A beginner's guide to beading.
There are a plethora of bead types, sizes, shapes and colors. Beads are made from glass, wood, semi-precious stones, pearls, clay, paper mache and plastic. They can be round, cubes, triangles and any other shape you can imagine. If you've ever walked into a bead store and seen the large selection of alluring and captivating beads, you understand that beads, like yarn, can be addicting. So, where to begin?
Remember that the yarn and the beads need to work together. Beads are heavy and will add weight to the project. The yarn needs to be sturdy enough to support the added weight, and of course the beads need to have large enough holes to allow the yarn to easily pass through.
Shannon Jambard, known for her beading knowledge and her passion for helping others, is the owner of Meant to Bead in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Knitters in the area seek out Shannon's help when looking to add beads to their work. Meant to Bead is well stocked with more beads than one can imagine. Shannon and her staff are always ready to help demystify bead-related matters. Recently, I visited with Shannon and asked for an introduction to beads for knitting. Her comments and suggested purchases were truly enlightening and left me feeling even more excited about adding beads to my knits.
There are many different categories of beads, but "seed beads" are most frequently used for knitting. While varying in size, seed beads usually have a larger hole than other beads. Most of the high-quality seed beads come from Japan or the Czech Republic. Japanese seed beads are more uniform and nearly perfect, but they offer fewer styles. Czech beads come in more styles but have less uniformity in size, shape and finish.
In the bead industry, "aught" is the term for classifying seed beads, while other beads are sized in millimeters. The size is usually written as 6[degrees], or 6/0. The number indicated is the number of beads per inch. For example, it would take 6 beads, 6 aught each, to equal 1 inch. The smaller the number, the larger the bead. However, there is variation between manufacturers, so keep in mind the measurement is not exact, only an approximation.
A 6/0 bead usually works well with lace, fingering, sport and DK weight yarn. The bead should slip up and down the yarn freely. Any beads that catch as you are threading them on the yarn should be discarded immediately. Even a slightly rough edge will cause wear and tear on the yarn and cause the yarn to break down over time, shortening the lifespan of the project.
Before buying beads, determine the number required for the project. Always plan on buying extra beads because there may be a few that need to be discarded due to irregularities, and a few always escape to the floor, never to be seen again. Beads are sold in packages by weight. A bead shop owner or employee can tell you approximately how many beads are in a container. The triangular 17 gram container shown to the right contains approximately 220 6/0 seed beads.
There are a few inexpensive tools that can help ease the task of getting the beads on the yarn. A beading mat is essential, unless you want to chase runaway beads all over your workspace. The velour-like material has no loops, so the beading needle does not catch and the fibers help control the beads.
One way to add beads to your knitting is to pre-string them on your yarn with a beading needle before you cast on. There are two types of needles, a big eye and a twisted beading needle, that can be used for threading beads onto the yarn. Made of stainless steel, the big eye needle is the easiest to thread. The entire length of the needle is the eye, so you can simply pull the 2 strands apart and insert the yarn. The twisted beading needle, made of very thin strands of twisted stainless steel, has a hooplike loop at one end where the yarn is inserted. When you slide a bead up this needle, the hoop collapses and easily passes through the bead.
Hooking beads as you go, rather than pre-stringing them on the yarn, is another way of attaching beads to your work, A steel crochet hook is used, and the hook size must be small enough to pass through the hole in the bead. Hook manufacturers are not consistent with sizing, so rely on the millimeter size to determine the size of the hook. A U.S. size 10 Susan Bates hook (1.15mm) and a Clover size 6 (1mm) both work well with 6/0 seed beads.
To work, insert the hook through a bead, then grab the indicated stitch with your hook and pull the yarn through the bead. The bead will sit securely on the loop as you continue on with your knitting.
As I was leaving Meant to Bead, Shannon reminded me that beads would encourage me to look at my knitting in a totally different way. Her parting words were, "You'll always be wondering where to place your next bead!" I'm thinking she's right. Give beads a chance, and you too will soon be wondering where to place your next bead.