Spinster’s Corner • 7 : Spinning a Beaded Art Yarn

For the Spinster’s Corner this time, I decided to tackle one of the art yarn techniques illustrated in Symeon North’s book Get Spun, which I have also reviewed for this edition.   I picked one of the add-on techniques, and decided to create a beaded yarn.

Knowing that the base of this yarn was going to be a singles yarn, I decided to pick something with a fairly long staple length so that it would be able to stand up on it’s own without worries of breakage when the beads were added.  I selected a 4-ounce braid of Funky Carolina Bluefaced Leicester and silk in the “Snow on Cedars” colorway.  To go with this, I selected a bronze-colored rayon thread, and a container of mixed green and bronze beads (size 8/0, a 35-gram container) from the Bead Wrangler shop.

I spun the BFL/silk singles using a worsted/inchworm technique, keeping the yarn smoothed down with my forward hand and adding enough twist to make a firm singles, but not so much as to overtwist them.   I then threaded the beads onto my rayon thread using a thin beading needle.  I wasn’t sure how many beads I would need, but I decided “a lot” was going to be necessary, so I put somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of the 35-gram container on the thread.

The next step was to ply the thread and my singles together.  I placed the bobbin holding the singles onto my lazy kate and placed the spool of thread on there as well.  I plied the two together, and found that I needed to keep the thread at a slight angle to the singles to allow it to wind around the much thicker singles more evenly.   I spun the two together without worrying about the beads for the first few yards, in order to secure them together.  (The book recommends tugging on the thread to be sure it’s firmly connected to the singles.  I had trouble in the first few inches getting them to stay together, so I finally wound up tying a knot in the end of the singles incorporating the two together.)

The next task was to start allowing the beads to run onto the rayon thread to be incorporated ino the twist.  This took a LOT of stopping and starting the wheel.  I found I needed to strike a balance between having enough beads held near the plying triangle and having too many, so the thread became weighted down and became too heavy to advance forward to be plyed.  Eventually, I got into a rhythm, where I would pull an arm’s length of the thread out, pull 10 to 15 beads up from where they were coiled around the thread bobbin, and then feed one at a time into the plying triangle.  I aimed for a bead about every 12 inches or so, but I didn’t worry too much about perfect placement.

I should mention that I chose to use The Hopper wheel from Spinolution for the plying task.  This wheel does not have an orifice and is geared specifically for art yarn spinning, and I had absolutely no problems with bobbin take-up or advancing the beaded yarn onto the bobbin.  I also wound up using fairly small beads, but if you decided to try this method with larger beads or other larger add-ons, I would test to be sure they will fit through your orifice if you are using a wheel with one.   Also, you may wish to be sure the add-ons are small/smooth enough that they will not snag on your hooks during take-up.  You could test this easily enough by running a sample of a yard or so along the hooks and hand-winding onto the bobbin before committing to spin a full 4-ounces.

I continued to methodically ply and add beads to my singles, and watched the bobbin fill up nicely.

I had about an ounce of singles left when I realized I was going to run out of beads on the rayon thread.  I knew I could break the thread and string more beads (which I did), but then I was unsure how to rejoin the thread, which is fairly fine and slick, back together without having a knot in it.  I tried a few different things, none of which really secured the ends together very well, and in the end, opted to overlap the thread by almost a yard and that seemed finally to do the trick.  I wasn’t completely happy with this method, however, as there is a section where the rayon thread is obviously doubled and looks very different from the rest of the yarn.  (This is one of those pesky details I wish the book had delved into in greater depth with a sort of trouble-shooting section).

At any rate, I finally got all of the singles plied with the beaded thread, and wound up with 336 yards of a heavy fingering/sportweight yarn. It sparkles wonderfully between the thread and the beads, and has a lovely drape and a soft hand.

Some things to keep in mind if you decide to try your own beaded yarn:

  • Use a base fiber with a fairly long staple length.  BFL, Falkland, Silk would all be good choices.  I think you could make this work with a merino/silk blend, but you’d need to add more twist to the singles.
  • The singles you spin need to have extra twist in them.  Even though I thought I had added enough, when I plied the singles with the thread, they untwisted a bit and were almost underspun.  Next time, I would add even more twist to the singles.
  • Thread a lot of beads onto your plying thread.  Then add some more, and more, and more than you think you need.  Then put on another hundred or so.  I used the entire 35-gram container for one skein of singles (4 oz of fiber), and I still wouldn’t call this yarn “heavily beaded”.
  • Be sure to check before you commit to putting all 4 ounces of singles onto a bobbin that your wheel is set up to accommodate the add-ons through the orifice.  Depending on what type of thread or yarn you use to ply with the singles, you may also wish to be sure they won’t snag on your hooks.  This wasn’t an issue with the slick rayon, but something like mohair or a Wensleydale with a lot of hairiness/halo might catch on the hooks.
  • Do consider the weight of your add-ons in hand with your plying/beading yarn.  I was sort of amazed to find out my 3.9 ounces of singles were 4.7 ounces plied.  Even with very fine rayon thread and “just” one container of beads, I increased the weight of the yarn by almost a full ounce.  If you wish to use heavier add-ons/larger beads, I would suggest going with a heavier-weight plying yarn or thread.

So, in summary, while this is a beautiful and interesting yarn (and one I can actually knit with!), this techinque takes a lot of time and patience.  If you are in the mood for a relaxing spin, this probably isn’t going to be it.  I can see a lot of possibilities for combining handpainted roving with gorgeous silk threads and beads,  or adding in other small items.  Shells from a beachcombing trip might be fun, or small Hill Tribes silver pieces would yield an interesting “souvenier” yarn from an overseas bazaar.  Use your imagination and experiment!