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Archive for June 5th, 2020


Posted by learntobead on June 5, 2020

Strategic Learning in Jewelry Design


Teaching literacy in jewelry design is a lot like teaching literacy in reading and writing. We want our students to comprehend. We want them to be able to be self-directed in organizing and implementing their basic tasks. We want them to be able to function in unfamiliar situations and respond when problems arise. We want them to make reasonable judgements on marrying aesthetics to functionality. We want them to develop an originality in their work. We want them to think like designers. And, we want a high level of automaticity in all this. The basic jewelry design curriculum does not accomplish this. There is an absence of strategy and strategic thinking. There is a weak commitment to jewelry design as a discipline, with its own vocabulary and ways of thinking through and doing and responding to different, often unfamiliar, situations as they arise. Without a commitment to embed the teaching of a disciplinary literacy within the standard curriculum, we will fail to impart that necessary learned awareness about fluency, flexibility, originality, and comprehension the designer needs to bring to the design process.


She said it wasn’t her job!

This prominent jewelry instructor told me that it wasn’t her job to teach anything beyond the basic steps for getting a project done. It was not her responsibility to share any insights, choices, compromises, fix-it solutions or design considerations she herself made when creating the original project — now taught as a class with a kit and a set of step-by-step instructions. If a student asked a specific question, she would gladly answer it. But otherwise, it was not her job.

This attitude is so prevalent in the standard jewelry making curriculum and education. Teachers stick very closely to the standard, basic curriculum. Facts, not ideas. Absolutes, not what-ifs. Step-by-steps, not creative thinking. Teachers rarely explain the implications for using one bead vs. another, or one stringing material vs. another, or one clasp vs. another, or one material vs. another, or one technique vs. another. They rarely discuss the deeper meanings and potentialities underlying various problematic situations. They ignore the role and power of jewelry to influence human relations.

They have the student gloss over things as if, once seen and memorized, the student will automatically be able to make the right choices over and over, again and again. The teachers see themselves as easily transferring knowledge, skills and understandings to the student as if inoculating them as you would with a vaccine and a syringe. And the student becomes a star jewelry designer. Or not.

Teachers too often see jewelry making and design as a basic set of skills, easily adaptable and applicable to all kinds of jewelry making situations. They assume that the challenge of improving jewelry making skills would primarily be a function of making more and more jewelry.

This might be true for the novice student, but as the student moves from basic decoding to fluency, flexibility and originality in design, what was learned initially becomes less generally useful. For example, the student may learn about basic color schemes, but not how to adapt these in different situations, or leverage them to achieve an even more resonant result, or be more deliberate and intentional when choosing colors and determining how to use them.

There is an absence of strategy and strategic thinking. There is a weak commitment to jewelry design as its own discipline, with its own vocabulary and ways of thinking through and doing and responding to different, often unfamiliar, situations as they arise.

Jewelry, in the standard, traditional design education model, is understood as an object. We can speak about and learn about it as an object. This object is distanced from the creative spark that created it. It is divorced from desire. Apart from the wearer or the viewer. Ignorant of context or situation. There are no deeper explanations, no pointing out implications, no experimenting with situational contingencies, no debating synergistic or other external effects. The student is run through color theories, materials composition, step-by-step jewelry construction as if learning a basic lexicon is sufficient and enough.

This whole traditional process of standard jewelry designer education ignores the required disciplinary literacy. It assumes the student is creative, or not. It approaches jewelry design as if it were a subset of some other discipline, usually art, or more specifically, painting or sculpture. It ignores architectural requirements allowing jewelry to move, drape and flow as it is worn. It forgets that jewelry has personal, situational and social consequences. It pretends that jewelry design does not have any disciplinary requirements of its own. There are no specialized knowledges or ways of thinking unique to jewelry design alone.

It is weak at teaching the student, from a design perspective, how to decode design elements and how to combine them into compositions apart from basic art theory. It pretends there are no architectural issues underlying how jewelry functions. It ignores the fact that jewelry gains much of its appeal and power only as it is worn, and not as it sits on a mannequin or easel. It totally avoids confronting the fact that much of the power of jewelry results from how it instigates and sustains relationships — artist to self, artist to wearer, wearer to viewer, artist to seller, exhibitor to client, artist to collector, and so forth. And, it fails to impart that necessary learned awareness about fluency, flexibility, originality and comprehension the designer needs to bring to the design process.

It’s not their job. It’s not their job to assist the student’s developing creative thinking or applying that creative spark towards better jewelry design.

It’s not their job.

But, in fact, it is!

What Is Disciplinary Literacy?

Disciplinary Literacy1 assumes there are real differences in the way professionals across fields participate and communicate. Without this, students and professionals in a particular field would flounder and fail. Disciplinary literacy encompasses those techniques and strategies used to teach designers to think like designers (or historians like historians or scientists like scientists, and so forth)2.

Disciplinary literacy refers to how the particular discipline creates, disseminates, and evaluates knowledge. Each discipline has its own way of looking at the world, defining things using a specific vocabulary, gathering information, specifying understandings, posing questions and problems, delineating solutions and using evidence to justify their ideas and conclusions.

An artist looking at jewelry, or a craftsperson looking at jewelry, for instance, would have different thought and interpretive processes than a jewelry designer looking at jewelry. Jewelry, after all, is different than a painting or sculpture or simple functional object. Jewelry is only art as it is worn. It must satisfy the requirements of both aesthetics and functionality. It exists in a 3-dimensional space. It is worn on the body. It establishes special relationships between designer and wearer, wearer and viewer, designer and seller, designer and collector. It encapsulates situational and socio-cultural meanings. To evaluate whether a piece of jewelry is finished and successful requires a different thought process than art or craft alone would provide.

There are key disciplinary differences in how a jewelry designer…

  • Chooses and evaluates evidence
  • Relates evidence to a perspective
  • Gains understanding
  • Visualizes things
  • Manipulates things
  • Creates a truth and achieves an error- free solution
  • Introduces things publicly

Training in jewelry design should teach students the unique challenges they face within their discipline as they think through design and create jewelry. At each increment within the jewelry design process, they need to think like a designer.Not as an artist, nor like a craftsperson.As a designer.Finding evidence whether a piece is finished and successful.Linking causes to effects. Understanding how inspiration resulted in a finished design.Developing knowledge, understandings and skills to the level where they can transfer these to others.Generating a large number of ideas.Making inferences about the implications of any one choice.Producing things which are original.Responding to problematic or unanticipated situations.Finding new ways to adapt existing ideas to new conditions.Anticipating shared understandings about how their work will be evaluated, assessed and judged.Knowing when something is parsimonious and finished, and knowing when something resonates and is successful.

Types of Literacy

There are three different types of literacy — Basic, Intermediate, and Disciplinary. The standard jewelry design curriculum typically focuses on Basic literacy, with some nod toward Intermediate. Disciplinary literacy is usually ignored, but it should be incorporated and integrated within Basic and Intermediate literacy instruction.

Basic Literacy

Basic literacy refers to the degree the student learns knowledge of high frequency concepts that underlie virtually all jewelry design and jewelry making tasks. These concepts are typically universally recognized and understood by artist and client alike. Here jewelry is understood as an object. An object has literal characteristics which the student can identify and list.

The student demonstrates this basic literacy by an ability to decode. The student can decode things like color use, rules of composition, materials selection, technique implementation and the like. The student picks up the basic words and definitions, links the vocabulary to relevant objects, and can identify their presence and use within any piece of jewelry. Each element and principle of design can be graphically represented, and the student begins to make connections between word and graphic. The student begins to recognize which design elements can stand alone, and which are dependent on the presence of other elements. The student can identify harmonious and balanced clusters of these design elements within compositions. The goal is an automaticity in decoding.

Intermediate Literacy

Here the student develops the knowledge to make more complex jewelry forms and designs. There is more comprehension. The student recognizes that the various design elements and principles have a range of variations in meaning and expression. In a similar way, the student begins to recognize that clusters of design elements and principles can also show variations in meaning and expression.

The student learns about different materials and what they can and cannot be used to achieve. Materials have names, places of origins, stories about how they get from one place to another, processes.

The student is introduced to variations in techniques and technologies. There is more than one way to accomplish things. There are more things that can be created using familiar techniques.

The student learns to problem-solve with various “fix-it” procedures, like re-doing, changing tools, requesting help, looking things up, drawing analogies.

The student learns to process-plan. S/he begins to relate inspirations, aspirations and intentions to more critically evaluate their choices or the choices of others. Students are more able to stick with things and maintain attention to a more extended design process.

The student begins to learn how to design for an audience. This might be a client, or a purchaser, or an exhibitor, or a collector. This begins the developing understanding of how to meld personal held preferences with those of others.

Students monitor and reflect on their own comprehension. The goal is an automaticity in fluency.[4] Here jewelry is understood as content. As content, the jewelry as designed conveys meanings and expressions which the student can derive. The jewelry and its compositional design is still, however, mostly viewed objectively, as if sitting on an easel, not as it is worn.

Disciplinary Literacy

This involves a way of thinking and doing specific to the discipline. The student learns specialized literacy skills relevant to jewelry design as the jewelry is introduced and worn publicly. The student learns how parsimony and resonance as outcomes expressed in design differ from harmony and variety as expressed in art.

The student learns to anticipate shared understandings[5] and the role of desire among the many audiences the student works with, works in, and relates to. These include clients, sellers, exhibitors, collectors, wearers, viewers, and the artist him- or herself.

Much of the design process takes on the qualities of backwards design.[7] The designer begins the process by articulating the essential shared understandings and desires against which their work will be evaluated and judged. The designer starts with questions about assessment, and then allows this understanding to influence all other choices going forward.”

The student has an ability to conceptualize and explain what jewelry means, how it is more an action than an object, and how this meaning emerges dialectically, as the jewelry is introduced publicly, worn, shared and displayed.

The student learns to recognize the dynamics of coherency, decoherency, and contagion. The artist’s coherent choices about design become contagious, attracting someone to want to touch the piece, wear it, or buy it. To the extent others share the artist’s ideas about coherence, the more likely the work will be judged finished and successful. Jewelry becomes more than an expression of meanings, but rather, it becomes an expression of meanings within context.

The process of coherence continues with the wearer, who introduces the piece into a larger context. There is more contagion. When efforts at design are less than successful, we begin to have decoherence. Decoherence may come in the forms of bad feedback, inappropriate feedback, less than satisfying feedback, or no feedback at all. The wearer may not get that sense of self s/he seeks. S/he may feel less motivated to wear the piece, or may store it, or give it away.

The student can comfortably and flexibly respond in unfamiliar situations or to new materials, techniques, technologies and requests, and take on larger challenges arising from higher levels of ambiguity, abstraction, subtlety, and contradiction. The student can find new ways to adapt existing ideas to new situations and requirements.

The student learns how to inspire to. That is, the student learns how to translate an inspiration into a design in such a way that the wearer and viewer are inspired to, not merely inspired by. They don’t simply react emotionally by saying the piece is “beautiful.” The piece resonates for them. They react by saying they “want to wear” it or “want to buy it” or “want to make something like it”. They come to feel and see and sense the artist’s hand.

The student learns how to manage a very involved, and often very long and time-consuming process of jewelry design, beginning with inspiration, then aspiration, then execution, and presenting the piece publicly for exhibit or sale. The student also picks up the skills and attitudes necessary to stick with what can be a very long process.

The goal is an automaticity in design flexibility and originality. Jewelry is understood as both intent and dialectic communication. Here the student can visualize, anticipate, and respond to all the things which might happen when the jewelry is introduced publicly and its value and worth is judged and determined.

Literacy in Jewelry Design

Teaching literacy in jewelry design is a lot like teaching literacy in reading and writing. We want our students to comprehend. We want them to be able to be self-directed in organizing and implementing their basic tasks. We want them to be able to function in unfamiliar situations and respond when problems arise. We want them to make reasonable judgements on marrying aesthetics to functionality. We want them to develop an originality in their work. We want them to think like designers. And, we want a high level of automaticity in all this.

Using literacy techniques, goals and concepts, we teach students to read, write, express and express in context when understanding jewelry and its design.

We teach the student to “read” jewelry. That means learning a basic vocabulary, as well as the various design elements, and how these design elements can either function on their own, or be arranged and clustered together within a design. They learn to describe the piece, including the name of the artist and the name of the piece, the style of the piece, when the piece was created, the materials used, the construction technique, and the use of design elements such as point, line, shape, form, space, texture, color, value and pattern.

We teach the student to “write” jewelry. The student constructs (or anticipates how a particular designer has constructed), then reflects, upon the choices made. That means learning various principles of composition, construction and manipulation. These affect arrangements as well as the juxtaposition and clustering of design elements, materials and techniques. They learn to how the placement and organization of elements, materials and techniques results in things like harmony, balance, contrast, variety, unity, emphasis, movement, depth, rhythm, focus, and proportions.

We further teach the student to be more “expressive” with jewelry. That means learning how jewelry signifies various meanings and evokes emotions. They learn to question and ponder through answers to questions like What did they think the designer was trying to say? Or What kind of reaction(s) would you expect to this piece of jewelry? What feelings does the jewelry convey? In what context would wearing the piece be especially relevant and appropriate? Are there things in the piece which might be symbolic or otherwise signify things which transcend the piece of jewelry itself?

Last, we teach the student to be “expressive within a context”. That means understanding how jewelry functions communicatively, socially and psychologically within any context or situation. That means learning how various artists and various audiences use jewelry as a means of self-identity and self-esteem, and how the interaction of the artist with various audiences affects the success (or failure) of their continued relationship oriented around (and perhaps anchored to) the jewelry. It means delving into the how and why the jewelry would be valued or worth determined or evaluative judgements made, and, furthermore, how such judgements and determinations might be contingent in their expression. It also means understanding what jewelry is as it is worn, and the required artistic, functional and design choices and compromises which must be made, if the piece of jewelry is to be judged finished and successful.

Literacy in jewelry design includes such things as:

  • Learning art and design vocabulary, including design elements, principles of composition, manipulation and construction, and basic vocabulary words
  • Developing an understanding of a range of materials, how these are selected, and the possibilities for their use, or mis-use, in any one project
  • Developing a range of technical and technological knowledges and skills, how to vary them, and when to apply them and when not to apply them
  • Translating inspirations into aspirations into specific designs and execution
  • Choosing media, technique and strategy to convey concepts, forms and themes
  • Organizing, managing and controlling a jewelry design process, from start to finish, especially over an extended period of time
  • Deciphering the graphic representation of ideas
  • Communicating these ideas through critique and analysis of jewelry genres, styles, media use, and artist/designer intent
  • Reconciling tensions and conflicts between appeal and functionality, especially as the jewelry is worn
  • Introducing their work to others, coordinating artist goals with marketing goals, and exhibiting or selling publicly
  • Working with various client audiences, and translating, influencing or mitigating their understandings and desires about jewelry with those of the designer, whether a piece should be judged as finished and successful
  • Figuring out “fix-it” strategies where things do not turn out as desired, are uncertain, or things go wrong
  • Reflecting on one’s own thought processes and choices, increasing that metacognitive awareness of what things lead to better design
  • Developing a personal style and originality and strategies for how these get reflected in the artist’s finished compositions

Why Do We Need More Fluent Designers?

The standard curriculum and approach for teaching the making and designing of jewelry is commonly viewed as teaching basic literacy. This includes teaching a basic set of skills, widely adaptable and applicable to all kinds of jewelry making situations. These basic skills are highly generalizable and adaptable.

In the standard curriculum, it is assumed that the challenge of improving jewelry making skills is a function of making more and more jewelry. The designer, thus over time, would automatically evolve into a better designer with better, more satisfying, more appealing designs. We refer to this as the vaccination conception of teaching.

In some sense here, these ideas about teaching basic literacy are partly right. All students need a basic vocabulary. All jewelry designers need these basic perceptual and decoding skills which are very connected to early learning. These are entailed in all jewelry designs and crafting tasks.

However, as the designer moves from basic decoding to fluency, flexibility and originality, the basics which were learned become less generally useful. For example, the designer may learn basic color schemes, but not learn how to adapt these in different situations, with components which do not easily match colors on the color wheel, and which present differently when used in combination, or under different lighting or contextual situations.

Our standard teaching curriculum, if that is all we teach, becomes less than useful. We rely on a bad assumption: If we only provide adequate basic skills, so we assume, from that point forward, the student with adequate background knowledge will be able to design and make anything successfully. When the emphasis is on giving out more information and instructions rather than on discussion and challenge, students have little chance to learn to think as a fluent jewelry designer.

But this also begs the question: Why do we need more fluent designers?

Isn’t turning out basic technicians sufficient? Aren’t there enough designers meeting everyone’s jewelry needs? Even if there are not, are there enough clients and customers who would want to see and purchase better, more insightful, jewelry designs?

My answer, obviously, is Yes! We need more fluent designers who have been taught and are fluent in a disciplinary literacy. That is because there are many things going on around us which increase the need for all this.

These include,

  • The need to adapt to more global competition, better ride the ever-faster waves and changes of fashion and style trends, and more strategically confront and challenge global “sameness” in design
  • The need to adapt, and adapt more quickly, to changes in technologies and materials
  • Automaticity in how designers more easily and successfully meet their various client needs — self, wearer, viewer, seller, exhibiter, and collector
  • Creating a clearer, publicly sanctioned professionalization of the jewelry design discipline
  • Expanding the connectedness and networking of jewelry designers in today’s world
  • Increasing opportunities for more attention, visibility, communication, support, demand and income
  • Encouraging individual student pursuits, diversity and experimentation

How Should Disciplinary Literacy
Be Incorporated Into Jewelry Design Education?

Jewelry Design is rarely taught at this disciplinary level.

There is a need to identify what an advanced literacy curriculum in jewelry design might be, how it differs from that in art or craft, and how best to implement it.

We need to move away from the ideas of “teacher of art” or “teacher of craft”, and begin to understand the role of teacher as “teacher of disciplinary literacy in jewelry design”. How can we best prepare all jewelry design students for the thinking, the making, and the critically reflecting upon required by more intermediate and advanced work? How can we prepare students to be independent thinkers? Self-starters? What program of authentic learning more closely reflects what a jewelry designer does in the field?

A disciplinary literacy program should not, however, be understood as a separate curriculum. It is not something supplemental. Rather, disciplinary literacy should be a part of and embedded within all existing instruction, from basic to advanced. Disciplinary literacy should support the standard curriculum with literacy tools uniquely tailored to jewelry design.

Some ideas for integration…

  1. Build more depth into what is already taught and increase student engagement
  2. Leverage a wide range of resources — popular articles and images, academic articles, interviews, gallery exhibits and their presentation and marketing materials, online videos, bead and jewelry making magazines
  3. Task students with communicating what they read, viewed, experienced and attempted to do, and elaborate more on their understandings
  4. Ask questions which encourage students to think like jewelry designers
  5. Model design strategies and fix-it strategies
  6. Allow students to do more problem-solving and experimentation

As teachers of jewelry design, we want to build up our students’ design knowledge and skills through literacy. This means such things as,

  1. Building prior knowledge — showing connections between what they are expected to do now with what they have done or experienced before
  2. Building a specialized vocabulary and how to use this in context
  3. Learning, applying, varying and experimenting with different materials, techniques and technologies
  4. Practicing translating inspirations into aspirations
  5. Learning to deconstruct complex visual representations of ideas which each piece of jewelry encapsulates
  6. Using knowledge of artistic design elements and genres to identify main and subordinate ideas expressed within any piece
  7. Articulating what the graphic representations mean and how they are used within a piece of jewelry, and how this supports the artist’s intent
  8. Posing disciplinary relevant questions
  9. Critically comparing one piece of jewelry to others
  10. Using reasoning with jewelry design, such as searching for alternatives, or selecting evidence to evaluate claims of finish and success
  11. Enabling students to be metacognitive — that is, become aware of the ways in which they think, learn, create and problem-solve, and aware of how they overcome those times of creativity block
  12. Anticipating shared understandings about what it means for a piece to be finished and successful
  13. Bridging creative learning to the creative marketplace

What Are Some Specific Useful Techniques?

We should teach students to design jewelry, not draw it, not sculpt it, not craft it. And that should be our primary goal as teachers: developing our students’ Fluency, Flexibility and Originality with design.

This involves:

  1. a developmental approach and organization of knowledges, skills and understandings to be taught, usually taught as sets of interrelated, integrated skill sets, rather than one skill at a time
  2. a multi-method teaching plan and program with a shared goal of teaching disciplinary literacy,
  3. a rubric specifying degrees of accomplishment and the criteria of evaluation — all shared with the student
  4. a willingness to adjust teaching styles because different students rely on different senses and strategies for learning

I am going to touch on each of these below, but you will find numerous articles in print and online which go into much more detail.

Developmental Approach

Think of jewelry design as a large matrix. The rows are the various knowledges, skills and understandings students need to master. The columns represent ordered stages of learning, indicating what needs to be learned first, second and third, etc.

In the example below, learning objectives were specified for an introductory bead stringing class. The learning objectives were characterized by skill level needed. These objectives were clustered together and taught as a set. The student could identify what things were learned at what level, and what things needed to be learned in another class. Emphasis was placed during the instruction to visibly point out to the student how each learning objective was interrelated to the others.

At the conclusion of the class, students were asked to self-evaluate what they learned about each learning objective, and what else they would like to know or learn about it. What were their take-aways, and what would they like to do next.

When taking a developmental approach, you teach groups of integrated knowledges, skills and understandings. You teach technical mechanics concurrently with art and craft history, and concurrently with discipline-specific literacy. We want our students to be able to think strategically and critically, deal with unfamiliar or problematic situations, and be self directed.

In the Developmental Approach, you start with a cluster of a core set of skills. You show, demonstrate, and have the student apply, communicate about, and experiment with how these skills inter-relate in jewelry design.

You then introduce another cluster of knowledges, skills, and understandings. As with the core, you show, demonstrate, and have the student apply, communicate about, and experiment with how all these inter-relate. Then you repeat all this by teaching how this second cluster of things inter-relates to the core.

And again, you introduce a third cluster, and link to the second, then link to the core. And so forth.

Jewelry design covers a wide range of factors beyond the physical and structural aspects of jewelry. It incorporates aesthetics, structure, value systems, philosophies, sustainability, technologies, and their integrations. Thus the jewelry designer has to know some things about art, and some things about architecture, and about physical mechanics, and anthropology and psychology and sociology, and engineering, and be a bit of a party planner. Here, this developmental approach serves them well. It helps the student learn the inter-connectedness and inter-dependencies of them all, in a gradual, developmental, building-up-to-something sort of way.

Multi-Method Teaching Plan

Students need to come at jewelry design problems from different angles. Within each lesson, teachers need to gradually relinquish control over the learning process to the student. Using a single teaching method, such as having students keep rehearsing a series of steps, or relying on a single textbook won’t cut it. We also need to infuse opportunities for reflection within virtually every activity.

Some of things I find especially useful include,

(a) Guided Thinking

(b) Thinking Routines

c) Developing an effective questioning strategy

(d) Application, practice and experimentation

One approach is called “Guided Thinking”. Here, within each lesson, the teacher begins with controlling the information and how it is presented. This involves some lecture, some demonstration, some modelling. The teacher never insists that there is only one way to accomplish any task. Over the course of the lesson, the teacher gradually relinquishes more and more control to the student for directing the learning activity.

For example, we might encourage students to construct and feel and touch similar pieces made with different materials, beads or techniques, and have them tell us what differences they perceive. We should guide them in thinking through the implications for these differences. When teaching a stitch, I typically have students make samples using two different beads — say a cylinder bead and a seed bead, and try two different stringing materials, say Fireline and Nymo threads.

We also should guide them in thinking through all the management and control issues they were experiencing. Very often beginning students have difficulty finding a comfortable way to hold their pieces while working them. I let them work a little on a project, stop them, and then ask them to explain what was difficult and what was not. I suggest some alternative solutions — but do not impose a one-best-way — and have them try these solutions. Then we discuss them, fine-tuning our thinking.

After some trial-and-error and experimentation, I begin to introduce some goals. They had identified some management and control issues, and had some observations about what they were trying to do. I link these developing discussions to these goals. These are issues because…. And I let them fill in the blanks. What do they think needs to be happening here?

I begin to put words to feelings. I guide them in articulating some concrete goals. We want good thread tension management for a bead woven piece. We want the beads to lay correctly within the piece. We want the piece to feel fluid. We want an easier way to work the piece and hold it, so it doesn’t feel so awkward.

We return to Guided Thinking. I summarize all the choices we have made in order to begin the project: type of bead, size of bead, shape of bead, type of thread, strategy for holding the piece while working it, strategy for bringing the new bead to the work in progress. I ask the students what ideas are emerging in their minds about how to bring all they have done so far together.

At this point, I usually would interject a Mini-Lesson, where I demonstrate, given the discussions, the smarter way to begin and execute the Project. In the Mini-Lesson, I “Think Aloud” so that my students can see and hear how I am approaching our Project.

And then I continue with Guided Thinking as we work through various sections of the Project towards completion. Whatever we do — select materials, select and apply techniques, set goals, anticipate how we want the Project to end up — is shown as resulting from a managed process of thinking through our design.

In “Guided Thinking”, I would prompt my students to try to explain what is/is not going on, what is/is not working as desired, where the student hopes to end up, what seems to be enhancing/impeding getting there.

As the lesson proceeds, I reduce the amount of direction and information I provide. I relinquish this responsibility gradually to the student. The student is asked to try out a technique or strategy, then try an alternative. The student is asked to communicate the differences, their preferences, their explanations why, and what they might try to do next.

Experimentation with evaluation is encouraged. The student is asked to develop a more concrete jewelry project, and explain the various choices involved. What-if and what-next questions are posed. The student is allowed to follow a pathway that might be not as efficient, or even a dead-end. More discussion about what occurs begins. If the student asks me what would happen if, I tell them to try it and see, and then discuss their experience and observations.

Towards the end of the lesson, I prompt the student to communicate what they have done and what they have discovered. I ask them, in various ways, what take-aways they have from the class, or how they think they might apply what they learned in the future. I suggest the “what next.” I identify different options and pathways they might pursue next. Metacognition and reflection are important skills for any jewelry designer to have.

And we’re ready for the next lesson.

Another approach is called “Thinking Routines”. With guidance, demonstration and repetition, it is my hope that these experiences become a series of Thinking Routines my students resort to when starting a new project. As students develop and internalize more Thinking Routines, they develop greater Fluency with design.

Thinking Routines are different strategies for structuring a set of steps which lead a person’s thinking. “They are the patterns by which we operate and go about the job of learning and working together in a classroom environment. A routine can be thought of as any procedure, process, or pattern of action that is used repeatedly to manage and facilitate the accomplishment of specific goals or tasks. Classrooms have routines that serve to manage student behavior and interactions, to organizing the work of learning, and to establish rules for communication and discourse. Classrooms also have routines that structure the way students go about the process of learning. These learning routines can be simple structures, such as reading from a text and answering the questions at the end of the chapter, or they may be designed to promote students’ thinking, such as asking students what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learned as part of a unit of study.”[3]

Some examples:

  1. What Do You See…..What Do You Think…..What Do You Know
  2. Think — Pair — Share
  3. What Makes You Think That?
  4. I used to think… Now I think…
  5. Connect — Extend — Challenge
  6. True for Who?
  7. Look — Score — Explain

We use Thinking Routines mirror the kinds of thinking and analytic practices common to the discipline of jewelry design. We encourage students to reflect on what they were thinking. We ask how they were anticipating getting to the point where they would call their piece finished. We ask them whether there was some kind of order or routine to their process. We ask them what criteria they would use to know that they were successful. We ask them to anticipate what others would think, and whether others would agree that the piece was finished and successful.

These are some of the kinds of situations we want our students to develop thinking routines for:

a. Exploration of experience for a purpose; translating inspiration into designs

b. Search for meaning as conveyed by various design elements alone, clustered together, or arranged within a composition

c. Formulating how to deal with unfamiliar tasks or roadblocks preventing the finishing of a task

d. Completing well practiced technical tasks

e. Varying well practiced technical tasks

f. Contingent thinking and fix-it strategies

g. Incorporating the shared understandings of others into the thinking about what constitutes a finished and successful design

h. Introducing jewelry publicly, such as for exhibit or for sale

Another approach I want to point out is having an Effective Questioning Strategy. Students need to be engaged in thinking and talking about jewelry and its design and its powers when worn. The questions we ask them, and the way we phrase them, can have a big impact on this.

Questions should lead the student towards greater understanding. Ask questions which encourage students to think like jewelry designers and understand jewelry design as a series of problems to be solved.

  • Decode piece of jewelry; measure jewelry’s impact; relate to artist intent
  • Correlation or causation when explaining and identifying design issues
  • What q’s weren’t answered; ability to assess the information at hand relevant to the design problem
  • Do the results solve the design problem and support the conclusions
  • Other explanations for the results
  • Given an artist intent, sketch a jewelry design
  • Given a piece of jewelry to be sold, develop a sales pitch

Some pointers:

  1. Avoid questions with Yes/No answers
  2. Avoid questions which contain the answers, such as “don’t you think the designer did a good job?”
  3. Avoid questions which seem to have a particular answer in mind, such as “how did the designer use materials to represent the upper class?”
  4. Do elicit questions with multiple answers.
  5. Do elicit questions which incorporate each of our senses, not just the visual, such as “what sounds do you think this piece of jewelry would make?”
  6. Do elicit questions of varying levels of difficulty and rigor.
  7. Do elicit personal interpretations of ideas and feelings, coupled with questions about what evidence the student used to come to these conclusions.
  8. Do elicit questions about how to value or judge worth, and how such values might differ among different audiences, and why.
  9. Do elicit questions about contingent situations — if such and such a variable or piece of information changed, how would our thoughts, feelings and understandings change?
  10. Do elicit follow-up questions.
  11. If no one responds immediately to a question, pause and wait about 5 seconds.
  12. Encourage conversation among all participants in the room.
  13. Encourage students to generate their own questions.

When looking at a piece of jewelry, students might be asked (in reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy)[6] to:

DESCRIBE IT: What do you see? What else do you see? If you were describing this to another person who has not seen it, what would you say?

RELATE IT: What things do you recognize? Do you feel connected to the piece in any way? Would you buy it? Would you wear it? How does this piece of jewelry relate (to any other piece of jewelry)? What interests you the most in this piece? If you passed this piece of jewelry onto your children or grandchildren, do you think they would relate to it in the same way you did; explain? Would this jewelry be successful or appropriate in any culture or situation; explain with examples?

ANALYZE IT: What can you tell me about the design elements used in this piece of jewelry? About the arrangement and composition? About its construction? What type of person would wear this piece and why? What is the most critical part of this piece of jewelry which leads to its success (or failure)? What questions would you want to ask the designer? What internal or external forces will positively or negatively impact the piece? What about the piece creates good support, enabling it to move, drape and flow? What about the piece creates good structure, enable it to keep its shape and integrity when worn?

INTERPRET IT: What name would you give this piece of jewelry, and why did you pick this name? What sounds do you think this piece of jewelry would make? What role(s) would this piece of jewelry serve for the wearer, and why? Why do you think the designer made this piece of jewelry, and made it this way?

EVALUATE IT: Does this piece seem finished; explain? Would you see this piece as successful; explain? Would this piece evoke an emotion, and how? Does this piece resonate, and how? Does this piece feel parsimonious — that is, if you added (or subtracted) one more thing, would it make the piece seem less finished or successful? How has the artist selected and applied materials, techniques and technologies, and could better choices have been made and why? What do you think is worth remembering about this piece? What do you think other people would say about this piece? If you were selling this piece, what would be the selling points; explain? In what ways might this piece have value and worth for various audiences? Anticipating the artist’s purpose and intent, to what degree was the artist successful? What would make the piece better, and what would make it worse?

RE-CREATE IT: If you were making a similar piece, what would you do similarly and what would you do differently; explain why? If you wanted to re-create something similar, but for a different audience or context than you thought it was originally made, what kinds of things might you do; explain? What would you change about the piece to make it more appealing to you? What would you change about the piece to change the “sound” it seems to make? How could we make the piece more Traditional? Or Avant Garde? How could you build in more or better support or structure? How might your own work be influenced (or not) by this piece? Have you learned something from this piece that would influence you to do something differently in your own work in the future? If a particular color / material / finding had not been available, what could you substitute instead?

One last approach is encouraging lots of opportunities for Application, Practice, and Experimentation.

Jewelry design students need time to create various understandings, correct or not, and to put these understandings to the test. They should be encouraged to imagine, experiment, play, practice and apply their emerging knowledges and skills. We need to ween them off the standard design-by-number curriculum. We should provide opportunities for students to develop the skills to work intuitively and practically in context.

Towards this end, we should

  1. Provide space/time for artistic creativity and discovery
  2. Provide opportunities to discuss, reflect and critique about the design, management and control issues which arose
  3. Have students actively anticipate, through discussion and/or writing, what kinds of reactions various audiences might have to various design and composition choices
  4. Ask students to compare and contrast various designs or design approaches, including what is appealing (or not) and wearable (or not) and representative of an artist’s ideas and intent (or not)
  5. Students should be given various pieces to decode; that is, breaking them down into their essential design elements and compositional arrangements
  6. Students should be asked to reflect upon how the jewelry would hold up or be evaluated in different situations or cultures
  7. Students can be given different open-ended design tasks, such as creating a piece of jewelry that celebrates the student; or having students write “recipes” for the ingredients in a piece of jewelry and give these to other students to see what they come up with; or creating jewelry with social or political content; of develop a marketing and promotion strategy with a sales pitch for a particular piece of jewelry; or write a poem or short story about a piece of jewelry

A Rubric

Students who plan on becoming jewelry designers need a simple map to all these ideas about literacy and fluency — something they can easily review and determine where their strengths and weaknesses are, what kinds of courses they need to take, what kinds of learning goals they need to set in order to grow within the profession and gain proficiency and fluency in design over time. One type of map is a rubric.

A rubric is a table of criteria used to rate and rank understanding and/or performance. A rubric answers the question by what criteria understanding and/or performance should be judged. The rubric provides insightful clues for the kinds of evidence we need to make such assessments. The rubric helps us distinguish degrees of understanding and/or performance, from the sophisticated to the naïve. The rubric encapsulates what an authentic jewelry design education and performance would look like.

Here is one rubric we provide students to give them insight to the educational curriculum we offer in our program. We divide the program into Skill Levels, from preparation to beginner, intermediate, advanced, and integrated. We identify how jewelry is defined and conceptualized at each level. We specify the kinds of learning goals at each level — that is, what the students needs to have mastered before continuing on to the next level. We list the classes a student could take at each Skill Level.

Willingness To Adjust Styles To The Different Ways Students Think

Students learn in different ways. Some are more visual, some more oral, some more tactile, some more experiential. It is important that teachers vary their styles within each lesson.

For example, better instructions are presented not only with written steps, but also images illustrating each step, and diagrams or patterns explaining each step.

It is important to provide opportunities for students to reflect on what they did, and evaluate the thinking, management and control issues they confronted, and what they attempted to do to overcome these.

Last, it is just as important for the teacher to model (and think aloud) their own thought processes when attempting to design or construct a piece of jewelry.

Why Should The Teacher Be Motivated To Take A Disciplinary Approach?

The unwillingness of instructors to break out of that mold of standard craft or art content curriculum is rooted in many things.

For one, it is not very lucrative. Teaching disciplinary literacy on top of the standard content curriculum is more work. It requires more thought and integration. Initially, it requires more effort and planning. Yet the earned instructional fees would remain the same had the instructor not made the additional effort.

Teaching disciplinary literacy involves making very public and visible the teacher’s design thinking and choices. The teacher is expected to model design behaviors. The teacher will introduce think-alouds, experimentation, thinking routines. The teacher, within each lesson, gradually relinquishes control of the teaching task to the student. The student takes over the design process, making more and more choices, whether good or bad, right or wrong. The student then evaluates, citing evidence, what appears to be working, what not working, some reasons why, and some possible consequences. These disciplinary literacy techniques might make the teacher feel very exposed, vulnerable and uneasy where such thinking and choices of the teacher might be questioned or challenged, or where the student begins to take over and assert control over learning about design.

Teachers must also expand their training and learning to go beyond art and craft. They must more clearly incorporate ideas about architecture and functionality into their teaching. They must train their students to be aware of how jewelry design is a process of communicative interaction.

Teacher reluctance to incorporate disciplinary learning into the standard curriculum might also be due to the fact that there is little professional recognition. The recognition that tends to exist gets very tied to criteria based on a standard content which understands jewelry as an object, not a dialectic between artist and relevant other. Jewelry design is an occupation becoming a profession, and it may feel safer for the teacher to remain in craft or art, rather than design, because the criteria for teacher evaluation is more well defined and agreed-upon.

And there is no student demand. Jewelry design is often viewed more as an avocation or occupation, rather than a professional pursuit. It’s a way to exercise creative thoughts. A way to earn some extra money. A way to have fun. Jewelry design is not seen in professional terms with specialized knowledge and specific responsibilities.

Partly demand reflects low student expectations. There are assumptions that you cannot teach creativity — you have it or you don’t. There are assumptions that anyone can make jewelry, and that once you learn some basic vocabulary and techniques, better design skills will naturally evolve over time. And these assumptions get affirmed because all students ever see and experience is good ole basic craft or art education.

Partly demand reflects some realities of the marketplace. Most people who buy jewelry have little understanding about quality issues, art and design considerations, who the artists are and what their reputations are. They don’t know better so they don’t demand better. Jewelry purchases skew heavily toward the upper classes. However, this does not mean that we should assume that better designed jewelry has to equate to more expensive jewelry.

It is my firm belief, however, that if instructors integrate disciplinary literacy — thinking routines for how designers think design — into the standard curriculum, both student and client demand will follow, as well as teacher pay and recognition.

As teachers of jewelry design, we should be motivated to create that demand for deeper, disciplinary learning. We need to support the professionalization of the field. We should want to make jewelry design even more fulfilling for our students.

Towards this end, we should teach jewelry design knowledge and skills development which lead to greater fluency, comprehension, self-direction, flexibility, originality and automaticity in design. This means developing our students as architects, as well as artists. It means helping our students develop those critical thinking skills so they can adapt to different design situations, and more easily problem-solve when things go awry. It means enabling our students to evaluate situations and contexts in ways which make clear how the shared understandings of others impact the jewelry design process. It means giving our students a clear understanding of how creative thinking relates to the creative marketplace. It means teaching our students to be able to assert their worth — the worth of the pieces they create, their skills, their ideas, and their labor. Only in these ways will we play an active part in enhancing the ability of our students to make a living from their artistry and design work. Only in this way, moreover, will we elevate contemporary jewelry design so that it has a life outside the studio, and so that it doesn’t get whipped by the whims of fashion or seen only as a design accessory.

How Should We Measure Successful Teaching?

In the standard design curriculum, it is relatively easy to measure our success as teachers. We can gauge how many students take our classes. We can refer to the number of concepts learned. We can count the number of successfully completed steps students have completed. We can get a sense of how many students are able to sell or exhibit their pieces.

What is more difficult to measure, from a disciplinary literacy standpoint, is how well our students are able to think, analyze, reflect, create and engage in jewelry design, given variation and variability in audience, client, context, situation, society and culture.

It is difficult, as well, to gauge the degree we have been able to elevate the importance of jewelry design as a profession. Something beyond craft. Something beyond occupation. Something even beyond art.



[1] T. Shanahan, C. Shanahan. “Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy,” Harvard Educational Review, 2008.

[2] Historians gathering evidence like letters, journals, newspaper articles, photographs, analyze them and compare then. They look for patterns and corroboration. From that they infer understanding and conclusions. The historian may take many paths and turns to discover information that may or may not be factual, but may be helpful.

Scientists set up controlled experiments, typically using information they consider facts, and interrelated these facts mathematically in order to establish understandings and conclusions. They go about things following the scientific method and approach, beginning with observations, formulating hypotheses, setting experiment and collecting data, and so forth.

Jewelry designers manage tensions between appeal and functionality. The successful managing of these tensions involves adequately anticipating the shared understandings of various client groups about whether a piece should be considered finished and successful. The designer is able to establish something in and about the piece which signals such anticipation and understanding.

[3]Thinking Routines. I teach jewelry design. I find it useful to engage students with various ways of thinking out loud. They need to hear me think out loud about what choices I am making and what things I am considering when making those choices. They need to hear themselves think out loud so that they can develop strategies for getting more organized and strategic in dealing with information and making decisions. My inspiration here was based on the work done by Visible Thinking by Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education . http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org/VisibleThinking_html_files/VisibleThinking1.html

[4] Fluency. I took two graduate education courses in Literacy. The primary text we used was Literacy: Helping Students Construct Meaning by J. David Cooper, M. Robinson, J.A. Slansky and N. Kiger, 9th Edition, Cengage Learning, 2015. Even though the text was not about jewelry designing per se, it provides an excellent framework for understanding what fluency is all about, and how fluency with language develops over a period of years. I have relied on many of the ideas in the text to develop my own ideas about a disciplinary literacy for jewelry design.

[5] Shared Understandings. In another graduate education class, the major text reviewed the differences between understanding and knowledge. The question was how to teach understanding. Worth the read to gain many insights about how to structure teaching to get sufficient understanding to enrich learning. Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd Edition, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

[6] Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Bloom, Benjamin S. 1956. Taxonomy of educational objectives; the classification of educational goals. New York: Longmans, Green.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). New York: Longman.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Arts. Incredible Art Department. As referenced at


Bloom’s Taxonomy. Vanderbilt University. Center for Teaching. As reference at


[7] Backwards Design. I had taken two graduate education courses in Literacy and one in Planning that were very influential in my approach to disciplinary literacy. One of the big take-aways from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd Edition, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005, was the idea they introduced of “backwards design”. Their point is that you can better teach understanding if you anticipate the evidence others will use in their assessments of what you are trying to do. When coupled with ideas about teaching literacy and fluency (see Literacy: Helping Students Construct Meaning by J. David Cooper, M. Robinson, J.A. Slansky and N. Kiger, 9th Edition, Cengage Learning, 2015), you can begin to introduce ideas about managing the design process in a coherent and alignable way.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

The Jewelry Design Philosophy: Not Craft, Not Art, But Design

What Is Jewelry, Really?

The Jewelry Design Philosophy

Creativity: How Do You Get It? How Do You Enhance It?

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Becoming The Bead Artist and Jewelry Designer

5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Getting Started / Channeling Your Excitement

Getting Started / Developing Your Passion

Getting Started / Cultivating Your Practice

Becoming One With What Inspires You

Architectural Basics of Jewelry Design

Doubt / Self Doubt: Major Pitfalls For The Jewelry Designer

Techniques and Technologies: Knowing What To Do

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Jewelry Making Materials: Knowing What To Do

Teaching Discplinary Literacy: Strategic Thinking In Jewelry Design

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form, Theme: Creating Something Out Of Nothing

The Jewelry Designer’s Path To Resonance

Jewelry Design Principles: Composing, Constructing, Manipulating

Jewelry Design Composition: Playing With Building Blocks Called Design Elements

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of Thinking

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

Add your name to my email list.

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What “Ambition Type” Jewelry Designer Are You?

Posted by learntobead on June 5, 2020

Not Just One Type Of Person Wants To Become A Jewelry Designer

There is not just one type of person who becomes a jewelry designer. There are many, many types of people who find jewelry design a common passion. They may have different ambitions. They may prefer to use different techniques and materials. They may have different levels of financial success. They may have different compulsions for creating jewelry.

We can differentiate people who become jewelry designers by their aspirations (1 Neuendorf, 2016) — why they became jewelry designers. Some jewelry designers fit one type of aspiration; others, more than one. Which one are you?

Social Interactants

Creatives often seek out other creatives and form a social network. They may be makers. They may be sellers or exhibiters or collectors. But they look for ways to interact and meet and share close-knot social ties. Part of the reason is to learn new ideas. Another part is to get feedback and critique. The social group and network will offer support, advice, career and business opportunities and direction. These are people you can lean on when times get tough. There might even be some shared glamour and celebrity, depending on the artists and their group.

Social Interactants typically seek recognition for their efforts and their works. The success of any piece of jewelry depends on the judgements of the various audiences which interact with it. Social interactants allocate a good deal of their time anticipating how others will understand and react to any piece of jewelry. They spend time seeking out opportunities to display their works publicly.

Compulsive Creators

There is this innate, compulsive, don’t-fight-it desire that some jewelry designers have for creating jewelry. Composing, constructing and manipulating design elements is intrinsically rewarding. There is a strong, profound commitment to jewelry design, and this directed energy is often associated with productivity and success.

Compulsive Creators love what they do. It allows them to think creatively. They allocate a lot of their time towards achieving a high level of quality and sophistication.

Lifestyle of Freedom Seekers

These designers like to set their own pace, establish their own routines, work when the spirit moves them. A regular 9 to 5 job is not for them. They like to make their own rules and be self-directive. Any financial insecurity and uncertainty that comes with this is worth the price to pay for a lifestyle of freedom.

These designers believe that this freedom allows them to experience the world around them in a greater depth and to a greater degree. In turn, they have more understandings for how to find and then turn inspirations into finished jewelry designs.

Financial Success Achievers

Successful jewelry designers can do quite well for themselves, but it takes a lot of drive, organization and business and marketing sense. Jewelry design can be a lucrative career with such determination, gaining visibility, and a little bit of being in the right place at the right time.

But many designers primarily look for money to supplement their income or retirement. Some look to make enough money to pay for their supplies.

Sometimes, designers make jewelry to seek wealth, rather than income. They accumulate many pieces of jewelry and many unusual supplies and components to achieve wealth as success.

Financial Success Achievers typically try to create a business around their jewelry.

Happenstance and Chance

Not everyone who becomes a jewelry designer aspired to be one. Sometimes people fall into it. They need a piece of jewelry to match an outfit and decide to make something themselves, then get hooked. They watch someone make jewelry, then get intrigued. They try to repair a broken piece of jewelry by themselves. They accompany a friend to a jewelry making class, then want to try it out.

Many Ambition Types

Aspirations and ambitions vary. There is no best way or right way. It becomes a matter of the designer finding that balance of design, self, and other-life which works for them, and drives their passion.

Jewelry designers were motivated to become designers for many different reasons. But motivations are only a start. These make up only a small part of what it truly takes to be a successful designer. Designers need to develop skills and techniques, creative thinking, design process management, and disciplinary literacy, to continue on their pathway to success.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

The Jewelry Design Philosophy: Not Craft, Not Art, But Design

What Is Jewelry, Really?

The Jewelry Design Philosophy

Creativity: How Do You Get It? How Do You Enhance It?

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Becoming The Bead Artist and Jewelry Designer

5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Getting Started / Channeling Your Excitement

Getting Started / Developing Your Passion

Getting Started / Cultivating Your Practice

Becoming One With What Inspires You

Architectural Basics of Jewelry Design

Doubt / Self Doubt: Major Pitfalls For The Jewelry Designer

Techniques and Technologies: Knowing What To Do

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Jewelry Making Materials: Knowing What To Do

Teaching Discplinary Literacy: Strategic Thinking In Jewelry Design

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form, Theme: Creating Something Out Of Nothing

The Jewelry Designer’s Path To Resonance

Jewelry Design Principles: Composing, Constructing, Manipulating

Jewelry Design Composition: Playing With Building Blocks Called Design Elements

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of Thinking

How To Design An Ugly Necklace: The Ultimate Designer Challenge

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

Add your name to my email list.

Posted in Stitch 'n Bitch | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Do You Have A Learning Style?

Posted by learntobead on June 5, 2020

There Are Many Ways To Learn

There are many ways to learn beading and jewelry making.

  • Rote Memory
  • Analogously
  • Contradictions
  • Assimilation
  • Constructing Meanings

Most people learn by Rote Memory. They follow a set of steps, and they end up with something. They memorize all the steps. In this approach, all the choices have been made for them. So they never get a chance to learn the implications of their choices. Why one bead over another? Why one stringing material over another? How would you use the same technique in a different situation? You pick up a lot of techniques, but not necessarily many skills.

Other people learn Analogously. They have experiences with other crafts, such as sewing or knitting or other craft, and they draw analogies. Such and Such is similar to Whatnot, so I do Whatnot the same way I do Such and Such. This can work to a point. However, beading and jewelry making can often be much more involved, requiring making many more types of choices, than in other crafts. And there are still the issues of understanding the quality of the pieces you use, and what happens to them, both when jewelry is worn, as well as when jewelry is worn over time.

Yet another way people learn is through Contradictions. They see cheap jewelry and expensive jewelry, and analyze the differences. They see jewelry people are happy with, and jewelry people are not happy with, and analyze the differences. They see fashion jewelry looked down upon by artists, and art jewelry looked down upon by fashionistas, and they analyze the differences.

Assimilation is a learning approach that combines Analogous Learning and Learning Through Contradictions. People pursue more than one craft, keeping one foot in one arena, and another foot in the other. They teach themselves by analogy and contradiction. This assumes that multiple media mix, and mix easily. Often, however, this is not true. Usually one medium has to predominate for any one project to be successful. So assimilative learning can lead to confusion and poor products, trying to meet the special concerns and structures of each craft simultaneously. It is challenging to mix media. Often the fundamentals of each particular craft need to be learned and understood in and of themselves.

The last approach to learning a craft is called Constructing Meanings. In this approach, you learn groups of things, and how to apply an active or thematic label to that grouping. For example, you might learn about beading threads, such as Nymo, C-Lon and FireLine, and, at the same time, learn to evaluate each one’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of Managing Thread Tension or allowing movement, drape and flow. You might learn about crystal beads, Czech glass beads, and lampwork beads, and then, again concurrently and in comparison, learn the pros and cons of each, in terms of achieving good color blending strategies. You might learn peyote stitch and ndebele stitch, and how to combine them within the same project.

The Reality

In reality, you learn a little in each of these different learning styles. The Constructing Meanings approach, what is often referred to as the Art & Design Tradition, usually is associated with more successful and satisfying learning. This approach provides you with the tools for making sense of a whole lot of information — all the information you need to bring to bear to make a successful piece of jewelry, one that is both aesthetically pleasing and optimally functioning.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Oy Ve! The Challenges of Custom Work

The Importance of Self-Promotion: Don’t Be Shy

Are You Prepared For When The Reporter Comes A-Calling?

Don’t Just Wear Your Jewelry…Inhabit It!

Two Insightful Psych Phenomena Every Jewelry Designer Needs To Know

A Dog’s Life by Lily

Copyrighting Your Pieces: Let’s Not Confuse The Moral With The Legal Issues

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Jewelry Design: An Occupation In Search Of A Profession

Teaching Discplinary Literacy: Strategic Thinking In Jewelry Design

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of Thinking

Beads and Race

Were The Ways of Women or of Men Better At Fostering How To Make Jewelry

The Bridesmaid Bracelets

How To Design An Ugly Necklace: The Ultimate Designer Challenge

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

Add your name to my email list.

Posted in Stitch 'n Bitch | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by learntobead on June 5, 2020

Knowing What To Know


There are no perfect jewelry making materials for every project. Selecting materials is about making smart, strategic choices. This means relating your materials choices to your design and marketing goals. It also frequently means having to make tradeoffs and judgment calls between aesthetics and functionality. Materials differ in quality and value. They differ in their sensorial effects on people. They differ in how people perceive them. They differ in the associational and emotional connections which they evoke. They differ in their functional efficiency and effectiveness to lend pieces an ability to retain a shape, while at the same time, an ability to move, drape and flow. They differ in cost and durability. Last, materials may have different relationships with the designer, wearer or viewer depending on how they are intended to be used, and the situational or cultural contexts.

Knowing What To Know

The materials I use are alive

The world of jewelry design and the materials used can be complex, especially for jewelry designers just starting out in their careers. The novice, but also the more experienced designer, as well, often run up against some terms and properties of materials they have not dealt with before. Materials affect the appeal of the piece. They affect its structural
integrity. They affect the cost. They affect how people view, sense, desire and understand the piece.

You Would Be Very Aware Of…

If you want to gain an understanding of materials, you would be very aware of where they come from, how they are described, sold and marketed. You would be very aware of the beads and jewelry findings and stringing materials and tools, their qualities, when they are useful and when they are not, and what happens to them when they age. You would be very aware of what country the material is made or found in, how the material is manufactured, synthesized or gotten at, if it is modified or changed in any way, and how it comes to market. You would be very aware if the product is sold at different levels of quality, even if this is not differentiated on the product’s label. It is also important to be very aware how any of these aspects of the material have changed over time, or might change over time in the future.

You would be very aware that there is no such thing as the perfect material. There are only better materials, given your situation and goals. There is no perfect bead for every situation. No perfect clasp. No perfect stringing material. Every choice you make as a jewelry designer will require some tradeoffs and judgment calls. The more you understand the quality of the materials in the pieces you are working with are made of, and the clearer you are about your design goals, and if you are selling things, your marketing goals, as well, the more prepared you will be to make these kinds of choices.

You would be very aware that materials have different values and life spans, and this must relate to your project goals. You would not want to use metalized plastic beads, for example, in a piece you call an heirloom bracelet. Metalized plastic beads are a metal shell around a milky white plastic bead. The shell will chip easily. On the other hand, when doing fashion jewelry, these very inexpensive beads, and which have a short life-span, would be perfect. Not only are they cheap, but because they are cheap, there are lots and lots of designs and shapes and textures.

If your goal is to create more investment quality pieces, then you would not want to buy lampwork beads which have not been appropriately annealed (that is, if not cooled down correctly, they will fracture and break easily). You would buy appropriately annealed ones, but which are considerably more expensive. This may affect the look of your pieces. For an inexpensive, fashion oriented piece, your necklace made up entirely of lampwork beads which have not been appropriately annealed might be very affordable. It would have that great handmade, artisan look. It might sell for only $60.00. With more investment quality lampwork beads, however, you might just use one, or perhaps three lampwork beads, and
have a lot of cord showing, or a lot of filler beads, to keep the piece
affordable. This would be a very different design look and style. If the
necklace was made up of all quality lampwork beads, — to have the same look and style as its inexpensive cousin — it might have to retail for $600–800.00.

Again, for an investment quality piece, you would want to use crystal beads manufactured in Austria or the Czech Republic, and not ones manufactured elsewhere. And you would not let yourself be fooled when the front of the package says “Austrian Crystal” when the back says “Made In China”. Crystal beads made in China are not as bright, there are more production issues and flaws in the beads, and the holes are often drilled off-center when compared to their “Made In Austria” counterparts. But crystal beads more appropriate for that investment quality piece might be overkill for a fashion piece where you want to add a pop of brightness without a lot of additional cost.

You would want to be very aware of the treatments of beads and metals. Some things are radiated, heated, reconstituted, partly synthesized, lacquered or dyed. Sometimes this is a good thing and these treatments enhance the quality of materials in appearance and durability. Othertimes this is a bad thing, negatively affecting the quality of materials.

You would be very aware that many of the materials you use are described in ways that do not provide you with sufficient information to make a choice. Take the material gold-filled. The definition of gold-filled is that the material is a measurable layer of real gold fused to brass, sometimes copper. But the legal definition does not tell you how thick the gold has to be over the brass for the material to be called gold-filled. So in the market, some gold-filled has very little gold and will lose its gold very quickly, and other gold-filled has a thicker layer and will keep its gold, its shine and its shape for decades.

Or sterling silver. Sterling silver is supposed to be 92.5% silver (marked .925). The alloy, that is the remaining 7.5%, is supposed to contain, by law, a lot of copper. However, many manufacturers substitute some nickel for the copper to keep the cost down. This makes the sterling silver less expensive, yes, but it also makes it more brittle. It is the difference between being able to open and close the loop on an ear wire, off of which to hang the dangle, many, many times or only two or three times before the wire loop breaks.

Lots of sterling silver items get marked .925. And in jewelry making, many of the pieces we use are so small, there is no .925 stamp on them. Besides a change of what is in the alloy affecting the usefulness and value, many other things happen in the marketplace, as well. Many sterling silver items have been cast. What frequently happens is that some of the silver is lost in the casting process, so it is no longer at 92.5%. Manufacturers are supposed to make note of this, but many just stamp .925 on these items. Some shops label items as sterling silver, but in reality, are selling you pieces that are nickel. And some places will sell you something silver plated, and put sterling silver .925 tag which is marked .925 on it off the clasp. The tag is sterling; the jewelry is not. I’ve seen some major craft stores and some major jewelry stores sell metalized plastic jewelry and jewelry components and label it .925.

Flexible, nylon coated cable wires are one of the primary types of stringing materials. The measure of cable wire strength is called tensile strength. This has to do with what the wires are made of, what the nylon sheathing is made of, and how thick that nylon sheathing is. What makes the wire strong is the nylon sheathing’s ability to maintain the twist in the wire. As soon as the integrity of the nylon sheathing is violated, the wire untwists and immediately breaks. You will not see tensile strength referenced on the labels of these products. The information that is referenced (number of strands, wire thickness) gives you some information needed to make a choice, but insufficient to make an actual choice. Even when they list the number of strands, this doesn’t give you enough factual information to depend on. One brand’s high-end, 7-strand is stronger and more supple than that same brand’s 49-strand middle range product. This same brand’s middle range 49-strand product is stronger and more supple than another brand’s high end 49-strand product.

You would also be very aware that you cannot assume that there is consistency and uniformity for any given product. There are many production issues that arise in the manufacture of glass beads, for example. Some beads are perfect. Some have flaws. These flaws might include some flat surfaces when everything should be rounded. The color not going all the way through. Holes drilled off-centered. Bead sizes and hole sizes inconsistent from bead to bead. Some bead holes that are especially sharp. Some beads which have coated coloration which is poorly applied and chips off quickly. In clothing, these beads with flaws would be labeled irregulars, but they are not so labeled in beads. Some companies specialize in selling you perfect manufactured glass beads; other companies specialize in selling you the irregulars. They don’t advertise that fact. Either quality looks the same when you buy it; they just don’t hold up the same in close examination or from wear.

You would be aware that fabricated and stamped metal pieces are more durable than cast metal pieces, but a lot more expensive, and with a smaller palette of designs for the artist. You would be aware that the measure of pound strength on any label is the weakest piece of information to grab onto. The law only defines how pound strength should be measured. Since most products are manufactured abroad, little care is taken to guarantee the validity of this information.

You would be aware that there are a lot of things to know about the materials used in jewelry design.

It Is All About Choices

Materials play a significant role in jewelry design. You need to relate and justify the choices you make about selecting and using materials to your design goals (and your marketing goals, as well). Sometimes your choices are preformulated and planned; othertimes, these choices are spontaneous and emerge within your process of design. But these are all choices to be made, with inevitable impacts and consequences.

It is through the characteristics and qualities of the materials that the designer comes to keenly and fully appreciate values, intents, desires, and understandings associated with any design.

It is also through the most effective presentation specific to the materials that the designer experiences the piece to its best advantage and potential. The effectiveness results from the designer’s ability to maximize the strengths of each material, while minimizing its weaknesses. This is called leveraging.

It is a useful exercise, as well, to attempt to simplify the materials and reflect upon whether the piece feels more satisfying and successful, or less so. One key goal of any designer is to reach a point of parsimony where enough is enough.

Appreciation of materials, their selection, use and arrangement lead the designer to see, feel, think and listen to the visual poetry laid out before them. Jewelry is more than functional adornment. It resonates. Materials contribute to this. This appreciation allows the artist to share inspiration and intent with other audiences, the wearer and viewer included. The materials influence the artist in discovery, expression, invention, re-invention, and originality. They become part of the human experience in jewelry design.

For example, you might be in a situation having decide whether to purchase an $80.00 strand of 6mm round garnet beads, or a $28.00 strand of these same beads.

In that $80.00 strand, all the beads actually measure 6mm. They are all perfectly round. The holes are drilled well, and drilled through the center. There are no chips at the hole. There is good coloration, and the coloration from bead to bead is very consistent.

In that $28.00 strand, none of the beads measure 6mm. They are a bit smaller, perhaps 5.5mm. The beads from bead to bead on the strand are not consistent. Sizes are approximate, not exact. Several beads on the strand are not perfectly round. Some have flat surfaces on them. There are many chips at the hole, suggesting that they are not drilled well. Some are drilled off-center. The coloration is good from afar, but a close exam reveals that some beads are less desirable than others.

This situation doesn’t present an easy choice, however. If you are making fashion jewelry, the less expensive strand might be the best choice. Fashion jewelry is not worn for a long time. It is not an investment. It is a look. These beads are less expensive. In this context, the flaws, in this case, may not be so much as a flaw, as more a variation. The variations might enhance the fashion piece, adding a sense of fun, surprise and funkiness. The poorly drilled holes might mean that these beads will crack and break from wear, but given that fashion jewelry is not worn for a long time, this is a non-issue.

If you are making a more investment quality piece, the more expensive garnet beads might be the better choice. They have more value, resulting from the higher quality. The consistency in quality results in a more classic, timeless look. These beads will last a long time. Here, the inconsistencies in the less expensive strand of beads definitely would be viewed as flaws, not variations.

Types of Materials

One of the most fundamental and practical aspects of jewelry design is the importance of the materials. The choices jewelry designers make when selecting materials influence the form, content and movement of their pieces. Every material brings something special to the creative process and the finished jewelry pieces. The material influences, not only the designer, but the wearer and viewer themselves, how they perceive it, the values they place on it, and the extent they desire it.

The types of materials jewelry designers might choose are only limited by the imagination of the designer, and that designer’s budget. I have compiled a short listing of the more prevalent materials used in jewelry design. I distinguish those materials called

Stringing Materials

which are used to form the canvas of our jewelry,

from those materials called

Aesthetic Materials

which form the primary visual vocabulary and expressiveness of the piece, but also may contribute some functionality,

from those materials called

Functional Materials

which solely or primarily have practical value, but only sometimes, most likely inadvertently, add to the aesthetic expression of the piece.

(The Canvas)

The canvas is the part of the piece of jewelry onto which things are placed. The canvas is usually some kind of stringing material, and the things placed on it typically are beads and charms. The canvas supports the piece, its shaping and its silhouette. It may or may not be visible in the piece. But the canvas can be anything, including fabric and ribbon, wire mesh, chains, and the like. It can be like a string, or it can be like a flat sheet.

The designer selects the canvas or stringing material based on a vision of the structure of the piece, including both its supportive requirements as well as its appearance-related qualities. The particular selection will also impact the durability of the structure. Sometimes the selection of canvas takes on a symbolic meaning, such as using hemp in friendship bracelets or antiwar jewelry, or using leather in biker jewelry.

(1)Beading thread: Typically shaped like a typewriter ribbon, made from bonded nylon. It is something we wax before using it. Materials are strung onto thread using a beading needle. The thread is attached to the clasp assembly by tying knots. Glue should never be applied to these knots. If the beading thread is twisted, rather than bonded, it will break very easily.

Structure: Piece is very supple and moves, drapes and flows very easily. Provides little resistance to the weight of materials placed on it

Durability: Very durable when waxed, unless the holes of beads are very sharp

(2) Cable thread: This is a material where threads are braided together and encased in a nylon sheathing. Used similarly as beading thread. You use a needle. Waxing is optional, but strongly suggested. You tie knots to the clasp assembly. Glue should never be applied to these knots. Cable thread sold in bead stores is non-biodegradable. That sold in fishing stores or fishing departments is biodegradable.

Structure: Piece is very supple and moves, drapes and flows easily, but
not as easily as with beading thread.

Durability: Very durable, but the nylon sheathing can be compromised easily from body oils, perfume oils, and cosmetics. Waxing will protect the nylon sheathing.

(3) Bead cord, hemp, knotting cord: This is a material where threads or
fibers are braided or twisted together so that they look pretty. This cord
is used when you want the stringing material to show, such as putting knots
between beads, or where you have a cluster of beads, then the cord showing, another cluster of beads, the cord showing, and so forth. You use this material to macramé, knot, braid, knit, and crochet. You do not wax this material. That would make it look ugly. The primary purpose is to make your piece look attractive when the stringing material is to show. Bead cord may be nylon or silk. You use silk with real pearls, but, I suggest using the nylon with other materials. You will need a needle, usually a collapsible eye or big eye needle. You tie knots to secure the cord to a clasp assembly. You minimize the use of glue applied to knots, but you usually need to apply glue to the final knot.

Structure: Piece is a little stiffer than with bead thread or cable
thread, but still feels supple. Will drape well, but respond imperfectly to
the movement of the body.

Durability: Silk naturally deteriorates in 3–5 years; nylon does not. Bead cord made from other natural materials will also deteriorate over a relatively short period of time.

(4) Cable Wires: This flexible stringing material consists of wires braided together and encased in nylon. The strength comes from the ability of the nylon sheathing to keep the twist in the wires. If the nylon sheathing is compromised in any way, the wires will immediately untwist and the cable will break at that point. The wire is stiff enough to be its own needle. You use crimp beads to secure the cable wire to a clasp assembly because it is more difficult to tie a secure knot with the cable wire. A crushed crimp adds a more pleasing appearance than tying a knot, but it adds risk. A crushed crimp is like razor blade, always trying to saw right through the cable when the jewelry is worn.

Structure: Piece will be stiff, and never take the shape of the body. Piece will typically rotate in the opposite direction from the movement of the body or arm it rests on.

Durability: Very durable. The nylon sheathing can be compromised easily from body oils, perfume oils, and cosmetics. Usually crimp beads are used to secure the clasp, and these increase the risk the cable will break at the crimp, when compared to the durability of tying a knot.

(5) Stretchy Cords, like elastic string,
gossamer floss, elastic cord:
These materials are not particularly durable and lose their elasticity over time. People like these because they hate clasps, and you don’t use clasps with these. You secure these by tying knots, and putting glue (any glue except superglue) on the knots. Be sure
to coat the bottom of the knot, as well as the top of the knot. Elastic
cord is fabric covered around an elastic thong or floss.

Structure: Piece will stretch and return back to its original shape and size.

Durability: Material deteriorates and loses both its integrity as well as its memory over time, especially if left exposed to the air, or worn frequently. The round elastic string is the most durable among the stretchy cords. The floss is the least durable.

(6) Thicker cords like leather, waxed
cotton, ultra suede lace, rubber thong, and rat tail (satin cord):
These cords are stiff enough to be their own needle. You usually need special jewelry findings, such as crimp ends, end caps, or cones with larger interior openings, to prepare the ends of the thicker cord, so that you can attach a clasp assembly. Some are glued on; some crimped.

Structure: Similar to bead cord, but little stiffer.

Durability: Some cords, like leather, dry out over time and crack. Other cords, like waxed cotton and ultra suede, last a very long time. The rat tail tends to shred.

(7) Hard Wire: Hard wire is not a stringing wire, per se. You can use it to make a chain or bead-chain. You can use it to make shapes, like clasps and ear wires. You can bundle it so that it might be stiff enough to retain the shape of a bracelet or cuff. You can weave it or knit it to create patterns and textures. You create loops and rings to attach hard wire to a clasp assembly.

Structure: Wire stiffness comes as dead soft, half hard and hard. You determine, given how much manipulation of the wire you plan on doing, how stiff you want the wire to be when you begin your project, so that it will hold and retain its shape. Each time you manipulate the wire, it becomes stiffer and stiffer and stiffer, until it becomes brittle and breaks.

Durability: Very durable. Wire 18 gauge or thicker has little risk of losing its shape, distorting, breaking, opening up or pulling apart. As you get thinner, the risk increases dramatically. Dead soft wire requires a lot more manipulation until it can hold its shape, than half hard or hard hard wire.

(8) Chain:Wire is bent into links of various shapes and sizes, and
these are interlinked together into a chain. Sometimes the links are soldered closed. Usually they are not. You can string things onto the chain. You can use the chain as part of the clasp assembly, often to make the size adjustable. You can use the chain as a design element throughout your piece.

Structure: Thinner chains will be less able to keep their shape.

Durability: Chains can be very durable, particularly ones that have soldered links, wider links, and/or links created from thicker gauge wires.

(9) Ribbon, fabric:These wider cords are sometimes used as a stringing
material. They are secured at each end with ribbon or bar clamps, which then form either side of your clasp assembly.

Structure: Usually, these don’t by themselves support a shape.

Durability: More aesthetic than functional

(10) Lacy’s Stiff Stuff, Stiff Felt, Ultra suede sheet, Paper, Card Board, Poster Board, Rolled Out Polymer or Metal Clay, Brass Cuff Blank:The canvas or stringing material does not have to be a narrow cord. It can be a wide, flat surface, off of which to bead, glue, stitch, embroider, carve, or sculpt. This type of canvas needs to have some amount of stiffness to hold a shape, but not too much that the jewelry made with it feels uncomfortable, or does not move naturally with the person.

Structure: If you were creating a pendant, you might want your
canvas o be a little stiffer than if you were creating a bracelet.

Durability: Average durability

(11) Fused Glass:Sometimes the flat canvas is a piece of
glass. Other pieces of glass are fused onto this, using a kiln, in order to create a pattern or image.

Structure: Rigid shape.

Durability: Same as any other piece of glass.

(12) Metal Sheet and Wire:Sometimes we fabricate a piece of
jewelry, either using soldering, stamping, molding, casting, 3-D printing, or cold connections. Part of the sheet and/or wire becomes our canvas or stringing material.

Structure: These are very reliable materials for creating and maintaining

Durability: Soldered and stamped pieces are much more durable than molded or cast ones. 3-D printed materials would be used with casting. Cold connections could be used with any technique.


The canvas either passes through various aesthetic materials, or these are applied to the canvas or attached off the canvas in some way. These aesthetic materials are used for the yoke, the clasp assembly, the frame, the focal point, the center piece, the strap, and the bail.

Aesthetic Materials are expressive. They are part of the visual vocabulary and grammar of the jewelry. While some play functional roles, as well, they are usually selected for their expressive powers. Some materials evoke sensory or symbolic responses, as well. A touch, a feel, a color sense, sometimes a smell, which extends beyond its factual elements.

Any type of material can be selected to use as an aesthetic material. It can be something very specific, or a found object, or some kind of combobulation of things.

Aesthetic Materials we see often include,

Glass, Fused glass, lampwork glass, blown glass

Metals and Plated Metals


Natural (gemstones, wood, bone, horn)

Synthetic (plastic)

Polymer and Precious Metal Clay

Ceramic, Porcelain, Clay, Raku

Paper, lacquered paper

Oxidizers, Patinas, Paints, Fabric Dyes and Paints, Stains, Metal Paints and Rouges

Platings, Coatings


These aesthetic materials can be selected for their qualities of

(a) Appeal

(b) Functionality

c) Sensations or symbolism extending beyond the physical and decorative bases underlying these materials

Aesthetic Materials: Appeal

The idea of appeal is a broad concept. It is sometimes universal. But often subjective.

There are many variables underlying the ideas of appeal and beauty. These include things like,

–Clarity, translucence, opacity

–Hardness, brittleness, softness, suppleness


–Luminescence, brightness, reflectiveness, refraction

–Color, color combinations, intensity, value

–Weight, lightness, heaviness, volume, density

–Perceived value, worth, rarity

–Cut, faceting, smoothness, carving, sculpting


–Direction, pointer, focal points, markings, striations, inclusions

Aesthetic Materials: Functionality

Some materials function better than others in certain situations. For example, sterling silver is very malleable, nickel is more brittle. Bending, shaping, coiling, weaving sterling silver requires much less effort, and with this, can lead to more artistic and design success, than using nickel or other wire material that is stiffer and harder than sterling.

Another example: Using needle and thread as your stringing material is very time consuming. It is awkward using needle and thread. You have to wax it. You want to pass through each bead a minimum of three times. Using a cable wire, instead, lets you go much faster. The cable wire is a self needle. You don’t wax it. You only have to go through each bead once. If you are selling your pieces, it is virtually impossible to get your labor out of a needle and thread project. You almost have to use a cable wire, if you don’t want to commit yourself to a life of slave labor.

Aesthetic Materials: Sensations and Symbolism

Materials have sensory and symbolic powers which extend beyond the materials themselves. Obviously, this can be very subjective. It might have psychological roots, sociological roots and/or cultural roots.

Things may feel warm, cold, soft, rough, oily, weighty. Things may represent romance, power, membership, religiosity, status.

Vanderbilt University’s colors are gold and black, so using those colors in the Nashville, TN area might evoke a different emotional response than when used elsewhere. And here’s that very-difficult-to-design-with University of Tennessee orange, again, in the Nashville area will evoke a very different response than elsewhere.

Materials like amber and bone and crystal are things people like to touch, not just look at. The sensation extends beyond the visual grammar.


These materials are used in practical terms. They help things hold together. They help pieces stay in place. They help make pieces adjustable in size. They help polish, finish things off, assist materials through stages in their processing and development. They may be used to prevent or retard a change in color, such as a lacquer finish or rhodium plating over sterling to prevent tarnishing. They help capture a form or shape. They are not a part of the visual and expressive vocabulary and grammar of the piece. Nor are they any kind of canvas.

Functional Materials which are more prominent include,



·Pickling, Flux

·Molding compounds

·Bead release

·Fixatives (like Krylon, lacquering, special platings, waxes, other things which create a protective barrier over something else).

It is especially important to know a lot about adhesives. Many people reach for a tube of Superglue for everything. Superglue has few uses in jewelry design. This glue dries like glass, so the bond is like a piece of glass. When the jewelry moves, the bond shatters like glass, and the bond looks like a broken piece of glass. All jewelry moves when worn, so not a good choice.

Another glue many people reach for is hot glue. This glue melts at body temperature, so not a wise choice for necklaces, bracelets and pendants.

The best glue to use is jeweler’s glue. Two brands are E6000 and Beacon 527. Basically the same glue, but the former is thick and the latter is runny. These glues take 10 minutes to set, so you can move things around for 10 minutes. At about 20 minutes, the consistency is like rubber cement and you can use your finger or a tweezers to take off any excess glue. Both glues take 24 hours to dry hard. They dry clear and remain clear over time. The bond does not expand.

If using fabric, particularly silk (ribbon, bead cord, thread), you want to use a cement, rather than a glue. Glues work by forming a collar around an object, then tighten up as the water or other solvent evaporates. Cements work by adhering to each individual fiber. Glue on fabric, as opposed to cement, will lose its grip, so to speak. With silk, I suggest either G-S Hypo Fabric Cement, or any fabric glue.

Before using a glue, you want to know the characteristics of the bond, once dried. These include things like,

– hardness

– whether dries clear, or yellows

– whether yellows with age

– whether it expands or not when it dries

– what materials it is most useful for

– whether you have to prepare the material’s surface before using

– how long it takes to fully set

– how easy it is to wipe away and remove any excess glue

– whether where-ever you purchase the particular brand of glue, such as at a craft store or discount store or bead store, that this brand of glue is the same quality product

– how long the glue will last in its container before hardening or drying out

Besides the importance of knowing the types of materials, it is also important to know the properties of materials. These include (a) mechanical properties, (b) physical properties, and © chemical properties.

Mechanical Properties

Mechanical properties describe how a material reacts to an applied force. These include,

Strength: It’s ability not to break under stress or strain

Hardness: How easily it can be scratched, faceted, carved, sculpted, cut, sand blasted

Elasticity: The ability to regain its shape after a stress has been applied to it

Plasticity and Malleability: How much force it takes to make a material permanently deform without breaking

Stiffness and Brittleness: At some point, these materials will be so brittle, they will not bend, and will just break in response to force. Wire materials, for example, get stiffer and more brittle, the more they are worked, such as from twisting, pulling, hammering, coiling and the like. Crystal is much more brittle than glass, so it more likely to break from movement or other force.

Fatigue: When the material fails, after repeated wear and use

Impact Strength: how much a material can withstand an impact

Abrasion Resistance: When two materials rub against each other, what is the resistance before one or both break

Creep: the slow movement of a material over time

Physical Properties

Physical properties describe the inherent nature of the material. Some more important ones related to materials used in jewelry include:

Density: mass and volume

Porosity: the quality of being full of tiny holes;
these might hold in something, like a perfume oil, or that something might
easily leach out through washing or sweating, like a dye or lead

Water: absorption, permeability and solubility

Softening and Compression: how material holds up under different conditions

Resistance to Heat and Fire

Resistance to Cold

Resistance to a number of cycles of sharp temperature variations without failing

Changing form from solid to liquid to gas

Chemical Properties

Chemical properties refer to how well the material holds up when exposed to chemicals. These chemicals may be in the air. They may be present in cosmetics, perfumes or hair sprays. They may be present in a person’s sweat. These include,


· Melting, Dissolving, Removing


·Colorizing, Oxidizing, Patinas

· Platings

· Bonding, Adherring

· Biodegrading

We have looked at types of materials and their properties. Now we need to understand how materials help establish the viability, finish and success of jewelry. Here, our materials selection process begins to incorporate some value judgments.

Materials Help Establish
the Viability, Finish and Success of The Jewelry

Jewelry has character and personality. People intuitively or consciously recognize when it is finished, that is, when the addition or subtraction of any one design element would make the piece seem less satisfying or desirable. Jewelry is judged as successful, to the extent it can maintain its shape while concurrently feeling comfortable, and moving, draping and flowing with the person, as the person wears the jewelry and moves with it on.

Every piece of jewelry has its artistic and individual character due to the many facets from which it is constructed. Stringing, Aesthetic and Functional Materials are three of these facets. Mechanical, Physical and Chemical Properties add some additional facets. These among other additional material choices determine both what can be made, as well as the character of what is made.

Material selection in jewelry design is not only about choosing the most attractive, or most obvious, or most affordable, or most durable materials available. Designers also choose materials for their sensual sensations, like warmth, their formal appearance, like classical, their functional practicality, like a clamp, or their geo-locality, like using materials found locally.

The material selection process is complex. It is influenced by many preconditions, choices made, and considerations to accommodate. Too often, however, designers focus mainly on the visual aspects of the materials, and not enough on other factors. In order to make well-considered and smart choices about materials, jewelry designers need a lot more information. They need information about the entirety of the material, as created or constructed, as visually impactful, as functionally helpful, as perceptually and cognitively understood and as symbolically relevant for designer, wearer and viewer.

Stringing, Aesthetic, and sometimes, Functional Materials, coupled with their various Mechanical, Physical and Chemical properties, help to:

(1)Establish a relationship between visual quality and structural stability (physical properties, shape, silhouette)

(2)Establish a relationship between visual quality and support or jointedness (movement, drape and flow)

(3)Influence the selection of the appropriate technique

(4)Provide character and visual appeal

(5)Reflect the time, era, and socio-cultural context and historical value of the piece

(6)Mix aesthetic elements with functional ones

(7)Highlight a theme or concept expressed in the design

(8)Link the piece to a particular geography or location

(9)Link the piece to its appropriate placement on the body

(10) Determine the budget for the piece

(11) Establish the relationship between quantity and quality, that is, how many similar pieces can be made

(12) Best combine the materialistic qualities with the non-materialistic qualities of the project

(1) Establish a relationship between visual quality and structural stability (physical properties, shape, silhouette)

Jewelry making materials signify structural significance. This may relate to the physical properties of the materials, such as hardness, brittleness, softness, pliability, porousness, and this list can go on and on. This may relate to the shapes of the materials, and the placement and interaction of the shapes within the piece, or the final silhouette. The same may be said for size, weight and volume. This may relate to the stability of the material or its color or finish over time.

The choices and arrangement of materials within a piece of jewelry determines its structure. Structure means shape and material integrity. Shape in jewelry may refer to the silhouette of the piece as a whole, or to individual shapes which occupy one or more sections of our finished piece of jewelry. It may refer to the positioning of positive and negatives areas within the piece. When we refer to structure and shape and material, we imply structural integrity, and the degree we are able to maintain any shape, color or finish while the jewelry is worn over some period of time.

Example 1: We may create a bracelet using Austrian crystal beads strung on a beading thread. We achieve a high visual quality, at least initially. But these beads will cut through the threads when the bracelet is worn, thus ending with a very low structural stability.

Example 2: Sometimes a clam-shell bead tip is used to finish off each end of bead cord, when that is the stringing material. The bead cord, at its end, is tied into a knot, which sits inside the clam-shell, the cord coming out a hole in the bottom of the clam shell. We do not want the knot to work itself loose and slip through the hole. So we glue it. If we use a jeweler’s glue, like E6000 or Beacon 527, these glues dry like rubber. With these glues, the knot can actually contort and work itself through the hole. If we use a glue like Superglue or G-S Hypo Cement,
the knot will remain stiff and not be able to slip through the hole. However, the stiff knot reduces what is called support. It reduces the piece’s jointedness, or ability to respond to stress and strain, thus an ability to best move, drape and flow. An alternative to glue is to thread an 11/0 seed bead, passing through the bead twice, before bringing the cord through the hole. This is secure. No glue is used as all. Full support is preserved.

Example 3: How long a metal plated finish lasts depends partly on the metal underneath it, and if it bonds to that metal. Metal plating bonds well to brass, so it lasts a long time before it fades away. Metal plating does not bond at all to aluminum, so it quickly chips off.

(2)Establish a relationship between visual quality and support or jointedness (movement, drape and flow)

Jewelry making materials enhance or impede support or jointedness. The selection and placement of materials, their density, weight, shape, and the like may enable the jewelry to take the shape of the body and move with the body, or not.

Things strung on beading thread will always take the shape of the body and move with the body; things strung on cable wire will not. But the designer has at their disposal several jewelry design tricks in construction which will make the cable wire function closer to needle and thread.

Example 1: A bracelet made up of very large beads, that when encircling the wrist, create a very stiff circle, with much strain and stress on each bead, on the stringing material and on the clasp assembly. If the designer reworks the piece, to include small round spacer beads between each very large bead, the designer, in effect, has added what is called a rotator support system. Each very large bead can freely respond to stresses and strain which result from adjusting to the body and its movement by rotating and pivoting around the spacer bead.

Example 2: People usually pick a clasp after they have designed their piece. They look for something that will make do, perhaps easier to get on and off, and hopefully have some match to the piece. A clasp, however, should be understood as more than a clasp. It should be understood as a clasp assembly, which is a type of support system.
S-clasps are very attractive and a S-clasp design can always be found that feels an organic extension of the jewelry. An S-clasp needs a soldered ring off of each arm, and, if stringing on cable wire, a loop in the wire where it connects to the soldered ring. The crimp is never pushed all the way up to the clasp or ring. Each ring or loop is a support system, so our S-clasp needs 4 support systems in this case, to function correctly. With 4 supports on the S-clasp in a necklace, the clasp will always remain on the back of the neck, no matter how the person moves. Without 4 supports, it will not, and the necklace will keep turning around.

(3)Influence the selection of the appropriate technique

The designer must coordinate the selection of Stringing, Aesthetic and Functional Materials, and their inherent Mechanical, Physical and Chemical properties, so that they work in harmony with a particular technique used to assemble, weave, or otherwise secure them together in a finished piece of jewelry.

Conversely, the technique might dictate which materials will work best, and which will not. Bead weaving works with thread or cable thread, but not as easily with elastic string or cable wire.

There was a time when the materials used in any one piece were restricted to a few. Today any material can be used, as well as any combination of materials, without losing any appeal or value or desire.

Examples: A Czech glass bead with a hole size of .8mm would not slip a leather cord with a diameter of 1.5mm. It would be very difficult to create a loomed piece with beads of widely varying sizes. If mixing metals (say, silver, gold and brass) in a fabricated and soldered bracelet, care must be taken in the soldering strategy because each metal melts at a different temperature. You could not begin a wire weaving project using hard hard-wire. We may select cable wire for our canvas. This would not be a suitable stringing material if the technique we wanted to apply was bead weaving.

(4)Provide character and visual appeal

The surface of a material has many characteristics which the jewelry designer leverages within the finished piece. Light might reflect off this surface, such as with opaque glass or shiny metal. Light might be brought into and below the surface before reflected back, such as with many gemstones and opalescent glass. Light might refract through the piece at different angles, even creating a prism effect.

The surface might be a solid color. It might be a mix of colors. It might be matte. It may have inclusions or markings. It may have fired on coloration effects. There may be tonal differences. There may be pattern or textural differences. It may have movement. It may have depth.

Example: It is often difficult to mix gemstone beads with glass beads. However, if you use glass beads which have a translucent quality to them, this glass mimics the relationship of light reflecting
back to the eye with that of the gemstones. The finished piece will feel

(5)Reflect the time, era, and socio-cultural context and historical value of the piece

Jewelry and its design and materials used can be iconic.

Jewelry can relate the symbolic value of the piece to certain historical themes and ideas, or to specific functions.

Jewelry can be used to preserve, conserve or restore certain cultural or historical values. The material(s) selected may glorify these. Their availability may be closely tied to the time and place. Their use within a piece may be socially subscribed.

Our understanding of how jewelry relates to these contexts can be used to document how jewelry and its design has evolved and spread.

Name an historical period, and you can visualize many of the materials used and design sense. Roman. Victorian. Prehistoric. Modern.

Name a socio-cultural context. Religious. Wedding. Military. American Southwest. Any rite of passage.

Example 1: Pearl knotted jewelry is very strongly associated with silk bead cord, pearl clasps, and bead tips. It is also very associated with Victorian jewelry. It would be difficult to substitute other materials and pieces, such as a different kind of clasp, or not knotting between beads, without the piece losing its appeal.

Example 2: A rosary is made as a bead chain, with a certain number of beads, often a certain size and material of bead, with a Y-shaped connector at its center. The rosary assists the wearer
in prayer and religiosity. It’s specific design and use of materials
differentiates Catholicism from other religions.

(6)Mix aesthetic elements with functional ones

Jewelry is art only as it is worn. Its aesthetic elements must tightly coordinate with its functional ones, if the piece is to maintain its shape and silhouette, and move with the person, without distorting, feeling uncomfortable or breaking. Thus, its quality and durability are dependent upon how the designer successfully maneuvers the tradeoffs required between function and appeal. A good part of this success stems from how materials are selected, combined and arranged.

Jewelry and its design preserve the aesthetic qualities, without disrupting and losing focus of the practical ones.

Example: The clasp assembly on a piece of jewelry can be very organic, feeling an integral part of the piece. Or it can be very disruptive and annoying, as if it were a last choice and consideration, and the designer found a clasp that would make do. For an S-clasp to function appropriately, it needs at least one soldered ring off of the arm on each side
of the clasp. This will force the clasp assembly to take up more space and
volume in the piece. This too might end up detracting from the overall appeal of the piece.

(7)Highlight a theme or concept expressed in the design

Materials may be selected, combined and arranged into forms and themes so that they represent larger meanings and concepts. Often this comes down to color, shape, placement, and arrangement. The materials bring out the theme or concept in the design.

Example: You create a piece of jewelry with a blue color scheme, using 4 shades of blue. If the piece is to be worn, say, going clubbing in the evening, you might select 4 shades of blue (metallic blue iris, montana blue, blue quartz, cornflower) which vary in intensity. That means, varying how bright or dull they are by selecting tones with more or less underlying black, gray or white. If the piece is to be worn, say, at work during the day, you might select 4 shades of blue (cobalt, sapphire, light sapphire, ultralight sapphire) which vary in value. That means, varying how light or dark they are by selecting tones that are basically the same, but some
are lighter or darker than others.

(8)Link the piece to a particular geography or location

Materials may be strongly associated with a particular geography or location. Lapis is strongly associated with Afghanistan. Paint Rock with Tennessee.

Example: A necklace by a Tennessee designer made entirely with lampwork beads made by Tennessee artisans.

(9)Link the piece to its appropriate placement on the body

Jewelry can only be judged successful at the boundary between jewelry and the body. It must be able to conform to the body’s shape. It must be able to comfortably move, drape and flow as the person moves and shifts positions.

Materials selection might begin with what materials would be most appropriate for a given type of jewelry. Or it might begin with what materials would be most appropriate for a certain body shape or size or placement.

Example: Very heavy beads used in earrings can make them uncomfortable. Creating a 4” earring dangle on a 4” head pin is not quite as a good a strategy as making a 4” earring dangle chain using eye pins. Think about what happens to the former vs. the latter when the wearer bends her head, then returns to the upright position.

(10) Determine the budget for the piece

The total expenditure incurred while designing a piece of jewelry might be, to a large extent, determined by the materials used. A designer often selects the material type based on a budget for the project. [Techniques can also have a big impact on the cost, particularly when accounting for the time it takes to design and construct a piece of jewelry.]

Example: A necklace made entirely of lapis lazuli beads might retail for $150.00. A similar necklace made entirely of lapis color glass beads might retail for $25.00. Both would look similar and take the same time to make.

(11) Establish the relationship between quantity and quality, that is, how many similar pieces can be made

The choice of materials affects the quality of the elements. Within a given project budget, and within a particular design goal, the quality of the materials may limit the number of similar pieces to be made, or the complexity or elaborateness of the design of any one piece.

Example: A stretchy bracelet made with lava beads might retail for $15.00. The materials — elastic string, lava beads, glue — are readily available and inexpensive. The designer could easily make 50 of these to sell, and stay within a reasonable budget. Change the materials to cable wire, crimp bead, horseshoe wire protector, crimp cover, black onyx beads, toggle clasp, and the investment in parts is considerably more. We have more materials and more expensive materials. This bracelet might have to retail for $45.00. Staying within the same budget framework, the designer would only be able to make 16 of these.

(12)Best combine the materialistic qualities with the non-materialistic qualities of the project

Every material has two over-arching qualities. The obvious is its physical properties and physicality. Let’s call this materialistic. It is something that is measurable. In the realm of the mystic, it is ordinary or profane.

But the material also has qualities that extend beyond this. They can be sensory. They can be symbolic. They can be psychological. They can be contextual. Let’s call this non-materialistic. It is something that is non-measurable. In the realm of the mystic, it is extraordinary and sacred.

Both properties must be considered when designing a piece of jewelry. They have equal importance, when selecting, placing and arranging materials and design elements within a piece.

Example: Take a Chakra bracelet strung on cable wire with a clasp. The beads used are gemstones. Each gemstone has spiritual and healing properties. Each gemstone has a coloration, and each different coloration, too, is associated with certain spiritual and healing properties. Moreover, every individual has their own unique needs
for which set of gemstones and which assortment of colorations are best and most appropriate. This can get even more complicated in that each situation and context may have its own requirements. The person may end up needing several Chakra bracelets for different occasions. The designer could have used glass or acrylic beads, instead, which have less non-materialistic value, and might be less durable over time. The designer could have strung the beads on elastic string without using a clasp, again, less non-materialistic value and durability.


Selecting materials involves a complicated set of choices, some tangible, some intangible, some personal, some in anticipation of the perceptions of others.

Some lessons learned…

1.You can use any material you want when designing jewelry

2.Material selection is a complicated decision making process

3.No material is perfect for every project

4.Don’t assume you know what you know

5.Be skeptical

6.Always ask questions

7.Select materials on both their aesthetic as well as functional properties

8.Don’t sacrifice functionality for aesthetics

9.Anticipate what might happen to your materials over time as the jewelry is worn

10.Anticipate how your various audiences will respond to your selections of materials

11.Work within a budget

12.Match the quality of material to your design (and marketing) goals



(1) WASTIELS, Lisa and WOUTERS, Ine. Material Considerations in Architectural Design: A Study of the Aspects Identified by Architects for Selecting Materials. July, 2008.

As referenced in: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/511/1/fulltext.pdf

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

The Jewelry Design Philosophy: Not Craft, Not Art, But Design

What Is Jewelry, Really?

The Jewelry Design Philosophy

Creativity: How Do You Get It? How Do You Enhance It?

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Becoming The Bead Artist and Jewelry Designer

5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Getting Started / Channeling Your Excitement

Getting Started / Developing Your Passion

Getting Started / Cultivating Your Practice

Becoming One With What Inspires You

Architectural Basics of Jewelry Design

Doubt / Self Doubt: Major Pitfalls For The Jewelry Designer

Techniques and Technologies: Knowing What To Do

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Jewelry Making Materials: Knowing What To Do

Teaching Discplinary Literacy: Strategic Thinking In Jewelry Design

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form, Theme: Creating Something Out Of Nothing

The Jewelry Designer’s Path To Resonance

Jewelry Design Principles: Composing, Constructing, Manipulating

Jewelry Design Composition: Playing With Building Blocks Called Design Elements

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of Thinking

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

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