The late Miriam Haskell is famous for her company's elaborate beaded jewelry designs during the 1920s through the 1950s. In this tutorial, learn how to create a beaded pendant using a technique similar to the one she used. Known as beaded cagework, this method used thin wire to secure beads and other jewelry components to a perforated metal backing, also called "mesh" or "screen."
But using wire to stitch beads has its drawbacks. Wire becomes brittle and breaks when it's bent, and its relative inflexibility makes it challenging to work with. Fortunately, advances in technology give us a wonderful alternative to caging beads with wire: the super-durable beading thread called Fireline. Fireline is sturdy and resistant to fraying, even when stitched through metal holes. At the same time, it's very thin, allowing you to pass through mesh and beads multiple times.
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Gather Your Beads
For this pendant, we'll take a freeform approach which allows you to use just about any beads you have on hand. The exact numbers of beads you'll use depends on how you decide to arrange them, and how much layering your perform.
Here are the types and sizes of beads we used in the example piece, along with their approximate quantities:
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Gather Your Tools and Supplies
And here are the beading and jewelry tools and supplies you'll need to assemble the pendant:
- One 1.25-inch diameter round mesh disc pendant with ball chain in antiqued silver (find this and other mesh findings and shapes at Designers Findings).
- Three shallow, 16mm-diameter filigree bead caps in antiqued silver (we found these at a local bead store; you can use any filigree bead caps of a similar size).
- A size 10 beading needle.
- Six-pound test, 0.15mm Fireline beading thread in black.
- An Xacto knife, razor blade, or pair of children's craft scissors (for cutting the Fireline).
- A pair of flat nose pliers.
- A pair of fine-tipped chain nose pliers (I used bent chain nose pliers, but straight nose are fine).
- A beading awl.
- Optional, but recommended: Cyanoacrylate glue, such as Krazy Glue.
- Optional beading supplies of your choice, such as a beading mat and bead dishes.
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Anchor Your Thread to the Mesh
Pull some Fireline in a length you feel comfortable working with. If you're not sure, pull about an arm span, or about three to four feet. Use an Xacto knife, razor blade, or children's craft scissors to cut the thread. (Fireline can dull or damage your regular beading scissors.)
Align the first bead cap on the domed side of the mesh. Be sure to leave enough space for the other two bead caps, which you'll attach later.
Pass the needle and thread up through the bottom of the mesh and through the center hole in the bead cap (top photo on the left). Pull the thread through until you have a thread tail about six inches long on the back of the mesh. Temporarily remove the bead cap, and pass the needle back down through the mesh, passing through an adjacent hole to the one you passed up through. (It's usually best for placement if this hole is toward the center of the mesh, rather than toward its edge.)
On the back side of the mesh, tie a secure surgeon's knot with the thread tail and the working length of the thread. Position this knot tight against the back of the mesh (bottom photo).
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Stitch on the First Bead Cap and Bead
Pass up through the mesh again, going through the first hole that you passed through initially. String on the bead cap, with the dome facing outward, and then pick up one of the glass pearls. Allow both to slide down toward the mesh.
Now pass back down through the center hole in the bead cap, and through a hole in the mesh that is adjacent to the hole you passed up through.
For reinforcement, pass up through the first hole, the bead cap, and the glass pearl again, and then down through the second hole in the mesh again. Pull the thread taut.Continue to 5 of 24 below.
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Stitch on the Second Bead Cap and Bead
On the back of the mesh, bring the needle over to the place you would like to attach the second bead cap. Pass up through the mesh, string on the second bead cap and glass pearl, and continue with the stitch. Be sure to pass through the bead cap and pearl twice for reinforcement.
Tip: It's fine to stretch the thread across the back of the mesh, as needed, to reposition your needle. Just be sure to keep your thread tension tight.
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Make a Tension Knot
Make a tension knot by tying a half-hitch knot around the stitch that you just made on the back of the mesh. Then, pull the working thread to cinch up the thread tension. In the photo on the left, the white arrow points to the tension knot.
Trim the thread about a half inch away from the knot.
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Stitch on Some 6mm Beads
Use the same sewing technique to stitch on some 6mm fire polished beads: Pass up through the mesh, pick up a bead, pass down through another hole in the mesh, and repeat for reinforcement. Then bring the needle up through the mesh where you would like the opposite end of the next bead to be. Stitch that bead back toward the first bead. This "back stitch" route helps you keep tight tension and locks the beads tightly onto the mesh.
In the diagram on the left, the brown line represents the thread path, and the gray arc represents a cross-section view of the mesh.Continue to 9 of 24 below.
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Optional: Stitch Back Into Strands to Create Gentle Curves
You can go back to a strand of beads at any time and stitch back into it to slightly change its position. In this photo, we stitched into a hex bead from an adjacent hole that was closer to the edge. This pulled the strand toward the edge just enough to slightly curve the line of beads to better match the curved edge of the mesh.Continue to 13 of 24 below.
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Stitch Some More...
Stitch on as many hex beads as you'd like, knowing that you can always go back and add more hex beads later. If you start to run out of thread (with six to eight inches of thread remaining), make several half-hitch knots over nearby stitches on the back of the mesh, and trim the thread about a half inch away from the knots. Begin a new thread by tying a surgeon's knot, just like you did to anchor the first thread (Step 3).
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Begin Stitching Drop Beads
Begin stitching drop beads, using the same general back-stitch technique. In this pendant, we used short strands of drop beads around the pearls, and single drop beads here and there to fill in gaps.
You may need to experiment at times with the number and placement of beads. Use the beading awl to gently pull out any stitches that you'd like to reposition.
Tip: As the beads become crowded, you may find it difficult to stitch through beads twice for reinforcement. Feel free to skip that second pass from this point forward.
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Fill in the Small Gaps With Seed Beads
When you have only small gaps remaining on your mesh, you can begin to fill them in with the size 11/0 seed beads. Our largest gaps were between the pearls and the drop beads. You can also stitch strands of seed beads over other beads to create a more layered effect.
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Make Final Adjustments
When the gaps are filled, and you can no longer see the mesh or bead caps through your beadwork, step back and inspect your design. If you see any uneven areas or places where you'd like to create layers, go back and address them now. You can add whichever beads you think will look best.
In the photo on the left, we're bulking up an edge with a single hex bead and several seed beads.Continue to 17 of 24 below.
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Bend Forward the Tops of the Prongs
Now use the flat nose pliers to bend the top half of each prong forward toward the back plate disc.Continue to 21 of 24 below.
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Close the Prongs Down Over the Mesh
Turn the pendant around in your hand and gently slide the beadwork over each prong. (To put it another way, make sure each prong is beneath, or in between, beads.)
Next, use the tips of your chain nose pliers to slowly squeeze each prong down against the mesh, as shown in the photo.
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