Tips for Up-cycling Old Beads and Jewelry Pieces

When I am feeling particularly patient, especially thrifty and kinda creative, I like to go shopping at resale shops, thrift stores and even garage sales.  After all, though it may sound cliche, one gal’s trash is another girl’s treasure.  Aside from the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of a great bargain, what I love the most about these little recycled adventures of mine is that I often find beads (albeit in the form of very badly made or not-so-attractive jewelry).  Since I have spent most of my waking hours for nearly the last decade around beads, it may seem odd that I would want to hunt them down in my spare time.  Don’t I ever get tired of them?  Not at all!  As a matter of fact, I love finding an old necklace that can only be described as a hot mess and turning it into something not only wearable but beautiful.  I also love finding old pins that can be turned into hair clips, earrings that can be turned into rings, and all manner of things that can be made into a piece of jewelry or an accessory that is relevant, modern and fun.  If the thrift store isn’t cutting it for me and I am in the mood to take something old and make it into something new, I will dig through the bottom drawer of my antique roll top desk that I use as a craft table.  Why?  Because the bottom drawer is a deep one and it just so happens to be the drawer that houses all the things that I have made out of beads I bought that I thought were wonderful, but that just don’t have a design that matches the beauty of the beads themselves; in other words, the bottom drawer houses my do-over projects.  Because I have become quite adept at the art of taking mediocre things apart and turning them into something better, I thought I might share a few tips, tricks and techniques I have learned in my recycling and upcycling jewelry making adventures.

Keep an Open Mind – and Open Eyes

Statement Necklace

I turned a mess of a necklace from a thrift shop into a statement necklace I’m proud of.

I wish I would have taken a picture of this necklace before so you could truly appreciate the after.  It was a tangled, gnarled mess in a bin at a thrift store for $1 (I’m not kidding!) when I picked it up.  My shopping buddy thought I was insane for even considering spending a measly dollar on it because you could hardly tell what it was, except for a tangled mess of brass and white.  I completely took it apart and salvaged the beads I liked and what chain I could.  I found what I wanted to be my centerpiece and worked from there.  It sat on a dress form in my beading room for a week or so while I looked at it, worked on it, reexamined it and worked some more until I was finally satisfied with the results.  I think it’s pretty cool to say that this necklace is made of some vintage components but has a clean, crisp modern design – and that it is finally wearable!  Not everything has to be so difficult, though.  I have also come across some strands that look like they were strung by children in my shopping adventures, but the beads were pretty cool and definitely reusable – and cheap! – so why not buy and restring?  I have created many necklaces this way, including the acrylic red one shown here.  This was a badly strung elastic piece that I paid like 50 cents for.  You would not believe how many compliments I get on this acrylic necklace every time I wear it – and it only took me a few minutes to take apart and restring, adding a few metal spacers and glass beads here and there!

Red Necklace

This used to be an ugly bracelet I bought on the cheap. Now people tell me how expensive it looks!

 There Is Potential In Everything

Up-cycled Rings

Make rings out of hold clip-on earrings or buttons

If you found a pair of clip-on earrings for super cheap and you have never worn clip-ons before in your life, would you buy them?  Even if they were only a buck or two?  Probably not, right?  Think again!  There are all kinds of things you can do with an old pair of clip-on earrings if you take the backing off and clean them up a bit.  You can glue one onto a ring blank to create an oversized vintage-style cocktail ring.  Or you could attach one to a filigree and then to a hair clip, headband, barrette or comb of some sort for a fun piece of hair jewelry.  You could even glue a bail onto the back of a clip-on earring centerpiece and turn it into a lovely focal point for a necklace design.  (This same technique works with buttons that have shanks, by the way.  Check out my pics to see the finished results.)  And if grandma or dear ole Aunt Rose gifted you with a pin, but you are not exactly a pin wearing kind of girl, what do you do?  Try using a pin converter to change that old cameo pin into a fashionable cameo pendant.  Pin converters have a tube for the pin portion to slide into and latch onto and a bail at the top so you can quickly and easily string it onto beading wire and add color coordinated beads.  Or, if possible, pry the back off the pin and use some of the above mentioned tips about clip-on earrings to turn that rose pin into a rose hairpin.  Fun stuff like this can really change things up a bit and turn something somewhat frumpy into something totally fabulous.

Sometimes More is More

Gunmetal Necklace- Before

Before

Gunmetal Necklace After

After

 

 

Have a necklace with beads you like but feel like the design is a little boring?  I have that happen from time to time. I decide I want a simple piece – like a chain with a simple charm dangle – and then I wear the necklace by itself and it just feels a little…well…incomplete.  If this happens to you, don’t feel like you have to take the necklace apart and restring or reconfigure the whole thing.  Instead, add something else to it, but see if you can do it in a way that is not permanent.  Check out my gunmetal Love necklace for example.  See how I have a boring piece of gunmetal chain attached to a sparkly crystal connector?  It’s got a cute heart dangling from the side, but it’s still a little plain.  I wore it once by itself and then decided it needed more.  So… I took some beaded chain and created a 2 strand necklace that is short (choker length) and long (about mid-chest length) that I could wear layered with the simple gunmetal necklace or on its own.  Now I have 2 different necklaces that can create several different looks.  This works with bracelets too.  I have a favorite beaded bracelet that consists of onyx beads and jet Swarovski crystals adorned with a variety of different silver bead caps.  It’s very pretty, but kinda bland on its own.  Instead of deconstructing it and making it something bold, I just created more bracelets like it and wear them all stacked.  I also do this with elastic bracelets; make simple designs and then just layer them up.  It makes jewelry making easy and creates more drama and interest when the pieces are worn.

You Gotta Know When To Fold ‘Em

Beaded Bracelet

Add some bead caps for interest.

For whatever reason, I am always drawn to large round beads in bold colors.  Do you know what I end up doing with them?  Straight stringing them.  Yep.  I get out the beading wire or elastic, spend about 5 minutes on a design and call it a day.  Check out the example in the photo above.  It’s cute, right?  I just added bead caps to every third bead.  Easy on, easy off, simple little elastic bracelet perfect for my summer wardrobe.  Somehow, though, I found it lacking.  So I cut the cord, added a connector  with a charm dangling from it and repositioned the arrangement of my bead caps slightly.  Look at the result!  It’s not that different from the original and did not require a lot of extra money or time to remake, but is a bit more fun.  Same thing with the connector necklace shown below.  I had these TierraCast links connected using segments of chain, but it wasn’t laying the way I wanted it to.  What better to do the job of holding those links in place than Miyuki Delicas woven into peyote bands that not only hold the connectors, but make them stand out?  This one did take quite a bit of time and energy (and probably a slight loss of vision), but it is so much more elegant than the original look!  I am always happy when I take the time to redo something that has been staring at me from inside a drawer for months.

Woven and Linked Necklace

This turned out much cuter than the necklace I was originally making using these links.

You know how we beaders are: we love to stockpile our beads and findings.  More often than not, this hoarding – for lack of a better word – works to our benefit and we find that some of those oldies but goodies have to meet up with some new beads and findings before we have that “aha!” moment and our design realizes its potential.  We also have moments of clarity or divine intervention or insane creativity – whatever you want to call it – that allows us to take something that is not wearable and turn it into something to be admired.    I think the lesson in all this is to never underestimate yourself, your beads, or someone else’s trash.  It’s all a treasure.

 

Shanna Steele

Shanna Steele is a product manager and occasional jewelry designer for Auntie's Beads. When she is not playing in the beads, she enjoys reading, listening to music, cooking - especially baking - and good times in the great outdoors.

1 Comment

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    Lois D

    Shanna, this is such a timely post for me; thanks so much for the tips and ideas! I love all the pieces you’ve recreated!

    I just volunteered to “up-cycle” a couple of boxes full of old costume jewelry into “new” items to be put on sale for a local church’s annual 4th of July yard sale/auction. This is my first time doing such a thing on a large scale.I kept wondering what I got myself into :) and hoping that I could make some decent pieces that might raise some money for the church.

    After reading your post, I’m feeling encouraged to forge ahead with the project. I just might be able to “up-cycle” some of those old jewelry components into some “new” treasures others might like!

    Thanks so much!

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