Applied Beading

Being a fan of beads, I am often fascinated by the use of beads as decoration on the clothing portrayed in many portraits I look at for inspiration for my garb. Trims have been enhanced by simply adding beads of all different shapes and sizes and take the plain to the beautiful.

My particular costuming interest lies in late 16th century Italy, and the portraiture of the time shows many examples of applied beading.

This portrait by Francesco Montemezzano, 1580, shows a noblewoman. Her gown has beading along the top of the front of her bodice and her falling ruff partlet shows clusters of beads along the front and shoulders.

In an earlier example a young girls gown has pearls and a gem applied to her bodice.

In my costuming I have very often found that by applying beadwork the garment can be transformed.

I have provided a few of my pieces to display this concept. The Blue Velveteen gown with gold sleeves has acrylic pearls added to the sleeves to highlight the lattice pattern and beaded trim to the bodice. The trim is also edged with a string of pearls along it’s edges to further bring out the decoration.

The green gown has been decorated by the use of a gold lace, overlaid by a green velvet ribbon. Along each side is a string of pearls. Along the ribbon are rhinestone buttons, green glass beads and more pearls. The pearl string continues around the shoulder frills and around the cuffs. The falling ruff which accompanies this dress has had clusters of gold mini sequins and woven buttons added to the neckline and the lace edging highlighted by the addition of pearls.

Portrait of a lady in a plumed hat Northern Italy. 1565

A simple sheer partlet has simply had the lacelike edging enhanced by the edging of pearls.

Even accessories show that beading has been added.

I have recently made a version of this hat, and beaded it in a similar fashion to the portrait. However I am still to add the plume.

In the 16th century all the beading would have been real pearls, or semi-precious stones, however due to the high costs involved and my lack of budget, I have used acrylic beads. I hand sew all the beads onto the costumes. The strings of pearls are sewn in between each pearls to ensure there is no bulging or gaping. It does take quite a conserable amount of time to apply the tims and pearls but I think they add to the general splendour of the pieces.


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    Patterns of Fashion
    MacMillan, London, 1985. ISBN: 0-333-38284-6
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    La Moda a Fiorenze 1540-1580
    Pagliai Polistampa, Firenze, 2005. ISBN: 88-8304-867-9
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    Abbigliamento e Costume Nella Pittura Italiana – Rinascimento
    Edizioni d’Arte. Roma.
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    Habiti Antichi et Moderni Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe – Asia – Africa – The Americas
    republished 2008.ISBN: 978-0500514269