All week long I’ve been bombarding you with posts about how to add beads to your projects. Whether you are knitting or crocheting there is more than one way to get a bead, or two, or several dozen, into whatever you are making. That was the gist of the first four posts.
- Crochet with Beads Part 1: pre-stringing beads before you chain
- Crochet with Beads Part 2: setting beads as you go
- Knitting with Beads Part 1: pre-stringing beads before you cast-on
- Knitting with Beads Part 2: setting beads as you go
- What Beads to Use and Where to put them in your Knit and Crochet Work
- Added by request – adding beads as you spin yarn
Beads Sizing for Knitters and Crocheters
But there is more to beading with knit and crochet then how we get the beads on the yarn. Before that can happen we have to have the right kind of beads on hand. Beads are not necessarily made with knitters and crocheters in mind. They are made for jewelry makers. Jewelry makers string beads (usually) onto wires and silk thread. They can use beads like this:
Most yarn won’t pass through beading holes that small and therein lies the problem. As knitters and crocheters looking for beads, we need to be aware of bead hole sizes.
Btw, most serious beadworkers own a tool called a bead reamer. Its a diamond tip drill thingy they use to widen the hole on stone and glass beads. I don’t have one of those and I’m assuming most of my readers don’t either.
The sad truth is that most beads made from semi-precious stones and pearls (even the synthetic pearls) are going to have very small holes. They are too small to be threaded onto anything but fine, lace weight yarn. But there is a style of beads out there that we can use: seed beads. For most of your beaded knit and crochet projects, you’ll be using seed beads.
The holes in seed beads increase as the size of the bead increases. That’s why we knitters and crocheters use them. You can match the thickness of your yarn to the size of the bead.
As you can see seed beads come in all sorts of sizes and those sizes are about as standardized as… yarn weights. Which is to say they are not very standardized at all. Just like in yarn weights, you can use bead sizes as a guide but don’t be surprised when a 6/0 bead from one company is not the same as a 6/0 bead from a different company. But here are some tips for when you go buying beads to use in your next project:
- The higher the first number is, the smaller the bead. So in order of big to small, you would find 4/0 > 6/0 > 8/0.
- When you go to a specialty bead shop (Austin, Texas has three. Isn’t that amazing? Can I brag about that? Three boutique bead shops all here in my town!) call them “six ohh” beads or “six aught” beads”. Then you’ll sound like you know what you are doing and won’t get funny looks from the store clerks.
- The standard bead size for fingering weight yarn is 6/0. Most of the time that is what you will be using.
- A 6/0 bead is (usually) big enough to use when you set a bead as you go. That is its big enough to be placed on a loop of yarn, to use in the “set as bead as you work” method. With that method a whole loop of yarn, two strands, has to be able to pass through the bead. If you are pre-stringing your beads you might get away with using a smaller bead, since it only has to pass through the bead once.
- Take my advice and choose your yarn first… then your beads. Its easier that way. Picking your beads first and then trying to find the perfect yarn is a bit like falling in love with a color of paint for your living room and then searching for a sofa that goes with the paint.
- If you are buying cheap-o seed beads (like say from a hobby store) be prepared for irregularities. What you are buying is essentially a knock off of the higher quality Czech glass, (Japanese) Miyuki Delicas, or (Japanese) Toho seed beads. I’m not saying don’t buy those beads. I do myself. They are much more affordable. But that affordability also means you are getting lower quality beads. There will be some that are chipped or broken. Some will be misshapen. Almost certainly some of those beads will not fit on your yarn.
The other benefit to seed beads, knock-off or otherwise, is that they are light weight. Even if you can find a semi-precious stone bead that fits onto your yarn, it may be too heavy for your knitted/crocheted fabric. Heavy beads pull and stretch out fabric. Glass or plastic beads won’t do that.
Where Beads Work Best
You can pace beads anywhere you like. You are the boss of your own yarn, and now of your growing beads stash! But if you’re open to advice from someone who has laboriously put beads in bad places on a project then read on.
Beads are best when they are near your face and worst when they are in a place that gets contact friction. Almost any cowl is a great project to add beads. Its up near your pretty, smiling face and it never rubs against anything. Adding beads every 10th stitch, or in an all-over diamond pattern, to a sweater may seem like a great idea but some of those beads will end up on the side where you arm rests and trust me… that is a very bad thing. No one wants beads in their armpit.
- Projects where you can go nuts and add tons of beads are cowls, scarfs, and shawls. If it hangs off your neck/shoulders then you can usually get away with adding as much sparkle as you want.
- If you’re making a sweater add beads to the collar. That is where you get the most bang for your buck. You can add them to the sleeve cuffs if the cuff are not full length. A short sleeve that ends above the elbow will be just fine. Beading the cuff on a three-quarter length sleeve is iffy. I advise against ever beading the cuffs on a full length sleeve. Those beads with catch on the edge of every pocket and purse you put your hands into. (Same goes for beaded gloves and mittens.)
- Bags. All bags can get beads. I may or may not have a deep need to bead every bag I stitch. I did recently finish a coin purse and it was without beads and that… was an exercise in discipline. I wanted to add beads the whole time I was making it but, since it was a review of the pattern, I forced myself to knit it “as written”. The next coin purse I make, it will have beads. You can take that to the bank!
But as I said almost any bag pattern can be embellished with beads.
The exception would be a bag that you work up big and loose in 100% wool. Those bags get felted and beads don’t (usually) survive the felting process intact.
- There is one more bead placement that I feel doesn’t get enough play in the yarn world: inside cables.
Any time a cable pattern opens up like this, you can stick a bead… or four… in there. Isn’t that a pretty effect? Cables in beads allow
you me to make an exception to the no-beads-in-gloves rule. With those raided cables, and the beads nestled down in between them, beads don’t snag on stuff.
What should you do if a beads ends up in an inconvenient, pain-inducing place? Like your armpit? I’m so glad you asked. I have plenty of experience at taking out bad beads; you’re talking to an expert here. No you don’t have to rip. Just go get a pair of pliers and a ziplock baggie. Working inside the baggie, use the pliers to crack/shatter that bead. (FYI, if you don’t work inside the baggie you’ll be regretting your life and cleaning up tiny shards that have exploded all over the place. Like I said, I got experience at this.) Keep at it until you have busted all the bad beads. Then, and this is important, wash/block your project. You need to get all those bead shards out.
Some Free Patterns If You want to Try Beading!
As I’ve said, you can add beads anywhere. No need to wait for a pattern to tell you when and how. But if you’d rather start with a project that has recommended beading options, I got you covered there too. Check out:
Ice Queen by Romi Hill. Its a lace weight cowl that includes a 60-bead-option and a 300-bead option. I made one of these with some handspun yarn in lavender and 60 size 8/0 salmon colored beads.
How about a beaded knit hat? Grumperina has Odessa, a DK weight beanie with options for beads.
Hooker need beads too right? Right. Check out the Fritillary Shawl by Aparna Rolfe. Its written for lace weight with a beaded option but you can make this in any yarn you like. Just up-size your beads as needed.
So add some sparkle to your yarn life! Beads are the easiest embellishment you’ll ever try but for some reason it REALLY impresses people when you add beads. That’s okay. We can keep the easy part a secret. Remember when we all took a solemn oath to tell the world that what we do is hard? Keep that in mind, bead, away, and accept all the complements with a smile.