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Chinese Reeled and Plied Silk Thread

The Mystery of the Mandarin Court Bead

People who know me will know that I love a good mystery… from Sherlock Holmes to Miss Marple and Joe Leaphorn… and for many years I have been puzzled by finding fabulous Chinese beads with holes that were so large that no standard thread was large enough to create a knot between the beads.

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Bead people know that valuable beads and pearls are always strung on silk cord, knotted between each bead.

Last year I found this fragment of  a Mandarin Court necklace… hollow carved bone beads…with a thread that I had never seen before. The 4mm hole in the bead was filled with a thread many times thicker than any commercial silk thread I have ever seen.

As my interest in collecting Chinese ornaments grew and I acquired more partial and complete court necklaces, I kept promising myself that ‘someday soon’ I would get back around to finding out more about that mysterious thread.

So finally this week I showed the thread to my fibre consultant Laurie Goldiuk who explained to me that this thread is handmade reeled silk… silk drawn from the cocoon of the silkworm …multiple cocoons were simultaneously reeled and plied to create the thread you see here.

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Mystery solved …because so many court necklaces were cut up in the 20th century, the original thread was often discarded …court necklaces were prayer beads and wouldn’t be knotted …and this thick plied silk used with the large holes would allow some movement of the beads and protect the precious stone beads from damage.

If you have a bit of time, there is also a very good web site [link] that illustrates the fascinating process that Asian artisans have used for centuries to produce silk.

Visit PrivateCollection’s PictureBook to see additional photos.

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