Beading mats are essential for bead-weaving. The most basic beading mat is just a piece of material with a texture a little like velour or velvet. The critical thing about a beading mat is its texture: it should be just rough enough to stop your beads from rolling about, but should not have a thick pile that the beads can hide in. You can buy inexpensive beading mats from craft shops or most bead shops. If you want to make your own, you can do so, just take care when you pick the material. Something like cotton or silk will not prevent the beads from rolling. A material like towelling will have such a thick pile that you may find yourself losing beads within it.
Beading mats are usually available in a range of colours. Whilst it is perfectly possible to manage with just one colour, it can be helpful to have a range of colours. If you are using very pale beads, they will show up better on a darker coloured mat. If your beads are dark, then you will definitely need a paler beading mat.
If you like to travel with your beads, or if you work in an environment where you are constantly having to pack your beads away between sessions, then you might consider ways of also transporting your beading mat. When I am just working at home, I set my beading mat up on a tray so I can carry it around from one room to another. If you are thinking about travelling outside your home, then it would be worth investigating some of the specialty bead carrying kits.
Bead On It Boards
If you are happy to spend a more significant amount of money, then you might like to consider a ‘Bead On It’ board. These boards have been developed in the USA and they provide some special features. The board is rigid, with slightly raised sides to prevent the beads from falling off. The surface onto which you pour the beads is made from a special fabric that encourages them to sit with their holes facing upwards. If you are bead-weaving, then this is a huge benefit. It means that your beads are all ready for you to aim the needle directly into the hole. It must be said that this special quality applies only to seed beads, not pearls or crystals, although the lovely fabric of the board still makes it great for these materials. The sturdy structure of the board means it can be safely carried around. These boards also come in a range of sizes and colours, so you can pick what you need.
Silaba Crafts Beading Trays
More recently, in the UK, Silaba Crafts launched their own beading trays. These look very similar to the beading boards and have all the same advantages of the sturdy frame, special material and a fabulous range of sizes and colours. They have a couple of extra advantages over the Bead On It Boards: amongst the variety of shapes, you can select a special ‘curved’ tray. This has been designed with a curve along one of the long sides so that it sits comfortably in your lap, with the curve resting against your body. It’s absolutely perfect for holding the tray directly on your lap, rather than sitting at a table, so if you are one of those beaders who enjoys beading in front of the TV on the comfort of your sofa, this gives a really comfortable, yet sturdy support. Secondly, you can buy specially designed ‘Dilly Pads’ or ‘Dilly Dots’. These have been created to sit on the tray, fitting against a corner, and they have a small indentation that will hold a pile of beads. You can see a couple in use in the photo. This is a brilliant innovation to keep the beads separate as you are working. I know from experience that beads are very fond of playing together, so it can be very hard to keep your separate piles from rolling into one another on a beading mat or beading board, especially if you have to move the tray/board/mat while you are working. The little Dilly pads tuck into a corner, so you will still have plenty of space on the beading mat area of the tray, but your beads are conveniently kept in order and on hand.
Silaba Crafts offer you the chance to create your own custom-designed tray, so you can choose the size and shape of your board, then pick the fabric that you wish to have covering it.
So, as you can see, when it comes to beading mats, there is plenty of choice. Think carefully about how much you want to spend on your hobby and the time and place where you are going to be working. If you are on a tight budget, maybe just starting out, and can guarantee that you will have a flat surface on which to work, then a beading mat is perfectly fine. If you want something a little more portable, then I really cannot recommend the sturdier beading trays strongly enough: from my own experience, one is certainly not enough!