Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Untangling a Necklace

My mother was a woman with a frequently flamboyant personal style. She wore long jackets, scarfs, and multiple necklaces, usually of costume jewelry. Nearly 20 years ago, I inherited a necklace of imitation cinnabar lacquer beads that was hopelessly entangled with another necklace. 

Why “hopelessly?” Well, the second necklace consisted of three strands of closely-spaced rectangular black plastic beads, resembling very long zipper teeth strong on strong thread. The beads were far enough apart to easily get tangled up with each other, and close enough together for any knots to be nearly impossible to see, much less untie. The three 50-inch-long strands could not be separated from each other at either side of the clasp. 

Here is how I untangled this black necklace:

The tangles could be described as having two components: knots and loops. At the knots, two strand sections were intertwined between pairs of beads. Loops were larger structures in which a section of a strand was wrapped around another part of the necklace.

I examined all the knots, and loosened each one, confirming that, at least locally, the strings could move relative to each other. Trying to move loops was very frustrating, though, as a tangle in one spot might be resolved, while a few more were created as the tooth-like beads interacted with each other elsewhere in the necklace. The loops had to be made to slide across each other, not catch on each other.

I therefore used "Saran Wrap" to wrap up free loop sections, and blue contractor’s tape to seal the ends of the wrapped sections (figure 2). As I untangled the knots, I added to the wrapped areas. Eventually almost all the necklace was wrapped, and the untangling was complete.