Spinning with Beads Part 3

A year ago, I was to have done the Spinner’s program on spinning with beads. We were iced out so the program was cancelled. I’m doing it tonight. Basically, after it was cancelled, I did nothing (except start another sample which really just resulted in beads spilling on the floor due to too little thread on the spool. I put everything away — even the spools of thread with beads on them. I did eventually reshelve the books and Spin-Offs, but otherwise nothing.

Fast forward to this weekend. Oh yeah, I’m doing the program (in 45 minutes). How do I do this bead thing again? Hmmmmm….. So I made a few new samples. I reread my blog postings. I found 1 new method (but didn’t really look for new information). I certainly didn’t review any of the real sources. I did try the new method. I am close to ready to demo some things — except I need to spin a bunch more to ply. (So instead I’m blogging and chatting with JQ — I am such a procrastinator).

I actually did type up my notes. I am posting them here so I don’t need to make a bunch printouts for the few people who might actually want one (since I don’t expect anyone in the Guild will have any more idea than I do regarding when to use beaded yarn — we just aren’t the beaded yarn type of group). So without further procrastination…

Spinning Beaded Yarn


Always sample for the final project. Yes, you are always told to sample. But for beaded yarn I think it is particularly important to sample and then knit/weave with the yarn to see the final effect — I find it hard to judge the spacing of the beads and whether I like it. (This of course is more difficult for me since I haven’t figured out any time I would actually wanted beaded yarn).

Will you be weaving or knitting with the yarn? Spacing will probably be different for the final project. Remember in knitting, beads will be a lot closer after knit than in the yarn.
What is the final project? Will you use the beads all over (like in a scarf) or as an embellishment/trim or as an occasional yarn (stripe). Also if knitting, what size needle will you be using?

What size yarn will you be spinning? This also will impact the distance between beads and the size of the bead you use.

How heavy are the beads? Make sure the yarn can hold the weight. Also note that a single bead may feel light, but if you use a lot of them, the yarn can become heavy.

How big are the beads? You don’t want them to be lost in the yarn (or why go to the bother). But you also want to make sure they can go through the orifice and not get hung up on the hooks.

Do you want the beads to be obvious or subtle? This can be done with size, quantity, color contrast with yarn or sparkle. (Note: matte beads that are a close match to the yarn can vanish (see my beaded hat for details.)

Remember the beads will also wind up on the inside, not just the outside

  • You may want to use twice as many beads to account for this
  • They will not be evenly on both sides. They will wind up heavier in some areas. If you really want beads in specific places, you should add them when knitting or add them to the knit/woven item.
  • If the item will be tight (not just next to) against your skin in some areas (e.g. cuffs or hatband), you may want to skip beads there since beads will be inside and then may be pushed into your skin.

If you will be knitting, you may want a long section with no beads for the cast on/off. You could also spin some of the same yarn with no beads and then switch to the beaded yarn.

Method 1: String beads on something and then ply into yarn

Think about what effect the direction of plying will have on the yarn.

The yarn needs to be consistently small enough for the beads to go through the bead and strong enough for the weight of the beads. You will also be sliding a lot of beads for a lot of the yarn, so it needs to hold up to this abrasion. Keep this in mind particularly with option 3.

Option 1: On a thread or other very fine commercial yarn

Note: if you want to use tiny seed beads, this will be your option.

The thread in this case will usually not be a major element in the yarn design. However, a contrasting color will show up. You could use a metallic yarn to add sparkle all through the yarn (I have seen commercial yarns like this). You could use a thread very close in color to try to have the thread disappear.

Remember — if you are sampling with remnants on spools, and if you have strung a lot of bead on the thread, when you run out of thread, all the remaining beads will scatter across the floor.

Option 2: On not as fine commercial yarn

You can use any yarn fine enough to pass through the beads you are using. You might want to use a commercial yarn that will add to the yarn design, such as a silk or a fine wool.

Option 3: On handspun

Keep in mind the consistency and smoothness needed. As long as you can thread the beads on the yarn and they can slide, this is perhaps the easiest method in that it seems to require the least fumbling when first learning to ply. However, since you need to be able to string the beads on already spun yarn and the yarn needs to allow for sliding, this limits your options. You have many design options in Method 2.

Remember you can have the beads on one ply or both. this might be a way to use different beads (one on each ply), but in general you probably only want beads on one ply.


String all the beads you expect to use (and then some) on the thread. A beading needle can help (large eye for yarn that will compress so still get through beads). Note that the holes in beads tend to vary a bit in size. You may be able to get the yarn/needle through some beads but not others.

Hold the yarn with beads in one hand when plying. Hold back all the beads and release a bead when you want it. You can ply the yarn with one other yarn or it can be with more than one yarn. If the beads are somewhat big and you are plying with multiple yarns, try to get the bead between the plies to help lock them in place.

Note that you have to pre-string all the beads. Then all the beads slide down the yarn. This can be a lot of beads. You may want to make smaller skeins so this isn’t an absurd number of beads to move.

This is MUCH easier if plying off two bobbins. A center pull ball is difficult. Andean plying is even harder. Trust me.

You may be going a lot slower than you expect because you are concentrating on the beads. Be sure you actually ply the right amount. If you ar

Method 2: Add beads when spinning

Number 6 seed beads work well for this.

String beads onto a folded over piece of fishing line. Push the folded end through the hole in the bead.

Spin some. Break off the roving and insert the fluffy end (yes DJ, that’s a technical term) of the spun yarn through the loop of the fishing line. Slide a few beads off the fishing line loop onto the yarn. Reconnect the roving and start spinning. You can slide the beads along the yarn to put them into place. Be sure the beads are not in the drafting triangle.

Note that if the yarn you are spinning is much smaller than the hole in the beads and/or if the yarn is quite smooth the beads will not stay where you leave them. They will likely not feed in smoothly — the beads will hang out while the yarn winds on. You can easily move them around when plying to space them as you want. You could also just leave the beads in clusters or 4 or so and then move them when plying. Moving them when plying is a bit like Method 1 (especially options 2 & 3), but the beads don’t need to move nearly as much on the yarn (and there won’t be as many sliding along the yarn).

This method with carded wool has worked well for me. The beads do not stay in place when I have used merino top. I can move them into place when plying, but keep this in mind.

Other than the frequent joins, this works pretty well. On the carded roving I think I was able to get a bit of a rhythm. on the fine, smooth merino top I never got a rhythm since the beads kept not feeding on.

Method 3: Add beads when Navajo plying
I just ran across this method on http://www.artofspinning.com/SpinningWithBeads.shtml

When Navajo plying, on some of the loops, feed a bead onto the loop.

A crochet hook is recommended, but I couldn’t find my smallest one. I used the looped fishing line and it worked. I had to stop every time I fed on a bead, but it worked OK. Constantly stopping removed any rhythm I might have when Navajo plying, but in an odd way it helped since I had to go slowly. It is fairly easy to decide on a spacing by making loops of about the same size and then adding a bead every X number of loops.

Slide the bead up the loop — both so you have a big enough loop to pull through another loop and also so you have a reasonable plied distance to hold the bead on.

Note that you will be feeding the bead through 2 strands of yarn for this, so keep that in mind when deciding how fine to spin and how big the beads need to be.

If you are Navajo plying yarn with multiple colors, you could also have different color beads ready and then choose which bead based on the color of the loop.


(Of course, I didn’t review these before re-preparing for spinning meeting tonight).

Spin-Off Spring 2004 “Dew drop fabric” by Laura Harrawood p.38-39

Spin-Off Winter 2003 “Beaded yarns” by Judith MacKenzie McCuin p.50-54

Spin-Off Winter 2003 “Beaded Yarns for a Little Scarf” by Judith MacKenzie McCuin p. 57

Spin-Off Spring 1997 “Novelty act” by Stephanie Gausted p.40-43

Spinning Designer Yarns by Diane Varney p.85-87

“How do you spin beads into yarn?”http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-do-you-spin-beads-into-yarn.html

“How do you spin beads into yarn? (Part 2)” http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/2007/09/how-do-you-spin-beads-into-yarn-part-2.html

“Do you add extra plying twist to keep beads in place?” http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/2007/09/do-you-add-extra-plying-twist-to-keep.html

“What thread do you use for spinning beads into yarn?” http://askthebellwether.blogspot.com/2008/01/what-thread-do-you-use-for-spinning.html

“Spinning With Beads” http://www.artofspinning.com/SpinningWithBeads.shtml