Walking into a bead store for the first time, the variety of bead materials, colors and sizes might be overwhelming. Which ones are the best ones for knitting? Which ones will fit my yarn selection, and how are beads applied to knitted fabric? And finally, how are they placed well so they won’t move around? In this article we will answer all the questions above – but first, let’s talk about terminology. Beaded knitting? Or is it called bead knitting?
Beaded Knitting or Bead Knitting?
Knitting with beads is an old and traditional art that you can do in two different ways: Using them as main feature, or by using beads as decoration. This article refers to the latter.
The first and oldest method, first developed in the Victorian era, is used for purses and other elaborately decorated items. This craft is called “bead knitting” (sometimes also known as purse knitting). Worked by threading the beads onto the working yarn or thin wire, bead knitting works placing one bead between each stitch. The knitting stitches are completely hidden by beads this way.
When we are talking about applying beads to knitted fabric, we actually refer to something different: Beaded Knitting. This method has beads spaced at planned or random intervals. The beads are added by threading them directly onto the working yarn before you start, or by applying them on the go.
When using beads threaded onto the yarn before you start, they usually fall over the stitches rather than between them. Placing beads as you knit uses a crochet hook, and there is no need to thread any beads before you start knitting.
When worked this way, the bead is placed directly onto the stitch and secured by the knitting itself. No extra measures for securing the bead are necessary.
You can be creative when you add beads to stitch patterns. Add beads in pattern indentations, at the sides or centers of cables, or in the openings created by eyelet stitches.
You can find a collection of beaded shawl patterns with an extensive introduction about beaded knitting in my book Beaded Shawls.
Choosing Beads for Knitting
Beads come in different sizes, fitting different yarn weights. The most commonly used beads are seed beads. Seed Beads have larger holes than most other beads making them a good choice for beaded knitting. The most popular manufacturer for seed beads are Toho and Miyuki.
The size of seed beads are listed in specific numbers (e.g. 11/0) indicating how many of them fit into a certain length. The larger the number, the smaller the beads.
Toho & Miyuki use the following sizing table:
11/0 (size: 2.2mm; hole size: 0.9mm)
8/0 (size: 3mm; hole size: 1.4 – 1.5mm)
6/0 (size: 3.5mm; hole size: 1.7mm)
3/0 (size: 5.5mm; hole size: 2mm)
Normal beads, which may be made various materials like glass, ceramic or even plastic, will generally have a smaller hole. Before you plan on using the beads of your choice for a knitting project, string a few of them onto your yarn to make sure the hole is the right size.
Match your beads to the yarn by using luxurious beads on silk and other shiny yarns for evening wear and rougher beads on tweed and wool for day wear.
Fragile yarns should be beaded with care. Some are not strong enough to withstand the beading process without fraying or becoming worn.
Knitting With Beads
Using Pre-Strung Beads
Work to the stitch to be beaded, then slip the bead up in back of the work. Insert needle as if to knit; wrap yarn around it. Push bead to front through the stitch on the left needle; complete the stitch.Work stitches firmly on either side of the beads to keep them in place and from falling to the back of the work.
Using a Crochet Hook
For this method you’ll need a crochet hook fine enough to fit through the hole of the beads you’re using. This is my favorite method for beaded knitting.
Work until you reach the stitch you want to place the bead onto. Make sure your chosen beads fit onto your crochet hook.
Put one bead onto the crochet hook, pull the stitch through the bead and slip back the stitch onto the left hand needle.
Work the stitch with the bead as if you would without it.
What is your preferred method of applying beads to your knitting? Are you using beads in knitting at all? Let me know by leaving a comment below!