How to wrap pearl purl

After my last article about Wrapping Pearl Purl I got some requests both via the comment form and email asking for a more specific instructions with photos. In retrospect, I should have taken photos as I was working but I just didn’t want to stop, take photos, check to see if they were OK, take more photos…I just wanted to do it and see how it looked! However, now I will take time to more clearly explain what I did and how I did it. For this tutorial, I’m using a left over piece of copper pearl purl and green thread and attaching it to a piece of muslin that doesn’t have any design drawn on it. Obviously, if you’re going to use this technique, you will want to carefully transfer your design and be sure to follow the pattern as you attach the wrapped pearl purl.

To begin, you will need to decide how long a finished, wrapped piece of pearl purl you need. Measure the length you will need and then cut a piece of pearl purl HALF that length. The next step is to stretch the pearl purl to double the cut length. In the photo above I’ve cut a piece 4 inches long and you can see that I’m stretching it to 8 inches. To stretch the pearl purl you will need to use your thumbnails and the tip of your index finger to grasp the very last twist at each end of the metal thread. Then gently and slowly pull your hands in opposite directions until you have reached the length you need.

Now it’s time to wrap the pearl purl metal thread with the silk thread. I like to work off the spool (or skein) so that the silk thread is one long continuous piece. If you are using this technique to cover quite a long line or shape, I would recommend that you take the time to cut a piece of silk thread about 8 inches longer than you will need to wrap the pearl purl and then wind the silk thread onto an old spool. It’s much easier to work with and won’t tangle as easily coming off a spool as being pulled out of a skein.

Holding the pearl purl thread between you thumb and forefinger horizontally, practice twirling the metal thread so it turns away from your body. If it’s curved or bent at all, try to straighten it as much as you can. This will help the pearl purl rotate more smoothly and cause less tangles in the silk as you wrap the silk onto the pearl purl.

Begin by taking the end of the silk and wrapping it around the end of the pearl purl by turning the pearl purl away from your body. You should have about 3 inches of silk at the end of the metal thread that isn’t wrapped around. Later this will be pulled through the fabric and secured to the back. After you’ve gotten the thread started, you will need to gently bend the pearl purl a bit at the very end to hold the silk in place. If you have trouble with the silk unwrapping from the end as you go, it’s because you haven’t pinched the pearl purl together enough to grasp the silk thread.

As you work you will need to move your hand (thumb and forefinger) down the length of the pearl purl. This is where the silk on the other end might come untwisted. If it’s coming off only a little – less than 2 inches or so – don’t worry – you can go back and redo the beginning. If it’s all untwisting, be sure to pinch the end of the pearl purl down so it holds the silk thread in place. Continue twirling the pearl purl and threading the silk into the troughs or valleys until you reach the end of the pearl purl. Be sure to leave another 3 inches of silk at this end.

Now it’s time to attach the pearl purl/silk combination to the fabric. Begin with a waste knot and two or three short stitches on the line that will be covered by the pearl purl/silk combination. Find the middle of the pearl purl/silk combination thread and begin couching down the combined thread there. Do not start at one end. You will end up fighting with the silk that is hanging off the end of the pearl purl (those extra 3 inches) and the pearl purl will also spring up and get in your way as you stitch.

Make a short couching stitch over the combination thread by coming up on the outside and going down on the inside. Your stitch should be tiny so it disappears into the silk you’ve wrapped around the pearl purl. Move along the combination thread 4 or 5 valleys and make another stitch – a tiny one! Continue in this way until you’ve almost reached one end of the combination thread. You should be half way around your shape or to one end of your line. You can stop about 1/4 inch from the end and then do 2 or 3 tiny hidden stitches right on the line you’re covering to hold it in place. Re-thread your needle and begin again at the same place you started the first time but now you will be couching the combination thread  moving in the opposite direction. So, if you’re covering a circle shape, you will begin at the middle of the combination thread and at 12:00 on the circle. When you reach 6:00 you will finish off the thread and start again at 12:00 and stitch counter clockwise until you almost reach 6:00 again. If you’re covering a line, you will begin in the middle and work to the left end and then begin in the middle again and stitch to the right end.

When the entire combination thread is couched down, it’s then time to pull those end silk thread through to the back. I’m showing you how to do it in a circle shape here, but the principal is the same for a line – you will just need to do it at both ends. Using a tapestry needle with a large eye, thread all of the silk thread through the needle. The easiest way to do this is to fold the threads over the needle and pinch them together. Then bring the eye of the needle over all the threads and voila! they’re through! Pull the threaded tapestry needle through the fabric, bringing the ends of the silk through to the back of the fabric. You must then stitch those extra threads down.

Be sure to take the time to snip off any waste knots and then sit back and admire your work!

Questions? Suggestions? Tips? Leave a comment and share your ideas with us all!


5 thoughts on “How to wrap pearl purl

  1. Thank you so much for that, very informative and very interesting. Your blackwork with gold is lovely.

  2. Kathy, what a wonderfully clear tutorial. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to order some pearl purl and have a try, although I have no doubt that mine will not look as perfect as yours for a very long time. I love this project Kathy. The Elizabethan age is my particular interest and this work captures so much of its spirit. Warm regards, Suzy.

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