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At Land of Odds / Be Dazzled Beads – Beads, Jewelry Findings, and More

Pearl Knotting — Warren’s Way

Posted by learntobead on April 19, 2020

Classic Elegance! Timeless! Architectural Perfection!
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“Over the years, I have found it very difficult for most students (and even my instructors) to get good knots and good hand-knotted construction using a traditional hand-knotting technique with tools. It is difficult to maneuver the knot close to the bead, and it is difficult to keep sufficient tension on your bead cords, as you make the knot. After much trial and experimentation, I developed this set of non-traditional steps. My students usually master this approach on their very first try!” — Warren

Pearl Knotting

Pearl knotting is a relatively easy technique. There are many variations in how to implement the technique. Here I present the steps for a non-traditional approach to pearl knotting. I feel that, for most people, the traditional approach, without a lot of practice, can be a bit awkward, and result in a less-than-desired functional outcome. The non-traditional approach I present here is easier to achieve a better outcome.

There are 4 different ways for starting and finishing off your pearl-knotted piece.

  1. Attaching the cord directly to the clasp
  2. Using French wire bullion
  3. Using a clam-shell bead tip
  4. Making a continuous necklace without a clasp

In this article, I am focusing on the first option — attaching the cord directly to the clasp. You can purchase my kit and a full set of instructions on the Land of Odds website.

In this non traditional approach, we do NOT use any tools — like tweezers, awls, or tri-cord knotters — to make our knots. We do, however, pull two thicknesses of bead cord through each bead, as does the classical version of the traditional methodology. We minimize the use of glue.

Supplies:

16″ strand of pearls, faux pearls or other beads, approximately 8mm in size, (44–45 beads)

Silk or nylon bead cord with needle attached to one end, matching color, (one 2-meter card). With 8mm Swarovski crystal pearls, you would need a bead cord between .65mm and .70mm in diameter, which, in the Griffin line, is a size 5 or 6.

Twist wire needles (also called Collapsible Eye Needles), size Fine, (2–3 on hand)

Pearl clasp, single strand, approximately 18–20mm long, (1 clasp)

T-pins (or U-pins)

A pad into which you can stick the T-pin (or U-pin)

Scissors.

G-S hypo fabric cement (if your cord is silk)

Either a bic lighter or Beacon 527 glue (if your cord is nylon)

An awl

Chain nose pliers

Ruler

Necklace sizing cone

PEARL KNOTTED NECKLACE

ABOUT PEARLS IN HISTORY

I live in Tennessee, which has a special connection to freshwater pearls. Four and five hundred years ago, when French explorers came down through Canada and down the Mississippi River, they discovered that the Mississippi Indians in Tennessee collected pearls embedded in the local mussels which lived along the banks of the Tennessee River. The explorers traded for these pearls, and shipped them back to Europe, where they were reserved for royalty only, and were called “Royal Pearls”.

Tennessee River Pearls

Before the creation of cultured pearls in the early 1900s, natural pearls were rare and expensive. A jewelry item that today might be taken for granted, say, a 16-inch strand of perhaps 50 pearls, often cost between $500 and $5,000 at the time. Pearls are found in jewelry and mosaics as far back as Egypt, 4200 B.C. At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother’s pearl earrings.

While Tennessee freshwater pearls are available to anyone today, many royal families in Europe continue to import these pearls. It is the custom, among many royals, and dating back to the time of these French explorers, to have a freshwater pearl sewn into their undergarments. The belief is, if the pearl touches your skin, you will continue to be prosperous and wealthy.

Pearls are harvested in both fresh water (from mussels) and sea water (from oysters). The pearls created by both types of mollusks are made of the same substance, nacre. Nacre is secreted by the mantle tissues of the mollusk. This secretion hardens. When the hardened nacre coats the inside of the shell, we call this Mother of Pearl. When the nacre forms around some irritant, forming a ball-like structure, these become Pearls. Saltwater pearls typically have some kind of bead nucleus around which the nacre forms and hardens. Freshwater pearls typically do not. Besides Tennessee, other major sources of pearls are Japan and China.

Nacre

Cultured pearls are real pearls produced by inserting a piece of mussel shell (or some other irritant) into the tissue of a mollusk. The mollusk coats this with nacre, creating the pearl. The more coats of nacre the mollusk produces, the more lustrous and pricey the pearl becomes. Mikimoto developed this process in Japan in the early 1900’s.

Pearls are soft and they absorb, as well as, reflect light.

NON-TRADITIONAL vs. TRADITIONAL PEARL KNOTTING TECHNIQUES

Hand-Knotting. We put knots between pearls for many reasons. Some reasons have to do with visual aesthetics; others, with structural and architectural concerns.

The knots protect the pearls, should the necklace break. When it breaks, you would lose only one pearl, not all the pearls on the piece.

Pearls are soft, and the surface can easily chip and scratch. Pearls are particularly vulnerable at the hole, where the forces from movement, when the jewelry is worn, force the stringing material to push against the vulnerable edges of the nacre, exposed around the hole of the pearl. Silk cord is very soft, and does not pose a major threat. All other stringing materials — such as nylon bead cord, nylon beading thread, and cable wires — do pose a threat. The knots provide some protection.

Without knots, the pearl’s integrity is threatened, not only by the stringing material, but by the next bead it bumps up against. Other adjacent pearl beads can cause scratches and chips. Metal beads and glass beads will work like hammers against the pearl, as the jewelry moves, when worn.

Knots, when done correctly, are visually attractive. We want our knots to be big enough so that they will not slip into the holes of our beads. We want our knots small enough so that they do not compete with the look of our pearls. The pearls, at all times, should attract the viewer’s focus. The pearls are the star of the piece. Nothing should distract. We want our knots to appear centered over the holes of our beads.

Visually, knots also set off each pearl, as if bracketing them or framing them. For the viewer, this heightens the visually attractiveness of each pearl, moreso, than had the necklace not been knotted.

Structurally, having a knot on either side of the bead, tied tightly in place, so that the bead cannot move freely. Bead cord frays easily,especially if it is silk. We want to restrict the ability of the pearl to move back and forth because of any slack between two knots. We want to restrict the pearl from rotating around the bead cord.

* First, the knots, plus the fact that we will be bringing two cords through each pearl, rather than one, keep the pearl from moving both up and down the cord, as well as around and around the cord, as the jewelry is worn. Pearl holes are very sharp. Picture a broken sea shell, and how sharp it feels as you move your finger along the edge. This is what the hole looks like. If the bead is allowed to move freely, the hole will quickly fray the cord, even cutting it.

Broken mussel shell

* Second, it forces the necklace, as it is subjected to punishing forces resulting from movement, to channel those forces towards the un-glued knots. These un-glued knots easily absorb this force, allowing the necklace to more easily conform to the body, and move with the body. Thus, the force is re-directed around the stringing material, that is, around the knot, instead of directly into it, forcing it against the sharp hole of the pearl. Again, the knots help preserve the integrity of your piece.

NOTE: When using karat gold beads, we do NOT knot on either side of these beads. The knots often force the karat gold beads to dent and squish, when the jewelry is worn. This is also true of many thinner-walled sterling silver beads.

NOTE: When using French wire bullion, we do NOT place a knot between the pearl and the bullion. Instead, we try to anchor the ends of the bullion into the opening of the hole in the pearl.

A Comparison of Traditional and Non-Traditional Techniques.

There are many, many variations on Pearl Knotting techniques.

The major difference between traditional and non-traditional methods is in how the knots are made. Traditional methods use tools, like tri-cord knotters, tweezers or awls, to guide the knots into place. Non-traditional methods do not.

Over the years, I have found it very difficult for most students to get good knots and good hand-knotted construction using tools. It is difficult to maneuver the knot close to the bead, and it is difficult to keep sufficient tension on your bead cords, as you make the knot. This is why I prefer the non-traditional method, which students master much more readily.

If using a traditional technique, I would suggest using a tri-cord knotter, and not a tweezers or awl.

Other Types of Variations Among Techniques:

(1) How many cords are pulled through the bead

I pull two cords through each bead. Some techniques pull only one.

I found that, with only one cord, you don’t get enough resistance to the bead spinning around the cord, when worn. This makes it more likely for the bead’s sharp hole to fray and cut into the cord.

Two cord approaches work best when the hole size from pearl to pearl are relatively consistent. One cord approaches work best when there is noticeable variation in hole size from pearl to pearl.

(2) How many cord thicknesses make up the knot

I pull two cords through the bead, and use one of the cords to tie an overhand knot over the other cord. So, my knot is two cords thick around the core. Some techniques tie a knot using both cords at once, and resulting in a 4-cord thickness knot around the core.

I find that 4-cord-thick knot to be too big, visually competing with the pearls, instead of complementing them. The size of the knot, however, does not impact its structural functionality. Best functionality is achieved with a non-glued knot, and with simpler knots like larks head or overhand knots.

(3) How knots are tied

I use an overhand (half hitch) knot for the knots between beads, but a Larks Head knot to connect the piece to either side of the clasp. Some people use a Larks Head knot for all the knots.

I find that the Larks Head knot, when used between beads, often gets off-center. When the knots are too off-centered, not only can this be visually annoying, but it can force the pearls to sit crookedly all along the necklace line.

My final knot is a square knot, which secures both cords which I have pulled through my beads, and centers this knot between the last two pearls.

(4) How knots are tightened

After you make each knot, you need to be sure to bring the knot as close and as tightly against the pearl as you can.

Visualize: I have two cords exiting the hole of my pearl. First, I take each of my two cords, and I pull them tightly away from each other. This pushes the pearl against the knot below it. Second, I tie an overhand knot and pull tight. Last, I grab each cord and tightly pull them away from each other one more time to be sure the knot is tight and abuts the top of the pearl.

Some techniques have you take your thumbnail, or the tip of your tweezers or awl, and push the knot towards the pearl’s hole. Traditionalists worry that by pulling the two cords apart, you will force the knot into the hole of the bead. However, by selecting the appropriate thickness of cord, and bringing two cords up through the hole of the bead, you will not have this problem.

I find that the thumbnail push doesn’t get close or tight enough. The use of the tools can fray and break the fibers in the cord. It’s one thing to use the tools to guide the knot into place. It’s another thing to use the tools to push and tighten the knots into place.

(5) Whether the piece begins and ends at the clasp, or with French wire bullion between the necklace and the clasp, or with bead tips between the necklace and the clasp, or with no clasp at all.

How you start and end your piece will vary a little bit, depending on whether you are attaching the piece directly to a clasp, using bullion or beads tips intervening between the piece and clasp, or using no clasp at all.

You connect the clasp differently in each case. You make your beginning and final knots differently in each case.

This is a personal choice.

Attaching the cord directly to the clasp is the most difficult. It uses the most technique, so, when I teach this class, this is the approach I use.

Using French wire bullion is a little easier. It looks very finished and pretty when your necklace is completed. But the bullion doesn’t age well. It gets black and dirty.

Using clam-shell bead tips is very easy and the most versatile. It extends the length of the clasp assembly, so there is some visual competition which might be annoying in some cases.

Making a continuous necklace is not that difficult, and allows you to make a long rope that does not need a clasp.

Whatever you do, you want to be sure that your resulting clasp assembly — that is, the clasp and all it takes to attach your beadwork to it — does not visually compete with the beauty of your pearls.

(6) How and where that last knot or last two knots are made

You can attach your last knot directly to the clasp, or bring your cord back through one or two beads, and then tie a knot.

You can run through steps for that last knot, which have you tying one cord off in one place, and tying the second cord off in another place.

You will find other instructions for tying off your cords in one place together.

When you make your last knot, you can tie a single knot, a double knot or a triple knot.

I approach this in a few different ways, depending on whether using a clasp only, or bullion, or bead tip, or no clasp.

If the final knot is going to show, I prefer NOT to end directly to the clasp, but to bring it back through one bead and tie it off between the last two beads.

My final knot is a square knot. This is the only knot in my pieces where I apply glue.

(7) Which Glue and How the Glue is Applied to the Knots

I prefer a “cement” over a regular “glue”. Cements bond immediately with the materials they are applied to. The bonds of most other types of glues are formed as the solvent in the glue evaporates into the air.

With silk, I prefer a fabric cement. I would never use super glue.

With nylon, I prefer to use a jeweler’s glue called Beacon 527 or hold it near a flame to melt the ends.

I prefer to place a very small drop of glue on the inside of the knot. I pull the knot tight, and put another drop of glue on the outside of the knot. This coats the bottom and the top of the knot. I let the glue set for 20–30 minutes. Then, I trim the tails very close to, but NOT right at the knot. Put another drop of glue on each tail, and tamp down on the tails with a tweezers or awl, so the tail-ends appear as part of that final knot, and make the knot pretty.

I try to minimize my use of glue, since glue will considerably diminish some of the structural support properties of the knot. I prefer to apply glue to only one knot in my piece — the very last knot made.

NOTE: With nylon bead cord, you can use a thread zapper or bic lighter to melt the ends of the cords. Where glue is to be used at the ends of the cords to keep them from unraveling, with nylon bead cord, you can melt the ends instead.

(8) Whether you use a flexible metal wire (steel or brass) needle, or make a self needle from the cord itself, using gum arabic.

Here we are using the wire needle that comes attached to the cord, plus a second twist wire (collapsible eye) needle.

What some pearl-knotters worry about is the metal needle snagging the bead cord, during the pearl knotting process. This weakens the cord.

To make a thread-needle, you would take a paring knife and shave the threads at the first 1 1/2″ at the end of your cord. Gently guide the paring knife over the cord until the nubs have been removed from the silk, and the thread has thinned. The more you shave, the thinner your needle will be. With an awl or tweezers, dab a small drop of gum arabic on the ends, and twist the threads between your fingers to make the needle. Cut off any stray fibers. Let dry for a few minutes until stiff.

I prefer the wire needle, because I find it easier to use, and longer lasting. Be aware, that should your wire needle begin to catch on the silk cord running through your bead, pull it out a bit, and then push it back through. It is not that difficult to minimize this problem. It is a lot easier to use the wire needle than your own home-made self-needle.

CHOOSING BEADS

Pearls come in different sizes and shapes, and a myriad of colors.

Some pearls are from nature. These include freshwater pearls (from mussels) and saltwater pearls (from oysters). Pearls can be naturally occurring, or cultured, where people have intervened in the process by introducing an irritant inside the mollusk shell.

Other pearls are “faux” or imitation. These are some kind of core bead with a pearlized finish around it. These are typically described by what makes up the core of the bead. The core could be plastic, glass, shell, or crystal. These are made in different countries around the world and vary in quality.

To differentiate between natural and faux pearls, try these things:

A) Always when buying pearls, check the hole. Most natural pearls have very small holes. The holes usually appear relatively smooth, but not perfectly smooth, round and centered as the holes in faux pearls do. The finishes on many faux pearls are not well applied, particularly at the hole. You often can see the finish chipping off or peeling away from the hole.

B) Rub the pearls against your front teeth. Faux pearls have very smooth surfaces. Natural pearls will have bumps and slightly uneven surfaces. You can feel the differences, when rubbed against your front teeth.

Pearls are typically described in terms of :

Luster: the way pearls seem to glow from within. It’s based on the depth of reflection due to the layering of the aragonite crystal.

Overtone: the translucent “coating” of color that some pearls have. A silver pearl may have a blue overtone or a green overtone, for example.

Orient (sometimes called iridescent orient): the variable play of colors across the surface of the pearl like a rainbow.

Shapes

Thanks to some new nucleating techniques, freshwater pearls can be found in a nearly endless variety of shapes, but the more traditional shapes include:

Round — Perfectly spherical, or very nearly so. These are primarily saltwater pearls. 
 Stick — Long and thin with many irregularities. 
 Rice — Small ovals drilled lengthwise. 
 Potato — Often lumpy, these are typically rounder than rice pearls and may be drilled either lengthwise or widthwise. 
 Nugget — Usually a little more square or pebble shaped than rice or potato pearls and almost always having a flat side. 
 Coin — Large, circular and flat, often about the size of a dime, with the hole drilled end-to-end. Coin shapes include hearts, squares, ovals and large pears and drops. 
 Keishi — Sometimes called “cornflake”, these are flat and highly irregular. 
 Drop — Teardrop, pear or even peanut shapes, drilled either lengthwise, or widthwise at the narrowest end. 
 Button — Rondelle shaped, often with a flatter side, and drilled through the “hub” of the wheel. 
 Blister pearls — pearls that are still attached to the shell of the mollusk.

Colors

Most pearls are color enhanced to become a specific color. First they are bleached, then dyed.

Sizes

Pearl bead sizes are given in millimeters There are 25mm in an inch. Rulers are marked in inches on one side and millimeters on the other.

Hole Sizes

Hole sizes on pearls usually run smaller than on most other beads. The size of the hole is NOT in proportion to the size of the bead. Therefore, when selecting bead cord, you need to have one of your pearls handy, so that you can match the hole size to the cord.

CHOOSING CLASPS AND CLASP ASSEMBLIES

You can use any type of clasp that you prefer.

However, pearl knotted jewelry is very strongly associated with what are called pearl clasps or safety clasps. These are often marquis-shaped clasps, with a hook like tongue that pushes inside them. If the tongue should somehow come undone and slip out, it would catch on a bar in the clasp, saving you from losing your string of pearls.

In terms of that vintage-type look, other widely used clasps are filigree or other box clasps. These are pretty, but not as secure as safety clasps.

Usually, you will want your clasp to compliment and not compete visually with your pearl knotted piece. If you decide to use a very show’y clasp, it should blend organically with the rest of your piece.

You will be attaching your bead cord, either to the loop(s) on the clasp itself, or to soldered rings attached to these loops. You want both these loops, as well as any rings attached to them, to be closed, that is soldered — thus have no gaps in them. If there are attached rings, and they are open, you will want to remove these, and attach the cord to the closed loops on the clasp.

If you are making pearl knotted pieces for re-sale, you would be hard pressed Not to use a pearl or safety clasp, or some similar looking clasp.

The woman who originally owned the American Pearl Company in Tennessee was always looking for a clasp that would be durable, but attractive to her customers. The American Pearl Company made a lot of its money by selling finished jewelry. Safety clasps, particularly those made of 14KT gold, break easily. The tongue bends and breaks, and no longer can wedge into its marquis shaped home. Her biggest frustration was that the clasps on the necklaces and bracelets she sold broke too easily, and the pieces came back for repair. It’s a big effort to re-string pearl knotted pieces, since you have to cut off each pearl individually.

At first she tried switching to other types of clasps, like toggle clasps and lobster claws. But these pieces did not sell. People wanted pearl/safety clasps.

Next, she tried switching from 14KT gold to gold-filled clasps. These did not sell either. People wanted 14KT.

Finally, she gave in somewhat. She returned to the 14KT gold pearl/safety clasps. But she doubled her prices, to build in the cost of one re-stringing.

CHOOSING STRINGING MATERIALS

We recommend, if your project is all pearls, or mostly pearls, that you use silk beading cord.

If your project is very few pearls, or no pearls, say using glass, faux pearls or gemstones, that you use nylon beading cord.

Unfortunately, while nylon bead cord is much, much more durable than silk, nylon ruins pearls. Nylon cuts into the pearl at the bead hole, making the nacre start to chip and flake off. Silk does not do this.

Beading cords are threads which are braided together to make them look pretty. Beading cords are used in projects where you want your stringing material to show. Beading cords are less durable than waxed threads or flexible cable wires. We do not wax beading cord, because this would make the cord look ugly. Waxed beading threads and cable wires can cut into the pearls at the hole, and ruin them. By using beading cords, you are trading off visual appearance for durability.

Silk and nylon bead cord can be purchased in 2-meter (6 feet) lengths on cards with a needle attached, as well as on larger spools without a needle attached. Usually the silk or nylon on spools is a higher quality cord than that on cards. However, most people use the cards because of the convenience of having a needle attached.

At the same quality level, silk beading cord and nylon beading cord have the same pros and cons. They stretch the same, fray the same, get dirty the same — only the silk deteriorates, and the nylon does not.

You can pick a bead cord which matches the color of your beads, or which contrasts or otherwise highlights the color of your beads. In either case, the color should visually compliment, not compete, with the pearls themselves.

A NOTE ABOUT KNOTS AND THEIR FUNCTION

When we knot between beads, the un-glued knot becomes what is called a “support system”. Support systems in jewelry allow what is called “jointedness.” Un-glued knots are support systems, as are loops and rings, hinges and rivets. In this project, the pearls can rotate around the knots, and the knots can contract and expand in response to stresses and strains placed on the necklace when worn.

Support systems allow the piece, as worn, to move freely. When jewelry moves when worn, this puts a tremendous amount of force on each of the components. Support systems allow this force to be absorbed and dissipated, before anything bad happens.

If the piece is too stiff, such as when the knot has been glued, and cannot move freely, the components will break — the cord will break, the clasp will break, the beads will chip, crack and break.

A NOTE ABOUT GLUES AND GLUE-ING

Glue is usually the enemy of good design. We want to minimize its use.

Unfortunately, with hand-knotting, we need to secure the last knot, and, in some cases, the last two knots, with glue. When we finally trim the cord where we have tied that last knot, we use the glue for two reasons, (1) to keep the end of the cut cord from unraveling, and (2) to keep the knot from loosening up and coming un-done.

With silk beading cord, we suggest using a fabric cement. “Cement” is a type of glue which bonds instantly with the cord, when applied. With cement, the bond adheres to all the microfibers that make up the bead cord. “Glue” without the label cement on the package, usually bonds over a period of time while the solvent in the glue evaporates into the air and the bond dries. With glue, the bond tightens like a collar. In this project we suggest G-S Hypo Fabric Cement, because it has a very narrow applicator tip. But any fabric cement will do. You can purchase these at most craft stores and some bead stores.

With nylon beading cord, we suggest a jeweler’s glue like Beacon 527. This glue dries like rubber, and the bond acts like a shock absorber when confronted with excess force. This glue does not come with that great narrow tip, so we suggest applying the glue with a pin or toothpick. This glue dries quickly. Another widely used glue is G-S Hypo Cement which does come with that great tip, but doesn’t dry quickly enough, and I find the fully set bond too stiff. I would never use super glue for this purpose.

In selecting a glue, you want it to
 — dry quickly
 — dry clear
 — not harm the pearls (or other types of beads you are using)
 — be washable

While some glues dry quickly, most take about 24 hours to set and dry hard. You would not wear your pieces for 24 hours after gluing.

WHAT TOOLS DO I NEED?

In traditional pearl knotting, you use a tool to help you make and secure your knots. This tool would either be a tri-cord knotter, which works well. Or it might be a very pointed tweezers or awl, which are awkward for most people to use, without a lot of practice.

In our non-traditional approach, we do not use tools for knotting. Occasionally, we might use a chain nose pliers or a tweezers, to give us some more leverage, when pulling a cord through a bead. We use scissors to cut the cord. If using French wire bullion, we use a flush cutters to cut this. But we use only our hands to make our knots, position the knots, and tighten the knots.

Over the many, many years I have been in the beading and jewelry making business, I have seen few students able to get the knots done satisfactorily, using the tools, and following the traditional methods. A few students have practiced over and over again to master the technique. But most students give up long before they get to that point. The non-traditional method is mastered in one or two tries. That is one of the reasons we advocate for the non-traditional approach.

Also note, if you squeeze the cord too tightly with tools, you can damage the cord.

RE-STRINGING PEARLS

Know when to restring your pearls.

There are 5 tell-tale signs:

DIRT
 CHIPPING
 STRETCH
 DETERIORATION
 CLASP FAILURE

Re-string if the knots between your pearls are looking soiled or discolored. Silk, in particular, absorbs body oils and grime. Pearls are porous. They can absorb dirt and become permanently discolored. Sometimes, if there are no knots between beads, your pearls might adversely be affected by the beads next to them. For example, gold beads can blacken pearls, at the point they come in contact.

Re-string if your pearls become chipped, scratched or broken. Pearls are soft and can easily scratch, chip and break. Some of your pearls may need to be replaced, before re-stringing.

Re-string if your pearls are moving around too freely between the knots. Silk stretches over time. Cord which shows, thus is uncovered, increases the chances it will break. Your necklace also may get longer over time, and that extra length may no longer meet your fashion needs.

Re-string if your stringing material breaks.

Re-string if your clasp breaks.

How often do pearls need to be re-strung? This depends on how often you wear them, what they were strung on, and how they were stored and cared for.

In general, pearls need to be re-strung every 3–5 years. If you wear your pearls every day, you will need to re-string them annually. If they were strung on silk bead cord, which is our preference, then silk naturally deteriorates in 3–5 years, and you want to re-string them before the silk starts turning to dust. If they were strung on nylon bead cord or flexible cable wires, these materials do not easily break down, and you might wait 10 years before re-stringing.

If you store your pearls in an air-tight bag, and out of the air and sunlight, you may only have to re-string them every 10–15 years, even when strung on silk beading cord. The bag should be made of a natural material like silk or cotton. Plastic bags chemically interact with the pearl, and will ruin your pearls.

Before you re-string your pearls, you would need to clean them.

First, you should gently wash your pearls while they are still on the old string, with mild soap and warm water. Remove any dirt and hardened oils around the pearls, particularly near the holes. Rinse extremely well so that there is no soapy residue. While you are cleaning your pearls, you want to anticipate what might happen, should the string break. Be sure the drain is covered. You might want to wash the pearls by working inside a colander in your sink.

Next, you must carefully cut the pearls off the old string. To start, place your scissors on the knot between two pearls and cut through the middle of the knot. You don’t want to start on either side of the first knot because the knot could slip inside a pearl and be quite difficult to remove. For the rest of the pearls, snip each knot off by placing the scissors behind each knot and in front of the pearl. Again, work over a surface, where, if you dropped a pearl, you would not lose it.

If there is a pattern to the arrangement of the pearls on your necklace, you might want to lay them out in this pattern, as you cut each one off the string, say on a bead board.

A NOTE ABOUT BUYING PEARLS

When buying pearls, you want to examine:

Shape — Consistency of shape along your strand. Either very round, or a very interesting shape is considered better.
 — Size — Consistency of size — either similarity of size or consistency of gradations in size — along your strand. Usually, the larger the pearl, the more valuable it is.
 — Color — A pleasing blending of color all around the bead, from every angle. Consistency of color along your strand. Rose or silver/white pearls tend to look best on fair skin tones, while cream and gold tones look better on darker complexions. 
 — Luster — High luster and translucency is better than dull or chalky
 — Surface quality — Few blemishes is better than one with many irregularities. Absence of disfiguring spots, bumps or cracks.
 — Hole quality — If you see chips around the hole, this is a bad sign and indicative of other problems. Some hole sizes may be so small, that they would be extremely difficult to work with.
 — Nacre thickness — Thicker is better

A NOTE ABOUT CARING FOR PEARLS

Pearls will last a lifetime and beyond, if cared for properly.

Exposure to heat (such as the top of a TV set or near a stove or fire place), sunlight, and chemicals (such as those in hair spray, cosmetics and perfumes) can damage the nacre of pearls.

How do I safely clean pearls? Use a gentle detergent soap or mild shampoo without dyes and warm water. Be sure to clean around the hole of each pearl. Rinse thoroughly and let dry on a damp cloth overnight. Hot water can permanently damage your pearls. Do not let your pearls soak in the water. Let the pearls and string dry out for 24 hours before wearing.

Never wear your pearls when the string is still wet . Never hang the strand when wet.

Pearls are softer than other gemstones. Always wipe them with a soft cloth after wearing. Perfume oils, makeup, hair sprays and perfumes can spot and weaken their surfaces, as well as the cords they are strung on.

Pearls should be put on after the application of cosmetics, perfume or hair spray. They should be the LAST THINGS PUT ON and the FIRST THINGS TAKEN OFF.

Pearls should be kept away from hard or sharp jewelry that could scratch them.

Pearls are best stored in a soft cloth pouch, or in a separately lined segment of a jewelry box, and out of the air and sunlight. Do not store in a plastic bag. The plastic emits a chemical which makes the pearl surface deteriorate.

Do not shower or swim in your pearl jewelry.

Ammonia and alcohol will ruin pearls. They both draw out the oils in the pearls which give them their luster. Keep pearls away from metal cleaners and tarnish removers.

The more you wear your pearls, the more beautiful they become. Pearls’ luster is maximized when worn often because the oils from the skin react with the surface of the pearl. However, you want your pearls to glow, not yourself; perspiration can be slightly acidic, and eat away at the pearl.

The air in many safes and security deposit boxes is very dry, and can cause pearls to crack or discolor.

A NOTE ABOUT DRILLING PEARL HOLES TO MAKE THEM LARGER

Pearls typically have very small holes. The holes are small because it is too easy to chip and crack the nacre around the holes, when drilling them.

You can, however, make the holes a little larger. You would use a hand-held or battery-operated bead reamer to make the holes in your pearls larger. You want your drill beads to be diamond coated.

You want to work slowly but steadily.

Wear safety goggles. Pearl dust can adversely affect your eye-sight.

Until the 1970s, pearl holes were typically drilled by hand. Pearl companies from Japan would often have boys in India drill holes in pearls. They would hire and train boys who were 9 years old. By the time the boys were 14, many had lost their eye-sight. Thankfully, with the advent of mechanized ways to drill pearls, this practice no longer continues today.

STYLES AND LENGTHS OF PEARL NECKLACES

Because the history of pearls has been very much a part of the history of nobility, there have been many customs and social expectations that have arisen around pearls. One of these has to do with styles and lengths.

Graduated: Beads are graduated in size, with the largest in the center, and decreasing in size on either side towards the clasp.

Uniform: All the pearls are within .5mm of each other in size.

Choker: One or more strands worn just above the collarbone, typically 15 1/2″ to 16 1/2″.

Princess: 18″ length

Matinee: 22–24″ length

Opera: 30–32″ length

Continuous Strand: A necklace without a clasp, typically over 26″ in length so that it can slip over someone’s head.

Bib: A necklace with many strands, each one longer than the one above it.

Rope: 45″ or longer, sometimes referred to as a lariat.

A necklace enhancer, sometimes referred to as a “necklace shortener”, is like a ring with a latch on one side and a hinge on the other, which lets you open and securely close it. These are most often used with ropes, where you circle the rope over your head 2 or 3 times, to wear like a multi-strand choker. The necklace enhancer clips over the knots in the encircling strands, to secure them together and in place. If you cannot find a necklace enhancer, you might be able to use an S-clasp to achieve the same end.

Odd vs. Even number of strands: This is a personal choice. Traditionally, it was believed that an even number of strands was inappropriate and bad luck. It would be very unusual to see any royalty wear an even number of strands.

SELLING YOUR PEARL KNOTTING SKILLS

Selling your pearl knotting skills is a great way to make some money.

Most jewelry stores charge their customers to re-string their pearls between $4.00 and $6.00 per inch.

Most independent jewelry designers charge between $2.50 and $3.50 per inch. These designers re-string pearls on their own, or sub-contract with jewelry stores.

I have also found, when doing craft shows, that I can quickly hand-knot strands of attractive-looking beads, not necessarily pearls, and use these knotted pieces to fill out my inventory. These pieces sell very well, and are very profitable.

BEGINNING YOUR PROJECT

Pearl Knotting Basic Steps

  1. Selecting and Testing Bead Cord
     2. Variation #1: Attaching Clasp to Beginning of Necklace
     3. Bringing Up The First Pearl and Tying the Knot
     4. Continue Pearl Knotting To Get the Length You Want, But Stringing Last Two Beads Without Knotting Between Them
     5. Attaching the Other Part of Your Clasp to the End of the Necklace, and Making the Final Knots
  2. Selecting and Testing Bead Cord

We are going to pull two thicknesses of cord through our beads. The bead will be strung on one cord, and we will be pulling a second cord through the hole. We want noticeable resistance to this. Resistance to the point where we feel we need to direct our hand to pull a little harder than we first thought. You might need a chain nose pliers to help you pull the needle through.

You might want to prepare a sample Cord-Size Tester, like I have. Here I have attached cords between sizes 00 and 08. Each cord is doubled. One leg of each cord has a needle attached, and the other leg does not. This lets me test out both cord thickness, as well as knot size.

Most freshwater and saltwater pearls have very small holes. The sizes most used here are between 00 (.3mm) and 03 (.5mm), with 02 (.45mm) the most common.

Most glass beads and gemstone beads require cords between 04 (.6mm) and 08 (.8mm), with the most common 06 (.7mm).

When The Beads Have Different Size Holes…

You always want to start with beads that have very similarly sized holes.

If you buy a strand of real pearls, there is a good chance that the hole sizes might vary. You might need to work from 2 strands of beads to cull enough beads with similar size holes, to pearl-knot.

Another thing you might do, especially if there is a big variation in hole sizes, say when mixing both pearls, glass, metal and/or gemstone beads. You do not necessarily have to put knots between all your beads. You can separate the beads in terms of hole sizes, create a patterned layout, where you plan to knot between beads with similar hole sizes, and not knot between the rest.

It is also very typical that the hole on one side of the bead will be slightly larger than on the other. Picture a drill press. The drill bit pushes down into the bead to make this hole, with the thinner tip end of the bit coming out the other end. It’s risky to drill pearls, so they don’t take bit all the way through.

Another thing you might try: Match the cord size to the smallest hole size. Make double-knots between each bead instead of single knots.

What Length of Cord Will You Need…

The actual length of cord will depend on the size of your beads, thus how many knots you need to make along the length of your cord, as well as your specific hand-knotting technique.

In the traditional rule of thumb, you multiply the length of the necklace you want to make and multiply that by 4 and add 15″. This will give you enough cord to make the necklace, as well as about 15″ or so of cord to hold onto.

For example, using this traditional rule, a 16 1/2″ necklace would need about 81″ of cord. On the cord-on-cards, you get 2 meters or about 79″.

In our non-traditional method, we use about 12″ less of cord, so multiplying your length by 4 and adding 3″ would be the math. So, in our example, for a 16 1/2″ necklace, we would need about 69″ of cord.

With the non-traditional technique instructions below, you can get a 22″ necklace made up of 8mm beads from this 2-meter card.

NOTE: With your silk cord in particular, the last several inches near the attached needle get too frayed during the pearl knotting process, to be useful for your finished piece.

2. VARIATION #1: Attaching Clasp to Beginning of Necklace

Attaching The Clasp To The Beginning Of The Necklace

  1. Open up your bead cord on the card, and unravel the cord off the card.
  2. The cord will be kinky. Pinch the cord between your thumb and forefinger. Run your 2 fingers up and down the length of the cord a few times, pull the cord a bit as you do this, to smooth the kinks out. You do not have to get this perfectly smooth.
  3. You can also run the cord over the edge of a table.
  4. [For a project like a tin cup necklace, where a lot of the cord will show, you can steam iron the cord. Put a towel over the cord before you steam it.]

Test The Length

Let’s test the size of our necklace out, to be sure we have it long enough.

Use a necklace sizing cone or someone’s neck.

Hold the necklace around the cone or neck. Don’t forget to account for any additional length the final part of your clasp will add to your piece. One part of this clasp is already attached to the beginning of the necklace. The other part of the clasp may or may not add additional length.

You will also be making additional knots — at least 2 — and this will add 1/16″ per knot in length.

Necklace Sizing Cone

If you need to add additional beads, you can slide these onto cord B. Review the measurement table at the start of our instructions to determine how many more beads you might need to add.

Maneuver Cord A back down through that last bead, so you can tie a knot where you skipped a bead. Tie additional knots until you get to your last 2 beads.

Attaching the Other Part of Your Clasp to the End of the Necklace, 
and Making the Final Knots

The Process:

o We will slide the last bead off of Cord B, and re-string it onto Cord A.

o Begin to tie Cord A off to the clasp using a Larks Head knot. Fold Cord A in half about midway between the last bead and the end of the cord. Slip that folded spot through the ring on the clasp, and pull it through, to begin forming your loop.

o Un-anchor your pearl knotted strand.

o Make a “pile: your Cord B, the pearl knotted strand, and Cord A several inches below the clasp and Larks Head knot.

o Pull this “pile” through your Larks Head loop.

o Get everything orderly again: Cord B off to the side, re-anchored pearl knotting strand, clasp with beginnings of Larks Head knot with a big loop that will need to be closed above your pearl knotted strand, and your Cord A off to the other side.

THE CHEAT WAY: Instead of bringing this whole pile through the loop, just take the clasp itself through the loop.

o Bring Cord A back down through that last bead towards the next to last bead. Slip an awl or a tweezers through the loop on your Larks Head knot, preventing that loop from closing all the way onto the clasp. You are now positioned to begin to tighten that Larks Head knot.

o Carefully pull everything more and more tightly — all the beads abutting each other and the clasp.

You cannot do this in one step.

THIS IS HOW I LIKE TO DO THIS:

  1. POSITION THE LAST BEAD SO IT SITS SNUGLY AGAINST THE NEXT-TO-LAST-BEAD
  2. PULL ON THE LOOP, SO THAT YOU FORCE THE CLASP DOWN, SO THAT THE LOOP WITH THE CORD THROUGH IT SITS SNUGLY AGAINST THE LAST BEAD.
  3. HOLD and push down on THE LAST 2 BEADS AND THE CLASP TIGHTLY IN PLACE, SO THEY CAN’T MOVE.
  4. PULL TIGHTLY AND STEADILY ON CORD A, TO PULL OUT THE LOOP OF THE LARKS HEAD KNOT
  5. REMOVE THE AWL
  6. PULL AGAIN, TIGHTLY AND QUICKLY ON CORD A, TO TIGHTEN EVERYTHING UP.

o Double check that everything is tight, especially the clasp relative to the last bead, and the last bead relative to the bead before it.

o Tie a square knot with Cord A and Cord B between the last bead and next to last bead, and glue.

— First take Cord A over B, glue the inside of the knot, pull tight, glue the outside of the knot

— Second, flip the beads over to the other side (180 degrees) so our square knots ends up centered, rather than off to one side.

— Third take Cord B over A, glue the inside of the knot, pull tight, glue the outside of the knot

o Let the glue set, usually within 20–30 minutes.

o At about 10 minutes, and before the glue sets, rub off any excess glue that may have gotten onto the pearls, on either side of the knot.

o Trim off Cord B and Cord A as close to the knot as you can. You can add drop of glue to end of the cords to prevent fraying.

Then, tamp down the trimmed tails, with the awl or chain nose pliers or tweezers or your finger nails, if necessary, into the knot to camouflage them.

o At about 10 minutes, and before the glue sets, rub off any excess glue that may have gotten onto the pearls, on either side of the knot.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Cleaning Sterling Silver Jewelry: What Works!

What Glue Should I Use When Making Jewelry?

Why Am I So Addicted To Beads?

A Very Abbreviated, But Not Totally Fractured, History of Beads

The Martha Stewart Beaded Wreath Project

When Choosing Colors Has You Down, Check Out The Magic Of Simultaneity Effects

The Use of Armature In Jewelry: Legitimate or Not?

Pearl Knotting Warren’s Way

Organizing Your Craft Workspace…Some Smart Pointers

You Don’t Choose Clasps, You Choose Clasp Assemblies

Know Your Anatomy Of A Necklace

Mini Lesson: Making Stretchy Bracelets

Mini Lesson: Making Adjustable Slip Knots With Thicker Cords

Mini Lesson: How To Crimp

Mini Lesson: Attaching End Caps, Cones, Crimp Ends

Mini Lesson: Brick Stitch

Mini Lesson: Flat Even Count Peyote

Mini Lesson: Ndebele Stitch

Mini Lesson: Petersburg Chain

Mini Lesson: Right Angle Weave

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Everyone Has A Getting Started Story

The Nature-Inspired Creations of Kathleen

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Glass Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Lampwork Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Crystal Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Seed and Cylinder Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Choosing and Using Clasps

How To Design An Ugly Necklace: The Ultimate Designer Challenge

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

You may also purchase a Pearl Knotting kit plus a more extensive intructions guide on the Land of Odds website.

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

Add your name to my email list.

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