Special orders

I’m not a fan of special orders. I’d rather people buy what I have created. But I understand the need for special orders. People want something they have in mind, but they don’t know how to do it themselves.
Special orders are hard because people don’t really know how to ask for what they want. They don’t know the range of beads that are available, and the range that isn’t. I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years and there are many beads I’ve only seen once. If I buy them and use them, I can’t find them again. They may exist, but I don’t know where. Going back to the same store doesn’t help. They may be sold out and their supplier can’t get any more.
That is part of what makes beading exciting. It is fun to find something that other people will love and is unique. It is also part of what makes it frustrating.
It is sometimes very hard to understand exactly what someone wants when they ask for something special. When Sally asks for a green necklace – what does she mean? Opaque? Translucent? What shade of green – olive, emerald, avocado, mint…? There are hundreds of shades of color. And then what shape? Round, faceted, tube, flat…? Then what size – tiny, medium, large?
The best is when a customer sets some parameters and trusts me with the rest, and are willing to pay for whatever I make. The worst is when they say “surprise me” and really they mean “read my mind”. Once a necklace is created, it can’t be easily modified. Sure, beads aren’t like paint. I can take the whole thing apart and reuse the beads. I haven’t wasted my money on the beads. But I still have to take the thing apart. If it is too long or too short, or the pattern isn’t what they expected, then what was wasted is my time, and that is very valuable to me.
I’ve made necklaces for people I’ve not met. I’ve not even talked to them. There was a lady who I knew over the phone. She wanted a necklace for her Mom. She described her Mom and I made a necklace and she was thrilled. Rarely is it this simple.
Sometimes I’ll pull together beads that are in the neighborhood of what the person wants, and let them look at them first. This seems to save a lot of frustration. I get a better idea of what they mean. The problem is that sometimes that doesn’t work, because the beads they have in mind aren’t ones that I have access to. I’ve got a lot of beads, and there are some pretty amazing bead stores here, but they don’t have everything.
Ideally, people would buy what I made. Barring that, in the second best situation they’d say something like “I’d like a red necklace that is 22 inches long” and let me figure out the rest. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it. The joy of making is the joy of discovering. It is hard to discover with a lot of limitations. When that starts happening, it would be easier to just teach them how to make their own jewelry.
I do teach people how to make jewelry, but not a lot. Nobody taught me. I took apart old necklaces from thrift stores and figured it out. I tried stuff and learned what worked and what didn’t. Bead books didn’t exist when I started making jewelry, and bead stores were few and far between. Now anybody can figure it out easily with YouTube and beading books from the library, but they still ask me. I can teach the mechanics of it, but I can’t teach design. That is something I just know, and I’m not sure how to teach it.