Weaving Beads into Cloth
There are several ways to weave beads into your cloth. Depending on the scale and contrast of the beads, the results can be subtle or dramatic.
Weaving with beads strung onto the weft is easy and suitable for both beginning and experienced weavers. Best of all, you can use this technique with any type of loom.
When my daughter scheduled an outdoor wedding in May (a typically cool and rainy month in this part of Oregon) I wove her a shawl to wear at the wedding. I used 8/2 Tencel in colors matching her wedding decorations and, to make the shawl even more special, wove in pearls left over from the wedding dress of one of my childhood friends.
At the wedding, a dear friend arrived wearing a shirt I'd woven years ago. I was amazed at how well it had help up through numerous wearings and washing. Still, it was time to weave a new shirt for her.
Continuing my theme of weaving beads into cloth, I planned a shirt that would combine twill and plain-weave fabric and have a beaded accent along the front neckline.
I warped my loom with a straight-draw, 2x2 twill, threading. This threading works well when you are weaving with beads strung onto the weft, because the two adjacent warp threads running underneath the beads give support for the beads to lay on the top of the fabric without disrupting the line of the warp.
For the shirt, I used five large beads as an accent. Any bigger and the beads would have created too much warp displacement and been too heavy for the weft thread I strung them onto.
Four-shaft loom with a weaving width at least as wide as the widest pattern piece in your shirt.
Note: You can also weave this project on a two-shaft or rigid-heddle loom, simply change the weave structure to plain weave. Weavers with eight-shaft looms might want to experiment with weaving beads into more elaborate undulating twills.
Note: To add interest to the fabric, I treadled the twill with an occasional undulation (see picks 13-18 below). You can weave this project with or without the undulation, as you choose.
(Note: plain weave was used in the sleeves for strength, and was woven on the same 2x2 twill threading using the second treadling.)
8/2 Tencel (amount varies on size and shirt pattern used)
- 8/2 Tencel (amount varies on size and shirt pattern used)
- (optional) If you are using beads where the holes are too small to thread onto the 8/2 Tencel, you can use quilting thread as a supplementary weft to carry the beads. Details are below.
Shirt Pattern: Any conventional shirt pattern for woven cloth. A simple design with few seams will show off the twill fabric and beaded accent to best advantage.
Tip: I recommend pinning a long tape measure to the cloth as you weave, to keep track of the amount of cloth you have woven. This will help you evenly space the beads throughout the cloth.
Begin the fabric by weaving a section using the 8/2 Tencel weft without beads.
Option 1: Beads with Large Holes
If the holes in the beads are large enough, you can thread the beads directly onto the weft thread.
Cut your weft yarn on one selvedge leaving enough of a tail on the cloth to catch or weave back into the selvedge.
Thread the beads onto the cut end coming from your shuttle, leaving enough of the end to weave into the selvedge. If the holes in the beads are big enough and your eyesight is good, you can thread the beads onto the weft using your fingers.
Otherwise, grab some reading glasses and a dental-floss threader. I use G-U-M Eez-Thru Floss Threaders. These are made of thin blue plastic, with a loop at one end, and a rigid tail at the other. Pull the free end of the weft through the loop of the threader and then slide the beads onto the threader's tail. You'll then be able to easily slide the beads off the floss threader and onto the weft. (Floss threaders work well for all types of threading needs!)
Placing the Beads
Put a measuring tape across the warp to find its center. Lay the beaded weft on top of a closed shed to align the beads in the approximate spacing you want.
Take note of the distance between each bead, and how far in they are from the selvages. For extra precision, you can draw a diagram with measurements, showing exactly where you want each bead.
(Note: I had my tape measure pinned to the cloth to keep track of the length I'd woven. When I took this picture, I just grabbed the free end of the tape measure; the shirt is not really 200 inches wide!)
Wind any extra weft back onto the shuttle, so the beads are close to the shuttle's end. Try to keep everything horizontal so the beads stay in place as much as possible.
Open the shed and carefully slide the shuttle through the warp with the beads lined out behind it. Be sure to angle the weft as usual to allow for take-up when you beat it into place.
Gently manipulate and guide each bead into place with your fingers.
When the beads are where you want them, gently pull the beater forward to set the weft. Continue weaving with un-beaded weft as before.
If the beads you want to use have holes that are too small to thread onto your weft, you can use quilting thread as a supplemental weft. In this case, you do not cut the 8/2 Tencel weft thread.
Thread a needle with an eye small enough to fit through the beads and thread all the beads needed onto the quilting thread.
A stick shuttle works great for pushing the thread through the open shed. Wrap or tie one end of the thread around one of the ends of the stick shuttle to secure it.
Open the shed and use the stick shuttle to push the beaded quilting thread across the cloth.
The beads will likely slide down the quilting thread. Keep the shed open and maneuver the beads into place.
Fine tune the placement of the beads to your desired spacing.
Gently beat the beads and quilting thread into place, then throw a pick of your main weft through the same shed so it is on top of the threaded beads. This helps keep them in place. Lightly beat in place.
Treadle the next shed and carry the end of the quilting thread into the selvedge alongside the weft for several inches to secure it.
Do the same on the following row to secure the other end of the quilting thread.
After the fabric is woven, finish the raw edges with a zig-zag stitch or serging, and then wash and dry it by machine. Cut and sew the shirt, using a sewing pattern of your choice.
Weaving with beads threaded onto the weft is a fun and easy technique, one that anyone can weave using any type of loom. A set of small purses would be fun to practice this technique on, as a narrow warp is easier to handle when you manipulate the beads.
Wanda began weaving in an eighth-grade home-economics class in which Navajo weaving was required. Between that and an earlier enjoyment of needlepoint, she was soon tangled in fibery goodness. After marriage, her woodworking husband Ed was so supportive of her fiber indulgences that he was soon making shuttles and an assortment of fiber tools which led to a full-time business and livelihood. When not engaged in fiber stuff, Wanda enjoys fiddling and taking long walks. She blogs at Fiber Joy.