Laura Beth Love: Dishfunctional Designs

Laura Beth Love: Dishfunctional Designs

By Ann Wlazelek

While still in college, jewelry-maker Laura Beth Love hit upon the idea of creating something new and pretty from something old and broken.

Some customers immediately recognized the colorful flowers, birds and wallpaper-like borders at the heart of Love’s necklaces. Others gasped when they realized why the patterns seemed familiar: they came from pieces of china, like their grandmother’s.

Love might best be known as the Emmaus woman with a movie-star name who makes jewelry from broken china. But don’t be surprised if before long this maven of re-creation, remakes herself into the next Martha Stewart.

Just like the popularity of her emotionally charged necklaces, the facets of Love’s career are falling into place, piece by piece, and carrying her to stardom.

The jewelry-making business led her to a blog with a million page views per month, jewelry sales around the world, a book deal and, recently, a call from HGTV. “I am overwhelmingly flattered and grateful,” Love said of the fact that scores of people – including a television celebrity – like and want to buy her seemingly endless designs and creations.

Love excels at turning something old, broken or discarded into something new and more valuable – a form of recycling now known as “upcycling.” She did it so well with pieces of vintage china that fame and fortune has come knocking on her door.

It all began when she posted photos of her china jewelry on ebay and the crafters’ website Etsy.  Orders poured in from across the country and continent, especially England, Japan, Ireland and Australia. Among the customers enamored with her work is HBO True Blood star Tanya Wright. Then, an editor from Country Living magazine saw her blog, cleverly named “Dishfunctional Designs,” in which Love shares her ideas and others’ for jewelry making, crafting and decorating the home and garden. The editor chose one of Love’s china necklaces as a “fresh pick” for the magazine’s Oct. 2011 issue.

Radio interviews broadcast in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana followed. And, in August 2012, FW Media of Cincinnati called Love to ask if she would consider writing a book. “At first, I thought it was a joke,” Love recalls. “I had a degree in writing… I had come full circle!” The paperback book, titled “BoHo Chic Jewelry: 25 Timeless Designs Using Soldering, Beading, Wire Wrapping and More” was released this past March and can be ordered ($24.99) from amazon.com. Not bad for an artist who taught herself the basics of jewelry making from books, including some by the same publisher.

Although some of Love’s friends asked her why she would want to give away her secrets, Love said she only considered the question for one day. “I knew inside myself that it was through sharing and inspiring other people that made me a true success,” she said. “When you give these things out, it all comes back to you.”

Love also saw the book as a way to expand her image and line of jewelry. In the book, for example, she shares tips for turning old belts into bracelets and using snippets of antique lace, baby quilts, even Dad’s ties to create keepsake jewelry. “I revel in their history,” Love said. While working on the first 25 ideas, she came up with enough for a
second book.

Love is not sure where her ideas come from. A native of Fullerton and graduate of Whitehall High School, she said she knew at an early age she had a knack for art and wanted to pursue it. Perhaps there was a genetic component too. Her father, the late John Potylycki, was good at watercolors, pencil drawings, music and learning languages, she said. He taught her how to make pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter eggs, using dyes, wax and a stylus. “Our eggs never turned out great,” she said, “but the magic [of creating art] was there.”

Over the years, Love tried painting, mosaics, quilting and stained glass but always came back to designing and making jewelry. “I find it relaxing and meditative,” she said, generally working in her basement studio to the sounds of rock and roll music.

Love went on to obtain an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Lehigh Carbon Community College and a bachelor’s degree in English and professional writing from Kutztown University but never considered a degree in fine art. “I already can do that,” she thought at the time.

The idea of using broken china or heirloom pieces appealed to her because of the personal and emotional attachments people have to the items. She would scour flea markets and thrift stores for treasures, find an orphaned saucer that was beautiful and think, “That needs to be preserved.”

Apparently, lots of her customers agree. Some have sent her a grandmother’s plate from which she made six necklaces for all the daughters and granddaughters in the family. Another wanted vintage china to be the “something old” in jewelry made for each member of a bridal party. Love never took a class in jewelry making, preferring to teach herself what she wanted to know. Turned out that old art books on how to use tools and make jewelry in the 1950s and 1960s still apply today.

Love became an expert at soft soldering because she did not want to have to use a torch to create her silver jewelry. Sterling silver requires open flames and canisters of flammable gas, she said, but the kind of soldering she does performs just as well with less heat. Love used leaded solder to make stained glass, then discovered lead-free soft solder was available and accessible for her jewelry. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said.

Last April, Love was invited to be a resident artist at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, where she will sell her work and display projects from the book. She was the featured artist the First Friday of this month.

A mother of two girls who crafted a way to work from home while raising her family, Love maintains a basement studio because of the loud power tools she uses to cut into china and other materials. But she looks forward to using the Banana Factory studio to display and sell her wares as well as a classroom for passing along her skills.

HGTV reportedly is interested in her garden upcycling designs for the network’s website.

Artist, designer, jewelry maker, blogger, author, teacher. Where else will this upcycler’s career take her?

Love prefers to savor the here and now than to daydream about the future. What she’s certain of, she said, is this: “I want to continue what I do now, getting bigger and better.”

For more information, see Love’s home page: laurabethlove.com; and blog: dishfunctionaldesigns.blogspot.com

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