Jewelry-making: Where should you start?
This is a very good question which also applies to any new hobby, sport, craft or discipline you want to learn from scratch. But an equally important question which might determine and refine your starting point is why?
Jewelry is something we are all exposed to through fashion, inheritance, advertising, retail, etc… We might enjoy wearing pieces of jewelry or simply admiring it yet not everyone coming into contact with jewelry wants to make it themselves so it will pay in the long run to examine your reasons to embark on what could be a very rewarding but also time-consuming and expensive hobby.
Why do you want to make jewelry?
There are many reasons why you might want to make jewelry, let’s examine a few:
- You’re very creative and good with your hands. You have done many different crafts and now you want to try something new.
- You’ve attended a class, got a taster and would now like to go further.
- You have a friend who does this as a hobby and it looks fun.
- You are frustrated because you can’t find jewelry you like or fits you properly.
- You have decided to become self-employed and think making and selling jewelry is a good business idea.
- You’ve picked up a jewelry making magazine/book and liked the ideas you saw.
- Pinterest is forever sending you pictures of handmade jewelry and tutorials and it looks easy enough.
That’s just a few of the ways the human mind can be stimulated to engage in learning something new.
If you are a creative like me you will want to try many different crafts. I am proficient at sewing, knitting, crochet, dressmaking (I made all my daughters’ clothes when they were small), painting, drawing and can do all these things to a high standard but (and this is a big “but”) none of them have ever inspired the true passion that I feel for wirework.
Wirework is only one branch of jewelry making and this is why it’s important for you to recognize where you want to start as you could waste time, effort and money going down jewelry-making paths that don’t lead you to your goal or the enjoyment you were seeking. Ask yourself what type of jewelry you like to wear or admire and it might give you a clue as to what you would like to make.
A hobby ( I’m not talking about a business) should be satisfying, relaxing, pleasurable and give you a sense of achievement. You should have learnt something new and produced an object you are proud of without stressing or feeling discouraged. If you are feeling the latter then perhaps you should try a different branch of jewelry-making. It may be that you need to try a few of them before you find your favorite. I’m not going to tell you which you should choose as we all like and look for different things in jewelry (as in life) but I’m going to try and help by giving you a few useful facts.
What are the different branches of jewelry-making?
This is probably the most ancient and basic form of jewelry making and has been practiced for several thousand years and I suggest that everyone should start there.
Stringing beads on a wire or string, making sure they stay put and adding a closure/clasp forms the basis of this branch of jewelry making it a skill that everyone should have because you will:
- Get almost instant gratification as it is fairly quick and easy to learn and do.
- Learn about different beads (what they are made of, the common sizes used, their weights and properties) and possibly gemstones but that’s a whole subject in its own right.
- Learn how to balance a piece of jewelry so it stays put, giving you an insight into counterbalancing and weight issues.
- Learn to measure materials and size bracelets and necklaces correctly.
- Learn to harmonize colors so they are pleasing to the eye.
- Come to understand the principles of design that make your pieces harmonious even if you have never studied design.
- Last but not least you will work out that a piece must be absolutely secure and how to make sure of it.
All those skills are useful as well as essential no matter what branch of jewelry you want to specialize in and if you enjoy it you don’t need to look any further. In the course of your stringing work you will inevitably come into contact with wirework components (these are called findings) such as head pins, jump rings, chains or earrings wires and you may decide that you want to make your own. That’s how I discovered that my real passion was wirework.
Stringing does not require many tools or supplies so it can be a relatively cheap way to start if you start small. Do read my blog Building your stash to avoid some buying pitfalls.
Beading (also called stitching beads or beadwork)
If you like sewing you are halfway there. Beading is the art of sewing small/seed beads together following a pattern using a long thin needle specially adapted for this sort of work. There are some real artists in the beading world such as Carol Wilcox Wells www.schoolofbeadwork.com, Sherry Serafini www.serafinibeadedjewelry.com or Diane Fitzgerald www.dianefitzgerald.com to name but a few.
Beading will teach you all about colors in a more in-depth and subtle way as the seed beads used in beading come in a dizzying array of colors, shades, hues and finishes. Many of the artists in this specialty can be said to be painting in beads. At its basic and certainly as a beginner beading can be very satisfying as you learn the rigor of following a pattern and of constructing a piece coherently. It is not as fast as stringing but you can give your jewelry more definition, depth and style.
One of the advantages of beading is that your project is portable. All you need is a needle and thread, a thread cutter, a bead mat and your pattern so it can be done almost anywhere. Ideal if you travel a lot.
One word of warning: Be absolutely sure it’s the one for you before investing in huge amounts of seed beads which will languish in drawers. It’s not the seed beads themselves that are expensive, it’s the mountain you can so easily accumulate!
is a more advanced form of jewelry-making and requires a workshop with a lot of equipment. I would recommend that you attend classes if you are interested in learning this skill as you will need to be taught the basics at least. It is not really suitable for self-teaching as you need to learn proper safety procedures.
It is an invaluable branch of jewelry making for teaching you the properties of metal ( how to soften/harden/thin it) showing you how to work very precisely with tiny measurements, teaching you accuracy, patience and workmanship as well as safety awareness. It is unlikely you would want to do this purely as a hobby due to the high cost of materials and equipment as well as the space required but it is still worthwhile taking a course to expand your knowledge.
Chainmaille or chain mail
This is the art of interlinking metal rings to form a strong and impenetrable mesh material which was used to make protective garments for soldiers in Europe and also in Japan for many centuries.
Despite the fact that chain maille is made of metal, it is surprisingly supple and silky soft and therefore very well suited to jewelry.
Chain maille artists will make their own jump rings but you can get started straight away buying ready-made rings. Chain maille requires few tools and a lot of patience but it makes very durable jewelry in a short time. Why not have a go at making your own jump rings by downloading my free tutorial.
Check out chainmaille artist Rebeca Mojica www.rebecamojica.com
Precious metal clay or PMC, silver clay
Unlike silversmithing precious metal clay can be self taught and used at home as the clay is non toxic. It does not require the use of specialist tools. PMC is silver or gold in a soft clay form which can be molded, carved, cut, shaped, textured using simple tools and then fired using a small torch (a kitchen one is fine), a gas hob or a kiln.
The downside is that PMC shrinks when it’s fired and because it’s made of precious metal, it’s rather expensive.
Very similar in usage to PMC but a lot cheaper and more colourful. If you liked Play Doh when you were small, the chances are that you will love working with polymer clay. You can make your own beads. Very little equipment is required and the clay can be fired in a normal household oven.
Last but not least, my favorite subject: wirework. In my opinion, no matter which type of jewelry you want to make you will always have some wirework components to deal with so even if you don’t become a wirework master you should know the basics of wireworking so you can make at least some of your findings. Your jewelry will look more authentically handmade. It will save you having to buy and stock hundreds of jump rings or headpins, you will be able to use undrilled stones. Inevitably, you will have to make metal loops and wrapped loops so you should really learn to make them properly. Of course, I’m a little biased but wirework is VERY satisfying!
You will find plenty of resources to get you started learning wirework on this website. Start by downloading all the free tutorials in this order:
- Basic Tools for making wire jewelry
- All about wire
- Making a loop on a headpin
- Making bead link earrings
- Making jump rings
These will get you well started on the path to beautiful wirework jewelry and I hope you will also purchase some of my tutorials (I do need to eat sometimes and they are very reasonably priced!)
Do drop by often as I post new tutorials regularly and am making good progress with a book on earrings.