Updated Bling: Revisiting the Fleegle Beader

Having a strong preference for one approach over another may have just as much to do with what one knows and is comfortable with as with which is actually the better approach.

A few years ago I took a my first introduction to knitting with beads class. We tried three different methods for placing beads: a crochet hook, a Fleegle Beader, and SuperFloss. I was not an instant success. Straight out of the gate I shredded the heck out of my yarn with the Fleegle Beader, accidentally used the floppy end instead of the stiff end on the SuperFloss, and eventually, after much struggle, managed some success with the crochet hook. At the end of the class I was firmly in the crochet hook camp.

Back in the real world, facing my first project with beads, I found out the hard way that a crochet hook can do some yarn shredding too. That led to blaming the tool, not img_6493-1the user, and I sought to resolve the issue by ordering hooks in various different brands and sizes. In the meantime, a YouTube search showed me the error of my ways with the SuperFloss and, lo and behold, if I used the correct end the floss method actually worked just fine with no damage to the yarn. Possibly I was just as mistaken about the Fleegle Beader as I was with the SuperFloss, I ordered one of those as well.  What I did not realize then, but know now, is the hole size can vary greatly from one brand of beads to the next, and even from one bead to the next within a brand or within a single tube. It is not just having tools that brings success, it is all about learning how to use tools correctly and understanding the materials I am working with. My take on all of these tools is summed up in Placing Beads in Knitting. So many people swear by the Beader I thought it deserved to be taken for another spin. After all, everything feels awkward at first…

Being the proud owner of 2 sizes of Fleegle Beaders–and facing a large number of bead placements on the Amulet Shawl by Helen Stewart–I decided to give the Fleegle Beader a second chance. It was slow going at first, playing with different angles and imageapproaches, until I found something that worked fairly comfortable with the larger 1.30 size. All was going swimmingly until I switched from Miyuki beads to Toho beads and found that the holes in the Toho beads were somewhat smaller and somewhat less regular. At first I thought I had mistakingly grabbed Toho 8/0 beads instead of 6/0, but no, they were the same 6/0 size as the Miyuki. In spite of having worked out a method for consistently placing beads without damaging the yarn with the Miyuki’s, I was back to square one with the Toho beads.

A few tight beads and shredded stitches later, I switched down to the smaller 1.0 size and that helped a bit. Unfortunately some of the beads were still too tight; they would fit onto the shaft but were too small to accommodate the shaft of the Beader plus the strands of yarn. I played around with different methods again and, although I had to toss a few beads aside that were too tight, I did come up with a method that worked pretty well. It goes as follows:

  • Carefully draw the stitch from the LH needle with the hook on the Fleegle Beader
  • Position the groove of the Beader facing up
  • Position the stitch in front of (not on) the sharp tip of the hook
  • Pinch the yarn tightly below the Beader and pull it down so it is taut
  • Push the bead up the shaft, over the yarn, and off the end of the Beader
  • Drop the bead down onto the remainder of the stitch held below the Beader
  • Return the stitch to the LH needle
  • Knit the stitch above the bead unless instructed otherwise
  • Note: stitch is worked from the LH needle if the bead is placed before doing the stitch, from the RH needle if placing bead after doing the stitch
  • A demonstration of this method is on the video An Accidentally Discovered Method for Using the Fleegle Beader

Pinching and tightening the stitch makes the yarn taught and compact, allowing more wiggle room for the bead to slide off the Beader and onto the stitch. I was able to hold it in my hand while I knit, saving me the extra hand motions of putting it down and picking it up, but there was one problem. With the cap off the top of the Beader, I had to be careful to not inadvertently push the beads off the Beader. Stopping to pick up beads was not an added efficiency.

After a fair amount of practice, I can understand why Fleegle Beaders are so popular with some knitters. With beads stored on the shaft, it really was the fastest method for placing beads of all the methods I tried. Overcoming my reluctance to revisit it was worthwhile, eventually I did find a method that works fairly well for me. Going forward I will use the Fleegle Beader when I have projects with lots and lots of beads. For mobile projects, I will still stick with the more portable SuperFloss method on the road for carrying and placing beads on the road. For projects with just a few beads here and there, I will probably just use the simple and easy crochet hook method.

In the end I am glad I kept an open mind and gave the Fleegle Beader a second chance. It will be another useful tool in my bag of tricks.

 

An aside: Using a thin wire shaped like a V was discussed in the Amulet Shawl KAL thread and I did give it a try. For those who do not have the tools, it is worth trying, but I do think the tools I have work better for me. As with anything, it is all a matter of personal preference. It is certainly easier on the pocketbook.

Bling! Placing Beads in Knitting

Like stars in the still and quiet sky, bright sparkly beads sprinkle a bit of bling across soft fibery textures. Adding a bit of glimmer and glam to knitting is fun, and not nearly so difficult as it looks. Of course, feel free to tell whomever asks that it was really, really hard and they should be in awe of both you and your finished project.

Videos associated with this post: Placing Beads on Knitting Part I and Placing Beads on Knitting Part II.

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Knitting With Beads

There are two basic approaches for knitting with beads. One is to pre-string the beads: all the beads are placed on the yarn before knitting with beads begins. The beads ride on the yarn and can be moved into place either on or between stitches. The big “Ugh!”is that if you do not count and add enough beads in advance, you will need to break the yarn to add more beads. Although I mention it here, I will not be covering knitting with pre-strung beads in this post. There are a lot of interesting and creative things that can be done with pre-strung beads so it can be worthwhile to learn more about it.

The second and more commonly used approach–and the one I will be discussing in this post–is placing beads: each bead is individually placed on a stitch as indicated in the pattern. The pattern will tell you whether to place the bead before or after knitting the stitch, usually it is before knitting the stitch. If it is not specified, I knit the stitch after the bead has been placed.

More often than not the pattern instruction will be “PB” for “place bead” which means, place a bead on the upcoming stitch and knit it after the bead has been placed. In this case–after executing the “PB” instruction–the bead rests between the stitch from the row below and the newly knit stitch on the current row. If the instruction is to knit the stitch before placing the bead, the bead rests above the stitch on the current row and is not locked in until it is worked on the subsequent row. I think the bead is more firmly held in place between the two stitches when it is placed after knitting the stitch on the current row and locked in place on the next row. Either way the bead is between two stitches; one above it and one below it. The difference is, place bead then knit puts the bead between the stitch from the row below and the current row while the knit then place bead puts the the bead between the stitch on the current row and the stitch on the subsequent row. Picture an hourglass figure with a tight belt, that is the yarn with a placed bead on it pinching the yarn between the stitch below and the stitch above.

For placing the beads, there are a few different methods including a small crochet hook, a Fleegle Beader, or SuperFloss. Each method is described below, but first there are a few things to know about beads and some materials that are helpful for knitting with beads.

Materials for Knitting with Beads

See the Placing Beads on Knitting Part I video for more about materials and preparing to knit with beads.

I like to use 6/0 size beads for fingering weight yarn as well as for a heavy lace or light sport weight. For a finer lace, I like to use 8/0 beads. The bead should have a large enough hole to slip onto the yarn, remembering that when placing a bead on a stitch that there are two strands of yarn being fed through the hole. I have used many types of beads and have found that Miyaki and Toho beads have been very consistent in their hole sizes. I have used some beautiful Czech glass beads that had some inconsistencies in the sizes, some were more of a struggle to place than others.

It is useful to have a beading board to hold the beads and tools. A tray will also work,but if using a tray it is helpful to have a foam or soft cloth to help keep the beads from escaping. The sound of tiny beads clattering in the vacuum is not my favorite tune.

Beads are picked up one at a time with a crochet hook but are preloaded onto a Fleegle Beader. There is a bent end on the Fleegle Beader for picking up beads individually or they can be loaded by using a bead spinner. I am not very successful with my bead spinner, it will probably end up on the Freebie table at the next knitting retreat, but some people really like using a bead spinner to speed up the task. Beads can be picked up one-by-one with the stiff end of the SuperFloss or strung onto the SuperFloss using a Dental floss threader. I use a clip on the long smooth end of the floss to hold the beads in place, but the end can be knotted or something can be tied to the end to keep the beads from falling off.

See “Tools of the Trade” at the end of this post for a list of materials.

Methods for Placing Beads

See the Placing Beads on Knitting Part II video for demonstrations and more about methods for placing beads.

For the crochet hook method, you need a very fine hook that is small enough to insert into the bead; a much smaller size hook than you would use if you were crocheting with the yarn. I like to use the largest size possible. Size 4 (1.25 mm) works for most 6/0 beads, Size 2 (1.5 mm) worked for Miyaki and Toho but not for my Czech glass beads, and Size 0 (1.75 mm) was too large for all my beads. Another option is a Fleegle Beader that has a little sharp hook on one end. The original Beader was 1.0 mm and they later added a 1.3 mm, which is bit better for fingering weight yarns. Both of these options require care, the fine hooks can shred the yarn when placing the bead, but it can be faster than the dental floss method.

The dental floss method allows you to string a lot of the beads on the floss and have them at the ready, but it can be a bit slower and fiddly. On the plus side, it is the most gentle way to put the beads on the work. I have never had yarn shred with this method, unlike with a crochet hook or Fleegle beader. All of these work for placing a bead on the yarn, but each has its pros and cons.

Whichever method you choose, the “PB” (place bead) instruction is executed in basically the same way. Place the bead on the stitch on the LH needle, remove the stitch to place the bead, slide the bead down to expose the loop, and return the stitch to the LH needle. Knit the stitch. Beaded stitch is now on the RH needle with a stitch below it and a stitch above it locking it into place. If you are knitting a pattern with instructions for placing beads but are opting not to use beads, treat a “PB” instruction as a “K1”.

If instructed to knit first then place the bead, knit the next stitch on the LH needle, place the bead on the stitch on the RH needle (I slip the knit stitch back to the LH needle purl wise to add the bead on that needle just because I am more accustomed to beading that way), remove the stitch to place the bead, slide the bead down to expose the loop, and return the stitch to the RH needle. Beaded stitch is now on the RH needle with a stitch below it but will not have a stitch above it locking it into place until the next row is worked.

All of these methods work for placing a bead on the yarn, but each has its pros and cons.

Fleegle Beader

  • Quick to use
  • Stores beads on shaft
  • Sharp edge can shred yarn
  • Hint: Push bead onto yarn, do not pull yarn through bead

Crochet Hook

  • Quick to use
  • Fine head is smaller than yarn, can shred the yarn
  • Can be somewhat gentler than the Fleegle Beader
  • Does not store beads, beads have to be picked up one at a time
  • Hint: Push bead onto yarn, do not pull yarn through bead

SuperFloss

  • Best for travel/mobile knitting
  • Works well with uneven hole sizes in beads
  • Gentlest for delicate yarn, does not shred yarn
  • Beads are stored on the floss
  • Can be fiddly and slow but fewer problems with escaping beads and damaged yarn
  • Has 3 sections with different purposes: a long thin section (holds beads), fuzzy section (holds bead to be worked), short stiff section (used to place bead onto stitch)
  • Can use a dental floss threader to add several beads at once to the floss
  • Needs to be secured at the end of the thin section: use a clip, tie on a stitch marker, or tie secure knot to keep beads from sliding off the end

Each method has its cheerleaders but the correct method to use is the one that is the most comfortable and convenient; in the end a placed bead looks like a placed bead so img_6499there is no right or wrong choice. In my case, I have used the crochet hook when there are not too many beads or I want to pick up the pace. I prefer the SuperFloss when I have fussy or fine yarn, and I certainly prefer it when I am traveling or visiting someone. For mobile knitting, all I need to do is bring a pre-threaded strand of floss along with me and can leave all the other tools behind. The Fleegle Beader and I are still learning to get along, but I definitely see how this would be the method of choice for many given that the beads conveniently stored on the shaft. Let me put it this way, I really, really want to like it and have not given up on our relationship yet.

See Placing Beads on Knitting Part I and Part II for more information and demonstrations. 

Resources

See “Tools of the Trade” below for a list of materials mentioned in this post. Materials can be purchased from online merchants as well as from specialty shops, big box stores, and local yarn shops. I found my Fleegle Beaders on Etsy and Miss Babs. Miyuki and Toho beads are sometimes sold at yarn shops, there are many excellent online bead shops although I have mostly purchased them through Amazon partners and Loopy Ewe. If you know of a good online resource for beads, feel free to leave a comment.

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Tools of the Trade

  • Beads (Miyaki and Toho consistent brands, many other nice options available in stores and online) Size 6/0 for heavy lace, fingering, and light sport weights or size 8/0 for lace and light fingering
  • Beading board or foam/soft fabric square on tray for containing beads and tools
  • Dental Floss Threader (GUM, other brands available) for threading beads onto SuperFloss or yarn if doing pre-strung beading
  • Super Floss (Oral B, other brands available) for holding and placing beads
  • Wonder Clips (Clover, other brands available) for holding beads in place on SuperFloss
  • Fleegle Beader for holding or placing beads. Available in the original 1.0 mm or 1.3 mm, which is better for fingering
  • Small Crochet hook for placing beads: Size 8 (.90 mm) works for 6/0 and 8/0 beads, Size 4 (1.25 mm) works for most 6/0 beads, Size 2 (1.5 mm) worked for Miyaki but not for my Czech glass beads, and Size 0 (1.75 mm) was too large for all my beads