Charm exchanges are a blast! I had never even heard of a charm exchange before Sylvie approached me to be a part of hers. And I’m so glad that she did. It introduced me to a whole new world: I got to try mini-crochet for the first time, expand my jewelry-making skills, and meet a bunch of really great artists whom I can now call my friends.
This being the charm exchange finale, I thought we might accomplish two things: (1) show off our final jewelry pieces to the world and (2) answer all your questions and provide advice on how you can start an exchange of your own, because seriously, you really should try this!
Gather together a group of fellow artists and have each choose a theme. Each then provides their own necklace or bracelet and creates the first two charms to fit their theme. They attach these charms to their necklace or bracelet and place it in a box or bag that has been appropriately decorated to also fit their theme. The box or bag isn’t necessary, but it is fun to do. One person lists everyone’s name alphabetically and uses the list to determine whose charms each will make next working in a round-robin manner.
And so, back in June of 2014, six women met to begin a charm exchange adventure. There was Sylvie, an illustrator, graphic designer, and jewelry maker, who chose the theme “Eye Adore You” for her necklace with the intent of filling it with eyeballs and hearts. There was Annie, who creates three-dimensional sculptural works with handmade wool felt. She chose the theme “Birds and Flowers” for her colorful and vibrant necklace. Then there was Erikia, an LED-hula-hoop maker by day and tin-punch jewelry artist by night, who chose the theme “In the Dark” for her necklace. We were also lucky to add a few long-distance charmies to the group: Rosalind, an artist in Canada, chose the theme “Garden of Earthly Delights” for her Bosch-inspired necklace and Alexandra, a student, chose kokeshi dolls as her theme. And finally that leaves me – I chose coral reefs.
Over the course of ten months, we met about every two months to show off our charms, tell a little about how we made them, and hand them over to the excited recipient. And, of course, we’d receive a new charm for our own necklace or bracelet as well. Oh, and there would be plenty of good food and conversation in between. For more information on how to start a charm exchange, read our answers to your questions below.
This final rotation was a fun one. Let’s take a look at everyone’s creations and the final jewelry pieces that resulted.
Annie’s “Birds and Flowers” Necklace
with new charms by Sylvie
and new charms by Annie
with new charms by Erikia
with new charms by Jennifer
Jennifer’s Coral Reef Bracelet
with new charms by Erikia
Are you inspired?
Ready to start a charm exchange of your own?
Do you already have a group of friends in mind?
The charmies are here to help you get started by providing thoughtful answers
to your most important questions.
1) Enjoyed seeing everything ya’ll made. Each had it’s own style and personality. What charm are you most proud of and why?
I’m proud of my jellyfish charm. I like the mixed use of materials. Clay and fiber work well together. (S)
My favorite charm was the one I made for you [Jennifer]. Once I put the coral into the test tube, magic happened! Simple, interesting and beautiful. I’ve got to add it to my jewelry line. (E)
I am proud of all my charms because I try to do my best to make something the recipient will enjoy. (A)
I think I’m most proud of the kokeshi dolls, but I was also really excited by how Sylvie’s eyeball turned out too. (J)
2) Would you recommend participants work in their preferred medium or try something new? Is it necessary to make all your charms in the same fashion (clay or fabric or beads) or can you switch?
Definitely try something new. This is a great opportunity to experiment! (S)
I like when people work in their favorite medium. It definitely shows off their own style. Annie is a good example of this with her amazing felt work. Wool isn’t typically a jewelry medium, but she makes the most amazing pieces with it. Having a variety of mediums also adds a uniqueness to the piece. (E)
Usually, I work in my preferred medium but sometimes the theme of the necklace/bracelet I am working on just doesn’t work in my medium. In this case I go to a more traditional jewelry style. My medium is felt and beads – anything involving sewing. But if the theme doesn’t lend itself to my medium I will use another. (A)
It’s really up to you. If there’s a medium or a new technique you’d like to try, now could be a great time to do it, especially if there’s someone in your charm group who has experience in the technique. You could always ask them for help or advice. It’s one of the great things about collaborating like this. In my experience, everyone is always so willing to help each other. (J)
3) What type of theme should I choose? Does it help to choose themes that are more specific (like a specific animal) or ones that are more abstract? I’m thinking of the theme “not all who wander are lost” but I’m afraid that will be hard for my friends to “get.”
Some people have a hard time with abstract themes. Maybe save that for the next exchange. (S)
I’ve had themes that are very specific and ones that are more abstract. The more abstract ones are usually more interesting, as I think they take shape as each person works on it. It’s like my necklace “In the Dark”. I got some really amazing charms on it and would have never thought it would have gone in the direction it did. I love it! (E)
For me, abstract themes are much more difficult that a specific theme. But that is not always a bad thing as it makes you really think about how you can interpret the theme using your preferred medium. I do think “not all that wander are lost” would be very hard for me. (A)
I love your theme! And I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Your friends will probably surprise you with the charms they come up with. (J)
4) Have you ever tried a long distance exchange where each participant lived in a different city? Do you have any advice for this situation? Like would you send the necklace around to each city or hold onto it and have participants send their charms?
Yes. We had a member of a charm group who lived in Australia. Two of the members of this group live in Canada. I would hang onto it and send it all later. (S)
I’ve been part of long distance exchanges. It’s important that one person be responsible for keeping that person up to date and mailing of the charms. It seems to work best to send them lots of photos so they have a good idea what they are working on. Mailing every few months too is less stressful as well. They can send photos of the charms they made for each meeting, so everyone else can see what they made and are up to date on the piece. (E)
Yes – we have done exchanges where the participants live in different cities. It can be difficult. I also participate in fabric book round robins – kind of the same thing where everyone does a page for everyone else’s book and the pages and the book travel from participant to participant and normally they are all in different cities. To make this work, you have to be very specific in your directions as to when the projects are due and where – for example if a charm is due on May 5, it should be mailed several days ahead of that. It can get frustrating if one or two members are always late. And this does happen. And when it does it makes the entire exchange take a lot longer. I would suggest, for your first time doing this, that you keep it local and keep the number down to maybe 4 or 5 participants. (A)
5) How small do the charms need to be?
The owner of the bracelet or necklace should set the guidelines. Some people want large charms and some want very small ones. (S)
I feel like the charms can be of any size. This allows for more variety. Putting constraints on size sometimes can limit materials or creativity too. I’ve found most people try and make something that is wearable anyway. (E)
Each participant tells the others what they want the size of their charms to be – I have never given anyone a size constraint and I love it when there are big charms and small charms. I do have a tendency to exhibit my finished necklaces as works of art and not wear them – sometimes they can be pretty heavy! (A)
I think it should be up to the owner of the necklace or bracelet to set the size. Some people like bigger charms, some like smaller. As long as you make each charm to suit the particular necklace or bracelet you’re working on, I think it will be fine. (J)
6) I work in fabric and I don’t know much about jewelry making. I can string beads. That’s about it. 🙂 Can a beginner jump into this?
Yes, this is a great opportunity for a beginner to experiment and see which medium they are more comfortable with or try something completely new. The great thing about charms is that they are very small. We have a member of the group who is a fiber artist and used felt for all of her charms. (S)
Beginners are great for this type of exchange because it presents an opportunity to learn from more experienced artists. I feel like as long as your work is of good quality, it doesn’t matter what your skill level is. The groups I’ve been in have all been willing to share their techniques, so it can be a great way to expand your art form. (E)
I also work in fabric and the hardest thing for me was making small pieces. My medium translated into charms just fine but I do mix my fibers with beads and wire sometimes. And I certainly think a beginner could do this. One other comment – it is a really good idea to send all the participants a letter or email outlining the charm exchange, listing the participants and their contact information, and what is expected of everyone with time constraints, etc. One of the things we have tried to emphasize since starting these round robins is that everyone should try to do their best work. When you have your first meeting (which we did every 2 months this time) the leader of the exchange (and there does need to be a leader) should hand everyone a schedule telling them which charm they are working on and when it is due for the entire exchange. (A)
Most definitely! (J)
If you have a question about our charm exchange or how to start your own, please let us know. You can use the comments field below or write to squirrelpicnic(at)gmail(dot)com. We hope you’ve enjoyed this series!