The first thing I tried was beading directly onto Ultrasuede. This comes in many colours so by choosing a shade to match your background, you can make any gaps in the beadwork less obvious (eg in tight corners)
Work in progress
The drawback to this technique was that the ultrasuede is somewhat elastic so keeping the surface smooth is more difficult.
The second method I tried was to use fusible (iron-on) interfacing, applied to the back of a piece of lightweight cotton. The edges of the cotton fray a little, but could be edged with fray-check to limit this. Here is the beginning of a Purse. So far, bezeling the flat backed pearls has been very easy, but I haven't managed much background yet:
Trial on cotton fabric
The reason I began these experiments was that I'd like to make a bigger project than the cuffs and hair barrettes which have been my usual productions. I was also trying to source some larger pieces of Ultrasuede, as a purse or collar is likely to require a large piece for backing the embroidery. Luckily I came across a fabulous shop on Etsy run by Michiko Somerville: Suedeshop She also supplies Sensuede, marketed as a more environmentally friendly fabric since it is partially made from recycled polyester. I bought a sampler pack of 5 Sensuede pieces 9inches by 6 inches. Not only was this reasonably priced but arrived from California in 5 days! Michiko will also supply other cuts eg Fat Quarters from the bolt. As a bonus there was a little free gift of little scraps, ideal for pins or protecting the backs of rivolis or buttons!
Needless to say I have immediately returned to the store to buy a bigger piece so hopefully you will see me producing a sparkling evening purse some time this year!