When you're new to beading, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the terms and annotations you see in beading tutorials and patterns. But with a little practice, they'll soon become old hat. Here's a look at the most common language used in step-by-step beading project instructions.
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Grams of Beads
Most beading tutorials begin with a list of the types, sizes, colors, shapes, and amounts of beads you need for the project. When it comes to amount, many small beads are sold by their weight in grams (often abbreviated "gr").
To determine how many beads to purchase, check the beads' packaging. It should be labeled by the number of grams of beads contained in each package.
Here's an example:
- A pattern calls for about 13 grams of size 11/0 green round seed beads.
- Your bead supplier sells those beads in flip-top containers that contain 25 grams each.
- 25 divided by 13 is roughly 2; therefore, the pattern will use approximately one half of one container of beads.
Bead I.D. Numbers
Bead I.D. numbers are the numbers assigned to beads by their manufacturers. They can help you find a bead of a particular size, shape, color, and finish. They're especially handy when you shop for seed beads online because you can run searches for particular bead I.D. numbers in a search engine or with your bead supplier's website search function.
Here's an example:
- You want to try the hexagon angle bracelet pattern, which calls for "about 322 size 8/0 Miyuki seed beads in black; 8-0401."
- You go to the Caravan Beads website and enter "8-0401" and "8-401" (separately) into the site's search box. The 8-401 version of the I.D. takes you to a results page with the beads you're looking for listed on top.
Tip: If you can't find beads with a particular I.D. number, don't panic. Select a similar color bead by the same manufacturer and with the same style, color, shape, and size as the beads described in the bead list.
Bead Key Identifiers
In many bead lists, the quantity and description of a type of bead is followed by a capital letter. Here's an example from a beaded ornament pattern:
- About seven grams of 3.4mm drop beads in gold-lined crystal; I.D. number DP-378 (A)
This letter serves to identify that bead in the pattern and throughout the tutorial. When a pattern includes a pattern chart, the Bead Key on that chart also uses the bead key identifiers. For an example, see the Turquoise Sand Bracelet Pattern.
"Prepare Your Needle and Thread"
The fist step in most beadweaving tutorials is to "prepare" your beading needle and beading thread. The steps you take to prepare your thread differ slightly depending on the type of beading thread you use.
Nylon beading thread, such as Nymo, needs to be cut with beading or embroidery scissors, pre-stretched, and conditioned. Bonded and woven threads, such as FireLine and PowerPro, should be cut with a hobby knife, razor blade, or children's craft scissors. They typically do not require pre-stretching or conditioning.
Needle and thread preparation also includes threading your beading needle. Your needle's position on the thread depends on whether you plan to perform single-strand beadweaving or double-strand beadweaving.
"Leave a Thread Tail"
This phrase is typically used near the beginning of a step-by-step tutorial. It refers to the amount of thread you leave protruding at the beginning of your beadwork. When a project asks you to leave a thread tail that is more than about six to eight inches long, it's usually because you'll go back to that tail later and use it to add loops or other beadwork later on.
Shorter thread tails are usually woven into the beadwork before you complete your project (see "Weave In" below).
"Picking up" refers to the process of placing a bead on your needle by spearing it with the needle. Pattern instructions often use "pick up" to indicate the quantity and order of beads you need to have on your thread to complete a stitch. Typically, you use your fingers to slide those beads down onto the thread after picking them up with the needle.
Number Letter Combinations
Number letter combinations are used in patterns to specify the type and quantity of a particular bead to pick up and stitch. The number part of the annotation is the quantity of beads, and the letter is the bead key identifier (see Bead Key Identifiers above).
For example, in the Hexagon Stitch Earrings Pattern, the instruction "pick up 3E" would mean that you need to pick up and stitch three olive green crystal bicone beads at one time.
When you need to pick up beads that do not share the same bead key identifier, the number letter combinations are presented in a string of annotations. Here's an example from the same pattern:
- Pick up the following six beads for the first loop of the first figure-eight: 1B, 1C, 1D, 1A, 1D, 1C.
This means that you should pick up one B bead, one C bead, one D bead, one A bead, one D bead, and another C bead -- in that specific order.
"Pull the Thread Taut"
Many tutorials direct you to pull the thread taut -- or pull it gently taut or tight -- after completing a stitch. This ensures proper thread tension throughout your beadwork and reduces the amount of thread that shows between beads.
To pull thread taut, grasp the needle and the folded-over portion of the thread (if you're doing single-strand beadweaving) between your finger and thumb and give it a few tugs while holding the beadwork with your other hand. It's a good idea to do this after every stitch, to keep consistent tension.
Tip: Overly tight thread tension causes beadwork to curl or buckle, and overly loose tension leaves it floppy and creates undesirable "holes" in the beadwork.
"Pass Through" or "Pass Back Through"
To pass through (or sew through) a bead means to stitch through it in the same direction that you stitched through it previously.
To pass back through (or sew back through) a bead means to stitch through it in the opposite direction that you stitched through it previously.
The diagrams on the left show a simplified thread path (in red) passing through and passing back through a blue bead. (Please click the image for a larger view.) In reality, you often pick up additional beads, or complete another stitch, before passing through (or back through) a previous bead.
To weave-in a thread means to use the needle to stitch through beadwork that you've already completed -- without stitching on any more beads. You weave-in to hide thread tails that no longer have a purpose, and to get started when you begin a new thread.
When you weave-in, always follow the path of the existing thread as much as you can; at minimum, avoid passing your needle between two beads that are not already linked by a stretch of thread. This helps to keep the thread you're weaving-in from showing between beads or pulling the beadwork out of alignment.
Also be careful not to pull the thread too tight as you weave it in, which can cause the beadwork to curl or warp.
Tip: When you weave-in with peyote stitch, it's fine to pass your needle diagonally through the beadwork.
"Weave In to End the Thread"
When you weave-in to end a thread, you weave through the beadwork until it is secure, and then trim it close to the surface of the beadwork. Unless your beadwork has relatively tight tension, you normally make one or more half-hitch knots over existing thread along the way.
To trim your thread with beading scissors, pull the thread taut where it emerges from the beadwork, and trim it before letting go. This encourages the thread to shrink back into the beadwork, where it remains hidden from view. As an alternative to scissors, you can use a thread burner to trim thread.