I love the sparkle and luxury beads add to knitted and crocheted work. I’ve added them to my own designs (like Spider Weaves the End and Long Brown Gloves) and to some of my inspired (destashing!!) pieces for a variety of reasons. In some cases, they can dress up a rather plain pattern, giving it a richer or dressier feel.
In other cases, beads can help shape the piece, offering a weight and drape that gives the yarn a more sensual feel. With light weight yarns, for instance, a few beads can create the feeling of thick, supple fiber without adding the insulation and heft thicker fibers offer. They can also help yarns that want to float stay put, contributing to a more lengthening or form-fitting look without a lot of shaping or tailoring.
Choose the Right Pattern
You can add beads to just about any knitted or crocheted pattern, whether it was designed for beading or not. The key is to keep in mind how the beads you want to add will affect the final results. For simple shapes, like shawls, stoles, scarves, cowls, and wraps, beads will add a bit of weight to the final piece. They may create a lengthening, narrowing effect, as well. You may need to adjust the number of stitches in each row or the overall number of rows to account for the weight the beads add.
In more complex patterns for small items, like gloves, socks, or hats, beads will affect the overall pattern less, so long as you use them sparingly. If you’re planning to use them on just about every stitch, you may find the overall shaping will require some adjustment. For socks, a row of beads around the top of the sock’s cuff may not cause the cuffs to fall down, but several rows may. The heft of the beads you’re using will factor significantly in how much you’ll need to adjust your pattern.
For more complex patterns for larger items, like sweaters, vests, dresses, and jackets, beads can help with shaping and drape. If you add a few beads around the neckline, for instance, you’ll likely find the neck line wants to lay against the skin. Around the cuffs and lower edges, beads can give the overall pattern a lengthening effect, so you may need to measure as you go and adjust your pattern on the fly.
Beads add a little sparkle to knitted or crocheted fabrics as well as a bit of weight. They can help yarns that are particularly lightweight drape well. They’ll also help stiffer yarns hang down rather than riding up or out. Yarns that are particularly springy will tend to stretch under the weight of a few beads, which can make your finished piece more long and narrow than expected if it wasn’t designed with beads in mind. In my peach and gray scarf, for instance, the beads lengthen the overall scarf, making it a more narrow piece than it otherwise would have been. That effect is mainly because the weight is concentrated at either end, but even if I’d had enough to add a few beads through the whole piece they would have weighed down the ends.
Choose the Right Beads for the Job
Choose beads that fit your yarn. For a wider yarn, like the Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino I used in my peach and gray scarf, you’ll need beads with larger holes, like size E or #6 seed beads. For smaller yarns, like sock yarns, you’ll want to stick with smaller beads, like size 8/0 or #8 seed beads. Choosing the right size beads will make adding them easier and will help your work last longer. If you choose beads that are too small for your yarn, you won’t be able to string them on. If you choose beads that are too large, you run the risk of having them slide around on your finished piece, which will eventually wear down the yarn and can cause it to break.
Personally, I like glass beads best. They sparkle, which makes me happy. They’re also hefty, especially when you’ve got a lot of them in one area. For most of my beaded projects, that extra weight is a bonus at best and a non-issue at worst. I tend to choose my projects with that weight in mind, but that can make them a poor choice if you don’t want your work to be weighed down and potentially pulled out of shape. Wood, acrylic, and plastic beads can be a really good choice for projects where the weight of all that glass would be detrimental.
Be sure whatever beads you choose they’re well-finished, meaning they don’t have any rough edges. Rough edges, especially those inside the bead’s hole, can wear down your yarn fast. The heavier the beads, the faster they’ll do damage if they’re not well-finished. If you must go with beads that have an occasional rough edge, you can use a nail file or a very small jewelry file to smooth them out before you string them onto your yarn.
Extra Special Tools You’ll Need
You’ll need a beading needle or darning needle that’s small enough to fit through the hole in your beads. In my peach and gray scarf, a small darning needle did the trick. I like using darning needles best because they’re durable, but I keep wire beading needles in my bag for those cases when my darning needles are just too big. You can finding wire beading needles at shops that sell jewelry making supplies, like Fire Mountain Gems, and sometimes at your local craft shops. The ones I use look like long, twisted wires. Separate the wire strands on one end and put your yarn through the hole, then let the wire strands go. Your yarn will be held securely between the wire strands while you string beads onto the wire tip and then slide them onto your yarn. Simple.
Getting Started is Easy
I like to string the beads before I begin knitting or crocheting one ball of yarn at a time when I’m adding beads throughout the project. For my peach and gray scarf, I wound all my balls of yarn and strung the beads on the first and last skeins before I began knitting. Since I was planning to double knit, using one strand of peach and one of gray for each stitch, I could tie off the ends for the last set of peach and gray skeins so the beads wouldn’t fall off in my basket before I’d finished the rest of the scarf. Normally, I do one ball at a time to ensure I don’t accidently drop or lose any beads when my yarn balls are rolling around in the bottom of my basket.
To add a bead to a stitch, just bring the bead up and tuck it into the stitch before you wrap it around your knitting needle or crochet hook, then continue with your stitch as usual. With knitting in particular, the beads may want to wind around to the wrong side of the stitch. Adjust them once the stitch is complete. I often wait until I’ve added one or two stitches more before going back to push the bead into the exact place I want it. The hardest part is managing that long string of beads you haven’t yet incorporated into your work. It often takes me a few rows to get over the idea that stopping to push the extra beads back so I can keep knitting is tedious. Once I get my rhythm going, though, even that becomes a breeze.
I’ve gotten an amazing number of compliments, often from strangers, on the beaded knitted and crocheted projects I’ve completed. There’s something about that little extra bling that catches the eye. If you’re looking to take one of your favorite patterns to a new level or want to design something a little fancier than usual, try adding a few beads to your work.