About The Work Room

The Work Room is the Creative Journal of Wendy Sue where she shares her creative journey in all things handmade. The Work Room also offers an alternative to your typical jewelry making workshops. Scroll down to the end of the page to see how you can learn to make your unique piece of artisan jewelry online.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Where / How to begin? (From The Work Room's Inbox)


Work Room chat:
Eni Oken came up with Jewelry Lessons by Eni Oken and friends recently. It's a new website about, well, jewelry lessons, for downloads. You do have to pay to download individual tutorials but there are also some basic techniques available for free downloads. Since it is by Eni Oken and friends, you'll find tutorials of many other jewellery artists other than Eni Oken there. There are also forum, tips and other stuffs as well. It seems to me like an online jewellery making learning centre of some sort. Packed with infos that any jewellery artist of any level may want to know and if there are anything that you would like to share, you can also do so there. Go check it out! But remember to sign up first to enjoy full access to the site and once again, signing up is free!

p/s: Like my new Work Room chat format? ;)


I got an email from a reader recently, a new beader, asking me just that.

I can completely understand her situation. The information and materials available out there can be so overwhelming that it can put a new beader in a maze more than in a phase. (Erm, ok. That doesn't sounds like it made any sense but I couldn't find any appropriate word which rhymes with maze. Phase was the closest I could think of. :P)

Anyway, I've been wanting to write an article about this ever since the birth of The Work Room but has been putting it off until now.

This was also my very first dilemma when I first started making jewellery, which I believe would also be the dilemma of many many new beaders out there.

Understanding this dilemma of new beaders, I guess that is the how and why Beading.com.my came up with their DIY Kits and Marinacraft, their Bead Starter Pack. On the assumption that these are tailor prepared with beginners in mind, they must be the best place for a beginner to start. But are they really?

Well, let's see.....

I think DIY Kits are quite good for starters. You have everything you need to make a particular piece of jewellery. But if you intend to make jewellery more seriously, you might be short changed in the long run. If you intend to make more than one piece of jewellery throughout (at the very least) the year, you might want to have a supply of the necessary findings. Take note that I am not using the word essential, simply because I don't believe in such a thing as 'the' essential findings. Depending on each individual style in designing, what will be 'the' essential findings will inevitably vary from one artist to another. What you will deem as 'your' essential findings will eventually be clear to you as you developed your skills and techniques in jewellery making.

As I was saying, DIY Kits do not help in paving the foundation towards building an inventory of jewellery findings that you will need throughout your jewellery making experience. If you are only interested in making ONLY a one-off piece of jewellery or if you're not that sure if you'll end up liking/ having patience making jewellery or you just wanted to try out something new, then yes, DIY Kits are for you. Otherwise, it may be quite restrictive in the exercise of your creativity discretion and too much of doing it 'by the book'. In the long run, it might be more cost effective to buy the findings and beads seperately.

How about Bead Starter Pack? Well, these starter packs may appear to solve the dilemma of a beginner but which may surprisingly backfire in the end. Bear in mind that at that price, what you are merely getting are only beads and not inclusive of other findings that you might need in making jewellery such as clasp and stringing material. You will inevitably need to spend some more to buy other findings which you might need. That is why it is called only a Bead Starter Pack and NOT a Beginner's Starter Pack. So, in the end, it might cost you even more. We all understand how cost is an issue for new beaders.

But if you are after a variety of beads in shapes, sizes and colours, then you might like the Bead Starter Pack. As much as they call it a Starter Pack, you might want to check the contents of the pack in terms of their shapes, sizes and colours; that you would at least have an idea of what you are getting which would allow you to work around your design. My suggestion for beginners is not to buy something without knowing what you are going to make of it or it might just ended up sitting there on the shelf when you could have gotten something else which you can have immediate use of.

When I first started making jewellery, E-Commerce and E-Shopping was only at its infancy and needless to say, I wasn't privy to all these starter packs. So, this is how I started my journey in jewellery making sans the starter packs or kits or what nots.

For starters, pick and choose one project that you like from the many free beading tutorial available online or if you’ve bought some of those instructional beading book, you can choose from there also.

I started with bead stitching. Why? Because it requires the least amount of materials and hence the least amount of money spent. :)

All I bought was only

This. Fishing line. Cost: Less than RM5 per 100m spool, depending on manufacturer. I got mine FOC. Found a few stashed at some corner in my house.

These. Seed beads and some bugle (not in picture) beadsCost: RM1 per 20g pack. You can get these from any Craft shops selling embroidery materials. It’s dirt cheap because these are the Made in Taiwan/China ones. You might want to read about the pain that can be caused by these here. It was much later that I ONLY made use of those from Japan that costs me almost an arm and a leg!

And some of these. Elastic stringing materials. Cost: Less than RM2 per metre.I didn’t bought these in a spool because I bought these from the retail craft shop and they were VERY expensive. I found out later that they are selling MUCH cheaper online in a spool but since I do not favour using these (I’ll write about it later), I didn’t bother getting them in spools. The one that I did got in a spool was the floss type. I got it merely for the stretchability factor. The ‘one size fits all’ concept sounds too appealing to a beginner to refuse.

That was it.

My first project?

Netted Cuff Bracelet. File picture from Rubysbeadwork.com.

I substituted the seed beads to do the ‘netting’ with silverish light blue bugle beads and metallic dark blue as its focal bead. I also used the stretchable floss-type beading thread to do the stitching. I couldn’t follow the instructions for that tutorial verbatim and had to made some amendments myself since the supply that I had was limited but it turned out horrendous and will NEVER live to see the days of light quite alright. I gave it as a gift to my Sa Kor who has since brought it with her back to the UK and subsequently, strangely disappeared from the face of earth. So, sorry folks! No picture of the actual thing to show you. But I do have a picture of a more presentable one that I did for the second time but in shorter gold bugle beads and pearl white seed beads as it’s focal.

Tadah! One valuable lesson I learn from making this is that bugle beads have sharp edges which cuts the floss thread! You have no idea how many times my thread broke but I could not figured out why. It was later on through some reading over the internet that I learn that bugle beads and Swarovski crystals have sharp edges which will cut your thread. “No wonder!” I smarten up and for this one I used fishing line. Fishing line is made of very durable material but unfortunately, this only fits MY wrist.

If you are interested to make this, you can check out the tutorial here. Or many more other interesting FREE tutorials from Ruby Fisch here.

I was pretty much hooked and as I progressed with more stitches; peyote, Right Angled Weave, herringbone, etc etc etc, I was also getting more and more frustrated.

I felt like I needed a change of medium. So, I moved on to wirework.

I started with making chandelier earrings since the skill level required were easy enough for a beginner to pick up.

You can check out the tutorial here.

I didn’t made that pair of chandelier earrings in the end because while I was in the midst of getting the required beads i.e. Swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls, a different idea for design emerged as I was browsing through for the findings. I did however manage to learn the basic of making loops from this tutorial which formed the foundation for my jewellery making experience.

I ended up getting……..

Chandelier earrings base. Cost: Around RM3 for 3 pairs. May cost more or less depending on the design, material and size. Chandelier earrings were the hottest accessory at that time. So, of course I had to make some of these!

Nickel plated earring hooks. Cost: Around RM2.50 for 12 pairs.

100 pcs of 4mm Swarovski 5301 crystal bicones in purple mix. Even buying these took A LOT of deliberation! For a start, I can’t for the life of me imagine the difference in sizes between 4mm, 6mm, 8mm or even 10mm! And there were SO MANY colours and shapes to choose from, all of which are just so pretty from the pictures, even before I have ever lay my eyes on them! I ended up getting the 4mm 5301 bicone beads because they were the cheapest and in purple mix because it’s my favourite colour. Cost: Less than RM20 for 100 pcs.

Nickel plated eye pins and head pins. Cost: RM3 for 24 pcs for each type.

I have since learn a trick with regards to these pins thingy. When it comes to these pins thingy right, the one that you least use is head pins. You don’t use that much of head pins, really. You only used them for your ending bead whereas you used more of eye pins to make connection. So, the trick is to get more of head pins but when you do so, make sure they are those really long ones, preferably those 2”/5 cm ones at the very least. This is because you can get eye pins and head pins from head pins but you can only get eye pins from eye pins. Get what I mean?

Ok. Like they say, pictures speak a thousand words.

2” or 5cm long head pin.

You see, you don’t necessarily need a very long head pin. Depending on the size of beads that you use, more often than not, you’ll find yourself using a small portion of it only.

So, what to do with the remaining pin, after you have used the ‘head’?

Don’t waste! You already know how to make a loop. Make a new eye pin from it!

Geddit now?

So, yeah, that was it. Oh, and also RM3.50 for shipping by registered mail. If you are not in a hurry, registered mail don’t cost you as much but they take about 3 to 5 business days to arrive.

With the above materials that I got, I came up with this pair of chandelier earrings.

Minimal skill level but optimal satisfaction. :) Given them away as a gift, by the way.

At this point, that pair of chandelier earrings sparks my interest in wirework because from the way I see it, it yields a more satisfactorily professional result than bead stitching. Bead stitching can get a bit tricky for beginners especially with the ‘tension’ issue.

I was motivated to do more of wirework pieces. I wanted to do a bracelet next Simply because it allows greater space for creativity than earrings but less time consuming than a necklace.

However, I was getting a bit bored with Swarovski crystals and silver tone findings already. So, what I did next was to get……..

A strand of 4mm (because the size commensurate with the price tag) freshwater pearls in peach. Picture above is only for illustration purposes only. Cost: Less than RM20 per strand. You get something around 80+ beads in a 16” strand if I’m not mistaken.

4mm antique brass finishing jump rings. Cost: I bought mine in bulk from an online bead store which is no longer in service. It came up to something less than RM10 for 400+ pcs.

Antique brass finishing head pins to match. Cost: I can’t remember exactly how much they cost but it definitely cost a bit more than the nickel plated ones.

Antique brass finishing toggle clasp to complete the match. Cost: Can’t remember exactly how much but just like the brass head pins, it cost a bit more than the nickel plated ones.

Thing is, I don’t see many sellers offering any other finishing other than silver or gold tone ones for sale. Gunmetal, copper and such. So, it might be a bit difficult to search for other finishing type of findings. Even if you manage to find them, there isn’t as much choices as the silver tone ones. Oh, well. I like variety in my work. :)

MarinaCraft does in fact carry quite a selection of different types of finishing for findings. You might want to check them out here.

Anyway, I came up with this bracelet.

Another minimal skill level piece which yields optimal personal satisfaction. I really like the vintage touch the brass findings lends to this piece of bracelet. This was also given away as a gift to my Sa Kor.

Ok, I’m digressing a little here because when I talk about vintage designs, I’m reminded of Megan Hor. If you’ve seen her collection of work, it’s all very vintage inspired pieces. Old school romance done in Megan’s style. ;) Lovely!

The cycle goes on and on with me switching between beadstitching and wirework. I’m left with some extras after I’ve finished with each project or I replenish whatever that I have run out but which I foresee I will be using more of in future. Basically that was how I build up on my Work Room’s inventory to the collection that I have with me today. One tip from me, it’s always better to have extras than just the right amount because you have no idea what pain it can put you through when you realize you are just short of one to complete the piece!

This is still the basis on which I am making jewellery. The difference being, I prefer to buy in bulk now because ideaS now come up for multiple pieces at a time.

So, I don’t really have much thought about starter packs because I didn’t started with one myself. Due to that, I’m not able to assess on the helpfulness or not to a beginner. They may seem to be rather helpful to a beginner but which might not have done much in the end. I think I started out quite alright even without one and you could perhaps use my experience as part of your reference to decide?

I think at the end of the day it depends a lot on which area you want to cover. What would be the starter pieces for bead stitching will be different from wirework, and also a matter of preference. Whatever it is, you can never go wrong with these 3 basic pliers; round nose plier, chain nose plier and flush cutters. Before you even think about what beads you might want to use or what findings do you want to buy, you HAVE to have these 3.

If you like my method of project picking, you would most probably wonder if is necessary to get some beading/ jewellery making books/ magazines. Well, not really. I didn’t get any at the beginning when I started out. It was only much later that I started spending on beading books and magazines. Not because of any particular reason. I just wanted the feel of holding something tangible.

I kept my cost to the minimum when I first started. I only started to splurge on books, magazines and stuffs probably only after 6 to 8 months down the road because at that point, it became more than just mere interest already.

The thing I like about holding, touching and feeling these tangible guides is that they give me different inspiration and ideas each time I flip through the pages and I just love to see the beautiful pictures taken of the jewellery!

So, if you want to know, here are the few sites that I frequent for tutorials as starters.

Ruby’s Beadwork
All Info About Jewelry Making
Bead and Button Magazine (the online version where they have some interesting free online projects but which would require you to signup as a member first before you can actually access the PDF files and signing up is free!)

Another thing I want to make a mention here when you are buying findings is that it is probably advisable for you to get those nickel free ones because some people are allergy to nickel. So, you might want to avoid any mishaps by getting nickel free ones. The people allergy to nickel are probably in the minority but then and again, you just don’t want to risk it.

Most findings these days, I noticed, are labeled as such but say 2 years ago, it was still largely dominated by nickel plated ones. That is why you see a lot of the earlier findings that I bought were nickel plated ones. If it is not stated clearly in the descriptions, you might want to clarify with the seller and if the seller can’t give you a clear answer, you might not want to buy from him/ her. I think it’s better to be safe than sorry lor.

Well, that was how I started with jewellery making. How did you start? :)

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4 hollers:

Jenny Pong said...

Hey, another wonderful article for beginner! Hey, I have some extra supplies and started to destash some of my findings. check out jpbeadsdestash.blogspot.com

Wendy Sue said...

Saw your destash site, pretty sweet deal you're offering, I must say! :)

lilconstance said...

Hello Wendy,

May I know where did you get your Swarovski crystals and the other findings from? Thank you =)


Wendy Sue said...

Hi Constance,

Well, I get most of my stuffs online. You can try beading.com.my. They've got a great selection of stuffs these days and they've also got a showroom in Times Square that you can also check it out if you're around the area. But you might want to order their stuffs online though cuz I think their online prices are cheaper compared to the retail ones. ;)

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