Behind the Little Paper Strips: 5 Tips from My Jewelry-Making Books

On this, the fourteenth day of my big move, I've found my books. Hallelujah! If there's anything I like about moving, it's unpacking beloved treasures and deciding where they will live in the new house. I usually save books for last, though–there's hardly ever any mystery about where those will go and if I unpack them earlier, I'll just be tempted to read instead of doing dozens of other things that need to be done (like finding a new welcome mat . . . who knew that was going to be such a process?!)

Craft books are always my favorite, so full of possibilities and ideas and fun to be had. Lately, the jewelry making books are really calling my name; my studio has been boxed up for months, and now I'm itching to saw and string and solder and hammer and fuse! So as I've been unpacking my jewelry-making books, I've noticed all of the little paper markers sticking out of each one. Each little strip of paper marks the spot of at least one good jewelry-making tip, idea, or project I want to make . . . and gosh, there are a LOT of good ones in these books! Naturally I wanted to share some with you.


1. Practice Metal Clay Techniques
In Tucson earlier this year, I had the pleasure (OK, I squealed) of meeting Kate McKinnon, author of what I dared to call my favorite jewelry-making book of all time: The Jewelry Architect: Techniques + Projects for Mixed-Media Jewelry. It's absolutely packed with good jewelry-making information and project ideas using precious and alternative metals, metal clay, and wire, along with occasional glass, gemstone, fabric/felt, and other beads, including my beloved pearls. Kate suggests that porcelain clay is good for practicing metal-clay techniques because they feel about the same and dry and crack at about the same rate. Considering the cost of fine metal clays and all their nuances, I think this is an extraordinarily useful tip.


2. Keep Wire Coils On Hand
Several great jewelry-making tips (called "Cool Ideas") accompany each project in Sharilyn Miller's Contemporary Copper Jewelry. (A bunch of pictures accompany each project, too–some have a few dozen. It's almost impossible not to learn a technique with such great visual aids.) One of the coolest of the Cool Ideas accompanies Sharilyn's Funky Chandelier Earrings, which feature coiled wire accents (as many wire jewelry projects do). Sharilyn recommends making and keeping a stash of wire coils, ready for whenever a project calls for them. Simply create long coils of fine-gauge wire (24-, 26-, or 28-gauge) on heavier wire (20-gauge), and keep them around to cut into smaller pieces as your wire designs require. I'd label them too, just so you'll know what you're working with in the future. 


3. Wrap Consistent Wire Loops
Now that I'm a lampworker (ha!), I'm really drawn to jewelry featuring lampwork-glass beads. The color they bring to metal jewelry designs is like the sprinkles on a cupcake, and Kerry Bogert's book Totally Twisted: Innovative Wirework & Art Glass Jewelry is a great resource for combining metal and lampwork-glass beads in your jewelry designs. In addition to the reminder of marking pliers with a permanent marker in order to make consistently wrapped loops (always wrap on the mark and they'll always be the same size!), Kerry also shares a little tidbit that is more important than it seems at first: "Keep in mind that when it's time to wrap the loop closed, you're coiling the wrapping wire around the wire stem, not twisting these wires together." Ahh. Read that tip again. It's like a whole shift in thinking, right? And it helps! I recently made a rosary for a friend, which was the first time I'd ever tried to make so many consistent wrapped loops, and this little piece of advice helped me so much during that process. It's like rubbing your head and patting your tummy instead of the other way around. But once you get it down, look out!


4. Buy More Beads Than You Need
Like I have to tell jewelry makers to buy more jewelry-making supplies, right? I know! But it's true. I don't know how many times I've bought just one strand of gemstone beads–plenty for what I knew I was going to make with them–only to find that some of the beads were cracked or had holes too small for my cord or wire. It happens a lot with pearls. So here's the tip: Sort through and put aside irregular stones before beginning your project and buy more than you think you'll need, because you may find that many of the bead holes are too small or poorly drilled. It's better to find out before you've worked on it for hours, trust me! So avoid do-overs; you'll always find a way to use the extras. I got this great reminder from Mixed Metals: Creating Contemporary Jewelry with Silver, Gold, Copper, Brass, and More, by Stringing Editor Danielle Fox and Beadwork Senior Editor Melinda Barta.


5. Don't Forget the Findings
In Ronna Sarvas Weltman's beautiful book Ancient Modern: Polymer Clay + Wire Jewelry, you'll find over 100 pages of project instructions, polymer clay tips and color recipes, and inspiring polymer clay jewelry designs. But in the middle of all that, there's a tiny little tip about tiny little wire jewelry components: When you're texturing wire for your wire jewelry designs, don't forget about the components and findings–even the jump rings. They're almost always visible, after all, so why shouldn't they receive a little special treatment as well? Just be careful not to overwork or distort them so much that they can't do their jobs.


What tips have you learned from your jewelry-making books? I'd love to hear in the comments below!

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