Recently jewelry makers have taken to using materials like plastics and titanium in the production of modern jewelry. Interesting fabric, cork, wire, feathers and leather are also popular.
The first steps in jewelry making are also some of the most exciting. With basic threading and knotting techniques, and an understanding of the right threads and fastenings, a dazzling treasure chest of necklace and bracelet designs opens up. Popular materials for threading include thick linen cord, round leather thong, foxtail or bead silk and metal wire. Necklaces and bracelets can be fastened with a nickel screw clasp, by knotting the end of the leather thong or a loop at one end of each piece of wire. While some beads may simply be threaded one after the other, a knot may also be made between each one; no knots are made when threading a metal wire necklace or bracelet.
Most modern necklaces fall into one of three categories. First there is classic simplicity, reminiscent of traditional strings of smooth beads a la 1920s. Then there is the delicate look that uses sequins, tiny glass beads and mother-of-pearl. Thirdly, there is a trend towards expressive individualism with hand-made, slightly uneven shapes, marvelously contrasting textures and bold use of color and materials, including back-to-nature materials such as wood, bamboo, feathers, shells, clay, pieces of bone, scraps of leather, dried berries, and pieces of driftwood. Innovative designs are also made using glass, animal and fish teeth, metals, and pieces of driftwood. I own a beautiful handmade necklace made from olive pips (the pips are linked together by thin wire hooks that are threaded through the centre of each pip).
Lamb's Eye necklace: you need 1m natural, round leather thong; 6 x 18mm shiny, large-holed wooden beads (dark green); 58 x 6mm light blue rotelles (beads with large holes and look like round beads that have been patted flat); 5 x 12mm lamb's eye beads (ask your local craftshop). Thread 13 rotelles, one dark green bead, 3 rotelles, a lamb's eye, 3 rotelles and a dark green bead. Continue this pattern until the last green bead, then thread 13 rotelles. Make sure the beads are in the centre of the thong and knot close to each end bead. Leave 15cm of the thong free for tying; make a knot, thread the last rotelle at each end and knot again.
Create your own unique designs: The same threading and knotting method as above may be used to create your own design combinations, which could include wood grain beads, combined with scraps of leather, brass beads or feathers. You may want to explore the possibilities of metal wire. Most people tend to think that working with metal involves using heavy machinery; it is rather neglected as a craft material. Metal is so versatile the creative design possibilities are endless, once the basic techniques are mastered. Many early pieces of jewelry were based on patterns created with wire, which had been made by hand. Wire combines well with other materials, like leather and all kinds of stones. Economically, it is a good idea to start with copper, brass or silver-plated wire. Once you acquire the knack of bending the wire in various ways you can graduate to fine silver wire.
Keep stocks of wire labeled with their thickness or gauge number until you have learned to recognize the various sizes. Wrap the wire up in plastic bags to prevent discoloration when you are not working with it. Always keep wire as straight as possible. If the wire has been kept in a large coil it can be straightened by lightly smoothing it with the fingers. Clean the completed pieces by immersing them in a liquid silver cleaner. Wash in soapy luke-warm water and dry. To prevent future discoloration, spray with a metal or clear varnish. If the silver is being used with other materials, clean it thoroughly first.
Note how joined pieces hang. The pieces do not stay flat but alternate - one flat and the other at right angles to it. Designs must follow this pattern otherwise the piece of jewelry will not hang in the correct way. A piece of work will never appear the same when lying on the workbench as when it is suspended, so always hold your work up to look at it. It is difficult to correct or straighten a piece of wire without it looking untidy and overworked so, if a mistake is made, it is better to start again with a new piece of wire. You can use the discarded pieces for making jump rings.
Tools: It is sensible to spend as much as you can afford on quality tools, all of which can be bought from a hardware store. You will need round-nosed pliers (check that the jaws make contact along their entire length and that the inside of the jaw is smooth otherwise it will damage the surface of the wire); Diagonal wire cutters or end cutters (to cut jump rings); Medium sized metal file (it is economical to buy a selection of Swiss or needle files); Silver-plated wire 1.5mm (gauge 15)
Techniques: Curling with round-nosed pliers - the size of the curl depends on the position of the wire in the jaws of the pliers. A small curl is made with the wire at the front of the pliers and a large curl is made with the wire at the back of the pliers. The end of the wire in the jaws should not stick out beyond the pliers. Grip the pliers firmly and turn in a clock-wise direction using the thumb of the other hand to apply pressure to the wire close to the jaws. You can work in an anti-clockwise direction if you find it easier but whichever way you do, make it a habit to work in the same direction. Try to complete a curl without having to regrip the wire.
Once you have a working knowledge of different wires you can design your own jewelry. Always start by drawing a full-scale, linear diagram with a felt-tipped pen to the same thickness as the wire you intend to use. Make your motifs according to this diagram or a prototype made from it. It is difficult to make every section identical, but by using the diagram you can retain the scale, which gives an overall unity to the design. However, the discrepancies between the various sections give the piece its original appearance.