Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Trial by Pearls

If you've kept up with me out here for any length of time (or even if you've gone back over old posts), you know I love to knot pearls. I've been doing it for a long time, I occasionally teach other people how to do it, I've done it from scratch with new pearls and I've cleaned, disassembled and restrung and knotted old, stretched strands to look like new again. But I've never had a strand put me through my paces quite like the graduated strand I received from a lovely and patient customer I encountered at a show last fall!

They arrived in their original blue velvet box .. a tender little strand with obviously stretched silk needing a little care and attention. Knowing what I know now I'm sorry I didn't look at them more closely before cleaning and cutting the strand apart. The first thing I discovered upon removing the old thread was the pearls were not real. This was a surprise - with the naked eye (my naked eye, to be exact) - they looked real. In fact, I'm still searching for any information on the company whose name was on the inside of the box they came in (Styled by Crosby is what it said) .. more out of curiosity about the surface treatment than anything else. Most old faux pearls I've seen look fake. But, the fact that the pearls weren't real wasn't the problem .. what I discovered was that the holes in the larger center beads were too big for the size D silk thread that would look best with the smaller 4mm beads that made up the bulk of the necklace. I didn't recall that the knots near these larger center beads were problematic in any way before I cut the thing apart, so I haven't a clue as to how this issue was addressed previously. I looked closely at all the little lengths of silk I'd pulled out of all the pearls and couldn't find anything that looked out of the ordinary.

And after attempting to knot the strand twice - once with size D, once with size E - I was stuck. No matter how careful I was near the larger beads, the knots would just slip inside the holes and disappear. As pearl holes are notoriously small, I've never needed a size larger than E before .. and didn't have any larger than E except in black, which wouldn't do. And besides, anything larger wouldn't fit through the 4mm beads.

I kept the customer apprised of my progress .. and lack of progress .. as I continued to search for some way to make this work. If I encounter this problem while stringing stone or glass beads, I just add very small seed beads, liquid silver tubes or little rubbery spacers that separate briolettes on higher end strands (which I always save for this purpose) .. but while the holes were larger than normal pearls, they weren't large enough to accommodate any of these. I told the customer I was considering something a lot less conventional (and much more drastic) like stuffing the holes with something like white two part mold compound or polymer clay.

Fortunately, I didn't do anything until I sent an inquiry to a jewelry forum in which I occasionally participate. It didn't take long for suggestions to come pouring in. And I must say I am somewhat embarrassed not to have thought of the solution offered by most people, which was to add another needle with doubled thread when approaching the larger beads. Simple, elegant, nothing new to purchase .. and no need to muck around with the pearls (a thought that troubled me greatly).

Easier than it sounds though .. and I spent last weekend with some beads other than the pearls experimenting with this process. After playing with various combinations of doubled thread (and then doing a dry run with just the nine center beads), what I ended up doing was using size D to begin; then four beads in from the center I added size E for three pearls; I then cut the original D thread and added a second size E for the center and the two pearls on either side of it; then worked backwards to a combo of D and E, then back to one long D to finish up. The combination of the two doubled E threads (four strands of thread total) made knots perfect for those middle three pearls, but was way too much thread for any of the others. The process took me longer than it might normally because I applied a thin gum arabic beading glue with a fine brush to all the knots that had an added tail of thread in the pearl behind it or had a double strand cut away from the knot .. and I gave the glue a good ten minutes to set before proceeding. This process necessarily weakens the strand at the center, but one doesn't expect a lot of rough tugging and pulling on one's pearl strand; so I can only hope that it will be just fine.

As this was the third time I'd knotted the strand, I held my breathe through the center nine pearls .. but I was really pleased with the end result. All the pictures here were taken after I'd finally gotten it right. If you have any knowledge of the company name, please let me know .. I'd still love to understand that great surface treatment! Otherwise, I'm just going to thank my lucky stars for Orchid and all its kind and helpful followers, be grateful for having learned such a nifty new trick .. and hope I never encounter another strand that needs it!

1 comment:

Jeni Buckingham said...

I've been following your dilemma through the Orchid forum and couldn't wait to see what worked. How beautiful - you did a fluid and wonderful job! I guess it's true that sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

I noticed your comment about a web builder... my husband would love to help you out if you still need one. You can see one of his site builds - just click on my name for the link.