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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:

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  1. Lynda DeHaven says:

    I just read your how to. I came home and started going through my mil’s jewelry. I came upon an Avon box and wow!! There was the owl with both green eyes! ?

  2. LA Moreno says:

    I can’t wait to start using the two huge storage containers filled with vintage jewelry my mother collected for over 50 years. I feel a trip to thrift stores coming up! I hope to be able to find some distinctive old frames and clothing I can use as the background. Your articles details have inspired me to push forward, thank you!!!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Thank you – and your nice comment inspires me to get out all the jewelry I’ve continued to collect and do a summer project!

  3. Lorraine says:

    THANK YOU! This tutorial is fantastic. I love the idea of repurposing pretty much anything to keep it out of landfill. Too make something this gorgeous from it, too? Priceless.

  4. Belinda Hammergren says:

    Do you give jewelry classes for beginners? I would love to pay you to take a beginner class. Thank you so much! Belinda Hammergren RN

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Alas, no, I don’t. But: Start with a small practice pieces with less valuable jewelry… experiment…. and you can do it!

      1. pam kueber says:

        We took the glass out and made our own backing for the artwork, which we then installed into the frame (as shown in the story). My concern about using glass for a substrate would be the potential for breakage — we glued our velvet to the backing and if you did that with glass and the glass cracked at some point, well, ick.

  5. Lynda Cook says:

    I wanted to do a shadow box bouquet with my rhinestone collection. But I don’t want to damage it. Any suggestions on how to make the jewelry stay on the velvet. Thank you.

          1. Pam Kueber says:

            obviously, this is a stream of consciousness answer

            depending on thickness of your jewelry, you might also need longer pins

            it all depends on where it makes sense to place the pin to hold the jewelry in

            i might actually try this myself!

  6. marion wilson says:

    This article was so inspiring. Last project I did was to use vintage jewelry to cover an old wooden coat hanger that I first wrapped in velvet. Turned out great and now I’m ready to do an art.piece as you did. I love this idea!

  7. Sandra says:

    Your tutorial and directions were great! I’ve been collecting jewelry for years and now ready to create a Jewel Christmas tree based on the ones my grandmother did and gave to all her daughters. She has passed on and no one knows how exactly she did them. From what we can tell from finished products, she glued black velvet to various forms of backboards (guessing the ones that come with frames or like substitute like you did.) Where hers differ from yours, is she used a very thin board or other type of of lightweight thing, (it’s green, she probably spray painted it), cut into the shape of a x-mas tree and glued the jewels onto that. She filled the tree in so you don’t see that back board at all. (we had look very close to get this much). Then glued that onto the Velvet lined backboard. I’m curious your thoughts on that method vs gluing each individual jewel directly to the velvet. I’m curious what lightweight, but sturdy back boarding item she may have used. this would have been done in the early 70’s..Or what you may suggest if I go with that method. Whatever she used and a glue she used we don’t know, but it’s still working and strong! Of the 6 or so she made, nothing has come loose or broken off! I’m excited to have enough jewels now to get started and welcome your feedback!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Sandra, thanks for the interesting research. I don’t know what kind of material to use as a cut-out back like your grandmother did.

  8. Nancy says:

    So happy to have come across this blog. I made a beautiful Christmas tree last year and put it on with pins stuck into styrofoam behind the velvet. From the front it is beautiful but a disaster of pin heads sticking out of the back. I just couldn”t figure out how to attach the jewelry and didn”t want to use hot glue. I am so glad to see you offer the glue suggestion. I am very happy to try it. Was it effective on heavier pieces?

        1. pam kueber says:

          ugh. I was writing too fast – thinking about wreaths. No, for gluing to fabric we used the glues tested. So far mine are holding up. Sorry for the confusion. I will fix my other response too.

  9. Carrie says:

    Did you remove the earring clips before you glued them. I’ll be creating a wreath picture with all clip on earrings.

    1. pam kueber says:

      As I recall, yes, I did remove the clips. Like I said, though, most of them were broken off already. And as I said in the story, I wore safety glasses when I snipped — as the its and bits can fly! Be safe!

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