It's tough to pin down exactly what makes Venessa Arizaga's eponymous jewelry line so special. It could be the quirky, one-of-a-kind charms that she's collected over the years, or the fact that each piece is hand-crafted — in sweet patterns created from crocheting, sewing, and knotting — evoking the sense that it was made with love and care. Whatever it is, we can't get enough, which is why we visited Venessa in her Brooklyn studio, where she taught us how to make a sunny charm bracelet that is the perfect pick-me-up for our summer wardrobes.
Although Venessa has an impressive background in fashion — with stints at Zac Posen and Carolina Herrera under her belt — her jewelry career started as a hobby. "It began with me at the beach picking up a shell here and there — wanting to wear it and not knowing what to do with it," she explained. "I'd just string things together to create a beautiful and unusual piece, and I would think, 'what can I do with my grandmother's locket or my dad's cross?' It was kind of sentimental."
Venessa has an enviable collection of vintage charms from her travels, but it's easier than you'd think to start finding some of your own. "I love searching eBay for charms, I think it's a really great source," she tells us. "You can literally type in any crazy thing you're thinking about, and you'll find it! Vintage is great because it has character — it's someones past. I love going to vintage stores and hobby shops and finding little trinkets and picking up things, or finding old jewelry and taking it apart and dissecting it."
If you're hoping to start making jewelry and are in need of inspiration, the designer suggests looking through books at the library, or rummaging through your family's collection of old accessories. Even with no jewelry-making experience, Venessa wholeheartedly believes that anyone can create in their own gorgeous pieces and tell their own stories. Read on for tips from Venessa and a step-by-step guide on how to recreate one of her signature charm bracelets at home.
To begin, take about four strands — plus some heavy thread to give the bracelet texture — and measure them so each is about a yard in length. Go back and forth, folding the thread over itself five or six times to get the right thickness, and then cut. Snip ends as you go along to avoid lumps.
Take some matching threads — and here it gets a little tricky — grasp onto one of your ends and tie a knot to secure the strands. I would suggest wrapping the thread around the end of your bracelet quite a few times, and making a couple of knots to make sure it's secure.
Use any project board or cork board and pin down the end of the bracelet. Take one end, hold taught, and begin braiding. I usually make my bracelets between five and six inches long, and leave a little spray at the end.
When you're done with the braid, go back and bundle the ends again, tying them in a knot with another batch of same-colored threads. Venessa wraps it once, twice maybe three times to make sure it is really secure, and then knot it. Use the fray at the ends as a marker, and packing or scotch tape to help you create a clean edge.
Next, we're going to attach the braid to a large piece of chain, which you can find at any craft store. Since we're using a really big chain, you can use a fat needle for the threading — it's a lot easier. You're going to use the same colors of thread you used for the braid to attach the two pieces.
Pro tip: If you use multiple threads, use wax to control them and help keep them together. Venessa uses beeswax, but she also recommends surf wax or candle wax.
Go through the first loop of the chain three or four times — at the end of the day, these are delicate bracelets, so you need make sure the first loop is super-secure. Then, go in and out, in and out. Move on to the next link, and into the braid, and then repeat. Go through the link, and then through the back of the braid. Through the link, and then through the back of the braid...
While sewing through the braid, you want to get as close to the links as possible. Try not to get too far past the middle of the braid because you'll get some unevenness — I'd recommend sewing about 1/4 into the braid away from the chain.
While you still have your needle threaded at the end, make a tight knot by sewing through it, and through it again, so as to create a secure end.
To make a closure, you'll need a jump ring, a larger sized jump ring, and a lobster claw.
Use needle-nose pliers to open the jump rings. Then, put one on each end of the chain. To close the jump rings, check that they're flush against each other.
If you like, you can use an extension. It gives you an additional inch of space, and comes in all different color chains at craft stores. Venessa adds a little charm at the end, and that's it!
Next, prepare your charms — it makes the process go a little faster.
Take about six inches of thread, put it through the chain-loop and knot it three times so it's really secure. Try and get the first knot really tight — if you don't, the charms will move around too much and might swing off into the little seam between the chain links.
Get all of your threads knotted in the loops, and you're ready to start beading. If you have the charm in the front, you won't see the seam and the string that's behind it. Once you've beaded the first charm, knot it three times at the bottom, and cut off the extra thread.
Here's the final product, complete in about one hour!