j.Frances Design Logo

Relaunching j.Frances Design Handmade Jewelry

Early this year, I quietly reopened my handmade jewelry shop j. Frances Design on Etsy. I originally started the shop in late 2009 right before I entered grad school for interior design. I began making jewelry during college, mostly seed bead weaving. When I moved to the West Coast after graduation, I discovered amazing bead stores that carried an array of gemstones and was immediately hooked. In Phoenix, I took my first wire-wrapping class and learned how to create necklaces, earrings, and bracelets with sterling silver links.

j.Frances Design Logo

Looking back, it’s so interesting to observe the evolution of my shop and my skills. From the very beginning, I was obsessed with quality. I would remake a piece over and over if the wire wraps weren’t perfect or one earring was a hair longer than the next. You didn’t see any strung necklaces or bracelets in my shop because I struggled to perfect the tension in the beading wire and was never satisfied with my results. Over time, my connections and wraps have become more precise and refined, and my interests have expanded beyond wrapping into soldering and forging metal.

Labradorite & Sterling Silver Bracelet

labradorite & sterling silver bracelet

I also learned how to improve my descriptions and my photos, which was key to a successful Etsy shop, and developed a nice little business. I sold my jewelry at local craft shows like Market Day, Craft Saturday, and Art in the Garden. I particularly loved meeting customers in person. I was proud that this little business was able to provide me with extra income while I was in school.

In the spring of 2013, I graduated and got a real job, but I kept my shop. Later that summer, I started teaching in the interior design program at Iowa State and decided after a few months that I needed to concentrate on both my students and acquiring design clients. I stopped posting to my Etsy shop in early 2014 but never actually closed it.

Amethyst & Silver Beaded Bracelet

amethyst & sterling silver beaded bracelet

But late last year, I got an urge to make jewelry again. I had started following a number of jewelry artists on Instagram and missed making physical things with my hands versus always being tied to a computer screen. I started crafting new pieces with the materials I had on hand and reopened my shop. I also signed up for a metal working studio at the Des Moines Art Center so I could relearn how to set stones and solder properly with a real torch.

Chrysocolla and Gold Filled Earrings

chrysocolla & gold filled earrings

Over the last several months, I’ve restocked my Etsy shop with a variety of designs, mostly using the semi-precious gemstones I love but also including some pieces with Czech glass and vintage Swarovski. I have been doing some light metalworking with a butane torch, but I am super excited to get a real torch when we move to our new house next month. Then I can really begin to practice setting stones and offer a wider variety of pieces that include cabochons. I’m also interested in working with raw gemstones and crystals. The possibilities are truly endless.

A few weeks ago, I also launched the j.Frances website. It is a fully functioning e-commerce store for my business. Many of the pieces on the website are also available on the Etsy shop, but the website will mostly focus on my gemstone pieces that are crafted with sterling silver, precious metal clay (PMC), 14k gold-filled wire, and some copper. The “costume” pieces will stay in my Etsy shop.

Fine Silver Bird Pendant Necklace Labradorite

sterling necklace with handcrafted fine silver bird pendant

I’m really excited about reopening my jewelry business because I love the process of taking raw materials and turning them into wearable art. Most of my designs are one-of-a-kind or extremely limited because I enjoy the creative process of dreaming up new combinations rather than producing one thing over and over.

You can find the link to my e-commerce site in the menu above and to my Etsy shop in the sidebar. I started a newsletter for my shop, and you can save 20% on your first order in either shop by signing up. I’ll use that list for weekly shop updates, promotions, and other news related to the shop.

I also have a blog on the j.Frances site, so I won’t be writing too much about jewelry in this space. If you’re interested in my creative process and being notified about new pieces when I add them to the shop, be sure to follow along there or sign up for the newsletter.

Requests for custom pieces are always welcome! If I can’t make it, I can refer you to another artist who can.

Vintage Button Collection

Adding to My Vintage Button Collection

On Saturday afternoon, I found myself digging through bins in the basement of my favorite vintage shop, and I was extremely lucky to find enough pretty buttons to form a decent addition to my modest vintage button collection. Ever since I started molding antique buttons to create silver jewelry charms, I have been looking at them in a whole new light. Some of these buttons below are perfect for molds and silver clay and others will be incorporated into new jewelry pieces.

Vintage Button Collection

Vintage Button Collection

Vintage Button Collection

Vintage Button Collection

Vintage Button Collection

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Precious Metal Clay Vintage Button Jewelry

Vintage Buttons: My Latest Jewelry Making Obsession

Last summer, I stumbled upon some really unique vintage buttons in the basement of one of my favorite East Village shops and incorporated many of them into a button necklace and bracelet, both which have since found good homes. Since then, I’ve collected several more vintage and antique buttons with the idea of making more of these one-of-a-kind pieces, but I didn’t want to let go of my collection. One day, as I was browsing a jewelry making supply site, I discovered molds for precious metal clay pre-made from antique buttons. I ordered a few and had fun making pieces out of them, and then the epiphany hit that I could make my own molds out of my button collection so I could recreate them over and over again in fine silver.

Precious Metal Clay Vintage Button Jewelry

I ordered the mold making material from Cool Tools. It comes in two parts – the blue and white – and it feels kind of like Silly Putty. You mix together equal parts of both, which activates the material, and then form it over anything with a texture. In five minutes you have a flexible mold that you could use to make pieces out of any kind of clay. I love that the molds are totally non-stick, so I didn’t have to worry about applying any kind of oil to them before using them with the precious metal clay.

Precious Metal Clay Vintage Button Jewelry

I did learn a few things while using this stuff. I roll each part into a ball before combining them together so I can gauge if they’re roughly the same size. I didn’t have any problems with my molds not setting, so this method works for me. When I made my first molds, I formed the material around the buttons which resulted in really deep molds, meaning I needed to use more clay in each one. The second time I made molds, I flattened the material slightly and then pressed the button into it. This worked out much much better and resulted in smooth uniform pieces.

Precious Metal Clay Vintage Button Jewelry

After the buttons are fired in the kiln, which takes about two hours, they come out with a matte white finish that needs to be removed with a brass bristle brush. Then I almost always polish my silver pieces right away in the tumbler, so they’ll be clean and pretty and ready for using in a finished piece.

Precious Metal Clay Vintage Button Jewelry

I love how the molds capture all of the tiny little details in these buttons, which are recreated perfectly in the fine silver.

Precious Metal Clay Vintage Button Jewelry

I’ve been making molds from other things too, particularly vintage jewelry components that are one-of-a-kind and am now on the lookout for other little things I can turn into silver jewelry. The necklace in the last set of photos is available in my shop as is another necklace made from one of the buttons in my collection. Many more are coming soon! If you have an old button that you’d like to see turned into a necklace or earrings, I would be happy to work with you on a custom design.

Silver Crest Pendant Necklace Gemstone Spinel

New Silver Pendant Necklaces & Earrings

When we moved into our new house last March and I set up my basement jewelry studio, I went on an unofficial hiatus from creating with precious metal clay. I’m not sure why, but after a few months, it turned into one of those breaks, similar to when I’ve stopped exercising, that I couldn’t seem to overcome.

Silver Crest Pendant Necklace Gemstone Spinel

Available for purchase in my Shop

I think the cost of the materials has a large role in my reluctance to go all out and make a bunch of pieces. What if they don’t turn out well? What if no one likes them? A few weeks ago, I started to build up the idea of playing with silver clay again, telling myself that there was no point in hoarding unused clay and that I had a perfectly good kiln sitting there just begging to be used. (I had reached this same point earlier in the Spring with my ever growing stash of vintage beads.)

Silver Bird Pendant Necklace Gray Lace Agate

Available for purchase in my Shop

I love working with the precious metal clay because it lets me create one-of-a-kind pendants, charms, clasps – just about anything really – without the complications of learning to cast silver. You can press just about anything with a clean smooth texture into the clay to create an embossed effect. I mold the clay into shapes, let it dry, fire it and then polish.

E0111_02 Labradorite Sterling Paisley Charm Earrings Oxidized

Available for purchase in my Shop

I’m really happy with how this first batch of new designs turned out. Now that I’ve started playing with clay again, it’s going to be difficult to stop. I have so many ideas churning and can’t wait to turn them all into little wearable works of art.

E0113_03 Turquoise Sterling Silver Teardrop Earrings

Available for purchase in my Shop

If you’re a crafter, do you struggle with not wanting to “waste” or use up your favorite materials, especially if they’re irreplaceable? How do you get past it so that you can keep creating?

Retro Vintage Button Necklace

Retro Button Necklace

Last week-end, I wrote about how I found this awesome stash of vintage buttons at one of my favorite shops. The buttons I chose fell into two distinct groups. The first group -delicate, antique and feminine in shades of gray and white – became a charm style bracelet.

Retro Vintage Button Necklace

The second group were more earthy, retro, and a little rustic in warm Fall colors like chestnut brown, ivory, pale beige, olive, jade, and teal. They definitely had a little bit of a seventies feel to them. I particularly liked how they had a great range of materials, textures and patterns, and I thought they would look great as the focal point of a longer necklace. There are twelve buttons total, with most of them being celluloid. There is one large horn button and two glass.

Retro Vintage Button Necklace

I wrapped each of the buttons from the back in jewelry grade bronze wire (lead and nickel free) that I antiqued myself using liver of sulfur so it would coordinate with the antiqued brass chain. Once I had wrapped all of the buttons, I played with the arrangement until I found one that was pleasing. The buttons range in size from about .75″ to 1.5″ in diameter and color, so I needed to create balance in the design.

When I was happy with the layout, I attached them to a textured antiqued brass cable chain. This chain is really high quality and one of my favorites to use. For variety, I used a smaller scale chain for the upper portion of the necklace and added one of my favorite solid brass lobster clasps and a little extender chain for an extra two inches of length, if needed. I always like when my necklaces has a little bit of adjustability to account for the different necklines of my tops.

Retro-Vintage-Button-Necklace-N0003_10

I really love the eclectic feel of the necklace and particularly the color palette. It’s a completely unique one-of-a-kind design, and it’s available for sale in my Etsy shop.