Friday, May 9, 2014

How to make your own birding jewelry...

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I wear bird-themed jewelry, but you might be surprised to learn I make all of my own jewelry. I am allergic to metal and can't wear gold or silver necklaces, so years ago I started making my own out of ceramic beads, pearls, and natural stone. I make all sorts of ceramic beads, and thought you might like to learn how to make a few for yourself.  If you can roll out clay, stamp in a design, and string beads, you can make your own bird jewelry too...

A binocular pendant on a string of amethyst.
A pair of binoculars strung on polished amethyst?
Yep...a birder born in February (me) is going to wear this.

How to make a bead out of clay
Step 1. Roll out a small slab of clay and press a stamped image into it. 
Make the slab at least 1/4" thick so you can create a channel to run the stringing material through. Experiment on how hard you have to press to get a good impression. If you press too hard, the image isn't crisp enough.

Stamping into clay creates cool beads.
There are so many types of beads you can make, but a stamped-image bead is the easiest. You can find stamps at any craft store. You can also make your own stamps (but I'll leave that for another post).

Step 2. Determine where you want the stringing channel and mark it with a wooden skewer. 
I usually place the stringing channel high on the bead. You can go as low as the center, but if you go any lower, the bead will just flop to the other side when hanging.

I place the stringing channel high on the bead, so it lays nicely on the wire.
You don't have to make a bead with a stringing channel. You can make a pendant instead by just punching a hole at the center top, or on both edges (see the example in the pendant section below).

Step 3. Push the wooden skewer through the clay to form the stringing channel. 
Go slowly so you don't "lose the center." If you accidentally push the skewer through the side, just squish up the clay and try again! After one or two tries, you won't have a problem.

Take your time while pushing the skewer through the clay. When you remove the skewer, clean up the edges by swiping your finger across the clay to smooth everything out.

For this necklace, I used high-quality flexible wire. Strong wire saves you from having to restring the necklace later because of breakage or stretching. You can also use silk thread, which is strong and long lasting. 
In the bead above, I created a "natural" stone look by not smoothing the clay out very well, which created a texture that resembled stone. After it was fired, I glazed the bead with a black matte glaze and then wiped it off the surface. The glaze was left in all the nooks and crannies, including in the stamped image. For the second firing, I left the glossy clear coat off. (I paired the rustic bead with the glitz of polished amethyst rectangles for interest. It would have been very easy to just string this bead on a smooth leather cord, but it wouldn't have been as fun.)

How to use crimp beads on a pendant
When you make a pendant, you have no way to string it on a wire or thread, so you have to attach to the stringing material. There are many ways to do this, but the simplest method is just using a crimp bead. (Note: It's the easiest method, but it's not the most elegant method; however, I wanted a very simple look to go with the rustic bead below, so it was perfect for this necklace).

Step 1. String the wire through the hole and slip a crimp bead over it.  
...then thread the shorter end of the wire through the crimp bead.

You can get crimp beads at any craft or beading store. I always use sterling silver.

Step 2. Use a small pliers to smash the crimp bead together.  
When smashed, the tube forms a little square, which looks nice when you want a simple design. I wanted simplicity to tie the rustic bird pendant together with lovely freshwater pearls.

Use the pliers to smash the crimp bead down. It holds the stringing wire in place. You can feed the excess wire through the next couple beads, or snip it off. 

A rustic bead pendant paired with a simple crimp bead and cultured freshwater pearls is the perfect look for this chickadee pendant necklace.

Attaching a clasp
The easiest clasp to attach is a lobster claw clasp. You can attach it using a crimp bead the same way as described above.

You don't have to get fancy when you first start making jewelry, a quick crimp bead and a lobster clasp works fine!

...and the best place to wear bird-themed jewelry? 
The Biggest Week in American Birding, of course! 

Hope to see you there! I'm heading up Sunday (Mother's Day!). I can't wait to see all the warblers!
Click here for info on the Biggest Week. Online registration is closed, but walk-in registration is available at Maumee Bay Lodge and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

Happy Mother's Day!
(...especially to Mom...)


Montanagirl said...

Wow - this is a terrific post, Kelly! Pretty interesting all the steps involved in making a piece of jewelry! Very enjoyable and informative.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

You are multi-talented! And your jewelry is beautiful. I guess necessity is really the mother of invention. Have a great time on your birding trip, and happy Mother's Day.

Janice K said...

You never cease to amaze me. You are so creative!!

Have a great Mother's Day!

Kat Griffin said...

Thanks for the post about making beads. I love the natural look of stone you managed to get too. Now I have to try to do a few beads just because you make it look so fun, easy and artsy! all things I love

Lois Evensen said...

How fun! What beautiful beads! :)

Elaine said...

Lovely jewelry! Have a fun time with all those warblers. Happy Mother's Day to you too.

Appalachian Lady said...

Lovely beads--do you fire them at home or at a local kiln? The Biggest Week in Birding sounds like fun--maybe I will go next year.

The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Very cute! Wish I had the time to do things like this.

Mary said...

These are really neat, but I don't know that I could make them on my own. Would love to have some of your bird themed beads to sew on crazy quilt projects, too.

Anonymous said...

Cute! Those who don't have access to a kiln (or prefer a lower carbon footprint) can substitute lightweight polymer clay that can be cured in a home oven. A bonus is that polymer can create some fantastic color and texture effects that aren't possible with ceramic clay.

Kelly said...

…thanks, everyone! You can make these beads (or anything else you can find on a stamp!).

I fire the beads at a local studio. I go to the pottery studio every Thursday evening (It's Just Mud), and fire them there. I have a very small kiln, though. I haven't installed it yet. I can't wait to do that, so I can fire beads whenever I wish.

field guide to hummers: You're right. You can make these designs in polymer class as well. You can do any of my clay project in polymer clay you only have to fire in your oven.

Good luck with the beads!!