Our beads are tiny, cylindrical and they roll all over the place! A bead mat's job is to add a little friction to the surface to stop the beads rolling around. This ensures you are able to pick a bead up with your needle directly off the mat. I would not bead without one, and I mean that literally. I would be forever chasing those little suckers around and I would never even get the chance to bead.
There are two types of bead mat, a material one or a plastic based one with sticky surface. Both create a surface with a little friction to hold the beads in place. Most material bead mats have a very short pile, fabrics such as velvet, velour and vellux can be used. By far the favourite material is vellux. It has a nylon flocked surface with a polyester foam core.
I find the foam core of a vellux mat gives you a little cushion and means you can develop a technique to flip the beads onto your needle, speeding up your beading. The sticky mat I only use when I am working with larger beads, which is not very often.
in the last few years a new style of beading board have come onto the market and are proving very popular. On these boards there are cut out sections you place your beads in to stop them getting mixed up with each other. Sections are usually marked A-Z so you can cross reference beads in the section to a colour in your pattern. A beading board is a very useful tool to have and really helps in a pattern with lots of colours.
Check out our tip for looking after your bead mats, Tip: Looking After Your Bead Mat