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Knit One, Bead One

I believe the first thing I ever knitted was a copy of some pieces of a knitted Father Christmas my Mum had made for me. It was whilst playing with him after Christmas that my interest was first captured – about his beard and how it was made, and “Will you show me how, Mum?”

And so my passion for knitting was born – with a Father Christmas beard! Why passion persists and develops after the first knotty and holey attempts, not to mention the frustrations of too tight knitting and countless dropped stitches, is impossible to understand. But for some of us, it does gel and stick like super-glue – for which any dedicated knitter is eternally grateful.

Probably, my knitting ‘career’ progressed at a relatively slow rate – until our three children started arriving and their needs sped my knitting output up to previously unknown levels. And not only the output had to speed up, but also completion times – children do keep growing – usually faster than you can predict.

Some years before our family expanded, at a time of my life where I had many quiet evening hours to spare, when we lived in the country, with little and quite often no TV reception, I taught myself to crochet. I remember it being a painstaking and extremely frustrating pursuit, but I was determined. I had seen so many appealing and beautiful items produced by my mother, in particular. At this time, we lived in another State of Australia, over a thousand miles distant – otherwise my loving Mum would have been a most willing teacher.

The interesting result of my ‘self-taught from books’ approach, was that I knew all the stitch names and could read a pattern – whilst my Mum could study an actual pattern and experiment and work out how to duplicate it – with no pattern-reading ability. Together, we made a formidable team… able to work out many intricate ‘crochetings’.

And so Life rolled on, as it does, and somewhere within the scope of refilling the empty nest after the ‘chicks’ had vacated it, I discovered beading… and a new passion. A friend was producing some exquisite creations in some of the oldest beading stitches known to Man – Ladder and Brick and Square stitch, Peyote and Ndebele… even the names are tricky!

Oh-h-h, I wanted to do this SO badly. I invested in some great beading books, to once again teach myself – after all, I’d mastered crocheting this way – and also learned many complex knitting pattern variations in the same fashion. And this time, my friend was there to physically demonstrate the intricacies to me. No worries, I thought. Well… I thought wrong.

I tried. I genuinely tried -over and over again. For some strange reason, I just continued to get tied up in knots of deep frustration and aggravation with these beautiful beadwork stitches. Just when I was feeling at my lowest creative ebb, my friend showed me a different beadwork project she was working on – a beaded knitting brooch in the shape of a tiny purse. Now here was something I could embrace, with my love of knitting.

Despite what can only be described as ‘anorexic’ knitting needles (imagine the thickness of a darning needle!) – AND the questionable joys of threading innumerable beads firstly onto normal cotton sewing thread – and then transferring them to the actual beading thread. Now there’s just the questionable ‘pleasure’ of moving them along that thread for miles and miles! (well, that’s how it seemed, especially at first). Despite all this necessary preparation before the first stitches could begin, I was hopelessly addicted.

In what has seemed alarmingly short order (but has, in fact been over quite a few years now), my bead ‘stash’ has grown to almost match my yarn ‘stash’ (and keep in mind, that encompasses my beading yarn stash, as well as my pre-existing, vast ‘regular’ type knitting yarn stash… it’s a worry!). Mercifully, beads take up less space than yarn. Well-ll-ll, they’re meant to… the problem being that their need to be seen and found AND be separated from each other, requires them to be stored in a multitude of clear plastic containers. You guessed it, therein begins yet another ‘stash’.

There are round stackable containers in several sizes; clear plastic boxes that hold 5 stacks of 5 linked containers; others made up of individual compartments with a single lid; and larger stackables for some of my really large wooden beads. All of these containers are now housed on an ex-library book carousel, making the practicality of locating and accessing them a pleasure – whilst simultaneously enabling serious contemplation. That’s a must for a dreamer like me.

My ‘stash’ is such a drop in the ocean when you think of the endless variety of shapes, sizes, colours and styles of beads that exist. And most of mine are man-made, plus some wooden and metal ones – oh yes, and a few gemstones. It makes me dizzy, trying to imagine how many varieties exist today, including those from the past, in museums and private collections.

The first project I undertook was a small ‘purse’ brooch like my friend’s – the only pattern available to me at that time. It was quite a challenge in the beginning and progress seemed painfully slow to a seasoned knitter. All that counting – of stitches and of beads, too – and constantly moving vast numbers of beads along the yarn, seemed SO tedious. The saving grace was the beauty of this beaded creation – and the realisation that I was capable of producing such a treasure. As my learning curve progressed, many new vistas opened up to me, as I explored and experimented with the extraordinary array of beads and yarns.

Previously unsuspected skills have developed – like creating my own graph patterns for beading projects – and developing my own variations on the more traditional themes. The tiny beaded knit ‘purse’ brooch has evolved and grown into first a spectacle case, and then a mobile phone (or cell phone) case, a key ring holder, and a USB clip on identifier. And I make matching sets of all or any of these.

This craft brings great joy to the creator – but I must not mislead you with a ‘rose-tinted glasses’ view. In all honesty, there is angst too… in fact, much of it! You would not want to know the vocabulary I use when under the table, finding dropped beads… and you also would not believe the possible rolling distance of some of these little critters, and how many tiny seed beads can fit in the joins in polished floor boards. I already told you of the joys of moving beads along the length of the yarn and how often this needs doing. Can you imagine how many times great loops of beaded yarn wrap themselves around each other, in a bizarre ’embrace’? Diabolical, I say.

It is rare for me to wish to be at any other age or stage of my life, as I embrace the depths and the strengths that experience has shaped. But – it is difficult to see how I will be able to fulfill all that I dream and imagine. It can be both a blessing and a curse to have such a fertile ‘what if?’ brain, constantly envisaging something different or perhaps a variation on an old theme. Certainly it is a prime cause of my chronic insomnia.

To be honest, it’s only a curse until I look once again at my creations – and then I know for sure that I wouldn’t want my dreams or my skills any other way.


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