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In this guest article for Urban Times, Clementine James, founder of Little Glass Clementine, discusses the steps she takes to create her incredible bespoke pieces of jewellery. Clementine will be at Bid for Better, our sustainable fashion event on Thursday, demonstrating the methods she uses to create her pieces. She has also donated a beautiful necklace, made out of little treasures she has collected for our silent auction.

The idea behind the way I work is similar to an artist painting a portrait. I try to create a necklace that speaks of that person, that holds the essence of their personality and a little sprinkling of their spirit. I will take you through my journey in creating these pieces. I harbour no secrets and my work is not held together by any formal training, rather an interest, in the individual value placed on objects and an eye for small intricate worlds. I am an artist, my medium happens to be jewellery.

Putting pieces together (Image: Clementine James)

It is like being an investigative journalist with a creative twist! My aim is to gather as much information about the person through meeting them or going to their house. I am interested in what they wear, in their style; their choice of shape, line and colour. What are they interested in? Do they like art, if so what form? Is there an era in history they relate to? All of this will help you with the style of the necklace. Do they wear jewellery already; is it bold or discrete, contemporary or traditional? Is the piece you are going to make an every day piece or worn for special occasions. Do they want it to be eye catching or intimate?

If I am fortunate enough to go to their house I look at their interior. I like to look at what they put on their walls, what tokens and love notes do they hang from string or stick on the fridge. Is there a theme that runs through their chosen interior? Do they love images of birds or old 50’s posters? Are they into block prints or do they have a hankering for William Morris curls? Is there a lot of clutter or is it very minimalistic? All these observations will create a mood board in your mind – your aim is to translate this mood board into a necklace. If possible these factors should be illuminated in their necklace.

Now start collecting. Take a pebble from their pebble collection, a snippet of the material from their curtains, a page from their favourite book and rose from the window box, or piece of ribbon from their wedding dress. Then and only when you have a handful of talisman and trinkets should you delve into their jewellery box.

Start by laying all their jewellery out – I use a piece of black velvet. This allows you to study every piece clearly and see what they like. At this point there might be a piece that your patron would really like you to use. Maybe they were given a brooch by their mother, they love it – but it doesn’t really go with what they wear. Perfect. This is a brilliant way to give this brooch another exciting life. They might have some single earrings that they adore but sadly lost the pair. This is when you can really put your upcycled talent to the test. Almost anything can go into these necklaces. If there is a story that is attached to the tiny bead or the bone, or the broken necklace all the better. These stories can be relived and retold by coming back into the world and worn with pride.

When we have gone through everything and have decided what we would like to include in the piece, I get out my special suitcase of gem stones, treasure and vintage and antique jewellery – all depending on the budget of my client. We then pick what gems we like and other additional bits of jewellery. Again using the piece of black velvet start creating compositions, working out where everything should go. Do you want it to be symmetrical or not? Will it be bolder at the centre or the same throughout the width? I always take photos during this stage as it allows us to record what we like.

Last thing to do is measure your subjects neck – looking at exactly where you would like the necklace to lie – i.e above or below the collar bone. I then wrap everything up and take it all back to the studio. Back in my studio I have plenty more boxes of jewellery and special things that I have collected over the years and I have a good look to see what other treats we can squeeze into the piece. I open up the photos and lay out my patrons components, then using a thick piece of brass wire I measure it to the size of a ring and use this as the base of my necklace. I then begin with a centre piece. I work from the back to the front, this means that the back becomes the fixings area and the messy side and the front is neat and tight.

I attach a thinner piece of wire to the thicker wire base and then literally wrap and tie the first components to the thick wire ring. Now here it can become tricky and if you do this from the start you will produce a secure and tight sustainable necklace. Make sure that your thin wire – the attachment wire – is always taught, this makes a huge difference. After every twist and wrap, pull your thin piece of wire taught. Once you have attached the first piece –re attach the thin wire to the base and then add the second piece. Now wrap and knit this piece to the base ring, once you have done this, knit it to the first piece. This pattern repeats for everything you put on the necklace. You must always attach to the base wire as well as the piece you have previously just attached. If I am ever showing too much wire on the front of the necklace then I will cover the excess wire by threading tiny gem stones and pearls on to it to soften the appearance. Always pull the wire taught as you never want any component to be loose.

Pieces from Little Glass Clementine (Image: Clementine James)

Your necklace will look strange at first, do not worry. It is important to get all the main parts securely on to the frame and then you can add little extra bits and pieces on top. I advise starting from the centre and working to one end and then working again from the centre. Be prepared to use a huge amount of wire – this is really important, it will only add weight and strength to your piece and that is a good thing.

Some components won’t have an obvious place to use as a means of attachment. Try different ways around this. For instance if you are trying to attach a piece of paper try dipping it in varnish or PVA and leaving it to dry – the glaze will dry clear but give you extra sturdiness to pierce a hole through to attach to the necklace. If you are attaching a stone or pebble with no hole, weave the wire around hooking and tying the wire to itself. If you are attaching material think about the way it will hang, should it be in the centre, or behind a piece of jewellery? When working with watches or pocket watches it is always great if they work, but even if they don’t, consider what way up it should be, so that the face can be seen clearly. Always experiment with how an object looks from other angles, upside down, other way round, inside out. I have sometimes found the most interesting textures and shapes from doing this.

If there are areas that are less full than others, weave some more little pearls or gems to give the piece some continuity. Throughout making the necklace keep trying it on. Is it sitting properly, does it hang well, is the eye drawn to the right area. So when you come to finishing it the necklace should edge its way to completion naturally and there shouldn’t be any major changes. To finish off use some clasps that are easy to use. You can get a huge range of finishing clasps at jewellery and craft shops.

I always think that presentation is really important, so think about how you want to present the piece and wrap it up as a gift. With all the magic that has come through your fingers you should have created a truly unique necklace with even more unique material. A very personal experience indeed.

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