As a crafter who likes ocean related stuff, I’ve always been drawn to the natural look of pearls. It’s got to be the “Little Mermaid” fantasy, with the mermaid chick sporting her shimmering green tail, shell pink bra, and always present choker of pearls.
Pearls are the only gemstone created by an animal, usually a type of oyster (saltwater pearls) or mussel (freshwater pearls). On the Mohs’ Hardness Scale, the pearl rates about 3.5 (can be scratched with a coin), so it’s fairly soft in comparison to other gems. Because of this, pearls are most commonly used in necklaces, as opposed to rings or bracelets, which must be able to endure harsher wear.
For many beaders like myself, freshwater pearls can be affordable to use in projects. They make nice, beachy looking jewelry as well. Cultured freshwater pearls tend to be a little more misshapen since they are almost entirely made up of nacre with a very small starter seed at its’ center. Cultured saltwater pearls, however, tend to be a thinner, more uniform veneer of nacre over a much larger starter seed inserted into the bivalve. The Wikipedia on cultured freshwater pearls is very interesting, and worth a read.
I’ve been pearl knotting for years, and it’s a nice skill to learn, albeit very tricky. Pearls strung on silk need to be restrung about every decade (depending on wear), so knowing how to CAREFULLY string and knot delicate pearls can be a nice side gig. Here’s a great tutorial on the proper way to restring and knot pearls well. Pearls are usually knotted to prevent them from rubbing against each other and losing their luster. With knotting, it’s practice, practice, practice. Because of the soft nature of pearls, you have to become a patient knotter….and unknotter. It can feel a little surgical at times.
Tip: Knotting using thicker cord and big, cheap plastic beads at first will help you get a feel for how everything should lay and look before you try it on tiny, delicate pearls!
Personally, I like to use nylon cord for stringing and knotting instead of silk (unless I’m restoring a piece) because it’s far more durable and has less stretch over time. You can buy small cards of nylon or silk with needles already attached, which means you don’t need to double your thread. Bonus. There’s also a few knotting tools which help greatly as well.
Handmade cultured freshwater pearl necklaces can be wearable and casual enough for everyday if you design them with a few things in mind:
- Use pearls with irregular shapes for an organic look.
- Avoid using all white pearls unless you’re channeling Donna Reed.
- The greater spacing between pearls, the more casual the piece appears.
- Combine multiple sizes and colors of pearls to avoid a standardized appearance.
- Use contrasting or coordinating color knotting cord to accentuate the pearls.
Try out your hand at this skill and get your inner Mermaid on….