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Jewellery Making

Forest sprites created using jewellery making techniques

Teaching Jewellery making without making bracelets and necklaces

Last year I attended a jewellery making workshop in the Philippines. The work was beautiful, and the skills involved were simple, adaptable and suitable for primary, middle years, and high-school students. The basic skill was to add a bead to wire, and twist the bead on, leaving it at the end of a simple stem. I let the ideas around this workshop marinate for a few months, and then started to imagine what students could do with it… if we could do more than make brackets and necklaces. My idea was to create fairies or mythological creatures from wire, beads and natural materials such as leaves and seed pods. I had a look online and found some lovely images from folklore and children's books (such as the Spiderwick Chronicles). It wasn't long before the unit was born, and I was spending my lunchtimes and free time twisting little wire creatures together.

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The unit began during a ‘Learning Share’ so that parents would be hooked on the process as well, and would assist if any of the processes were tricky. We had a great turn out, and in some classes there were more parents than students, all twisting beads onto lengths of wire, and then twisting their strands together. We also tried stitching the edges of leaves to make wings (or pendants). This session was very successful, and lead well into the next few weeks; where we looked at the different strategies.

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These included, twisting the wire to make fingers and toes, and locking beads in place / joining limbs together with shoulder beads (or pelvises) and twisting spinal cords and finally joining heads and wings. This took a few lessons and in the end, students had all successfully made humanoids. Although the beads and basic proportions were different, these were all quite similar. One thing I can’t stand is student work looking the same. So next we dove into design.

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We took a break from making, and spent a lesson looking at the features of the style of creature we were making. I provided many images, as well as iPads for research, and the students completed an activity that requires careful observation and listing of the features of the sprites and fairies. They complied lists of common features, and then used this list to guide their personal designs. That way, whether they designed a unicorn, water sprite, dragon, fairy, or imp, the inclusion of a common theme was embedded in their thinking.

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Over the next few weeks, students got to work, bending and twisting and threading, leaves, beads, seeds, shells, bark and any other interesting natural materials together, whilst using the basic process of making the limbs first, joining onto shoulders (or pelvises), attaching wings and heads, and joining the spinal cords together. The results have been as varied as the students personalities, and many made use of my ‘open artroom’ at lunchtime to extend their thoughts and designs. One ten year old student was in my room nearly every day, creating a sprite that very much resembles a roman soldier, complete with a standard, shield, scabbard, swords and a spear…all made with intricate detail, bark, carefully twisted wire and seed pods. Next to him his friend make a tribal looking piece from only bark, acorns and sticks.

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I love being in a learning environment where students are working at the edge of their capacity and are pushed to explore their own creativity, whilst working within the parameters of a theme. The learning involved meant that we could discuss broader contexts (understanding that art movements contain definable features); the elements of art and design (form, texture, movement, etc); wider contexts (mythology, folk law etc) and also transferable discussions and understandings whilst learning a variety of quite complex skills. I spent holidays looking for resources, and many families were happy to donate bags of broken jewellery, necklaces and unused gift boxes of wooden or plastic beads. A simple walk in the park, can also resource a room with bags full of interesting materials.

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I'm sure this unit can be taught a million different ways and adapted to many different themes and styles, combining jewellery techniques with themes of interest. Pinterest was a valuable resource for the techniques, as was youtube. I simply adapted what I saw to make it make sense in our context… I would love to hear comments if you found this helpful, please share your learning and ideas with me as you explore :)

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