Saturday, May 31, 2008

One Approach to Beads

Beads knitted into stuff look so cool, but the process can be such a pain -- the traditional method, which is to string all the beads onto the yarn before the knitting begins, and then slide them up to the needles as needed, is slow and frustrating and puts an awful lot of stress on the yarn. Recently, we've seen some techniques for adding beads "as you go" (that is, putting the bead onto the yarn as you knit the stitch that needs it). This is a big improvement.

Most of the instructions I've seen for this, however, call for special tools: a "beadle" (which is like a teeny tiny latch-hook, for those of you old enough to remember latch-hooked rugs), or a minute crochet hook. And to make them work, you need a bead with a hole large enough for the tool to pass through. Because beads are quite heavy (for their size), I find that I usually want to use a bead too small for my tools.

In fact, let me say up front that the spot where I most often want a bead is at the edge of a lace shawl. With the ultrafine yarns in some shawls, I like to add just a little weight, to improve the drape of the finished product. The old-fashioned method of stringing the beads first is out of the question, because the yarn is fragile (and because laceweight skeins are typically hundreds of meters long -- I don't want to be sliding 200 beads down 800 meters of yarn from the moment I cast on 7 sts at the back of the neck).

Here's an alternative. You'll need a 6-inch length of heavy-duty sewing thread in a color that contrasts with your beads and your knitting yarn.

My demonstration project is Evelyn Clark's Swallowtail shawl from Interweave Knits Fall '06. The yarn is merino laceweight from Cinnamon's Dyepot. The pattern called for nupps in the last pattern section, but it only took a few p3togs to send me to the bead shop. These are #6 beads, I think.

Step 1: Work the bead row, making each stitch that's going to get a bead a plain knit stitch. The beads get added on the following row.

Step 2: Work in pattern to the stitch that needs a bead. Then take your length of sewing thread and pass one end of it through the stitch.

Step 3: Bring the two ends of the thread together and hold them as if you were going to thread a needle. (You can't see the knit stitch in this picture; it's behind my thumb.)

Step 4: Push the ends of the thread through a bead.

Step 5: Slide the bead down the thread loop until it reaches the knit stitch.

Step 6: By pulling on the thread loop, lift the knit stitch off the left needle. Then push the bead further down the loop until it transfers onto the stitch.
Step 7: Put the knit stitch back onto the left needle. Have a little care not to twist the stitch (though it probably won't show if you miss, since the twist will be in the bead).

Step 8: Work the stitch. (This one is purled, because it's a wrong-side row.) The bead is almost invisible here; it's just below the right-hand needle and looks like it's between the first two stitches.

Step 9: Turn the work around and admire it. (This step is essential.) The bead in question here is on the fourth stitch on the left needle, right near my forefinger.

Repeat steps 2 through 9 as necessary.

Depending on how big your project is, you may need more than 6" of sewing thread -- the ends get limp after awhile and need to be trimmed (or the whole thread replaced). Buttonhole twist is more durable than plain sewing thread, but it's also thicker, which may be a problem with the smallest beads.

What I like about this technique is that it doesn't just make a really fidgety technique a little less fidgety, it makes it totally reasonable. From "gorgeous, but who's going to do THAT?" to "sure, I can handle a few slow rows" with one piece of sewing thread. You should try it!


Toby said...

Brilliant! Thanks so much for the detailed tutorial. I completely agree with your last statement that this makes a bit of beading at the end of a shawl reasonable.

jordiw said...

Thank you!! Love this, and yes, it does make it do-able. I wanted to do some beading, but there was no way the beads I wanted were going to have a teeny tiny crochet hook go through them. Oe of those dental floss threaders might help getting the thread through the bead to start with.. hmm...

Karla said...

That's BRILLIANT! You've just brought beading into my realm of possibility, thank you very much. I might have to add a few beads to this lace project of mine...

Amy McWeasel said...

I've completely avoided beading because I was certain, based on other instructions I've read, that it was just way too fiddly for my personal tastes. I think I'll give this technique a try with a swatch to see if beading might be for me after all. Thanks for the tutorial!

EmilyG said...

You, my friend, are seriously brainysmart. As has been said, your technique is brilliant (not to mention super-clearly communicated). Dude. You rock.

I've been contemplating a swallowtail shawl myself at some point, and I'm totally going to try beading with it.

Kim said...

Awesome! I have wanted to add beads to shawls and even some sock cuffs but the other ways were too cumbersome. This is fabulous. Thanks so much!

monica said...

I have seen this technique, but have yet to try it. Thanks for reminding me about it with this post.

Anne said...

Awesome solution. I might try it with a scrap of flexible bead stringing wire such as Beadalon, depending on the size of the beads. I've never found a crochet hook tiny enough to go through a bead hole.

Unknown said...

Use super glue on each end of thead. Let dry. Cut on diagonal.