Loom beading pattern charts are typically grids of rectangles with colors or symbols that indicate which colors of beads to stitch in each row. When colored, they're a close representation of what your finished beadwork will look like. Here's how to read one.
Please click on any image in this tutorial for a full-size view.
1. Print or Render the Pattern
If your pattern is online or on your computer, you can either print it out (in color, for colored patterns) or bring it up on your computer or tablet screen. If you're using a pattern from a book or magazine, you can either follow the pattern as-is, or scan it and print out a copy. It's best to scan and print if you'd like to make marks on your pattern, to preserve your original source.
For this tutorial, I'm using the Moroccan Coral Bracelet Pattern opened up on my computer. (To do this yourself, you can download the PDF version from the pattern page and open it with a free version of Adobe Reader.)
2. Gather and Arrange Your Beads
Obtain the colors of beads listed for the pattern, or select your own substitute colors. Most elaborate patterns use size 11/0 cylinder beads, such as Delicas or Tohos. The Moroccan Coral pattern suggests using Delicas, as you can tell because the bead I.D. numbers it lists begin with "DB."
In the example, I'm using ceramic condiment dishes (purchased at Cost Plus) to hold my four colors of beads. Alternatively, you can pour your beads out into separate piles on a beading mat. It's a good idea to arrange them in the order in which they're labeled in the pattern: the "A" beads first, the "B" beads second, and so on.
3. Isolate the First Row of the Pattern
Tip: Keep in mind that in loom beading, the thread is visible along the edges of the beadwork (unless you add beaded edging). Select a thread that either matches your beads or complements them.
Isolate the first row of the pattern by placing a sticky note, sheet of paper, or ruler directly below it. In many patterns, an asterisk or other symbol marks where you should begin. In the example, the first bead in the first row is marked with an asterisk. This means that you begin at the top and read the pattern top to bottom.
Note: If you'd prefer to read a top-down pattern from the bottom up, simply turn the pattern upside down.
In the photo on the left, I'm using a simulated yellow sticky note on my computer screen. You can stick a real sticky note on your computer or tablet screen instead. Note that I'm ignoring the chart on the right for now; it's just a continuation of the pattern.
4. Pick Up the Beads for the First Row
After tying your weft thread to the first warp thread (see How to Bead on a Basic Loom), pick up all of the beads for the first row with your needle. Typically, if you're right handed, you should read the pattern from left to right; and if you're left handed, you should read it from right to left.
In the example, you need to pick up 1A, 1B, 2A, 1C, 2A, 1B, 1A. (The sequence is the same whether you read the pattern from left to right or right to left, because this pattern in symmetrical.)
Tip: Most beaders develop a system that helps them pick up the right beads quickly. I tend to nickname the beads and call out each nickname in my mind as I go along. For the first row in this pattern, I described the sequence in my mind as "Dark, light, dark, dark, salmon, dark, dark, light, dark."
5. Stitch the First Row
Stitch the first row of beads on your loom. When you're finished, they should match the order of the beads in the first row of the pattern. Notice that with cylinder beads (and other small beads) you need to use your fingers to push the beads up a little harder between the warp threads than when you're using larger beads. Be especially careful to keep the needle above the warps as you pass through to complete each stitch.
6. Mark and Stitch the Second Row
Move your sticky note or other marker to just below the second row in the pattern. (Or just above it, for patterns that you read from the bottom up.) Pick up the beads for this row, reading the pattern from left to right, and stitch it on your loom above the first row.
When when you read a pattern from the top down, you still stitch your beads from bottom to top on the loom, as usual. You would simply turn the beadwork around to see it match the pattern chart.
7. Keep Stitching
Continue marking and stitching rows, one at a time, always reading the pattern in the same direction.
8. Start a New Weft Thread as Needed
When you have about six to eight inches of working thread left, weave the thread back into the beadwork. You do not need to make half hitch knots along the way, like you do at other times when weaving-in, because the beadwork should be dense enough to hold the thread in place.
Prepare a new length of thread and weave it into the beadwork, also without knots. Be sure to plan your thread path so that the new thread emerges in the same place (on the same side) where the old thread left off.
After stitching at least several more rows, you can go back and trim both thread tails close to the beadwork with beading scissors or a thread burner.
Click on the image on the left to see example thread paths for weaving-in, shown in blue.
9. Stitch the Rest of the Beadwork
If your pattern chart is broken up into two pieces (so that it fits on one page), move up to the top of the second column after you finish the first. Continue stitching until you reach the end of the pattern, or until you have the length of band that you need for your design.