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Frugal Crafts Friday: How to make upscale casual jewelry

Do you get the Sundance catalogue? Ever covet the cool, hand-crafty necklaces and earrings? Or, if you’re a guy, ever want to buy one of the things for your lady friend? Maybe you were given pause by the prices.

Here in this month’s catalogue, for example, is a strand of lapis heishi beads with a silver charm dangling from it: $118. The bead earrings sold with it are a bargain $38. A bracelet of manufactured beads and semiprecious stones sells for $188, and lo, here’s a double-strand necklace of labradorite beads for a mere $540. We must hurry out and buy them, no?


These bead necklaces are easy and inexpensive to make, with a minimum of crafting gear. All you need is a small wire cutter, a crimping tool, a stringful of beads, a clasp, and a couple of tiny metal crimps. And a modest budget.

Labradorite beads of the sort pictured in the current Sundance catalogue sell for $9.99 for a 15½-inch strand. For $12, you can buy about 160 lapis heishi beads. Sterling silver charms will set you back somewhere between $6 and $15. For $3 to $5, you can buy a nice silver clasp. A crimp tool costs $10.50, and you probably have a wire cutter in your tool box; if not, you can get one online for $7.25. The cost of bead-stringing wire and crimps is negligible.


You can make pricey-looking jewelry items for a tiny fraction of what they cost at upscale outlets. And you get a bonus: making bead jewelry is fun. Like many crafts that busy your hands without overly taxing the brain, it is relaxing and stress-relieving. So you get a double benefit: relief at the cash register, and relief from whatever is making you grind your teeth today.

Here’s how:

1. First, get the materials and gear you’ll need. Beads, wire, crimps, claps, crimping tools, and wire nippers are available online. But for your first adventure, it’s a good idea to go in person to a bead store. Look up “beads” in the Yellow Pages, or Google bead suppliers in your area. Go to a store dedicated to selling beads and bead supplies, not a more general craft store such as JoAnn’s. Craft stores carry some supplies, but the selection and quality are sadly wanting. Also, at most bead supply shops, staffers are happy to show you how to use the tools and parts. About ten minutes of coaching is all the training you need to make Sundance-style necklaces and bracelets.

2. For expensive-looking jewelry, select semi-precious stones such as lapis, coral, turquoise, iolite, aquamarine, tourmaline, and the like. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Note that Sundance necklaces are not embellished with a lot of baroque-looking carved silver beads. Save your money and purchase only a string or two of stone beads in a color you covet. For a classy look, remember: nice but not gaudy.

3. To make a necklace, measure out a length of stringing wire a few inches longer than the strand you plan and nip it off with your wire-cutter. You actually can use dental floss strung like thread on a thin sewing needle, if your beads have holes large enough for a needle to pass through. Personally, I prefer wire because it’s easier to work with and will not break. Assuming you’ve chosen wire, run one end of the wire through a metal crimp (looks like a tiny silver cylinder). Then run the wire through the connecting loop on one of the two parts of your clasp. Poke the end of the wire back through the crimp, forming a wire loop that passes first through the crimp, then through the clasp’s connection, and then back through the crimp. Push the crimp up firmly against the clasp, and use the crimping tool to clench the metal crimp down on the wire. To secure it, turn the crimp 180 degrees and clench again at right angles to your first effort. Nip off the short “tail” up close to the clenched-on crimp, leaving a single strand of wire on which to string beads.

4. Slide beads onto the wire, one at a time, until you reach the desired length. You can add decorative metal beads, contrasting semiprecious stones, or pearls to give variety. I like to put one to five contrasting beads about ¼ of the way down the strand. You also can place one or more charms along the length of the strand or up near the clasp.

5. When the necklace is as long as you like, run the end of the wire through another crimp, then through the loop of the remaining part of the clasp, and then back through the crimp. This is the only “hard” part-and it isn’t very hard. Pull on the “tail” and of the wire and work the crimp, the clasp part, and the beads together so they fit together snugly. Now clench the crimp tightly onto the wire, as you did before. Nip off the spare “tail.”

And voilà! A fancy necklace for about a fifth of what you’d have paid for it in a tony shop!

You can make earrings to go with it-bead suppliers sell earring wires (ten will lighten your wallet by $1.49) and an incredibly handy part called a “headpin.” A headpin is a strip of wire with a decorative or flat head at one end, onto which you can string beads. Then, using a small pair of needle-nose pliers, you bend the free end in a loop through the loop on the wire, and that’s all there is to it: bead earrings.

None of these products look like they came from Tiffany’s. But they certainly can look like they came from Sundance. They’re perfect for wearing with jeans and sportswear. They also can go to the office with certain kinds of business wear. And they make great gifts.