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Joan Therese Seivert’s necklace — a large heart shape covered in tiny pieces of sparkly jewelry attached to a bolo tie — looks homemade, and it is. It comes with a heartfelt story.
Her sister made it for her before Seivert left her hometown of St. Paul 35 years ago to live in Denver. All those little sparkly bits were culled from the jewelry passed down by her grandmother.
"It’s Grandma. It’s my sister. It’s my path of service. It’s my work. It’s my faith. It’s my way of taking care of myself. It’s a way of showing up. It’s a reminder," says Ms. Seivert, who helps families navigate senior-living choices through her company, Connections Unlimited. Clients, often unfamiliar with elder-care options, start out worried and stressed. Seivert wears the necklace to remind herself to work from her heart, and to signal that message to others.
Many of us collect or end up with old family knickknacks — sewing notions, keys, jewelry, handkerchiefs, buttons, all manner of little, and ancient doodads.
Often, we don’t know what to do with them. What is this thingamabob anyhow? What’s it made of? Should I cherish it, or toss it? How might I use it?
Some, like Seivert’s sister, know exactly what to do with the jars full of keepsakes and the drawers stuffed with thingamajigs.
Take Giuseppina "Josie" Cirincione of Phoenix, who teaches community art classes and has written several crafting books, including Collage Lost and Found (North Light Books, 2006). It shares ideas for making collages and jewelry with old photographs, memorabilia and vintage ephemera.
For Ms. Cirincione, creating begins with collecting. She collects a lot of old things, from wooden dry cleaner hangers and yardsticks to kitchen and woodworking tools. Cookie cutters. Brass keys. Ice picks. Handwritten letters and envelopes. Velveeta cheese boxes (they’re wooden and tout "the delicious cheese food" in vintage lettering).
That’s only a slice of her collection, and Ms. Cirincione puts it all to good use, eventually.
"I’ve always been drawn to anything old, drawn to that unique thing," Ms. Cirincione says.
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For the rest of us, who simply want to make a little something special with a family member’s memorabilia, Ms. Cirincione recommends making a two-dimensional collage or three-dimensional assemblage — but handle your treasures carefully.
"It’s a challenge, using Grandmother’s things," she says. "You don’t want to drill through it or ruin it. You have to figure how to use the found object piece without altering the piece itself."
This nod to preservation led Ms. Cirincione to wire-wrapping and metal-soldering. She recommends using baling wire — an all-around, "fix-it" wire used to mend farm fences — stripped of its outer coating, which reveals a gun-metal gray wire.
"It lends itself more to a vintage, found-object kind of look," Ms. Cirincione says.
Combine memorabilia in a display box — this is why Cirincione collects the Velveeta boxes — incorporating disparate items and textures for added interest.
For jewelry making, have a small drill (with a 1/16-inch drill bit) and pliers on hand. Pick up some jewelry fasteners and eyelets. Ms. Cirincione solders pendants, incorporating buttons, small shells, and photocopied images atop colorful scrapbook paper or snipped pages from discarded, vintage books.
Alisa Hopper of Roseville, Calif., makes salvaging Grandmother’s jewelry even easier: You can mail costume jewelry to her and she’ll refashion it into a modern, wearable piece. See her creations at All Things Tinsel, her Etsy.com shop.
Ms. Hopper says a lot of her clients are brides who want to wear that "something old" in a new way. Pieces range from $50 to $300, depending on how much of her own stock she has to use. Ms. Hopper sends photos of her creations to clients before mailing the finished pieces.
"They have to love it," she says.
Also for brides, but not exclusively so, Jen Rose Diehl of Columbus creates bouquets out of vintage brooches. Her work is available at The Ritzy Rose at Etsy.com.
Ms. Diehl began with her own bouquet for her wedding last year.
"I had so much fun making it," Ms. Diehl says. "I laugh now; it took months. Now it takes days."
Each bouquet requires a lot of brooches. They need to overlap so the foam ball underneath doesn’t show. Ms. Diehl wires each brooch and sticks the wires all the way through the ball. The wires become the bouquet’s stems.
The bouquets can be displayed in a vase too.