I have never made jewelry. As a lover of art, the technique and design that goes into crafting jewelry has always interested me, but I never had a desire to attempt the task of making jewelry myself. Of course, with the goal of working with my hands in new ways serving as a cornerstone of my “I have never...” year, I started rethinking the prospects of take a stab at making jewelry, which eventually caused me to begin investigating potential jewelry making classes around my home town of Madison. Although my efforts yielded a variety of choices, many of the available classes involved complicated and complex techniques far beyond the level of a beginner. As a result, I narrowed in on those classes better suited to someone with no experience in the art of jewelry making, which helped me pinpoint a beading class at the local Madison Bead Company this evening. Unaware of what to expect from the experience, I made my way to the class this evening with an ample amount of curiosity and an open mind. Although it was something simple, something told me the experience would be unlike any other I had encountered in my “I have never...” journey to date.
When I arrived at the Madison Bead Company tonight I was immediately greeted by a table of five older women and a younger instructor preparing to start the class. Realizing I was holding up the class, I quickly took the last remaining seat at the table and quickly looked over a series of small plastic bags containing beads and varieties of string on the table before me. As I settled in, the instructor guided the table through introductions, graciously waiting to ask me for my introduction last among the group of participants. As each of my fellow students introduced themselves they provided a brief background of what brought them to the class, which drew me to discuss my “I have never...” year when it came my turn to speak. The group excitedly responded to my introduction with a series of quick questions about my journey to date, to which I happily replied with a few stories from my first 6 months of the “I have never...” year. The short list of my experiences was met with a high degree of interest from the group, which prompted my neighbor, Georgina, to offer a remark regarding the rest of my year. “If you’re looking for ideas, I’ll give you plenty by the time we’re done with our class,” she said with a subdued smile as she looked at me over the frame of her glasses. I thanked her for the offer before wrapping up my introduction.
|The first kit|
In response, our instructor, Meredith, provided a short introduction on her experience with beadwork and with her career as the owner and operator of the Madison Bead Company. Her remarks made it clear we were working with an experienced craftswoman with a high degree of passion for her work. Lifted by Meredith’s enthusiasm, I shuffled my bags of beads looking at the colors and patterns contained within each. As I did so, Meredith directed the group to isolate the bag containing small beads and a clear thread that was contained in each of our bundles of bead supplies. Upon doing so, we were directed to empty the contents of the bag onto the small table mats in front of us, which led Meredith to delve into explanations of each component of supplies and their individual purposes in the forthcoming beading process. I was stunned by her depth of knowledge and her simple, direct way of explaining the intricacies of the method we would use to complete our objective of making a seamless beaded bracelet. Although I knew the task would require some expert techniques to pull off, Meredith made the task seem so accessible it was difficult not feel inspired about the forthcoming experience.
|Number one... Finished!|
Following her explanation of the various item on the table in front of us, Meredith immediately moved into the process of guiding us through the steps required to develop a design, string the beads, tie the bracelet, and cap the project into its final elastic form. Her direction was concise and accurate, but she gave each of us enough latitude to freely create as we worked through the process. As a result, the rest of the class and I applied a sufficient amount of creativity to our first efforts at jewelry making as we happily worked away. Although we each remained slightly tentative in our individual efforts, the group eventually found a rhythm with the process that permitted us ease back into conversation. With periodic comments breaking the silence between Meredith’s helpful directions, we shared a few laughs and encouraged one another in our progress until we all successfully achieved the first of the three bracelets we would make during our class.
|My second design|
Pleased with the my first effort at making jewelry, I enthusiastically moved into my second project as Meredith introduced us to some new materials and some new techniques necessary for the wire beading we were about to take on. Although the fundamentals of the process were generally the same as our first effort with elastic beading, the diversity of beads and the metal string gave the group more opportunity to create, which set us to work laying out glass beads of various sizes and colors in unique patterns for each of upcoming projects. My interest in design immediately emerged in the process, causing me to silently work out a flow of autumn-themed colors across the mat in front of me. Several minutes into my work, a design that appealed to me began to emerge, which set me back in my seat to look at the design.
As I looked over my work with a critical eye, Georgina’s voice suddenly broke my focus. “Amsterdam...” she said without looking up from her work. “If you want new experiences, give Amsterdam a try. A few days in their coffee shops and some of their more famous districts will give you A LOT of new experiences, no doubt.” I chuckled in response to her random comment and replied with a brief remark, “Oh, I believe that! Are you speaking from experience?” Georgina face warmed with a smile as she answered my question, shooting me a familiar glance off of the top of her glasses. “Let’s just say I’ve spent some time in the city...” she said before turning her attention back to her beadwork.
|Number two... Finished!|
Her remark elicited laughter from the group as we continued progress on our individual projects with the guidance of Meredith’s active attention. Eventually, our effort drew us to a point where we were each ready to trim our metal strings, attach clasps to the project, and finalize the bracelet with a series of precise applications of some available tools. With my bracelet coming along quite well, I carefully listened to Meredith’s advice as I wound the metal around the separate clasp components and prepared a tiny metal sleeve for crimping. With that, Meredith directed me through the process of using two specialized pliers designed to collapse the narrow metal tubes into a permanent position around the metal wire. Carefully, I completed each step in slow, deliberate movements around the bracelet clasps until I was left with a permanent fixture holding each side of the clasp in place. With Meredith’s approval of my work, I lifted my second completed bracelet from the table and closely reviewed the outcome of my effort, which left me feeling more confident as we moved into the final phase of our class.
|Working away! (Photo courtesy of Georgina)|
In what was the most difficult form of beadwork, Meredith guided the group into the creation of another piece of jewelry using a form of nylon string and a series of tiny beads. Explaining the process of adding or avoiding knots can be as elaborate or simple as the designer chooses, she laid out our basic approach to the final bracelet. Like with the metal stringing process, Meredith encouraged us to lay out our designs prior to beginning our beading, which she explained would require some nimble handwork to be successful.
|Number three... In progres|
Over the next 15 minutes our group moved through a series of familiar steps with some subtle, but important, twists that led us to a final point of knotting to find the perfect length for our bracelets. Although the majority of the team progressed fine through the final portions of tying the bracelet together with the necessary clasp, a critical error with a scissors left me struggling to tie the final knot necessary to bring my third bracelet project of the evening to a point of conclusion. Continuing in her commitment to making the experience as positive as possible, Meredith was quick to offer me some assistance in recovering my project. With the application of a narrow curved tool and a few simple turns of the hand, Meredith reversed the mistake I had made and pulled the final knot of my project to its final resting point. A task I had struggled and failed to complete successfully for nearly 10 minutes, was a simple, commonplace task for her, which only served to reinforce the degree of expertise she had demonstrated in her teaching and hands-on instruction throughout the night.
|My finished products!|
Once all of our projects were complete, the group wrapped up the night with some congenial goodbyes and some offers of good luck for me as I continued my journey. Several of the ladies offered me a few more ideas for my “I have never...” year as we gathered our things and made our way toward the door. Hanging back to take a few pictures, I thanked Meredith for her time and her guidance through my new experience, which prompted her to offer me a gracious remark in kind. As I passed through the Madison Bead Company’s doors and started making my way back to my car I looked down at the three glass bead bracelets I held in my hands. The idea I had created the beautiful pieces of jewelry gave a sense of accomplishment, but the sight of them made me realize the night’s event was more about the experience my classmates and I gained as a group than it was about the physical works we took away from the class. Now, every time I see the bracelets I created strung around the wrist of a loved one I’ll be able to think back to the night I spent beading with a group of five cheery women and a wonderful instructor. From that, I can only conclude what really matters are the story and work that went into the bracelets I created at Meredith’s class tonight. There is no doubt in my mind the laughs and the experience I shared with those women are somehow captured in the pieces of jewelry I took away from the class, and that’s enough to make me smile.