Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Motivators for Class Handout Evolutions

I started teaching classes on various jewelry making techniques around five years ago. At first, when I'd make a class handout, the format was different for each class. They generally had the same sections, but they would look different. The Tools & Materials lists might be boxed off or be one column instead of three. The instructions might be listed in paragraphs, they might be listed in bullet points, or they might be in tabular form with photos and commentary underneath.

The first real evolution of my class handouts was redoing everything I had written about two years after I started teaching. When I rewrote them I created a template so that the format of each one was the same: a header with class title at left and contact & copyright information at right, a brief introduction, an image of the class project, tools and materials, safety and preparation, and instructions with images.

Now, five years in, I find that I spend most of my revision time refining the way I explain different points in the handouts. Refining the way I explain things is usually grounded in one of three motivators. One is based on common questions I get from students in the class. A second motivator is simply that I learn more about a topic and, in my own experiences as a continuing student, gain a better understanding of what information a student needs to be in the best position to progress to a more advanced understanding of the technique. The third, and for better or worse - strongest motivator, is seeing the work other people try to sell and judging that the way it was put together left something wanting, and thinking to myself, "Are they kidding?"

Arrogant? Yes. I'm sure that if anyone more experienced looked at my work, I'm sure I do something that would elicit a similar response. So, yes, I do try and take a step back, breathe a little, and ask myself why the particular something makes me upset. I try to think of it as an opportunity to develop my otherwise subjective left-brain creativity in a more objective right-brain analytic way. It seems that the issues that stick with me are choices that are made because someone saw an easy way to do something, saw that it worked, and failed to ask if there was a better way to do it. It's the repeat violations. The people who use a sloppy technique, not just with something organic, but with pearls and crystals, and everything in-between.

This took center stage today as I was preparing to teach my Jewelry Making Basics class. Some of the work I've recently seen, and been disappointed in, made me take a mission. I felt like it was my solemn duty to make sure that whatever crimping or finishing technique they chose to use - even if it wasn't the one I taught and even if it was one I showed as a whatever-you-do-don't-do-this example - they would do because they had thought about it and evaluated it against other possibilities. Additionally, that they would think about said choice in terms of whether it contributed to both the beauty and strength of the finished piece. So, I spent the whole afternoon taking new pictures and added new (shaded and outlined with fancy bold and colored titles) notes boxes to try and convince my students that the following are not okay:
  • pulling the stringing cable tight against the clasp or jump ring
  • leaving the stringing cable at the ends bare
  • attaching the clasp directly to the bracelet
  • just using a pliers to squish the crimp bead
Not just that they weren't okay because I felt like the Queen of the Jewelry Police, but because there were really good reasons not to do them because there were better techniques. See if you agree:

Why do I need to use a Wire Guardian or heavy French Wire?
  • To make sure that your loop is large enough so that the jump ring and clasp aren't putting stress on the crimp tube.
  • To prevent abrasion on the stringing cable (from the part of the bracelet that moves the most).
  • So the ends of your bracelet or necklace look 'finished'.

Note: I know that there is a commercial product known as heavy French wire, but I don't mean that. I am referring to something I make myself using 28g wire wrapped around 18g wire as a mandrel.

Why don't we string the clasp directly onto the crimped loop?
  • A properly chosen jump ring is very secure and gives you the option of changing clasps without restringing the bracelet.
  • Using a jump ring allows more movement when trying to secure the clasp.
  • Using jump rings to attach the clasp to the bracelet reduces stress on the crimp bead holding the bracelet together.

A corollary to the last point: If you attach the clasp directly to the crimped loop, the forces on the clasp go directly to the crimp bead (not so with a jump ring, which can move and redirect the force), and when the crimp bead fails (unlike a jump ring, which additionally has less chance of failing), you lose the whole bracelet and not just the clasp.

Is that totally unreasonable? Because, let me tell you, the jewelry that motivated me to this class handout revision - it still feels like a burr under my saddle!

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