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How to Sew a Beaded Chiffon Dress

Embellish and support a slip dress

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This captivating dress from the 1940s pays homepage to the 1920s with its slim silhouette and elegant beaded details. The chiffon fabric was hand-beaded with a tambour needle in a design that outlines each dress section. This strengthens the seamline areas and enhances the flattering style lines. Beaded chiffon is delicate and requires special construction and care techniques.

A lovely embellishment of tone-on-tone beading catches the light on this red chiffon dress. The beads were attached with a special tool, creating lines and motifs that make a simple silhouette shine.

The glass beads are beautiful, but they’re heavy and may distort the gossamer fabric when the dress is worn or left hanging. To counteract this, I’ll show you a way to make corded straps that support the neckline edges and armholes. It’s a method that will work for any slinky, beaded dress you make.

Tambour beading

The beads on the inspiration dress are applied with a specialized tool called a tambour needle or tambour hook. With practice, using this tool makes beading linear designs easy and efficient.

The tambour needle is like a very fine crochet hook, but it has a sharp point. These needles come in various sizes for different fabrics and threads. The beading design is marked on the fabric wrong side, and the fabric is stretched, right side down, in a frame. The beads are strung on the thread, which is held on the fabric right side.

A tambour needle has a hooked point.

To apply the beads, the needle is inserted through the fabric from the wrong side. The needle’s hook grabs the thread and pulls it to the wrong side, locking a bead into position. The technique produces a chainstitch on the wrong side, and a neat, even row of beads on the right side. For detailed instructions, see “Tambour Beading,” in Threads #44 (Dec. 1992/Jan. 1993). You can also purchase an instructional DVD at

Assemble the dress

This dress’s embellishment also outlines its seamlines, providing support and definition. To emulate this design, bead along all the seamlines except the bodice upper edge. At each seam, fold one seam allowance to the wrong side. Lap this edge over the adjacent seam allowance, abutting the beaded seamlines. Sew by hand through all layers, running the needle through a few beads with each stitch.

Tambour-beaded lines define the dress’s seams and edges

Fashion sturdy straps

Corded straps and edges support the bead-heavy dress.

The beaded dress is heavy, so you need to engineer a strong upper edge and straps to support it.

The straps are narrow bias tubes, doublecorded with Size 3 pearl cotton, color-matched to the sheer fabric. Cut cording lengths to fit the routes illustrated below: one long cord for the neckline/straps, and two cords for the strap/ armhole edges. The cords are fed through the straps. Where they travel along an edge, they are encased between the dress and lining layers, with beading securing all layers.

Storage Tips

To maintain the integrity of your beaded dress for many seasons, follow this care advice.

  • Check the beads. Beads’ sharp edges can cut their attachment threads. Seed beads, like those applied on this dress, have rounded edges and are a safer choice than bugle beads. Still, you should check for broken threads each time you wear a beaded garment and repair them before storage.

  • Lay it flat. Place the garment flat in an acid-free environment, such as a drawer or archival box, wrapped in acid-free tissue. If you need to fold the garment, insert tissue between the layers to prevent creases and to keep beads from snagging the fabric or other beads.

Judith Neukam is a Threads contributing editor.

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