What Does That Say? Understanding the Lingo of Seed Bead Patterns

When my sister and I were kids, we assisted my mom when it came time to type up the directions to her knit and crochet projects. We quickly grew accustomed to the abbreviations and terms used in her patterns. How grateful was I when I started working from seed bead patterns that I was already familiar with many of the same terms and abbreviations!

I've had my students tell me that reading a seed bead pattern for the first time can seem a little bit like trying to understand a foreign language or deciphering a complex mathematical equation. I share these tips with the students in my beginner's beading classes to help them navigate their favorite seed bead patterns:

Read the Whole Seed Bead Pattern Before You Begin! If you're embarking on a new beading project on your own, it can really pay off to take the time to read through the whole seed bead pattern before you begin. Even if you can't visualize each step in your  mind as you go, you'll still have a general idea of how the project is worked before you sit down to bead. Even just taking a minute to scan the instructions can help.

Sticky notes are great for keeping track of the beads for your current seed bead pattern.

Numbers and Letters: You'll notice when you read through the supply list that there is usually a letter in parentheses after each type of bead that you'll use in your seed bead pattern. These beads are referred to by their letter throughout the pattern for two reasons: it shortens the length of the pattern and it makes the seed bead pattern easier to read.

To keep track of the different beads in your seed bead pattern, write the letters down on small sticky notes or slips of paper and place them near the piles of beads on your bead mat or bead dish. I also like to use empty yogurt cup lids that have the letters written right on the lid using a permanent black marker.

Pass Back Through and Pass Through: These two terms cause more confusion than anything else in a seed bead pattern.

Tip: A pass through is what you do to string a stop bead.
A pass back through is what you do to add an end bead in beaded fringe.

When a seed bead pattern calls for you to "pass back through" a bead, you should make a u-turn and go through the bead in the same side from which you just exited. It might help to think about adding a terminal bead on a strand of fringe. You pick up your last bead, skip that last bead, and pass back through the bead before it, through the side from which you just exited.

To "pass through" a bead, all you have to do is enter the bead in the same direction a second time. Think about stringing a stop bead when you start a new thread for a beading project: You pick up the bead, and pass through it in the same direction a second time so that the thread wraps around the outside of the bead.

Step-up: When you get to the end of a round when working in a tubular beading stitch, the directions in your seed bead pattern will tell you to step up. To step up, all you have to do is pass your needle through the first bead of this round to get into position to start the next round.

Step-up is most commonly seen in seed bead patterns that use even-count tubular peyote stitch.

Pick Up or String? If you're a beginner beader, you will notice that some seed bead patterns call for you to pick up your beads and others call for you to string your beads. The students in my beginning classes always ask me: is there a difference between "picking up" and "stringing"?

There really is no difference between picking up a bead and stringing a bead when it comes to the directions in your seed bead patterns. Some designers and editors prefer to use one term or the other, but they both mean the same thing!

Are you ready to try beading some truly innovative seed bead patterns? Check out Rachel Nelson-Smith's Seed Bead Fusion: 18 Projects to Stitch, Wire and String. Rachel's cutting-edge seed bead patterns will have you creating jaw-dropping beaded jewelry and inspiring you to take chances with your own beaded jewelry designs.

And if you just can't wait to start working on Rachel's Ootheca Cuff (pictured at left), you don't have to: now you can download Seed Bead Fusion as a digital eBook! It's exactly the same as the printed book, except you get instant access to all of the wonderful seed bead patterns inside! Download your copy of Seed Bead Fusion instantly and dive into eighteen fresh beaded jewelry designs!

What are your tips and hints for reading and following seed bead patterns? Leave a comment and share your thoughts here on the Beading Daily blog!

Bead Happy,


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