Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The BadCat Bead Primer

Here is an update on my current "swatch." I am using 2/48 Merino and 8/0 Beads.I thought I would bring in the New Year with a long discussion of beads and lace knitting. I am going to discuss choosing materials to place beads onto you lace knitting using a crochet hook. If you look back to this post, you will see my step-by-step directions for doing this.

People often ask “What beads should I get?” and “What size hook should I get?” and most often “How big a tube of beads should I get?” These questions appear quite straightforward, but the reality is that they don’t have easy answers. To understand how to arrive at an answer to any of these questions, we must look at the variables. This discussion is in no way exhaustive and is just meant to open the subject up for thought.

I suggest you begin your beaded lace knitting using Japanese seed beads. They are uniform in size, shape and (importantly) hole. They also have larger and smoother holes. Gorgeous seed beads are available from other places, but I suggest you save those for later. I have a large selection of beads from all over the world, but I usually choose the Japanese beads when I am knitting lace. The following brands are readily available as both round beads and cylinder beads. I prefer knitting with round beads and bead-weaving with cylinders.

Here is an assortment of beads from my collection.

Japanese Seed Beads: Available brands
Miyuki in various sizes and finishes
Cylinders: Delicas
Matsuno in various sizes and finishes
Cylinders: Dyna-mites
Toho in various sizes and finishes
Cylinders: Treasures and Aikos
Mill Hill in various sizes and finishes
Cylinders: Magnificas

Seed beads come in a variety of sizes and “cuts.” The larger the number the smaller the bead! This is not a complete list…
Japanese Bead Sizes:
6/0=3.7-4mm (E beads)
3/0=5.5mm (E beads)

Round holes and square holes
Silver lined and gilt lined
Opaque and transparent
Matt, Ceylon, opal, abalone
Many other choices of color and finish
Avoid color lined beads and dyed beads, because very few are wash-fast, and they might bleed onto your yarn. When in doubt, make a swatch and wash it. Most dyed beads are marked as such when you buy them.

“So how many beads should I get?”
Remember that every brand is different and these figures are very variable. Also note that the tube sizes are not always uniform. The best way to get beads is by weight and not tube, but you won’t always have a choice.
Beads per gram?
11/0 about 120 per gram
15/0 about 250 per gram
Delicas (12/0) about 200 per gram
6 inch tube about 30 grams of beads

Beads per six inch tube?
11/0 about 3000
8/0 about 1100
6/0 about 310

Beads per three inch tube?
15/0 about 3500

Beads per 10 gram tube?
Delicas about 1900

These links will find you beads (and they are just a few to start your quest):
Please feel free to leave your favorite bead source website in the comments section.

What size crochet hook for what size bead?
Now we get into an even cloudier area. The bottom line is that the hook must fit through the beads you want to use and must be able to pull the yarn (which will be doubled) back through the bead. If you can do that, you have the right hook.

This is an assortment of my hooks, some from church sales without visible markings.

Steel Hook Comparisons
I use a US13 or 14 for anything from 8/0 to larger. I have a Prims brand 14 that fits through a Delica and a Miyuki 11/0. The size of both the beads (by brand) and the hooks (by brand) is so variable that there are no hard and fast rules if you’re working with smaller beads. Get the smallest hook you can find and try it with the beads before committing to the project.

These links will find you a hook:
US 14 (Inox) 0.6mm hook:
US 14 and 16 (Addi) 0.75 and 0.6mm hooks:
US 14 (Clover) 0.5mm:
US 16 (0.4mm) from Lacis (along with other options 0.4-and up):

Here is a little piece of my finer-weight stash. This is a lovely selection of both cob-web and lace weight yarns in fine wools, silk blends, and cashmere, each yarn perfect for beads.

As I said previously, the yarn must fit doubled through the hole of your bead. It should fit without a fight, or you will come to hate your project. I suggest you use a smooth yarn, but a “furry” yarn (like kid-mohair or cashmere) are fine. Stay away from textured yarns. When in doubt, swatch before you make a commitment.

There are many patterns available for you to practice using beads. I have several beaded patterns, for free and for a modest fee. Check my Ravelry pattern store for these options: The Hecate Stole, The Saigon Scarf and The Veil of Isis. The beaded Diamond Scarf uses a different technique, where you pre-string your beads. Here is a picture of Hecate that really shows off her beads. Until next time, keep on knitting in the New Year!


  1. Oh, this is lovely! Thanks so much! I am presently knitting a Susan Pandorf shawl in Seasilk that uses #8 beads. Crochet hook didn't work--I had to invent a different way of putting the beads on using s needle and a strand of prestrung beads. Tedious, but it works. I don't know how she did her sample--I couldn't pull the Seasilk through the bead hole. Can you do it?

  2. Thanks for this post - I'd been wondering about all of these beading details!

  3. Kate in Somerset, UKJanuary 1, 2009 at 2:57 AM

    I've had good service from these people in the UK:

  4. You rock! Your work is lovely! Thank you so very much for this wonderful primer! Thank you!!

  5. Hi, I also had very good service and nice beads from the BeadWrangler ( - they also have tiny crochet hooks. Also, since I saw that you mention the Commuknity store as a source - they are going OUT OF BUSINESS (sob!) - I think they are still open and having sales during January 2009. It's so sad ... that's the second yarn store in my general area that's closed.

    Happy New Year everyone!

  6. Happy New Year! Thank you so much for such a thorough post. This will be my good knitting reference. :D Your knitting is beautiful. I haven't knitted with beads for a while and you have inspired me. I will certainly check out your Ravelry store!

  7. Thanks for the primer on beading. I've been wanting to do something beaded but didn't know where to start and you gave me just what I needed!

  8. Andrea,
    Your tutorials are great and I bookmark all of them. Here is one method of adding beads when you simply cannot find a crochet hook small enough.
    I've used this method and and it works well.

    Susie Jordan

  9. Well, I guess I should have signed the previous post with my google account. Sorry about that

  10. I am so glad to have this post. I got a necklace of Aquamarine Beads and trying to match with my knitting dress but couldn't find how to do it. After getting this blog, I think, my problem is gonna solved. Thanks for sharing this useful post.