Often found in the kids craft section, perler beads are those tiny plastic rings of colour that can be arranged on a pegboard and ironed/fused together to make 2- and 3-D crafts. 2-D perler images often look pixelated, making perler beads great for reproducing animated characters and video game sprites. The model of bead arrangement on a plastic pegboard was invented and patented by Swede Gunnar Knutsson in the early 1960s as a form of therapy and recreation for the elderly – interesting origins of what is now typically considered (or dismissed as) a ‘grade-school’ craft. This medium is not to be underestimated! It’s very, very versatile – a kind of hands on and analog version of pixel art that can be used to make complex and stunning works. Crafters have pushed perler design past the 2-D pegboard to render 3-D baskets, bowls, trays, and ornaments. Some unexpected and beautiful examples of plastic bead-dom to try for home decor can be found here.
I have been on a perler bead kick since getting my first kit (beads, pegboards and ironing paper) on a whim a few months ago, using the beads to make small gifts here and there. I find the activity absorbing and calming – a bit reminiscent of playing with Lego, Lite Brite or other colourful, modular, pegg-y toys as a kid, and a bit similar to the craft of cross-stitch in arranging small blocks of colour on a grid-like plane. Dropping the tiny beads individually onto the pegboard takes, depending on the size of the project, a little patience, a little dexterity, and some care not to knock the still tenuously-lying beads over. Until I fuse my project, it’s about nimble and loving fingers – a feature of my favourite art and craft media.
The trick to fusing the beads once the pattern has been arranged is evenly distributing heat across the work with an iron. Too little heat and the work crumbles apart; too much, and the work looks melty and/or unevenly flattened. Working small, I’m still honing my ironing skills! (I learned all I needed to know online. Thanks, Youtube).
More bead projects to come.
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