How to Design

I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach the issue of writing the book I have wanted to read, but which I have not yet found in print. Of course, attempting to tackle the problem makes the reason it has not yet been written, clear: I can teach a person how to design…but should I? Would that really do justice to their own vision?

I have been subject to many teachers (and people who would like to be teachers) who essentially tried to teach me to do what they do, best. However…I’m not them. What works for them may not work for me. Their approach is not my approach; we’re wholly different people with different skill sets, different experiences, different aesthetics, and different goals.

What I realize I can do is give some landmarks (and rabbit holes) that I’ve noticed on my journey to learn how to design for myself. A map will not determine your route or your destination: that is for you to decide. My goal in writing this, however, largely is and was to help a person find entry points into design, so that maybe — just, maybe — when any of us are at a loss as to what to do, we’ll have a list of approaches ready to try out.

Design is really fun, when you get into it. Right now (mid-May 2021), I’ve decided to ease off on pushing myself to perfect the designs I’m working on. I’ve been mostly at the computer recently, and am still waiting for full immunity where it comes to COVID-19. This has the possibility of being a transitional time…not the worst time to start a project (or to end one).

This page will be updated with links as I have the time and ability to assemble them.

Jumping-off Points

Form and Structure

  • Basic construction considerations
    • Modular
    • All-in-One-Pass
    • Embellished/Layered
  • What works?
    • See what fits/locks together
      • Then: what harmonious (alternately: clashing) color options can I find that work with this structure?
    • Try everything — even what you don’t think will work — you may be surprised at what you learn
      • It’s OK to abandon it (or even recycle it) once you’ve tried it
    • Happy accidents
    • Middle-of-the-night insight: keep paper and a writing instrument (and lamp) bedside
    • Try new bead shapes — figure out the colors later
      • Have on hand bead shapes you are attracted to and feel you might use — you don’t need many!
      • Utilize variety in bead shapes, sizes, and piercings — not just one shape and size in multiple colors (the latter will lock you in)
      • Remember, you can use beads themselves to make modular beaded beads
      • Sometimes you will need tiny, expensive, or off-sized beads to make a design work
    • Look at other artists’ works to see new innovations
      • Put your own spin on it
    • Try using materials in novel and unintended ways (e.g. a head pin as a rivet)
    • You never have to follow patterns
      • By doing so your success or failure is your own
      • Failure may teach you more than success; give yourself a lot of time to fail
      • Every pattern is established by more than one try (just going out on a limb, here…)
  • Micromacrame: start with a set number of cords (4, 6, 8, etc.) and see where it leads you
  • Micromacrame: start with an intention to focus on one type of knot (e.g. square knot, double half-hitch, lark’s head hitch, etc.)


  • In color:
    • Mythological/Legendary (e.g. Pele)
    • Spiritual (e.g. aura colors/synaesthesia)
    • Occult/Metaphysical (e.g. 7 of Cups)


  • Influence from Art Movements
    • Art Deco (angular, geometric forms)
    • Art Nouveau (swirly)
    • Victorian (e.g. lace)
    • Punk
  • Color (see also color dynamics)
    • Sample themes
      • Monochromatic: black, grey, silver
      • Brights: reds, oranges, yellows
      • Pastels
      • Twilight palette: blue, violet, magenta/pink, gold
      • Garden palette: green/floral
      • Autumn palette: browns, yellows, dull greens, gold/bronze, copper
      • Eutrophic palette: olives, browns, yellows, yellow-green
      • Citrus: citrine, lime, yellow-green, yellow-orange
      • Jewels: saturated, deep tones
    • Interesting juxtapositions found randomly while beads are in storage
    • One bead by itself looks very different than many beads against many

Established patterns

  • Starting with stitch
    • Through the bead, past the bead, between the beads, around the thread
    • Some stitches (e.g. Chevron Stitch, Netting) are very amenable to individual variation (given that the pattern is drawn out beforehand), while others are more difficult to customize
    • Consistent bead sizing matters much more for some stitches and techniques (e.g. flat Peyote Stitch) than others — and certain seed bead types (e.g. cylinders) are more consistent than others
    • Variable bead sizing offers options for more organic and sculptural shaping via increases and decreases — Czech seed beads in particular have more of this variation, requiring sorting
    • “Shoulders” of the beads are more consistently rounded in Czech beads than in Japanese, also allowing for more organic shaping (e.g. with Right-Angle Weave)

List of standard off-loom beadweaving stitches and techniques:

  • Daisy Chain
  • Square
  • Ladder (One-Needle)
    • Variation: Two-Needle Ladder
  • Brick
  • Peyote
    • Variation: Tubular Peyote
    • Variation: Cellini Spiral
    • Variation: Dutch Spiral
    • Variation: 2-Drop Peyote
    • Variation: 3-Drop Peyote
  • Spiral Rope
    • Variation: Flat Spiral
    • Variation: Double Spiral
  • Fringe

  • Herringbone
    • Variation: Tubular Herringbone
    • Variation: Twisted Herringbone
  • Netting/Ndebele
  • Chevron
  • Tri Stitch
    • Variation: Quad Stitch
  • St. Petersburg Chain
    • Variation: Double St. Pete Chain
  • Russian Spiral
  • Right-Angle Weave (RAW)
    • Variation: Cubic RAW
  • Chenille
  • African Helix
  • Oglala/Butterfly

Most original designs I’ve seen, use one or more of these stitches (or the logic of them) as a foundational framework. This is not an exhaustive list, but this much information is likely sufficient for now. Note that I haven’t included bead embroidery stitches here (distinct from beaded embroidery — beaded embroidery is embroidery which includes beads; bead embroidery is largely made up of beads, thread, and a backing). Bead embroidery can be used with off-loom beadweaving, but seems somewhat different from it. Nor have I included beaded micromacrame (which is also different), beaded lace, beaded knitting or crochet, wirework (which can include beads), soutache (which can include beads), etc. I may get into this, below.

Color (and Finish) Dynamics

Do I really want to get into this? I took a Color Dynamics class about 15 years ago, now. While I will say it helped me understand what I was doing, a lot of color work is essentially trial-and-error. People sometimes take photos — or find photos — that speak to them, and use those as foundations for color-matching in their desired medium. Some people also use tools such as color wheels in order to determine optimal spaces between hues they wish to use in their pieces.

In reality…these are partial solutions. If we’re talking about digital photos, color resolutions on screen and in print (at least with standard CMYK printing and RGB color space) are both narrower than what the human eye is theoretically capable of perceiving for itself. If we’re talking about color wheels, painter’s wheels do not take into account the special finishes, reflectivity, or fire (internal flashes) of any given bead, nor the differences between opaque, translucent (a.k.a “opaline,” a.k.a. “waxy”), and transparent colors. In addition, the hue and value (lightness or darkness) of what a bead is placed next to, will affect its perception in the eyes of a viewer.

This is why certain beads are strengthened (and sometimes mutually strengthening) when viewed next to similar, clearer colors (often in a lighter or darker value), and dulled when outside of color schemes which reinforce their underlying colors — this particularly happens with beads otherwise seen as, “brown,” but it’s noticeable with many beads and cords. In the right setting, for example, chartreuse (a vivid yellowish green) can almost glow. But this happens rarely, and that may account for chartreuse being seen as an “ugly” or “retro” color.

…I am speaking from experience here, in dealing (intentionally!) with “ugly” yellows and greens…the addition of some of which can be necessary to create a lifelike green hue in watercolors…but that’s an aside. As is the fact that overall color perception can be changed by optical mixing, which is a tool heavily used by the Impressionists (and which lends itself well to the discussion of beadwork).

If you look at Pantone colors, the person who generated the Pantone system took seriously the idea that people could percieve color subjectively — in different ways — over their entire lifetimes. Because language doesn’t allow for this, they may not be able to tell that their perception was any different from others’. He tried to figure out a way that each person could experience color harmony, even if the actual colors they perceived were idiosyncratic.

I don’t have the time or space as I’m working here to go into different bead finishes, or what makes a bead advance or recede in a pattern (but it’s all relative). It is a very long discussion — or series of discussions — or something to base your life around. If I get into it later (or I find a good discussion online), I will make sure to post the link(s) here.

Sizes, shapes, and brands of beads; national origin

  • Czechia
    • Preciosa/Preciosa Ornela/Jablonex
    • Czechmates
    • Les Perles Par Puca
    • Matura
  • Japan
    • Miyuki
    • Toho
    • Matsuno
  • China
    • Ming Tree
  • French
    • Eclats de Perles

What other skills can you add in?

for example:

  • Embroidery
  • Knitting, Crochet
  • Macrame
  • Tatting
  • Kumihimo
  • Maedeup
  • Soutache

  • Leatherwork
  • Polymer Clay
  • Wirework
  • Chainmaille
  • Silversmithing
  • Metal Clay (PMC)
  • Woodcarving

  • Lampwork
  • Filigree
  • Cloisonne
  • Enamel
  • Lapidary
  • Resin
  • Casting

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