Knot easy: Stringing pearls

In my 20s, I was modestly talented in handicrafts. I learned to knit, and made beautifully sewn and finished mens' shirts. But my talents lay fallow for decades, until I decided to do something with the many strands of pearls I bought and never wore, because the clasps were too cheap. "Why not learn the useful, relaxing skill of pearl stringing?" I thought, "and rehab these pearls myself? How hard can it be?"

I enrolled for The Sassy Bead Company's evening class and traversed the city in a -20C evening. I met the perky 22 year old instructor, Susan, and the lone other student, a middle-aged woman named Alison who wanted to make a necklace for her daughter.
We were given glass pearls, enough for a bracelet. When I asked why we weren't stringing a necklace, Susan simply said, "You can try that next." (Translation: "Let's see what you've got, besides opposable thumbs.")

Just like painting a room, it turns out that prep is everything; you have to create those end thingies that the clasp hooks to, then set the clasp, all with no twists or frays. She demonstrated the intricate pearl stringing technique, sliding and knotting the beads in a kind of syncopated cat's cradle. I tried it; sweat was popping off my forehead and the thread was streaked with blood. Everything seemed to jam up on my pathetic string in several dimensions at once, while time stood still and my breath laboured like mile 22 of a marathon.

Alison's strand was neat and even; turns out she's an accomplished beader. Mine was lumpy tortured mess. Stringing pearls turns out to be one of those tasks best left to the pros, like making croissants or pouring concrete.


Below, a video of the women from Pearl Paradise. Show us how it's done, ladies!







10 comments

Imogen Lamport said...

You could always do a non-traditional string.

I've done a bit of bead work and it is fiddly.

Duchesse said...

I urge anyone to knot the pearls to keep them from rubbing each other. For other beads, it looks unfinished to me- guess I'm a traditionalist. For example, a string of 14mm ebony beads knotted on red silk, I love that look.

Julianne said...

Wow, I would be way too impatient to do that. My mom restrung her pearls and I have them now. She was a lot more patient than I am!

greying pixie said...

Yes, pearl knots are one thing about which I'm very fussy. I learned many years ago that London is the place to have them restrung and I would come over from Switzerland especially for that purpose. In the really old-fashioned jewellers in London you can still choose your style and size of knot.

Surprisingly, in Switzerland, a country one associates with fine precision, they do only one type of knot which in my opinion is far too small so that the pearls start to touch after a few months.

I remember being told, and then discovering for myself, that a string of pearls changes constantly. The knots get smaller, and strings stretches slightly and becomes more flexible, so that constant servicing and upkeep is necessary. No wonder women grow so attached to their pearls, it's like maintaining an extension of yourself!

gp said...

Oh, and I forgot to add... I think the stringing of pearls is definitely one of those old crafts that we should value. Duchesse, I guess you've come to the same conclusion!

Duchesse said...

GP: So pleased to meet another pearl knot devotee!

Jeremy Shepherd said...

It takes a lot of practice to get those knots just right. I've nearly given up trying to become a knotting pro. I just don't have the patience and my hands are too big.

Duchesse said...

All: Pearl guru Jeremy Shepherd is the owner of Pearl Paradise. ("Udeman", pearl category!) Check the Pearl Paradise site or contact Jeremy and his staff when shopping for pearls.

Imogen Lamport said...

I was thinking more on the lines of still with knots, just not traditional spacing.

Duchesse said...

Imogen, the knots still have to be uniform and the clasp well-set- beyond my abilities. I have accepted defeat.