Trial and Error in the Jewelry Design Process

It appears that many people don’t understand just how much effort is required to design beaded jewelry. (I had written this post with beaded jewelry in mind, but the same could apply to wire jewelry.) When I’m following instructions from a tutorial or a pattern, especially if I’m following it down to the exact shape, sizes, and colors of the beads in the instructions, I can complete the piece rather quickly. The process goes swiftly because someone else (the designer) has already run into all the problems and straightened out the kinks.

The best analogy to designing beaded jewelry that I think many people could understand, is creating a baking recipe in which all your ingredients are from scratch. I will illustrate this with some examples. Although I have some idea of what I am going to make—I may even have sketched the design—I really have no way of knowing if it will work. If you’re coming up with a new recipe, you don’t know for certain how your cake/pie/cookies will turn out until after they come out of the oven.

  • How much of each ingredient to use? I need to figure out how much string I’ll need so that I don’t run out partway through. (Sure, I could just cut a long strand, but I don’t like wasting string, since thermally-bonded beading threads can be quite expensive. I need to keep track of how much I use, to calculate the material costs for making the item.)
  • Just like how you might not be sure if that combination of flavors will taste good together, I might not know right away which colors and styles of beads actually look good together.
  • Do you know the correct ratio of ingredients to use? The beads might not fit together if the sizes aren’t right. There might be an unsightly gap, or they might be all bunched up together.
  • Was there an ingredient that left a bad taste, or prevented you from achieving the desired texture, and shouldn’t have gone in there? The hole in the bead turns out to be too small to accommodate the string for the required number of passes, so I’ll need to take apart what I made because I can’t proceed. The next step is to either find beads with larger holes, or a thinner string that is still strong enough.
  • Will your pie filling congeal or is it a soupy mess when cut? I do not know if the necklace will drape nicely, or if the string is not stiff enough to hold the shape that I want. I will not know until I try to make it, and it doesn’t always work. A kink in the string might mean that section does not lie flat, so it will need to be redone.

Even if you are following a preexisting pattern, if you’re going to substitute a bead in the pattern with one of a different size, shape, or color, it’s like substituting ingredients in the recipe. You’re not sure how it’ll turn out until you’ve tried it.

If you are creating a new recipe, are you just going to write it down and then publish it in a recipe book? Are you just going to mix together all your ingredients and throw it in the oven, and then start selling your cookies/pies/cakes? Or are you going to test it first, see what worked and what didn’t work, and then tweak the recipe until you’re satisfied?

Every time I write about taking apart and redoing my current jewelry project, I keep getting comments from certain individuals telling me that my jewelry doesn’t have to be perfect. (This annoys me because I quit being a perfectionist over ten years ago.) I’d like to make it clear here that perfection isn’t the issue. The reason why I need to take apart and redo what I’ve made is that it is not yet functional. For example, I have run out of string, so I can’t proceed and have to take it apart to reuse the beads.

Here are some wire weaving examples to illustrate that it’s not about perfection:

Do you see the mistake in the weaving pattern?

I made a mistake in the weaving pattern towards the end. However, I left it as is because it does not affect the structural integrity of the piece, and after the embellishments, it’s not even all that noticeable.

Meanwhile,

P1080980q2

I had to take this apart because it was not stable and the warp wires would twist. I have seen this weaving pattern before, but done with 3 or 5 warp wires (I tried using 6), which were probably of a harder temper and thicker gauge.

This example illustrates how trial and error is necessary for achieving something functional.

The concept of using a bead as a toggle clasp has been around for a very long time. The loop has to be large enough for the bead to just fit through, but not too big so that the bead will come out on its own (causing your necklace or bracelet to fall off). If the loop is too small, it cannot be used as a clasp. Given that there were no instructions telling me how many seed beads to use in the loop, I had to string some on and see if the heart-shaped bead would fit.

DSCF7424qWhen I first made the loop, I tested if the heart bead would fit, and got a rough idea of how many seed beads I would need. Now, the string has to pass through the loop three times. Every time it passes through, the loop gets tighter. Therefore, by the time I get to the third pass, the loop might be too tight for the heart bead to fit, and I will need to take it apart so I can add another seed bead. Sometimes after the second pass, I think I need an additional seed bead, so I take apart what I did, and put it in, only to discover in the end that the loop was too loose, meaning I’ll have to remove the extra bead and do it again.

The second time I made this kind of clasp, I thought I could use 23 seed beads as I had done before. However, the heart-shaped beads are not uniformly sized, so although I knew I needed to make the loop larger, I still needed to repeat this same process for each bead.

DSCF7425q

The heart bead on the right is larger than the heart bead on the left, so the loop required 25 seed beads.

On the surface, it might seem like I’m trying to achieve perfection, but it’s actually precision. I am simply trying to make a functioning clasp that won’t open on its own. It might look like striving for perfection only because there is a very narrow range for success in this case. Other times, having an extra seed bead or missing one doesn’t bother me much, because it’s not that obvious and the piece still holds together.

I know I am not the only one who runs into problems during the design process. Every design has to undergo a testing phase to see if it is feasible. What I have in mind might not be possible to make, due to the physical limitations of the materials. In addition, I am concerned about quality. Would you want to buy a piece of jewelry only to have it break in three months? I need to make sure it’s sturdy and secure before it’s ready to be sold.

I hope that after reading this you now have a better appreciation for the design process, and will think twice before telling a designer “it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

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3 thoughts on “Trial and Error in the Jewelry Design Process

  1. It’s just like anything constructable. You can have casual abilities and get by but the more involvement the more there is to know. I’m doing primarily sewing now, but I used to think I could spin, weave, and sew. Yeah, maybe if I only wanted to make a few outfits a year; the industrial world demands more than that.

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