One of the best parts of being a this-generation parent is doing nerdy stuff with your kids. And it’s just a bonus when you get to nerd-out with your kids while revisiting an old summer camp craft.
The most awesome of all summer-camp-crafts-turned-nerd-craft has to be Perler beads. These things basically look like pixels, so you know where I’m going with this (also, you saw the header image and you, dear readers, are not stupid).
Perler beads give you the opportunity to revisit some super-rad 8-bit classics while doing crafts with your kids. I’ll show you how to make a simple goomba from Super Mario Bros. 1 that you can stick on the fridge or wall. And just think – if you get the hang of this, you can create your own retro video game scene on your kid’s wall and be the envy of…well…me, at least.
First, you’re going to want to choose a subject. I like the clean simplicity of Super Mario Bros. character sprites (no weapons, simple shapes, basic color palette), but you can make any character you’d like. Keep in mind that because old Nintendo characters are 8-bit, its characters will work best – but you’ll see in your travels that people have made everything from Atari up to large-scale 32-bit Mortal Kombat characters. If you want to keep it simple, keep it SNES or earlier!
What You’ll Need:
1) Perler beads. Obvi, right? It’s a good idea to buy one of those 11,000-bead bins so you’ll have some of each color (and let your kid to burn through that seafoam green color you never need) but it’s a good idea to buy some basic colors individually. I knew I’d need a lot of white, black and brown, so I bought individual bags of those. It’s not a bad idea to think about which characters you want to make ahead of time and literally go buy those color palettes. At about $2.50/bag, it’s not going to kill you to buy a couple of colors individually, and you’ll have enough for multiple projects. A little list organization can go far here and avoid over- and underbuying.
PRO TIP: You never want anyone to find your shopping list of perler beads and color palettes because while you’re doing something nerd-awesome, it looks really sketchy before you’ve got a final product to prove that you’re not super creepy.
2) Perler pegboards. If you buy a big bin of beads, you might get some small pegboards (the ones you used in summer camp), but it’s a good idea to pick up a couple of the bigger, interlocking ones so you’ll have ample room for your craft. Nothing’s more of a bummer than seating 20 beads only to find that you started your creation too far to the right and now you’ve got to re-seat them all one peg left. And nothing kills craft time with your kids quicker than devolving into crying and screaming over Perler beads.
3) Tweezers (optional). As a purist who remembers a time when his fingers weren’t giant sausages, I still like to do the arranging by hand. Plus, I’ve got a kid who does still have small, nimble non-sausage fingers. But, if you are going for speed, a set of tweezers can help you get a handful of beads into place without risking sausage-mashing everything else on your board.
4) An Iron. When you’re done setting the beads, you’ll need an iron to fuse them all together. If you don’t have one, you could use (in a parallel universe where bad ideas are good) the bottom side of a pot or pan that you’ve heated up on your stove.
PRO TIP: don’t ever do this pot/pan idea because it’s stupid and you’ll melt the beads too much and burn your hand.
5) Ironing paper. This stops the beads from sticking to the iron (or that pan I told you not to use, dummy). If you buy the 11,000-bead bin, it’ll usually include a couple of sheets, and they’re reusable.
6) Hanging Supplies. When you’re done with your craft, you’ll want to put it somewhere. The most common options are magnet backing or, my preference, Quake Hold.
When it’s all said and done, your total initial investment can be upwards of $30-$40 depending on how much you’re buying and if you take my advice about not using a frying pan instead of an iron, but many of these materials can be reused from project to project.