Friday, 13 May 2016

Adding Beads to Lace Knitting

The April knit along on Boo Knits Ravelry Forum was a mystery pattern called Danse Macabre. Everyone knew it would be a lace shawl and a fair sized one at that, given the yarn yardage.  I hadn't enough handspun lace weight, but after a particularly miserable dentist appointment in March, I cheered myself up in the wool shop, buying two balls of Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal in deep red with tiny slubs of blue, orange and black, with a view to joining in. Danse Macabre is supposed to be knitted in silk yarn with beads added, even in the plain upper part. Each week in April, a section of the pattern was released and people shared photos of their progress. Though I intended to do without, I soon wished I had bought 
beads, seeing how pretty all the other versions of this shawl were looking.  Past attempts at beading have been misdirected - first I thought they had to be threaded on to the yarn in advance, which I did making Butterfly Wedding - it was a nightmare.  Nevertheless, when I came across a pile of beaded bangles with all my yarn slub colours, lying in a pile in a charity shop, it seemed Fate was taking a hand.  Using a bit of fuse 
wire to poke through the loop of any stitch marked for beading, I bent up the wire ends together and slid a bead down.  The holes in the beads were just big enough, though a tight squeeze getting over any slub in the yarn. Painfully slow going and as you can see from the photo, the beads did not stand out.  Never mind, press on, they looked quite funky in real life and I could already feel how the knitted fabric was gaining drape
and swing from the tiny added weights.  As the stitch count increased and the complexity mounted, it got harder to keep up with the Ravelry Boo Knits pack. Watching a Youtube video and buying a tiny 0.5mm crochet hook speeded up the beading no end. You load your beads onto the shaft, keep the hook standing up in a mug on your right hand side and simply take the indicated stitch off the needle with the
 tip of the crochet hook and slide a bead down over the yarn. Danse Macabre was a cracking knit, with clear instructions and never dull, each section revealing unexpected and pleasing lace patterns.  The bead pattern adds another dimension - or it does if the beads show up.  Lots of knitters used similar bead colours to yarn colour, only a few of the glamour shots of the finished shawls really demonstrate the full beaded effect.  My beads are lost in the slub.

The border of Danse Macabre is wonderful, a sort of paw print of big holes, using a technique new to me.  Thinking a lighter yarn could enhance the impact of beading, I grafted the border pattern onto the narrow body of another Boo shawl, Dragonfly Wings, this time using a pale grey Shetland yarn. Technically, this worked out fine, but I now realise multicoloured beads are not the best way to draw the eye to a bead pattern. 

My last attempt at beading this border pattern intrigued my companion.
"Knitted yourself a merkin, have you, Beaut?  Planning to pole dance in a vajazzle G String?"
"I prefer to shake my thing in big pants, thank you, Elinor.  This is just the set up rows for Danse Macabre with a couple of extra increases to do the border pattern with one repeat only.  The white beads do show up well, but I'd never lace knit a whole shawl in black alpaca."

I rubbed my aching eyes and closed them, silently resolving that in future, I'd choose pale yarn in a solid colour and add deep, glossy beads.  Deep, dark times indeed, the dentist has forbidden me to put sugar in my tea, if I want to keep my teeth.  I was jolted out of my ghastly, gummy ruminations by Scarlatti, blaring from the speakers.  Elinor turned the volume up even higher.  Flinging the tiny shawl about her shoulders, she stamped her hooves and whirled into a wild fandango.
"Never mind the big pants, get your castanets out, Beaut.  No-one is too decrepit to Danse Macabre!" 


  1. ah yes, I have had similar problems with lace plus beads! but I love the name of the shawl and your choice of deep red! I always have the problem of finding beads for my yarn online as there are no bead shops close enough to check in person:( hit or miss at the best of times! is it possible to enlarge the shawl by adding to certain areas or would that be impossible with this pattern? I prefer really big shawls even if that means knitting endless rows (with endless beads:)...

    1. I think enlarging danse macabre would be way beyond my skills, each section has a different chart and the count between the markers changes during the sections. Knit in fingering weight on needles 1mm larger than specified, mine came out very big - the span was about 2m and the depth from back of neck to below backside. Just under the two balls of Fine Donegal, wouldn't have had enough to knit another row.