Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Knitting with Beads

I've been meaning to post this tutorial on knitting with beads for a long time.  I particularly love to add beads to lace.  I have used three different methods and I definitely have a preference.   But I’ll cover all three methods here and add some editorial comments.

Selecting beads
The important factor in selecting beads for knitting is their size.  For lace I prefer 8/0 seed beads.  You can get them on line or at beading supply stores.  These are not usually available at large craft stores, since they carry mostly larger beads.  You can use larger ones but need to be careful not to use too many or they will be too heavy.  Also for fine yarns, do not use beads that are faceted or sharp on the inside since these can cut or damage the yarn.  There are many colors and sizes to chose from and you can mix them within a design.

There are two ways the bead can sit with respect to the knitted stitch.  You can put the bead on the yarn and then have it sit between two stitches or you can put it on the stitch itself.   The first requires you to string the beads onto the yarn before knitting.

Beads that Sit Between Stitches

In this method, you need to have an idea of how many beads you are going to need in advance and then you string them onto the yarn.  You push the beads out of your way while knitting until you want one and then you push it up to the last stitch and then work the next one.  This will put the bead between the stitches.

There are some difficulties in this method.  How do you know how many you will need in advance?  If you are using a lot of beads, pushing them over the yarn can weaken the yarn and cause it to break.  I once did a shawl that called for this type of beading with 5,000 beads.  It took an incredible amount of time to string the beads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think ahead to realize that if the shawl took two skeins of yarn, I could put 2,500 on each skein.  Instead I put 5,000 on the first skein and then got to move 2,500 of them to the next skein halfway through.   If you are interested in what this looks like, please see Shipwreck Shawl on Ravelry.  There is a good picture of the beads in the lace section.

Placing Beads on the Stitch
Placing beads on the stitch occurs while you are working the knitting.  This can disrupt your flow and slow you down, but it does prevent you from having to string all the beads in advance.  I have used two different ways of placing beads.

Placing beads with a crochet hook:  Knit the stitch indicated and put a bead on the crochet hook.  

Use the hook to remove the stitch just knitted from the right hand needle; push the bead from the crochet hook down over the knitted stitch.  

Return this stitch back to the right hand needle and adjust the tension of this stitch.  You do have to use a very small crochet hook for this.  Please be careful and don't stab yourself.  That would hurt.

Placing beads with dental floss:  This is my preferred method.  The secret is to use Super Floss.  Oral B makes it for people with braces.  It comes in pre-cut lengths and has three sections:  a stiff, short section, a fuzzy part, and a long, smooth part.  You can string a bunch of beads at once onto the floss and don’t have to worry about stabbing yourself with the crochet hook.  Thread beads onto floss.  The fuzzy part will keep them from falling off the short end, and I tie a knot around a bead at the long end to keep them from falling off that end.  

Bead tied at end of floss

One bead on the fuzzy section and many more ready to go

Knit the stitch indicated, thread one end of the dental floss through this stitch and remove the stitch from the right needle. 

Hold both ends of the dental floss together and push a bead down from the fuzzy part of the floss so that both ends of the dental floss are through the bead.  

Push bead down onto the stitch and replace this stitch back on the right hand needle, pulling it to the right tension.  

Remove the dental floss.  You can see the bead sitting on the stitch.

Using beads gives you lots of creative options.  You get to chose where you put them.  I frequently use them in a line between the body and edging of shawls (pictured above).  I also like to use them on double decreases, but you can place them wherever you want - either to accent a part of the design or to add sparkle in a specific spot.  

Have fun adding beads to your knitting!

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