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DIY River Stone Necklace for Amateur Rockhounds
Rockhounding along the Black River
My husband LOVES to fish. I just LIKE to fish, which means I have some downtime while he's trying to land the big one. When I'm surrounded by all that nature, I have to spend some time in pure appreciation. The photo you see here of the shoreline of the beautiful Black River in western Wisconsin might just look to you like a bunch of brown rocks, but to me... up close... in detail... there are a multitude of colors and textures and fun.
Rockhounding can be thought of as a western hobby and it is very popular in many of the western states where gemstones and semi-precious gemstones are more plentiful. But every state has its rockhound sites. While I consider myself a rockhound, because I love finding beautiful stones and making jewelry with them, by any true rock collector's definition, I'm probably not part of the club. Nevertheless, I love rocks! I love to look at them. I admire their many qualities. And I love to make beautiful jewelry with them. I hope you like the jewelry tutorial and make a necklace of your own using of simple, river-polished stones.
A Little Bit about the Mighty Black
The Black River stretches from Taylor County in north central Wisconsin 160 miles to join the Mississippi River in La Crosse. This means that it begins in the "glaciated area" of the state, where the glaciers leveled the land, and travels through the Coulee Region, which was untouched by the glaciers. The Region is a lovely area marked by ridges and coulees (or small valleys) and is a modern day geology lesson in what Wisconsin looked like before the last glaciers came through. The northern reaches of the river are mostly rocky, while the southern stretches are very sandy.
The Black River was named for its dark colored water, which is stained by rich tannins from the area's pine forests. It is home to many endangered species including a variety of mussels and fish.
Are you a rock collector?
Rockhounding Sites Around the Country
Want to learn about rockhounding in your state or someplace you plan to visit? Here are a few source sites that can help.
- Rock Collecting Around the USA - State by State
Not all states are represented here, but most are.
- Outdoor Recreation: Rockhounding
A number of desert opportunities are listed here, especially for the western states.
- Gator Girl Rocks
These people are passionate about rockhounding, and either the webmaster or their parents have been rockhounding in most states. This is the best site I've found for knowledgeable information about each state's resources!
Stones with Polish
The Black River has been known to produce some respectable agates and Wisconsin is known for both amethyst and agate among other desirable stones. But really, the area where I live is mostly known for iron and sand. Really valuable iron and frac sand, but still not the rock collector's dream.
Pictured here is a Lake Superior Agate that has been polished in a rock tumbler. I don't own a rock tumbler and don't have the time to dedicate to that hobby (though I would love to) so I have learned to love the natural finish that the river puts on stones. Many stones that might not otherwise be notable are made beautiful by the shape and texture the river gives them. It is with these stones that I frequently make my necklaces.
Give Your Rocks a Tumble
A natural river polish isn't for everyone. If you like your stones shiny and smooth, a rock tumbler is for you. Truth in advertising... Like I said, I don't own a rock tumbler myself. They take time and attention that I'm not able to give them. However, I've wanted one ever since I can remember.
This highly rated rock tumbler is affordably priced and ready to take on your project. It has a 3 lb capacity, more than enough for a beginner. We've all heard that these can make a lot of noise, which can be a real drawback for some people, but many of the customer reviews indicated that this was a pretty quiet unit.
Not sure if you're ready to take on the hobby of rock tumbling? An affordable way to get started is to read up on the process, supplies needed, and the time it takes to get involved. The book I used is not available anymore, but this one has many excellent customer reviews that say it is perfect for beginners.
Jewelry with a Sense of Place
This is the stone necklace that I personally wear most often. It is simple and the smooth stone looks a bit like a heart. I get a lot of compliments on it and love to tell people that I picked up the stone locally on the Black River.
A lot of people who make jewelry out of stone are really good at wire wrapping. I admit I tried wire wrapping, but never really got good at it. A few of my attempts are below, and I think they look quite nice, but the wire and the projects never quite felt right in my hands. So I searched for another medium, and discovered Silkon nylon thread. It's thin, pliable, and ridiculously strong. I prefer it in unassuming colors like brown and black so that the stone itself is the focal point, not the artistry surrounding it.
I also wanted to find a way to capture "the wet look" of the stones in the river. Oftentimes, their color would be stunning at the edge of the water while they were wet, but then I would find their color dull and disappointing when they dried. Clear fingernail polish to the rescue... Not only does it bring back the color of the stones. It also protects some of the more fragile stones, like sandstone and shale, that chip or scratch easily. Note the differences in the pictures below.
Black River Stones - Dry and Unaltered
The Same River Stones - Wet
The Same River Stones - Clear Nail Polish
Simple Instructions - Creating a Stone Pendant Necklace
Here is a set of simple instructions for creating a necklace like these using Silkon nylon cord. The most important thing is not to tighten your knots until you have tested them on the stone and are satisfied they are placed correctly.
The following instructions are intended for a stone with a more or less triangular shape, meaning it is narrower at the bottom than it is nearer the top. Every stone is different and may take some redesigning of this pattern to hold your stone pendant.
The numbers in this photo correspond to the instructions above.
- Begin by choosing a stone that is narrower on the end than it is in the middle. This will allow you to create a "nest" that will hold your stone pendant securely. If your stone needs a coat of fingernail polish, add it now.
- Take two lengths of nylon cord about 30 inches long. The length will allow you to tie as many knots as you need and still have plenty left for the length of necklace you want. Tie the two strands together in a simple overhand knot near their center. Hold the knot against the stone, wrapping one nylon strand around the back of the stone and the other strand around the front. Mark where they meet on the other side of the stone with your thumb and forefinger. Tie another overhand knot where you marked the strings. NOTE: Do not tighten either knot until you have tested their location again on the stone. When you are satisfied, pull them as tight as you can.
- Now you should have two strands on each side of the stone. One on each side should come toward the front of the stone and one on each side should go toward the back of the stone. Decide how far up you want the two front strands to be knotted, mark the spot with your thumb and forefinger, and tie and overhand knot at that spot. Test it before tightening the knot. Do the same for the other two strands that you pull toward the back.
- Finally, tie all four strands in an overhand knot at the top of the stone, getting it as close to the stone as you possibly can. Do not tighten the knot until you are sure it is close to the stone and will hold it securely.
- Feel free to add more decorative beads to the cord at this time if you wish. I like simple cord (again, so the stone pendant remains the focal point), but you may like a little something extra on yours.
- When your stone is securely knotted into its "nest" and you have added any other beads you wish, trim the cord to the length you want. A standard necklace length is 18 inches, so if you leave 8.5 inches on each side (the cord ends and clasp will add about an inch) you should be fine. Add your cord ends, jump rings and clasp of choice. You are ready to wear your new stone pendant necklace!
Essential Jewelry Making Toolkit
This is a great, affordable starter tool kit. It comes with 9 tools. My first kit only came with 5 and I sorely missed the ones I didn't have. I had to add them later. These fit nicely in the hand. They store and travel well in the zipper case. And Beadsmith makes a good durable product you'll be able to use for many years to come.
Wire Wrapping Tutorial
This wire wrapping video shows a simple technique with wire that is similar in many ways to what I do with nylon cord. Where the video twists, I tie a knot.
Black River Stone Necklace SamplesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Enjoy Your Rockhounding Experience
No matter what you do with the stones you find
Make jewelry or do something else that fits your personality or home. No matter what you choose to do I hope you will get outdoors and search out some of the river's or lake's beauty. At the very least, you get to take a fun walk where you can take pleasure in nature's tiny details. And you may just find something special along the way... a memento of a place or a time when you could relax and discover nature's gifts.
This is a picture of a stone a friend of mine found on the south shore of Lake Superior. The heart was naturally a part of it.
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