Making art from broken vintage costume jewelry — Denise & I share our tips

make pictures from jewelryMaking gorgeous one-of-a-kind works of art from broken, vintage costume jewelry is not “difficult” — but it requires a lot of patience — a lot of jewelry — an artful eye — and the appropriate adhesives. While Denise was at my house helping to faux bois paint my woodwork, we spent a crafty evening — five hours!!! — making framed artwork from my stash of broken jewelry, collected over the past few years at estate sales and thrift shops. 

Read on for my tutorial, additional tips, and to see my springtime creation, too. >>> 

DIY pictures from old jewelryStep #1: You need a lot of jewelry

Don’t even think about starting this project unless you have lots of jewelry. As with making vintage Christmas ornament wreaths, the more jewelry you have on hand to work with, the easier it will be to create an artful project.

Above: I had six shoe-boxed size containers full of broken jewelry that I had collected, thinking that some day soon I would make a vintage costume jewelry Christmas tree (see these 17 examples in a recent story — gorgeous!) For this crafting excursion, we decided to try the art form to make something else … Christmas is a long way off.

  • Tip: Look for broken jewelry at estate sales and thrift shops. You can even ask the estate sale organizer or thrift shop owner, “What do you do with the broken jewelry?” and tell them you’d like to buy it. 

Above: Denise’s mini Schnauzer “Bug” thinks she’s a mountain goat. She climbs everywhere. She and Astro had a fantastic time playing.

Step #2: Gather your supplies, including an adhesive designed to permanently stick metal to fabric

pictures from jewelrySupplies you’ll need for this project, in addition to the jewelry:

  • Vintage frames — I doubt that I would ever use a new frame for vintage jewelry — the vintage-on-vintage really ups the everything factor.
  • Velvet for the backing — I even use vintage velvet I’ve picked up at estate sales, I am just that way.
  • Adhesives that will stick metal permanently to fabric, drying clear. Because I did not plan ahead so I could order on Amazon, I took a trip to Michael’s to buy adhesive the day we did our project. They had a nifty chart that showed which adhesives to use for which types of projects. For this one, I chose several glues that would permanently adhere metal and fabric. 

  • Note, both of these adhesives seemed to work fine; more on using these adhesives later.
  • Utility knife and pliers to dis-assemble the frame, if required — use safety glasses [bits may fly; glass may not be tempered — be careful!].
  • Scissors to cut your velvet and to cut the cardboard or matte board to size to fit your frame (if a backer board is not already in your frame)
  • We used Elmer’s Repositionable Mounting Spray to adhere the velvet to the substrate (cardboard or matte board). You want to be careful not to use an adhesive that will bleed through to the front of the fabric. Denise, an artist, thought the mounting spray would be fine. 
  • Wire cutters to trim the back of broken jewelry if you need/want it to lay flat. Be safe: Wear safety glasses when you are wire-cutting the jewelry so that if an its or bits flies, it doesn’t fly into your eyes.
  • Once into the project, Denise said we really should have had calipers to be able to hold and position the jewelry precisely. Amazon also sells calipers in nifty looking jewelry-making sets (you know I will have to try jewelry-making using built-up pieces of broken vintage jewelry soon; I may get one of these kits soon, although for now I find some satisfaction in dialing up the degree of difficulty by forcing use of my fat fingers. Or even just something like these: 

  • We also used iridescent Golden paints to brighten up parts of the frame, but in an antique-y kind of way.
  • Hardware to hang the art or your solution of choice to display it.

Step #3: Prep your frame and fabric

costume jewelry pictures on velvetcreate costume jewelry art frameDIY costume jewelry artvelvet for costume jewelry christmas treeuse velvet for jewelry artAbove: Denise — who has a degree in art and is a professional decorative painter — shows how to properly miter the velvet onto the backing. Her frame came without a backer board, so she cut a new one to size using plain cardboard. It was substantial enough.
My frame had glass and an old print of no value in it. I carefully removed all. Be aware of potential safety issues, such as old glass may not be tempered… metal pieces may fly or the glass may break when you are working with it, to wear safety glasses… old paint on the frame also may contain lead. Be Safe/Renovate Safe.

In addition, my frame came with a backer piece, so I used that. Note, though:

  • Tip: Before gluing, be sure your back will fit the frame once the thickness of velvet is added.

We used repositionable mounting spray to get the fabric onto the substrate. Read the directions and follow them — for example, we sprayed outside because the stuff is pretty noxious smelling.

But now, take note: Do not put your backboard into your frame permanently … You are going to arrange your pieces in the empty frame first, keeping your velvet backer close at hand so that, as you go, you can eyeball how the jewelry will look on the fabric.

Step three: Arrange your piece inside the empty frame

tutorial to make jewelry picturestutorial to make jewelry artNow the fun begins! Start playing with your jewelry to get the composition you want. We did this inside the empty frames to get the balanced composition we wanted. We did not do the design work on the real velvet  because we did not want to get the velvet dirty.

That said, as you are doing your design, it’s imperative that you keep the velvet color in mind. Will your jewelry look good on it? That’s a super important factor. 

  • Tip: If you are making a multi-color design — like I did — make sure you include a few pieces of jewelry that match your fabric color as closely as possible. Fortunately, I had a a piece of coral-colored jewelry and one coral-colored bead that I could add. Ideally, I would have liked three pieces — because odd numbered-matches are more visually dynamic. 

Other design tips:

  1. Respect the white aka negative space. The empty space not decorated.  As with any composition, you are going to aim for a good sense of balance, proportion, movement, colors, subject matter — all at the same time.
  2. A good way to get started: Stick to one principal colorway — like, gold — then work in only small bits of two more colors. That’s what Denise did: Gold with wee bits of aqua and red. Very pleasing.
  3. The other good way to get started: A bouquet, like I did. Even so — it may be that less is more — edit your flowers, keep your “vase” or “stem/s” simple, and considering narrowing your colors according to the principals of the color wheel.
  4. Respect the white/negative space. Yes, I’m repeating it. Your empty space is part of your design, your frame within a frame.
how to make jewelry pictures
Denise was so in love with that Avon owl. For a moment, she thought about stopping here.

I only had three colors of vintage velvet to work with — dark green, coral, and burgundy — so we chose our jewelry designs accordingly.

Step #5: Commit with your glue

paste for jewelry picturesBefore committing to putting the piece on the frame, Denise took a photo of her off-to-the-side piece with her iphone. I was a little more freestyling, for once.

Our experience with the Aleene’s Jewel-It and the Aleene’s Fabric Fusion, the two glues we used:

  • They both dried very slowly, which is fine… but which means that if you are going to layer stuff, you need to prop the higher pieces up to allow time for the glue to harden. This is not like high-heat hot glue, which dries very quickly.
  • Mine left a snail-track where I had to move a piece of jewelry. Not horrifically. But take note, go slow.
  • It took a lot of glue — I used it very generously to ensure good adhesion. I used at least 1/3 of my bottle for my relatively small piece.
  • Hardened up clear.
  • Hardened up strong!

Step #6: Take a break… stand back… then fill in the gaps… add a bit more bling… gild your frame, etc. 

make art from jewelry Above: Denise I suggested that I add the small bead chains inside the frame itself. Working right onto the frame is also a great way to add more dimension to the piece.

frame for art made from costume jewelryAbove: Denise used my iridescent gold Golden paint to gild her frame a bit  << these metallic Golden paints rock my world. Look: The Denise’s frame is framed with deco fishes — they really popped when she gilded. I then did the same to mine — but with a very light hand — we still wanted the patina of vintage.

She also added the “polka-dot” pearls and other little beads here and there after the main composition was glued down. For example: The Avon owl originally only had one green eye. It now has a second, pearl eye.

ALL OF THIS: After the main compositions were adhered to the velvet…. Take a break. Walk away. Take a breath. Have a snack. Take a walk. Come back with fresh eyes and see what else your piece may need.

It took us five pretty intensely focused hours to make these. We did take a 15-minute break to shove some sushi down our pie holes.

It was super fun. We were pretty ecstatic about our vintage costume jewelry creations!

Social media time!

Hey, we even cleaned as we went along… Yes: Vintage jewelry threw up in my dining room — but for once, not long enough for my husband to become alarmed (hi Kate, I miss you so much!)

Step #7: Did the glue work?

The next morning, we both rushed straight to the dining room table (before coffee even!) to see if the glue solidified overnight. It did! We made art!

Step #8: Secure your canvas to the frame and finish the back

I am so exhausted from writing this story. I’ll add a photo later. But cutting to the chase: Once you are sure your jewelry is secure, you can secure the canvas to the frame and finish the back. We did this after the artwork was all done. But, you could do it before you glue on the jewelry — that would be somewhat easier — although if you are gluing the velvet canvas to the frame, you are then”committed”. 

To secure her canvas, Denise glued it to right to frame. She said to be careful not to use too much glue or it might urp onto the velvet on the front. She suggested “dots” of glue. You could also use tiny nails or staples … or perhaps a heavy tape. 

Denise then cut and adhered a piece of kraft paper to the back (I will use vintage wallpaper!) and finally, added a hanger.

jewelry christmas tree
See THIS STORY — I made a Christmas tree next!

Not crafty?

I found these sellers on etsy who can deliver you artful vintage jewelry beauty quick as you can slap down your paypal:

    1. pam kueber says:

      Hi JoAnn, I haven’t done this, but it sounds like a good idea! The jewelry is heavy, so I *think* you’d want to make sure your paper is anchored on to a strong substrate.

  1. Judie Stewart says:

    The best glue for metal or jewelry is E6000. This glue does not dry right away. It gives you time to position your jewels. If you have selected a piece of jewelry and decide not to use it, let is dry a little bit and then remove it with a tweezer. It will be flexible and pliable. But, when it does dry, it’s like a rock.
    I have a shop that is seasonal, so open it twice a year. It’s called “Panache”. Everything in it is made from re-purposed jewelry. My motto is “Fancy is Affordable” because everything in it costs $10 or less! The shop is actually attached to my home and just a block off the main street in town. We are two blocks from Lake Michigan, and a small town with a harbor and lighthouse, near Door County, Wisconsin. I have been re-purposing jewelry for over 15 years! Jeweled Christmas Trees are made by request only because mine are 11 x 14 in antique frames with a lace background. Lovely!

    1. pam kueber says:

      Hi Judie, thank you for sharing your experience! It’s been a while since I did this project, but my recollection about the glue I used is that it also took a while to dry.

      What a lovely place you live in!

  2. Sharon says:

    Such beauty! I just got some bits n pieces of family stuff, jewelry, watches etc. Inspired by your projects to put together some memory-filled frames…..maybe shadow boxes needed….

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