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Jewelry

Maker Stories

Rachel’s Celestial Bracelet Takes the Win!

December 11, 2013

Rachel is one of my favorite artist stories to boast about when the topic of ongoing Jewelry Design Challenges arises. She’s the perfect example of the saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Cliché? Most definitely. Overused? Perhaps. True? Without a doubt. Rachel first submitted her original Celestial Bracelet with a bit of a twist, she had her favorite quote etched onto the bracelet with diamonds embedded on top. We were fond of the piece and our jewelry buyers were impressed by the bracelet alone, but didn’t think that the embellishments would speak to our customers. They preferred a clean look that just focused on the unusual shape–inspired by celestial bodies orbiting planets–and design of the bangle. I reached out to Rachel to let her know exactly why that month she wasn’t a finalist, and wasn’t so sure if I would hear from her again. The next month, as I was checking all the jewelry submissions, I recognized Rachel’s familiar bracelet–but this time with our tips taken into consideration. The judges were surprised to see the beautiful, enhanced design again, and fell in love with the sleek yet unconventional bangle. Meet Rachel Vanatta, our latest jewelry design winner and an artist who wasn’t scared to develop her vision with ours.


Rachel Vanatta

What’s an Uncommon fact about you and your hometown?
I consider my hometown to be Chagrin Falls, Ohio. But since relocating to Savannah, GA at 18 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, I have considered Savannah very dear to me.  The longest portion of my career was experienced on a small 7 mile Gulf Coast island called Anna Maria Island, from 2003 to 2012.  This is where the Nectar Jewelry line was inspired and birthed. Towards the end of 2012 we relocated to Atlanta, GA.  Atlanta is new-ish to me but so far the friends and people I have met have been nothing but wonderful. An Uncommon Fact: I actually attended SCAD specifically for jewelry design, I was always interested in the craft and fine art, and SCAD’s jewelry programs are a perfect mix of both. I knew from age 16 on that the jewelry profession was the one I needed to be in.

Rachel Vanatta

Your bracelet is one of the most unique bangles we’ve seen come through at UncommonGoods, how did you come up with this specific design?
I am inspired by celestial and natural shapes, designs focused on forms that are present on a day-to-day basis, but that we may overlook without small reminders.  I aim to remind the wearers of my jewelry to pay homage to natural phenomenon.  Many take these wonders for granted in our everyday lives, but when reminded of, realize what a gift every being and object can truly be. The celestial bracelet’s shape is reminiscent of a planet’s orbiting moons and rings.  The construction of the piece itself also offers a great surface area to express additional designs, quotes, stones, and patina.

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Where do you find inspiration within your work space?
I have kept and added to inspirational sketchbooks and scrapbooks for about 15 years, and refer to these regularly.  I was sparked to do this by a past professor of mine.  Through some group discussion, I was shared that I had too many ideas all at once, and could not fathom creating them all.  She responded that I should always record every idea and design in these sketchbooks, because there will be a time in the future where I will be searching ideas and inspiration and these books will be my solutions and a look into my past. On a day-to-day basis, I also love to use Pinterest boards, attend American Craft Council and judged craft shows, and art museums.  Any promotional or inspirational ads/cards/artwork I come across I either save or post on my studio walls.

Rachel Vanatta

Where does down time fit into a day of being productive?
I have very little down time, as I am mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Cozette, who is my number one priority, of course.  We have so much fun together, but my downtime is when she naps, is in preschool or asleep at night. This is when I work on my craft.  I love what I do so down time for me is equivalent to designing and creating jewelry.

How did you celebrate when you learned you were our Design Challenge winner for the Jewelry Design Challenge?
I was at the park with my daughter when I received the call, excitedly I gave her a big hug!  I then proceeded to call select family and friends, and celebrated with my husband over a dinner he made later that night.

Rachel Vanatta

How do you recharge your creativity?
Though it may sound cliché, I am ever interested in the human condition and what we all have in common.  I would love to create a series at some point focused on a specific aspect related to this subject with the creation of conceptual jewelry pieces.  As for now, I mainly listen to Ted Talks and listen/watch documentary pieces relating to people in their environment and their specific situations.

Other than being an artist, what are your other passions in life?
Becoming a mother has been such an amazing experience, and now that our daughter is a toddler, it has been wonderful meeting other families with children the same age, watching our kids play, interact, and learn from each other, while enjoying “parent/adult” time as well!  My husband is also an artist in illustration and graphic arts, so we have a lot in common as far as what we enjoy doing together.  He and I met in Savannah, GA our freshman year at art school and have been together ever since. In addition, I have a love of animals, most recently horses and riding.  I grew up riding English and have recently reignited my passion for it by introducing my daughter to horses, which she has taken on whole-heartedly.

Rachel Vanatta

Do you have any special projects or events that are in the works or that’s floating in your brain right now?
I do have one particular project which have been gradually working on and designing, and hope to “unveil” it this upcoming year!

What are your most essential tools that you must have by your side while you design?
 My bench, where I execute most all designing and work, contain all the tools, torches, etc that I use regularly. Ironic it is mentioned; I must have my water bottles nearby…yes multiple bottles of water, and depending on the time of day, a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  As I mentioned before, having a thought provoking discussion or inspirational talk to listen to is ideal as well.  Having my dog Holly decide to lay at my feet while I work is extra special, and on a nice day, the windows open for fresh air.

Rachel Vanatta

What was the toughest lesson you learned as a freelance jewelry artist?
Contracts come and go, sometimes the work rolls in and other times it doesn’t.  As difficult as it may be during the slower times, a positive attitude and embracing the “personal time” to recreate yourself, your work, and finally finish those pieces you have been meaning to are priceless. Take the days as they come, the busy and the quiet, for there is something to be gained from both.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
“Let go and let God.”
Rachel Vanatta

Which artists do you look up to? 
Todd Reed’s work is inspirational to me, his choice and use of materials, and the way he joins traditional and contemporary stone settings.  In addition, he is self-taught, which is motivational for me to learn new techniques on my own.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
In hindsight, I would advise myself to reach out for the purpose of bettering yourself and building relationships, but also for the reasoning that you never know where it will take you.  There is nothing to lose by opening yourself up in a fun and professional way.

Rachel Vanatta

What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
I would love to become more proficient in particular stone settings as they would add to my current designs.  I would also love to learn more about grading diamonds and colored gems by attending GIA courses.  I have some knowledge of CAD, and would also like to further my education in computer aided rendering and 3-D printing.

What advice can you offer anyone who is submitting their work to our Jewelry Design Challenge?
I recommend that any contestants state that they are open to critiques and suggestions on their designs, if they truly are.  UncommonGoods has been a complete pleasure to work with, and they know their customer and what they want, so be open and enjoy the feedback!

Design

Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers

November 11, 2013

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers | UncommonGoodsThis year we wanted to highlight our handmade jewelry collection like we never have before. So we worked with four bloggers to put together a gallery of images of them styling our pieces to showcase how someone can personally style our necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings – something never before seen on our site!

To pick our lucky bloggers, we reached out to some talented ladies that we worked with in the past for product reviews. We loved their style, photography skills, and what they had to say about our jewelry so much that we invited them back to share some more. They recevied some of their favorite pieces from our Artisan Jewelry Gallery and photographed them during their outings and gatherings as the temperatures were dropping. Meet the bloggers here!

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers | UncommonGoods

Amy Christie of This Heart of Mine



Amy Christie is a maker herself with a blog about her style, family, and her creative process. She describes her winter style as “Cozy: jeans, thick socks and comfy tops. I like boots and chunky scarves, oh and tailored coats!”

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers | UncommonGoods

Katherine of Of Corgis & Cocktails



Katherine blogs about her life in Central Pennsylvania and her lovable corgis. We just love how her personality shines through in her personal style. She loves layering a lot in the winter too. “With the way weather is in my area, there can be frost on the ground in the morning and quite warm during the day. I own lots of tights and scarves. I still wear ‘summer dresses’ too – just with lots of sweaters and scarves on top.”

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers

Katrina of The Demure Muse



Katrina is a style and DIY blogger from Seattle who spends her winters “Sitting on the patio of my favorite mom & pop ran restaurants in the crisp fall air and watching the wind blow through all the leaves on the ground is the best way to start off the day. Who can say no to good eats and beautiful scenery?”

UncommonGoods Winter Jewelry Lookbook Bloggers

Nicole of Rose Runs Wild



Last but not least, Nicole is one of the most down-to-earth bloggers you might ever come across. Priding herself on not being a fashionista or foodie, just a full-time mom and real-life lady, she is also a new bride! We asked how she spends her winters with her family: “When the temperatures drop we love to enjoy the fall weather outside as much as possible. It’s time for bundling up in sweaters, scarves and boots. We take lots of walks to enjoy the smell of the leaves and see all of the colors that fall brings with it. We build fires in the backyard and spend our evenings laughing with good company as often as we can. We start having more family dinners, baking as often as possible, the crochet needles and yarn come out. It’s our favorite time of year!”

Check out what they came up with in our first collaboration lookbook!


Design

3 Easy Steps to Make A Necklace Display

October 17, 2013

Hey you jewelry lovers, I’m Christina from Tales From The Thrift. I’m so used to showing off all my thrift shop finds that sometimes I forget to blog about the projects I conquer when I’m not vintage hunting! Naturally, my projects usually have something to do with actually organizing all of my random finds. Like a lot of other jewelry hoarders, I’m shockingly bad at storing my treasures, almost to the point of embarrassment. Every piece I own — from the fancy gems gifted by loved ones, to my huge collection of thrifted trinkets — gets stuffed into old jewelry boxes and dusty pouches or tossed haphazardly onto my nightstand before bed. Obviously, this strategy leads to plenty of tangles, tarnishing, tears, and loss. But finally, after one missing earring too many and some minor soul-searching, I realized it was time to become a responsible jewelry-owning adult and embark on my first-ever DIY storage project.

Tales From the Thrift

I kicked off my mission with a plan to create a simple display for some of my favorite necklaces. I began scouring a few local thrift stores and stumbled across some wood-framed, canvas art pieces–one black with silver handwriting, and the other with an abstract floral print–at Goodwill. (I ended up abandoning the floral canvas, and sticking with the black/silver piece, which features a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. If you’re curious, you can read it in full here!) I scored both items for around $4.

Tales From the Thrift
What you need: Other than some old wood-and-canvas artwork, just some nails and a hammer.

Tales From the Thrift
Step 1: Hammer your first nail at the top/center on the front of the wooden frame. Make sure you keep the nail exposed by at least a half-inch.

Tales From the Thrift

Step 2: Hammer a few more nails in a similar fashion, evenly spaced on either side of the middle nail, so you end up with a nice, balanced row.

Tales From the Thrift

Step 3: Put the display on your dresser or hang it on the wall, and arrange your necklaces. Enjoy a life free of tangled jewelry.

Tales From the Thrift

For rings, earrings and bracelets, I supplemented my DIY display with a few handmade jewelry stands and holders from UncommonGoods. UG’s gorgeous Hand Of Buddha Stand is perfect for my “real”  jewelry that I wear daily, and I added a light blue Pedestal Holder and pewter Labyrinth Bowl to hold my other assorted baubles.

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Tales From the Thrift

Tales From the Thrift

Of course, I still have plenty of jewelry stowed away and out of sight, but my DIY display definitely helps me keep my most-loved necklaces organized and easy to find. And best of all, my new set-up is as pretty as it is practical!

Tales From the Thrift

Maker Stories

Judi’s “A Tree Grows” Necklace is in Full Bloom

September 26, 2013

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Haven’t we all daydreamed about quitting a job to pursue a creative passion full-time? Some of us only take it as far as that, simply daydreaming, while others actually take that deep plunge into the scary, unknown abyss of no longer being on payroll. Judi Powers was one of those people. She says, “After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible.” Judi had the courage to leave her stable career in publishing, yet she still had no idea where she was going in terms of making a living. She decided to dip her toes into different fields she felt like she’d be passionate about until she finally met her dream career match: jewelry making. “I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry.” When Judi realized that designing jewelry was her new calling, not once did she look back and regret her choice of leaving her first career.

Inspired by the combination of nature and art history, Judi’s stunning “A Tree Grow” necklace branched out to become our latest jewelry winning design. Read about what Judi did when she first heard the great news, her process of literally making her pieces stronger, and her advice for winning one of UncommonGoods’ design challenges.

What’s an Uncommon fact about yourself and your jewelry?

An Uncommon fact about my jewelry is that much of it is inspired by the paintings, sculptures, and architecture I studied as an art history student. For example, I’m currently working on a series of midi rings inspired by Rogier van der Weyden’s “Portrait of Isabella of Portugal”. And my “A Tree Grows” necklace is informed by nature as much as it is by Whistler’s “Portrait of Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland”. An Uncommon fact about me is that the first time I saw Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait”, about nine years ago, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by the intricate detail, the vivid color, and the rich texture. I’d only ever seen it in books or presentations and it’s even more spectacular in person. Totally geeky, yet totally true!

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What were you doing before you decided to become a jewelry designer and what drove you into the jewelry field?

I had a wonderful first career in book publishing. I handled marketing and publicity for countless amazingly talented authors and illustrators. It was a great proving ground for learning about business, and it was also an incredible environment in which to forge lasting friendships.

After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible. So I started spending more time with friends and taking a variety of classes. We tried dancing (disaster!), flower arranging (wonderful, but too depressing once the flowers wilted), cooking (fabulous but fattening), and lastly, jewelry making.

From my first class at 92Y I was immediately hooked, though initially I took it slowly and took one class a semester or so over 10 years at the Y, SVA, and Jewelry Arts Institute. Once I decided that I wanted to become a professional jewelry maker I quit my publishing career and I attended FIT’s one-year jewelry design program. What drew me to jewelry were the materials, especially metal. I love its malleability, how it can have a huge variety of textures, the way it feels, and that it’s durable!

I have always loved jewelry.  I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry—a monogrammed silver locket my grandmother gave me for my fifth birthday. It’s my hope that my jewelry will tell special stories for those who wear it. In this way my publishing and jewelry careers truly intersect.

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 What’s the first thing you did after you found out you were the winner of the Jewelry Design Challenge?

I jumped around my apartment, hugged my dog, and then called my mother. My mom has been my biggest champion in pursuing a career as a jewelry maker, and there are no words to express how meaningful her encouragement and belief in me has been.  She and I had endless conversations about whether I should follow my heart and pursue a jewelry career, or whether I should stay in a career that I liked but was emotionally outgrowing. I had a real crisis of conscience while trying to decide. So many people I knew were unemployed and looking for jobs, while I had a good, stable one. I felt both guilty for wanting to walk away from security and terrified to try something new and unstable.  It was during that period that one of the characters on Mad Men said something like, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.” That really resonated with me. Soon after, I knew I would pursue a new career as a jewelry designer, risks and all.

Judi-Mother

It’s unanimous here at UncommonGoods that your “A Tree Grows” necklace is stunning. How did you come up with the idea to design such a realistic branch design for jewelry wear?

Thank you! I’ve always loved trees and branches: their lines are so graceful and elegant and they’re also a bit wild. In my second semester at FIT I took an amazing casting class. I learned that you can cast almost anything only if you can truly envision the outcome in metal and only if you can make the object thick enough to be sturdy.  Years ago, I had tried to model a tree branch in wax but it didn’t have the level of detail that an actual branch has. It just didn’t work. So when I took the casting class, I told my professor that I really wanted to cast a small tree branch and she said: “Go for it! Just be sure you reinforce it and make it durable.” I took her advice, found a small branch in my Brooklyn neighborhood, reinforced it with Mod-Podge, and took it to my caster. When I picked up the piece I was completely amazed!  All of the detail from nature was perfectly preserved. I had this delicate sterling silver branch that looked like the real thing. I actually choked up when I saw it.
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You actually submitted your jewelry into one of our past jewelry design challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. You decided to not be discouraged, and submitted an entry again after joining one of our design events. Do you believe winning the challenge the second try was much more satisfying than if you were to win the first time?

The first time I submitted I was hoping to be selected but I didn’t expect it. The design challenge was the first competition outside of school that I’d entered, and I knew there’d be serious competition, both from my FIT classmates and  from countless talented designers whose work I’m still getting to know. After attending the design event, I learned the single-most valuable lesson: submit an image of someone wearing your piece! Winning the challenge was really satisfying, of course, but also really humbling because I was getting both positive and constructive feedback during the voting. I was competing against some extraordinarily beautiful pieces, all of which were so different and so special.

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What’s the biggest advice you can give to our future design contestants after that specific experience?

Attend UncommonGoods’ design events. If you can’t get to them, attend any local events where you can meet professionals and peers. Take notes on what the speakers are saying because their advice will come in handy. Don’t be shy and ask questions! Be open to feedback because it’s all helpful. Take photos of your pieces on a person. Follow up, even if it’s just to say a very simple thank you. Always, and I really mean always, wear a piece of jewelry you’ve made. If you don’t want to wear your work, I think it’s a little unreasonable to expect someone else to want to wear it.

Lulu

Do you have any silly trick or habits you do to keep yourself motivated? 

When I’m struggling to focus, I know it’s time to step away from what I’m doing. Literally. I get up and take my puppy for a nice long walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood and clear my head. In the warmer months, I stop and look at plants and trees for design ideas and in the cooler months I look at architecture and snowflakes for inspiration. I’ve learned the hard way that whenever I try to force something that it just doesn’t work, and jewelry really has to work. I also drink lots of water!

Can you describe the process of what you do to make your necklaces better, stronger, and more wearable. 

I’m so glad you asked this question! Some of the comments I received during the voting were concerns that my necklace looked like it might scratch the skin or bend. I’m glad people brought that up.  For every “A Tree Grows” necklace  I cast, I actually break off the more fragile parts and re-attach them onto the central line of the branch. By doing this I reinforce the structure of the necklace and build on it with a bit of additional solder.  After the branch is reassembled I tumble it first with stainless steel shot. Then I use soft pumice pellets to harden the metal and soften the edges of the leaves and branch ends. I believe jewelry has to be pleasing to wear and I personally road test every piece to make sure it’s both comfortable and has structural integrity. There is a bit of springiness to the metal in the finished piece, which enhances the organic nature of the necklace.

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 Do you mind describing your studio to us and the materials that you use?

I work out of Brooklyn Metal Works, a wonderful, collaborative creative space for jewelers and metal smiths.  The owners, Erin Daley and Brian Weissman, are building a fantastic community there. They have regular exhibits, artists’ lectures, and classes. My personal jewelry education continues to grow there. I love being around other jewelers and artists because we bounce ideas off of one another, brainstorm about construction,  share new tricks and techniques we’ve learned, and we all respect each other. And there’s always great music in the background!

When I’m sketching and designing, I work from home at my father’s antique drafting table. It’s scarred with hundreds of pin holes where old blueprints had once been tacked. I’ve added a few more holes to it, as well as some paint splotches and ink stains! I love that it’s a piece that he, I, and others have used as a tool to support creativity. And he’s really proud that I’m using it, too.

In terms of materials, I use recycled metals in all my cast pieces and I source as much recycled material as possible for the pieces I fabricate.  I’m happy that I’m a professional jeweler now because I have ready access to recycled material. Ten years ago when I was first starting, that just wasn’t the case.  I save every shaving, filing, and sprue and recycle all of my scrap metals.

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What’s one of your all-time favorite inspirational quotes? 

I have so many of them! It’s too difficult to pick only one, so here are two:

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” -Paulo Coehlo

And this one by Rabindranath Tagore always resonates with me: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

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 What does your jewelry illustrate about yourself?

My jewelry mirrors my two great loves: art and nature. I don’t have a specific philosophy per se, but I do want every piece to be wearable and beautiful. And because my own jewelry stories give me such joy, I sincerely hope that my customers will have their own happy stories to tell about my pieces for years, even decades, to come!

 

Maker Stories

Katie’s Fern Frond Hoops Take the Win

August 14, 2013

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We had over two hundred submissions to our 2013 Jewelry Design Challenge, and although we saw many amazing pieces we wanted to put in our own personal jewelry box, Katie Lime’s Fern Frond Hoops truly stole our judges’ hearts. The design holds a simple elegance for everyday wear, yet Katie’s innovative touch is undeniable. From the mixed metals of brass and sterling silver to the design’s geometric, whimsical shape, these nature-inspired earrings are more than just jewelry. They’re tiny pieces of art. And because it’s no secret that we are such big animal lovers, Katie donating a part of her proceeds to animal shelters was a huge cherry on top. (Details of where she donates to are below the interview.)

Meet Katie Lime, the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family, and read about her jewelry-making journey from taking classes in high school to creating her very own jewelry company. 

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Give us an uncommon fact about you and your hometown. 

An uncommon fact about me is that I’m a Science Fiction/Fantasy fan and a huge Harry Potter nerd. An uncommon fact about Carmel, Indiana is that they absolutely love roundabouts.  There are over 80 of them!

When did you realize that jewelry design was what you wanted to do?  

I took some jewelry classes in high school and absolutely fell in love.  When I went to college for Art History I realized that I could study Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design.  After that first semester in metals I realized it was what I wanted to do so I stayed in school an extra year and double majored in Art History and Metals.

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What was the biggest message you took with you when you finished school for metalsmithing? 

I learned to really explore my ideas and to play around with materials.  I learned to not be afraid of trying something new and different and not to be afraid of failure.  I also learned that having a network of peers can be a wonderful resource.  We are very lucky these days to have outlets such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter to meet like-minded people who will be there to support, answer questions, share knowledge and constructively critique our work.

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When was the moment and how did you feel when you made your first sell?  

I made my first big sale at my senior thesis show in a formal gallery setting.  The necklace that sold was a big show stopping piece, not really all that functional but more sculptural.  It felt great!  It gave me confidence in my work and made me feel like I was headed in the right direction.

We love your earrings, but we also love the amazing fact that you donate to two animal shelters. When was the moment that you decided this was going to be something you would be a part of?

My boyfriend and I have rescued three dogs in our adult lives.  They are the sweetest, most loving and giving souls in this world and we don’t know what we would do with out them.  I wanted to do more for other animals in need, so I started donating money from my company.

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What inspires you the most when you create your designs? 

I am inspired by the natural world surrounding me.  I like to examine all the beautiful and small things in our world and take inspiration from them.  I’m also inspired by all the people in my daily life and all the makers in this world who create for a living.

What’s your favorite part of the design process?

I love creating new designs, playing around with new ideas and making pieces with gemstones.  I also really enjoy working on custom pieces for my customers.  I love that I’m creating something just for them!

How exactly was Moira K. Lime Jewelry born?  

When I moved to Chicago I was designing and producing for another jeweler and creating my own jewelry in my spare time.  I realized that I could really make a living off of my designs when my work started to sell consistently and I began running out of time to make my own creations.  It’s great to be able to be your own boss and create things that you like for other people to cherish.

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Creative people all have those days (or weeks!) when we feel unmotivated, lost, or stuck. What do you usually do when you catch yourself in this frustrating rut?  

I usually step away from my studio and give myself some time off to get that creative mojo flowing again.  I’ll also go for day trips, hikes, or places in the city that inspire me.

Are there any interesting future projects you’re pursuing or currently working on? 

I’ve always dreamed of opening my own storefront/showroom/workshop space.  I’d like to use the space as my working studio, a place to meet customers to work on custom designs, a small show room and a place to teach workshops.  I’m really hoping to make this happen one day soon!

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If you could give away one of your secrets to all those who want to win a design challenge, which secret would it be?  

Be yourself and your designs will be truly unique and eye catching.

If you’re inspired to read more about Katie’s favorite animal shelters, visit Chicago Pit Stop RescuePAWS Chicago, and One Tail at a Time