Beads add a definite note of glamour to your knitting. In a few designs they're essential; in many they can be added to great effect. The exact nature of that effect is up to you… you can choose super sparkly beads that contrast with your yarn for maximum glitz, or go for a more subtle glimmer, as I've done in Haku. I love how these beads match the Babylonglegs yarn perfectly and just catch the light as you move. It feels exactly right for a dragon.
So how to do it?
First of course, choose your beads! With the huge range of beads available, this can be overwhelming. Stick with seed beads to start with – round glass beads, sold by size. For beaded knitting, be careful to buy beads that are large enough to draw your yarn and hook or needle (see below) through comfortably. If it's too tight, you will fray your yarn. Much like knitting needles, beads may be described with a size number, or a mm measurement – most actually use the number system, which is like a "beads per inch" gauge, with lower numbers meaning larger beads. As a rule of thumb, for beading laceweight, choose beads of size 8 or 7 (around 3mm or 3.5mm); for fingering, size 6 (4mm).
Then you have to get them onto your knitting! One option is to pre-string your beads – add them all to your yarn before you start. This is the only way to achieve certain effects, such as a jewellery-style long line of beads. But it's not ideal for typical lace knitting, because (1) you can't get the bead to sit exactly on a stitch (it sits either on just one leg of the stitch, or on yarn held in front of a slipped stitch), and (b) the yarn suffers a bit of wear from being constantly drawn through all those beads. Plus, wow, who wants to sit there threading hundreds of beads before you start knitting?!
Bead as you go: the crochet hook method
This method requires a beading tool to place each bead on the stitch as you come to it. You can use a very fine crochet hook (around 0.75mm-1mm) or a specialised tool such as the Fleegle Beader; either of these are used in the same way, as shown below. Unfortunately I've found they both tend to give the same trouble: if the hook is small enough to pass through the bead (with doubled yarn), it might be too small to catch the yarn neatly. A lot of beads then get discarded as too small. This could presumably be solved by using slightly larger beads! However, I've turned instead to using a sewing needle – scroll down for details of that method. It is more finicky, but saves me hassle, so I'm fine with that trade-off. But first, the hook, since it shows the principle.
Note: when working this way, technically you are placing the bead on the stitch below. My patterns are written assuming this method, so you needn't worry about placement. However, if you're following a pattern that gives the instruction "knit and bead" rather than "bead and knit", you might need to place the bead after knitting – i.e., on the right-hand needle. Same principle, just a bit more awkward for right-handers; you could try slipping the stitch back to the LH needle to bead it.
1. Place bead on your hook. (In practice, you'll probably want to load that hook up with as many beads as you can.)
2. Use the hook to lift the stitch to be beaded off the needle…
3.… and draw it through the bead.
4. Return the stitch to the lefthand needle and knit.
The sewing needle method
For this you need a regular sewing needle and either thread (a few strands of embroidery floss might be best) or dental floss, which is strong and less tangle-prone. I like using "superfloss" – lengths of puffy floss with a waxed end – because the puffy part holds the beads beautifully, while the waxy bit makes it easy to thread. Some people even use the superfloss without a needle (same method as described below), which might be a smidge faster, but the waxy end gets frayed and you'll need to keep replacing the floss. I don't like waste, so I use a needle.
1. Thread your sewing needle and string beads onto the floss or thread. Again, fill that thread up to the max! Then insert the needle into the stitch to be beaded.
2. Draw the thread around the back of the stitch, inserting the needle back into the bead…
3. …lift the stitch off the knitting needle, and slip the bead onto it.
5. Return the stitch to the lefthand needle…
6. …draw the sewing needle back through and out of the stitch. Work the stitch as instructed.