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A to Z: Beyond the Basics

Knitting With Beads


Knitting with beads is an age-old art that you can do in two ways. The first and easiest method, “beaded knitting,” has beads spaced at planned or random intervals. The beads are added by threading them directly onto the working yarn. These beads usually fall over the stitches rather than between them. Beaded knitting is worked most often with one type or color of bead, but with advance planning as you thread, you can work out a sequence with several types or colors of beads. The techniques on the following page are for beaded knitting.

The second method, a traditional one first developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, was used for purses and other elaborately decorated items. It is called “bead knitting” (sometimes known as purse knitting). This method, also worked by threading the beads onto the working yarn, is done by placing one bead between each stitch, so that the knitting stitches are completely hidden by beads. You can work intricate patterns in bead knitting by threading beads in reverse of the design (which must be completely accurate) and then working the beads into the knitting.

Most beads are made from glass, wood, plastic, clay and papier-mâché, but they can also be made from pearls, gems, buttons and some stones. Match your beads to the yarn by using luxurious beads on silks and other shiny yarns for evening wear and rougher beads on tweeds and wools for day wear. When considering whether your beads and yarn are an appropriate match, remember that beads will add weight to your sweater. Heavy yarns with vast numbers of beads will not be comfortable to wear and are likely to stretch out. Fragile yarns should be beaded with care, because some are not strong enough to withstand the beading process without fraying or becoming worn. If your yarn is too thick to thread and bead, sew beads onto the finished pieces. When choosing suitable yarns and beads, make sure you can wash the beads if you are using a washable yarn. If you plan to dry-clean the sweater, make sure the beads can be dry-cleaned, too.

Work stitches firmly on either side of the beads to keep them in place and from falling to the back of the work. To avoid edges that curl or that are difficult to seam, don't work beads close to the edge of your pieces.

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.

stockinette stitch
beading on stockinette st beading on stockinette st  
You can add beads in stockinette stitch on wrong-side rows by making a knit stitch (a purl on the right side of the work) on either side of the bead to help anchor it. From the wrong side On a purl (wrong-side) row, work to one stitch before the point you wish to place a bead. Knit this stitch. With yarn still at back of the work, slip the bead up to the work and knit the next stitch.  
beading on stockinette st beading on stockinette st  
On right-side rows, beads are placed without the purl stitches on either side. The bead will lie directly in front of the stitch. Work the stitch firmly so that the bead won't fall to the back of the work. From the right side 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.  


slip stitch
adding beads with slip st adding beads with slip st adding beads with slip st
Adding beads with a slip stitch is done on stockinette stitch from the right side of the work. The bead falls directly in front of the slip stitch. 1. Work to where the bead is to be placed. Bring the yarn and the bead to the front of the work and slip the next stitch knitwise. 2. Bring the yarn to the back, keeping the bead to the front, and knit the next stitch firmly.


threading beads

threading beadsNo matter what beading method you use, thread beads onto balls of yarn before you knit. The threading needle must be large enough to accommodate the yarn, but small enough to go through the beads. Since this combination is not always possible, you can use an auxiliary thread to thread the beads. Using a sturdy thread, loop it through a folded piece of yarn and then pull both ends of the thread through the eye of the needle. Pass the bead over the needle and thread it onto the yarn. (It may help to pass a bead back and forth over the folded yarn a few times to crease it.)

Beads are available pre-strung or loose. Individual beads take longer to thread. To thread pre-strung beads, carefully open the strand and insert the needle into the beads through the strand. Store threaded beads in a plastic bag or jar to keep them from tangling as you knit.