I love knitting with beads – I discovered this about 4-5 years ago and haven’t stopped since! It shouldn’t have been a surprise – I have always loved a little sparkle and jewelry. I think that we all have a way of expressing ourselves through ornamentation and with my passsion for knitting combined with the magpie aspect of my personality I found that I loved adding beads to my knitting. Once I started looking for patterns I discovered that there were not many out there! So as I started designing more of my own patterns I also started to design more of what I wanted to knit – patterns with beads.
Where does inspiration for the beaded patterns that I create come from? Most commonly from the elaborate costumes of the past. I had taken some costume design courses many years ago and had a great love for the period look that could be created with embellishments.
I am not the only designer to look to the past for present day inspiration. Checkout “Steampunk” for very modern examples of designers and designs very much in love with the past. My inspiration comes more from the romance and over-the-top fashions of the Victorian era. The love of beads, ruffles, colour and other excesses from that period can be expressed in knitting, especially knitting with beads. Toned down and with a modern eye to shape and colour, some of these fashions can be seen as a type modern femininism.
I love to cruise the internet looking for something that will “tweak” an idea. The Harper’s Bazaar Magazine from the late 1860’s and the Weldon’s Practical books are both great sources of inspiration for me. A natural combination in knitting from the past is lace and beads. And as much as I love lace and combining beads and lace – it is the embellishment of the knitting surface that really draws me. The subtle play of a bead on a solid knit surface or the bold block of beads in a pattern on the same solid surface holds endless possibilities.
Mittens and gloves are wonderful accessories to bead. They are small and easy to knit and pay you back with high impact, you and your friends can see the results of your efforts. If you haven’t worked with beads before a great way to start would be the beaded wristwarmers of Norwegian origin. They are knit flat in garter st with the beads placed between each stitch. It is easy to work beads in this way as they just nestle between the sts and rise to the surface on the purl side of the stitches – as you knit the stitches the beads fall to the back and this will become the “right” side. This is probably the easiest of the pre-strung beading methods.
My favorite method of working beads into my knitting is knitting them in and working them into a pattern, usually a pictoral style of pattern. While this is “fiddly” knitting, the pay-back is trememdous. The impact of the beads in these types of patterns is far greater than a plain knit pattern as the beads add sparkle and dimensionality.
Right now I am working on a beaded and bobbled lace cuff – Wisteria Cuff. The pattern will allow the cuff to be used as the beginning of a gloves or a pair of socks. It uses two types of beading – the beads between the purl stitches like the Norwegian mittens and the the knitted-in bead like the Fretwork Mittens. The beads will all be pre-strung before starting and the beading will be finished before starting the body of the sock/glove.
If you have never tried working with beads and want to give them a try, start with a small project and don’t rush while working the beads. The work will feel awkward at first as your fingers are not used to manipulating such small items. With perseverence working with beads can be very rewarding.