RioPro Newsletter
July 2018
Health and Wellness Tips for Jewelers by Missy Ballone

Health and Wellness Tips for Jewelers

Author: Missy Graff Ballone of Wellness for Makers

As Jewelers, we spend a lot of time sitting at the bench creating intricate pieces. Our hands are accustomed to working meticulously through repetitive tasks over and over again throughout the day. Take a moment to consider which parts of your process are the most repetitive. It’s no secret that choosing the same action over and over again makes it more likely that you will develop a repetitive strain injury, but the good news is that this outcome is not inevitable. Learning more about your most important tool, your body, is incredibly empowering. So, here are a few tips that will help you cultivate stronger studio habits.

Alternate Tasks:

Creating extra variety in the movements you do every day is critical for maintaining the health of your hands. Taking time to switch tasks might sound inefficient, but think about how inefficient it would be if you were out of work for a month or so because of a repetitive strain injury.

Have you ever wondered how you can add more variety to your everyday motions? Rather than eliminating any movement entirely and replacing it with another, try alternating between tasks throughout the day.

If you sit for the majority of the day, try to add some additional movement by alternating between sitting and standing. It’s not that standing is better than sitting, it’s just import to give your joints and muscles a break from staying in one position for too long.

Rather than spending your whole day repeating one task, such as filing, sanding, or sawing, use a timer to remind yourself to alternate regularly.

A maker using a saw frame outfitted with a larger handle

Studio Ergonomics:

Noticing your posture in the studio is the first step to creating better habits when it comes to studio ergonomics. If your studio practice requires you to sit in a chair for long hours, either at the bench or computer, then it is important to sit well: Sit toward the front of your chair and position your knees directly over your ankles. Adjust the height of your chair so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then sit up tall, keep your chin level, keep the back of your neck long, and relax your shoulders. Even though good seated posture is important, remember that sitting for long periods of time without breaks can result in pain and discomfort in your back, neck, and shoulders.

If you stand for extended periods of time, remind yourself to move around your workspace frequently. You can change which types of surfaces you stand on by using an anti-fatigue mat for part of the day. An anti-fatigue mat can help reduce the pressure on your joints.

The process of fabricating small objects requires our hands to grip tools that often have small handles. Holding your tools too tightly for long periods of time can create strain in the hands, wrists, and forearms. You can loosen your grip by using a tool with a wider handle or adding foam padding from your local hardware store to the tools you already have.

A maker demonstrating a healthy sitting posture

Take Consistent Breaks:

How often do you take breaks throughout the day? How often do you get into a groove and put off taking a break to drink water, eat, go for a walk, or even use the bathroom? We’ve all been there! It takes time and consistency to develop new habits and sometimes little reminders go a long way. Try setting a timer on your phone or computer to check in with your body every 30 minutes. Be consistent. Take the time to notice if you're slouching, hungry, thirsty, or need to stand up and walk around. Listen to and respect your body’s needs, adjust your posture, and then get back into the rhythm of making.

Taking breaks might feel unproductive at first, but it can actually help you to experience more clarity and increase your productivity. Taking a break can be as simple as focusing on your breath for a few moments. Noticing the sounds, feelings, and movements of your breath can physically calm down your nervous system. It only takes a few moments, but it goes a long way.

A maker standing and stretching her hands

These are just a few of the ways that you can modify your studio practice to support a life of healthy making. It can be challenging to develop new habits, but incorporating these techniques into your daily studio routine will help to create longevity in your hands and body.

Michelle Dall’Acqua of Heartstrings

RioPro Profile: Michelle Dall'Acqua of HeartStrings Fine Jewelry

Heartstrings is a lifestyle brand created by Canadian artist, Michelle Dall’Acqua. Each handcrafted offering makes a style impression and celebrates the musicians who inspire us.

Heartstrings is proud to reflect eco-conscious artistry. Instrument strings, each made up of an assortment of metals, cannot be recycled by traditional means. Refined, they become a beautiful, durable and exceptional palette for art you can wear. Each string is generously donated by local musicians and music stores. Each piece reflects the journey of local musicians – talent of all ages – and gives their materials new life.

Music inspires. It brings people together. It pulls at our hearts. It helps define us. Heartstrings is Michelle’s opportunity to reflect beautiful music!

Guitar String Divider
Michelle Dall’Acqua, Designer

Michelle Dall’Acqua, Designer

Rio: How did your company, HeartStrings Fine Jewelry, begin and what inspired you to use guitar strings as a medium?

Michelle: I had been given a guitar string bracelet as a gift a few years ago and although it looked just like a circle of grungy old guitar string, the concept stuck with me and I began looking more closely at instrument strings. I thought the strings were a beautiful raw material and my goal was to refine and create fine jewelry from retired strings that could be worn for any occasion. I began experimenting, making hundreds of mistakes, creating new techniques and eventually the pieces began to take shape.

Rio: Are you a musician yourself?

Michelle: I get asked this question all the time and it makes me smile. I can play a few chords on the guitar, but that’s about it. If I were a musician, I would be pouring my heart and soul into making music. Instead I’m creating an extension to music, not just for musicians, but for the audience, for anyone who appreciates music or unique jewelry. I think the audience is absolutely essential to the culture of music. It’s the audience that fills stadiums, small clubs, concert halls, and festival sites.

Rio: Have you explored repurposing other mediums for your jewelry?

Michelle: I’m truly passionate about instrument strings! Perhaps, if I run out of ideas I will look at other mediums. It won’t be in the near future. I can’t keep up to my ideas right now!

That being said, I was asked to do a commission last fall using a cracked cymbal of a drummer who passed away suddenly in his early 20’s. The result was a simple pendant with a ring of electric guitar string connecting it to a necklace for the drummer’s mother’s birthday. The ridges of the cymbal catch the light and make it glow. His broken cymbal now rests near the rhythm of his mother’s heart. It was an honor to have been a part of that project as well as all of the other memorial commissions that have come my way.

Rio: You seem to be very connected with your community. Tell us a about the heartstrings core values and how they inspire you to give back.

Michelle: Heartstrings Jewelry has provided incredible opportunities for me to give back to my community! Most recently I collaborated with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in Alberta. Musicians from these orchestras gave me their strings and I created unique pieces of jewelry out of cello and violin strings which I then sold at a few of their performances. The patrons were able to leave with a piece of jewelry still resonating with the music that had flowed through the strings of their favorite performers. I donated a portion of the proceeds from these events to each orchestras’ charitable organizations; a youth music education program for social change reaching underserved youth, and a “healing hearts through music” program which provides performance tickets to those in need.

I have also had the opportunity to create jewelry from the strings of known performers for fundraising initiatives.

Pendant made with piece of a cymbal with a ring of electric guitar string

Special-commissioned pendant made with piece of a cymbal with a ring of electric guitar string

Rio: What is your biggest challenge as a business owner and/or designer?

Michelle: My biggest challenge as business owner is keeping all of the balls in the air. Every aspect has its difficulties and rewards, but time has to be spread out and balanced.

My biggest challenge as a designer is the material. The strings have all been played and when I get them I don’t know the exact content of the metal, how old they are, how much stress they have already undergone. It’s mystery I’m solving in a backwards manner. The mixed metal content of the strings also has its own challenges. The strings don’t want to do what I want them to do. I have to adapt to what they want to do.

Champagne Collection Pendant

Pendant from Champagne Collection

Rio: Can you speak to me about the inspiration behind the Champagne Collection?

Michelle: In my Champagne Collection I have incorporated the ball ends of the strings. These are brass beads on the end of each string that secure the string into the base of the neck of the instrument. The ball ends remind me of the bubbles in a glass of champagne. I see the pieces in this collection being worn to champagne worthy events!

Champagne Collection Necklace featuring ball-ends of instrument strings

Champagne Collection Necklace featuring ball-ends of instrument strings

Rio: What are your plans for jewelry collections moving forward? Any teasers?

Michelle: On one end, I am working on a few pieces in my urban collection that will be distributed to music stores across Canada this fall. On the other end, I am taking a gem course through Gem-A in London and am planning on incorporating gem stones into my higher end pieces.

Rio: Do you have a favorite piece?

Michelle: It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite. I love them all! I actually design my jewelry for myself and I’m thrilled others share my taste.

Rio: You have a beautiful website and inspiring Instagram posts. What is your most successful sales channel?

Michelle: My sales channels are in the process of change, but to date my best sales have been at music festivals and symphony concerts.

Michelle sitting at the bench

Rio: Tell us about your bench and your workspace. What is your creative environment like?

Michelle: My workspace has a large window for natural light (you can never have enough light). I like to have unfinished pieces and mistakes in view to inspire new ideas. It’s kind of an organized mess and there is always music playing.

My dad built a solid maple workbench for me with drawers shallow in height, but as deep as the desk is in length. Working on this desk reminds me of what an inspiration my dad has been to me. He turned his ideas into reality and if he needed something he built it. When I was a baby he went to a lecture by Buckminster Fuller on the geodesic dome. He then designed and built a geodesic dome house for our family which was featured in a National Film Board of Canada film. My school teachers made friendly jokes about me living in a round house and would ask me what it was like to think outside the box.

Rio: Tell me about a bench or workshop tool that you find indispensable.

Michelle: My magnetic pin finisher from Rio Grande recently arrived. I purchased it after seeing it demonstrated at the MJSA show in New York. It has saved me time and steps for some of my processes and I am continually finding new uses for it!

Rio: What advice do you share with other designers exploring alternative materials?

Michelle: Find your own path, create opportunities, and collaborate! No idea is too crazy if you follow it through!

I was out for a run one day and thought “it would be wonderful to expand on what I do with guitar strings and try a project with the Symphony”. I came up with a proposal, wrote it down, reached out to the Symphony, and together we achieved something fresh and unique that benefitted so many others.

Visit the HeartStrings website. | Visit the HeartStrings Instagram page. |
Visit the HeartStrings Facebook page | Visit the HeartStrings Twitter page

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