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How to Bead Weave in the Bias

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  • How to Bead Weave in the Bias

    Note: Many thanks to Muskrat_skull who helped me edit...and Suzizila who almost forgave me for hijacking her thread.

    Bias bead weaving uses a process of interchanging warps and changing them one by one, into wefts. For those new to the weaving world, the warps are the stationary elements of weaving, and the wefts are the threads that interlock and move across the work.

    If you have ever done any finger weaving, you will recognize that the action is quite similar to simple finger weaving...with the addition of a bead with each stitch.

    Below are some examples of bead weaving in the bias. The first is a choker, the second is a garter and the third is a set of traditional hair ties.
    Attached Files
    Last edited by docat; 02-12-2013, 02:09 AM.

  • #2
    Throughout the years, bead weavers from many Indian nations used this method of beading. Museums contain many, many examples of these beautiful works. The weave can be made into chokers, garters, hair ties, bag handle strips, strips that are wrapped around cradle visors, sashes...

    Recently, I saw the picture of an Iowa chief (below). It inspired me to make a choker similar to his. I'm not sure of the colors used in his choker since it is a black and white photograph. I also photographed my rendition in black and white so that I could see how similar it is to his choker.
    Attached Files


    • #3
      The Religious and Folklore aspect of the Bias...

      My aunt first showed me how to make a choker when I was a teenager. She told me that there is great power in the process of doing the weave in the bias. When my aunt would work bias bead weave, she would pray for things hoped for, for safety, for good fortune, for successful endeavors. She instructed me to do the same.

      There is a great deal of folklore behind this weave and about the women who performed bead weaving. A girl, making her own choker, would be additionally instructed to pray that she would have a good husband and that he would be kind to her; she would pray for his success in providing food, for his intelligence, his wisdom, his position. Dreams would fill her head about her future husband and prayers for him.

      She is told that if her future husband would see this choker worn on her, that he would fulfill the prayers prayed into the weave of the choker.

      And with this secret, many prayers are woven into the fabric of the bias stitch.
      Attached Files


      • #4
        Bead Weaving in the Bias -- Materials -- part 1

        You need to assemble your supplies. The absolute essentials are beads and something to thread with. With so few commercial materials, women took horse hair and used it for threads for beading. Long hair ties would have had additional horse hair spliced in, an art that is apparently lost. No one seems to know how it was done.

        So today we can use long strands of thread.

        For this tutorial, we are using:

        *beeswax (or other wax, like a candle)
        *light duty tape (masking or painter's tape)
        *pencil and/or colored pencils
        *beads (even in size)
        *thread (quilting thread, thick thread or 2 embroidery strands)

        For thread, I like cotton hand quilting thread, thicker is's good if it is a snug fit when you slide the beads on. The reason a snug fit is good is because the bead actually locks into place when you weave it.

        WARNING: Don't use beading thread like Nymo or anything that has memory and comes off in curls. It WILL tangle badly. Regular sewing thread is preferable to coiled beading thread, the thicker the better, and that's why I like the hand quilting thread.

        Color is important because it will show through. Traditionally, since bead workers used horsehair, I select either black or an ecru color that looks antique-like. For some reason, white is too bright; it can make the beads look dingy.

        A needle is not essential if you are really good about getting the thread through the hole, but for most of us, we need a needle. The eye will have to be large enough to accept a double portion of thread and still be thin enough to go through the bead. I use a collapsible eye needle that they sell next to the beads in the craft store. But that is my personal preference. Many regular needles will work just fine.
        Last edited by docat; 02-12-2013, 02:02 AM.


        • #5
          Charting your Pattern --part 2

          I like to use a beading chart to plot my pattern because beading on the bias can fool your eye. I use my loom beading grid and put stair steps in so that I can use it on the bias.

          You may download and copy the grid (picture 1) if you like as it is one I made and doesn't have a copyright (surprisingly, some people copyright their grids). If you don't want to use colored pencils, you can use a symbol, such as a check mark, X, O...anything so that you can see your design emerge.

          In the second picture, I show what the grid in the top of the choker looks like in the design shown. (Note, my aunt taught me to bead a choker upside down. The reason is that there will be more "give" to the tension at the end of a row, and that is the part of the neck that is thicker). If we isolate the top of the design for our example, we see on the grid that it is 10 beads for each row.

          The third picture is the sample we are going to weave by itself.

          The pattern repeats in my example, so I have charted as far as I need to go.
          Attached Files


          • #6
            Cutting the threads to make the warps - part 3

            Decide on how long your finished piece will be, so you can cut your thread. If you make your warps too long, no big deal. If they are too short, it's a real big deal. Err on the side of too long if you aren't sure.

            Use this formula...on a small piece, like a bracelet, measure the length you want times 3 plus six inches.

            For something choker sized, measure the size you want times 3 plus 12 inches.

            For something very long like traditional hair ties (these go from the pony tail almost to the floor), measure 12 feet plus 8 inches. For a taller girl, 13 feet plus 8 inches. (Please don't attempt hair ties until practiced.)


            Cut the same number of threads as beads in the row. For the sample we are going to bead, there are 10 beads in the row. So we cut 10 threads to the proper size.

            Then you take one thread and tie it together with a loose square knot to make a loop, leaving 2-3 inches of tails behind each end. Then do this with the other 9 threads as well. I now have 10 loops; the tails are for finishing later when you untie your loops.

            Then secure each knot of the thread under the clip in your clipboard, fairly close together (about a bead's width or so). Straighten the rest of each loop on the board, keeping the two strands close together. You can slide the threads around some if you need to when you put in your first row by lifting the clip a little and adjusting. You want the warps distinct though, remembering that one 2-strand loop is really one thread.

            Then, one by one, place the knotted heads under the clip on the clipboard.

            Once you have that set up, you are ready to start loading on the beads! You will be loading each 2-strand loop as though it is one strand.

            In the next part, we will follow the pattern and weave on the bias. We will use yarn instead of thread and big pony beads instead of seed beads. A yarn needle will take the place of a regular one. This is so you can more easily see the weaving better. So while you view, think of what this would be like with your seed beads.

            Picture 1 is again the sample we are going to bead. It is a repeating pattern, so this is all we need to chart. Picture 2 is a yarn sample of what the loop looks like, ready to become a warp thread!
            Attached Files


            • #7
              Weaving the Beads - part 4

              The sample is 10 beads wide, so you have the 10 warped threads sitting under your clip on your clip board.

              Notice the yarn in the pictures has "memory" in it, and it is remembering what it was like inside the skein! This is okay for the example, but not ideal when you are working with longer threads, which can tangle. Your waxed threads will lie flat, not crinkled like this yarn.

              For right handed people, put the clipboard on your lap with the clip on your left side. Take the warp loop closest to you (which has now become the weft) and place on it 10 beads at the end of the loop. If following the chart, load 1 white bead, 8 red beads and 1 white bead for the first row.
              Attached Files


              • #8
                Row One --part 5

                After loading, slide the first bead that you had strung all the way to the clipboard (picture 1).

                Then SPLIT OPEN the loop that has the beads on it and pull that next warp all the way through where you opened it up (picture 2), pull it snug and then send another bead down the warp to lock into place (picture 3).

                Then open the loop with the beads again and pull the next warp all the way through, make it snug and then send another bead down to lock it into place....all the way to the end of the row. At the end, pull everything together tight.

                At the end of the row, place a small piece of masking or painter's tape (nothing too sticky) to hold the tension of the last thread. Put it snug against the bead, holding the last thread down on the board.

                That is the end of the first row.
                Attached Files


                • #9

                  Attached Files


                  • #10
                    Row Two and Beyond - part 6

                    Row 2, Take the closest warp loop to me and load 1 white, 3 red, 4 yellow, 1 red and 1 white on this warp loop (picture 1).

                    Send one bead down to start the row (picture 2).

                    Then again open the beaded loop and take the nearest loop warp and send it in between the beaded loop threads. Then send a bead down to lock the weave in place.

                    At the end of the row (picture 3), take the piece of tape off the first row that nicely held the tension, and send that thread through the beaded loop, and then lock the last bead into place. Now pull tight to pull the thread's tension through to the end, and then replace the tape to hold THIS new last bead's thread.

                    Row 3, Load 1 white bead, 2 red, 4 yellow, 2 red, and 1 white.

                    Follow the same directions as in Row 2, following the pattern
                    Attached Files


                    • #11
                      Finishing - part 7

                      There are several ways to finish a piece, and you certainly don't have to limit yourself to these!

                      For many pieces, you can simply untie the loop knots and splice in yarn or other colorful threads and braid them into nice tails; the same can be done for the loop ends of the piece. Garters are often finished this way, sometimes with wool pompoms added for additional action for dancing.

                      Hair ties often finish by adding short, pretty ribbons and/or coins.

                      A common finish for chokers is to take the untied threads from the beginning and thread each thread end through small holes in a leather oval the same height as the bead work, retying the knots on the inside and folding the oval over a thong and stitching all into place. You cut the threads on the loop side and follow the same method for that end.. This is seen in Picture 1 and 2.

                      Sometimes, pony beads were added and bits of shell at the end of a thong's tail. (Picture 2).

                      To make an arrow shaped finish (or beginning), when you untie your knots, remove some of the beads to make an arrow point. Remember that arrow points require an odd number of beads in a row to become symmetrical. (See picture 3). And then braid and splice in additional threads if needed to make a longer tail.
                      Attached Files


                      • #12
                        An Observation and Tips

                        Notice on the edge of your work that a natural edging develops! That means you don't have to go back and add an edging as in loom work.


                        1. Keep your threads from tangling by working low to the board, separate tanglers by fingernail, and slide them on the board. There will be less tangling that way. Using sewing thread instead of beading thread makes a big difference. You don't want curly warps.

                        2. Keep the work tight, but flat to the board. Tension ends up a bit looser at the end of rows, so tighten at the end of each row by pulling tight, and place that tape really close to the last locking bead.

                        3. If you get several inches down your clipboard and you find that you would like more room and it to be tighter at the place you are weaving, open your clip on your clipboard and then tape the knotted threads on both sides to hold secure. And remove it from the board.

                        Then turn your clipboard upside down so the clip is touching your lap and roll the beading you already have done and then tape close to the edge and continue on, weaving on the back of your clipboard. You can keep adding to this roll and make very long pieces this way.

                        This makes the tension easier to keep. Then as always, a small piece of tape to hold the last bead and continue toward the end.

                        4. For really long projects, such as traditional hair ties (which fetch a big price if you ever sell them), many weavers weave from the center up and the center down because the long long warps can make the work difficult. They will load all the beads to go to the top and then work that way...

                        I have not yet attempted hair ties, but have plans to make them for my daughter very soon. I will take pix and keep you informed how that goes.

                        As you see, it isn't rocket science once you see how it goes. I had just picked it up again because the last time I had made something was when I was a teenager. So because it has been so long, I looked at books and was confused!

                        The directions were ALL backward, set up as though everyone were left handed...(and by the way if you are left handed, just do all that I said backwards.) It is as though the writers of these books did not do this work themselves but watched a left handed woman, and they all copied one another!

                        If you need more info, just leave a message on my board.

                        I hope this helps and that you enjoy weaving beads on the bias.


                        • #13
                          This is awesome, docat. Thanks! And I hope someone stickies this, at least for a while. I'm gonna need it!
                          Last edited by muskrat_skull; 02-12-2013, 11:21 PM. Reason: clarity


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by muskrat_skull View Post
                            This is awesome, docat. Thanks! And I hope someone stickies this, at least for a while. I'm gonna need it!

                            If no sticky, maybe shameless bumpy will work. LOL


                            • #15
                              I always like a challenge! So naturally I would choose a complicated project to learn on. i started a hair streamer (called paaxkee in Hochunk Winnebago). Learned from an article in an old Threads magazine by Sally Gauthier. Doubt I will finish it because I own 3 other examples of these. Haha, I also made ONE earring with this same technique. Bias weaving is time consuming but the result is fabulous, like none other.
                              thanks for the tutorial!


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