How to knit with beads

Many knitters avoid it because they think it is going to be tricky, but in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. Knitting with beads is an age-old art that can be done in many different ways. In this masterclass series with Jane Crowfoot you will discover four different ways of adding beads to your knitting. 

How to knit with beads
Knitting with beads is incredibly satisfying, creates beautiful results (as demonstrated by Martin Storey’s beaded cardi, pictured above) and is really easy to do.

Possibly the most common method used is worked by wrapping the yarn with a bead on around a slipped stitch. A second method – known as ‘bead knitting’ or ‘purse knitting’, dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, and is worked by placing the bead between two stitches. A third method is worked so that the bead sits within the knitted stitch; the final method involves a very small crochet hook which is used to thread a bead onto a knitted stitch. For the first three methods the beads are threaded onto the yarn before casting on.

Preparation

Choosing beads

Beads come in all shapes and sizes, from handmade clay or papier-mache, to machine-produced plastic and glass. Any size of bead and any weight of yarn can be used, as long as the hole in the bead is large enough to slide onto the yarn without damaging or snagging it. It is also a good idea to check that the beads are washable and colour-fast. It’s best to avoid fragile beads or those with sharp edges (such as cut glass), because these could affect the knitted fabric during washing and wearing.

Other equipment

You will need a strong sewing thread and a fine sewing needle. Try laying a piece of craft felt or a fine flannel over a saucer or small bowl to hold the beads if you find threading them from the palm of your hand troublesome. For the crochet hook method you will need a very fine hook – I have used a 1.25mm size hook.

How to thread beads

The needle size usually used to sew a knitting yarn will be far too large to thread beads, so below I will show you how to make your own version of a needle threader to get the beads onto your knitting yarn. For the first three beading methods it is essential that the beads are threaded onto the yarn before casting on. To do this, thread the needle with the sewing cotton and make a small knot to join the ends and form a loop.

How to knit with beads step 1

Move the knot so that it is not in line horizontally with the sewing needle..

How to knit with beads step 2

Place the knitting yarn through the loop created by the sewing thread, then pass the beads over the eye of the needle. Push it down onto the sewing thread and then onto the knitting yarn…

How to knit with beads step 3

The first few beads may be a bit tricky, but so long as you haven’t picked beads that are too small, threading should become easier. Sometimes you will come across a bead with a smaller hole than the others or a slight fault, so it’s a good idea to thread the beads onto the yarn in small batches. I tend to thread about five beads at a time. If you’re using a large number of beads, it may be necessary to thread the beads onto the yarn in sections – too many pre-strung beads can make knitting difficult, and may affect tension and the appearance of the yarn.

Knitting with beads: method 1

Placing a bead using a slip stitch

This is a really effective beading method and is the preferred method of most knitwear designers. Martin Storey uses it in his Carnival cardigan design in The Knitter issue 4, page 20. The beads sit ‘straight’ across a slipped stitch and cannot fall through to the reverse of the work, so long as a good knitted tension is achieved. Using this method beads can be placed on every alternate stitch and every alternate row.

Placing a bead on a Right Side (RS) row

Thread the required number of beads and cast on. Work through the knitting chart to where you require a bead. In Martin’s pattern this has the symbol of a filled black square.

How to place a bead with slip stitch step 1

* With the yarn to the reverse of the work, bring a bead up to the top of your knitting yarn. Bring your yarn forward – as if to purl- making sure that the bead comes forward too…

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How to place a bead with slip stitch step 2

** Slip the next stitch purlwise. Take the yarn to the back between both needles, making sure that the bead sits in front of the slipped stitch. You may want to hold it in place with the thumb of your left hand. Knit the next stitch as normal. . . . Placing a bead on a Wrong Side (WS) row: Work as above to *. Because you are on a purl row your yarn will already be at the front of the work. Bring a bead up to the top of your knitting yarn and work from **.

How to place a bead with slip stitch step 3

When you complete the following row you will see that the bead is happily sitting in front of the slipped stitch.

TIP If you look back at the completed bead row, before you start the next row, it may look like the bead is sitting in front of a small hole. Don’t panic – this is normal!

Knitting with beads: method 2

Placing a bead between two stitches

This technique was traditionally used for purses and elaborately decorated items. The yarn used would have been very fine, like sewing cotton, while the knitting needles would have been very slender and the beads tiny. This technique – if used with knitting yarns of today – tends to stretch the knitting, and the beads can push through to the reverse of the work. However, if used in the right way, it is quick and easy.

The same method is used on the right and wrong side of the work. Thread the required number of beads onto the yarn and cast on. Work through the knitting chart to where you require a bead. Slide the bead up the yarn and position as close to the knitting as possible. Work the next stitch in pattern. The bead will sit between the two stitches.

Knitting with beads: method 3

Placing a bead within a stitch

This is probably the speediest method of adding beads to your knitting. However, the bead can easily slip through to the reverse of the work. Once placed, the bead is held within the stitch and lies at a slight angle on one side of it.

Placing a bead on a Right Side (RS) row:

Work to where the bead is required. Insert the right needle into the stitch knitwise.

How to place a bead within a stitch step 1

Slide the bead up the yarn until it meets the work…

How to place a bead within a stitch step 2

Knit the next stitch, pushing the bead through the stitch so that it appears on the right side of the work. Knit the next stitch firmly…

Placing a bead on a Wrong Side (WS) row:

Work to where the bead is required. Insert the right knitting needle into the stitch purlwise and wrap the yarn around it as if to purl.

How to place a bead within a stitch step 3

Slide the bead up the yarn until the bead meets the work…

How to place a bead within a stitch step 4

Push the bead through the stitch to the right side and complete the stitch.

Knitting with beads: method 4

Using a crochet hook

I was recently taught this technique by a workshop participant. It is a little fiddly, but is a fantastic method for adding beads as you go along. No pre-threading of beads is required, but you will need to get a really tiny hook.

Knitting with beads using a crochet hook step 1

Work to where you want the bead. Push a bead onto the crochet hook. Slip the next stitch from the left needle and onto the crochet hook…

Knitting with beads using a crochet hook step 2

Push the bead down from the crochet hook and onto the stitch…

Knitting with beads using a crochet hook step 3

Put the stitch back onto the left needle. Knit the stitch in the usual way.

Multi-coloured beading

You can create a really effective design by using different coloured beads. To do this, mark your bead colours on the graph using a different symbol for each colour. Thread your beads onto your yarn in the reverse order, reading the graph from top to bottom and from left to right across every beaded row. If you have done this correctly, the beads will come up in the right sequence as you knit.

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