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Make It With Your Hands


As I continue to grow in this small business/handcrafted jewelry industry, the more I long to find ways to become more authentic in my craft. I want to truly make items that are actually handcrafted, and I've been in limbo in regard to choosing a medium that best fits ME as a designer. What is my style? What do I want to put out into the world?


After all, if something is Cricut-cut, can we really claim that our items are handcrafted? Yes, we are assembling those items, and we are gluing, designing, putting patterns together, tracing, cutting, etc....but if we are simply purchasing SVG files on Etsy and allowing a machine to do the work for us, I am a little conflicted with calling my own products handcrafted. Perhaps we should change that wording to "hand assembled"? Although we didn't necessarily "design" the piece, do we still diminish the hand of the person crafting it?


It's something to think about.


Authenticity in jewelry design is what makes your product special. The feeling and aura you create matters. When people wear your pieces, you want them to feel as if what they're wearing is completely exclusive.


Right?


Thus, my eyes and thoughts have diverted to the art of metalsmithing.


For those of you that do not know, metalsmithing is putting fire to metal and using coordinated and careful hand movements to create beautiful metal designs. This can be for jewelry, knights armor, swords, light saber handles.....(HA!) .....you get the picture. The metal world is your oyster.


Metalsmith craft.


Back in January, I started running a few web searches on jewelry courses in the Houston area. To my astonishment, there is only one true "school" for jewelry in the city, and that course is about $15,000. Upon updating and finishing this blog entry, I have since found other programs for cheaper prices, but I'll need to do my due diligence before I make any rash decisions about attending those classes.


Not having that kind of cash on hand, I needed a new plan. Plus, I couldn't imagine throwing myself into a craft that I wasn't even sure I was going to like. To scratch the itch, I set out on trying to find a beginner course to get myself acquainted with the basics.


A simple Google search led me to Austin-based jeweler, Nina Berenato. Nina, who is well-established in the art of metalsmithing, offered fair-rate 2 hour classes for groups of 6-8 people. The classes were taught by Nina herself, and they are also held in her jewelry store which doubles as her office/workspace/metalsmith lab and brick and mortar store.


More than that.....Nina's credentials are ABSOLUTELY INSANE. She has been featured in just about every magazine known to man, she has been voted Best of Austin in both business and jewelry design, and her work has been featured in music videos and worn by celebrities across the world.




There was also wine......so, naturally, I knew this class was for me.

It just so happens that I have family in Bastrop, about 45 minutes from the Austin area. We had intended on visiting Bastrop at the end of May, so the class being held on the 22nd was perfect. The class was a "mantra ring" class, wherein we would stamp a mantra onto the inside of our rings and learn basic soldering techniques. In addition, we would learn about polishing and other tricks of the trade. This was the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the craft and make the decision about whether or not this was something that I wanted to pursue.


Nina's store sits in a gorgeous and robust luxury shopping plaza. If you decide to visit, lookout for the insanely dangerous four-way stops and the drivers who don't know how to use them. To my surprise (on a Saturday), I ended up finding an empty parking lot on the rooftop in front of Neeman Marcus, and I made the short, 2-minute walk to Nina's shop.


Guys....I was so excited.


Nina's shop is pretty incredible, and the design is sort of an "immersive" experience. The back wall of the shop says in bold letters, "Make it with your hands". Which, INSTANTLY resonated with me and this little epiphany that I had been having about authenticity. Not only does she have her incredible array of jewelry on super fun and interesting displays, she has OTHER local artists work/products on display in her shop as well. She ACTUALLY has a wall dedicated to women-owned businesses. On this wall, she proudly features other women's store products and happily advertises those products on her social media accounts for all of the world to see. What a humble business owner and human!


Unique spaces in Nina’s store.


One day, I hope that I can be featured on this wall of great women!


I think the best part about walking in to the store, was that Nina ,herself, was in the shop working and greeted me at the door. To my knowledge, she is always in the shop working and personally greets her customers and class attendees.


This is customer service, friends. This is how you connect with your people.



Flagship store at Domain Northside: 3200 Palm Way #152 Austin, Texas


As the class began, Nina introduced herself and gave us the rundown of what we were to expect for the next two hours. I chatted with some incredibly sweet and interesting ladies that sat with me at the table. Two of them were Austin locals and another was a transport from, of course....California (ha!), and there was even an adorable father-daughter duo attending the class.


Nina cut off a few inches of metal for the each of us, told us to help ourselves to the wine (which I promptly took the initiative to do), and off we went, stamping our mantras into our rings and chatting about life things.


The hammers were unexpectedly heavy as hell, and frankly I was scared I wouldn't be able to hold my metal stamp steady enough without hammering my fingers into the table. I needed to get comfortable with the tools in front of me, which at first glance were super intimidating.


Of course, I knew what I wanted my mantra to be. The source of everything in my life these days is my son, Wesley, and I knew I wanted a piece of jewelry with his name on it. I picked up my hammer and practiced (many times) on a gold dog tag in order to get a feel for just how much "umph" , or pressure, I needed in order to make a legitimate impression in the metal.


I failed....many times, but I eventually worked up the nerve to be bold and hammer Wes' name into the metal that would eventually be my ring.



Metalsmith class tools and my practice pieces….and rosé.

Once we hammered our mantra into each ring, we were then brought over to Nina's personal work table for the part that we were all looking forward to.


FIRE!


I personally, am not really afraid of fire, but there's something a little unnerving about having extremely hot flame in your hand...powered by a huge tank full of stuff powerful enough to level the city of Austin. The entire process requires extreme focus and caution. If you aren't paying attention, you could badly injure yourself if you become distracted. You could also potentially ruin projects and precious metals, thereby wasting much needed expensive materials.



Working with Nina during the Ring Mantra class. May 2021.

I was glad Nina did most of the igniting for us. She also sat with us while we worked on brushing the flame over the metal to create a nice smooth surface while softening the metal for bending. Next, we shaped our rings with pliers to flush at both ends, which proved to be extremely difficult for me. Nina had to actually bend my metal for me because I didn't have the finger strength to do it. We were laughing because she bent the metal with such ease. This reminded me of struggling with the jelly jar and then handing it to someone else who then opens it with no problem. Nina was proof that if you bend metal for decades with your bare hands, you will develop super human finger strength.


I felt like a total WEINER not being able to bend it myself. It was hilarious.


We moved forward with soldering (which was SO incredibly cool), hammered and shaped our rings to fit our finger size on mandrel tools, and then placed our rings into what is called a "pickle", or a solution that cleanses the metal of dirt and burn stains. This process also provides the metal with the specific finish of your choice.


I chose a shiny finish for my ring, and slipped it on my right index finger where I have not taken it off since I took the class two months ago.


My mantra ring made in Nina’s class. It has WESLEY stamped on the underside of the ring.

It's a simple piece, but it is one that I am so extremely proud of because I. MADE. IT. WITH. MY. HANDS!


THAT.....is authenticity.


There are so many more aspects and steps to this class. If I actually went into detail about every single part, it would take away from the experience and also....this would end up being a 15 minute read. As it is, this blog entry has been sitting idle for about a month and a half and I have been eager to finish it.


If you have made it this far, thank you!!

Before I left class with my new creation, I knew that I wanted to purchase one of Nina’s pieces before I left Austin. I had my eye on her “Goddess” line, which features the body of a beautiful goddess figure incorporated into earrings, bracelets and necklaces. It’s genius, it’s beautiful, it’s ALWAYS. SOLD. OUT.


This day, though..........it wasn’t!

I snatched up my necklace, made my purchase and immediately put it on.


“OH! ........No bag needed!! Girl, thanks!”, I said to the cashier, and slipped the necklace over my head.

When someone creates a piece of art as powerful as this, you have to wear it immediately.

I walked out of Nina’s shop and into the rain that day feeling powerful, clear, and completely confident.

Thank you, Nina, for helping me gather my vision!




*NEWS*

An exciting update that I would love to mention in regard to Nina's incredible company, is that she offers ALL of the insider information on how to become a successful small business. Through a masterclass held within her Jewelry Academy program, Nina shares all of her knowledge and tricks of the jewelry trade.


Back in April, I took a shot at applying for her scholarship program, and by the grace of GOD.....I was APPROVED (by Nina herself by the way).


The course, so far, has been incredible, and I am learning SO much about business, social media marketing, and the jewelry industry.


So, let's answer the big question:


Is metalsmithing something for ME?


It's hard to say. I don't think the craft is something that I am ready for RIGHT NOW. I am just now exploring my style, learning the logistics of running a small business, and I am doing my very best to keep up with fashion trends and seasonal calendars, all the while raising my son and preparing to attend grad school in the Fall.


Metalsmithing isn't for the meek. You don't just order a metalsmithing 101 kit from Amazon and start selling jewelry. No. This particular craft takes time, and it is to be honored through research, perfected in skill, and above all.....the safety aspects of the craft are not to be taken lightly.


While my tagline is, "Be creative and stay carefree".....I don't think being "carefree" with fire is something I'm willing to do.


When it's my time to step into this medium, God will let me know.


Until then.....


I'll just keep "being creative".




Cheers,


Lindsay












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