Beadwork

Let me explain right away that I am not an expert on beadwork! I have seen some in museums, and became fascinated by it. I am a lacemaker, so the techniques below use my lace-making equipment. I am sure that you could adapt the technique without that.

Equipment
Pattern
Methods
Third method in detail
Finished result


Equipment

The essentials are obviously thread, and a lot of beads! You will also need one (or more) needles thin enough to go through the beads. I used a lace pillow to rest it all on, and lace bobbins to hold most of the threads. Scissors are useful, of course, and I found a few pins useful to hold the start of the beadwork, and to prod beads into position. (Lacemakers always have pins around!)

I use ordinary thread. Nylon thread might be stronger, but harder to tie knots in, I should imagine, and you don't want the whole thing to come undone!

They are ordinary needles as well, but do check that they will go through the beads.

The lace pillow was useful, as it provides a flat, solid, light surface to work from. I did the work on my lap, the same way that I do lace. It was also useful to be able to stick the needles somewhere safe after each row!

I used my bobbins for the threads. A bobbin is just a piece of wood with a groove near the top. You wind spare thread round the wood, and do a slip knot which fits in the groove. This weights the ends of the threads, holding the threads straight, and stopping them getting tangled (or at least that's the idea!)

And of course you need beads! Straight-sided beads, like small cylinders, are good, as they lie in position better. I've been using small glass beads. They vary quite a lot in size, which complicates things a little, but the wonkiness of the result is quite pleasing, I think.



Pattern

A pattern is merely to tell you which coloured beads to use. It is not used to make the finished work directly (unlike lace). So it can be any size. You can even leave it on the computer! In fact, for a simple design, you may not even need a pattern.

You will need to work out how many rows your beadwork will have. The length matters less, but the number of rows needs to be established from the start.

Here are my designs with 9 rows:

The first is my name (first attempt, and not very successful - see below!) The next was a request. The third is a formula called Euler's identity, with a spiral galaxy either side. (I don't know if galaxies have anything to do with Euler's formula! Never mind.) The colours are chosen for the bead colours I had, and special beads indicated, possibly not with the right colour!

Here is a design with 11 rows:



Different methods

I figured out three methods of doing beadwork. I wanted to make a strip of beads just held together with threads, not sewn onto any fabric as a backing. That means that the beads need to be held in position by the threads in two directions - going across the strip, and along it. This is a type of weaving, so I will call the threads running the length of the strip warp threads, and the thread or threads running across the strip, both ways, the weft. (A lacemaker calls the weft threads workers, and the warp threads passives, but let's not confuse things!)

The weft thread is threaded through the beads (using a needle). Looking at a piece of beadwork, it looked as if the warp threads didn't. That sounds reasonable. A bead only has a hole going in one direction! If the warp threads are to remain fairly straight, they must pass between the beads.

Since the warp threads don't go through the beads, that means that where the warp crosses the weft, you can't just have one weft and one warp thread. Otherwise they would just pull apart. I suppose that the warp could go over the weft in one direction and under in the next row in the other direction, but this would be very loose. I don't think it would hold the beads in position, especially since the beads are of different sizes! So I think that either you have two weft threads for each row of beads, or two warp threads between two beads.

To start with, I tried two warp threads between each bead, and one weft going through the beads. The weft thread had to do between the two warps. The problem was that since the warps went between the beads, not through them, there wasn't anything really holding them in place until the whole thing was tightened. In fact, tightening tended to make the beads jump into the wrong slot! The end result was floppy. Not recommended. See the bottom of the page - the design "Joanna" for the end result.

So we obviously need two weft threads going through each bead, trapping the warp thread between them. This locks each bead in place. The problem is how to do it...

If both wefts are going in the same direction, then they create a zigzag effect. They both go right in one row, then they both go left. The beads are in the correct place OK, but tightening creates a coggled effect. Also not a success!

So for the last method - the one I think worked. I will describe it in detail below. but essentially there are two wefts, on different needles. If you have the strip going downwards, then one weft goes from left to right, and the other goes from right to left, for the same row. When I tighten the two wefts for one row, they pull in different directions, tightening the whole strip up nice and tight (but not too tight.)



Third method in detail

Thread the first row of beads onto a bit of thread and tie it in a small loop. Pin this loop onto the pillow (or work surface). Don't worry about the look of it. This is just to hold your work in place. You'll cut the loop and remove it at the end.

Thread alternate beads with thread. Wind each end of these threads onto bobbins. This hangs the warps from beads.

I won't show these bobbins in future pictures, but imagine that they are there, pulling down the threads. I must point out that in the picture, the beads are too large and the bobbins too small! Allow yourself longer threads for the warps as well.

Take a very long thread threaded with a (thin) needle. Thread it through all the beads, half way. Thread the other end through another thin needle. These will make the two wefts.

The two weft threads have to be quite long, since they are going to go backwards and forwards across the beads for each row. The thread gets used up quite quickly! You can tie on more thread when you run out, of course, But I like to have enough to start with. It does mean two very long threads to keep under control. Drape them carefully on the pillow out of the way when you aren't using them.

I've left out the bobbins as they mess up the diagram. You can see the warp threads hanging down, though.

That is how you start. Now to make the first real row. I am recolouring the threads to make the two wefts different colours. Naturally all threads, warp or weft, are the same colour, and the two wefts start as a single thread! But I hope that the different colours will help seeing what is going on.

Tuck one needle out of the way, or both wefts will get tangled up with each other! Thread the next row of beads on the other needle. If the beads are different colours, make sure they are in the right order and the right way round! I am right-handed, so I find it easier to thread them on the left-hand needle (using my right hand). You'll see why later.

Pull this line of beads underneath all the warp threads. I find this is easiest to do under the bobbins. Then pull them fairly tight, and make sure that the beads sit in between the correct warps. This gets a little easier later on, when the line of beads becomes more rigid, but some of the beads are quite likely to be wrong, and need a poke to get them right, either with a pin or the needle. The beads are just sitting there at the moment, quite insecure, so don't jog things at this stage.

Take the other needle, and thread it through the beads the other way, making sure that this thread goes over all the warps. You can do this one bead at a time. But it is possible (just!) to push the whole needle through the beads, making sure that the point of the needle goes over the warp thread in each gap. That is quicker, but rather tricky. This is why I do this second row from right to left, so I can do it with my right (strong) hand.

If you do it correctly, then the beads and threads are now secure, with each warp thread trapped between two weft threads, between two beads. (If you don't, then one of the warp threads is not trapped, and you'll have to undo the row!)

Twist each weft thread (on either side) with the edge warp thread twice. Tighten the row by tugging (gently!) on the weft threads, and on the warp threads to get rid of any loops. You don't want to over-tighten in case the beadwork in the previous rows becomes coggled.

That finishes one row. Continue doing that until you have completed the beadwork.

Thread the end warp through one bead (take it off its bobbin first!) and tie it to the second warp, tightening both threads as you tie them (but not too much!) This ties it round the bead, which helps with the tightening. Carry on tying off the pairs of warps like this. At the other end, thread the end warp through the end bead and tie it to its neighbour. This is in the opposite direction, so that the knot is not at the edge, where it will show.

Thread both needles from each end through the beads so they meet each other (this back=tracks them a little). Tie them, tightening them as you tie the knot (but not too much). Making this knot somewhere in the middle avoids a knot at an edge, where it would show.

Trim all ends close to the knots, but not too close or they may come undone! Take the beadwork off the loop that it is hanging on (see first step). Cut this loop, and pull it away as you don't want it any more.



Finished result

Here are the results! The first attempt uses the first method and is too floppy. The double warp threads are too prominent as well.

The following all use the main method, which gives a much neater result. These two both have an error in (from the pattern above). Some of the beads are gleamy, which is attractive. Those single gleamies were bigger beads, though. It seems to work OK!

The last one is a wider pattern. It meant that often I couldn't do the whole row of the second weft thread in one go. Sometimes I did half of the row at a time, sometimes one bead at a time!


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