Another one from the History Files of The Art of Handmade (no longer in publication) – a magazine featuring everything handmade. The Jeweler in the Woods by Henna La Plante, Henna’s Happy Hemp Jewelry – turning your hobby into a business after retirement while living off the grid.
Have you ever wished you could learn a craft for fun and sell enough to support the hobby? I have always admired my grandmothers that could quilt, sew, crochet and knit. About two years ago, I retired from 25 years working the corporate grind.
My veteran husband and I decided we wanted to live in a tiny cabin in the woods.
I had no idea what I was getting into. The homestead was off-grid with a 240 sq ft cabin, an energetic 2.5-year-old, 10 chickens and 2 dogs on 25 acres of undeveloped forest in the Ozarks of Arkansas. In addition to my husband opening a non-profit Survival School for underprivileged youth, I wanted something fun for me to do and I thought it would be too hard for me to start a hobby without proper storage space or other basic comforts for a home business, such as the internet, power, and running water. I didn’t know where to start.
My journey as a The Jeweler in the Woods began when my husband’s friend gave us coyote teeth in trade to make him a necklace. I always wished I knew how to make hemp jewelry, so I told him I could give it a try.
Jumping in head first seemed like the only logical thing to do for a spontaneous city girl. I invested $25 on a beginner hemp book, a roll of hemp and a few natural wood beads and hematite from a hobby store.
It was January 28, 2014, and I tried a simple bracelet pattern from the book first. By accident, I made a helix knot instead of a square knot because there were typos in the book.
From that moment, I have been
In February 2014, “Henna’s Happy Hemp Jewelry” was launched from a local library computer and became the The Jeweler in the Woods. I wasn’t going to let technology stand in my way of success. Photography was our next hurdle. I take pictures of each design before it’s assembled and upon completion. I started using coyote hides for the background and that took some patience because full sunlight was required. As each design gets better and each photo is taken, I really focus on using natural props and backgrounds. It’s good when you live in the woods for materials, really bad when I am begging the sun to come out. I use an app to improve brightness in each photo and add the logo. When cell signal permits, I post new pictures on all of our social avenues. Social Media is a great way to advertise and there are many online support groups to help get started in any craft. Each online avenue brings worldwide customers from 3-year-old city girl pink bracelets to 80-year-old countryman hunter’s trophy necklace.
In March 2014, I opened our first jewelry booth in public. We took 13 custom orders at local main street festival in the rain with only 3 other vendors. We were hooked and started doing booths every weekend for 4 months. I called weekly to coordinators a few days before
There are limitless materials available for jewelry making. Sadly, many of us suffer from metal allergies like me. It has been a challenge to create wearable, durable jewelry that is allergy friendly, nickel free and lead-free. I decided if I can’t wear it, then I don’t make it. Quality is my first priority in selling anything handmade. We live in thick, brushy woods and my jewelry is worn every day to test the durability of new products. You need to know your products and its limitations in order to sell them.
In June 2014, I was invited to be a featured art- ist for a new boutique in downtown Rockwall, Texas. I was so excited, we contacted the owner for their preferences for colors and styles. After producing their non-animal jewelry for display, we drove 10 hours to present our line.
After sign- ing agreement, we were on display for 4 months then
Living in the woods always gives me peace, even on my phone. There is no internet and no service for calls or texting. It allows me to focus on reading, writing, and family. Staying organized in a 240 sq ft house with two home-based businesses is a challenge. I live without power, so prioritizing tasks that need full light are done during daylight, like dishes, sweeping and cooking.
I make jewelry by headlamp, so it’s flexible to do anytime. I keep my business in a binder with sheet protectors to easily find orders and notes. I keep all my beads in clear tray lidded containers that stack and my tools in a pencil box. I store my hemp and larger items in clear zipper bags. My craft table doubles as our bookshelf when it’s not toted to a craft show. I keep all my business receipts taped in a composition book and tally weekly, monthly and quarterly for tax-deductible categories. I use carbonless general purpose receipt books for every order for giveaways, discounts, trades, and sales. These are available from most grocery stores.
I keep my entire business in one waterproof clear tub with fold-over locking handles. If I have a work in progress, I use a small lidded container to hold beads and place everything I need in a large zipper bag to go. I use composition book for writing design plans down before I start with measurements, materials, and quantity in case of spills or long breaks. I do a lot to keep our tiny cabin as home sweet home and not a crazy home based jeweler’s studio.
Every design is special to me and I put my heart and hands into every knot. Handmade Jewelry is an art and takes time to develop skills. I spend hours sorting, designing, and assembling unique works of wearables. It takes dedication, patience, and passion. When you design handmade items, remember to include the labor in your costs. That means every minute from the hand selection of beads to the handwriting of tags. I love what I do and it shows. This favor to a friend turned into a happy, flexible, lightweight and inexpensive hobby. Soon I’ll have instructional galleries on our website for beginners. Being the Jeweler in the Woods didn’t come naturally, but with a little nudge and practice, anything is possible.
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