Preparing to Weave Beads

The first question you need to ask yourself when beginning to weave beads on a Mirrix Loom is this: Do I want to weave with the shedding device or without the shedding device?

If you’ve never woven beads on a loom before, we suggest starting with the regular “without the shedding device” method. This way of weaving is easy to do and will help you get used to your new loom! If you’re ready to move on to the shedding device method, we recommend beginning with a thin piece to get used to setting up the shedding device.

BELOW WE DISCUSS THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WEAVING WITH AND WITHOUT THE SHEDDING DEVICE:

When most people think of weaving beads they think of the most common method used today where you place the beads behind the warp threads and then sew through them over the top of the warp threads. On Mirrix Looms, we refer to this method as “weaving beads without the shedding device”. This way is actually not technically “weaving” beads because the definition of weaving is to go over and under a fixed set of warp threads.

Almost all bead looms you will find are geared to this very simple method of attaching beads to a fixed warp. The Mirrix Loom is the best loom for doing this because the most important quality of a bead loom is to provide even, tight tension so that you make sure to catch every bead when you sew through on the top.

But a Mirrix Loom also offers another method of weaving beads. This method we refer to as “weaving beads with the shedding device”

“But what is a shedding device?” you ask. The Mirrix shedding device was first designed to weave fiber tapestries. The device (which is connected to the warp threads with loops of string called heddles) lifts up half of your warp threads at a time to allow you to easily weave fiber without having to manually bring weft threads over and under the warp threads.

Weaving beads with the shedding device is done in a similar manner. The loom is warped with a double set of warp threads, each vertical thread being a part of a pair. One warp thread in each pair of two is lifted up by the device, so the beads can be placed between the two sets of warp threads.

Weaving beads in a manner similar to this (rather than the sewing-on-beads method) is not a new concept. 

“Heddle Looms” for weaving beads were at one point commonly employed by some Native Americans. This loom style is very similar to the rigid heddle looms so popular today for weaving cloth. The heddle itself was made of wood or bark and is used to hold the threads of the warp. Every other thread of the warp goes through a small hole, while the others go through a slot and can be moved up and down to provide a space for the weft threads which are strung with beads, to be passed through.

Floor looms were also used to weave beads. Have you ever seen one of those gorgeous beaded purses produced during the beginning of the last century?

Because of the way floor looms intended to weave cloth function, there would not  be a warp thread between every bead to hold it in place. Hence, between every row of woven beads on weft, there would  be a weft woven without beads to keep everything neat and tidy.

So how does weaving beads with the shedding device on a Mirrix compare to weaving beads without it?

Weaving beads using the shedding device is the method we have found works best when weaving wider pieces for a couple of reasons: it’s much faster because you only pass your beads once through the raised and lowered threads and you don’t risk missing sewing through a bead which is easy to do. The shedding device is engaged in either the lowered or raised position.

You take your weft thread with beads through the “shed” (the space between the lowered and raised threads), making sure each bead sits between the warp threads. When you “change the shed” the beads are locked in place. Because there are two threads next to every bead, there is no need to weave an empty weft thread to keep the piece stable.

These images show what it looks like to weave in a row with the shedding device:

weaving beads

weaving beads

 

Bead weaving without the shedding device provides one set of warp threads and two sets of weft threads for every row of beads. Bead weaving using the shedding device provides two sets of warp threads and one set of weft threads for every row of beads. So both methods provide the same number of threads just balanced differently. We believe the shedding device method provides more strength since the doubled warp threads actually support the weight of the piece. This is especially true for larger bead pieces you intend to hang on a wall.

The downside of weaving beads with the shedding device is that loom set-up is more complicatd than without. We recommend that your first piece with the shedding device be a thin one, so you can get the hang of putting on heddles.

Weaving beads without the shedding device is very easy to do. You simply warp (you can even use our Easy Warp method), string your beads, place them behind your warp threads, and sew through over the top. It is fast, simple and great for quick pieces.

These images show what it looks like to weave in a row without the shedding device:

weaving beads  weaving beads

CHOOSING YOUR MATERIALS

Once you’ve chosen the way you’ll weave your beads, you’ll want to choose your materials.

CHOOSING BEADS & OTHER SUPPLIES

There are so many beads to choose from because you can weave any kind or size of bead on the Mirrix loom. The variety of warp coils (the spring at the top, or maybe top and bottom, of your loom) available accommodates this large selection of possible beads that can be woven on a Mirrix. Even some of the new bead shapes like the Tilas can be woven on a Mirrix. You can also mix bead sizes and shapes. We find that when the beads we want to use are slightly different sizes it is best to alternate them both in a row and then again in the following row. It is like putting together a puzzle. One of our Affinity bracelets uses Tila beads and size 8/0 seed beads. The Tila beads take up twice the width of the seed beads, so we set the warp twice as far apart where the Tilas will be placed. We wove a row of six size 8/0 seed beads to begin, but the middle two seed beads did not have a warp between them so that for the next row we could weave two seed beads, one Tila bead, two seed beads. The next row was two seed beads, then you sew through the second Tila hole and then two more seed beads.

This just illustrates the fact that you can allow your beads to determine how your piece will be woven. There is a lot of room for experimentation. I think the habit with bead loom weaving in the past has been to rigidly stick to one size and one kind of bead using a variety of colors and finishes to create the pattern. We like that too. 

Speaking of Delicas, they and the equivalent Toho Treasure were designed for bead loom weaving. They provide a much more fluid surface than round seed beads and play with light differently because they are curved in only one direction (because they are cylinder shaped) and not rounded like regular seed beads which reflect light in a bunch of directions. The cylinder beads retain a sharper sense of color and shine and evenness. But that is not always your desired result. Sometimes the round seed beads are the right choice.

Most of the glass beads we use for bead loom weaving (and they tend to have a catchall name of seed bead even when they are not round) come from either Japan or the Czech Republic. The Japanese beads tend to be relatively more consistent in shape and size and one has to cull fewer. They are also more expensive with the Cylinders commanding the top price although this is also relative since their larger holes make them weigh less and hence you get more of them per gram. Czech beads tend to come in strands and hanks. The fact that they are not as regular can become a design element or a distraction depending on your perspective.

Besides the vast possibilities provided by glass beads, there are also crystals and stones that can be used in bead weaving. We like to combine crystals with our glass beads for certain projects. The same can be done with stones. Therefore, bead weaving on a loom is not much different from off-loom beadwork in that you can use and combine a huge selection of bead-like materials. And the Mirrix, because of its fabulous tension and overall fabulous design, provides the perfect work surface for these wonderful little points of light and color.

Our advice to you is: try every bead shape and size you can get your hands on. Mix them up. The great thing about bead weaving failures is you only waste a little thread. The beads can be ripped out and reused forever. Your time is never wasted because in that failure lives a huge lesson.

As far as thread, we love C-Lon D beading thread because it is specifically designed for use with beads. It doesn’t fray easily, it’s strong and it comes in many beautiful colors. Other people use Fireline. Any beading thread you have that is strong might work.

For other supplies and materials to get started, you’ll just need some basics like heddles (if you’re using the shedding device) a good beading needle (we love this Tulip needle), a sharp pair of scissors, a measuring tape, a bead mat or piece of cloth to set your beads on so they don’t roll around

CHOOSING YOUR WARP COIL

Depending on which beads you’re using, you’ll need to decide which warp coil to use (Note: You can also get away with not using a warp coil if you’re weaving a very thin piece or if you are using the No Warp-Ends Kit.)

To figure out which warp coil to use, place the beads you plan on weaving on a needle and measure an inch. Then, count how many beads are in that inch. The number of beads minus one is the warp coil that will be used. For example, if you are using 11/0 seed beads (not Delicas) you would find 15 are in one inch, so you would use the 14 dent coil. There is some leeway in this, and depending on the beads you are using, it might not work out perfectly (numerically), just close. Using a smaller (lower number) coil is better than using a larger (higher number) coil. You can also just use our cheat sheet, here.

If you are using different sized beads in the same piece across horizontally, you’ll need to factor that in when choosing your warp coil. Let’s say you want to weave a piece across with 11/0 seed beads but in the center of the piece, you want a vertical row of crystals. You’ll warp with the 14 dent coil, but in the center, where the crystal will go, you’ll want to skip some spaces in the warp coil when warping to allow enough room for the crystal to fit.

ONCE YOU’VE CHOSEN YOUR METHOD OF WEAVING, MATERIALS AND THE CORRECT WARP COIL (IF YOU’RE USING ONE) THEN YOU’RE READY TO GET WARPING!