Make a Vintage Haskell-Style Beaded Pendant

Learn Beaded Cagework Using Thread Instead of Jewelry Wire

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...MORE 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.

The Fireline caging technique is very similar to bead embroidery. Here's how it works.

  • 01 of 24

    Gather Your Beads

    Miriam Haskell Style Beaded Cagework Pendant
    The completed cagework pendant. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

    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 I used in the example piece, along with their approximate quantities:

    • Three 4mm white round glass pearls
    • Eight 6mm Czech fire polished glass round beads in jet black
    • About 65 size 8/0 Miyuki 2-cut (hex) beads in opaque black
    • About 50 3.4mm Miyuki drop beads in opaque black
    • About 100 size 11/0 Miyuki round seed beads in opaque black

    (Please click on the images in this tutorial for larger views.)

    • 02 of 24

      Gather Your Tools and Supplies

      Beading Supplies and Jewelry Making Tools
      The required beading supplies and jewelry making tools. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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 (I found these at my 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.
    • 03 of 24

      Anchor Your Thread to the Mesh

      The Thread Anchored on the Mesh
      The needle coming up from below the mesh (top), and the surgeon's knot tied on the back of the mesh (bottom). © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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).

    • 04 of 24

      Stitch On the First Bead Cap and Bead

      The First Bead Cap and Bead Stitched to the Mesh
      The first bead cap and glass pearl bead have been stitched on. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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.
    • 05 of 24

      Stitch On the Second Bead Cap and Bead

      Second Bead Cap and Bead Being Stitched
      The second bead cap and glass pearl are being stitched onto the mesh. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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.

    • 06 of 24

      Stitch On the Third Bead Cap and Bead

      Three Bead Caps and Pearl Stitched On
      Three bead caps and pearls have been stitched. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      Repeat Step 6 to stitch the third bead cap and bead onto the mesh.

    • 07 of 24

      Make a Tension Knot

      Tension Knot on Back of Mesh
      The tension knot on the back of the mesh. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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 my tension knot (be sure to click the photo for a larger view.)

      Trim the thread about a half inch away from the knot.

    • 08 of 24

      Stitch On Some 6mm Beads

      Back Stitch Diagram
      Diagram of the back-stitch thread path to use when stitching-on the beads. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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.
    • 09 of 24

      Finish Stitching the 6mm Beads

      The 6mm Beads Stitched Onto the Mesh
      The 6mm beads have been stitched in a curved line. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      In the example, I stitched the 6mm beads in a freeform, end-to-end curved line. Feel free to space them apart, or bunch them together for a different look.

    • 10 of 24

      Begin Stitching the Hex Beads

      Strand of Hex Beads Stitched Onto the Mesh
      The first strand of hex beads has been stitched. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      For smaller beads, you're not limited to stitching just one bead at a time. For the hex beads in the example pendant, I decided to stitch short strands of beads around the edges of the mesh disc. I used the same type of back stitch that I used with the 6mm beads.

    • 11 of 24

      Keep Stitching . . .

      More Hex Beads Being Stitched
      More hex beads being stitched onto the mesh. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      In this photo, I'm stitching a second short strand of hex beads. I'm still stitching freeform, and so my strands don't need to be any particular length.

    • 12 of 24

      Optional: Stitch Back Into Strands to Create Gentle Curves

      Needle Stitching Back Into the Hex Beads
      Stitching back into some hex beads to gently reposition them. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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, I 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.
    • 13 of 24

      Stitch Some More .. .

      More Hex Beads Stitched
      More hex beads have been stitched around the edges of the mesh. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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).

    • 14 of 24

      Begin Stitching Drop Beads

      Some Drops Beads Stitched to the Mesh
      Some drop beads have been stitched. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      Begin stitching drop beads, using the same general back-stitch technique. In my pendant, I 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.

    • 15 of 24

      Fill In the Small Gaps with Seed Beads

      Seed Beads Being Stitch Onto the Mesh
      Seed beads being stitched onto the mesh. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      When you have only small gaps remaining on your mesh, you can begin to fill them in with the size 11/0 seed beads. My 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.

    • 16 of 24

      Make Final Adjustments

      Beads Stitched Near the Edge of the Mesh
      Beads being stitched near the edge of the mesh to bulk up an area of beadwork. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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, I'm bulking up an edge with a single hex bead and several seed beads.

      Continue to 17 of 24 below.
    • 17 of 24

      Tie Off and Trim the Thread

      Back of Mesh With Threads Tied and Trimmed
      The back of the mesh with the threads tied and trimmed. © Chris Franchetti Michaels
      When you're satisfied with your beadwork, tie several half hitch knots over existing thread on the back of the mesh. Trim the thread about a half inch away from the knots.
    • 18 of 24

      Optional: Glue the Thread Knots

      Krazy Glue Applied to Thread Knots
      Krazy glue being applied to the knots. © Chris Franchetti Michaels
      For extra security, it's a good idea to apply a small drop of Krazy glue to each knot on the back of the mesh.
    • 19 of 24

      Bend Back the Back Plate Prongs

      Prong Bending Back
      A prong being bent back. © Chris Franchetti Michaels
      Set the mesh aside, and pick up the pendant's back plate. Use flat nose pliers to gently bend back each prong to an approximate 45 degree angle.
    • 20 of 24

      Bend Forward the Tops of the Prongs

      Prong Bending Forward
      Top half of a prong being bent forward. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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.
    • 21 of 24

      Position the Mesh Against the Back Plate

      Mesh and Beadwork Against the Back Plate
      The mesh and beadwork being positioned against the pendant back plate. © Chris Franchetti Michaels
      Place the beaded mesh onto the back plate, with the prongs pointing toward the mesh. Use your fingers to press the mesh down against the back plate.
    • 22 of 24

      Close the Prongs Down Over the Mesh

      Prongs Being Closed Down
      The prongs being closed down against the mesh. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      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.

    • 23 of 24

      Double Check the Prongs

      Back of the Pendant
      The back of the completed pendant. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      Examine your prongs one more time to make sure that they are all closed down as evenly as possible.

      This photo shows what the back of my pendant looked like with the mesh and beadwork attached.

    • 24 of 24

      Enjoy Your Necklace

      Completed Beaded Cagework Pendant
      The completed beaded cagework pendant. © Chris Franchetti Michaels

      That's it! Your necklace is now complete.

      For future cagework projects, you can make brooches, clasps, and other components by using different styles of mesh findings.