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Category: making stuff

Playing with pearls

I’ve just sent out a newsletter. If you missed it, you can see it here and maybe sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss out in future. I try to keep the newsletter news and the blog posts a bit different, though not all the time, of course. The newsletter was to give people a sneak peek of my new cover for MARRY IN SCARLET, and because Berkley jumped the gun and have popped it on some sites already, I showed newsletter readers the draft of the cover and the final result.

I also announced that I have a new contract and am playing with ideas for a new series. My editor wants to talk over my ideas with me in January, so I’ve been writing snippets and brainstorming ideas. I don’t have a shortage of ideas — that’s never my problem. The difficulty is in deciding which ideas to go ahead with, which ideas excite me most, and which ideas will hit the spot with readers.

Often when I’m pondering writing or story issues I fiddle with beads, making things, and often experimenting with techniques. I really enjoy making jewelry and ornaments from beads, pearls, semi-precious gemstones and fimo — all kinds, in fact.

The ones in the picture on the right are what I came up with yesterday — trying out a new-to-me technique. The pearls on the black cord are real pearls, mostly leftovers from past projects, and the ones in the ball shape are glass pearls. 

I’m trying to decide whether to make the round ball a Christmas ornament, or a dangly pendant to wear on a chain or a cord. It’s about 5cms (2 inches)  in diameter. Oh, decisions, decisions . . . 


Here’s a necklace and earrings I made a few weeks ago. The beads are stone, a kind of jasper — I think they were labelled  “blue sea sediment jasper”.  I’ve had them for ages, but hadn’t decided what to do with them. Then I realized they would go really well with a new top I had, so out came my beading tools.

You might notice that the little earrings in the middle don’t have hooks on them — just a loop so I can pop them onto my sleepers. When I make earrings for other people I attach them to hooks. But not if they’re for me. In the days when I used to wear hooks, I lost so many earrings. Now, attached to my sleepers,  I rarely lose any.

And because terms are probably different in other countries (thanks Theo for asking) here’s a couple of pictures of what I mean by “sleepers.”  

My Pearls

Before Christmas, in a rush of blood to the head I ordered some pearls on line from China. My little treat to myself. And they arrived on my birthday which I took to signal the universe’s approval of my extravagance. Here they are in the photo. They’re mostly the color they call “lavender” which is a slightly pinky mauve, and one of cream pearls.

It was a bit silly, I know — I already have plenty of pearls, but pearls are my weakness. It’s not as if I need these new ones, but they’re so pretty, and were very affordable and it was so easy to go “click” on the website. (I know, excuses, excuses . . . )

I don’t make jewelry to sell, though occasionally I will foist something on a friend as a gift. It’s my hobby, to make jewelry from all kinds of beads — from cheap little wooden beads, to semi precious gemstones and pearls. Often when I’m trying to nut out a scene, or solve a plot problem, I pick up some beads and start making something, and while I’m concentrating on that, suddenly the solution comes to me.  (Yes, another excuse — and I’m sticking to it.)

Below is the first pearl necklace I even made, with black stone beads in various sizes. I was never much of an admirer of the simple strand of perfect pearls — I like them mixed up with other things. And I’m quite fond of black and white. You’ll often see me wearing these pearls  in pics on line. 

The pearls I use are mostly freshwater cultured pearls. Cultured pearls are just as real as “wild” or natural pearls — in fact the only way you can tell the difference between a natural or ‘wild’ pearl and a cultured one is by x-ray. The main difference is that with ‘wild’ pearls the small irritant that the mollusc (oyster or other nacreous shellfish) covers with layers of pearly nacre gets there accidentally, randomly and rarely. With cultured pearls the irritant is placed in the mollusc by human hands, and so the harvest of pearls is relatively predictable — and that’s what makes cultured pearls  affordable. I buy them on line, mostly from China where the freshwater pearl industry flourishes.

Want to know how to tell a real pearl from a fake one?
A good fake pearl and a genuine pearl will both feel and look very much the same. But gently rub them along the top of your teeth and you’ll find that a genuine pearl will feel slightly gritty against your teeth, whereas the fake one will still feel perfectly smooth.

Here’s another early necklace I made, with pearls, black beads and red coral. Probably a few too many metal beads now for my taste, but I still wear it from time to time. The nice thing about making your own jewelry is that when you get bored with a piece or decide you don’t like it, you can pull it apart and make something new.

As well as the creamy white pearls, you can get pink (called lavender, because they have pinky-lilac overtones.) Pearls are rarely one color — they have a kind of rainbow sheen, and change slightly with the light and the background. You can see a lot of lavender pearls in the picture at the top of this blog. Here’s a necklace I made with lavender pearls and rose quartz.  I wove the little bracelet out of pearls, too.

Another color is “peacock” so called because of the rainbow iridescence of blue/green and other colors. This is one of my favorite necklace sets,  baroque pearls in a peacock blue color. A baroque pearl is an oddly shaped one. They used to be regarded as faulty, but these days jewelers love them for their unique shapes and often design unique pieces around them. I think they’re gorgeous — so much more interesting than plain round ones.

“Black” pearls are rarely pure black — they can range from blackish to dark grey to “peacock” deep bluey-green and dark greeny-black. I love these dark green ones. You can see I’m not yet an expert on knotting — there are a few uneven knots in there.

Another sort of pearl that was once regarded as a dud but now is very popular is the keshi (or cornflake” pearl. Very delicate and pretty. 

I made this “wrap” bracelet out of lavender pearls and various other bits and pieces. I love it to bits. 

Now, apart from a pearl-knotting course I once did, I learned how to make all these things on line. And these days you can learn pearl-knotting quicker and more cheaply on youtube. Youtube is a positive feast of all kinds of craft lessons. The pearls — all the supplies, in fact — can be ordered on line, and honestly, the pleasure I get from making these things is worth it. So if you’re  at all tempted, have a go.


I often make jewelry  — not from scratch; I’m no craftsperson. Really, I just enjoy threading beads to make necklaces and bracelets and earrings, not to sell, just to wear and also give to (foist on) friends.  As well as making something pretty, it helps me with my writing, believe it or not. I’ve found that fiddling with something small, concentrating on something that has nothing to do with my writing but is also creative, often helps me work out a knotty plot or scene problem. So, in the middle of making a necklace or a pair of earrings I will have a “Eureka!” moment about my current wip (work in progress.)  

In general I like my accessories on the plain side, but my mother loved cloisonné, and I think I’ve inherited her cloisonné gene, as I find it hard to resist also. Cloisonné is an ancient technique where a design is outlined in gold or silver or copper wire and then inlaid with precious or semi-precious stones or colored enamel. Mum fell in love with it when she and Dad lived in Penang (Malaysia) and Mum started collecting Chinese antiques. She came home with lots of beautiful Chinese cloisonné bowls and vases and ginger jars and dishes.
Cloisonné also comes in beads, and the other day when I was browsing through a bead shop, I came across these cloisonné beads. Pretty, aren’t they? So I strung them together, and while I was doing it I realized what I needed in a scene I was revising. So as well as fixing my scene,  I have a pretty new bracelet. Double the reward!

If you’d like to know more about cloisonné, click here.