Life lessons: Making a necklace

"How hard can this be?"
It all began with this necklace, three strands of quartz, jet and bone beads, a gift made by my long-lost Montreal friend Susan.
"Beading is so relaxing", the effervescent Susan said, "and to think that I–a retired investment banker–make pieces that people buy off my neck!"


When a local bead store offered a class that taught how to make a similar necklace–$100 plus materials for a Saturday of "expert instruction in a small class"– I signed on. Like Susan, I would make smart necklaces from interesting beads. I would enjoy my new hobby.

I arrived early, advised to buy materials ahead of class. Why work with cheap stuff, I thought, and bought a strand of green turquoise nuggets with nice matrix and a heap of other beads.

Women beading, better than I
Four hours later, after arduous stringing, bending and crimping in a tiny, airless studio, I had my creation, a busy mess of green turquoise chunks, ebony balls and sterling rondelles that weighed as much as a small dog.

I loathed it. Despite classmates' convivial coos, I'd never wear the monster.

When Le Duc picked me up, I confessed my three-digit mistake and asked him to drive straight to our jeweler's, where I felt like a kid presenting her Gummy Lump to indulgent, startled parents. They were kind (the colours work) and forthright (the design, not so much).


Rescue: simply strung
They'll restyle it, stringing only the turquoise to make a simple, casual piece. All other material goes to Susan.

 Dadgummit! The mistake put my head in a vise; at home, I applied two Advil, then a grande... martini.

For my investment, I learned that beaders, like knitters and sewers, need an artful eye and surgically precise technique to produce a piece that doesn't look earnestly awful. One misplaced section and the whole deal reads "occupational therapy". Or you rip it up and start again.

While design requires mental energy, fabrication is physically taxing. We did some wire-wrapping that torqued my wrists till my eyes watered. I'm a workbench wimp.

I have renewed respect for the artisans who create beautiful objects with patience and skill. They paid their dues and rose by dint of talent and effort to polished proficiency. Like musicians, they enhance our lives while making labour look like fun.

Now, I'll assess jewelry with a much keener sense of the value of workmanship.

As for the hobby angle, I'm sticking with cooking. At least we (or the cat) can usually eat the mistakes.

27 comments

RoseAG said...

I like to bead. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don't.

The biggest advantage I've found is that with a little beading perspective I can do my own small repairs to necklaces or bracelets that have problems.

That keeps many items in my box wearable.

Marguerite said...

Oh Duchesse! I have long wanted to try beading. I have a definite creative streak that goes untapped most of the time. The restrung beads look lovely. Perhaps you should try again?

Splurgie said...

I know beaders too and they all seem to have a great eye for proportion, design and color. I don't so I'll leave beading to the experts. I'd rather be the buyer. I've had fun with Pandora beads and make up a bracelet in different colors to go with my outfit. I'm sure real beaders are gagging at the thought. I don't care. Anyway, I think you were smart to take the class and try it for yourself.

Deja Pseu said...

I'm a great believer in failed experiments, as long as the cost is manageable and results aren't permanent. ;-)

This does sound like something I'd enjoy trying, though whether I'd be any good at it is another story.

Patricia said...

Duchesse - who knew it was so difficult? You've opened my eyes too.

Duchesse said...

RoseAG: Being able to repair is a useful skill, and unlike clothing repairs jewelry repairs can't be done by the corner cleaner.

Marguerite: I would try again but not with such costly materials (which I think were overpriced.)

Splurgie: Pandora is on to something, encouraging "just enough" creativity through their assemble-a-bracelet approach.

Deja Pseu said...

Oh, and both your friend's necklace and your simple tuquoise final version are lovely.

Duchesse said...

Pseu: Susan took her classes during her winter residence in Mexico; she now buys here supplies there- far cheaper.

Patricia: Assembly is not especially difficult, it's fun- but my necklace was not well-designed, too heavy and busy. I was "guided" by the store owner and the result was something far busier than my taste.

Mary said...

I love your title "Life Lessons..." and the question "how hard can this be?". Making well designed and well made jewelry does take more that sliding beads on fishing wire. Technique, perfected by hours of practice, and good design, honed and refined, are the hallmarks of any fine creation. Just as you, dear Duchesse, make writing look so easy!

LPC said...

Hahahahha. I once decided to make glasses chains for my mom, to bead them. My fingers nearly fell off. I hate small motor work - I don't know what I was thinking:).

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I have taken more courses than I care to share and all a dismal failure...and a waste of money. The garden and the kitchen are my saviours!

Duchesse said...

LPC: I think fine motor skills erode if not used; I could do a lot in my 20s and now, obviously not!

Duchesse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duchesse said...

hostess: A series of classes would have worked better for me, with materials supplied. I'd need more guidance and practice. One shot classes are inadequate, unless one has a friend who can help out from here. But then, that's a commitment of time and money.

lagatta à montréal said...

I go from time to time to a bead shop near my place where they have several kinds of semi-precious stones and silver fittings - for one thing, if I should happen to buy costume jewellery earrings, I always have to change the hooks to silver or gold, as I'm allergic to base metals. I have tiny jeweller's pliers...

Unfortunately I often encounter jewellery-making and beading enthusiasts sporting the most ghastly, gaudy creations. One actually had a matching collar on her small dog.

I'd never inflict that indignity on my cat Renzo... he needs no further adornment. On the other hand, unlike cooking mistakes, it is hard to poison someone with beads. I would like to take a class in that; I have a background in visual arts and remain good at fine work, though need reading glasses now.

I have a coral choker necklace and would like to restring it with other beads, but don't want to wreck it. Your turquoise beads are very attractive.

Rubiatonta said...

I like your "mulligan" very much! And as for the doing-undoing-redoing aspect of crafts, for some folks, that's a lot of the fun. For others, it's getting it done. I'm more of a process person than a product person with my knitting, myself.

That said, it is nice to finish things! Nobody wants to channel Penelope on every project...

Mardel said...

I love pretty things but think I might prefer to be the buyer or to work with a skilled and talented jeweler or artisan. Beading skills are good for repair, which is not always easily found. But skill takes time and practice and the developing the eye is a totally different matter.

I'm all for giving something a go though and learning from the experience, even if the lesson learned not to pursue the subject further. I do think a series of lessons with fixed projects might be better, although in my case that would mean finding a series of lessons where we actually produced something I would want to wear.

Duchesse said...

lagatta: Most bead store here will repair and even restyle. Of course Renzo needs not adornment and would likely be offended by the very thought.

Rubi: Yes, I can see that. Though they have to own the equipment. Cutters and several types of pliers, bead board etc would have run me at least another $100, which seems good money after bad. Of course, friends could share, decreasing the cost.

Mardel: I've often given very specific direction to jewelers (and listened to their input. I'm glad I had the experience, and might even try again... sometime.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

I have to admit I did a beading course one saturday, it was great for the techniques, but I know what you mean about having to have the eye. I have made and remade necklaces over the years, some work better than others. It is an art!

It is very handy to know how to make repairs and I now carry my beading pliers to my clients when I do their wardrobes, I have repaired many necklaces and earrings over the years with them.

Belle de Ville said...

Your post gives me even greater appreciation for the women that I use for complicated stringing. It's never as straightforward as it looks.
A necklace that weighs as much as a small dog, classic line!

NancyDaQ said...

Like other posters, I like having the ability to make small repairs or alterations to earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. And occasionally, a minor stringing of some pretty thing on a cord. But that's as far as it goes for me.

materfamilias said...

Oddly, although I knit prodigiously, used to sew mine and my children's clothes, have smocked and crocheted quite decently, I've never been tempted to bead. And now you've validated that reluctance, wherever it's come from. I do like your restrung necklace, though, and I'm sure you'll enjoy wearing it.

Duchesse said...

Imogen: For repairs, I go to my jeweler, then of course I want to buy something I see, oh-oh.

Belle: They are goddesses. Awhile ago I posted a You Tube video of the Pearl Paradise ladies stringing pearls (and chatting while doing it).

Nancy: Do believe I could put a pendant on a cord :)

materfamilias: Anyone who has seen your knitting would join me in saying you are too modest by far. Your sense of colour and harmony- sublime. Am sure if you ventured into beading you would bring the same ability to it.

Aunt Snow said...

In the course of my work I have the opportunity to be around bead sellers - lots and lots of them. The variety always overwhelms me, and I shy from buying things and then finding out I won't know what to do with them.

I certainly admire you for getting started - perhaps try again with something very simple, and just glass beads? I think the pressure of using good turquoise might have been a distraction.

Duchesse said...

Aunt Snow/Geri: As I reflect, I think my problems was that I did not take time to really think about the end product, to sketch some possibilities. I hastily assembled stuff, and was rather assertively "led" by the bead store saleswoman. I'm not intimidated by good turquoise!

Funny about Money said...

Oh my.

A hundred bucks for this adventure? That's frightening. For about ten dollars you can buy a craft book that shows how to make just about any beaded necklace you please.

Wise move to restring it!

I got into beading jewelry for a while, too. It is relaxing, if you're not trying to build some sort of baroque...thing. After fooling with any number of silver and silveroid trim do-dads, I finally decided the best beaded necklaces are the simplest ones. My favorites have turned out to be a string of lapis beads with a couple of contrasting semiprecious beads worked in, and a string of amethyst beads.

The trick is to get the Sundance catalog and rip off their designs. Most are tasteful and not too annoying.

Duchesse said...

Funny: I thought $100 was not bad for 4 hours' close instruction, and the instructor was excellent. I overpaid for materials.

Looking at online catalogs is a great way to build a design sense, wonderful idea! (Sundance is too sweet and young for my taste,though.) I wanted massed beads, artful multistrands, a sort of Schiaparelli effect. Way out of my depth!