Production Work (Or, “I Must Be Out of My Mind”)


I have griped publicly before about how much I loathe repeating a design. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to me that I have decided to make not one more, but TWENTY more, of a necklace of mine that seems to have gone viral on Pinterest.

I had only made a few of these, and didn’t want to make any more (plus I didn’t have any more of the beads), but after about the 20th request, I began to think that maybe I was missing out on an opportunity. So I thought, well, what if I just made a whole pantload of them and listed them until they’re gone? Oddly enough, the thought of figuring out the most efficient way to produce all the findings and components had a certain intellectual appeal to me. So I outlined a game plan for creating all the fiddly bits.

Fiddly Bits

As I started working on the first batch of fiddly bits (largely on my lunch hour–I work a full time day job– either in my car or in an empty office at work), I realized I had really underpriced the necklace–this was a lot of damn work. Whenever I had made this necklace before, it was only one at a time and I usually had enough stuff on hand for it (except for the pendant), so it was easy to overlook how much labor was going into it.

My Self-Inflicted Serfdom (I’m the one in the middle with the hoodie)

First, the double-sided, etched, riveted pendant involved tracing heart shapes onto raw copper sheet, cutting them out with my shears, sanding the edges and faces, degreasing with a mixture of citric acid crystals and Dawn dishwashing liquid, choosing patterns from my hoard of digital files, printing them onto Press n Peel sheets with  my laser printer, ironing the pattern onto the copper hearts, covering the backside and edges of the hearts with Sharpie ink (to protect them from the etchant), etching them, cleaning off the ink and toner resist with acetone, pickling, and scrubbing with steel wool. I also had to create the tongues of metal that would form the bail, using 12 gauge wire and a hammer. That all done, I assembled each heart pendant, fastening two heart shapes back to back with two rivets and the bail. Then I antiqued them in liver of sulfur, hand buffed, tumbled, and sealed with lacquer. (Obviously I failed with the above intellectual challenge of “figuring out the most efficient way to produce all the findings and components.”)

Egads, am I done yet? Not hardly!!

Then I had to make 40 headpins (cutting, torching, pickling, scrubbing, antiquing with liver of sulfur), but made a little extra for possibly coordinating earrings and charms on coordinating bracelets (that might be a pipe dream; it makes me tired just thinking about it…)

And 200 beadcaps (hole punching, punching out the disc, embossing with hammer and brass texture sheet, doming, antiquing in liver of sulfur, tumbling, sealing with lacquer and paintbrush).

And 40 charm dangles for the front (wrapping the beads onto the antiqued headpins, hand buffing with steel wool, tumbling, lacquer sealing with a little paintbrush), and 20 dangles for the clasp (wrapping magnesite brios with wire, antiquing, hand-buffing, tumbling, sealing with lacquer and paintbrush).

And 40 connector rings and 20 clasp rings (coiling 12 and 14 gauge copper wire, sawing into rings, hammering/texturing, wire wrapping, antiquing in liver of sulfur, hand-buffing, tumbling, dipping in lacquer).

And 20 clasp hooks (cutting lengths of 14 gauge wire, hammering flat, shaping into hook, filing/sanding the ends, antiquing in liver of sulfur, hand-buffing, tumbling, dipping in lacquer).

And 80 coil crimp ends for the leather (coil 18 gauge wire, antique in liver of sulfur, hand-buff, tumble, attach to leather sections with pliers, lacquer coat).

And a few hundred jumprings (coil wire, saw, antique in liver of sulfur, tumble)

Egads, am I done yet? What, I have to assemble it now??? (I find myself procrastinating about this last part.) This was probably not the best design to produce in quantity but it’s the only one people have been asking for over and over again.

When I was starting on like the third batch of fiddly bits, I thought to myself, this is stupid, you’re making like a dollar an hour here. You should be using commercial metal compo—NOOOOO!!!! I MUST MAKE (ALMOST) EVERYTHING MYSELF!!!! With that (silent) primal scream, I realized I really, really want to make as many of my own metal components as possible, and if I could, I would make them ALL myself. I would especially like to be able to make my own metal beads, and Precious Metal Clay makes the most sense to me for that. And as soon as I can figure out how to clone myself and send the clone to my day job, that’s what I’m going to do. Anybody know any good Mad Scientists?

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Keirsten Giles

Mysteriously Sexy Analytical Semi-Rural Jewelry Designer, Unpaid Writer, Former World Traveler. Goof.
    • Tanya
    • February 16, 2014

    Keirsten, that is both terrifying and fabulous. That necklace is a stunner and I can see why it went viral. I love the intellectual exercise on how to create several at once.

    I would not have expected the shear number of components you need and kudos to you for making all of them. (You know, if the thought of making that necklace 20 times is holding you back, at least you have a ton of components to make other things.)

    • Reply

      Haha, I know! I'm actually SCARED to list them. Like jumping into piranha-infested waters with a fryer chicken around my neck. Or worse yet, nothing happens. I'm going to send convos to everyone who inquired, right before I start listing them, then I'll publish the listings, and RUN. Hopefully I'll come back to carnage, and not a pile of unsold necklaces. (I can always cut them up and reconstitute them as something else….)

    • Gale
    • February 16, 2014

    I think your saga should be required reading–at least by buyers and sellers of handcrafted jewelry. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is good reason for why factories became popular…and for why factory-workers generally can’t buy artisan-made stuff. (I’d have to work three more jobs to be able to afford a reproduction of something by William Morris, for example.) I’m sure your Pinterest fans know how unique—and labor-intensive–your necklace is (if only because they asked you to make them one and didn’t pin it to their “DIY” boards), but I sure hope they realize the meaning of “you get what you pay for,” even though you’re not planning to quit your day job soon!

    • Reply

      Yes, sadly a side effect of mass production is we are addicted to quantity, and we have less $$ left for quality. I've fallen into that trap a little too (two words: Old Navy). I'm glad that people can afford to replace their shoes now when they wear out, but mass production is sure a slippery slope. The good news is, at least as I see it, people's thirst for the unique and exclusive isn't going away anytime soon. We all love beauty and rarity!

  1. Reply

    I would rather poke my eyes out than remake a design over and over and over. And this one with all the "fiddly bits"? I admire your perseverance. But now that you have all the components made, it should be easy to assemble? I hope you adjust the price to reflect how complex it is.

    And congrats on a viral pin and loads of requests to remake it. That shows what great taste people have and just how awesome your designs are.

    • Reply

      It is fairly easy to assemble (although the poppy-seed-sized seed beads sometimes give me fits), and I find I am having fun varying it a little bit with some of the slightly different beads I found. I found some awesome turquoise locally, and some gorgeous aqua blue/cinnamon impression jasper and I'm going to use a bunch of that.

  2. Reply

    Your designs are always stunning, so no surprise that people want them. BUT….omg I'd go insane making all those components en masse. I am duly impressed!

    • Reply

      Oh I am insane. I'm absolutely sure of it. But I think that might have predated this project…

  3. Reply

    I agree with Gale- this should be required reading. People don't know the work that goes into making it all yourself and the obvious love you have for your craft. It's amazing and wonderful and yeah- a lot of work! but so worth it. The necklace is beautiful and I would love to own one myself! I am sure they will go fast! Go Keirsten!

    • Reply

      Thanks Cindy! I'm hoping I don't procrastinate right past my window. I'm still getting requests so I think it'll be OK. I have actually been thinking of including a link to this post in the listing, like "to read about how this necklace was made, check out this link." I don't know if people will read it, so many people don't even read the listings!

  4. Reply

    What an incredible and admirable ton of work! And gorgeous, too! I agree with the above comments. this post shows how much work goes into tone piece. Where did you find those gorgeous butterflies!?

    • Reply

      Thanks Patty! Yeah, it seems a little silly sometimes. EIGHTY coil ends? Am I OCD? It's funny, doing the fiddly bits has been like a little cocoon, I'm actually afraid of the onslaught when I start actually listing these. I think that's why I put off the assembly (I just know I'm going to get requests like "I want this in purple and mauve and can you do it with a violet ostrich instead of a butterfly?"). Although now I have 8 or 9 of them done. (Ran out of seed beads.) I got the turquoise butterflies from an Etsy shop which has–of course!–gone out of business. It was a going out of business clearance sale. I've not seen anything like them since.

  5. Reply

    Phew! I'm all tuckered out just reading about how you are producing, can't imagine actually doing it. Hopefully there is some meditative value in it – you know getting into a "zone" where your mind can wander away from the monotony.
    Just curious, does it make you wonder what it is about this piece that made it so popular? It does me, because ALL of you creations are absolutely stunning – so what magic does this particular piece hold!
    Congratulations, and bravo – you are an inspiration!!!

    • Reply

      Funny you should say that Stephanie, there has indeed been a "meditative" quality about some of it–making the clasp hooks, wrapping the rings, making the little coil ends is sort of how I imagine knitting or cross stitch. Sort of relaxing. The sawing is very tiring, but the more basic wire work is kind of soothing.

  6. Reply

    I too hate commissions and duplicates….hinders all my creative juices. I would like to know if you sell the hearts though they are gorgeous!

    • Reply

      Oh, yes, custom work. My other great loathing (with some exceptions–it's one of those things that is often more unpleasant to anticipate than actually do.) I have a hard time being told what to do, and I can actually be procrastinating about some idea I have, but as soon as I get a custom order I'm all bent out of shape about not being able to do the thing I was procrastinating about. (I don't take custom orders anymore, it was taking too much of my time.) Re: the hearts, I'm not currently selling components. I might one day, if I get fired from my day job or something. Haha.

  7. Reply

    It's a fabulous necklace so I can see why it's so popular. Reading this makes me think of how I feel when I get a few biggish orders for my handmade findings and seem to spend days making things with copper wire! Not to mention oxidizing, cleaning up and tumbling!

    Well done on finishing your mammoth task 😀

    • Reply

      It's like one of those bad dreams where you walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and never get any closer to your destination. "I've been working on this for a month and I still don't have any necklaces." Cleaning, ugh. I hate scrubbing and buffing things (although I have found scrubbing freshly pickled/rinsed items with baking soda paste and just my fingers is way easier than using steel wool-especially headpins).

    • Kitty
    • February 16, 2014

    I love the necklace and you have a gorgeous eye for detail as I have told you lately. I agree it should be required reading.

    My experience was similar. I was making lampwork bead after lampwork bead in the same styles and colors. All though I was making money, I was also boring myself to tears and getting burned out. I dread going to my torch now and hope I will get the feeling of excitement back someday.

    I am not sure about the rest of you, but this is my theory: A huge part of the artist's process is the dreaming. The crafting and designing in our heads. When that part is taken away (I think the part that must stimulate the Dopamine in our brains to make us excited) it is no longer as much fun.

    My husband is a Chemical Engineer and although he doesn't take pleasure in the mundane he seems to be able to do less dreaming than me for sure. He relies on what is proven and seen, not the "hypothetical". I am all about hypothetical. 🙂

    • Reply

      Absolutely Kitty!!! The NOODLING part is my favorite, thinking about a design, putting it together in my mind, mentally going through my stash to find the right thing, wondering, "Oh, will it work if I do this or that?" and then getting excited to try it. But then actually sitting down to do it is a bit of a drag. It is ALMOST enough just to think about it. I think that's why I jump around from new thing to new thing so much. It's like a drug!

  8. Reply

    Girl, you have been one busy beaver! I , too, have a hard time making the same design over again! I hope that you sell everyone of them, & call it a" Limited Edition"!

    • Reply

      What a coincidence! When I get ready to list these, I am going to create a new section in my shop called exactly that–"Limited Edition." I love the way it sounds. "Limited. Limited. LIMITED."

  9. Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Keirsten!!!

    I am THRILLED to see someone else not only think it, but SAY it – IN PRINT – for the whole world to see!!!

    No matter how much work, I simply CANNOT bring myself to BUY anything I can make. That does NOT mean, however, that I don't think constantly to myself, "This is ridiculous – why can't I just buy headpins, cord ends, ear wires, clasps, hooks, connectors, etc., etc., like so many others do?!"

    The reason, though, really is SIMPLE: they wouldn't have part of ME in them – they would NOT be HANDMADE, by ME!! The whole point to this art/craft for me is that each piece has my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes beginning from frustration, but always ending in joy) in it.

    I've never met you, Keirsten, but I've admired your work for awhile now – and I didn't have to read this to know a great deal about you – it has always been evident to me in your art and craft.

    But thank you SO MUCH for saying out loud what I constantly struggle with myself – and thank you for further validating my decision recently to CHARGE for my own art/craft appropriately.

    I significantly upped my prices – it did NOT seem to make any difference to my buyers, but it made a HUGE difference to me!

    • Reply

      Well I am so glad to "meet" someone else with this same quirk, Deborah! Exactly, if I can make it myself (within reason), I can't bear to buy it. I think there's a little bit of control freak in it for me too–if I make it all myself, the finishes will all harmonize and I can make any size/shape I want. And I hate having my mojo interrupted by running out of something. The more things I can make myself, the fewer interruptions I have. (Although then paradoxically I get sidetracked from designing by having to make staples…) And good for you, pricing what your work and expertise are worth. It seems we all have to come to that with a revelation. I've slowly been inching up my prices as I've made more and more of my own components (and come to value my own work), and I don't see that it's hurt me either. At the end of the day, I need to be able to respect myself. Keep on doing what you're doing!

    • Reply

      Keirsten – I, also am so glad to "meet" someone with our "quirks" – you've reduced my solitary, anguish-filled war with mental illness into a shared, "normal"(?) activity – thank you!!

      I struggled with my own diagnosis: Is it OCD?, control freakiness? procrastination? hoarding? fear of success? completion anxiety? Do I have "tortured artist syndrome"? (Ha!)

      Why do I have sketchbooks filled with drawings & designs, notes & specs, terrific ideas, new techniques/processes, queries with exclamation points everywhere? Example: "WOW! Would this actually WORK?! Cool!" – BUT once I've tried the new technique/process, I have the DEVIL of a time sitting down to actually produce wearable pieces with the results! I answer the question, solve the puzzle, rejoice at the achievement, savor the beauty, fondle the new pieces (which I love to do), then they go into my many components boxes, and I'm ready to try something new. The bouncing around from new thing to new thing IS addictive – it's a shot of endorphins I can inject any time I want!

      Like you, I get commissions which I'm honored and happy to receive, but then put off actually making them. Like you, I don't want to be told what to do – it stifles the creative juice and becomes a "job." Plus, I know completing those commissions will lead to more "purple/mauve/violet ostrich" requests. (Though I think I, too, would love that combination in your necklace! Ha!)

      Like you, I'll procrastinate like the dickens with a tangible piece of my own, then be SO irritated (at myself, mainly) when the client request comes and keeps me from producing it. AARGH!!!!

      Like you, I love the dreaming, the designing, the "what-if?"-ing (also coloring in the sketches with colored pencils is really fun – so many options!).

      It's especially frustrating to me because I really do LOVE the work – the physical, hands-on cutting, filing, twisting, bending, pounding, melting, soldering, sanding, scrubbing, patinating, tumbling, buffing, on & on & on… It's meditative and peaceful and a very happy place for me. Why, then, do I have such a hard time putting the parts of all that into one finished piece of wearable art?!

      I recently saw/read something about the different kinds of artists. I don't remember all the kinds there are, but I jumped out of my chair when "process-based" artists were discussed – that's ME! I love this process, and that process, and how about that process, too? (Oh yeah, don't forget that little process over there in the corner – don't leave him out! And just look at that sweet little process hiding behind him – bring her out into the light, too!) Ha!

      Yes, like you, I know I truly AM insane – but I'm SO happy to know I'm in the company of someone so talented and unique as YOU!! Keep on doing what you're doing, too!! Your art/work is beautiful and DEEP and as long as it is valued and cherished, you have NO reason to change!

      And like me, YOU have to respect YOURSELF at the end of the day. That's EXACTLY what it came down to for me. I was happy to sell, but often missed the piece more than the $$$ that replaced it. Once I resolved to start looking at each finished piece I make, decide what it is REALLY worth to ME to give it up and sell it, and determined that THAT's what it will sell for (or I'll happily keep and wear it myself), I've respected myself at the end of every single day – with NO regrets.

      Again, keep on doing what you're doing!! And, again, thank you for being "insane" with me!!

  10. Reply

    One question: why don't you etch both sides of the hearts and use only one per necklace?

    • Reply

      If I used a single piece of metal, it would have to be thick, at least 20 gauge. That would mean sawing. I don't want to saw 20 hearts. I'd rather cut 40 hearts with my shears. And since I want it to be double-sided (I like this added detail), it would mean etching 40 surfaces anyway. I also like the way the rivets look.

      • Gale
      • February 21, 2014

      Whew. Now I don't feel so wimpy about my fear of sawing. I have a hard enough time tackling the darn shears.

  11. Reply

    You wore me out just reading all this. You definitely need a clone and the first mad scientist I see, I will send him/her your way.

    • Shel
    • February 17, 2014

    Wow – that necklace is super awesome!! I also agree with Gale who said this should be required reading – whew, a LOT of work. A. LOT! I no longer do custom for the reason you mentioned where it's fun to do what I want, when I want, not when someone else wants me to and I found I started procrastinating even more than normal so I quit doing custom orders last year. And, I no longer do ear wires or components for other designers (well, a select number of clients I still do them for once in a while) because it was labor intense and took my time away from 'dreaming up' other designs and doing them and it also got boring. So many great points in this post and in the comments – great topic. Thanks for sharing and for reminding all of us to value our time, our skills and our work!!

    • Reply

      Hear dat! I stopped doing custom work too when I found myself procrastinating too much–with everything. There was no light at the end of the tunnel with the custom projects I was supposed to be doing, and I felt so guilty about not doing them that I stopped doing everything else too. It was killing me so I stopped. And I can't imagine selling "fiddly bits"–I might as well move to Pakistan and start making rugs with children, cause that's about how remunerative it would be! Make headpins for three days, sell them, and oh look, I have….ten dollars. Minus costs.

  12. Reply

    Egads. This is a terrifying dream come true! On the one hand it is a lovely honor to have so much interest in your work, but on the other hand you can't possibly do this much work and not get paid for what it is worth. What about selling a kit with some of the components and the instructions? Or no instructions, just the bits to play with as you please (which would be my preference)? I would be open to buying a kit or two from you! That way you don't have to bother with the assembling. I admire your desire to make every single bit you use. I would love to do that as well, but find myself pressed for time and left with little patience. I have an enviable storehouse of beads and components in my studio, and I really must start using it. So I doubt that I would ever run dry. Still, I am itching to get started on the torching I have promised myself, so who knows? I am exhausted just thinking about all the time you put into it. But knowing your work first hand, I know that it is incredibly detailed and made with extreme love and care. You amaze and astonish me, and I am always inspired by you! Enjoy the day. Erin

    • Reply

      A kit never occurred to me. And I have to say just the idea gives me the heebie jeebies! I think I would get pestered to death with questions about how to do this or that and I'd have to change my name and move to Newfoundland. The majority of the work in this piece is the parts anyway, rather than the assembly.

  13. Your necklace is really beautiful! It's no wonder everyone keeps asking for it. Raise your price!

  14. Reply

    Congratulations on the landslide interest in your necklace!!
    I love it and, yes, reading your process ~ like a good mystery story.
    I've been there with making multiples of a piece with many components and thought I'd go crazy. As for custom work, I have a really good customer/friend for whom I make everything for her and all the gifts she gives. But she also likes to 'design' with me which at times really cramps my creativity. And, I've found it causes my procrastination for working on the pieces as well as on new things I want to create – glad to read I'm not alone.
    Yup, definitely promote these as limited pieces and price them accordingly! I've been taking a course and recently watched a great seminar that addresses the pricing elements that most jewelry designers don't think about resulting in way underpriced/undervalued work. Just thinking, maybe release them one at a time like one a day. Think of the buying buzz you would create.
    Can't wait to see these beauties – you'll need a vacation after this!

    • Reply

      That's an intriguing idea, Sandi–one per day. It could be like a virtual game of Spoons, with people wrestling all over the floor with the last spoon. Every day. Hm, something to think about…

  15. Reply

    Fabulous necklace – no wonder it's so popular. But all the work involved….why not now sell the components as a kit for other crafters to assemble?? Sorry if this has been said before.

    • Reply

      The labor is largely in the components so letting someone else assemble it wouldn't help me much. I also think people would expect a kit to be less expensive than finished jewelry so it would likely be even harder for me to compensate myself for my labor. I would also likely end up spending countless hours essentially tutoring people in how to assemble it (because they wouldn't have the necessary skills for the project), and probably providing replacement parts when they goof something up, not to mention having to count out hundreds and hundreds of tiny seed beads for each kit. Not to mention completely giving up any quality control for the finished project. I don't want a bunch of poorly assembled necklaces out there being passed off as my work. I think it would be a nightmare.

    • Reply

      Keirsten – you already know this: DON'T DO IT – you are 1000% (yes, one-THOUSAND percent) RIGHT!!!

  16. Reply

    It's was your work that inspired me to also make every last component and I did it for a batch of stuff for a shop. I struggled with pricing because of how labor intensive each piece was. I saw so much in each piece – especially the fold formed pendants! Well , that was back when I only had a 3 year old and a 1 year old. A few months later we adopted a baby girl and that is why I only made all my own components ONCE! Lol! I've been getting the itch again though since I've pretty much used up all my extra little bits I had made just in case. It's a tedious process but isn't it rewarding when it's done and you conquered that thing?! I love a challenge.

    • Reply

      Ashleigh, I'm so honored to have inspired your episode of do-it-all-myself! Yes, it does give rise to some pricing quandaries but is immensely satisfying, as you say. I love the uniqueness making my own components gives my jewelry, people seem to be able to recognize my pieces even out of context. I'm also kind of fussy about my metal finishes matching (I love mixing metals, but not mixing finishes with the same metal, especially fakey looking plated stuff) and it takes almost as much time trying to shop for reasonably similar-looking metal components as it does to make them (and invariably when you get them, you find they weren't as pictured anyway and they're not going to work.) If I were ever going to do this for a living I'd have to either drastically change my prices, or take some shortcuts, like have some shapes custom die-cut or something.

  17. Reply

    K, I have much admired and watched your work evolve for some time and only suggest the following as I truly believe that it is That Time. It is Time for you to get/make/network with the people who can get/make/network you into the Exclusive Club. The places where Private Showings are held; where Quality and One of a Kind are demanded, expected…and where you price your work and the Gallery or Showing (usually Private and very exclusive) BUYS it outright, does their own markup and then has the Show. It means getting connected in a Big Way….how are you for airline travel, champagne parties and hob-nobbing?….because it is where you are headed! I received one such invitation a year ago, deemed I was Not Ready at All and hastily declined. So the question becomes as I read your tale…and all the comments….will you run through the door when it swings open for you?

    • Reply

      Aw, aren't you sweet Tracy! I hope another stellar invitation comes your way…

  18. Reply

    Brilliant process and beautiful results!

  19. Reply

    Thank you for writing and posting this. I do production work when I have something that sells well. I'm sure your sharing is going to wake many people up. During the slow winter months I make hundreds of different common elements and place them in my drawer/cabinet ready when I need it. I limit myself to how much time I spend on each element in a day so I don't get too bored.

    I'm glad you saw the $/profit loss, many people need to get this awareness.

    I was at an indoor show last Saturday. At one jewelry booth I spoke with the maker/designer and ask how she could sell her jewelry so low a price point. Her response was "oh, its just a hobby, I have a full-time job." I was speechless. Her jewelry was ugly and assembled jewelry and she couldn't sell that…makes me think of how so many people don't value their time.

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