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BEADWEAVING BASICS
by Wendy Van Camp

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So, you saw one of those little bead looms in the craft store and just could not resist buying it. Visions of bracelets, hat bands and belts swirling in your imagination.  But now that you have it, how do you use it?   

Bead looms are based on a simple loom style. Basically, just a frame with a method of keeping the strung warp threads a uniform distance from one another. You loom should have instructions on how to string it properly, but a few tips to keep in mind are:  

1. Make sure that all the warp threads are uniformly tight on the loom. While these threads should be taunt, they should not be so tight that they break while you work. 

2. The warp threads should be placed on the loom in such a way that you can shift them without the threads tangling further. 

3. Use the proper type of thread for beading and the right size for your work. Some to consider are Nymo, Silamide or Silk. Try to use the thinnest thread that you can manage, since you will be passing through the beads several times in some instances. Also, waxing your thread can help to make it pass through the beads more easily. 

Before you load your loom with your chosen thread, have a look at your pattern. Pick a color of thread that will disappear into the finished beadwork. If you are using dark colors, black thread works well. Some threads come in various shades, if you want to use one, decide which color is the dominate hue in your pattern and match it with the appropriate thread color. 

For loom work, any cross stitch or knitting pattern will work well or use the grid picture I designed (above left). However, keep in mind that if you are using seed beads your pattern with be a bit wider than it is tall. Count the number of rows in the width of the pattern and then add one more to it. This is the number of warp threads that you need to load onto your loom. 

 

Seed beads come in many shapes and sizes. For beadweaving, there are two types of beads. Seed beads and Delicas. Seed beads have been around for many centuries. They are the beads that the English traders used as currency with the American Indians, Africans and other colonies. Most are imported from either The Czech Republic or Japan. They come in many sizes from 22/0 to 1/0. The size most often used for beadweaving is 11/0,  pronounced "eleven ought". This number refers to how many beads are in an inch when laid flat. If you are a beginner I recommend that you select a slightly larger size, 10/0. The holes are bigger and you will have less trouble passing your needle through the beads. 

Delicas are a recent addition to the bead world, a small cylinder bead that is as tall as it is wide.  They are from Japan and are more expensive than seed beads. A nice feature about Delicas are that you don't have the width design problem that you have with seed beads and if you are using a cross stitch pattern for your work, the piece will come out close in proportion to the pattern. Also, the holes in the beads are slightly larger than regular seed bead counterparts. 

Once you have selected the type of bead that you will be using, it is time to begin weaving. The following directions are for a right handed weaver. If you are left handed, please reverse the direction of your weaving if that is more comfortable for you. 

1. Take a piece of thread around 3 to 4 feet long and tie one end of it to the thread on the loom that is closes to you on the left side of the loom. Leave around 4 inches of thread on the other side of the knot. This is known as a weft thread. Thread a needle onto the other side of the weft thread. Preferably a #10 English Beading needle. 

2. Look at your pattern, the first bead that you load onto the weft thread should be the bottom of the pattern on the left side. Follow the row up, loading the proper colors onto your thread.  

3. Pass the thread under the loom until you pull the beads directly under it. Use the thumb of your other hand to gently push the beads up through the warp threads, one bead per space. Try to get the row as straight as you can. The first row is always the most difficult so if it takes a few tries to get the beads to behave, don't worry! 

4. Once the beads are pushed up, take the beading needle and pass it through the beads.  Remember, keep the thread on TOP of the warp threads. If you go under, the bead will not be secured and if on an end, the bead may pop off of your work. Once the thread is through, pull gently on the thread until all the excess is pulled through and your beads are taunt on the loom. Now, use your fingers to align them into a straight row. 

5. Look at your pattern and find the second row. Again, load your weft thread according to this pattern. Before you repeat the weaving process, find the bit of weft thread tail on the other side of your original knot. As you pass under the loom, catch it so that it is pulled to the side of your beadwork snugly. 

6. Once you have passed through the beads on top of the warp threads and have pulled the weft thread through, make sure that you align this new row up snugly with the first.  Keeping the beads even as you weave is important, otherwise you may have gaps in your weaving Continue in this manner. The thread tail should end up as part of the side threads, unnoticed in the finished product. If you run out of thread. Knot it at one of the sides and then weave back through a few rows to hide the the thread, coming up in the middle of the piece and cutting it close to the beadwork. The thread will disappear inside your beads. 

 

A few tips to remember as you weave: 

1. Make sure that every bead you use is of a uniform size. If you pick a bead that is a little larger or smaller than the others, your loomwork will become uneven. If you find one of these beads, throw it away. It is a cull. 
2. Make sure that every bead slides easily over your needle, especially the eye. If there is even a little resistance, throw the bead away. 
3. Pull the weft thread to a uniform tightness. Don't be too tight or too loose. If you pull your weft thread too tight, your finished product will be stiff. Too loose and you risk the piece falling apart. 

When you weave the final row of your pattern, tie a knot and pull it down until it is snugly against the last bead, then take your thread and weave it back through your work a few times, coming up in the middle of your work and cutting it close to the surface. 

To finish the product, take a bit of tape and secure the warp threads with it close to each end of your piece. Cut the finished piece off of your loom, leaving several inches on each side. Fold the warp threads under the loomwork and then glue to some kind of backing. Leather, sturdy material or cardboard are good choices. When using glue, take care that it does not ooze through the beads, this can ruin your work. Use a thicker glue that will stay on the surface of the underside of your work. A jeweler's cement makes a good choice. 

There you have it! Your first beadwoven piece.Remember, beadweaving takes time and patience to learn. Your first product may be of a disappointment, but with practice your work will improve! 

All Images and Text Copyright © 1997 Wendy Van Camp.  Used with permission.