Learn Jewelry Making One Skill at a Time
I always think of learning to make jewelry as a set of building blocks. Start with one block–or skill–and add more, one at a time. I started my jewelry making journey a few years ago the way that most do – by adding beads to string. Then, since I’m a bit of a rockhound, I progressed to swapping glass or plastic beads for stones. And I loved it!
But eventually, I wanted to try something a bit more complicated. So I added wire, doing basic wire wrapping and adding wire spirals and circles to my designs. Along with that, I tried my hand at chain maille. Using wire and jump rings also widened my exposure to different jewelry-making tools – and those tools in turn inspired me to try even more complex jewelry-making techniques.
And that’s how I discovered my passion – riveting!! By learning basic riveting techniques and attaching one piece of metal to another, I was able to create all-new designs. And I expanded my ever-growing tool collection. Adding a disk cutter and dapping block (with the appropriate hammers, of course) really made my designs take off.
Next, I wanted my basic riveted pendants to take a special one-of-a-kind look. So I learned to add a simple patina with salt and vinegar. Those simple pieces? Are the most popular ones I make. I almost invariably sell out when I take them to craft shows.
At the same time, I experimented with cutting and dapping circles from used soda and beer cans. They make delightful pendants and earrings – and they’re “green!”
Oh, I never lost my passion for stones, of course. I wanted to find some way to set my stones in my riveted pieces. That’s how I came up with an “envelope” design. I used my disk cutter to add a hole to a piece of metal, dapped the hole, put that piece of metal over my stone, and riveted the whole thing to another piece of metal. Voila! My own special pieces with my own special stones!
To branch out a bit more, I applied the same envelope technique to picture cabochons for a “funky” look. And more recently, I learned to make my own picture cabochons! I’m totally in love with this new skill – and I even use it to make quick and fun refrigerator magnets. People just love those!
So what’s next? Well, as the Managing Editor of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never learned to solder. Why not? Well, a couple of reasons. First, fire is not really my friend. I’m very accident prone. So yes, I’m a scaredy cat. Second, until recently, I lived in an apartment. And the landlord might have objected to torches in the apartment. Burning down the building would have been bad. And besides, in an apartment, my workspace was very limited. But I recently bought a house. With a large basement. With plenty of space to work. So yes! Soldering is probably my next jewelry-making “block.” Fortunately, with the job I have, I know some of the very best teachers!
Applying the building block theory to your own jewelry-making journey won’t necessarily take you in the same direction I took. Maybe you’ll “branch off” at wire wrapping and concentrate there. Maybe you’ll decide to take the path of metal clay. But whichever “blocks” you choose, find your passion and go there! And remember that there are always more blocks to play with, so keep looking and experimenting.
As you find your own jewelry making building blocks, one of the best resources is The Jewelry Makers Field Guide by Helen I. Driggs. It tells you everything you need to know, whether you’re starting with the basics or learning more advanced techniques. You’ll get tips for each technique and how to turn those techniques into your own special jewelry designs. And it gives you a thorough look at all of the tools essential for each of your building blocks. Looking for a great way to get started? This is it!