Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Bead Crochet
by Kathryn Vercillo
Many people are intimidated by the idea of incorporating beads into their crochet work. It isn't just an extra step in the crochet process; it is an entirely new material, which can make it feel foreign. Actually, though, bead crochet is a fairly easy technique to learn. Beads can add great detail to projects, making them pop with color and texture and sparkle with design. Bead crochet is especially great for jewelry and bridal crochet projects but can be used throughout your work. This guide teaches you the basics of bead crochet.
Understanding Bead Crochet
Before we begin, let's get the lay of the land. In bead crochet, you string beads on to yarn before beginning the project. As you crochet, you slide the beads close to your hook when you want to use them. Beads are secured in place with a stitch, usually a slip stitch or a single crochet stitch. Most bead crochet projects combine elements of crochet detail with beadwork. However, there are types of bead crochet that show very little crochet work and emphasize only the beads; see the "advanced" section at the end of this post for more information about that. The rest of this post is about adding simple beads to basic crochet projects.
Bead Crochet Supplies
There are just a few things that you will need to know about purchasing supplies for bead crochet.
Choosing Beads and Yarn for Crochet
There are a wide variety of beads available for crochet. And bead crochet can be done on any type of fiber. Many people choose thread crochet for bead projects, because they want to work with smaller beads and create more delicate projects. Some people use wire. But regular yarn can also be used. The most important thing is that your beads and yarn match well with each other. If you are not comfortable with thread crochet, you may wish to begin your foray into bead crochet with yarn and any beads that are large enough to string easily on to the yarn. The beads should have holes that are large enough to easily slide over the yarn that you choose. However, you typically shouldn't choose very heavy beads for very thin thread/yarn (even though they would fit). In this way, it's similar to choosing a hook for your yarn; you can choose any hook you want but it's easiest to work with small hooks for thread, mid-sized hooks for worsted weight yarn and big hooks for bulky yarn. Likewise, choose smaller beads for thread crochet, mid-sized beads for mid-weight yarn and reserve heavy, big beads for bulky weight projects.
Additional Bead Crochet Supplies
In addition to beads and yarn, you might need a few extra things for bead crochet projects. Many projects require a needle for stringing the beads onto the fiber (which we cover in detail in the next section of this tutorial). If you are using bead crochet techniques to make jewelry, your projects may require jewelry supplies such as clasps, earring wires, and jump rings. Most of these supplies are readily available online or at mainstream craft stores, which are also a great place to purchase your beads.
Threading Beads on Yarn for Crochet
The beads used in this tutorial are Glass Aqua Tube 8x12 mm Beads from Bead Gallery, available online and at popular stores including Michael's.
The biggest difference between standard crochet and bead crochet is that you must begin the project by threading your beads on to your yarn, wire or thread. Here are some things to know:
- If you are working with beads that have small holes then you will probably need a needle to help you thread the beads on to the yarn. Choose a needle that is small enough to slide through the hole. There are collapsible needles available that work terrifically for small beads.
- Your crochet pattern will usually tell you how many beads to string on to your yarn. It is wise to add a few extras because sometimes beads break off as you work; it's better to have too many than not enough!
- As a beginner, use the same beads (including the same color) for your early projects. As you get more advanced, you may choose to work with beads of different colors and sizes in the same project; when you do, remember that the beads will appear in the project in the reverse order in which you have strung them. (So, if you thread your yarn with a red bead, then a blue one, then a green one, the green will be closest to the hook and will be the first one on to the crochet project, followed by the blue then the red.)
- Here is a tip if you want to work with smaller beads but thicker yarn: String your beads on to thread that matches your chosen yarn in color. Then hold both the yarn and the threaded beads together, working them as a double-strand crochet project.
Alternatives to Threading Beads for Crochet
Note that there are some crochet projects that incorporate beads as details without actually using any bead crochet techniques, so they do not require the step of threading. We see this in the Dangling Flower Earrings free crochet pattern (where beads are added to the bottom of star-shaped crochet earrings) as well as in the free crochet pattern for Pearly Crochet Jewelry (where crochet details are added on to a beaded string that itself does not incorporate any crochet). In this case, you crochet motifs as usual, per the crochet pattern, and then you attach the crochet and the beads using jewelry supplies (such as crimps and pliers).
In some cases, jewelry supplies are not required, but neither are bead crochet techniques. The Lace Armlets are crocheted in their entirety. Then, as a finishing step, the beads are sewn on to the wrist side of each armlet.
Every once in awhile a bead crochet pattern will not ask you to string the beads on to the thread first but instead to add the beads one at a time as they are needed. This is not as common, but it does happen. We see an example with the Wedding Headdress free crochet pattern. Crochet designer Helen Sweet defines the "bead" (special instruction) in this project as follows:
"Draw up a loop to the width of the pearl, drop the loop from the hook, insert smaller hook into pearl and then into the dropped loop, pull thread loop through the pearl adjusting so that the pearl is even with the previous ch-1, ch 1, remove smaller hook from loop and insert larger hook to proceed."
So the beads are added one at a time in this form of bead crochet. A similar process is used in the Beaded Necklace and Earrings free crochet pattern by Lisa Gentry.
Basic Bead Crochet
As we have seen, each bead crochet project will be different, and your crochet patterns will generally provide detailed instructions, but here are the basics for beginners who want to start working with adding beads to crochet projects:
Bead Crochet Foundation Chain
You will start by threading as many beads on to your yarn as needed. Do not cut the yarn; let the beads fall towards the ball of yarn as you work with your crochet hook.
1. Begin your foundation chain. This starts, as always, with a slip knot on your hook.
2. Slide the first bead down towards the hook, near your slip knot.
3. Yarn over and pull through. You have now secured your first bead on to your project. This essentially creates a knot of yarn (a chain stitch) around the bead. Note: Sometimes the pattern will use special abbreviations such as bch for "bead chain", which refers to bringing one bead close to the hook, and completing a yarn over and pull through to secure the bead in a chain. Other patterns simply describe what to do without using special abbreviations.
4. Add chains. (Not all crochet patterns do this but typically you add a chain space or two between beads on most crochet projects; in this example there is a ch 3 between each bead.)
5. Slide the next bead towards the hook.
6. Yarn over and pull through. You have secured your next bead on to your project.
7. Repeat steps 4-6 as many times as needed to complete your foundation chain.
Note: You can complete a very simple bead crochet necklace using just these steps. It will be a long foundation necklace-length chain with beads that you slip stitch closed at the end of the project. This very simple project looks elegant when you choose the right beads - great for instant gratification projects and last-minute gifts!
Additional Rounds and Rows in Bead Crochet
Bead crochet can be worked in rounds or in rows. In some cases, beads are only used in the beginning of the project. In other cases, beads are included throughout all of the rows.
Beads in Foundation Chain Only
In the Easy Beaded Bracelets free crochet pattern, beads are only used in the first foundation chain row. The second row is essentially just slip stitches (without any beads).
Beaded Single Crochet
In the Bride's Garter free crochet pattern, we see the use of beaded single crochet (bsc) stitches. This is commonly used instead of the beaded chain stitch (bch) when working with multiple rounds / rows in a project. Here's how to complete a bsc:
1. Insert hook into next stitch.>
2. Yarn over and draw up a loop. There will now be two loops on your hook.
3. Slide bead close to hook.
4. Yarn over and pull through both loops on hook.
Beads in Other Crochet Stitches
In some cases, such as in the Sweet Irish Rose Necklace pattern, beads are secured between other types of stitches. In this pattern, crochet designer Lisa Gentry explains that one round of each flower petal is worked as follows: Sc, hdc, 3 dc, slip 1 bead close to hook, 2 dc, hdc, sc. As you can see. you work 3 double crochet stitches, move a bead close to the hook and then work two more double crochet stitches, so that the bead is ensconced right in the center of five double crochet stitches.
Making Crochet Beads
In addition to crocheting with store-bought beads, you can also make crochet beads. This is generally done by making small amigurumi style balls that are stuffed with fiberfill or other filling to create the bead shape. These are sometimes combined with other beads in crochet projects. We see that in these two free bead crochet patterns:
Advanced Bead Crochet
If you fall in love with bead crochet, there are many opportunities to take it further. You can create tubular beaded crochet designs, including beads that incorporate design details from mathematics, and you can learn to read bead crochet charts. If this type of advanced bead crochet is of interest, one of the best resources to consider is the book Crafting Conundrums: Puzzles and Patterns for the Bead Crochet Artist by Ellie Baker and Susan Goldstine.
Fun bead tip: Alphabet beads can also be used in combination with stitch markers to help you in tracking the hooks used for your WIPs!