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Self-taught jewelry maker turns hobby into business

Sunday, January 18, 2009 | 4:00 a.m. CST
Tracy Harmon of Hallsville files the edges of a copper cutout that will be made into a pendant at her home workshop on Nov. 11. Harmon, who is self-taught, has been making copper jewelry for seven years. As a side business that grew out of curiosity, Harmon now sells her jewelry at local craft shows and online at her Web site, www.harmonyinmetal.com.

HALLSVILLE – Whether it’s squeezing in a daily morning jog, collecting postcards or blogging online, side hobbies provide a welcome escape from the monotony of daily routines. Seven years ago, Tracy Harmon of Hallsville discovered her leisure-time distraction in making jewelry.  

“I saw the beads one day at a store, and I thought it would be interesting to try to make some earrings,” Harmon said.

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Harmon has since expanded her repertoire to include necklaces and bracelets, and she specializes in copper metalwork and chain mail.

Self-taught, Harmon uses an array of tools to make her jewelry, including a torch, saw, flack shaft, files and pliers.  "The list could go on and on," she said jokingly.

Harmon typically orders her materials from Web sites but said she also has used recycled roofing, copper and “just about anything I can get my hands on."

When not crafting or selling her jewelry, Harmon works as an administrative assistant for Honeywell International. She has one son. She makes time for her hobby mostly on the weekends and sometimes during the week after work.

As jewelry making grows in popularity, Harmon’s enthusiasm is shared by others looking to expand their creative aptitude. Michael's Arts and Craft Store in Columbia is seeing an influx of customers in the store’s jewelry section where jewelry makers of varied abilities can find materials. Lisa VanVacter, one of three jewelry consultants at Michael's, has been making jewelry for about 15 years.  

“Once you get the hang of it, it’s very simple,” VanVacter said. “All you need is your hardware and your tools and your jewelry, and you can make a pair of earrings in less than two minutes.”

VanVacter said about one-fourth of the store is devoted to the jewelry section, which has materials including beads, hooks, earring backs, basic ornaments, antique pins and different types of hardware needed for jewelry making.

“Some of the stuff that we sell is casual and elegant. We sell plenty of rhinestones, kind of the stuff that Lady Di would wear,” VanVacter said.

Michael's does not offer jewelry-making classes, but VanVacter and the other consultants are there for expertise and to help people get started. She said beads range in price from about $3 to $15, adult-size tools run about $10 and smaller-size tools as little as about $4. 

Harmon acknowledges it can be an expensive hobby, with the major investment being in the tools.

“The material end of it really isn’t that bad,” Harmon said. “Obviously, once you start striking out into sterling silver and things like that, the material costs go up.”

Harmon balances those costs by selling her jewelry online at harmonyinmetal.com and at craft shows.

Learning the craft was challenging for Harmon at first, and she said it took “lots and lots of books, lots of Web-surfing and lots of screw-ups” to progress to where she is now. She said she especially values the freedom it gives her.

“I can literally make just about whatever I can think about,” Harmon said. “Sometimes I have to wait for my skill set and my abilities to catch up with my brain.”

In the midst of a weakened economy, homemade jewelry also seems to be an attractive gift-giving option.

“In fact, there were quite a few customers that we had that wanted to try and learn to make something as a Christmas present for their kids,” VanVacter said.  “It comes from the heart when you make it yourself.”


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