How to Bead
All you need to learn how to bead are some beads, a needle and beading thread (that will fit through the beads), and the ability to see the hole in the bead. Therefore, anywhere you arrange your bead projects and materials becomes your studio. Learning how to bead can be made easier when you borrow from a practice that professional chefs use: mise en place, French for "put in place". To chefs, it means never burning the chocolate while fetching eggs from the cooler. Though beadwork doesn't entail these particular dangers, adapting this practice makes you more efficient and simplifies how you bead. It requires that at the onset of each your bead projects, your work area is arranged so that necessities are at hand and ready to use, rather than interrupting the process to retrieve them one by one. The mise en place is a great place to start, and once you do, you can then go on to finesse the rest of your studio. If you are learning how to bead, here are some must-haves for your studio, along with some basic beading techniques to get you started.
A Workstation for Learning How to Bead
You'll sometimes find yourself spending hours at your beadwork station so make sure it's pleasant, comfortable, and, especially, ergonomic.
I prefer beading while seated tableside. Select a comfortable chair you could spend hours in at a table of appropriate height. Avoid sitting before a fan or in a breeze, as the blowing thread will tangle, knot, annoy and sully an otherwise pleasant pastime.
Any lamp that provides ample lighting will do, but simulated daylight lamps provide true color while reducing eyestrain and glare. Daylight simulation replacement bulbs that fit standard screw-in fixtures also offer energy efficiency over incandescent bulbs.
If needed, you can purchase magnifying lenses of 3 ½" or larger. The type many bead-workers like are on a gooseneck with a clamp or stand so you can have hands-free magnification, and many have lamps included. Wearable magnifiers are also useful. Head-mounted magnifiers are available with interchangeable magnifying lenses in a range of strengths, with or without battery-operated spotlights. Eyeglasses in an array of strengths of magnification are sold in drug and craft stores. Clip-on style magnifiers are handy for eyeglasses. Source: Mastering Beadwork by Carol Huber Cypher, Interweave Press, 2007
General Beading Instructions
Now that you are familiar with what you need to learn how to bead, read on so you'll know what basic skills are necessary to navigate your way through the beads and the stitches.
Threading a Needle
Some beaders wet the thread in their mouths while others say it helps to wet the eye instead. After wetting, flatten the beading thread tip by pulling it through your clenched front teeth or pinched thumbnail and index finger. Align the flattened thread with the needle's eye. Push the thread into the eye. Or hold the thread in the non-dominant hand and slide the needle onto the thread.
The Tension Bead
A tension bead (also called a stopper bead) keeps your beads from sliding off the end of the thread without the use of knots; it is usually removed after you have some beadwork started. To create a tension bead, string 1 seed bead onto the needle, then hold the bead with your other hand and slide it down toward the end of the thread usually about 4" (10 cm) from the end. Hold the ends of the thread so that it is tight against the inside of the bead to avoid piercing the thread with the needle, then pass the needle through the bead again (in the same direction) and pull snug.
Pour your beads onto a mat or into a shallow bowl. Hold the needle between your thumb and middle finger; stab the point of the needle into the hole of the bead and use your index finger to flick the bead up the needle. Continue adding beads to the needle, holding them in place with your thumb until 6-8 beads are on, then slide them down the thread.
Holding the Beadwork
New beaders tend to keep their beadwork on the table while they work. This is fine, but at some point, most beaders prefer to hold the work in their non-dominant hand, generally between their thumb and index fingers. Some beaders go through incredible gyrations and ergonomic feats rather than simply situate the beadwork differently. Feel free to rotate the beadwork or flip it over to execute a stitch. Having said that, when a recipe refers to left or right, top or bottom, let's agree that the tail will come out the bottom of the work, just the way a tail should, and to the left, as we read from left to right.
Adding a New Thread
When only 8" of thread remains in your needle, you'll need to abandon it. Simply remove the needle and fold the thread back alongside the work. Cut a new length of thread, thread the needle, and mark the tail with tape. Many beaders secure a new thread in the beadwork and while attempting to emerge from the single correct bead, experience an "oops". Tidy beaders, deciding to weave the abandoned thread into the work before adding a new thread - another oops - might not know where to resume the beadwork. To avoid this, simply pass the newly threaded needle through the bead that has the abandoned thread dangling from it. Be certain that the abandoned thread and the new thread are extending from the same place. Firmly hold both the abandoned thread and the new tail aside and resume weaving. The beadwork will slacken if tension is not maintained on the abandoned thread.
The Ins and Outs of Knots
Some knots you want and some you don't. Those that you do want should be dabbed with clear nail polish if they connect two threads within your work. The solvent in the nail polish acts like glue, fusing the nylon together slightly. Wax your thread to prevent tangles and unwanted knots. When they do happen, use a pointed tweezer to loosen them. Hold the knot on the tip of your finger and with the points of the tweezer together, insert the points into the heart of the knot and let the tweezer tips ease apart. You may have to try it a few times, but it usually eases even stubborn knots.
You've been beading for hours when, all of a sudden, you're done! Congratulations! But you're not finished learning how to bead yet. Take care when finishing to ensure a long-lasting piece that doesn't go to pieces. Start by reinforcing the last row or round of your beading designs by passing through the beads again, being sure to follow the same thread path. Not following the thread path could pull the beads out of line and distort the work. Continue weaving through beads, switching direction now and then so that the thread puts tension on itself, making it difficult to pull out. If the bead-weaving is dense, weaving in the ends should be sufficient to hold.
Sources: Mastering Beadwork by Carol Huber Cypher, Interweave Press, 2007; Getting Started with Seed Beads by Dustin Wedekind, Interweave Press, 2007; Zulu Inspired Beadwork by Diane Fitzgerald, Interweave Press, 2007
||Featured Product: The Beader's Companion overs you definitions, illustrations, and clear step-by-step instructions on how to bead. You'll also find time-saving tricks, instructions for off-loom stitches, stringing, embroidering, knitting and crocheting with beads, as well as finishing ideas. With easy reference charts, sidebar tips, and full-color photos, The Beader's Companion is your go-to resource for all things beading!