What is it about beads and bead weaving that speaks to us? The sparkle and brilliance of beads? Their array of colors and finishes? Or maybe it's the origins of beads and bead-weaving? Imagine what it takes to refine a stone to two millimeters of round perfection and then drill a hole through its center! Or the ubiquitous seed bead, born of a breath captured in molten glass, drawn thin, cut and polished.
It's no wonder that bead weaving is associated with power, status and the supernatural the world over. As mindful meditation, a spiritual practice, bead weaving provides those inherent healthful benefits of meditation with the reward of beautiful jewelry. The sharp detail of each bead becomes just an element in a composition of hundreds.
When you work with these tiny seed beads to do bead weaving, you join a five-hundred-year tradition that spans most continents and even more cultures. By mixing and weaving a harmonious blend of beads in varying colors, finishes and shapes, you can create beautiful heirloom-quality jewelry. Time and attention to the details will also enhance the final result of your bead weaving. Be in the right mindset when you sit down to do bead weaving.
Remember to take breaks often to rest your eyes, fingers and back so your sessions are more productive. How well you execute a project is more important than the speed at which you complete it. Be playful and discover new ways of implementing each bead-weaving stitch. Keep your mind and options open as there are "infinite possibilities" literally at the tips of your fingers.
What You Need to Do Bead Weaving
One of the great things about bead-weaving is that the materials needed to get started are easy to come by. Simple beading needles, beading thread, a work mat and scissors are really all you need to get started.
Needles. Most experienced beaders have a favorite type of needle. Some like beading needles, which are 2" long; others prefer Sharps, which are 1.25" long. A few prefer Big Eye needles for ease of threading. Use the type of needle that you prefer, and if it won't go through beads the required number of times, switch to a thinner needle. If you are using Japanese seed beads or cylinder beads, you will be able to use a size 10 needle almost all the time. If you are using Czech seed beads, you will need a size 12 needle because the holes in these beads are smaller and somewhat irregular.
Thread. Nymo and C-Lon beading threads are strong, durable nylon threads that are available in many colors. Some beaders prefer Silamide or Fireline. Silamide is a twisted nylon thread that's also available in several colors. Fireline is a stiff nylon thread similar to fishing line. Thread color in bead-weaving is important because it affects bead color.
Beading Pads or Mats. Beading mats are very helpful for keeping track of beads and needles. One simple beading mat is a velvet jewelry pad that has a stiff cardboard interior wrapped in foam. This surface makes it easier to pick up beads and also provides a place to pin extra beading needles while you work.
Seed Beads. Seed beads come in a variety of sizes. The size is indicated by a number. The larger the numbered size (6o, 8o, 10o, 11o, 13o, 15o), the smaller the bead. The seed beads used in bead weaving are either Japanese in various shapes, sizes, colors and finishes, or Czech. The three major manufacturers of Japanese seed beads are Miyuki, Toho, and Matsuno. Some colors of seed beads cross over between the three manufacturers and can be used interchangeably.
Source: The Beaded Garden by Diane Fitzgerald, Interweave Press, 2005; Bead Romantique by Lisa Kan, Interweave Press, 2007; Mastering Beadwork by Carol Huber Cypher, Interweave Press, 2007
Popular Bead Weaving Stitches
Peyote Stitch. Peyote Stitch produces beautiful, yet deceptively easy-to-do stitch. Peyote stitch's rhythmic, bead-by-bead repetition exemplifies bead-weaving as mindful meditation (with the added reward of beautiful jewelry). Many beaders credit peyote stitch as the stitch that introduced, if not seduced, them to off-loom bead-weaving. Each added bead is "sewn" into place, producing a fabric of tightly integrated beads and leaving no evidence of the thread that connects them.
Right-Angle Weave. There are two types of right-angle weave that produce the same finished bead-weaving. They do, however, use very different thread paths. Cross-needle weaving, or double-needle right-angle weave, is made using two needles on opposite ends of the same length of beading thread. Single-needle right-angle weave passes through the beads in alternating circular paths.
Herringbone Stitch. This bead-weaving stitch, often credited to the Ndebele people of South Africa, produces columns of paired beads. The beads within the pair incline towards each other, yielding the herringbone pattern. Generally, each stitch involved adding two beads and passing through two beads. Many beaders, especially those who come to it from a background of peyote stitch, enjoy this two at a time pace, which is accelerated by the convenient angle that each new pair assumes.
Brick Stitch. Sometimes called Comanche stitch, brick stitch has Native American origins. It looks like peyote stitch "turned on its ear". In fact, the two very different bead-weaving stitches can produce nearly identical results. Examined side by side, the difference might be visible only where a bead is broken: in a peyote-stitched piece, thread would cross the hole, while in the brick-stitched piece, thread would travel down and around another thread and then back up. Each new bead in brick stitch is woven onto the thread that bridges the beads in the adjoining now rather than the beads of the bead-weaving.
Source: Mastering Beadwork by Carol Huber Cypher, Interweave Press, 2007
Bead-Weaving TIps and Tricks
1. Inspiration for Your Bead-Weaving Projects: There are ideas for bead-weaving projects and designs all around you. Don't limit yourself to the obvious but look outside of the ordinary. For instance, you can find color inspiration at the yarn or fabric store, in gardening and quilting books, and even the paint-chip aisle of the local hardware store. Collect images from magazines and keep them in a binder. Try browsing the vintage jewelry listings online because it is fun and free!
2. Stop or Tension Beads: Although some bead-weaving projects do not mention the use of a stop bead, if you find it difficult to hold your bead-weaving when initially stringing beads you can use a stop bead to hold your bead-weaving in place. Use a bead that is larger, and a different color, than those in your design so that you can easily spot it and pass through it twice more, leaving the appropriate tail length for your project. Be careful not to split the thread on the second pass so that the bead will be able to slide off easily when you are ready to remove it. Remember to take out your stop bead before you continue to work with your bead-weaving!
3. Thread Lengths: Use about one to one-and-a-half yards of a single length of thread for most bead-weaving starts, as this is a comfortable length and will help you avoid knots and tangles. Double thread makes it difficult to undo if you make an error in your bead-weaving and have to backtrack. If longer thread is required, as in a spiral rope, use a thread bobbin to roll up half the length to avoid having to reconnect new thread too often. Some beaders prefer shorter thread lengths for faster bead-weaving. Use the length of thread that is comfortable for you.
4. Adding New Thread: When making an elaborate bead-weaving project, you will invariably run out of thread. When you have about four inches remaining of the working thread, use a new thread to weave about one inch away into several beads. Leaving a two or three inch tail, pass under the thread from a previous pass and make a half hitch knot. Follow the thread path of the bead-weaving stitch you are using and repeat with another knot. Weave to the location of the original thread and tie a square knot. Continue beading with the new thread. Weave the old thread into the newly beaded stitches by repeating a half hitch knot through several beads later. Thread can be added in many ways as long as it does not show in your bead-weaving.
5. Turning: In many bead-weaving projects, a quick way to turn the weaving direction is to pass under the thread from a previous pass and make an overhand knot. Then weave back toward the direction that you want, creating a half hitch knot. Keep in mind to always follow the thread path of whatever stitch you are using so no thread shows through in your bead-weaving.
Source: Bead Romantique by Lisa Kan, Interweave Press, 2007
Master Bead-weaving with Carol Huber Cypher's comprehensive book. This all-in-one reference guide is a must-have for all beaders. You will learn all the basic beading stitches, as well as work on more than 60 beautiful projects. Mastering Beadwork is your ultimate resource for beading knowledge and will give you the confidence and skills you need to bead like an expert.