What Makes a Great Jewelry Making Class?

Last spring I took a metalworking class with Susan Lenart Kazmer, author of the new book Making Connections and an instructor at  BeadFest Santa Fe in March 2009.  Ever since her beautiful hardcover book came out, I've been thinking about that class.  What makes one class good and another amazing?  Before I took that class, I would have said:

A knowledgeable teacher
An eye-opening new technique
Helpful tips and clear instructions
A comfortable learning experience
A perfect finished project

Good classes may meet one or more items, while an amazing class meets all.  But after this class with Susan Lenart Kazmer, I changed my mind.  That class only met the first three criteria, yet I still thought it was one of the best classes I've taken.  Why?  Because after taking that class I changed my mind about the importance of comfort and perfection! 

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Classroom

That metalworking class pushed me out of my comfort zone in a big way.  I felt uncomfortable from the moment I bought my tools–did I buy the right thing? how will I ever use this?–to the moment I sat down in the classroom.  Looking around at everyone's cool tool cases and totes–my tools were stuffed in a cardboard box–it was clear that I was the least experienced person in the class.  Gulp!

This was actually a good thing.  As Susan explains in Making Connections, "In my workshops, I encourage students to move out of their comfort zones.  Although some find this quite painful, it is important because it opens students up to feel their hearts and souls and do their 'real' work."

Making a change in your life–whether it is taking a class or simply trying a new recipe for dinner–wakes up your senses.  I remember how alert I felt in class.  I had to figure out how to not be paralyzed by all the great talent sitting around me and be true to my own personal design sensibility (turquoise and mixed metals) in this new medium.  I didn't have time to be scared or worry (too much, anyway).  I just dove in.   

It's Not the Project–It's the Possibilities!

I liked my finished necklace–my very first metalworking project.  At the same time, I realize that I am looking at it with the eyes of love and not the critical eye of a potential customer or show judge.  I punched out those circles and added those tiny holes and the patina and threaded the wire through and even drew a bead on the end of the silver wire.  So many new skills in one day!  It was certainly not the most sophisticated or technically perfect piece in the class, but that's precisely why I'm showing it to you.  You don't have to have a perfect first project to feel satisfied.  That feeling comes from the possibilities!  Once you learn a new skill, it's yours to use however your like.  I may not dive into metalworking wholeheartedly, but I feel confident that I could if I chose.  The door is open. 

What Do You Think?

I highly recommend a class with Susan Lenart Kazmer (she's teaching at BeadFest Santa Fe in March 2009!) or a copy of her book, Making Connections.  Not only did I learn a lot about metalworking, but I also learned a lot about the creative process and about myself.  I finally figured out that an amazing class changes you, not just your skills. 

What do you think makes an amazing class?  What was the best experience you've had?  The best teacher?  The best topic or technique?  Share your thoughts on the website

Michelle Mach shares beading news, contests, reader galleries, and other beady stuff every Monday on Beading Daily. If you have comments or questions for Michelle, please post them on the website.

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Michelle M.

About Michelle M.

I was the founding editor of Beading Daily (2007-2009) and my now a freelance designer/writer/editor.  My designs have been published in Stringing, Step by Step Beads, Jewelry Gifts for the Holidays, Creative Jewelry, Beadwork, and other magazines. I enjoy stringing, bead embroidery, wirework, metal work, mixed media, beadweaving—pretty much anything that involves beads or jewelry.  I also enjoy exploring new crafts like pottery and felting.  I write a personal blog if you want to see more of my work. 16+ Free Beading Projects: A list of the free projects I created for Beading Daily. Contact Info If you have a question regarding Beading Daily, please contact customer service at beadingdaily@interweave.com or the current editor, Kristal Wick. If you'd like to contact me, you'll find my info on my website:  www.michellemach.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/beadsandbooks Pictured here is a pair of earrings I made for the Spring 2010 issue of Stringing in an attempt to get over my fear of designing with the color orange!

25 thoughts on “What Makes a Great Jewelry Making Class?

  1. My best classes were always the ones where I felt most everyone else was more talented than I was. That way I got to see a lot new advanced stuff.

    The worst class still stands out vividly where two friends and I attended a class at our local bead store. The instructor was rude and demeaning to one of our friends and I felt so bad for her. I never took another class from the man either and I told the store owner what happened. But she still uses him as an instructor, so I guess it didn’t matter to her.

  2. If you ever have a chance to take a class from Christi Friesen, run and sign up at once! Her polymer clay classes show the same techniques that have earned her showings in museums and galleries, all done with fun, humor, and flair.

  3. The best class I ever took was a beginning silversmithing class, offered through a “Women in trades” program. The instructor was a working jeweler, who had, herself, started off by taking a class. I think what made it so great was that she wouldn’t tell us EVERYthing, and while she taught us what we needed to know, when we had a question about how something might work, her answer was to give it a shot! She’d help us through the attempt, so we weren’t just left on our own, but she wanted us to get our hands dirty, and actually try things out ourselves.

  4. I’ve taken many good classes and enjoyed them. Marcia DeCoster opened my eyes to a whole new world of RAW. Her classes are informative and fun. Speaking of fun, Christi Friesen’s classes are never to be missed! Her teaching style makes it okay not to be perfect or just like your neighbor. She is enthusiastic and energizes her students. Teachers who share themselves with their students get my vote everytime.

  5. Sometimes going outside the comfort zone simply doesn’t work. I have taken two classes I didn’t like. Both ended in disappointing results because the skill was rather difficult, not so much because the teacher wasn’t good. I took beginning lampworking and really hated it (to my surprise, since I love lampworked beads). I worked for an hour to make a simple bead and it shattered as I took it from the flame. The 3 beads that were successful looked like lumpy cheap Indian glass I wouldn’t have bought, ever! I felt it was a waste of time. Then the glass around me on other people’s mandrels was shattering and flying around and I just said to heck with this! The other class was a bead crochet class. All of us struggled to get it, and some of us finally did, including myself, but I still didn’t find it fun. The idea of prestringing an untold number of beads was just off-putting. So I would say that a certain amount of success is necessary when going out the comfort zone in order to keep on wanting to go there.–Kelli P.

  6. Last June I dove into a complicated jewelry class because it had about 12 techniques taught over a 4 day period. Karla Gee’s
    ROYAL GOLD necklace involved herringbone, ruffles, flairs, ‘marrying’ stitches to each other, and wirework plus Russian leaves!!!
    Her patience and sense of humor buoyed all of us to the finish – or
    rather enough to keep us going after we went home. I got over my
    fear of wire, and delighted in what I was able to accomplish.
    An earlier wire class 2 yrs before had been such a disaster that I
    had no inclination to try again, until ROYAL GOLD, and I am so glad I did!!!

  7. I, too, took a Susan Lenart Kazmer class last spring on resins. This was completely out of my comfort zone, but a challenge I was determined to accept! I agree that getting outside the box we put ourselves in is a truly altering experience if we don’t get bogged down in the “I can’ts”. I was amazed by the talent in that room…I have come to find out that I was sitting amongst well known names in the industry…and I feel totally blessed to have had that opportunity. We worked a lot with metals and resins but we were never pressured to finish anything, which made it more freeing. That way I didn’t feel I was behind if I only managed to create one thing, but rather let my creativity flow where it will. Ms Kazmer has such a laid-back, encouraging style that made it easy to ask questions and even some one on one help. She wasn’t off in a corner working on her own but rather alighting at each table giving equal doses of insight and enthusiastic support along the way. Small class size it what does it for me whether I am teaching or learning. My first experience with metal was with Kay Raschka, a gifted metal/jewelry artist. I signed up last Nov for her basics of metalsmithing with a class size of 8. Imagine my delight when I arrived to find that only 2 slots were filled! I spent an entire day with almost one-on-one time which made for a relaxing and intensive class. As for teaching, I would say that no matter what the technique, I have always found that it is best to be open to the possibilities…happy accidents make the best learning and teaching tools! Enjoy the day! Erin Prais-HIntz, Tesori Trovati Jewelry Collection

  8. One of the main things I expect when taking a class is that the teacher is attentive. Let me get on with it but if I need help then I don’t expect you to be off talking on the phone or something like that. Fortunately, I haven’t had that experience yet. Also, I would like the teacher to presume that not everyone knows everything. I have been in classes where there are people who don’t have any idea about what they are about to learn and even if I know, the instructor should be explaining the basics beforehand and also ask around about peoples skill levels, have they worked with that particular medium before?

  9. The worse class I ever took was a wire crocheted necklace class. I asked when I signed up if knowing how to crochet was neccessary, they said it wasn’t. It was. I only knew how to do a slip stitch and this was too complicated for a beginner. There were no written instructions. The instructor demonstrated the technique but when we needed help she would take the project from our hands and do it for us , she stood while we sat so we couldn’t even see what she was doing, plus she did it quickly, then would hand it back to us and move onto the next question. Neither my friend or I learned the technique, we spent a lot of money on a useless class and supplies only to walk away frustrated and angry. We spoke to the owner about it who’s comment was “Oh really?” We’ll never take another class at the store, we rarely shop any more.

  10. These days every class that I take is outside of my comfort zone but that doesn’t stop me.

    You see I have Parkinson’s Disease. My hands shake all of the time, I get tired easily, I sometimes have trouble talking and my strength can be limited.

    I always ask teachers to let me find my own way of doing things. However I am not afraid to ask for help when I need it.

    I have yet to find a teacher that wasn’t willing to have me in their class.

    So cudos to all of you teachers out there KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

    As for taking a class that is wrong for you – not long ago I tried taking a beading class using seed beads. That was a very bad ideas. A very large number of beads ended up everywhere except in my work.

    So now I know something that I can’t do. But there is still a lot that I can do and a lot for me to learn.

    On October 19 I am going to learn how to make a puzzle bracelet with twisting, coiling, interlocking, and jump rings.

    Keep Learning and Trying thats part of what makes life so interesting.

  11. I will be taking Susan Lenart Kazmer’s workshop Creating Talisman Jewelry in November. I’ve also been reading her book Making Connections which is very inspiring.

    I would really appreciate knowing from Michelle, what kind of tools you brought to class. I have a supply list but when they list SAW….is it a 3″, 4″, 6″??? Blades? There’s several things I need to purchase but would like to start off with the right tools.

  12. Hello all-
    I have taken only 1 class and as others have said, it was not a very good experience. It was my first “glass” class offered by the owner of the shop where my husbanc purchased my new kiln. I was very disappointed in the 3 final projects we took home.
    I am a big fan of Susan Kasmer and would LOVE to take one of her classes but the best teachers never seem to come to my area, which is Ft Worth, Texas. It seems all the big bead shows are “up North”. If anyone knows if she might come in my direction, please email me at carolharris2006@earthlink.net. Thanks
    and Happy Beading!!

  13. Michelle,
    When I saw you at the Phillly Beadfest book line, I told you looked familiar and that I recognized you from your column picture. Whether you remember me or not does not matter, cuz I am going to make an assumption here… It appears to me that you are in the general Delaware Valley vincinity so I want to telll you that you have got to get to the Calder Jewelry which runs till 11/2 in Philly! Talk about being outside your comfort zone! This man’s work will give you an eyeful that you probably never even considered. The book does not do the exhibit justice, so try very hard to get there! Take care and keep doing the column. I enjoy it very much.

  14. My best class experience was taking the “Star of India” class a couple of years ago. I was very new to beading, and had only attempted stringing. I was really taken with the gorgeous crystal motifs involved in this pattern. I happened to walk into a bead store 30 minutes before the class began, not knowing the class was being offered that night! That was really a lucky day for me.

    Cristie was an excellent teacher. She not only taught the pattern, but offered several tips pertaining to working with string versus wire, etc.

    Since taking that class, I have taken a lot of classes but none that I enjoyed more. I have used that pattern, and the elements involved to branch out with my own creativity many, many times since.

    If I were to add anything to your list, I would say that every good class I have attended included a handout that contained good, clear instructions of the pattern learned, or basic information about techniques. During the one-two-or more hours I sit in a class, I sometimes think that I am understanding everything perfectly. But then when I go home and try to duplicate my efforts, I realize that I have missed a key element without which I cannot continue. Sometimes there is so much going on in a class that you can’t catch everything – especially if the class is large. I find those handouts to be invaluable to review after the class.

  15. The best and most fun class I have taken was Kelly Russell’s PMC class in Sonoma, CA. She was sure to cover the basics, and we all ended up with really fine results.

    The worst class I have ever taken was a wire wrapping class that did not cover the basics. Yes, it was an advanced class, but the instructor seemed to be so intent on one technique, that I missed out on several examples she advertised in her flyer but excluded in the class.One can always learn something from the beginning position, and I think it is best not to assume that everyone knows everything. As Michelle said, it is not so important to finish a project, but to be excited by the possibilities. If you have no control of your medium, you can have no possibility.of success..

  16. I have had the pleasure of taking so many wonderful, inspiring, creative, fun classes I don’t know where to start. Each class has challenged me – like sitting there and wondering what in heaven’s name have I gotten myself into – but each teacher has opened new avenues and inspiration. I may not be the best at each new thing I learn, but it has now become a learning craving – to constantly learn more and new ideas – even if I do not continually use all that I have learned everyday. If you ever get a chance to take classes – TAKE THEM!!!!!. I have taken these classes at Alaska Bead in Anchorage and I smile each time I see one of the instructors names published somewhere or see a project I worked on – WOW I learned that too!!!!


  17. It’s Not the Project–It’s the Possibilities!
    I liked my finished necklace–my very first metalworking project. At the same time, I realize that I am looking at it with the eyes of love and not the critical eye of a potential customer or show judge. I punched out those circles and added those tiny holes and the patina and threaded the wire through and even drew a bead on the end of the silver wire. So many new skills in one day! It was certainly not the most sophisticated or technically perfect piece in the class, but that’s precisely why I’m showing it to you. You don’t have to have a perfect first project to feel satisfied. That feeling comes from the possibilities! Once you learn a new skill, it’s yours to use however your like. I may not dive into metalworking wholeheartedly, but I feel confident that I could if I chose. The door is open.

    Michelle hit the nail on the head IMHO in this paragraph. As a painter, this is the lesson I learnedfrom classes, seminars, even instructional dvd’s. In my beading as well, I do not seek perfection or duplication, rather knowledge and inspiration that I can use in any way my creative spririt moves me.

    This is my first foray onto the comment page; what a terrific forum filled with so many creative voices. I look froward to visiting again. Dore, Florida

  18. I loved the article and the comments that people have been making. One thing for me that makes a great jewelry class is the freedom and willingness to share ideas . I have taken many classes where the instructor wants everyone’s pieces to look the “same”. Is that artwork? I like exploring with color, texture and seeing what others are doing around me. A good teacher encourages this and is able to help each individual through their questions and problems. Everyone in the classroom learns and everyone’s style is recognized.

  19. As the tutor at Jubeadilation, I have read the above comments with great interest, to see if I could learn something.

    I think it definitely helps to be teaching a project where the design is random. For example if you are teaching coils, teach them in a design where there do not have to be several all the same. If the students learn a technique in this way, they can still make a beautiful (and definitely unique) piece, without it being obvious it was their first try!

    I’ve just taught a class that used a very basic crotchet technique. I’m not a crotcheter myself, so kept the method simple. The fact that my first attempt was quite presentable gave me confidence. Everyone happily finished the project, and they all looked so different!

    You’re welcome to check out ideas at my site http://www.jubeadilation.synthasite.com


  20. The best class I’ve taken was at a local BOCES evening school. It was a beginners class on metal smithing. I had taken metal smithing in high school many, many years ago and I wanted to get back into it.

    The instructor, who’s name I can’t remember, reminded me of a ditzy old lady that talked non stop. She seemed unorganized and confused.
    After buying our tools we sat there listing to her drone on and on about the safety procedures. She also had some of her work laid out for us to see. I found it hard to believe that she had created such beautiful jewelry. In a short laps of my day dreaming I heard her say something interesting. I started to listen more closely.

    To my surprise, she was actually passing on some very valuable information. I realized under her confused mask she was very knowledgeable.
    Each week we did small projects that lead up to a major end project and a lot of knowledge for many more. I found she had a wealth of knowledge to share. I just had to listen while she talked and soon I was able to recognize just how talented she was.

    One of my classmates commented at the end of the course that she was disappointed that she spent $150 and six weeks of her time, only to end up with a sterling silver hair clip. I reminded her that she also had all this new knowledge and could make many more if she liked. She said she would never do any of it again.

    As for me, I’ve gone on to do many things. Twelve years after taking her class I am now working in a bead shop passing on my knowledge to our many clients. I’m not always organized and sometimes I do a lot of talking. I’ve gotten many positive responses from my students. They come back showing me all the beautiful work they’ve done because of the techniques they learned in my classes.

    We can only take away from a class what we see as valuable.

  21. For me, it’s the attitude of the teacher that makes a class great. When the teacher truly enjoys sharing her gifts with others, when it delights her to see the students catching on and having fun with the technique she’s teaching them, when you feel that she teaches for love rather than money — that makes it extra-special!

  22. I have been working at my bead store in Las Vegas for 5 years now… I knew nothing when I first started. My boss at the time showed me the ropes. She took me in and created a monster. All I did was bead, and for a girl at the age of 20 not to be with her friends 24/7, that says a lot.
    Well, as my knowledge grew, my boss encouraged me to start teaching. It’s nerve racking when you first start. You have 50 questions coming to you at once, eyes are upon you, and at our store we teach multiple projects at once, so you are constantly looking at different instructions. I have to say, after 4 years of teaching, I still get caught off guard, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the joyful experience I have every day.
    I look forward to my “newbie’s”… Eyes are wide, nerves are thin, doubt fills the room, and they are completely out of their “comfort zone” … but… when all is said and done, at the end of the class, with their finished beaded art perfectly sized and in just the right colors…. It’s the look… You can feel it. I can’t explain the gratification I get just from the smile and the simple thank you, but it’s amazing. It keeps me going day to day, and it’s why I am one of the new owners at The Bead Shack.
    I know I’m rambling, but, this is a subject I have very strong opinions about. I don’t think anybody should be treated like they are a “non teachable”. Everybody should have a chance at starting another addiction…. I mean hobby. Nobody should feel left to their own devices when taking a class and everybody should feel like they can ask questions and receive an answer (of some sort).
    My class size does get a little out of control sometimes (18 people and 1 me) but all of my students are great people, they talk to each other and kill time when I can’t get to everybody who needs me at once. My students make me an instructor, they give advise, encourage me, and teach me a few things now and then. So as a teacher in the beading world, I tell you this… Don’t let anybody sway you away from what makes you happy… Be persistent, if you want to create… by all means, create!
    With love, Cary Bruner

  23. Thank you for listing my comment in the October issue of Beadwork Magazine. I appreciate you listing this. I gave my mom a copy. I love your magazine.

    Michele in Santa Cruz

  24. I have taken all my jewelry classes in my native country, the Netherlands, before emigrating to the US in 1993. I have not had enough monies to attend a class in the US. However, I myself teach classes every week. And I model my classes to the ones I received in the Netherlands, some by great teachers.
    The best classes are those who addresses all 4 learning styles. And those who empower students to explore their own strengths in using any medium or technique, making them believe in their own judgement. And finally, I love to teach my students little go-arounds and tricks of the trades, that makes them feel that “mistakes” and “failures” really dont exist: they are opportunities to expand and explore.
    I’m also blessed with being ambidexterouse, which is a blessing in teaching people who use their left hands a lot.

  25. Thanks for this, lots of useful food for thought here! I am very envious of your Susan Lenart Kazmer class, I am in no way even slightly a metalworker but if I ever had the chance to take a class with her I’d be there like a shot! I did get to a Laura McCabe one-day workshop earlier this year when she did a teaching tour of the UK, and that was a wonderful experience – way outside my comfort zone (3-D beading, delicas, lochrosen, rivolis, fireline… all things that weren’t part of my regular beading vocabulary) but a fantastic learning opportunity with a wonderful, patient, enthusiastic teacher! I learned a lot about how to teach a class, too, and hope to apply it to my own teaching in the future. I love teaching, especially the challenge of someone who just doesn’t ‘get it’ at first – it is so satisfying when that person eventually clicks with the design and something beautiful starts to take shape. I am always terrified before a class, but once I get started I’m fine – and I agree, ‘mistakes’ are just a different way of doing things, I try to design the sorts of projects where there isn’t really a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of making the piece.
    I’m left-handed but provided I’ve remembered to flip all the photos in my class handouts so they go left to right, students don’t seem to have a problem following my instructions!