Monday, April 14, 2014

Fine Finishings Boot Camp: Test your Product

by Staci Louise Smith

No matter what you purchase, chances are, it went through some sort of testing before it was put on the market.  

I love this picture- the ultimate phone testers, kids!

Why should the arts be any different?

We as artists want to stand out, to be respected.  We ask that people buy handmade, and support small business.  
If we don't offer them a quality product, then why would they want to?

No matter what your medium is, you need to test your product.  If you make ceramics for food, you need to test your glazes to ensure they are food safe.  If you do mixed media, you want to make sure your papers, your sealers, and whatever else you use, will stand the test of time and not fade or fall apart down the road.  

And if you make jewelry, testing should be a normal part of your creative process. 

People wear jewelry.  I mean, they WEAR it.  Some people wear it harder then others.  I learned so much the hard way- using too thin of wire, not securing crimps well, or crimping too tight.  I had things returned to me to re-make.  There is nothing worse then that.   Let me say that again, there is nothing worse then someone returning a broken product.   

My point is, that, if you plan to sell your product, make sure you really know and understand your medium.  You should know all about it, whether it be metal or polymer, ceramic or fibers.  You should know what it is made of, how it reacts with other products, and how it wears in the long term.  Knowing all this is a great start, so you know what you should be testing for.

I remember when I learned to solder from a friend.  We painstakingly took time to solder two things together, and  after it was done, she said, "now try to break it".  and I was like, "are you kidding me???"  And she so wisely replied, "do you want it to break for you now so you can fix it right, or break for your customer?"  And she was right.  (solder needs to flow just right or it will break, even if it feels like it has a hold, if it didn't' flow just right, its not a solid bond.  sometimes you don't have a good connection to the metal either...ect)

So I try to break my soldered pieces.  I also yank my crimp beads after I am done (I have a hate hate relationship with them).  I have a long list of things I do, to ensure to the best of my abilities, that things won't come back to me.

When I use patina, I seal and seal and seal and wax my metal.  And I still found out the hard way that it will wear off if worn against suntan lotion.  

With the internet, and so much access to new mediums and information on them, many people are branching out and trying new mediums, and that is wonderful.   

However, if you are trying something new, please educate yourself, before you sell it.  You will be happy you did down the road.  It will help you to make the best quality product you can.  It will help you to know what to test for.
Test things, wear them, test them in the environments that they may encounter.  I will even give other people samples to try out sometimes, just because everyone wears jewelry different, everyone has different body chemistry.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself so you can properly test your product.

1.  How and wear is it worn, and does it work well for that part of the body?  

For example: ankle bracelets, my nemesis.  I found that no matter what I did, a crimped, strung ankle bracelet will not hold up for everybody.  I have never broken one, but it seemed that everyone else did.  So i had to switch to heavy gauge wire and chain, AND make them adjustable so that they can be worn at just the right place on each persons ankle where they won't have stress on them.

Another example: Earrings- are they too light, sometimes if they are too light, they catch in the hair and hang sideways.
  Do they have wild wire frills or things sticking out that will catch in someones hair if it is long or curly?  Are they too heavy and unwearable? 

I could go on and on.  So consider your piece of jewelry, and how it will be worn, and how that will look on a variety of people. 

2.  Does my product need to be sealed?  And if so, what is the best sealer to use for longevity, skin sensitivity, and that will NOT react with my product down the road?

Certain things like, patina metal, and polymer clay (if it is painted or has a surface treatment added), need to be sealed.  In both cases, there are products that are great for this, and products you should never use.  In the case of polymer clay, you should stick with water based products.  Other finishes can eat away at the clay over time.  So it may look good for a week or so, but down the road get gummy.

3.  Can I wear it comfortably?  

This is a big one.  WEAR your jewelry every time you make something.  even if it is only for a few hours.  Wear it, rub your fingers all over it.  Make sure there are no wires sticking up, nothing poking, no rough spots.  Make sure connections are secure, things hang properly.  

These are just a few things you can ask yourself, so you can begin to test your product.  This is YOU that you are selling.  Your art, is a little piece of you.  It is more then vision, it is execution.  It is tangible.  So make it well, make sure it will last, and your business will continue to grow, because people are happy to come back, and buy new jewelry, because they know it is a good investment.

I hope you can learn from some of my fails!  I will be sharing in the weeks to come some little tid bits and tricks I have learned to avoid these kinds of issues in your work!

Is there anything YOU learned the hard way, that you wish you had tested for?  
What would be your best advice for those just starting to sell their work?


Kathleen Lange Klik said...

Great article! You touched on a lot of good points that are really important for a designer. I too give my pieces, especially the chunky bold ones, a test run to make sure they lay flat and are comfortable to wear. I also yank at my delicate chain necklaces to make sure the clasps are secure!

Thanks for sharing your thought process, it was very educational!

Erika said...

This is a great post, Staci!

Anonymous said...

Good post. I used to use thinner stringing wire, than I do now. Some of those older pieces broke. :(

Jenny said...

What would I tell a new jewelry maker?
1. Not everyone has a lovely long neck. Longer earrings are easier to design and look fantastic on some women, but if it's over 2", it looks strange on me and often catches in my clothing.
2. Not only do I not have a skinny neck, I also have a variety of necklines, so I need every necklace to be adjustable. A necklace that looks great with a v-neck sweater or shirt, is hidden when I wear a shirt with a collar. I get tired of always having to ask to have necklaces lengthened, and often will just pass them by rather than mess with it.

stacilouise said...

Jenny- GREAT points! I make almost everything adjustable for that very reason. I know that for me personally, if I love a necklace, I want to be able to wear it with many different outfits. It is more worth my money that way as well. Thank you for sharing!

Shirley said...

Great post Staci! As a matter of fact, I was wearing a favorite bracelet yesterday, and noticed that the beads surrounding the clasp loop were pulling away from the body of the bracelet. As it is a flat peyote weave, it is rather noticeable. I am a 'hard' style of person on my jewelry, so it may not be an issue for others, but it was a good learning moment for me.

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Great advice! One thing that I ALWAYS do is wear a new bracelet or a necklace. There have been times that I have found something scratches me or it doesn't hang right,etc. It is worth it! The problem with that, however, is sometimes I don't want to give them up and end up keeping them for myself!!! lol!

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great article, do you suggest trying each piece or each design type? Thanks, Joy

Liz-Anna said...

Such good information and advice! Thank you for sharing.

Shel said...

Super great article. Putting your designs through the 'research and development' phase is a natural part of customer service, but one of the hardest I believe. My sister is my 'tester'. She wears everything in the shower, the sea water, while washing dishes, puts lotion on over them, etc. Yes, even her leather, cord or ribbon pieces, which is just horrible, but it helps me decide if I want a piece to have any fibers or base metals in it or not. The advice I would give new designers is 'know your clientele'. If they are hard on their pieces or want to keep them for years, or possibly decades to pass down to family members, go for only the highest quality materials available in the market. Also, find out if your clients are up for taking care of base metals vs. fine metals - because the care of each one can be different through the years and if they know in advance, they tend to treat things a little 'nicer' and thus, their jewelry looks better and lasts longer. :-)

Anonymous said...

The best thing I did was getting my own ears pierced. It really helped me understand weight and movement issues, as well as sensitivity issues. Bracelets too...try taking a cardigan off whilst wearing one, it's a great test for clasps.

Genevieve said...

Very good advice! Like Shel my sister is my tester.

StrangePuppy said...

Thank you So much for this article! Although I did do a bit of testing I have noticed that some of my heavier pieces will tend to stretch the tiger tail over time leaving the necklace loose, and as we all know there is a very fine line between too tight, and too loose. Crimp covers have saved me more times than I can count from needing to restring, BUT,I have to have the necklace in stock and hanging to know how much it will stretch. I sure could use some advice on stopping the stretch if that's even possible. I'm American living in Australia, which leaves my choices very small, we have tiger tail, we have eBay, that's it. I'm currently working with beach gathered shells, and can be found here It's very rare that I find a site, blog, group of any kind that I can honestly say I admire. And you all have my admiration! You're doing it right! <3

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