What would you do: inexpensive materials

Next up in our What Would You Do? series.  There’s a temptation when we first start a new art or craft form to buy the most inexpensive materials possible so that we can practice without breaking the bank.  In theory, I think this is an excellent idea.  For example, if I wanted to practice doing a really tricky wire wrap technique, I might want to think about using inexpensive craft wire before shelling out for sterling silver.


But there is a real world problem with this: sterling silver doesn’t feel and work quite the same as inexpensive craft wire.  There comes a point when you actually have to use the real thing…take a deep breath and start bending.  My friend Cindy Lietz pointed this out in relation to polymer clay.  Sometimes the inexpensive alternative can have quality issues that make it unsuitable even for practice (read Cindy’s comment following the post).

And as far as using inexpensive materials in our finished work…well, let me just say that I put way too much time into my pieces to trust them to inferior clasps, findings, unannealed glass beads, etc.  What do you think?  Are there times in your experience when you felt very strongly one way or the other about using inexpensive materials?  Does inexpensive always mean inferior?

Sound off below!  What would you do?

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    • http://bishopwireandbead.biz Paul Bishop

      The simple answer is “call it ‘costume’ jewelry”. I’ve had plenty of experience working with sterling silver and gold to know you want to practice on cheap substitutes before doing a piece in a particular precious wire. I do find that often I can render the design perfectly in the cheap stuff, but the difference in softness and work-hardening also needs to be accounted.

      Fiddle with the cheap stuff, and use cheap products to test the idea, but render it for quality with the better.

      After a while, you achieve skill that reduces waste, but it still makes sense to make a piece with cheaper materials if you are trying something new. In my case, new designs usually appear in copper first. If it comes out well, the copper versions allow for different price points, and copper can be a very unique design element all on it’s own.

      In terms of findings, it’s better to use quality for clasps or any other piece that holds stuff together. A bad clasp is a bad clasp, not matter the material. It won’t matter if the necklace is cheap or not when the clasp breaks and it is unwearable.

      For beads, it depends on what you want to do with them. To get an idea of how a design will look without committing beads, use cheap ones. Use glass if you want, but be sure that if you sell it, that you indicate it is glass, and price as glass, not crystal, for example. I feel the same about reconstituted, dyed or heat-treated materials that emulate a stone for a fraction of the cost. Don’t attempt to price them as high as the real thing.

      However, I would never mix the cheap materials with precious metals. Those metals are reserved for my gemstones.

      Going back to wire, the same is true for plated/coated/alloys of metals that emulate another. They are not the same. Tarnishing and allergy reactions are issues to consider. People need to know what you use and what you will guarantee for quality.

    • http://www.liquidambarstudio.com kitty

      I am fairly new to making jewelry and have been experimenting with different materials. I did start with the cheap stuff, but I am also moving into the better quality materials. Since I am in the transition period, I post my “cheap” stuff on one site and my better stuff on another site. I am also learning that it is very important to mark and label everything. There are also separate storage units for the good and the not-so-good. At first I didn’t do this and now I question what it is made of. I also keep all my order forms so I can go back and figure out what I am working with.

    • Samme

      Once I have a design in mind I usually sketch it out (just so I can keep a visual). I like to do my designing and practice on cheap craft-store floral arranging wire. To my feel it bends more like silver/gold-filled than the craft-wire, it just looks terrible. That tells me how much I need, and gives me the order that I need to assemble the piece in. It doesn’t prevent me from messing up with good wire, but it helps minimize it.

      I have found that the difference between silver wire and ultra-cheapo wire can make for some slight design changes. Usually to the better as silver is a lot easier to work with.

      I like the idea of working early designs using copper as the cheap-o wire though. That would give me a decent first product as well as a nice finished product. For people just starting out though, that floral wire is great. Dead cheap and a little hard to work with, it’s good practice.

    • http://www.beadsandbeading.com/blog/ultradome-brand-uv-curing-epoxy-resin-polymer-clay-jewelry/7922/ Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor

      This is a great topic Cyndi! There are so many things to consider when it comes to quality. For example, I like to use copper wire for a lot of my projects because it is inexpensive and still good quality. Even though the high value is not there with copper as it is with silver or gold, the quality is still there. It is a pure metal and not a garbage-y pot metal. The price on it is so reasonable that a beginner doesn’t have to feel ill, practicing with it and it is decent enough to feel proud wearing it.

      On the other hand, like I mentioned before about the poor quality clay… there comes a point where some cheaper stuff isn’t worth the space it takes up on your shelf. Same goes for the crappy findings that break or the tools that scratch everything.

      Doing a little research and understanding where you can scrimp and where you can’t, is worth it. You work hard for the money you earn. Why throw it out the window on wasted supplies?!

    • Sandi

      This IS a great post! Call me particular but I decided long time ago that I don’t want to make “throw-away” jewelry. I won’t buy my inventory from Michaels, Joanne’s, Hobby Lobby; I don’t want plated or coated anything. I want to do quality work with quality materials that have value to my customer.

      I gringe when I see all these “mixed” projects in the publications where people use sterling silver whatever and mix it with silver-PLATED or base metals. Or use quality lampwork beads paired with crappy findings and crappier beads. Or those that use inferior stringing materials.

      I’m also further amazed at some of the workmanship that’s been published lately. Don’t the publishers see when photographing the jump rings that are improperly closed?, or poor wire wrapping?, or improperly closed crimps?

      I’m grateful to have had some of the best teachers who taught the correct way to construct and finish, use good materials and best tools, and more importantly, could explain the differences. Some instructors today shouldn’t be teaching. They perpetuate incorrect information and methods to unknowing students who don’t know any better.

      Yes, I will practice with cheap stuff, but it doesn’t leave my work room.
      And, yes, I make complete disclosure to customers – I want them to understand that fine silver is not the same as sterling, lampwork is different than mass produced glass beads, etc., etc.

    • http://www.alwayswiredbeadlady.com Joella

      I agree totally w/ Paul’s comments – excellent post.
      And Sandy’s comments — “I’m also further amazed at some of the workmanship that’s been published lately. Don’t the publishers see when photographing the jump rings that are improperly closed?, or poor wire wrapping?, or improperly closed crimps?”
      I’ve wondered many a time if they don’t have someone to ‘proof’ the item, so to speak or if they are just in such a hurry to publish something they really don’t care.
      Excellent topic!

    • http://windyriver.blogspot.com Sylvia Windhurst

      I think Sandi hit upon a critical point with her statement about a full disclosure to her customers. I think there is room in the handmade market for items made with less expensive materials if the artist makes sure to clarify what those materials are. I have used silver plated side closing clasps on some of my bracelets because it keeps costs down, but I make sure to explicitly state that the clasp is silver plated versus sterling or just white base metal or pewter. I do prefer using better quality materials – and use sterling silver as much as possible. In beadweaving you are better off investing in higher quality beads as they a more uniform in size. Ultimately if your budget allows, I would invest in higher quality materials and always, always, always clarify what materials you did use when selling your work. I will not buy something if the artist can’t tell me wether the metal is sterling, silver plated or pewter etc.

    • http://www.mazeltovjewelry.com Cyndi Lavin

      Good common sense advice that I’ve come to expect from you, Paul! I agree with you completely about being honest with your customers about the composition of the piece. If it’s less expensive dyed stone, please just say so!

    • http://www.mazeltovjewelry.com Cyndi Lavin

      That’s true…even expensive materials can look bad if they’re not handled with technical excellence!