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!)

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