How a Bead Fest Metalsmithing Class Changed My Life

I can honestly say that taking a class at Bead Fest changed my life. Long story short: more than a decade ago I signed up for a metalsmithing workshop at the then Jewelry Arts Expo (now Bead Fest) being held in Ft. Washington, Pa. On the way to class, I quickly introduced myself and thrust a packet of writing samples and my resume into the hands of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Editor-in-Chief Merle White as she was directing students to their classes.

I had learned from a friend of a friend about an opening for a managing editor at the magazine. About a week later, Merle called. I interviewed, aced that job, spent a decade at the magazine, and the rest is history. Moral of the story: You never know what crazy good things will happen when you go to Bead Fest!

Helen Driggs metalsmithing rotary tool Dremel advanced cllass


Metalsmithing Classes at Bead Fest

I’ve attended every local Bead Fest since about 2005, first as a student, then as a staffer, and now as an independent metalsmithing instructor. Every year I teach a slew of technique or tool oriented workshops ranging from the basics of lapidary to metals tech and through the specifics of mastering your jewelry-making hand tools. Students say my classes differ. I think it’s probably because of an art school background. I tend to be academically oriented, so in class I will show you how to do techniques or use tools more often than how to replicate a specific object. Of course, we do have to act out the techniques you’re learning on metal and other materials, but I won’t ever be offended if you don’t exactly copy the target object in class!

Helen Driggs metalsmithing cllasses Bead Fest cold connections

Metalsmithing Classes at Bead Fest: Cold Connections, Texture, and Patina

This year, I am so excited to be teaching full-day versions of my absolute favorite metalsmithing technique classes: Cold Connections Boot Camp (above) and Textures and Patinas Boot Camp (below). If you’ve seen those videos, you have an inkling of some of what we will do in class. I promise I will be hauling nearly half of my studio into the convention center this year! We’ll be using a rolling mill, annealing torch, various tumblers, anvils, and other equipment for your total enjoyment.

Helen Driggs metalsmithing cllasses Bead Fest patina

Metalsmithing Classes at Bead Fest: Rotary Tools (Dremel)

I’m also offering my most popular technique classes, too: Rotary Tools Intensive One: Dremels Only!  on Saturday (and again on Sunday) and Rotary Tools Two: Advanced Techniques on Saturday (and again on Sunday) for those of you who want to master the use of those ever-useful power tools. I have taught literally hundreds of students how to set up, change attachments, drill, abrade, refine, and polish jewelry materials like plastic, wood, metal, ceramic, stone and sea glass in those classes. Own a new Dremel tool that’s still in the box? You won’t want to miss the “Mystery Attachment Theater” portion of class!

Helen Driggs metalsmithing cllasses Bead Fest Dremel tools only rotary tools

Metalsmithing Classes at Bead Fest: Beachcombing and Sea Glass Jewelry

If you’ve got a few metalsmithing technique classes under your belt and are looking for some object making, a logical next step might be the full-day Beachcomber’s Bonanza class. We will create a no-solder, cold-connected fibula style pin or pendant featuring sea glass, driftwood, metal, stone, and fiber! You will drill sea glass with diamond attachments, rivet, texture metal, use the disc cutter, learn how to create a pin stem, fit a strap mounting, and connect it all together in a one-of-a-kind work of art that will be uniquely you.

Helen Driggs metalsmithing cllasses Bead Fest beachcombing sea glass jewelry making

Metalsmithing Classes at Bead Fest: Mastering the Jeweler’s Saw

Maybe you’ve read my Cool Tools & Hip Tips columns, so you know that I believe the most critical tool any metalsmith must master is the jeweler’s saw. Because of this, I’ve recently developed a new technique class that’s based on a sawing project in my latest book. Got a hate/hate relationship with your jeweler’s saw? My Saw a Little, Saw a Lot pendant class might help you feel the love. You have my solemn word that by the end of class you will know how to load a blade, saw an opening, turn corners, saw scalloped edges, and hopefully, break fewer blades than you did before you came in.

Helen Driggs metalsmithing cllasses Bead Fest sawing class

Metalsmithing Classes at Bead Fest: Using Buttons in Jewelry Making

Love mixed media and color? Me too! Try my Bead and Button Jewelry class (below), or Color on Metal (bottom) for something colorful, fun, and definitely off the beaten path. I have so much fun in both of these classes. I can flex my painter’s muscles, play with some bright and bold color combos, and create fun focal elements to use with my metalwork. And so can you!

Helen Driggs metalsmithing cllasses Bead Fest button pendant

Don’t be intimidated if you don’t think you have the skills needed to take my classes. I always make room for beginners and do lots of demos on how to use the tools. Plus, I always, always bring extra tools, materials, and supplies for students to borrow, try, and buy! With the help of my invaluable and lovely teacher’s assistant (my sister Kitty), we will help you learn how to use your jewelry-making tools, to work safe and smart, have a lot of fun, and make some really cool stuff. Like I told you—you never know what crazy good things will happen for you at Bead Fest!


Helen Driggs metalsmithing classes Bead Fest coloring metal

About the author: Helen I. Driggs is an experienced teaching artist and has appeared in six instructional jewelry technique videos (see them below!). Her new book, Metal Jewelry Workshop, will be released in Fall 2018. Follow her blog:, Instagram @hdriggs_fabricationista, and Twitter feed @fabricationista for news, updates, and her upcoming workshop schedule.

Can’t make it to Bead Fest? The next best thing is learning from Helen’s metalsmithing videos, books, and eBooks!

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