Cecilia Leibovitz creates custom memory, keepsake, and memorial jewelry with special swatches of fabric from wedding dresses, baby clothes, and other fabrics with important meaning. Customers send in their fabrics and Cecilia turns them into one-of-a-kind jewelry designs to remind them of special occasions or special someones.
Cecilia has also recently written a beading book – Bead Jewelry Making for Beginners. You might spot some of our Artbeads Designer Jewelry Wire in the book! We fell in love with Cecilia’s work and passion for jewelry-making, and we know you will, too. Read on to learn more about what inspires her work, why she chose to write a book for beaders, and more.
How did you get started making jewelry?
At the age of about ten, I had a babysitter who began making jewelry from colored telephone wires that had been taken down on her street by ‘Bell Telephone’ workers. She was given bundles of wire to work with and I remember how excited she was when she discovered she could create bracelets from them. From there, she began to work with beads and began to sell pieces. She gave me some supplies and encouraged me to try making jewelry, too. Today she has a wonderful jewelry line, justbedesigns on Etsy. Though I found this early introduction to jewelry making fun and loved the colors, I didn’t take to it at this time and for a long time I forgot all about making jewelry.
After being in business for some time and representing hand-makers and artists, I decided that I wanted to shift gears to start a brand around my own handmade work. I’d majored in art in high school, continued to have art in my life through college and in some form or another over the years. I had no idea what I wanted to create but whatever it would be, I would need to learn it first; I borrowed many art and craft books from my local library, including books on silk ribbon work, embroidery, beading on fabric and bead jewelry making. First, I fell in love with the craft of silk ribbon work and beading on fabric, and it was to be some years before I would settle into jewelry making.
When did you decide to turn your love of jewelry-making into a business? What was that process like?
I needed a ‘canvas’ on which to put my silk flower and beadwork creations and I saw a beautiful photo of a 1920s cloche hat in a book. I decided then and there to enroll in the millinery program at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where I was currently living. After quite a few years of focusing on hat making and having a little millinery business, I decided that I enjoyed the tiny details of decorating the hats more than making the hats themselves. And so, in a roundabout way, I came back to jewelry making! I changed my shop on Etsy so that instead of hats and vintage lace, I began to offer pendant necklaces I embroidered by hand, as well as some pieces made with vintage lace and other fabrics. I realized after a short time that what sold best of all was my lace “memorial” pieces, made with silks and antique lace from my collection, as well as lace that was sent in to me by clients for custom work. In 2018, after losing my partner of 18 years and the father of my two youngest sons to cancer, I went through a time of deep grief and took a break from my work. After this, I decided to focus completely on fabric memory and memorial jewelry pieces because I found that fabrics brought comfort to me and my sons when we looked through their dad’s clothing, and I wanted to offer this kind of comfort to others in a tangible and lasting way. I have slowly been incorporating beads more and more into the fabric jewelry and it’s been an exciting journey. My clients are so happy when they see a special piece of fabric preserved in a beautiful pendant frame. Most of the pieces I am asked to make are from bridal wedding fabrics. I also make baby clothing memory jewelry and memorial pieces with clothing of lost loved ones.
Your pieces have a definite and unique style. How did you find that signature style for your pieces?
When I studied millinery, I was told by a teacher that I had a clean style, while evoking a luxurious and vintage feel in my work. This comment influenced me and almost trained me to continue in this vein, but I think it’s something that I’ve always recognized in my work. Interestingly, I think it comes from a conflict of sorts between two pieces of my creativity: I adore lush, intricate materials and details like, for example, those you’d find historically in Medieval, Renaissance, Victorian, and fashions of the 1920s. At the same time, there is something in me that holds back from going too over the top; I push through this by taking away when I see too many elements in the work competing for attention. Then, I add and take away, and so on until I am satisfied everything is balanced. I think the result is jewelry with a simple elegance that has ornate touches.
What’s your favorite technique when making jewelry?
I love so many things about making jewelry but I think I’d have to say my favorite thing right now is mixing and matching bead colors and textures to make bead charms that will complement my fabric pendants.
What are your essential jewelry-making tools?
A sewing needle and thread, two pairs of chain nose pliers, round nose pliers and flush cutters.
What inspires your creations? What keeps your creativity flowing?
I love textures and prints in fabrics, especially velvets and silks. Beautiful fabrics and lines in well made clothing and furnishings inspire my jewelry designs on a daily basis, mostly through photos on Instagram and Pinterest, or books and magazines.
Sometimes I will sit down with a random pile of beads, scraps of silk, buttons, and other odds and ends left over from past projects; I may do this just to see what I can make with them, or it may be for a particular project I have in mind. Working with very little in this way or simply whatever I have on hand really keeps my creativity flowing and in fact, some of my best design ideas have come from this practice.
Why did you decide to write your book, Bead Jewelry Making for Beginners?
There are a few reasons I decided to write the book. I have always learned best through repetition rather than simply reading instructions from books, and have found some of the beading books I tried learning from difficult to follow. I wanted to write a book with the goal of it being as simple as possible to learn from. I tried to keep my writing very clear and hopefully this, along with all of the photos, and the fact that each project builds on skills learned in previous chapters of the book, will simplify things even for those who have never made a piece of jewelry before. I thought that writing a jewelry book would teach me more about design and organizing my ideas. This turned out to be true; I learned so much and am very glad I took on the challenge! Lastly, I’ve been writing from a very young age and for some time had considered writing a non-fiction book – being asked by Callisto Media to write [my book] seemed like the perfect opportunity to realize my dream.
Can you share some of the process of what writing that book was like? Did you have projects in mind specifically for the book or did you use projects you had already created? Anything else?
Writing the book felt kind of like a roller coaster! My daughter Talia, who is a photographer, collaborated with me on the photos. The publisher gave us a tight timeline of about six weeks to finish the entire book. That was nearly two dozen projects all to be designed and photographed in less than two months! For each project, I created an initial design then recreated the piece step by step as Talia stood beside me photographing under hot lights. There were important little nuances I had to pay attention to like making sure my manicure was as consistent as possible week after week. The projects were all quite different from the jewelry that I make in my own collection. While my work has more of a classic feel, these pieces were inspired much more by what would be interesting looking and trendy while being timeless yet approachable to make, even for the beginner who has never made a piece of jewelry before.
Any pieces of advice you can share for beginning jewelry makers (besides reading your book!)?
1- Practice simple techniques such as opening and closing jump rings and making simple wire loops over and over again. This will help you to be an expert at both beginner and, later, more advanced projects.
2- Let yourself experiment with colors and textures in your materials, whether beads or otherwise. You will feel it when you know that you’ve come up with a design that is right. If in doubt, walk away for a few hours or even days, and then come back to your piece and you’ll have a fresh perspective. Keep doing this as long as it takes until your piece feels finished.
Finally, what are some of your other hobbies?
I love reading biographies about old Hollywood stars, old houses, and anything about business marketing/entrepreneurship.
If you’d like to see more of Cecilia’s work, head to her website, cecileibovitz.com/. You can also find her on Instagram, @ceci_leibovitz. Don’t forget to check out her new book, Bead Jewelry Making for Beginners.