beading history

I had come across 19th century beaded bags in museums and antique fairs and was fascinated by their apparent intricacy and was wanted to know more. When a call-for-papers came for the University of Southampton’s 4th  In the Loop conference in Glasgow in 2015, I decided a small research project on the history of bead knitting would be just the chance!

My research took me to the V&A’s Clothworkers department, as well as the Knitting and Crochet Guild in Holmfirth, and online sleuthing came up with some interesting finds.

I haven’t had my paper published yet, but to sum up briefly – knitted bags using ‘close-knit beading’ – i.e. a bead on each stitch – seem to have been produced from about 1800 onwards. The bead pattern is often pictorial and would have required the beads to have been threaded onto the yarn in the correct sequence, which must have taken hours! But that’s only the half of it. The bags were then knitted using really fine needles and yarn, so would have taken ages to knit.

There are many wonderful examples on this website, and I’ve found this video of a modern knitter replicating the technique.

The Knitting and Crochet Guild have several interesting examples of bead knitting in their archive.

Photos: Jennie Atkinson