What comes to mind when you think about multi-strand jewelry? Is it lots of chains in elegant succession? Or do you think of a thick, twisted rope of different beads? Or perhaps a Victorian-influenced collar with gracious drapes of pearls perfectly organized with studded spacer bars comes to mind?
Each style requires a different way of planning and executing the design, and for some, this can seem daunting. Some styles do take more attention to detail in the planning stages than others, but they don't need to be intimidating. Here are several of my tried-and-true tips:
Try to work in an odd number of strands: 1, 3, 5, etc. This will allow you to choose one or two as the focal strand(s) and build your design from there. The other strands (I like to call them supporting strands) should imitate the focal strand(s) but have less presence, or appear less dominant. Supporting strands generally have less color and smaller beads. You can also use a different technique on your supporting strands than you did on your focal strand. For example, if you string your focal strand, you could use eye pins to create chains for your supporting strands. If you created a solid knotted strand of pearls, space out the pearls on the supporting strands. Not only do these techniques make for a better design by creating interest, but they can also save you money by using fewer and smaller beads.
Treat Your Main Strand as a Single Necklace
When planning your main strand, don't think about what you'll do with the supporting strands. Pretend you are creating a single-strand necklace and make it the best you can. When you love it, pick out some of the smaller components and patterns that you really like and incorporate those into the supporting strands.
Don't Forget About the Clasp
You really need to think about what clasp and other findings you want to use for your piece while you are designing, if not before. Are you going to use a multi-strand end bar or clasp, or pull all of the ends into a cone or cap? This will determine how you end each strand while stringing, and what kind of beads you can put at the end.
Don't Crimp Yet!
When you've got your piece designed and strung, don't crimp your ends until you've laid your piece out on a display bust. Make sure all the ends are where they're supposed to be and the strands lay the way you want them to. It's a lot easier to make changes before you've trimmed your extra beading wire! You can use tape or Bead Stoppers™ on the ends, and push or T-pins to secure your piece on the bust. Display busts can be found at most hobby stores now. I recommend a black velvet bust because pin holes don't show and black doesn't look dirty.
Keep an Eye on Your Shortest Strand
Sometimes people make the mistake of determining the length of their necklace with their focal strand. Then, when they create the supporting strands, the top strand can end up getting short -- too short. If this happens, you can add a chain extender to the back, but it's always better to plan ahead than have to fix it later.