I like to wear unusual, arty jewelry and I know I’m not alone in that. There’s a teeming Etsy out there, waiting to fulfill my every whimsical need.
The trouble is, it’s not.
I’ve gotten to the age where I see things and they are similar to what I like and they have elements which interest me, but fail in the total package. So recently I began thinking hey, I’ve got (reasonably) good taste. I know exactly how I want to look and how I want the stuff I clip, snap and otherwise affix to myself to jingle and jangle about my person. How about I take a crack at making it myself?
The trouble is, I have no earthly idea where to start.
I’ve seen beads at Michaels, but I think, do I want jewelry made out of the stuff I find in aisles backing up to markers, crayons and felt? (Nothing against felt.) How will I know what is good wire versus rip-off. Who can teach me?!
I do have some ideas, but not many beyond a necklace I’d love to make. My idea (and it’s not screamingly original) is to be something of an upcycler, taking vintage Catholic religious medals and make gorgeous necklaces that are chic — not stuff that looks like your grandma would wear.
Deep in my secret heart I harbor the fantasy that I might actually be good at it, though I haven’t exhibited any symptoms of artistic talent in the nearly 50 years I’ve roamed the Earth thus far.
So, if there are any jewelry-makers in the house? Give me some advice on:
How do I get started?
Where do I go to learn about quality materials?
How much should I expect to invest if I am
A) Making it just for myself
B) Attempting to go full-on craft fair and make things to sell.
Find a bead store. Tell the shopkeeper what you are trying to do (“I want to start making jewelry”). I’m pretty sure this was how my Mom got started.
ETA: I called her and asked her and she said to clip coupons from Michael’s and you can get a little set of tools there for up to 40% off. They also have magazines and books on jewelry-making. She says Joanne’s Fabrics has stuff and offers classes too.
That’s what I was going to say too – even though Michael’s an Jo-Ann are mass market kinds of places, they have a nice variety of beads, tools and materials to get you started without breaking the bank. If you’re in a larger town or city, they should have plenty of classes to get you started. IOW, what Bo said.
One thing you’ll probably want to learn is basic jewelry-making techniques like how to work with jump rings, headpins, etc. Depending on what you envision, you might want to take a basic soldering class. Most good independent bead stores offer classes. One on jewelry basics might cover a lot of useful techniques.
I would also look at lots of books, which might help solidify exactly what you have in mind. Go to a big bookstore and look in their craft section or see what your library has to offer. Do you envision necklaces where things dangle? Or necklaces where things are more “collaged” together? Different concepts will lead you toward different techniques.
Again, a book on basic jewelry making will probably review materials. And, seriously, low quality stuff is cheap; high quality stuff is not. Nothing wrong with using cheap materials, as long as you understand the appropriate ways to use it.
One thing you are definitely going to want to invest in is a decent set of tools. Six buck pliers from Michael’s will get you so far, but cheap tools will fatigue your hands if you work with them a lot. You’ll want an assortment of pliers and cutters, possibly some files, possibly a bench block and some hammers. I’d count on dropping $50 to $75 on a beginning set of tools, and you can very easily spend WAY more than that. (And gigi’s and Snowboarder’s suggestion about 40% off coupons is a good one!)
As far as materials go, it’s really hard to say.
If you think you’d like to go full-on craft fair, spend some time going to craft fairs and looking at what’s there. I can tell you that, at juried shows, jewelry is one of THE most competitive categories. (Jurying is a whole 'nother topic.) Different shows have different price points, and it really helps to know your market. I can tell you that I’m not going to sell many $30 earrings when there’s a person selling $5 earrings to spaces away. I try to avoid those kinds of shows, but sometimes, you don’t know what the mix is like unless you go to the show.
The other thing about selling is that you need to feel very confident in your techniques. You don’t want to sell stuff that’s going to fall apart. (I have nightmares about that!) Things that you might let pass on a piece for yourself (a sloppy glue job, whatever) probably won’t do if you plan to sell that piece.
I’ve been making jewelry and selling at juried art/craft shows for about six years, so I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from experience. Feel free to PM me.
Do you have a local art center in your town? Ours has classes on beading and wire jewelry, and more advanced classes on soldering so you can work with metals. I love making sterling silver jewelry. You can then move even further into it and start making your own glass beads if you want to.
Everything everyone else has said, plus when you come up with a new design, make sure you wear it for a couple of days before you make more. That way you can make sure it is comfortable, wears the way you want it to and is not going to come apart.
For ideas beyond the necklace: don’t be afraid, just start playing with the stuff, try different combinations of beads, crosses, chains, wire, whatever you have (you can always take it apart if you don’t like the result) and ideas start popping in your head.
If you have specialty craft stores in your area, they often have classes to fit all schedules. I’ve taken classes on beading techniques from one local shop and glass bead making at another. You can learn all kinds of different skills in classes put on by your local Parks & Recreation department too.
Excellent advice from freckafree. I’d even go so far as to suggest, if you’re a kinesthetic, hands-on learner, investing in a couple of cheap crappy glass or plastic bead jewelry kits. The final product probably won’t be something you love, but it’s the best way I’ve found to learn new techniques. My 8 year old loves the kit piece, and then I use the techniques I’ve learned on the real stuff in my own designs.
Oh, and you want a beading board for layout, and you want one with a cover so your cat (or child) doesn’t undo 10 hours of work when you go to the bathroom. Yes, you do, trust me. There are few things in life as frustrating and depressing as picking 100 beads out of the carpet.
Also you might want to consider learning/practicing sketching.
When you see examples of what you like and don’t like, practice by drawing them, or drawing what you like instead. You can take photographs (or images from the net) and then base your designs off of them, or print them out and write on the printouts directly to change them around, but all of that goes better the more comfortable you are with sketching out designs on your own.
Thank you, thank you all of you for such wonderful advice and guidance. I appreciate it so much! Just reading and talking about what you all have told with my husband has given me so much more focus, and ideas.
We are very interested in looking through antique stores, junk stores, flea markets and estate sales and other places for some of our raw materials. So it might be quite some time before I have everything I need to begin. I have to spend some time thinking where I can obtain the vintage medals … if they haven’t been all scooped up years ago.
I would occasionally see jewelry either in print ads or in stores that I really liked except for minor details, like not wanting the dangly crystal at the bottom, or wanting it in a different color.
After a few such times, I started looking at the components of the pieces, and I realized they were made up of a relatively small number of elements. This earring was just a curved wire, with another wire there, and a bead threaded through it. This one was just the same three colors in three different sizes.
I then went to a craft store to see exactly how these components were sold. That’s where I discovered head pins, eye pins, wire, more beads than I ever imagined existed, ring settings, earring posts, chains, 53 kinds of rings, bead caps, crimps, claps, cords, and stringing material.
Now that I knew what ingredients were out there, it was time for recipes and techniques. I went to bookstores and looked at crafting books and magazines. They referenced things I’d seen in craft stores, so the terms for those items were familiar. They referenced techniques and explained them, most of them with pictures.
I then thought back on the stuff I liked* and weeded out the techniques I didn’t need. The stuff I liked didn’t involve weaving seed beads, so I ignored those pages.
(* I actually went a step farther and cut out pictures of stuff I liked and pasted them into a composition book. It became an ideas book, good for those times your hands are itching to make something but you don’t know what. I did get a little carried away, though – I got 4 of these idea books now.)
So now that I knew what I wanted to make and how to make it, I needed a supplier. Or several. I found an online bead store, which led to finding 3 more, and then finally eBay and Etsy. Whoo, those places are dangerous.
These days, I only go to brick-and-mortar bead shops if I want to see colors in person. I only buy from those places if I want RIGHT NOW to make something, or if I just need cheapy test supplies. Online selections and prices can’t be beat, IME.
I hope you enjoy yourself. It’s a fun hobby. I love getting 1200pg jewelrymaking catalogs and looking at 500 colors and 35 shapes of Swarovski crystals, or debating figaro chains versus marine link chain for a design stewing in my head. When my friend’s fiancee asked me to make her wedding earrings, I was delighted. Even if you don’t wind up doing stuff for other people, it’s really satisfying making stuff for yourself that you designed yourself.
When you find a supplier, read item descriptions. Some of it will immediately sound fancy (14kt gold wire!). Read further, though, and you may find it’s not that fancy – it’s 14kt gold-filled, not solid. Gold-filled means it has a tiny layer of 14kt gold over sterling silver. Then there’s gold-plated/silver-plated, which is the same thing over a lesser metal – bronze or copper, I think.
There IS a difference in quality in these components, and you may want to make something and wear it for a while to see the difference for yourself.
Read item descriptions carefully. They will tell you if beads are real gemstones, if they’re heat-treated for color, dyed, actually glass and not real pearl, what jewelry grade they are. A grades are more expensive and better quality than B, C, or D grades.
This isn’t to say that expensive, high-quality stuff is the way to go. Try out a variety of components and beads and learn how they wear, if colors fade, if finishes peel. You may find you like things about inexpensive materials and can save money buying them instead of pricier stuff.
I’m a terrible person to advise on costs, because I could easily spend hundreds of dollars on a single bead-buying spree. When I’m shopping for stuff for myself, I gravitate toward expensive stuff, like grade A semi-precious gemstone beads and gold-filled wire. Like I said, dangerous! And I’ve sold a few things on eBay, but not intending to – it was a necklace made out of Swarovski pearls that was too nice to give away for free, but wasn’t mine or anyone I knew’s style.
At my local used book stores, the craft books and booklets are absurdly cheap…so you might look around a used book store before splurging on books in a craft store. The used book store occasionally has craft kits, too. While the supplies in the kits are definitely low quality, they are usually good enough to learn techniques.
One of my favorite places to find books and materials is Fire Mountain Gemshttp://firemountaingems.com. They also have video tutorials on any things you might be interested in.
I started out using kits, they gave me the ideas and skill to go on and start working with more expensive beads and components, that’s when I found an advert. for Fire Mountain in a couple of beading magazines.
I’m several years out of the business, but BeadStyle magazine was geared toward beginners.
I think Rio Grande required a state wholesale ID/number, but IIRC they had no minimum order and also often had the best price on findings (metal parts and wire) and excellent quality. But I ordered from several suppliers. Fire Mountain Gems was one.
You have fine jewelry (using precious metals and precious/semi-precious stones) and you have fashion jewelry, using cheaper material. So start with fashion jewelry. Watch project accessory for inspiration.