Sunday, June 3, 2012


Last June I wrote a blog post called "Tips on Hand-Knotted Pearl Necklaces, Part 1."  If you missed that post you can read it here
I've been meaning to write a follow-up to that post ever since then, but for some reason I just couldn't get motivated.  It struck me as quite a coincidence that I'm inspired to write about pearls again in June.  Maybe it's because the pearl is the traditional birthstone for the month of June.  I think I'm getting a little heavenly nudge from my mother, whose birthday would have been on June 14.  I'm sure that I inherited my love of pearls from her. 

This is the 20-inch, white, 7mm, cultured pearl necklace that my mother gave me about 15 years ago.  I've restrung this necklace several times over the years.  I don't wear it very often anymore since I retired and traded in my business suits for tennis and ski clothes.  I'm going to make an effort to wear it more often, though, because pearls go with everything, from formal to casual.  And because it makes me think of my mother. 
I've been thinking about some things that I didn't write about pearls in last year's post, as well as some new things that I've learned.  I thought they were worth discussing.
  1. Why silk?
  2. Pearls have small holes.
  3. Silk thread on a spool.
  4. Silk cord on a card.
  5. Comparing thread and cord sizes.
As I explained in  Part 1, it is traditional to string pearls with silk thread.  Silk gives the knotted strand a lovely drape and the silk has a soft sheen that goes so beautifully with the luster of the pearls.  There are two main reasons that the thread is knotted in between the pearls.  The first is to protect the nacre from wear, especially around the drilled holes, and the second is to keep the pearls from being lost if the necklace is broken.  With knots around every pearl, only one pearl can fall off if the necklace breaks.
A few years ago I had just restrung the pearl necklace that my mother gave me.  The next time I wore the necklace I leaned over to pick something up from the floor.  I didn't notice that the necklace caught on the wooden arm of the chair next to me as I stood up.  The necklace broke.  Because it was knotted, I only had to find the one pearl that fell to the floor.  The rest were intact on the necklace.  I was frustrated that I had broken it immediately after restringing it, but it was a relief to know that I could fix it myself.  Two restringings would have been expensive!
Speaking of restringing, your pearl necklace should be restrung on a regular basis.  The thread will get dirty, no matter how careful you are to apply makeup, perfume, and hairspray before you put it on.  Even if you don't wear cosmetics, your perspiration and body oils take a toll on the thread.  Ironically, your body oils are good for the pearls, helping to keep them from drying out.  If you wear your pearls daily you might need to restring as often as twice a year!  Restringing every three years is probably enough for most of us. 

Of course, there are other reasons for knotting between pearls.  One is that the silk knots make the necklace look beautiful and rich.
Some of us like to hand-knot beads other than pearls.  Gemstones can be enhanced with a complimentary color of silk thread knotted between them.  Of course, if the gemstones are expensive, the knots will protect the beads from wear and loss, just as they protect pearls.
The holes that are drilled into pearls are quite small in comparison to other beads.  Very small pearls have very small holes.  Larger pearls have only slightly larger holes.  Because the weight of the pearl is one of the factors used to determine its value, the smaller the portion of the pearl that is drilled out to make the hole, the better for the jeweler who drills and sells it. 

Here are some examples of the sizes of holes in beads and pearls, from left to right.  The 8mm, purple, glass bead seems to have the largest hole.  The 10mm, pink-dyed, fossil bead has a large hole as well.  The 8mm, faux "black" pearl has a hole that is almost as small as a real pearl.  The 4mm, white, cultured, freshwater pearl has a tiny hole.  The 8mm, lavender, baroque, cultured, freshwater pearl has a very small hole, barely larger than the hole in the white pearl.
It is possible to find large-hole pearls from a few vendors.  You won't want larger holes for knotting, though.  Large-hole pearls are predominantly for other styles of jewelry.  
There is no standard for the size hole that is drilled in a particular size of pearl.  Those of us who do a lot of pearl knotting keep several sizes of thread on hand.
One way to buy silk thread is on spools.  In the U.S. that used to mean Gudebrod Champion thread.  Gudebrod stopped making silk thread a couple of years ago, so that brand of silk thread is hard to find these days.  A couple of other companies have started to make silk thread on a spool.  I'll list the ones I know of at the end of this section.  
Typically, silk thread on a spool is sized 00, 0, A, B, C, D, E, F, FF, FFF.  Size 00 is the finest and Size FFF is the thickest.  A big benefit to buying silk thread on a spool is that you get a lot of it, usually for under $10 per spool for the finer sizes and under $15 for the thicker sizes.  The information I found showed that spools can hold anywhere from 90 to 700 yards, with the finer sizes holding the greater yardage.  Getting that much thread is a big benefit if you'll be knotting pearl necklaces on a regular basis.

These are two spools of Gudebrod Champion silk thread. Notice how much finer the Size C is than the Size FF.  The C thread is white and the FF thread is ivory. 
Spooled silk thread comes in a large variety of colors.  No matter where you buy your silk thread on a spool, you'll usually find that Black, White, and Ivory come in all sizes.  However, colors like Royal Blue are less likely to be used on pearls and more likely to be used on gemstones, which have larger holes.  Don't be surprised to find that Royal Blue only comes in the thicker sizes, such as E, F, FF, and FFF.  Silk thread comes in dye lots, just like yarn—but if you've bought a whole spool of a color, it should last a long time.
You must measure and cut silk thread that comes on a spool and then put it on a collapsible-eye needle. That means that you're using doubled thread, which is my favorite way to make knots.
Silk thread will stretch, so it's wise to pre-stretch it before knotting your necklace.  See Part 1 for instructions on the way I stretch my thread.  Check out the Caravan Beads link at the bottom of the next section for another way to stretch silk.
Here are two online stores that sell silk thread on spools.  There are probably more.
The other way to purchase silk is in the form of silk cord on a card.  It has a bit more texture than the silk on a spool.  "Carded silk" comes in a single strand, already attached to a needle.  It is sized from 0 through 8, with 8 being the thickest.  The Griffin brand is sold in 2 meters (6.5 feet) lengths of silk cord on a card.

Here are 4 cards of Griffin cord, in a variety of sizes:  2, 4, 6, & 8.  You can see that this twisted silk cord has a little more texture than the silk on spools.  Note the leftover piece of cord with the needle still attached on the right side of the photo. 
Just like silk thread, silk cord comes in dye lots.  There may be times when you should buy an extra card or two of a specific color, just in case.  For example, you've knotted a 3-strand necklace, something happens to one of the strands, and you need to restring it—but you can't find the same dye lot and the color difference is obvious.  That means you'll have to restring all three strands.
With Griffin carded silk you don't have to measure your thread, but that can sometimes be a negative when you're limited to the 2 meters of thread on the card.  Because a needle was attached before the filaments of silk were twisted, there is no need to add a needle and it is used as a single thread.  Don't cut the thread until you've finished your necklace and you won't accidentally cut the wrong end and cut off the needle.

This thread must also be stretched and is typically done by yanking on small sections at at time, a method I don't really care for.

Carded silk used to be made primarily by Griffin, but there are more sources these days.  In the Michaels store where I teach jewelry classes, the Griffin brand #4 carded silk is sold in white only.  I'm not sure if silk thread is sold in any of the other large craft stores.
I strongly recommend checking out this link at Caravan Beads.  They give you a lot of information about the Griffin thread, including a warning not to cut off the needle, as well as a way to stretch the silk.
Fire Mountain Gems sells the Griffin carded silk thread.  They also sell the Purely Silk brand on cards, but this brand is sized with the lettering system, like spooled thread.  I suspect that this IS spooled thread, put on cards in shorter lengths—although you will find a few spools of Purely Silk at this site.  The Purely Silk carded thread also comes in lengths of 16 to 28 yards and there is no mention of an attached needle, so I doubt that there is one.
I'm used to the lettered sizing system of the spooled silk thread and I get a bit confused if I have to buy carded silk.  I finally made a comparison chart of the two types of thread so that I can make substitutions without going nuts.  My chart supplies the diameters of each thread in millimeters so that you can see why the substitutions work.  Unfortunately, I'm unable to figure out a way to copy a multiple-column table to Blogger, so this is the best I can do.
                 Spool   =   Card
                       00   =   none
                         0   =   0
                        A   =   1
                        B   =   2
                        C   =   3
                        D   =   4
                        E   =   5
                        F   =   6
                      FF   =   7
                     FFF   =  8

Please note that these are not exact conversions, but simply the closest diameters.  Also, when you use spooled thread, it is doubled, while thread from a card is used as a single strand.  So when I say that Size B spooled thread is comparable to Size 2 carded cord, what I mean is that two strands of Size B thread are similar in diameter to 1 strand of Size 2 cord.
I the next thing I want to talk about is measuring thread and knotting techniques with a single strand of cord vs. double strands of thread, but I think this post is long enough. 

Look for the third and final post on pearls here:  "Tips on Hand-Knotted Pearl Necklaces, Part 3."  

  © Copyright 2012 Linda's Art Barn. All rights reserved.


  1. I am new at string pearls and found your blogs to be very helpful. Please continue with #3. Next on my list is to purchase the book you mention. I have tiny pearls with larger holes and am worried the knots will look almost as large as the pearls. I would appreciate any suggestions.

  2. Hi Meredith, thanks for reading my blog. My plan is to finish Part 3 by the end of June as a tribute to my mother, whose birthday would have been on June 14. That means I should have Part 3 done some time this week.

    It seems that you've bought pearls that have deliberately been drilled with large holes. That's usually done to accomodate beading wire and those pearls are usually not meant for knotting because it would require that you use thicker thread, which makes big knots.

    If you intend to knot your pearls, you're going to have to make the knots big enough that they don't slide into the holes of the pearls. I wish I could give you a better answer.

    That said, I'm going to recommend that you go to and register for their Forum. You can ask your question at the Forum, where there are dozens of wonderful people who string pearls for a living. One of them might have a great idea for solving your problem.

  3. Thanks Linda. I will look for your part 3 and I will check out the Pearl-Guide forum.

  4. I am so glad I found your blog! There is almost none info about the difference between carded and spools on the net. I am new at pearls and I was looking for some guidance at what to but ...If there was a relatively common size of thread and if let's say 5 to 12 mm beads would rather use a similar thread.
    I am still unsure if to but the spool or the carded ones. I am just making bracelets so far but my aim is to use the best quality to be able to charge accordngly.
    I will keep reading your blog for more info about pearls!

    Thansk a lot

  5. I agree with you, Marie. When you plan to sell your jewelry, you should use the best quality materials and tools that you can buy. Regarding the silk, I think that carded silk is good for someone who occasionally knots pearls, while the silk on a spool is much more cost-effective for someone who does frequent pearl knotting.

  6. I have bought silk from My disappointment with them is that you have to pay the $11 shipping regardless of how many spools you purchase. That means stock up. Second, I work with semiprecious stones often with extremely small holes. I would be in the middle of a mala and encounter a place where the thread was knotted on the spool. It wouldn't fit through the small holes I was working with and had to resting the entire thing as well as throw away the silk. I am currently looking for another distributor.

    1. Well, that's very frustrating. The only other vendor that I know of for silk thread on a spool is Fire Mountain Gems. Their shipping is more reasonable, but the spool price is higher. Look into Jet Beads. They have permission to sell FMG items and give you the best FMG price, even if you only buy one item. Jet Beads can do that because they order from FMG in bulk. JB has high shipping, though. Check them both out and do the numbers. You might find some savings.

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  8. I want to buy a string of pearls, but it is offered with different size holes. The "standard" size is .8mm. It goes up for there. Is .8 alright for buying the pearls? Will I be able to knot the silk thread and get it through the pearl with that size hole? THANKS!!! Linda

  9. Doglovr69, I wish I could give you a definitive answer. The .8mm size of those pearl holes is on the high end of normal, which is generally between .5mm and .75mm. You will need to test out different sizes of silk thread to see which size fits best with your pearls. Please read Part 2 of this series of articles to help you do that:

    "2. Pick Out Your Thread" should help to answer your question, but I recommend you read the entire article.

    I hope this helps.