We chat to beader and author, Sara Withers all about her jewellery making experience and take a look at her wonderful eye-catching designs! We are proud to stock Sara's popular book, 'The Encyclopedia of Wire Jewellery Techniques' which covers an extensive range of wire work techniques - a great resource for both beginners and experienced jewellers. In this interview we hear all about Sara's experience of writing jewellery making books and teaching, gain her advice on finding your own style as well as how to get started in the world of beading and wirework.
Many many years ago I worked for a company that sold loose Indian beads, I took over this part of their business and quickly realised that I should make jewellery from the beads as well as selling them by the kilo.
I was taught basic wire work in a one to one session with a tutor in the States. I wanted to recreate this experience by starting right from the beginning. Then I wanted to show people what techniques they could progress to once they had the basics. With that in mind, I also wanted to open other avenues, so got Elise Mann contribute to the chain mail section and Xuella Arnold to give an introduction to silversmithing. I felt that having other people involved would widen the book.
Yes, the book is definitely for different skill levels, but is more for beginners than very experienced jewellery makers.
I think I have written about seven books and contributed to several others. There was a period when jewellery making in all of its forms was very ‘hot’ with publishers! I really enjoyed working on the books. It’s important to point out that I was working with book packagers, they initiate the books and then look for an author. In the setup that was relevant to me, the creative director and the commissioning editor were definitely in charge…then me!
I really enjoyed working with the photographers, also super important. It was a great relief when all of the photography became digital. The era of peering at little strips of photos with markers on them in order to write the text was challenging. Another challenge was coming up with designs, that would feature the different techniques, that weren’t in my own style so that I created diversity. I also enjoyed helping to find the Gallery contributors, again to widen the ideas that the books presented.
I don’t ever make designs that I would never consider wearing. I think that is a good start for people who are trying to find their own style. But I am very sympathetic to everyone who is starting now - there are so many wonderful designs around, it is hard to create a style of your own.
I enjoy taking part in craft fairs and festivals because, as well as the financial aspect, I need the integration with people who are looking at my jewellery and trying it on. I often get really good design ideas while at an event. I have also seen an amazing amount of brilliant music by selling at a few festivals each year!
Teaching can be very tricky, people can expect miracles and forget the reality that ‘practice does make perfect’ but it can also be extremely rewarding when someone is truly happy with their own results. I get real pleasure when a class member finds a hidden talent.
I have taught in rather unorthodox places when I have travelled. I taught on a Greece island and was put outside, which was wonderful, except that it was September and getting really dark by the end of the sessions. When I started to teach for Voyages of Discovery, it was on a cruise to Iceland which incorporated the Eclipse - this often makes the ocean very rough, and it really did. That was challenging on every level. But the passengers were wonderful, they knew that we hadn’t even been on a cruise ship before, so they helped with everything and luckily I passed the test.
I don’t like to teach a huge amount so that I stay fresh, so I do prefer making.
I have a huge amount of beads that I use for making and teaching, but I haven’t made a large personal collection. Once I started to go out to Tucson to the Bead and Mineral show I was so overwhelmed by all of the collectible beads that I didn’t indulge a lot. But I do have a Kiffa bead.
Thank you, I love making the Magpie jewellery. They started from one really crazy necklace that I made for my niece. I learnt that they needed to be scaled down to be a bit more wearable. They satisfy my love of working with colour.
The Magpie jewellery ties in with making beads. I make polymer clay beads for some of my designs and I also make a lot of buttons for the Magpie necklaces. I also make resin pieces for the Magpies with inset watch parts and chains.
My workspace is fairly chaotic, I’m afraid. The lockdowns were useful for doing some clearing and tidying, but it would be wrong of me to offer any advice other than to be absolutely sure that you work in good light.
Closed loops are the obvious 'most used' technique. But I always enjoy coils, so simple and with so much design potential.
My top tips for starting with wire - practice with silver plated wire and be generous with the lengths that you cut. It’s inexpensive and you will hurt your hands if you battle with short lengths of wire. Keep a record of the lengths that you cut, then you can repeat your design or remake it with sterling wire and you will know how much you need. 0.6 silver plate wire is a great one to start with.
Tools are very personal - what I do suggest is having a mirror near you so that you can keep holding your designs again your body rather than viewing everything that you make flat on a work top.
The pandemic has moved me into working with precious metal clay more as well as beads and wire. And I finally opened an Etsy shop (which desperately needs an update!) Sadly, I now think that the state of the economy is going to be much more relevant than the pandemic.
I would recommend learning to use wire as it adds so much to the scope of designs that can be made. It doesn’t need lots of equipment or chemicals, so you can still work on a kitchen table, if necessary. And I think it makes your work look more professional.
Sadly no more books in the pipeline - but I have really enjoyed working on the ones that I have done. And I am really delighted that others like them too!