The Ultimate Guide to Bead Weaving Using the Shedding Device
It’s been a long time since I’ve woven a wide bead piece using the Mirrix shedding device. I decided it was time to try this method of bead weaving again and to write a blog post about it since we often get questions about this process. I am always telling people that the set up is more complicated, but the actual weaving of beads using a shedding device is much easier and quicker. I am happy to be reminded after weaving this piece that it really is easier!
I asked myself the following questions: Besides the more complicated setup, are there any drawbacks that would push someone to just skip the shedding device? Was the final product as nice as a product made without using the shedding device? Is it actually faster to weave beads using the shedding device when you are making a wider piece? I have all my pat answers to these questions but felt I needed to re-explore this old territory and to update my opinions. I can happily report that my experience using the shedding device to weave a wide bead piece was absolutely positive. I really can’t imagine weaving a wide bead piece without it. That might be slightly particular to me because I tend to miss sewing through beads when not using the shedding device. That can be corrected even after the piece is off the loom by sewing through the beads correctly off the loom. But that is so annoying. One of the best things about using the shedding device is that it is much more unlikely that you will make any weaving mistakes. I did notice when I took this piece off the loom that there was one place where about ten beads seemed to be floating on the back of the piece. Why? Because I weave beads in sections and that particular section did not go into the shed. Rather it went behind the warp threads. I was able to sew through those beads and correctly attach them to the warp. But on a piece this long one little mistake is not bad. Had I not used the shedding device, there would have been many, many more mistakes.
My idea for this piece was to use some drop-dead gorgeous gold plated beads and other versions of gold beads in size 10 Delicas and size 10 two cut beads. The two cut beads are slightly larger than the Delicas which I can see on this piece because I used the two cuts nearer to the top of the piece and the top of the piece is slightly wider than the bottom. Had I thought it through more thoroughly I would have more evenly spread those beads throughout the piece. To give the piece interest, I wove matte black and green beads in geometric shapes (mostly rectangles) throughout the piece. The result is very Klint like. I happen to love Klint’s work, so that I accidentally copied his style is not a surprise. I did not do it on purpose. You will not be shocked to learn I have a postcard of my favorite Klint painting pinned to my bulletin board. I think I look at it quite a lot and hence those colors are stuck in my brain.
This bead piece is actually quite free form so I didn’t have to worry about making any mistakes! I could just weave and play and look at all the lovely colors.
I wish I had timed myself when weaving this piece. I can tell you that it did not take as long as I thought it would. Because I was not following a fixed pattern there were fewer opportunities to make design mistakes. A couple of times I was not happy with the placement of the matte accent beads and had to remove a row and adjust my bead choices. But since the design concept was so simple, this clearly was not a frequent issue.
Before I dive into my process I do want to mention that if you have never used the shedding device for bead weaving before that you not start with a wide piece. Why? Well, set up is more complicated than when not using the shedding device because you put on twice as many warp threads (two in each dent) and you have to put the heddles on. While not at all difficult, if you make a mistake the loom will not be able to function properly or at all. If you are a newbie at this kind of set up and you make a mistake on a wide piece, the repair process can be a bit difficult. Therefore, I suggest starting with a very thin piece just to see what can go wrong and how the process works. You will thank me for this. The temptation to jump right in and make a billboard-sized piece is very alluring, but first make a one-inch wide piece so you can see how best to get the heddles on correctly, etc.
Let me show you the steps I took to weave and finish this piece now. I used a twelve dent warp coil on the top and the bottom. There is a Bottom Spring Kit on the bottom beam of this loom which allows me to put a spring there as well. Putting a coil on the bottom of the loom makes setting up the loom for bead weaving using the shedding device much easier. Since you have to isolate pairs of warp threads (there are two warp threads, not one, in each dent of your warp coil) the bottom spring is extremely helpful to keep everything organized and to sew in that first pesky row. If you don’t have the Bottom Spring Kit, you will need to weave two passes of warp thread isolating the warp pairs. In other words, weave under and over the pairs of warp theads in one direction. Wrap around the side beam and weave the thread back going over the pairs you went under and under the pairs you went over. Once you’ve sewn in the first row of beads, you can cut off that thread. After the first row, the bottom coil is also not necessary and can be removed at any time. I tend to remove it when I advance my weaving.
Need some help warping your loom? Go here for an excellent pdf on setting up the Mirrix Loom using the shedding device.
For your first row you need to sew in the beads in the same manner you sew in the beads for the alternative way to weave beads, which actually is not even weaving. It’s really sewing. Let me explain this to those of you who have never woven beads before. The most common way to “weave” beads is to string up some beads, stick them behind and in between the warp threads and sew through the tops of the beads to attach them to the warp. This is why I say it’s not actually weaving. But when you use the shedding device to weave beads you are actually weaving. You are raising half the threads so that you can weave the beads in between the raised and lowered threads. This space is called the shed. That is why we call the loom part that creates that shed the shedding device.
In order to sew in this first row this is to string up all the beads you will need for that row and with the shedding device in the neutral position, place the beads behind and in between the pairs of warp threads. Then push the beads to the top of the warp and sew through so that they are attached to the warp thread. You will have to sew this row in sections. Just be very careful that you are sewing above the warp thread so the bead actually gets attached to the warp. Yes, you have to sew in the first row. If you don’t you will not have a starting place. You need that first row in order to open the shed for the next row.
From now on and until your final row you will be using the shedding device to weave your beads.
There are two things I do not do when weaving beads using the shedding device: 1) I don’t string up all the beads for the entire row all at once; 2) As a result, I obviously don’t weave the whole row all at once. Since I was kind of winging the design in this piece, I also found that stringing up sections of beads allowed me to better gauge what I was doing. What I mean by this is: if you string up an entire row there is a better chance you will make a mistake. But if you string up small sections and then weave them, it’s much easier to get things right. At least for me it is.
String up a section of beads.
Engage the shedding device. Stick your needle in the shed and arrange the beads behind and in between the top layer of warp threads. The needle does not have to emerge next to the last bead. It can go past it. Push the beads down so they get caught in the V created where the two layers of warp threads meet.
String up some more beads. Re-enter the needle into the shed. Arrange the beads and tug on the thread so it goes all the way through the beads. Keep stringing and weaving until you’ve finished the row.
The images below show how you pull the non-working end of your thread so that you can grab the thread on both sides and tease the beads into place.
It is really as easy as it looks.
I make a habit of changing the shed as soon as I finish weaving a row. The way to determine whether or not you have changed there shed is to try to move the beads up. If they can’t move very far because of the crossed threads on top of them, you have changed the shed. If the beads easily move up, you have not changed the shed. But let’s say you are a space shot and start weaving a row without having changed the shed you will immediately see that you have not done so because the first bead will be flopping around because the weft thread (the thread your beads are on) will not wrap around the outside warp. It might be a good lesson to purposely start weaving a row without changing the shedding device to see how this looks so you can easily identify this mistake later.
This video below shows the weaving process.
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