Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Upcycle Jewelry

I started making my own jewelry a little more than a year ago.  I didn't like what I was finding in the stores so I started looking at Goodwill and garage sales.  Again, I found a lot of things that were almost what I wanted.  Looking through my own small collection produced even more pieces of jewelry that just weren't quite right.

I figured that I could do a little learning and start making my own necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.  Sure enough!  With some research on YouTube, lots of trial-and-error, and the right tools (and lots of practice) I have been able to turn outdated and/or broken jewelry into wearable items!  I don't have a lot of before pictures but I have some things to give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

For example: This pile of parts was two different necklaces.

Too much wood all in one place!  And, shells?  I didn't want a necklace with FIVE of those gigantic shells!  However, two of them made killer earrings.  Do you see them hanging there in the back?  Two round white disks with leaves on them?  Those earrings sold before the craft fair even started!  :)  (Incidentally, the leaves came from another necklace.)

Some of the wood and the chain from one necklace went to these earrings (see below).  The pretty golden tags at the bottom came from the shells necklace.

These earrings used to be a hideous necklace!  The necklace was very short (I would classify it as almost a choker) and it was just these stone beads (dozens of them).  It was uncomfortable and ugly.  The earrings, on the other hand, are simple and beautiful!

This bracelet used to be a belt.  Totally ugly belt - really great bracelet!

The chains in this necklace used to be a bracelet.  Uncomfortable and gaudy bracelet - cool pendant!

The beads in this bracelet used to be part of a much bigger cuff (probably 100 of the same beads!).  It was also broken.  Those beads became earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

This arm party (from left to right): thrifted watch, gaudy necklace turned into a bracelet, ball chain from the hardware store, thrifted belt turned bracelet (I would have never worn the belt but I wear the bracelet almost every day), and another thrifted belt turned into a bracelet.

I have posted about my upcycled jewelry before.  Click here to see more!

Why would you want to upcycle jewelry?

1)  It's economical.
2)  It's ecological.
3)  You get a piece of jewelry you really love and no one else owns!
4)  You can make multiple pieces of jewelry out of one original piece.  So, instead of having a bunch of beads left over (because you bought a whole string at the bead store), you start with just a few and mix them until you have a killer piece!
5)  It's fun!
6)  You learn some basic beading skills that will help you to fix any broken beaded jewelry you already own.

So, you are thinking that upcycling jewelry is a good idea?  Click "read more" to get all the details!

Supplies and tools:

You will need some basic tools to start upcycling your own beaded jewelry. I have linked to the tools available at Fire Mountain Gems (I only linked there because they have SO MUCH stuff - I've never actually bought their items and haven't been paid to advertise for them).  All these tools are available at Michael's or local craft stores.  They cost as low as $5 each.

Starting with the pliers with the red handles and moving clockwise.

Red handles:  Chain nose pliers.  These are a MUST have!  

Scissors:  Any will do.  I like these little embroidery scissors for getting in tight spaces.

Black handles: Nipper tool (AKA side cutter)  Any wire cutter will do if you already own one.  However, the one specifically made for beading is nice because it is small, cuts at an angle, and gives you a nice smooth cut.

Green handle:  Round nosed pliers.  These are optional but they make wire wrapping pretty easy!  You'll also get a better finished product with these.

Blue handle:  Crimping pliers.  These are also optional.  They make finishing easier but you could use the chain nose pliers to do the job.

You may also want to buy some lobster claspsbeading wirehead pinsear wires, and jump rings.

And, last but not least, get some jewelry from your closet, a thrift store, or a garage sale!

What to look for and what to avoid when choosing the jewelry.

I bought some lovely things over the past year that were just not practical for upcycling.  Trial and error taught me some things to look for when you are picking out jewelry at Goodwill or garage sales (or going through your own collection).

NOTE:  You are looking for items that can be easily ripped apart and put back together.  Some of these pictures show jewelry that takes more advanced techniques (and more time) to upcycle.  I'm not saying these can't be used in upcycled pieces BUT I'm warning you that simple beading techniques will not do the job if you pick out certain kinds of jewelry.

Here's an example of the type of item I usually buy.  The silver beads are in great shape and there are lots of them!  The cord is worn and quite ugly in my opinion.  However, if I were to string the beads onto different chain or a new cord, I'd have a great necklace!  There are also so many of them that I could make a very simple necklace or a cute bracelet and still have some left over.

So, you have your tools and your jewelry.  Now what?

Useful videos for wrapping beads and using jump rings.

How to open and close jump rings.  This basic beading technique will show you how to use jump rings.  Jump rings attach wired beads to chain and clasps to chain.  Jump rings attach dangly earrings to new ear wires.  Jump rings are the mortar to your jewelry bricks.

How to make a wrapped loop (with an eye pin or head pin - also works with artistic beading wire).  Learning how to do this will open up so many beading possibilities for you!  If you can wire wrap your own beads then you can move past simply stringing beads on wire.

Jewelry Supply's channel on YouTube is full of easy to follow beading tutorials.  Check it out!

Have fun everyone!  Post links to your own upcycled jewelry in the comments.  I can't wait to see what you have made!


  1. OMG! This is so great! Thanks a lot!


  2. Thank you! Post links to your own jewelry if you make some!


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