Monday, May 18, 2009

Loops and Spirals - A Teaching Exercise

This week's challenge for me was to solidify my plans for a beginner class at the gallery that sells my jewelry. The owner was not very specific about what she wanted, so I thought for a while and gave myself several criteria for a successful presentation, and of course, class.
  • The project should teach a very basic skill set, easy enough for someone with no jewelry-making experience whatever.
  • It should fit in the timeframe -- quick enough that the students have something nice to take home, but enough substance that they can spend the whole class time working on it.
  • It should be an attractive finished product, something the students would be proud to wear.
  • Because it is being made in the gallery, it should incorporate supplies that the students can purchase there, i.e. gemstone beads.
  • Aside from the gemstone beads, the tools and materials should be very basic and, if possible, inexpensive without being cheap or tacky.
Because I feel very strongly about the value of practice and mileage in jewelry-making, I also wanted something that repeated the skills several times in the course of the class time.

The project I came up with is this set called Loops and Spirals. Basically the students will learn a wrapped loop and the simplest tight spiral. After making several wrapped loop/spiral dangles, they will make ultra-simple earwires and an ultra-simple pendant hoop to hold their beads. The cool thing is that the earring drops are interchangeable, so students could go home with several pairs of earrings as well as a pendant, depending on how quickly they get the technique. They also will be able to practice it several times, which is pretty much necessary if you want to make nice loops.

I made my first version with hardware store copper, very impromptu, and then this version in sterling with a lot more attention to detail so I could get the instructions exactly right. I will bring a sample of the instructions as well as the set to the gallery this week, and if they like it, we can hammer out the details. My thought would be to make up kits with 4 or 5 each of 4 or 5 kinds of beads, each kit the same. That way they could break up only 4 or 5 strands to make a bunch of kits that would still have a nice assortment of beads. I lean toward working with copper at first, but I'm not sure if copper earwires are a good idea so we'll have to discuss that, too. We also haven't talked about pricing, class size, all that. I have thought all that out and will have a pretty detailed bullet list of ways it could work.

Now for what I actually made -- I used 4 kinds of gemstone beads, 2 shapes of pink peruvian opal and 2 shapes of lapis nevada. The drops are made with 22g sterling wire, roughly 2" for each bead. I made 5 of each, 2 for earrings and 3 for the pendant. The earwires are 20g sterling, again a 2" length each. If you look closely you will see that the drop simply slides into place and falls into the bend behind the spiral at the front. This means that you can exchange a different drop onto the same set of wires. The spirals on the drops and the earwires are both decorative and functional, eliminating the need for headpins. The omega-style hoop pendant is made from 18g sterling. I slid the beads on in an order that pleased me. The top is very simple closed (not wrapped) loops to go over a cord or chain. I used a 3mm 18g jump ring to close and stabilize the top of the pendant. It will help it hold its shape and also prevent the beads from slipping off.

The tool list for the class will include round-nose pliers, chain-nose pliers, cutter, a pen and a wine cork as mandrels. Students who have only one pair of chain-nose pliers will have to share for two brief steps that use 2 pair of pliers (closing the loops on the pendant, opening and closing the jump ring) but that should work okay.

Now, my cheater alert -- I use step pliers exclusively for wrapped loops, wouldn't do otherwise. I like uniform loops, and that's how to get them. In fact, I almost never use my round-nose pliers any more. However, I'm not about to require students or the store to buy $15 step pliers when $4 round-nose will work fine for absolute beginners, and come in a starter set with a chain-nose and a cutter. Likewise, I use both chain- and flat-nose pliers, depending on which step, just because I've been doing this long enough to appreciate the difference in the way the different pliers bend the wire. But that is NOT necessary for absolute beginners, and there is no reason that they need the $150 of fancy Swedish ergonomic pliers and cutters that I use every day when for $13.99 they can get the whole set including a handy zipper case from Beadalon. By the time they wear out or break down, the students will know if they enjoy wire enough to get better quality tools.

How do you like this project? If you had never made jewelry, but were at a shop for a meditation class, would a class like this appeal to you?

Please share your thoughts, and meanwhile, don't forget to stop by Year of Jewelry and check out all the beautiful things my jewelry friends are sharing there.

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