By Susanna IC
To say that I like to add beads to my knitting would be an understatement—I simply love working with beads. Those tiny little nuggets of happiness can add a bit of sparkle to any project, add lovely weight and drape where needed, and even add interesting texture to plain stockinette.
There are many types of beads available but not all are suitable for knitting. Some have sharp edges that could shred the yarn; others have openings that are too small for yarn to pass through. In general, seed beads, with their rounded edges, are a safe choice and can be placed anywhere in the knitted fabric. These are available in shapes as well as the classic rounds; cube- and triangle-shaped seed beads have smooth facets that catch light beautifully. And some fun, new shapes, like the elongated teardrop-like Magatama beads, just beg to be placed along the edges of a project. A plain crystal bead is lovely in itself but there are also many gorgeous colors and finishes available, with new ones coming out all the time. Beads can be made from clear or colored glass, have shiny or matte surface, and pearlized, metallic, or rainbow (AB) finishes. Some have metallic or colored linings that help them stand out from the background yarn color. The possibilities are truly endless. You can choose beads that match your yarn perfectly for just a hint of elegant sheen, or you can go all out and choose a highly contrasting bead for a pop of unexpected color.
Beads come in a variety of sizes; here a quick reference chart for the most popular seed beads for knitting:
Size Metric Number of beads per gram
8/0 3.1mm 40 beads per gram
6/0 4.0mm 12 beads per gram
5/0 4.5mm 10 beads per gram
3/0 5.5mm 6 beads per gram
The beads per gram is just an approximate number for reference; the exact number can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and even in beads with different finishes from the same manufacturer.
From left to right: size 8/0, 5/0, 6/0, and 3/0 beads.
The most important thing to remember when looking at bead sizes is that the smaller the number the larger the bead. The most popular bead sizes for knitting are the 8/0 3.1mm beads, suitable for lace and some lighter fingering yarns, and the 6/0 4.00 mm beads, for fingering and sport weight yarns. The larger sizes of beads, such as the 5/0 4.5mm and the 3/0 5.5mm, can be used for DK and worsted weight yarns. Smaller beads like 11/0 2.1mm seed beads are much too small for most knitting applications save for a few cobweb lace yarns.
Size isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing beads for your project. Yarn weight and the number of beads required are just as important. For example, if a lace weight shawl calls for only a few beads, a larger bead size can have more impact. The 3/0 size may be appropriate at a few points along the lace-weight shawl’s edge, but it would be much too heavy if used for a shawl calling for 1,000 beads. In that case, the 8/0 beads would be a better choice.
In general, there are two methods of adding beads to knitting: the pre-stringing method and the place-as-you-go method. Both have their pros and cons, and applications where one is more appropriate than the other. The pre-stringing method is just that, the beads are strung onto the project yarn ahead of knitting with a beading needle and then slipped into place as needed. It is fairly quick to set up, just string the number of beads required by the pattern onto the yarn and start knitting. Keep in mind that there are some drawbacks. The weight of the beads can abrade or even break the yarn, leaving you with extra tails to deal with. Some knitters string only a portion of the total beads and then break the yarn and string the rest. This puts less strain on the yarn but still results in extra tails to work in at the end pf the project. I reserve pre-stringing for beaded cast-on or bind-off because the beads will not be on the yarn long enough to abrade it.
For the pre-stringing method, use a beading needle to slip beads on to a length of yarn.
Personally, I prefer the place-as-you-go method for almost all applications. The idea is that each bead is placed on a stitch as it is worked, so there is no chance that the combined weight of the beads can break the yarn. Unlike pre-stringing, where each bead sits on a single strand of yarn and can easily slide out of place, the place-as-you-go method ensures that each bead is anchored by two strands of yarn making it much less likely to migrate. This is particularly important if the beads are outlining a specific shape, as it can become distorted if a bead moves.
Several different tools that can be used for this place-as-you-go method: a crochet hook, dental floss, bent jewelry wire, fishing line, or knitting beaders. These all work in the same way—the bead is placed on the tool, then the stitch is hooked to the end of it and the bead is pushed from the tool onto the stitch. The beaded stitch is then returned to the left needle and worked as indicated in the pattern. No one tool is better than the other and everyone has their own favorite; just make sure that the tool you choose fits through the hole of the bead together with a double-thickness of yarn.
1. Work to where you want to place a bead.
2. With yarn in back of work, slip the next stitch purl-wise.
Work to where you want to place the bead. With yarn in back of work, slip the next
3. Slide a bead up and move it to the back of the slipped stitch.
4. Work the next stitch while holding the bead in place with your thumb against the needle to prevent it from moving; the bead should be in front of the slipped stitch, not at the back.
Work the next stitch while holding the bead in place with your thumb against the needle to prevent it from moving; the bead should be in front of the slipped stitch, not at the back.
1. Work to where you want to place a bead.
2. Slip the bead onto the beading tool.
Slip the bead onto the beading tool.
3. Slip the next stitch from the left needle onto the tip of your beading tool.
Slip the next stitch from the left needle onto the tip of the beading tool.
4. Push the bead from the beading tool onto the stitch.
5. Transfer the stitch back to the left needle.
Transfer the stitch back to the left needle.
6. Knit or purl the stitch as usual.
Over the years, many knitters have asked me how and where to add beads to a pattern that does not include beads or has fewer than they would like. Let’s look at my new pattern, Brina, which is designed for fingering-weight yarn without beads, and talk about some of the possible places to add them. For easy reference, the swatch is worked in a light-colored yarn with different sizes of brightly colored glass seed beads throughout, as examples of placement (it’s unlikely that I would use this many colors and sizes together in one project, but that’s just a matter of personal preference). After each bead was placed, I simply knitted or purled the stitch depending on how the original stitch was charted.
A few examples of different bead placements.
1. Beaded cast-on (8/0 3.1mm clear crystal silver-lined beads)
The pre-stringing method was used to place beads on the yarn. The beads were slipped into place as each stitch was cast on. I beaded every other stitch, but you can place as many beads along the edge as you’d like.
2. Beads placed at the end of a textured motif for extra interest (5/0 4.5mm amethyst-lined beads with AB/rainbow finish)
Use your preferred tool (I used a crochet hook) for the place-as-you go method, adding beads on the last stitch of each motif.
3. Beads in place of of nupps (3/0 5.5mm deep-teal beads with iridescent finish)
Replace the charted nupps with larger beads using the place-as-you-go method.
4. Beads placed at the center of an open lace motif (6/0 4.0mm blue crystal silver-lined beads)
Use a crochet hook (or your preferred tool) to place a bead on each knit stitch in the center of the yo-k1-yo sequence. The extra space created by the neighboring yarn overs helps the beads stand out.
5. Beads placed as an outline for the lace motif (6/0 4.0mm ruby red silver-lined beads)
Use a crochet hook (or tool of your choice) to place beads on knit stitches situated next to the lace motif decreases.
6. Beads placed during bind-off (3/0 5.5mm light-green beads with matte finish)
Use a crochet hook (or your preferred tool) to place a single bead on the stitch at the point of each leaf lace motif, then work the bind-off as usual.
7. Beaded bind-off (8/0 3.1mm dark amber, gold-lined beads)
Cut the required length of yarn for the bind-off (I usually estimate about four to five times the length of the final row, more if a loose bind-off is required). Pre-string the beads, then slip them into place on each stitch as you work the bind-off.
These are just a few examples for incorporating beads into your knitting; the actual possibilities for bead placement are endless, limited only by your imagination. Keep in mind that even a few strategically placed beads can make the simplest of knits unique and distinct. There is an entire universe of beads out there to discover, so go on and have fun with it. Just a small warning before you begin your exploration—knitting with beads can be addictive and it won’t take long to accumulate a rather largish bead stash (ask me how I know). Thankfully, beads take up a lot less space than yarn or fiber so you’ll have plenty of room for both.
After nine years in Europe, Susanna IC now lives in San Antonio with her husband, two sons, one guinea pig, and countless balls of yarn. She has an extensive background in studio arts and art history, which inspires much of her knitting. Her projects and designs can be found on Ravelry, username zuzusus, and at www.ArtQualia.com.