks and stacks of unfinished projects - trays like your improvised coookie-sheet... But you are clearly more organized than I am! I use them as an excuse to have 10 projects running at the same time and I really cannot advise that!

    1. I would totally have multiple trays going at once! I think being a procrastinator and a beader often go hand in hand. I'm already finding it way too tempting to skip whichever project tray is the least exciting, even if it's meant to be finished at a certain time.

  8. I do agree that beads run a muck! on the bead matts...I was given a tip from Mary Stori on using an old embroidery hoop to wrap around a bead matt (or you could use other material). Keeps my beads from falling off at least and now I'm looking for some really tiny embroidery hoops to set inside my hoop to hold the different beads I'm using! Your 'dip' bowl is a great idea for storing all the materials for a project. Thanks!

  9. What a huge face-palm moment I've had today! Thank you so much to everyone for the tips. I've just realized that being averse to the idea of having a glued-down bead mat that can't get thrown into a machine somehow morphed into a fear of all bead mats, loose or not. I don't even know how that happened!

    I'm not 100% sure if the mat I have is washable, because it was a one-time promo item. I guess I have nothing to lose by trying it out!

  10. I use for my beading tray a "lap" desk. It's wooden and the legs fold under when not in use. I can have my supplies in one corner, beads in another, and the project and bead mat in the middle. I sometimes use my tray for multiple projects, too, just folding up the in-progress piece into the bead mat.

  11. I do my beading in a keyboard tray... I have one of the old metal monitor risers with the keyboard tray underneath.I keep my laptop on top, and have lined the keyboard tray with a beading mat. I generally just take mat out and rinse it when it gets dirty.

    So, I took a look on amazon, and though these aren't round, they do look interesting as possible beading surfaces. Small sections to hold several bead colors and tools, then a larger section for the work in progress... http://www.amazon.com/Nordic-Ware-Party-Assorted-Colors/dp/B00DMBFJVO/ref=pd_sim_sbs_328_3?ie=UTF8&dpID=31vWlUd1DsL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=01VG89DVJW418FEXTZZR

  12. I use bead mats and felted bead trays regularly. I take a lint roller to them to clean them and what it can't get into I use tape wrapped around my finger to clean out the small places.


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