Bead weaving with a Cartoon

Although computers and graph paper are great tools for creating designs for bead weaving, there are other options. Designing an image to weave on a bead loom is not as daunting as it seems. If you look around your home, you will find the tools you need to create an inspired and unique design. Crayons, photographs, pastels for example, can hold the key to a great design. Any full-sized picture–tapestry weavers call such pictures “cartoons”–can be your muse.

This advice was gained through experience. As a tapestry weaver who wanted to experiment with bead weaving, I was skeptical whether beads could convey a sense of color and texture the way fibers can. Fiber absorbs light and beads reflect light. Fiber is soft and beads are hard. I was could make my own yarn through spinning and dyeing, but there was no way I was going to make my own seed beads. To get a real idea of the difference in these two mediums, I decided to create a bead weaving based on a photograph of a plate holding pears and peaches, the same photograph I had once used to create a tapestry weaving. I warped my loom to correspond exactly in size to the photograph turned on its side. I pored through my bead stash and found fifty tubes of size 11/0 seed beads whose colors could be found in that photograph.

Keeping in mind the method that tapestry weavers use, I placed the photograph behind the warp of my bead loom. I looked at the photograph and the edge that would be the first row of beads. Then I used my threaded needle to pick up beads that were the colors I saw. I didn’t think about the picture; I just thought about a the colors I was seeing in the first row. The first few rows were not very impressive, and it wasn’t until the tenth row that I began to see shapes emerging. Those little beads became the dots of color in a pointillist painting. Since the picture was on it’s side, I did not allow my concept of what a plate of peaches and pears should look like interfere with the beaded piece my hands were executing.

I used all fifty colors. Some rows contained twenty or more colors. Many colors were closely related, like the five shades of white. After I wove in the last row, I turned my loom on its side. Sure enough, there it was: the plate of peaches and pears in all its glory. I walked across the room to look at it. To my astonishment, the image was crystal clear from fifteen feet away. My understanding of pointillism deepened significantly in that moment. I had been watching the weaving progress from a distance of inches. That the weaving translated best from many feet away was astonishing to me. A four-by-five-inch bead weaving is small format, and yet the beads seemed to speak as loudly from a distance as they did from close up.

After realizing that the tapestry method of using a cartoon could also work for bead weaving, my whole outlook on bead weaving changed. I could use anything as a guide. To prove that this was possible, I quickly made a small abstract sketch with pastels using some very lively colors to contrast with the rather dull colors I had used for the plate of peaches and pears. I used about twenty colors of Delica beads for this weaving. The color areas in my pastel sketch were not distinct. Between a yellow and green there emerged a third and fourth color. By looking very carefully at the space between colors, however, I was able to find beads to match so that the emerging bead weaving had the same feel as the pastel drawing. As the weaving progressed, I was thrilled to discover that beads could capture such subtle blending of color. I realized that any image could be created with beads since beads are simply points of color. If carefully arranged, those points of color can add up to a perfectly shaded, blended, complex design.

You can take any image–from a slice of a picture you’ve taken to the latest crayon creation taped to your refrigerator–and turn it into a bead weaving. Try making a collage of family photographs or finding a picture of your flower. Use your digital camera to take a picture of pebbles or the bark on a tree. Anything can become a beautiful bead weaving because beads make everything beautiful. Tell yourself you are an artist today, and with beads in hand the sim0plest of tools, you can create a masterpiece.

Warning: make sure you use a great loom like the Mirrix!


One thought on “Bead weaving with a Cartoon

  1. Claudia,
    This is just what I needed! And, I'm sure I'm not alone.
    I purchased my Mirrix loom and BCP software with a vision of just the kind of projects you describe here. Yet, the “lines and columns” nature of warp and weft had me thinking only of rigid, geometric patterns. And the inability of RGB colors in software to represent actual beads had me despairing that I could do what I had originally hoped.
    You said, “Since the picture was on it's side, I did not allow my concept of what a plate of peaches and pears should look like interfere with the beaded piece my hands were executing. This is precisely the magic Betty Edwards used to set so many artists free in her “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (
    Thank you for this enlightening essay.
    Jim A

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