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Does Not Compute

“Do you sell your patterns?”


I’ve been asked this question a number of times. The answer . . . well, it’s a long story.


Many people—some bead designers and some not—sell patterns for bead weaving. Whether you use a loom or produce off-loom beadwork (brick stitch, peyote, etc.), you can find thousands of patterns online. Just pay up—usually anywhere from $3 to $15—and download a PDF of whatever catches your eye.


And you know what PDF means: The pattern has been created on a computer. What you get is an image of the finished product and a graph that specifies what bead (type, size, and color) goes in each tiny square. Each bead is represented by its SKU code. You also get a list of how many of each bead type you’ll need.


I should back up for a minute and admit that accessing a ready-made pattern has never appealed to me. I’m not putting down those who like it. I realize that many simply want to bead—not design. For me, however, the design process is one of the most rewarding parts of creating a piece. Working off of someone else’s design feels, to me, like painting by number.


The way computer patterning comes up for me (besides from individuals who want to buy one of my patterns) is whether I should create my patterns with beading software. I’ve always made my patterns by hand on seed-bead graph paper with teeny, tiny squares:

• First, I decide the size and shape of what I’m making.

• Next, I figure out how many beads per inch I’m working with and then draw the shape of the piece out on bead graph paper. (This is not actual size, since even the teensy squares are bigger than most of the beads I use.)

• When I start this whole process, I usually have a design idea in mind. And when I have the shape outlined, I sketch a picture within it—whether it’s free-form swirls or something more representational like a bird or mushroom.


• The sketching process is where I realize that I’ve been too ambitious for the space allowed, add/eliminate detail, or make some other revision.

• After brushing off mounds of eraser dust, I go over the lines of my sketch, turning the bends and curves into squares. Because although weaving tiny seed beads together creates the illusion of curves, it’s all squares on a grid.


• Now, I decide on colors, dragging out way more than I need and trying out different combinations. Especially with delica seed beads, there are so many variations in color and finish

that I have to see how they look together—usually on a giant needle—before making final selections.


• When I’ve chosen my beads, I then color my pattern, using a different color pencil for each type. Many of the pencil colors bear no relation to the bead colors; the pattern becomes hard to read if I pencil in a sky blue next to a robin’s egg next to royal blue, etc. So, each pattern has to include a key (pink = yellow; navy = dandelion; green = butter, etc.).


• Now, I’m ready to loom. As I follow the pattern, the colors that looked good together during the selection process often end up looking . . . unexpected . . . when they’re loomed together. So, it’s not unheard of for me to undo rows of beading and switch out colors. If the pattern becomes a mess, I end up drawing “insets” of particular sections to clarify my “revision.”


Wouldn’t a computer program help me simplify this process? Trust me—the thought has crossed my mind. A while back, I downloaded a free version of one particular software. It was before I created the Amanita Muscaria Tapestry, my first piece of beadwork meant to hang on a wall. I was working from a photograph that had lots of depth and shading. So, I felt a bit intimidated by the prospect of sketching it out and selecting all the subtle shade variations. With the software, I could upload the photograph and get a grid that not only outlined the mushroom but selected an exact shade of delica bead for each square.


So, I tried it. Uploading the photo was easy enough, but the result was horrible—too dark with few subtle variations. Now, maybe this was because you need to actually purchase the pro version to get true color assignments. Whatever. My brief experience was enough to put me off using a computer to create my patterns.


I love the tactile nature of sketching—and I love playing with color, surrounding myself in a myriad shades and finishes and narrowing them down to . . . well, usually less than twenty. If I let a computer do that for me, maybe it’ll go more quickly. But this is how I like to spend my time, and I think I’ll continue to luxuriate it in, thank you very much.



However, whenever a beader asks for one of my patterns, I always help her figure out how to reproduce the piece. So, never hesitate to ask. And who knows? If I ever decide that selling some of my patterns could be lucrative, I might use software to reproduce a pattern that I’ve already designed by hand.


I’d love some feedback on this—from those who have used the software and those in the business of selling patterns.


Of course, I haven’t mentioned my hesitancy to put my designs out there, making it easier for some rogue beader to mass produce. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog.


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