Wrangling jewelry supplies

Many of us who make jewelry tend to accumulate a stash of beads and stones. Lots of it. The eventual challenge is some way of keeping many MANY little items organized so that they are useable and accessible. Additionally, there are tools and other materials (metal, chemicals, consumables).

For those of us that do shows, that may also include parts that need to travel. Another consideration is space (or lack thereof) and how that space looks.

I have my beads and stones split into everyday/travel usage, and archival/stash. I mostly work from home, but my main tools, stones, and beads pack up to come with me when I’m at the renfair in the spring.

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This is my view sitting at my desk, and things I use the most nearby.

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On the right is my tower of beads and cabs that I use a lot and are the ones that pack up and come with me when I go to the renfair. They are stored in these in/out trays which enables me to easily access whichever box I need. Inside the boxes are lots of 2×2″ ziplocs. I can store more densely, it keeps beads from rubbing/scratching as much, and will keep things from scattering if I dump a box.

Beads in here are ones I use a lot. For me that’s mostly smaller beads (under 6mm). Chunkier and larger beads, and ones I just have quite a bit of, the backup stays in the archival stash storage.

I deliberated for a long time on some sort of workable system to somehow carry “just a pinch” instead of entire amount of some beads. The concern was forgetting about the backups and re-buying unnecessarily, or being stingy with a particular bead because I thought I might be nearly out and couldn’t replace.

What I came up with works fabulously for me. Just simply put a tiny snippet of paper in the little bag that says “more” and that tells me that it isn’t the last of them. There’s more in the backup stash. And no tag means that’s all of them, period. Works great.

Immediately to the right of the tower (out of picture) is a folder slipped between the tower and the wall of the cubby where I throw tax receipts until I log them.

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To the left is my wire. It’s in the ziplocs in the vertical file sorter. I pulled out one bag so you can see how it’s divided. I used a plastic one from the office supply for many years, then some years back, I commissioned this pretty one from wood.

The type of wirework I do, I’m fine with everything in coils as opposed to spools, plus it stores/packs very flat. I use several shapes and a lot of gauges and have things divided that way, metals are mixed since they’re easy to tell apart.

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When it’s time to go to the renfair, my critical stuff packs down to this. I leave displays packed in the booth during the season, but this little cart comes in and out with me each day.

The milk crate goes together like a puzzle. Literally. I’m the only one that can really pack it because for it all to fit, it has to go in a certain order. But that’s not a bad thing since it’s obvious if I’m forgetting something. It contains my beads, wire, and tools. Heavy!

The rest of the cart holds a few trays with understock, flowery bag (stock), change box and my wooden mug. Add a couple bags of ice on the way in, we’re set! That little wagon is the workhorse of this operation and has seen some hard use. Still going strong. I’m thinking this next year I may repaint it (getting weathered) and tighten everything up again. It’s safe to say I may get creative with the paint job.

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To the right of where I sit is the archival/stash bead and cab storage. I need to be able to store densely, but still have reasonable easy access. I also prefer more attractive storage when that’s an option. I found this flat-file wooden drawer set at an office supply store (Office Depot/Max, couple years ago, $40ish). I’m guessing for storing different types of paper perhaps.

I will say, for the amount of weight in it, I’m glad it’s wood. I don’t think plastic drawers would hold up as well.

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Inside, I have ziplocs of beads (above pic). I keep the type of stone together in whatever the larger ziploc it needs, then inside that, stone shapes in their own bags. The only exception are donuts and hearts. They are grouped together because of how I use them. It’s easy to see at a glance where a bag is, and pull just that out for more thorough digging. Each drawer is roughly organized in broad categories…shells/pearls, man-made, opaque/soft (lapis, turquoise, malachite, etc), gemstones (amethyst, citrine, garnet, etc). You get the idea. The baggies in shallow drawers work well because I can jostle stuff flat to fit and see everything very quickly.

The two deeper drawers…one holds miscellaneous larger chunky projects and personal stash. The other deep one holds pendant cabs. I have a box of handcut designer cabs in the bead tower that travels, and this is the other random stuff I’ve acquired over the years or things that are weird shapes or fragile and don’t travel.

The pendant can drawer is divided similar to the beads, snack-sized ziplocs according to type, use, or material. Depends. These are more upright since the drawer is deeper, and I’ve used a marker to write on the upper right-hand corner of anything not obvious from a glance so I don’t have to pull it out and handle everything looking for a bag. Some I have enough for their own bag, like malachite, lapis, onyx, etc. Some are grouped, like “darks” has obsidian and such. There’s “shells and pearls”, then there’s “stripey” (hey, it’s my system) 🙂

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To the upper left is a cabinet where I keep another set of drawers. This door is normally closed. Found these at either Wal-Mart or Target.

I keep light-weight small things I don’t need into very often. One drawer is non-clear crystals and rough gemstones (ie. tourmaline, citrine, amethyst, etc). One is druzy and clusters. Another is faceted stuff. Then pearls. A couple are bags of backup ring cabs. One is “weird stuff” 🙂 Basically small light stuff. Clear quartz crystals, I keep them elsewhere (more later).

I also keep various ziploc shapes in here. I may have a small ziploc addiction. Ahem.

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Here’s what the door looks like closed. Incidentally, to the left, see the wall? Normally an open door covers that. Behind that door, up on the wall are my drafting tools and cutting mats. Leaning on the floor is my kiln fire-board and stained glass wood board, and some matte boards and large watercolor sheets. Leaning in the corner behind the door are stained glass zinc and copper came for frames, along with several walking sticks for rainy faire days. My lead stained glass came hangs over a bicycle hook on the wall on the other side of the door next to the armoire (more later).

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My work desk is a large oak corner computer desk with hutch. That means it has all sorts of great cubby holes and under-shelves.

Under where my legs go, there’s these shelves (books?!?) where I put stuff I only need access to once in a great while. It’s just the right size for stacks of plastic shoe-boxes. Shoeboxes for acrylic paints, ribbons, stamps. One box is full of glass bead soup I add to regularly and use for this one pendant I do. Another is full of colored copper wire. And one is where I keep my clear quartz crystals. Interior bags divide them up by size, quality, etc.

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This is the underneath to the right of where I sit. See that one little shelf tucked up under there with a small trashcan and things leaning beside it? That’s my shipping station. I can reach right under and pull out flat boxes or padded envelopes. The little trashcan contains tissue paper, marker, ziplocs, business cards, and packing tape. Everything I need to mail an order. I also keep my heavy hole-punch and repoussé bowl under there.

Just to the right of that, see that tall cubby? I think it was probably meant to hold a PC tower. I use it for my large flat storage (big paper cutter, photography light tent, my music folder, extra work mats).

And just above those, the things that look like drawers? Those are actually flip-down doors. The right hand one I’m guessing was meant for one of those on/off boxes for equipment. But it’s small and long and opens through to the back. I use it to hold one more box (metal beads and findings) that doesn’t fit in the bead tower, and also my long tool steel for making chasing tools.

The left of those doors flips down and reveals a mouse tray. I use it with a tray on it to hold my mandrels and hammer.

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Behind me on the wall is an armoire that holds my other stuff. It’s packed pretty densely too. The big open hole in the middle is where my little kiln goes (out on the kitchen table at the moment). The rest of the cabinet has containers for various interests (stained glass, lampworking, bobbin lace, beading, bookbinding, calligraphy, watercolors, iconography, glass fusing, needlework, knit/crochet, metal fabrication, leatherworking, pyrography).

There’s a few large drawers below those open shelves. One is jewelry related stuff, one is display making materials, and one is for UFOs (unfinished objects, projects in progress).

I do things modularly (take out/put away, but most things are doable at my desk or kitchen table). The larger and messier stuff (dyeing, woodworking, pottery) are out in the garage. Fiber arts, ahem, are spread throughout 🙂 Not pictured are a large floor loom, couple spinning wheels, tools, fiber, fleeces.

I do enough different things, I’m conscious of storing them compactly. This modular system I went to a few years ago has been working really well. My focus is on wire jewelry since that’s my business, and secondarily on fiber since that’s another big love. The other stuff I do intermittently for fun, plus I’m finding all the crossover skills useful.

Anyway, this is part of my studio, mostly the jewelry, since that was a recent discussion with friends. Sometime later I’ll do a tour of the rest of it. Hopefully, if you’re looking for an idea or two on how to organize your jewelry-making endeavors, this was helpful.