Spinning with Beads (handout)

This is the handout used for my class on Spinning Beads into Yarn at the Iowa Federation of Handweavers and Spinners (April 2011).


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

Spinning with Beads Part 2

I knit several of the first samples I made. First up was #2, the small sample of cabled yarn with beads on one ply. It looks better in reverse stockinette.


Fewer beads show on the stockinette side and it curls a whole lot (hence the scissors).


Another small knitted sample is of #5, which is the bright silk plied with itself. The colors in the yarn become more muted since it mixes in the ply. The orange beads provide quite a contrast for the now somewhat muted yarn.


The other sample I knit is #3. I started on #3 (3.25 mm) needles. About halfway through the sample I started to switch to gradually smaller needles every few rows, eventually getting to #0 (2.00 mm).



Next I tried to follow instructions. I used some merino top. To add the beads when you spin, you spin some and break off the yarn. Meanwhile, you have beads (such as size 6 seed beads) on doubled fishing line. You then take the fluffy end of the yarn and put it through the loop. You can then slide some beads off the fishing line onto the yarn. You then get back to spinning and place a bead where you want it, sliding the rest down until the next spot for a bead. I had no trouble with this part. My difficulty came in that the beads didn’t stay in place and the all bunched up on the hooks. I was fussing with the beads so much that I didn’t spin too well–in some places the yarn was terribly underspun and fell apart when plying. I plied it from a center pull ball and adjusted the beads across one ply when plying. The beads are about 5.5-7.5″.


I tried the same technique again using wool that wasn’t nearly as smooth. The beads still didn’t stay in places completely, but it was a lot better. I tried to space the beads when winding it into a ball. I put the beads all across the yarn and then plied it on itself. Center pull balls do not work well for this, especially for the strand from the center of the ball. I needed to do a lot of fiddly stuff to position the beads. This meant the center pull ball kept snarling up and so again, the plying stinks. The beads seem to be about 6-8″ apart.


I tried again, but this time all the beads are on one ply and the other is plain yarn. I plied off two bobbins. I still needed to adjust the beads but it was MUCH easier.


Next I made a very small sample. I used wool (which I was plying at the time) as a core and wrapped it with silk from a hankie pulled out quite fine. If I do this again, I shouldn’t make the silk so fine/thin. I then plied it on itself with a thread with some largish beads. This did not feed on at all well, getting caught on all hooks.


I then spun up the rest of the silk hankies and spun up some green merino. I plied them together with maroon size 11 seed beads on a thread. The beads are 7-9″ apart. The beads a subtle, but I think it might make a nice accent.


I had some extra wool, so I plied it on itself with some sparkly brown beads (that have been in the family craft supplies for about 25 years–they were in an old non-child proof medicine bottle) labeled by DJ. I wanted to try sparkly beads but I don’t know that the brown was a good choice (other than being what I had on hand). The beads are about 3.5-5.5″ apart.


A few things to keep in mind–think about the weight of the beads in relationship to the yarn and the use of the yarn. I think the distance of the beads needs to be based on the final use. How many beads do you want to show? Will you be knitting or weaving? What size needles will you be using and how much yarn does it take to make a single stitch?

Spinning with Beads Part 1

Next month’s spinning program is about spinning with beads. I volunteered to learn about it. Unlike last year, I actually started on this several weeks early.

First, here are some sources:
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

I haven’t read these yet but they look good:

Despite having read the Spin-Off articles and the selection from Varney’s book, I didn’t follow any of the instructions. Instead, I messed around yesterday. The day before I added the rest of my commercial and most of my handspun to Ravelry stash (pictures not yet added). I also made my Ravelry avatar (an abstract self portrait in yarn). In the course of all this, I set aside some odd bit of samples etc.

1) Silk I spun a long time ago and never plied. I dyed it at a long ago dye workshop and it looked far too much like M’s elementary school daughter (who is now in college). I plied it with a lavender sewing thread on which I strung matte pink delica beads. I used up the thread on the spool before I ran out of the silk (see #5 below). The pink beads are fairly far apart (probably 10-14″ — I wasn’t too exact). It is currently overplied, but possibly OK as a novelty yarn. I used a wide spacing because I thought I might ply it on itself, but I would need to add more twist first. The beads are very subtle on the silk.






2) Wool I spun a long time ago when I was learning Navajo plying. It was overplied. I added more plying twist and then strung #6 seed beads onto it and plied it on itself. The beads are again a close match in color. It is slightly overplied, but not too bad. These beads are about 5-6 inches apart. I ran out of beads before I finished plying, a problem when putting beads onto the yarn before plying.



3) I lightly spun silk hankies with a blue sewing thread on which clear seed beads (size 11) were strung. The beads are probably 3-6 inches apart. Because this is essentially a lightly spun singles, it is obviously not balanced, but I think it is OK as it is.



4) This yarn is from the first roving I ever got (gift from DJ). Some went into a knitting/weaving exchange years back. Some is in my stash. And then there were these two odd bits of thing, not well spun singles in two center pull balls. (I hardly ever get rid of bits of yarn.). I was going to use more seed beads, but then I thought I’d try something odd. I used red tiger eye chips. I used a beige thread (bad choice — it shows very obviously) with stones 3-4 inches apart. I plied the two yarns and thread together. I tried to push the chip stone up between the two plies to help hold it in place, but I often missed and I think the thread would easily snag and break. After I ran out of the stones I had threaded I plied the rest of the yarn. I then cabled it on itself. This one made a horrible clatter when spinning and sometimes got caught on the hooks. One or two of the chips also wouldn’t go through the orifice without fiddling with them.I think the yarn is really ugly and can’t picture using it, but it is a good experiment/sample. The good part about the beige thread is that it is obvious, so I can probably extract it from the yarn if I want.



5) For the last sample, I strung size 11 orange seed beads on lavender thread and plied the remains of the silk from #1 on itself. As with the stone chips, I tried to put the seed beads between both silk plies. The beads are 1.5-2.5 inches apart. Since the silk is plied on itself, the color is more muted than for number 1 and the yarn is heavier. The orange beads provide much more contrast to the yarn (and are a bit bigger than the pink beads).