Tips on Hand-Knotted Pearl Necklaces, Part 1
Tips on Hand-Knotted Pearl Necklaces, Part 2
|This is the strand of pink Swarovski pearls that I finished restringing yesterday. Notice the French wire protecting the silk thread that is holding the clasps.|
Well, I missed my self-imposed deadline of finishing this third part by the end of June, the month for which pearl is the birthstone. I apologize for my tardiness. I had some problems with formatting, portions of my post were rearranged just as I was finishing up, and it took quite some time to get it back together in the correct order. Some of the formatting is still a little funky, but I'm not going to take a chance on scrambling it up again.
There are also a few spots where I would like to place photos, but I need both of my hands to work with the pearls. When I can find someone else to take quality photos, I'll add them to this post.
FAUX PEARLS VS. REAL PEARLSOne might think that there is no doubt that people prefer real pearls over fake—and that would be true most of the time. Remember that both natural and cultured pearls are real. The biggest problem with natural pearls is the price. Putting together enough natural pearls, matching in size, color, and roundness, to create an entire necklace makes for a purchase that is prohibitively expensive for most of us. Cultured pearls are much more affordable, but still can be out of our budgets if we want them round and matching in color and size.
Potato pearls and rice pearls, named for their shapes, are fairly easy to come by and relatively inexpensive, but a necklace made from them will never be mistaken for a classic pearl necklace. Neither are round, they are both a bit bumpy, usually with indented rings around them—and rice pearls are very small. Baroque pearls, as beautiful as they can be in other styles of jewelry, are odd-shaped, with bumps and lines in them, so they aren't going to make a classic pearl necklace either.
|This is the beautiful strand of cultured pearls that my mother gave to me. I've restrung them a few times.|
A professionally-knotted strand of high-quality faux pearls with good knots, a filigree clasp, and French wire can be very beautiful. Swarovski makes excellent-quality crystal pearls that have all the positive characteristics of real pearls without the problems. They are similar in weight to real pearls, will warm up when in contact with human skin just like real pearls, have a gorgeous luster, are not damaged by perfume and cosmetics, and are quite inexpensive in comparison to real pearls. They also come in a large variety of colors.
1. CHOOSE YOUR PEARLS
STRING NEW GLASS PEARLSI'm not going to get into a big conversation about how to choose your pearls. I will recommend that for your first necklace you get some good-quality glass pearls, round, about 6mm or 7mm in size. Save the graduated-size pearl necklace for after you've learned the basics.
RESTRING OLD PEARLSAlthough it's a bit more work, you could restring a broken strand of pearls that you already have, or a strand that is clearly in need of restringing. How can you tell if your pearls need to be restrung? The silk could be dirty, worn, or frayed. There could be gaps between the knots and the pearls from the silk stretching.
|Although the silk thread is not worn or frayed, you can see that these knots have gotten very dirty from the bronzer I wore. This necklace needs to be restrung.|
Before you cut the necklace apart, clean the pearls in a large bowl with a little warm water and a drop of very gentle liquid dish soap, using a very soft cloth. You don't want to lose any of the pearls down the drain of your sink, so be sure to use that bowl. Rinse the soap off with warm water, again inside the bowl. Let the strand of pearls dry thoroughly, overnight. If the thread is still wet it could get caught in the holes as you cut the necklace apart.
When you cut the necklace apart, take care to keep real pearls in order because the best pearls (roundest, best color, etc.) will be in the center (front) of the necklace. Putting the pearls in one channel of a bead board is a good way to keep the correct order.
2. PICK OUT YOUR THREAD
CHOOSING AND MEASURING SPOOLED SILK THREADIf you're going to hand-knot a strand of pearls, you need to start by figuring out what size thread to use. Since your thread will be doubled, you need to confirm that two strands of thread will fit through the holes in your pearls. You also need to run those two strands TWICE through each of the first three pearls and the last three pearls. That means that four strands of thread need to go through six of your pearls.
If you have multiple sizes of threads, you can do a test to see which thread fits. Cut about 12 inches of each thread and put each strand on a separate collapsible eye needle. Don't knot the thread. Be careful to keep each cut thread next to its spool, so that you don't mix the sizes up. Run the first thread through six pearls. Then, starting with the first pearl, run it through the six pearls a second time. You do need to be careful on your second trip through each pearl that you don't catch the needle on the strands of thread that went through the first time. Remove the first thread from the pearls and test the next size. Pick the size thread that fits best. Remember to do these tests with thread that is already stretched.
|Any time you're passing the needle and thread through a pearl a second time, you want to pull the prior thread down tightly, so that the needle has room to pass above it without catching that thread.|
NOTE: Once you've used a collapsible eye needle, you shouldn't open the eye up to use it again because it could break in the middle of a real project—and there's no way to add a new needle at that point. You'd have to cut your necklace apart and start all over again. Instead, save your test needles, still threaded, in small zipper bags for future tests. Label each bag with the size of the thread inside—one thread per bag.
[ ( length of necklace X 4 ) + 15 ] = length of thread
That means that if you want a 20-inch necklace you will measure (20X4) = 80. Then add 15. The length of your thread will be 95 inches. When you double the thread it will measure 47.5 inches in length. That will give you enough thread to make the 20-inch necklace, including all the knots, and enough to attach the clasp.
MEASURING CARDED SILK CORDThis part is really easy! Basically, you don't measure silk cord on a card. Why? Because carded silk cord generally comes in lengths of 6.5 feet with a needle already attached. You never want to cut this thread until you are finished stringing your pearl necklace.
I've done considerable research on the longest necklace you can knot with those 6.5 feet (78 inches) of cord with no luck, so this is what I think. The cord already has a needle, so you can't double it. Rather than multiplying the length of the necklace by 4 and adding 15, I'm multiplying by 2 and adding 15. That means that a card of silk thread will allow for a knotted pearl necklace with a maximum length of about 30 inches. That's a pretty long strand of pearls, so for now, I don't think that you need to worry about not having enough cord on your card. If you ever do want a pearl necklace longer than 30 inches, you'll have to use silk thread on a spool.
The only thing you need to do is choose the size of cord you want, which is fairly simple when using carded silk cord. Unwrap a couple of different sizes of cord from their cards, but keep each cord with its card. You want to know which size is which. DON'T CUT OR TIE KNOTS. Test the first one by running it through the six pearls and then, starting with the first pearl, run it through the six pearls a second time. Remove that thread and try other sizes, if necessary. Pick the size cord that fits best. Note that there is no eye in the needle to collapse, so you can remove the pearls from this cord and put the cord back on its card. You CAN use this cord another time.
3. STRETCH YOUR THREAD
STRETCHING SPOOLED SILK THREADBoth spooled silk thread and carded silk cord need to be stretched. If you don't stretch them before you knot you necklace, you'll quickly end up with gaps between the knots and pearls in your finished necklace. Please refer to Part 1 for my favorite method for stretching spooled silk thread. That method doesn't work for carded silk.
STRETCHING CARDED SILK CORDI know of three of ways to stretch carded silk cord:
- The first method is to lightly dampen the entire length of cord with water. Pull the cord taut as you iron, until it's dry. Be careful not to scorch the cord.
- The second method is to yank on small sections of cord until you've stretched the whole length.
- The third method is to tie each end of the cord to a weight and hang the cord from its center over a tall item that allows both weights to hang freely. Leave overnight.
4. GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES
You will need:
- Fine-tipped scissors
- Clasp, preferably a filagree clasp, which is traditional for pearl necklaces
- 2 pieces of French wire, each about 3/8 inch long
- Pearls, enough to make the length necklace you want
- Measured, stretched silk thread or cord
- Knotting tool of your choice
- Gum Arabic (glue)
- Clear nail polish
- Pearl reamer (optional)
NOTES ABOUT SUPPLIES:
FRENCH WIREFrench wire is also called "French bullion" or "French gimp."
Your French wire should be silver or gold to match your clasp
It's hard to find French wire in sterling and gold-filled. I've never had a problem with the plated French wire.
PEARLSPearls come on a temporary string, usually 16 inches long. The number of pearls on a string depends on the size of the beads. The smaller the pearls, the more of them can fit on 16 inches, and vice versa.
To determine how many pearls you'll need for your necklace, you need to know the size of your pearls and the length of necklace you want to make.
Here is a good chart from Jerry Smith Beads for figuring out how many beads you need to make a necklace, as well as how many beads come on a 16-inch temporary strand: http://www.jsbeads.com/ref/howmanybeads.asp
Note that the chart says for 8mm beads you need 57 beads to make an 18-inch necklace. When knotting pearls, you'll use less pearls because the knots take up space. The clasp also counts toward the finished length of a necklace.
I have an 18-inch necklace of 8mm pearls with a square 8mm filigree clasp. This necklace has 48 pearls.
KNOTTING TOOLSI know of four different knotting tools, which I've listed in the Section 5.
My preference for knotting doubled silk thread from a spool is the Needle Tool, which is the same as an awl.
If you're going to use a Needle Tool when knotting single silk cord, you need to anchor the pearl down so it's stable while you use both of your hands to make the knot.
When knotting single silk cord, it's easiest for a beginner to use the special Knotting Tool because it helps to move the thread up to the pearl at the same time it tightens the knot.
GUM ARABIC AND NAIL POLISHGum Arabic is the glue recommended in Henrietta's book for silk thread. It washes off your hands and tools and won't damage your pearls. You apply it with a toothpick.
A tiny dab of clear nail polish is used on the knot after the third pearl at the beginning and end of your necklace. It makes the knot waterproof. Use a toothpick to apply the clear nail polish so that you can keep it from getting on the pearl.
PEARL REAMERIf the holes in your six end pearls are not large enough to allow the threads to pass through each pearl twice, you can use a pearl reamer to make those holes a little larger.
You should always use a pearl reamer in a small bowl of water. Be sure that both the reamer and pearl are wet. That will protect you from inhaling the dust.
Keeping the pearl wet will also protect it from heating up due to the friction of the reamer. Heat can crack your pearl.
Simply insert the tip of the reamer into the hole and twist gently back and forth. Then go to the other side of the hole and repeat.
5. KNOTTING YOUR NECKLACEAt the beginning of your necklace, whether you use silk thread or cord, you will string the first three pearls, 3/8 inch of French wire, and one side of your clasp—in that order. I'm not going to go into all the details here or this post would go on forever. Instead, I'm going to remind you of Henrietta Virchick's wonderful (and very inexpensive) book, Pearl and Bead Stringing with Henrietta. (No, I am not affiliated in any way with Henrietta or her publisher.)
|You can see the filigree clasp on the left, the 3/8 inch piece of French wire next, and then the three pearls. I haven't added any knots yet. I'm about to run my needle back through the pearl on the left.|
Once you've strung the first three pearls, there are differences between knotting with single cord or doubled thread. I definitely prefer the doubled thread. There are several tools that you can use to aid you in creating knots:
- Needle tool
- Knotting tweezers
- Knotting pliers
- Knotting tool (for single strand)
KNOTTING WITH DOUBLED SILK THREAD FROM SPOOLYou can pick up the pearls one at a time on your thread and knot them as you go, which I found to be easier when I was learning. Alternatively, you can load all the pearls onto the thread at once. Then you slide a pearl into place and knot it, slide the next pearl into place and knot it; continue until finished.
Any of the tools above can be used to make your knots. I prefer the simple Needle Tool (awl) when working with doubled thread. These are the basic steps for making a knot:
- Add a pearl to your thread.
- Make an overhand knot. Always make your knots the same exact way and in the same direciton. This will ensure that that knots are uniform.
- Holding the Needle tool in your dominant hand, place the tip into the loop of the unclosed knot.
- Holding the thread snugly in your non-dominant hand, use your dominant hand to guide the tool and the knot up against the pearl.
- Move the knot as close to the pearl as you can before you remove the tool.
- Take one strand of thread in each hand and tug them in opposite directions until the knot slides tightly against the pearl.
- Add another pearl and repeat steps 1 through 6 until there are only 3 pearls left.
|Although you can't see it, my non-dominant hand is holding the thread off to the left. My dominant hand has placed the Needle Tool inside the knot.|
|Take the left strand in your left hand and the right strand in your right hand. Gently tug the two strands away from each other. That will tighten the knot and move it up against the pearl.|
KNOTTING WITH SINGLE CORDED SILK FROM CARDThis is where the Knotting Tool is great. With a bit of practice, it should allow you to get your knots tight and snug against the pearls. Start by stringing the clasp and first three pearls as described above. Now add another pearl to your thread.
- Make an overhand knot. Always make your knots the same exact way. This will ensure that the knots are uniform.
- Holding the Knotting Tool in your dominant hand, place the tip of the knotting tool into the loop of the un-tightened knot.
- Put the remaining thread into the crook of the tool and pull taut with your non-dominant hand.
- While holding the thread in your non-dominant hand, use the tool to slide the loop of the knot toward the pearl. The knot will begin to tighten.
- While maintaining tension with the thread, gently and slowly push the lever up with your thumb while pressing the tip of the tool up against the pearl, until the knot slides off of the tip.
- Still holding the thread taut, tighten the knot by pressing the crook against the knot, which should be up against the pearl.
- Once you've strung the clasp and the first three pearls, fasten them to a clipboard, just above the third pearl.
- Add a new pearl to your thread.
- Make an overhand knot. Always make your knots the same exact way. This will ensure that the knots are uniform.
- Holding the tool in your dominant hand, place the tip into the loop of the unclosed knot.
- With the cord in your non-dominant hand, slide the knot toward the pearl.
- Tighten the knot as you slip the tool out of the knot.
FINISHING YOUR NECKLACEAdd the last three pearls but leave them unknotted. Add your French wire and the second part of the clasp. Finishing the last three pearls and adding the other part of the clasp is a bit more complicated than the beginning of your necklace. Henrietta's book has some excellent diagrams to show you how to to finish your necklace.
After that you're done!
- When you've finished your necklace, you'll probably have a good ten inches or more of thread or cord left over, with the needle still attached. Save it in a small zipper bag and label the bag with the size of thread or cord. You can use this as a test thread/cord when determining the size of thread/cord to use for stringing a different pearl necklace.
- Sooner or later you're going to want to restring this pearl necklace. Keep a record in a safe place that describes which size thread or cord you used. Also, if it was spooled thread, make a note of the length you cut.
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