Thursday, January 10, 2013

Beadweaving Terms Explained or How to Read a Beadweaving Pattern

I've had a couple of my wonderful customers e-mailing me asking me questions about some of the terminology in my bead weaving patterns and also some general questions about bead weaving and following patterns, mine or otherwise.
I think bead weaving can be very therapeutic and relaxing if you've got a good base to stand on and you can jump into a good pattern with a strong knowledge of the basics. This allows you to relax and enjoy learning on a higher difficulty level and it allows you to challenge your creativity without getting frustrated over the basics as you work.
I've learned some of this information from the myriad of bead weaving books that I purchased a few years ago, some of it has been trial and error, and then the rest of it was me doing active research to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
I hope this information helps you if you're just starting out bead weaving, or if you're a seasoned teacher who sees the students with knowledge gaps when they arrive in class.
Bead weaving Terms:
- pass through - this means to move the needle in the same direction that the beads have been strung. So, for example, if a pattern tells you to "String 2 beads and then pass through the 2 beads that you've just strung." then your thread path will look like this below:
- pass back through - this means to move the needle in the opposite direction that the beads have been strung. This is extremely useful for fringe as seen below, I've passed through the two red beads, added a blue and then passed back through the two reds. 

- cull - This means to go through your beads, choosing beads that are most similar in size and culling (or eliminating) beads that are not uniform. I'm a "cull-as-I-go", which means, I'll pour out my beads and as I'm working, I'll use my needle to find beads that are similar in size. 
It's important as you bead that you're not just sticking your needle in the pile and coming up with a bead, I can assure that they won't be uniform, and your pattern will turn out wonky. 
If you've never culled before, take a minute to pour out your bead tube (pick a size you like) onto your mat and just use your needle to rake through the beads, you'll really be able to get a feel for which beads are usable and uniform and which aren't. 

- following a key Here's an example of a list of materials from one of my patterns: 

13 Fire-polished Czech Glass Tanzanite 4mm Round Beads
18 Light Pink Quartz 4mm Rounds
1g Turquoise Toho Treasure Cylinder Beads Size 11 (A)
2g Transparent Matte Light Amethyst Round Japanese Seed Beads Size 11 (B)
1g Transparent Matte Soft Pink Czech Seed Beads Size 11 (C)

There are a few things going on in this list: 
1. Items are listed in the order they are used. Meaning, if you like to lay out your beads, you can start creating an assembly line with your beads laid out in this order. 
2. The letter in parenthesis is used to denote within the pattern what beads you are working with. So..."String 2A and pass through...." means that you'll pick up two of the turquoise toho beads on your needle. This is the "key" to the materials list.
3. Pay attention to bead type. It's not just for fun that I've used three different types of beads here. (Toho treasure, Japanese, and Czech seeds). These beads have slight variations in shape and size that make them ideal for the job that they've been assigned. Don't try to substitute! (Well, at least not the first time you work the pattern...I've been known to fudge, but shhhh! don't tell anyone!) 

You can also do this to help you follow a key if you'd like: (This is a very high level of anal retentiveness I know, however, if you're following a pattern with a lot of colors or types of beads, this can be oh so helpful.) 

- "round" vs. "row" vs. "step" - okay, there is no hard and fast for this and this is the kind of information that I think is more relevant to someone writing or editing bead patterns, but it might help you when you see it to know what kind of work you'll be doing. 
Generally, when instructions are written in "rounds", you'll be working the needle clockwise (or counter-clockwise), but it doesn't necessarily mean it's a round shape. My instructions for Bollywood Bling are written in rounds because it starts out with a circle as the base even though the finished project doesn't look anything like a circle. 
"Rows" are usually for projects worked back and forth like a peyote bracelet or herringbone cuff. 
 "Steps" is usually reserved for stringing projects or the finishing portion of a beadwoven project, though I've been known to use Steps in my tutorials when it just didn't feel right to work in rows or rounds. 

- conditioning your thread - Beaders use a myriad of threads depending on the project. My go-to is Nymo. A good thick nymo, like a Size D. I keep a large spool of it for bead embroidery and bead weaving and rarely pick up my fireline. That said, your thread will need to be conditioned before you start using it. (I have read about 10 different opinions on conditioning thread and if what I'm about to tell you has never worked for you, then by all means, DON'T CHANGE!) You have to feel comfortable working with your thread whatever it is. 
Here's what I do: regardless of whether I'm working with Nymo, Fireline, or Wildfire, I'll cut my thread and then give it a bit of a tug end to end to get out a bit of the elasticity. If it's Nymo, I run it through Thread Heaven, if not, I leave it alone. I tried conditioning Fireline once, I didn't like it, so I don't do it.

Okay, I could go on and on all day on different aspects of bead weaving, but I think that what I've given you here will help you follow a well-written bead weaving project.
When I write my projects, I try to follow the format laid out in the most popular beadweaving magazines. I include illustrations and photos to make sure that you know what you're doing. 

Here is an example of one of the illustrations from my Perfect Geometry Cuff.
The black dot shows the bead that your thread will be exiting when you finish the last round, the opaque beads are the ones that you will be instructed to add, and the transparent beads are those from the last round. (Notice: "round", so this one is worked clockwise).

The last thing that I would suggest to you if you get confused working a project, is to contact the author. All of my customers have my e-mail address or they know my Etsy shop and a quick convo or e-mail usually clears up any confusions or frustrations that they may have. 
If you're working from a magazine, at the end of each project there should be a little blurb about the author so that you can locate their e-mail address for any help you might need working the pattern. 

I hope that most importantly you have fun! 
I really have been enjoying so much branching out into metalwork, but there will always be a special place in my heart for those tiny little beadies and I think any beadweaver will agree with me....they are addictive! 

Enjoy your Thursday!


  1. Hi.... thanks a lot for the great tutorial...!!! I love it..Happy New Year

  2. Excellent and very informative blog post!

  3. Wonderful post...wish I had this when I first started out!

  4. Thank you; wonderful info

  5. Thank you Marcie...this is a wonderful article!

  6. I have used Nymo in the past but now generally use fireline. I use beeswax to condition my thread and continue to use it on the fireline. The benefit of using beeswax is that it lessens the tangling. Thought this might give a bit of insight from someone who does condition fireline.

  7. What an amazing post!!! I love that you explained it like this! I wish I had this information when I first started so you can be sure I will be sharing it with anyone starting out!!! Marcie you are the BOMB!!!