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.
The Fireline caging technique is very similar to bead embroidery. Here's how it works.
1. 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 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.)
2. 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 (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.
3. 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).
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Stitch On the Third Bead Cap and Bead
Repeat Step 6 to stitch the third bead cap and bead onto the mesh.
7. 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 my tension knot (be sure to click the photo for a larger view.)
Trim the thread about a half inch away from the knot.
8. 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.
9. Finish Stitching the 6mm Beads
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. Begin Stitching the Hex Beads
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.