How to Work with Multiple Bead Colors in French Beading

Bear with me, you guys, this is a long post with a lot of information. We’re going to take a look at the complex issue of shading patterns in French Beading. I’m only going to cover the basics here. We’ll go further into depth on different types of shading patterns later. 

One question I’ve gotten a lot of in my time as a French Beaded Flower designer, is how to use multiple bead colors with French Beading techniques. Most are expecting that you can pre-string the beads in a certain order and then just work from the spool as you can do with most techniques when you’re working with one color. But this is not the case!

French Beading is unlike bead weaving where the bead and color counts are exact and always the same for every person who works the pattern. Pre-stringing the beads onto the spool and working from the spool will result in beads falling in unwanted places in most cases. The only exception to this rule is the Continuous Loop technique. If you have a measurement or count for the colors in each loop, you can pre-load beads and work from the spool. The reason you can do this with CL is because there’s only one row of beads. All of the other techniques require you to cut bare working wire from the spool, then load beads as necessary for each row as you come to it. Let’s quickly talk about cutting working wire, because that can present a bit of an issue itself. 

Estimating and Cutting Working Wire

Some patterns will have instructions on how much working wire to cut to finish a component. If you see a measurement in a pattern, always cut your wire a little longer! This will help account for the differences in personal technique. 

But what about patterns that don’t have a wire length? At one point in my pattern publishing career I got very frustrated giving a wire length, because I’d always get emails from people complaining (some nicely, some not so much) that they used more or less wire. I let it get to me, so for a while I left them out of my patterns completely. In my recent patterns, I did start putting those wire lengths in, but please remember that you may use more or less than I, or any other designer used. 

In these next sections I’m going to share some tips on estimating wire length for some of the more common techniques when one isn’t given. This will also come in handy if you’re adding your own shading designs to a flower pattern that didn’t originally have one, or for developing your own designs. 

– Continuous Loops –

Continuous Loops have the easiest estimation process. If you have a measurement for the loop, add 1/4 inch to it. (This is a rough estimate for the spacing between loops and the wire used up while twisting the wires below. For my Metric friends, 1/4 inch is 6.35 mm.) Then multiply that number by how many loops are in the component. Add 6 inches for the beginning and ending tail wires, and that should get you pretty close. In this equation x = the loop measurement, and y = number of loops: 
Wire Length = (x+.25)*y + 6

You can divide the final wire length by 12 to get the foot length if you prefer to work in feet rather than inches.  This equation may change a bit if a pattern tells you to leave a specific amount of space between each loop. That measurement will need to be added inside the parenthesis, in addition to the 1/4 inch. 

If you are given a bead count for the loops, instead of a measurement, you will need to convert that to a measurement before estimating wire length. For size 11/0 round seed beads, there are approximately 18 beads in one strung inch (1 inch = 2.5 cm). 

If the unit requires reinforcement, which you can learn about in this video from my Beginner Course, you will need to add that wire in as well. 

– Continuous Crossover Loops –

The process is similar for CCL, except we need to add in that crossover row. The length of the crossover row will be similar enough to the length of the starting loop, so to get an estimate we multiply the starting loop measurement by 2 before adding in the .25 inch.  X=starting loop measurement, Y= number of petals. 
Wire length = (2X + .25)*Y + 6

Again, be sure to add in extra wire if you need to reinforce the unit. 

– Continuous Wraparound Loops –

Continuous Wraparound Loops are a little harder to estimate for if you want to use an equation, so I’ve never bothered coming up with one. However, you can still estimate the wire needed. CWL really shouldn’t be used for anything other than small flowers. Anything over 4 or maybe sometimes 5 rows, or anything with a long starting loop should just use a different technique.  CWL doesn’t provide an easy way for the tops of the loops to stay together, so they separate easily if they are too long or too wide. At 5 rows you need to lace each petal, so it’s better to just use a different technique, like Continuous Basic Frame.

So, if they’re all 3 or 4 row small petals with shorter starting loops, they probably won’t use more than 1 foot per petal. Even less if it’s only 2 rows. 

– Basic Frame –

Each consecutive row in a Basic Frame will require approximately 1/4 inch more wire than the row before it. So, set up the Basic Frame first, using whatever measurement is given in the pattern. 
If the BR = 5″ , then Row 2 = 5.25″, Row 3 = 5.5″, Row 4 = 5.75″, and Row 5 = 6″. 

Add all these measurements together, except the BR since the Basic Frame is already set up and that wire length is already accounted for. Then add 4 or 5 inches to that sum as an allowance for twisting the working wire into the  bottom wire, and a little bit of safety. 

Some shading patterns only happen in the outer rows of a Basic Frame. With continuous techniques, it doesn’t matter where the shading occurs, you will need to cut working wire at the start anyway since multiple petals are made on the same wire. However, with BF if the shading starts later in the component, you don’t need to cut working wire at the beginning. If the central part of the component is all one solid color, string those beads onto the spool and work from the spool up until the point where you switch colors. Then to estimate wire length, hold the piece in the palm of your hand, with your fingers making little “spokes” around the piece. Wrap working wire around your finger spokes as many times as necessary for the remaining rows. Add a few inches to the end, then cut the wire from the spool. (Photo 1)

Photo 1

Okay, now let’s get back to the actual shading issue. 

Shading Counts

I’ve already mentioned that counts may or may not be the same for everyone. But why does that happen? Our hands and brains all work a little differently. That’s why no one’s handwriting looks exactly like someone else’s, but it’s also why there’s a variance in French Beading technique from one person to the next. A slight change in the angle of the wrap, or tension on the beads will change how many beads are in a row, and how the beads line up, and you will therefore need to adjust the bead counts. It’s important for me to point out that the fluctuation is not due to “poor” technique, though that will certainly compound the shading count issue.

The fluctuation also happens due to the beads you use. French Beading patterns are usually written for a general 11/0 seed bead. This makes it easy for people in many countries to make the flowers, even if they don’t have access to the exact same beads. But not all brands of 11/0 seed beads are exactly the same height or width. There is also some fluctuation from one lot to the next even with the same manufacturer. 

I’ve seen people with excellent technique, who used the exact same beads that I did, that still have to adjust shading counts in my patterns. This is why I consider anything with any type of shading pattern Intermediate level at least. Anything with more than three colors is an Advanced pattern. 

For a while I stopped putting shading counts in my patterns – pretty much for the same reason as I didn’t always include wire lengths. I would publish a pattern with counts, and then get angry emails because when they follow the counts, the markings don’t look like mine. Again, some people were nice and understood my explanations, while others were still angry and demanding refunds. So, some of my older patterns don’t have bead counts in them. But they do have pictures. My more recent ones do include shading counts again, and I’m hoping that by spreading this education on French Beaded shading patterns, that there will be more people who understand how to work with them. 

As a general rule, if the marking is at the beginning or end of a row, the counts will be pretty close to the same. However, the total number of beads per row is highly likely to vary by the user. But, if the marking is in the middle of the row, or when you’re working with more than three colors, the counts become even less reliable. Maybe your counts will be the same, maybe they won’t. 

– How I Format Shading Patterns –

I’ve developed my own way to write out shading patterns. Here’s an example of a simple shading pattern where A is the main color of the petal, and B is the marking. Photo 2 shows the finished petal.  

BR = 10A, 4B
Row 2 = Fill with A, end with 6B
Row 3 = begin with 7B, fill with A
Row 4 = Fill with A, end with 6B
Row 5 = begin with 7B, fill with A

As you can see here, I only give exact counts for the actual marking. The other color says “Fill with A”. This goes back to the idea I presented before that the total number of beads per row will vary due to personal technique and the beads used, but the markings should be at least pretty close. It’s easier to count the beads for just the marking, than to count the beads for the main petal color. So you will add the beads for the marking to the wire, then fill in the row with as many as you need to complete the row. 

Photo 2

– How to add Markings at the End of a Row –

Adding markings at the beginning of a row is fairly straight forward. You will add those beads first, then fill in the row. But markings at the end of a row require a little trick. 

First, measure out the row completely with the main color (Photo 3). Then remove the amount of beads needed for the marking from the end of the row (Photo 4). Finally, replace those beads with the marking colored beads (Photo 5). 

Photo 3
Photo 4
Photo 5

This method works best when you’re working with beads of the same brand for both colors, as the beads will be closer to being the same size (stringing direction). If you’re mixing brands, then you might have to play a little. As you work with the beads making pieces, you will develop a feel for them, and will be able to estimate how many of one color bead equal the number you need of the other bead. There isn’t really a formula for that, unfortunately. 

If you’re using a type of bead that are highly inconsistent in size, you will have to play around even more. 

– Adjusting the Counts –

I’ve mentioned that the individual users may need to adjust bead counts, so now I want to talk about how to do that. 

Adjusting the count will require some visual assessment skills. I’m going to let you in on a little secret here. I don’t count things when I design the initial piece, I don’t count when I bead the remaining pieces, and I don’t measure anything other than the Basic Row or Starting Loop. Ever. I decide placement for beads visually. I even add loop-backs, scallops and spokes visually. I get better results when I do it that way than trying to count stuff. It’s faster, too.

Hopefully the pattern has a picture of the component in question, because you will need one. Pay attention to how the markings in one row relate to the markings in another row. For example, if you see from the picture that the marking in the current row should be about 4 beads longer than the marking in the previous row, adjust the count if necessary so the markings will line up properly. Or maybe the marking forms a U-shape at the bottom of the petal, like Photo 6. In this case you would need to adjust the count to ensure you get that same shape. 

Photo 6

Markings don’t always need to be exact

The above discussion on adjusting really only comes into play if the markings themselves matter. On a Pansy flower, for example, you would want those markings to be the same. But in some cases, exact placement of beads doesn’t really matter. You’re only using two or more colors for effect, not to create specific markings. 

Take the leaves in Photo 7 for example. All I’m doing here is making the top portion of the leaf a lighter color. All of the markings are different for each leaf, but they accomplish the same effect. So when you see this in a pattern, the exact placement doesn’t matter so much as the general idea. And there’s no reason to sit there and count beads. 

The concept is the same for this leaf in Photo 8. All that matters is the general streaking of lighter green coming from the center of the leaf. The exact rows you put the streaks in, and lengths of the streaks do not matter. You could make each leaf different and it would still work. In fact, I recommend that you make each leaf different. So again, don’t stress yourself trying to count rows or beads.  

Photo 7
Photo 8

More Updates

– Christmas Wreath Book –

As many of you know, I decided to make my recently finished French Beaded Christmas Wreath into a book. I submitted the file for a proof printing a couple weeks ago. At this point I have gotten the first proof, so I can share a little peek. 

My editor, Suzanne Steffenson, and my beta reader, Tracy Yu have been helping me comb through for any final adjustments, and I’m about ready to submit for a second proof. I don’t have a hard date for when this will be released. Mostly because right now it’s taking a little longer to get proof copies, so I have no idea if they’ll arrive in one week or two… or if it will even be the final proof. There were printing errors in the first one that I’m hoping will be corrected this time. So, it’s coming soon! I’ll have more info when I know more. 

– Beginner Course Kit Bundles –

I have also restocked some Beginner Course Kit + Book bundles! You can purchase just the kit bundle, rather than the kits + book. 

These will likely be my last set of these particular kits for a while. Kits take a lot of time to make, and there are others that I’d like to make available, but I can’t do those and these because I just don’t have that much time. So I’ll be switching to different kits for a while. 


My hands are finally healing up from the issues I was having. It took getting an allergy shot to knock it out. So hopefully I’ll be able to record some videos for you guys soon. 🙂 

Happy Beading!

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