How To Make Clanky, Jangly Earrings Of Dissent

Step 1: make cool earrings. Step 2: learn how to fix our collective shit.

Unlike reptiles, most humans have these little flappy cup thingies sticking off the sides of our heads to catch sound waves and usher ’em inside our skulls, where they’re amplified and rattled through a series of membranes and bones so we can hear and understand them. (Cool, right?? I just fell down a major Wiki hole on the human auditory system.)

Considered aesthetically, ears are kind of weird. They’re right there next to your face, but not *part* of your face; they’re typically excluded from makeup application. Earlobes are relatively insensitive and easily healed piercing sites, however, and even if you’re not really about punching unnecessary holes through thin external body parts, clip-on clasps exist! Ears are excellently situated for adornment, and since a lovely person on Twitter requested that I write something about my massive, ever-evolving collection of earrings, I’m gonna go ahead and indulge my preoccupation with ornamentation this week.

Like most women who were born too late to count as a member of Generation X but early enough to currently feel like a geriatric imposter of a Millennial, my earring obsession can be traced straight to Claudia Kishi, incredibly stylish fictional character and vice president of The Babysitter’s Club. My third-grade teacher had a whole shelf of BSC books, which sparked a lifelong passion for fiction reading and an IMMEDIATE need to pierce my ears to better emulate Claudia’s enviable asymmetric steeze. My dad was adamantly against the idea. My mom seemed more persuadable, and when the two of us were at the mall to attend a putt-putt birthday party across the aisle from a Claire’s, she said, “Hey, do you still want to get your ears pierced?”

My earring obsession can be traced straight to Claudia Kishi.

“YES.”

“Okay then, come on and let’s do it before your dad finds out.”

Despite Dad’s dire predictions of fungal infection, my ears did NOT fall off and, following six weeks of proper piercing aftercare, became healed sufficiently for me to wear mismatched fishing lures stolen from my grandfather to school. I got my second and third set of lobe-holes added in my twenties, when I was feeling particularly anthropomorphic about my jewelry and worried that the single earring on each side of my head might feel lonely throughout the day. It was a good call! Now my earrings clank together happily when I walk and I am capable of supporting what feels like a full chandelier on either side of my face. I feel like a more capable person with ear-hardware on deck; earrings certainly make it easier for me to cast a deadly laser gaze upon enemies and/or mildly annoying strangers in public.

But HOW TO ACQUIRE ear adornment: THAT is the dilemma. I appreciate variety. I appreciate originality. I appreciate cheap stuff! I also hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Jewelry & Metalsmithing and do NOT particularly appreciate the devaluation of skilled creative labor and exploitation of workers engendered by fast-fashion jewelry. So what’s a gal to do? In my case, mostly, make ’em myself! Cheaply and easily, using materials and methods that would make my metalsmithing professor shudder! (♥ u, Mindy.) Here’s how to do it for your own cute little ears.

You’re gonna need a few things.

Beads!

Michaels almost always has some beads on sale. You can buy ’em online! You can buy ’em in a tiny toy museum on Beaver Island in the middle of Lake Michigan! You can buy ‘em….probably a bunch of places. Be honest with yourself about what you really like; bead-grabbing madness is a thing. To make well-balanced earrings, you’re probably going to need a largish statement bead, a medium-sized transitional bead, and some itty-bitty seed beads. You can make a lot of earrings with a few strings of beads.

You will also need pliers! And a wire cutter!

(Please ignore the gunk on my pliers and wire cutter.)

Ear wires! Or some sort of clasps, whatever best meets your needs. You can make these yourself, as my metalsmithing professor would tell you your ass BETTER do lest you be shamed forever, or….you can just buy a cheap-shit set of 60 for $3 and continue to be a shameless apostatic metalsmith, lol. That little loop that the earring itself is gonna go through? Make sure to squish it super-shut with your pliers; a gap in that loop leads to a lost earring.

Bead wire! Fishing line will NOT work. It is too slippery, as is smooth metal wire. You need something that’s bendy but also has some texture for your crimp beads to grip.

And, of course, crimp beads to hold the whole thing together.

A’ight, there’s all your stuff. Now it’s time to play with your beads! Shuffle those suckers around and see which ones you like to see combined with which others. Be warned: they roll.

When you get all your preferences sorted, make sure that you have enough of each bead to make two of each earring, unless you want to make mismatched earrings.

Dump out more crimp beads than you’ll actually need, because DAMN is it annoying when one of those tiny things shoots out of your fingers and you hear it bounce away somewhere on the floor far, far away, never to be seen again, and then have to hold your strung-up but not-yet-crimped earring in one hand while you reopen the crimp bead container with the other. Save yourself the pain! Corral your selection of crimp beads within a boundary they will not easily be able to escape.

Cut a length of bead wire a little longer than double the length of your planned finished earring. Thread it through the loop on your ear wire. Slide a crimp bead on that mofo.

Snug the crimp bead up to the loop in the ear wire, take your pliers, and SMASH IT.

So much of jewelry-making involves crushing and/or abrading objects. Such a containably violent pastime! So satisfying. Anyway, there are special pliers that crunch crimp beads into a V-shape so you can double them over and make your bead-string doubly secure. With these teeny tiny crimp beads I use for earrings, I usually don’t bother and instead just crush ’em flat (the really small ones are apt to break when double-folded, in my experience). But! If you wanna go HARD and make sure your homemade earrings never fall apart, that’s how.

Now it’s time for decor. SEED BEADS!

These little assholes are tiny and apt to fly out of your giant clumsy fingers and get lost, but I love them all the more for it. I guarantee there is an easier and better way to string seed beads, but since I’m usually only stringing about 10 or so at a time I like to count them and laboriously slide them onto the bead wire one by one. Next, add the bigger, easier-to-grasp beads.

Slide a crimp bead on the end of that sucker, squash it good, and voila! Trim the excess wire and you’ve got yourself an earring.

For the second pair of the day, I wanted to include a chain. As the chain links are too small to slip easily through the loop of the ear wire, this calls for a jump ring. That said, fuck jump rings because 1. I don’t have any OR 2. good material to make jump rings immediately at hand. I DO have some skinny steel wire, so I just used that instead. Thread the wire through the end link of the chain and also through the loop of the ear wire. Double the wire around in a circle, and use your pliers to pull it tight. Wrap the wire around the ear wire loop a few more times for good measure, trim the ends, and use your pliers to squash it all together neatly. Hooray! You can unpick this arrangement yourself if you want, but your chain won’t be able to wiggle free of its bonds without your assistance.

Then the bead wire crimp bead routine comes back into play; just thread it through the open end-link of the chain. String ’em up, crimp that shit, trim it up, BOOM BAM!

I wear the heaviest earrings in the third holes closest to my cartilage; my ears have just got better structural integrity to handle the weight there. BUT WAIT! A complication! I wanna use a bead that has negative space in the middle! How will we possibly contend with this problem?

Seed beads, of course! Or whatever the hell beads that are small enough that you wanna cram in there. Thread the bead wire through just the first hole in the negative-space bead. Load the in-betweener beads on the protruding wire, THEN — carefully, this is definitely the part where you drop all the beads on the floor and cuss and attempt again three times — pull the wire back through the column of beads until you can caaarefully move it to the precise position where you can poke the wire ends through the second hole of the negative-space bead, and there you have it! Don’t lose patience with yourself; this shit is difficult.

Slide the last bead on, crimp bead the whole arrangement, squish, trim the edges, do it all over again, and you’ve got three pairs of earrings!

HA! Just TRY to stop the bug now!! You’ll have 36 new pairs of earrings by the time your evening’s over!

Now is not the time to stay silent about discontent and dissent.

But most importantly, the thing about ears, y’all, is not their amazing potential for ornamentation but their ability to bring you valuable information…when your MOUTH is SHUT. Listening, really listening to knowledgeable women of color before opening my trap to flap off with my own opinions about stuff is my personal mandate for 2017. Now is not the time to stay silent about discontent and dissent, but that means speaking up to injustice, not talking over people who know way the fuck better than you do. Let’s use those head-flapperdoodles on the sides of our skulls to REALLY listen to women of color, to listen to scientists, to listen to all those we can and should learn from, especially at this critical juncture in our country’s history.

The world’s not over yet, and until it is? I plan to keep my clanky, jangly ears open to the people who can best tell me how to fix our collective shit.

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