Adventures in Perler Beads!

by Matthew “Derpy” McPherson

While Naru is off catching up on the new summer anime releases, I have been blessed with the opportunity to give you guys/gals something cool to read. And as it turns out, I have just the right topic. I am Derpy, working in Naru’s stead, and this is Perler beads.

This little arts and crafts project got it’s start for me at last years local Anime festival, Tora-Con. Every vendor in the artist alley had 8-bit versions of everything, including one booth that had Dr. Who and another that had Mario and sonic. The most shocking thing about these small plastic impersonators is that they were made up of much smaller beads about a an eighth of an inch a piece. After looking for a few minutes, my girlfriend purchased a set… Sonic and Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. These two pieces were very well made with not a bead out of place from the sprite design. Standing about 1 foot tall I had little idea about the amount of time that went in to making them. Once home, I got a better look, and they were made of about five hundred beads…Yes, I counted… with the edges cut to give off the retro, blocky appearance that they had in the game. Intrigued, I began looking up patterns for space marines, such as Master Chief. I was in luck, as there was a wide variety of patterns ranging from about fifty beads to what I would like to guess to be about one thousand beads. From that point on I was hell bent on getting some and making a few for myself and my friends.

I wanted to find these things, so I began looking for craft stores in the area. Once I arrived I began to understand why these were so popular. The start up cost is very inexpensive, with the basic colors, pegboards and special Perler bead tweezers costing me only 35 dollars.

Once home Erika and I began sorting out the beads into a fishing lure container. Once sorted, I began work on a character I had fallen in love with over the past 6 months, a Dalek from the popular Dr. Who series. It was a larger patten, mostly brown and in need of a 3 by 2 square grid. This rather large pattern, it turns out, was not a good choice for my first attempt with this new art form I had barely come to understand. Problem one, with the Dalek being mostly brown, keeping track of what row I was laying down became a chore. Problem two, I was interrupted to go out and buy more brown beads as it took all the brown ones I had purchased just to finish the lower half. The third and biggest problem was that when you start, it is hard to move your work without it falling apart. I began work eagerly on my girlfriends desk which I soon learned was an uneven surface. I unfortunately realized this at about thirty minutes in, as I finished the Dalek and laid a piece of wax paper over it so I could iron. After just a few minutes, I came to understand the importance of a flat surface as the Dalek only melted properly in three places. It fell apart, of course, as I took off the wax paper. The top half of the Dalek was intact but the bottom half was in two separate pieces. Frustrated after my four hours of work, I rage quit and went to play Xbox for a while.

Once I had calmed down for a bit, I went back to it and tried to fill in a re-iron the broken pieces together. This turned out to not be as terrible a loss as I first thought, as I had barely begun to repair the part that fell apart. I relocated from there to the dinning room table to continue rebuilding. Erika begged me to let her try ironing it as her hands were much steadier than mine. I graciously allowed her to take the helm and give it a go. This turned out well, as she had much more experience with an iron. My Dalek was now in three complete sections, but it wasn’t one Dalek just yet. I took a gamble and put the pieces in their proper places and ironed at the seems. It worked, as the segments fused tighter and my first Perler bead project was done!

From that point on I learned many more things as I began to photograph the process of my creations. One of the most important things I’d like to stress to any person trying Perler beads is that you should take your time. If things get frustrating, get up, and leave it be for a few hours, days if needed. Being angry means making mistakes. The process can take quite some time, and can get tiring. I made an N64 logo that took fifteen minutes, but on the other hand, I made a Haruhi Suzumiya that took me four entire days. It’s best to pace your self when making larger projects, and sometimes only finish a part or two a day.

The fun of Perler beads is not just the amount of things you can make or the cheap price, its watching it all come together slowly over time. Acting like a dot matrix printer slowly going line by line until the larger picture takes shape. The best part of the experience is the first time you see the final image taking shape and form. Whether going from top to bottom or one line at a time, it’s really satisfying to see the whole thing come together.

With your time and effort on the line, I think it’s time to tell you a good way to iron these beads properly. First things first, you will need a good iron. I would recommend grabbing a Black and Decker iron.. Nothing too fancy, just the basic model. The less expensive, the more likely that the iron surface will heat unevenly causing the bead to melt improperly. The second tip I can offer you is when ironing your project be sure to start at the edges. This insures that the middle will stay together during the melting phase of the final process. Third, iron a little at a time. It is key to remember that the base peg board is plastic, too. If you iron too hard it will warp and crack the base causing it to become unusable in future projects. Fourth, move the iron slowly in a swirling motion with light downward pressure, because if you use to much force you can melt the beads flat and damage the final image. Lastly, give your beads a minute or two to cool down and peel them from the base slowly. Once in open air the beads will begin to curl due to that area melting more than others. To avoid this, I recommend putting it between two hard flat surfaces. Personally, I use two left over shelves from my media tower. Anything will do as long as it’s flat and heavy, leave it for ten minutes or until it’s cool to the touch. Once cool and fused together you can hang or place your creation wherever your heart desires.
Naru is just about finished with his anime now, and needs to retake his blog. I have just a few more things to tell you. In short, Perler beads are fun and cheap, but remember that it takes time and it’s easy to make mistakes. I would start small and work your way up to larger things, get a feel for the way your iron melts. Make sure you have the right heat so that it will melt them without making them turn into jelly on the first pass. Never be afraid to walk away for a while. It’s just a hobby, sometimes a break is a good thing. Dare to dream big but make sure you have a safe place for the process. Think ahead, too… Dont go making perler bead Batman only to find out you don’t have room for his cape. Even if it falls apart, dont give up on it. They are mean little things, but they are not unforgiving.

Sample work

Getting Started!

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