Saturday, May 09, 2015

How to Teach a Jewelry Making Class

A reader recently found my 2011 post on how to teach a jewelry making class, and I thought it would be a good one to raise from the archives.


I used to teach jewelry classes at a lovely place -- an unlikely venue called Evergreen Cove Holistic Learning Center here in Easton, MD.  Evergreen Cove has a long list of wellness services -- yoga, acupuncture, reiki, therapeutic massage, and homeopathy to name just a few.  It's a beautiful, intimate waterfront campus and I love how peaceful it is.

One of the very cool things Evergreen Cove offers is creativity classes.  This is where I took metalsmithing classes, and it's where you can take everything from mosaic making to journaling to knitting and weaving.  

One Saturday, I taught a group of women how to make a copper charm bracelet using free-form techniques as well as standard techniques, such as how to make a scroll with wire.  I showed them how to make a copper chain via chainmaille, gave them three gauges of wire to work with, a four-sided nail file with lots of various grits to file and buff with, and away we went!

When preparing for a class, even one that will largely be free-form, you have to think about what notes the person will need to carry home with them.  You don't want your students so busy scrawling things down like an Organic Chemistry major that they lose the fun of the experience.  I make up packets with the following information:

::  A cover sheet with what we're going to do and all my contact information.

::  A pictorial page explaining what tools we'll be using (and why).

::  Simple (a key word -- simple!) instructions for the basic things we'll do, like how to make an eye pin, etc.

::  A source list for where to get tools and beads -- where can they get that cool hammer I was using?  

:: Photographic examples.

I felt that photos of charms wouldn't really do as the only source for ideas, so I also made up a lot of examples of charms. At the end of class, I drew names out of a hat, and the winner got to take them all home.  During the class I demonstrated how to make traditional things, like spirals, and how to just let go and let the wire work it's own magic.

At the beginning of the class, I introduce the tools, tell the students what they'll accomplish during their time with me, and above all -- set them at ease.  I share with them my own experiences in classes where I've been the furthest behind.  I share with them how I've been in a class and found it wasn't for me, but in each class I've taken, I've ALWAYS found something to take away that made it worthwhile.  As a teacher, making yourself real is so important, especially in class mixed with veterans and complete beginners.

Introduction to the hammers, the steel blocks, and how to use them.  The blue is a tarp to protect the yoga room's floor from metal scraps.

Once I've gone over the tools, I go through the information packet by showing them how to make each piece.  The packet is really a reminder for when they're sitting down to work on their own, so I have them gather behind me to watch.  I'm sure to go slowly and demonstrate each step, making sure each student can see, and I make sure that each piece I make builds upon the one before it.

After a quick coffee break, it's time to go!  I like to set up the tables so we're all in a big square facing each other (great conversations and easy demos that way).  The students are now in what I call the "free style" part of class.  Some take a look back through the packet....

.... and then they play with the wire.  Some try out the patterns I've shown them...

... while some play and see what the wire will do.

Throughout the class, we talk and laugh and share.  We learn what each other does for a living.  We learn about other classes people have taken.  We show each other what we're doing. And the entire time, I'm there, ready to help straighten this out, remind how this works, suggest how to fix that.  

Every half hour or so, I ask how everyone is doing, to take the pulse of the class.  If a class seems to be getting quiet, or losing its momentum, it's time to figure out why and think quickly about how to get the energy back up.  Is it time for a break, or lunch, or to show a new technique?  With this group of ladies, though, I had no troubles -- we zoomed along so well we all forgot about lunch until I looked up and it was almost 2 pm.


In this class, I had one girl who, when I set the students loose to start, just sat and stared at her beading mat.  I asked her what I could help her with, and she said in a small voice, "I just don't know where to start."  I helped her with the easiest piece -- the clasp -- and once she had that success under her belt, she was off like fire.  

Giving a student a quick success, letting them DO on their own without taking things out of their hands, is key. When someone comes to me and asks for help, I always show them on a separate scrap of wire.  If they're still looking frustrated, I ask, "Would you like me to do that for you this time?", and I do it, explaining slowly what I'm doing, not just whipping it out fast.  If the student continually comes to me asking me to do their work, then it's time for me to go back to a fundamental and work with them patiently to give them a success.

Bracelet in the makings by my student who felt she "didn't know where to start".

At the end of class, I do a show and tell.  It's always interesting to see how things turned out. Inevitably, students will apologize for their work.  I always tell them about my own experiences with making things I didn't think were to my taste, and how they would still sell, and often quicker than things I loved.  I remind them this is their first endeavor.  I remind them that half the fun is the practice.  I remind them that at the beginning of class, they started with a coil of wire, and now look what's in their hands!  THEY MADE THIS!

Teaching can be very rewarding.  At the end of this class, everyone was hugging, talking about forming a book club, exchanging emails, and carrying all that positive energy home with them.

I won't lie -- teaching (or taking!) a class isn't always like this.  You can get a real stinker -- the student who thinks they know more than the teacher; the student who can't be pleased even if you gave them the Hope Diamond to work with; the student who demands so much of our time you despair of being able to help others in the class.  

The key to those sorts of students is to know they exist, and have a Plan, a Plan with a capital "P".  Know that often it has not a thing to do with you.  Help the needy student by giving them a success (and almost everyone can accomplish at least ONE thing in a class) and then praising them to the heavens and sending them to their seat to build upon that success because, "I know you can do this, LOOK what you just DID!"

And you, as a teacher, CAN DO THIS TOO.

Lori Anderson creates jewelry and bead kits as well as collaborative mixed media art with her son, Zack. Visit her shops by clicking on the right side bar of this blog (please and thank you!). She is also the creator of the Bead Soup Blog Party® and author of the book "Bead Soup" via Kalmbach Publishing


  1. Great article! I wish I had a place nearby like that. The one we have local has some good classes but they are all taught by younger girls who are dressed up like fashion models. I just never feel that comfortable there. And their supplies are always outrageous. Like when sterling is $15 they will be selling it for $30.

  2. Anonymous8:24 PM

    Glad you dug this one out and posted. I have to teach a Kumihimo class in Sptember. This has given me an idea of how to approach this class as far as hand outs and teaching are concerned. I have taught nursing classes. But teaching jewelry making classes is different. I have taught a few jewelry making classes that were not very successful. Maybe this article has given me the boost to teach jewelry making. Kathie

  3. Me encantan los trabajos con alambre, ¡son fascinantes!


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