How to write a beading tutorial
Ok, so you’ve created a great beading design and you want to share it with the world. Whether you plan to teach it in a class or sell it as a pattern or kit, you need to know how to write a beading tutorial for the project. I’m going to walk you through the process, offer you some great advice and share links to some really helpful resources that will help you along the way.
What is a beading tutorial?
This may sound like a ridiculous question, but actually if you understand what you are trying to do, it will make life a lot easier as you learn how to write a beading tutorial. Your tutorial is a set of instructions, but it is also a teacher. If you are selling it as a product on its own, with or without beads, it will be the only thing the beader has to enable them to make your project. If you are planning to teach the project yourself in a classroom, then you will also be on hand to help, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with a poorly written tutorial.
What needs to be included?
The simple answer to this question is: a set of written instructions that are accompanied by photos or diagrams. It is critical that you have both resources in the tutorial. Firstly, the basic rules of teaching tell us that everyone learns differently. Some people are good with words, so will learn well from written instructions. Some people are more pictorial, so will find it easier to understand diagrams. Everyone learns best by ‘doing’, so you need to make sure that the process of doing is as painless as possible for your student, or they will think twice about learning from you again.
Secondly, it is simply a fact that in beading some things are easier to explain in words and some things are easier to see in a diagram. It can be much easier to comprehend an image showing a complicated thread path, than trying to work your way through a set of instructions that reads something like, take your thread through the black bead you added two steps ago, then into the yellow bead from the last step, then pick up three beads and go through the yellow bead again, then pick up two red beads and go into the next blue bead!
Thirdly, using both words and pictures allows you to cover all the bases. You may forget to specify, or not specify clearly enough, which direction to pass through the bead, but if the reader has a diagram to follow as well, then this should be clear.
This may be stating the obvious, but you will also need to include a list of materials and a photo (or multiple photos showing different views) of the finished project.
How to write a beading tutorial, not an essay!
If you hated writing essays in school, then I have some good news for you. A beading tutorial may be a set of written instructions, but it is not an essay. You do not want your student to be facing a long page of words with occasional diagrams.
For beading tutorials, you need to think step-by-step. In a lot of cases the instructions will break down very neatly into describing each row of beadwork. Each step should be clearly labelled, so ‘Step 1: thread your needle, tie on a stop bead and then pick up 6 beads. This forms your first row. See diagram 1.’ I also believe that each step should have its own separate diagram, although there may be cases when this is superfluous.
If you think you are going to struggle to work out how to break your instructions into steps, then sit down with your beads and a piece of paper. Make the project as you would normally, but note each time you come to a natural break – this is really a natural step. The ideal step length will give the reader enough instructions to complete a small section of the project (this could be a row, or the repeat along a full side of a bracelet etc), but the step should not be so complicated that it becomes overwhelming. Think about how you work: most people like to read a step in full, then pick up their beads and carry out that instruction. So, if you are trying to describe six rows all with different thread paths, in one step, there is no way the reader will remember all that information. They will find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of trying to read and bead at the same time, all without losing their place in either the instructions or the beadwork. At the other end of the spectrum, it gets really annoying to read a pattern that is just adding 1 bead in each step – you will never get into the flow of beading and progress will feel frustratingly slow.
When you learned how to write essays, you probably learned how to format them into sentences and paragraphs. This helps to make the words comprehensible and to break the page into manageable areas. Formatting is also important when you are learning how to write a beading tutorial. You will want to begin each new step on a new line. It is a good idea to leave a blank line between steps so it is very clear where one step finishes and the next begins. Where you have labelled your instruction, ‘Step 1’, or whatever label you use, it can help to highlight this text in bold so that it stands out. Make sure that the diagrams are sitting next to their correct step so it is easy for the reader to see which diagram they should be following at this point.
Know your audience
The way you write a beading tutorial for a beginner may be quite different from the way you would write it for an advanced beader. So, think about who will be making your project. Of course you always want the instructions to be clear, but there is a difference between ‘clear’ and ‘patronisingly annoying’! If you have said that your project should only be attempted by advanced beaders, then you spend the first page describing how to thread your needle, defining what a stop bead is and so on, the reader is likely to become a little annoyed. There is then a tendency to skim through the instructions, thinking ‘I know all that’, looking for the interesting part that tells them how and when to add the beads. This attitude may result in the reader actually missing out on information that really is important to them. By all means, include some helpful tips as, however much experience we have, it is still interesting to hear other people’s tips, but you can safely assume that the advanced beader will have plenty of experience with the basics.
On the other hand, if you are selling your beading tutorial as a perfect project for beginners, then step 1 is ‘Bead ten rows of peyote using your red beads’, you will have one very confused beader. A beginner level pattern, I believe, should explain everything in detail. Imagine that you are teaching your reader in person, but remember that reader is not stupid, they just need things to be explained clearly. So, do not take it for granted that they will know how much thread to use, for example – you will need to specify that. Do not assume that they will automatically understand beading terms, like the difference between ‘pass through’ and ‘pass back through’ – by all means use the term, but then add something like ‘…so this means you will be moving your needle through the bead going in the direction of your clasp’.
Finding a Style
Chances are, you have read a lot of beading tutorials yourself and you will have noticed that every designer has their own personal style. Part of the aim in learning how to write a beading tutorial will be to find your style. By this, I mean, how will you write the instructions? Will you use short-hand, like PU for Pick Up? Will you write your bead types out in full or give them abbreviations?
When you are making these decisions, you need to think about the reader. How easy will it be for them to follow? If you use too many abbreviations, the instructions can read like a random script: ‘PU, 2B, PT, 1D’ for example. To the experienced beader, it may obviously mean ‘Pick up 2B beads, then pass through the next D bead’, but if you are writing for beginners, this amount of abbreviation may just be confusing. After all, they are already trying to learn how to work with beads, do they really need to learn a new language as well?
On the other hand, if you write out your bead types long-hand, it is time-consuming and I think can become confusing for a different reason. Compare these two versions of the same instruction: ‘Pick up 1 silver lined red size 8 seed bead and pass through the next two black Superduos, pick up 1 Superduo and pass through the next Superduo.’ Or, ‘Pick up 1(B) and pass through the next 2(D), pick up 1(D) and pass through the next (D).’ Just as I was saying with keeping your steps to a manageable length, the individual instructions need to be written in manageable sentences as well.
Whatever you decide, you must make sure that you explain your abbreviations at the start. If you are using letters or codes (for example SB11 for size 11 seed bead), then you need to make these clear. Maybe also encourage the reader to arrange their materials on their beading mat with labels so they can follow the instructions more easily as they work. Much of this is a matter of experience, but it is a good idea to think some of these things through when you start.
Page one of your tutorial should include a photo of the finished project, a list of all the materials and tools that the reader will need and maybe a short description to give them an idea of the level of skill required and the techniques they will be using.
If there are any special explanations required, for example explaining abbreviations, or maybe offering some general tips that will be helpful, then these can come next.
Then you move on to your step-by-step instructions. As you write the instructions, think about the level of detail you use and how you will split them into manageable steps. You also need to draw the diagrams to accompany your instructions. If you have never done this before, then I have written a book to show you how to use Powerpoint to draw beading diagrams. I chose Powerpoint because there is every chance that you will already have this software on your computer, so you do not need to invest in expensive design software. In the book I take you through everything in easy steps so you will learn how to set up a blank sheet for a diagram, how to add the title, then add individual beads, arrange them into the diagrams and add the thread paths. So, if you are new to writing beading tutorials, I really recommend this book to help you get started.
Once you have completed all the steps, you might like to include a gallery at the end, to show different views of the project and details of any areas that are complex. Remember, if you were teaching the project in class, your students would be able to pick up the actual sample to examine. If they are just using the paper tutorial, the gallery can be helpful to give them this type of experience as best you can.
That’s it, all done! I would advise saving the tutorial as a PDF file. This ensures that all the formatting will remain the same and it also means that if you send it out to someone they shouldn’t accidentally edit it (imagine accidentally deleting some steps from a tutorial you had just bought before you finished the project?!). So off you go…
Remember, if you need some help getting started with those diagrams, you can get my book here.