Designing with Pearls

Wild Trellis
shows off top-drilled pearls

Katie Hacker recently wrote a fun blog entry titled "Then and Now," where she described the process of pulling out old projects to see how far you've come. (She has a photo of friendships pins on her blog—remember those?) Katie's post reminded me that sometimes when you're starting out, you don't even get to the finished product stage!

For my first pearl bracelet design, I decided to use paua shell beads and green freshwater pearls. I purchased some special blue beading wire in the standard .019 size I always used. You should have seen the look on my face when I couldn't string any of the pearls because the holes were too small! (I quickly learned that .012 wire works much better with pearls.) I talked briefly with Jamie Hogsett, one of the co-authors of Create Jewelry: Pearls to see if she had any design tips to share.

Michelle: Do you have any tips for working with pearls?

Try seed beads
instead of knotting

Jamie: I enjoy using freshwater pearls and am having fun with Swarovski's crystal pearls as well. The only tricky thing about freshwater pearls is they often have tiny holes, so it is important to keep that in mind when designing with pearls.

Michelle: I like the uniform holes of Swarovski's pearls—they really make stringing so much easier! What stringing material to do you like using with pearls?

Jamie: Pearls are great because their holes are smooth, so I never worry about the holes cutting into the stringing material. Knotting pearls on silk thread is the classic way to wear pearls, but since my knotting skills aren't supreme, I favor bead stringing wire if just stringing pearls. You can string size 15 or 11 seed beads between pearls to give the look of knotting.

Michelle: I love that tip. I tried two different versions—one using a matching seed bead color and one using a contrasting color and I like them both.

Do you have a favorite project in the book?

Cuff Deluxe
uses right-angle weave
Jamie: I have a few favorites: Cuff Deluxe because of the unique way it shows off the coin pearls (on their sides), Midnight Tassel because the tassel was so much fun to create, and Wild Trellis because of the way the pearls move around on the chain links. Wild Trellis is one of those finished pieces that I seem to wear all the time.

Thanks Jamie! Here's one more tip that I picked up from Create Jewelry: Pearls:

"Even the most skillfully made imitation pearls can be distinguished from real pearls by the 'tooth test.' The texture of an imitation pearl's surface will be uniform, while a real pearl will have a natural unevenness. If you gently run the pearl along the edge of your teeth, a real pearl will have a somewhat gritty feel, while an imitation pearl will be smooth."

I do feel obligated to add this warning: make sure you're alone when you try this. It's very hard to explain to non-beaders! (Plus, imagine being me and trying to explain that this was work-related!)

Related Posts:


Beading Daily Blog

About Editor

I am the editor of Beading Daily.  My designs have appeared in a variety of publications, including Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Beadwork, and other publications.  If you have a great suggestion for Beading Daily, or just want to show off your latest project, send me an email!

11 thoughts on “Designing with Pearls

  1. Knotting between pearls is not just a “look” – it’s a safety device. If a strand is broken, only one pearl will be lost. I suppose if one is confidence of the newer wires *and* the security of the connections you’ve made, then it is only a design consideration.

  2. Michelle, Again I have to say I am liking the information in your posts more and more. I found your inclusion of your conversation with Jamie very helpful, informative, and interesting!

  3. Loved the designing with pearls posting -== my next bracelet will have pearls that I purchased on Sanibel Island, Florida.
    and, I love the idea of using a seed bead to imitate knotting — clever, clever.

  4. Yes, those tiny pearl holes. I finally went to the hobby store (HobbyTown in North Colorado Springs) and got a micro bit & chuck for my Dremel tool. Now I can make those quick earrings to go with the necklace with having to buy special head pins.

    A drill is pretty dangerous for really expensive pearls because they can chip & break if you aren’t careful. But for the garden variety freshwater pearls it’s the ticket.

  5. Is the pattern for wild trellis available? I am a Brand Spankin’ New Beader and fell in love with the design. Is it worth it as a first time project?

  6. I bought the book “Create Jewelry:Pearls” and note that alot of the projects use sterling silver with the pearls. How would you recommend I keep the silver from tarnishing as standard silver cleaning methods cannot be used with pearls.

  7. B T, The Wild Trellis is also in the Create Jewelry: Pearls book. If you can create wrapped loops, you can make this project. Practice your loops until you’re comfortable and then you’ll be ready to go!

  8. Its kind of late but I have a comment to add about seed beads instead of knots. I wound up with a few strands of freshwater pearls that were really cheap ($1 a strand) but nice except for a bit of damage around the holes. Rather than trash them I found that 11/0 seed beads were large enough to hide the less than perfect holes. If you’re just goofing around with cheap pearls give it a shot. I actually got several compliments on the necklace I made with pearls I was about to throw away.

    Lori B in NC