19 Feb 2016

Revisiting my jewellery gift wrap

The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.

Charles Dudley Warner

One aspect of my business that I’ve perhaps given more careful thought to than anything else, is how I gift wrap and package my jewellery for orders being sent out – it’s a thorny issue and there are several factors to address.

By definition, it has to be a compromise between several considerations, from being tempting and attractive to look at, protective of the contents, cost proportional to the piece being wrapped (more on what that means momentarily) and not wasteful or overly extravagant to suit the sensibilities of the environmentally aware.  To that end, I am happy that my gift wrap is either recyclable or can be used for something else.

which have an overlap opening and are fully lined with a contrasting fabric.
My fabric keepsake pouches, which have an overlap opening and are fully lined with a contrasting fabric.

In respect of the costs of the gift wrap, I don’t just consider the cost of the wrapping materials themselves, but the knock-on implications that their proportions or weight might have on the outer postal packaging and the resultant postage costs.   Here in the UK at present, our domestic postage is priced by both size and weight and the difference between something that is posted at 19mm deep and another parcel at 27mm deep is going to be £2.35 more in postage alone.  It will also likely need a more expensive outer box and more packing material and tape to finish the parcel.  So I feel that it’s important to keep gift wrapping both flat and light to keep prices as keen as possible.  I have always included gift wrap and domestic P&P in my prices and have written previously about my rationale for this.

Faux metallic leather and textured faux leather jewellery presentation pouches.
Faux metallic leather and textured faux leather jewellery presentation pouches.

So in deference to keeping my prices as low as I can for my customers, I have always worked towards fitting my orders into a slender ‘large envelope’ box to minimise postage costs.  It has the added benefit that for many customers, it is also small enough to go through most letterboxes, so they’re not inconvenienced by a potential delay whilst they go and collect it from the sorting office, if it can’t be delivered because they’re out at work.  And I like the idea of the protection of a box being on the outside.

Another important consideration, especially pertinent to my own business, is to present jewellery in a manner that will allow the recipient to open and examine the piece and return it to its packaging without any detriment to its appearance.

A little shaping cut into the pouch makes it a little more interesting than a square envelope.
A little shaping cut into the pouch makes it a little more interesting than a square envelope.

When pieces are being given as a gift, they are usually sent to the purchaser who will give the gift and understandably, they will want to have a peek at what they’ve bought before giving – I would certainly want to.  But I don’t want them to feel reluctant to examine it because it features an extravagant bow they’d be nervous to remove and have to re-tie, or some other aspect they might find tricky.  Just because I enjoy fiddling with gift wrap, doesn’t mean that others find it the same pleasure.  As many of my customers are gentlemen, I like to keep the order as straightforward as possible and know that this aspect is appreciated.

Textured faux leather jewellery pouch. The fabric has a soft knit backing, providing a further protective layer for the jewellery.
Textured faux leather jewellery pouch. The fabric has a soft knit backing, providing a further protective layer for the jewellery.

So it has been my practice for some time to use two types of gift wrap, a paper envelope or a fabric keepsake pouch – both of which I make myself.  I tie both of these up with a simple knot in ribbon, which minimises the bulk of the wrapping, but as a single loop around the parcel, allows the ribbon to be slipped off sideways, the gift to be examined and the ribbon loop returned.  As a generalisation, I use the paper envelopes for small and /or less expensive items and the fabric pouches, because they take much longer to make, for more substantial pieces.  I have used the same basic methods for my packaging for some time and am completely happy with how it performs in practice, with items travelling the globe safely for me and I’ve always had good feedback from customers.

Black faux leather jewellery pouch with red double satin ribbon.
Black faux leather jewellery pouch with red double satin ribbon.

Recently, I’ve had several orders, where a fabric pouch was the better solution, due to the shape of the piece or some other factor, but it wasn’t really justified by the price.  So this set me to re-examine my current arrangements.  Ideally, I wanted a soft packaging solution, but not one that took longer to make than the jewellery itself or cost more in materials.  I could of course have just used some commercially made suedette gift bags, but where’s the fun in that!  I’ve always prided myself on extending the hand crafted ethos to my gift wrap as well as the pieces, so I needed to design something to fit the bill.

To minimise the manufacturing time, I needed to eliminate the amount of sewing and processes, it needed to be simple in construction and easily repeatable.   My keepsake pouches are made in several stages, including cutting, several pressing stages, stitching and overlocking.  The first thing I wanted to cut out, was the tiresome task of neatening the fabric edges, so something that didn’t fray would be ideal, so I turned my attention to faux suede or leather.

All jewellery has a label attached and is wrapped in 2 layers of tissue inside the pouch.
All jewellery has a label attached and is wrapped in 2 layers of tissue inside the pouch.

I knew that I had a couple of faux leather cushion covers I’d picked up from a clearance bin for use for trimming, so set about to work some prototypes.  I was also keen not to make something the same as anyone else, (although there’s little that’s truly original) so spent some time with on-line image searches, eliminating some of my ideas as they were already in use.

As is often the case, you start with one design idea and as you work it, you fine tune the details.  Some things don’t work as you expected and often you realise that you’ve over-complicated it as you gradually eliminate stages and pare down the workflow.  By the time I’d worked a few examples, I was happy that I had a design that would tick all the appropriate boxes, in that it was inexpensive, quick to produce, hopefully attractive and with the softness and flexibility I wanted to allow the ribbon to be slipped off and back on again for inspection and to accommodate different thickness of jewellery.

Jewellery pieces are wrapped in 2 layers of matching tissue paper inside each pouch.
Jewellery pieces are wrapped in 2 layers of matching tissue paper inside each pouch.

Each pouch only takes two lines of stitching and most of the effort is spent in cutting them accurately.  As can be seen to the right, I decided that some shaping of the envelope gave a more pleasing result.

A visit to a local fabric wholesaler who did a good range of faux leathers and I now had 4 further colours, to allow me a good variety of finishes.  I’m very happy to add these additional pouches to my gift wrap options and feel that I’ve addressed a slight gap in my existing arrangements.

In the process of designing these, I also settled on two further slightly more sophisticated designs to allow for slightly bulkier pieces and will produce a few more of these shortly.  I’ve just started sending them out and hope that my customers will like them.


5 Feb 2011

Cufflinks born on a woodland path

I end up particularly fond of some of the pieces that I make that have more of a story behind them – some feature that makes a piece unique to me – either the way it evolved, the materials used or the thought process that inspired it. Some pieces just end up more personal than others.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I saw a TV program many years ago where a sculptor was making big metal structures in a barn attached to his home – one of his comments really struck a cord with me and I think of it very often.

He said that the work he did reflected his daily life and he didn’t worry too much about always trying to make it perfect. If he woke in a bad mood and his tool marks went a little deeper that day, then his mood was embodied in the work. If his cat came along and rubbed his head against his arm as he was working and the nudge caused his tool to make an additional mark, then that mark was a permanent declaration of his cats love for him. His life was an important character in the development of the art.

I really like the idea that a piece of work reflects our lives in this way – they become personal and organic and much, much nicer than something impersonal churned out in the thousands from a machine.

I have always been fascinated by fir cones. I simply cannot resist picking them up and putting them in my pocket when I walk – they’re perfect little natural sculptures – I love the regular geometry of their appearance and the spiral patterns of the open scales. I have a house full of cones picked up on walks, little tiny wee ones still on their branches and even one mahoosive one (well over a foot long) that I saw drop from a specimen tree in a stately home garden. I figured that as it nearly brained me, it was fair game to keep it.

I have favourite trees that I know drop particularly pretty cones and even though I have more than enough cones to decorate my home, I still can’t resist picking a few up when I pass by. They even get to play a part in presenting my jewellery.

So it was a natural progression to me to encapsulate the abstract of them into an etched design. I have spent some time since I started making jewellery, trying to figure out how to bring my love of cones together with a jewellery project. I had the idea that using the regular geometric shapes of a cone I could make an abstract pattern for a texture to etch. Not necessarily obvious as a fir cone image, but a unique texture inspired by one.

I picked up a long cone from the path as we walked through Beacon fell in Lancashire, a place I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs – they had been doing a lot of tidying of trees and there were a lot of cones and trimmings on the path edges. I also took some nice needle-clad branches for the same purpose. Once home, I took an assortment of photographs to use as my reference and settled on one particular cone photograph that I thought would lend itself well to making a texture and set about digitally manipulating it into a two tone image that would be suitable to etch from.

For etching, the image needs to be just black and white – not a black and white photograph, but the image must only have black and whites – white is the area to be etched and black protects the copper surface and prevents it being etched. If the image is recognisable, like a photograph, the image needs to be both mirrored and made into a negative, as the white areas within the image will be removed from the copper surface and once oxidised black, will be the darker areas that form the image.

So I worked several versions of the photograph, until one looked like it would work as I hoped, which I then mirrored and made a negative of it, ready to apply to the copper sheet for etching. Whilst it is now very much an abstract from the original photograph, I hope you can still recognise some of the structure of the pine cone bracts.

I wanted to make this design into a pair of cufflinks for a gift, but was working on them far too close to Christmas to have time to get suitable fittings in a copper finish (appalling winter weather had seriously impacted on postal deliveries) – so I had to design and make my own. So I settled on a short chain and toggle bar for fitting them in wear. I attached a small D loop to the back of the etching and a couple of links of chain, to a two part toggle bar, much as I make for my toggle bracelet clasps.

15 May 2010

The evolution of a design

I talked in my last blog about how designs come about and that I see the design process rather like a tree – ideas branch out and grow and sometimes overlap other ideas and merge with them.

The design process for me is one of evolution, one thought often cannonballs into another and takes you in another direction – often without any conscious intention or control whatsoever – in fact, for me, this process is sometimes so energetic that keeping it under some modicum of control is the tricky part.

The spiral links I’d been working with previously, in a smaller gauge of wire and size, hammered smooth and highly polished. Here worked in Sterling silver for earrings.

It would seem very unlikely for me to ever be heard uttering the words that ‘I’m stuck for inspiration’ or ideas or ‘don’t know what to work on’. I must have hundreds of sketches yet to take form and variations of pieces already made waiting for realisation, that my biggest problem is deciding how to prioritise on what I give my time. I spend much of my life in perpetual frustration where I have ideas I want to work on and are spilling out of my mind, but other things I just have to do first.

A single spiral link in an intermediate size, used as a connector in these leaf themed earrings. I adjusted the wire gauge to give rise to a leaf spiral around the same size as the glass leaves I wanted to use. Antiqued smoothly hammered copper.

I don’t think, perhaps beyond the age of about 12, I have ever uttered the words “I’m bored”. The concept is totally alien to me. I must have about a million things on my ‘to do’ list – things I want to work on, things I want to try, things I want to learn, books I want to read, places I want to visit – that life is way, way too short to squander any of it in being bored.

That’s how it has been this week design-wise – one idea morphing into another and some ideas I had on the back burner, bubbling away in my subconscious, suddenly gained momentum when brought into contact with some new thought.

I’m still not entirely done with the spiral links I’ve done a lot of lately. It’s such a versatile unit to work with that they take on different guises depending on the size you make them and the finish you give them. This week I went much smaller with them than the links I’d used in bracelets and they come out lovely and delicate and deliciously fluid when worked together and finished and polished to a high degree.

Hammering them smooth and then polishing them gives a reflective, tactile chain that you just want to stroke. They can be used singly as connectors with interest, or collectively as a chain. See photos above.

This was meant to be an experiment to see if the idea I’d sketched would actually work, but I quite like how it turned out as a finished piece in itself, so I finished it off by antiquing. The beads are unakite.

I’d seen some fabulous work in copper this week using lots of wire wrapping – this is something I admire, but perhaps don’t have the patience or technique yet to work on anything extensive, but I had some ideas I wanted to work through too – my initial idea was to make a large spiral link, as above, but wrap the bottom open section with beads.

I was trying to ascertain a methodology for attaching beads around the outside of the shape with wire wrapping and wanted to work with balled head pins and came up with this technique, which I worked out on paper first and seeing that there were flaws in my original ideas, they needed working out. The pendant above was the result of that process – the pins needed anchoring in some way to prevent them from being too easily bent away from the master shape they were wrapped around.

This pendant was the next incarnation along my ideas branch. It was made initially as a leaf (soldered and hammered into shape), that I was going to wrap with small green aventurine beads like the round pendant above, but I decided it was going to come out too large with beads as well, so wrapped it with just the ball ended pins and connected the fine chain in the wrapping as I went.

Having suspended it on the chain the way that I have and without the green beads I was intending, it now looks rather more like a heart than a leaf. I’d made the ball pins as a rosy colour and deliberately allowed this to remain as I antiqued and polished the piece.

Continuing along my branch of ideas, these earrings came about after working the heart/leaf without beads, I sketched some shapes that would work well with that particular wrapping technique – it needed smooth round outer curves or straight lines ideally and this shape allowed me to get a ‘circle’ without soldering, as I wanted to only part wrap the shape and this balanced the bottom detail and intense texture with further interest at the top.

I decided that to balance the round earring, the earwires needed to either be round in shape, which didn’t work as nicely as I hoped, or in some other way reflect the details. So I went with a long straight drop earwire, to drop the wide earrings well below the ear and mirrored the wrapping with a wrapped loop rather than an eye to connect the earrings.

After oxidising, I decided to only polish back the wrapped details and leave this highlighted against the darker gunmetal finish of the scroll and I also highlighted the wraps on the earwires too. I think, having taken that particular evolutionary journey this week through these designs, this is the one I like best.

27 Mar 2010

Bringing a piece of metal to life – part 2

Work in Progress (WIP):

There has been much discussion recently in various on-line venues – and directly with customers – about making buyers aware just how much you put into a piece to distinguish them from ‘assembled from components’ or mass produced items. Sometimes it isn’t obvious from item descriptions which of these it is and your only guide may be the price. It’s important to me that buyers should be able to make that distinction and make an informed purchasing decision.

The finished bracelet with my own toggle clasp – the design and engineering of which was quite a learning process.
Please click the photographs to see a larger version of them.

The idea of seeing pieces part-made and in progress, or studio photographs, appealed to buyers – to reinforce the wholly hand crafted nature of the work. Those that choose to buy hand-crafted work rather than off the peg on the high street do so because they like to feel a direct connection with the artisan that made their new piece. They seemingly enjoy getting to know the artist and about their work and are fascinated with the work that goes into making a piece directly from scratch from raw materials and enjoy seeing in-progress photographs, something I aim to do more of in future.

As someone who tries to make every element of a piece of jewellery myself – from earwires, headpins and clasps – it is important to me that potential buyers are aware of the many stages of this process and how this informs the price of a piece.

Hence I decided to chronicle this particular project in photographs as I worked. I did an earlier blog on bringing a piece of metal to life, but only retrospectively, without the benefit of in-progress photos, but in view of recent discussions, I took photos as I worked on this particular piece.

I actually made two bracelets largely the same at the same time, so the photos are from both pieces and the first incarnation of it had a different toggle design. But as often happens when working on a piece, the design gradually evolves as practical considerations are addressed and problems overcome. Sometimes you can only hone a design once it takes on 3 dimensions – you need to have it in your hands in solid form to test what works – and just as often, what doesn’t. In this case, the first toggle looked pretty, but didn’t work as well as I hoped. More of that below.

The links and clasp sections are hand formed and sawn from raw wire stock.

The links start life coiled as rings, sawn apart, cleaned and closed ready to solder closed. After soldering, they must be pickle-cleaned to remove the firescale and molten flux.

The circular rings are then hand shaped to the long ovals I chose for this design.

The links start as circular, are stretched to ovals, then the sides straightened a little more.

The links of the bracelet are hammered slightly for both stability of the metal and appearance.

The chain is assembled and all the links soldered closed.

The final stage is hand filing, shaping and polishing, for which there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty. Despite the messiness of it, it’s a very satisfying process and one that I don’t mind. It’s lovely to see the beauty and colour of the metal emerge after seeing how rough it looks in progress.

As you can see above from the Work In Progress (WIP) photos, there are many stages to creating something of this nature from raw materials, especially if you want to make something unique and ensure that all components balance and work well together and give rise to a piece that will withstand wear and last for many years to come.

The design of the toggle:

Designing a piece isn’t just about drawing pretty sketches of the finished article – of which I do plenty and have pages of ideas yet to see metal – it’s about engineering too. A piece of jewellery has to be attractive, but work and be wearable in a practical sense too. You don’t want sections snagging on clothing, earrings trapping hair behind a loose edge and functional areas like clasps – especially on bracelets – must be fasten-able with one hand and not come undone in wear.

So the lion’s share of my initial time on this bracelet was in designing the clasp. I wanted to make my own toggle from scratch – not just use a bought component – and yet it has to sit easily with the design of the rest of the piece – you want shapes to mirror the design and be balanced with the piece as a whole – the clasp shouldn’t be an afterthought, but an integral and important aspect of the design. My scrap pile is a little larger as a result of this particular design process. Sometimes your first idea is spot on, sometimes they need a lot of snagging and trial and error. Hopefully that effort will result in a better final result for your customer.

A clasp has to be an integral part of the design, not an afterthought. I try to match my closures to the style and weight of the piece, to reflect the shapes and yet work well in a practical sense too.

For this copper long link chain bracelet, I used the basic toggle design principle from a project in a book I have from the library and when finished, it simply came undone too easily in wear and clearly that was unacceptable. I did wonder if it might be like the old joke about how many rolls of wallpaper a neighbour said he used to decorate his lounge – “yes, I had 3 rolls left over too” – I wondered if I told the designer that it didn’t work, they’d say “no, mine didn’t work either”.

I liked how this toggle looked, but it simply didn’t work well in practice. It fastened well, but wouldn’t stay that way!

Even commercially made toggles don’t always work, I have several that I’ve bought that are either too tight or fiddly to fasten one-handed, or come undone too easily and cause the bracelet to fall off. So toggle design is seemingly especially critical in terms of size and shapes – where the hooks and rings I do more often are much more forgiving. I found very little information about the basic engineering of a toggle to guide me, tutorials either give exact sizes for the particular design, or skirt the issue entirely and must give rise to a lot of unsuccessful results and frustrated makers.

In this case, I wanted the toggle to reflect the long links of the chain, but in practical terms, it had to be wide enough to let the toggle bar and the first links of the chain adjacent to it to pass through to fasten it, so in order to make it wide enough to allow this, it would have needed to be much longer than it is shown if I wanted to keep the same proportions as the chain links. Which would then require the toggle bar to be much longer too in proportion – longer than I decided would look nice or be comfortable to wear. So I compromised on widening the loop slightly in order to keep it to a more modest loop length and to balance overall with the weight of the rest of the chain.

The toggle bar itself needed much consideration too. It needs to sit nicely against the loop, hopefully as flat as possible, but also be easy to manipulate when fastening one-handed – and remain securely fastened and also securely attached to the chain itself.

So this too went through several incarnations. In this instance, I worked on several versions of both elements of the clasp until I was entirely satisfied they were just what I wanted – and now that I’ve done that process, it’s a design I will no doubt use often – and an important stage for me is in taking detailed notes and measurements as I work for future reference. But they are vitally important learning processes and sometimes you have to get it wrong to learn why it doesn’t work and to learn how to overcome those important practical considerations. I spent more time on this project than I’d intended, but the learning process was well worth it to me and I hope it reflects in the quality of the final result.

I think I prefer this sort of practical lesson to just being told how to do it – one of the advantages of being entirely self-taught and working independently.