Hello, fellow geek girls! My name is Arielle. I have given myself the challenge of finding something new each month for you to give to each other, and I am terrified that I might let you down, but I will try my hardest! My personal goal is to find something that is easy and cheap to make or get, and also inexpensive to send to your pen pal. This may not always happen, but it’s the goal.

I’m starting out with a gift that I have already sent out to many girls and they’ve all seemed to like their gifts, so a few of you may find this familiar. Actually, a lot of you should find it familiar. This has been around forever. I used to make these when I was a child, though I wasn’t nearly as creative back then.

I’m talking about Perler beads. Or maybe you know them as Hama beads? Melty beads? Fuse beads? I don’t really know. Here where I live, they’re Perler beads, so I’m gonna call them that.

So what’s so great about Perler beads? Well, they’re cheap for one. I can go to my local craft store and buy a container of more than 10,000 multicolor beads for less than ten bucks. They don’t really require much by way of supplies: beads, peg boards, tweezers, ironing paper, and an iron. (Most packs of beads come with the ironing paper. If you don’t have any for some reason, you should be able to use parchment paper.) Once they’re done, they’re flat, lightweight and sturdy. But the greatest part about them is you can create a custom gift for your pen pal while having next to no artistic talent. Because that’s me. I can’t draw or paint or cut in a straight line, but I can iron some beads!

So I’m going to walk you through an example project, just in case you’ve never seen Perler beads in action before. I recommend making a few small practice projects so you’re not nervous about ironing something you might spend all night making.

Before you buy your beads, you need to figure out what you’re going to make. If you don’t want to buy a big container of multicolored beads, you can buy each color separately. Also, the container may not have all the colors you need, so check first. Our multicolored containers don’t contain the color “peach,” which may be hard if you’re making a character with a light skin tone, so I have collected a variety of packages to get different colors. Some colors can be interchanged, but just make sure you have what you need before you sit down to make your item.

How do you find a pattern? One way to do it is to just search for whatever you want to make and add the word “Perler” or “Hama.” Many times, it’s been made. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can help you get ideas. While I’m not recommending blatantly copying someone else’s pattern, I will say that it’s pretty easy to do so. Just do the right thing. If you do copy someone else’s pattern, don’t sell it and/or pretend like it’s your own design.

Another way to get a pattern is to make your own via a program or an app. I have a cool little app for my iPad called Bead It. Yeah, it’s not free, or even really cheap, but it works. You can import a picture or a sprite, tell the app which beads you have (Perler or Hama), how big you want it, and it will create a pattern for you. There are plenty of other apps or websites or programs you can probably get for free that will do the same thing, so experiment with them. The more detailed the picture, the bigger you’ll have to go to get a good, detailed Perler art. Sprites and pixelated graphics tend to work the best if you want something small and easy.

You’ve got your pattern, you’ve got the beads you need, and you’re ready to sit down and make it. Here’s the tedious part, but it’s not so bad. It’s all about counting. I like to start with the border first, it’s the best way to make sure you’ve got everything all laid out right and you didn’t skip any spots.

Then you fill in the middle bits.

Once you’ve got it all right, then it’s time to iron!

Violet Crumble Break while I wait for my iron to heat up. I forgot to plug it in earlier.

Once your iron is hot, lay the ironing paper over the beads and put the iron on top. Don’t press hard. I barely even press at all. I just let the heat do it’s thing. You want to get a nice, even heat on your art. You don’t want one part to be all squished while another is barely ironed. And try not to over-iron. The more you iron, especially on larger pieces, the more likely the edges will curl up, and you don’t want that. Just iron until all the beads are fused, unless you’re going for a certain look. At that point, I’ll assume you know what you’re doing anyway.

Make sure you get all the edges and try not to overheat the center. That’s the part most likely to get too much heat. Once it’s sufficiently ironed, let it cool a little bit and peel off the paper.

From here, I will wrap my art in a paper towel and put it in the fridge under something heavy. Like a jug of milk. I do this to keep the edges from curling as it cools. Once it’s cooled, I pull it out and it’s done!

You can make a necklace or keychain or refrigerator magnet or coaster with your Perler art. I’ve seen people stick them on walls with tacks or sticky tac, but I will generally leave that up to the person I give the art to. I will cut out a few adhesive-backed magnets from a sheet and include them if the person wishes to stick them to a fridge or something metal.

And there you go! I will usually put these into a flat mailing envelope because they’re so thin and durable, so they don’t need a box. They’re pretty cheap to send overseas and with some effort and minimal cost, you can brighten your pen pal’s day with something they love, just for them! So go out there and share your geeky interests, be it a favorite Pokemon, Adventure Time Character, pony, or maybe a mustache or Metroid character, anything can be made out of Perler!