Untangling: Jennifer Porter of Porterness Studio

If there’s anything I love to shop for more than hand-dyed yarn, it’s handmade jewelry. Jennifer Porter of Porterness Studio combines the two with her products, which include beautiful necklaces and earrings and equally chic shawl pins and buttons. They’re all made from the 6,000-year-old lost wax casting technique, in which jewelry is made by pouring molten metal into a mold created from a wax model that is later melted away. Jennifer, a fellow knitter, hand crafts her products from the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. I recently asked her about her process and background as a knitter and crocheter.

How did you get started making and selling jewelry?

My first real foray into the jewelry business actually happen in my childhood. I fondly remember my sister and I, age 11 and 12, making and selling handmade pompom animal pins to friends, family and door to door around the neighborhood. It was wonderful to see the neighborhood adorned with our humble little pins.

However, my official jewelry-making career began in 2007. I started out offering jewelry on Etsy that was inspired by and incorporated beautiful mid century German glass beads. In the early days, I would search high and low for these tiny colorful glass sculptures and once found, I would spend hours combining them into one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. Little did I know that the spark of intrigue and fascination for these unique beads would lead me to discover the allure of many processes of ancient jewelry-making. Eventually, my curiosity for these early techniques inspired me to enroll in my first lost wax casting course.

I was immediately enthralled with the 6,000-year-old lost wax casting technique and it has maintained its ranks as my favorite and primary method of my design process.

After over a year of intense study, practice, and personal refinement of this ancient process, I created Porterness Studios.

How did you choose the method that you use?

I chose lost wax casting method for not only for its place in ancient art history but because of a personal desire to preserve and showcase what this amazing process can create. While it is not the quickest, or the easiest process to master or utilize, the results are simply amazing and create beautiful heirloom pieces.

You still crochet and knit? What are some of your favorite things to make?

My knitting story is hardly unique, I’m sure, and is standard for most of our fellow knitters and crocheters. My grandmother first taught me how to crochet when I was 10, and I would pick up the hook from time to time.

Fast forward to the day I stumbled upon the magical world of indie dyers. I immediately was reminded of those first few German glass beads that really fueled my journey into lost wax casting. This was one reason why I wanted to design a collection specifically intended to harmonize with heirloom knitted and crocheted garments. If I would have known about hand-dyed yarn when I was 10, I probably would never stopped. Now, I’m finding myself buying yarn just to look at it as a spirit object in my home.

As a relatively new knitter I’m firmly ensconced in hat- and scarf-land but I plan on casting on a poncho very, very soon. Wish me luck.

When did you decide to create shawl pins and buttons?

I have been secretly making shawl pins and buttons as gifts for my mother for quite some time now. She is the prolific knitter and designer in the family, so I must credit her amazing designs for the inspiration to create the Porterness Studios Fiber Age Collection. It was really just a matter of time and encouragement before the yarn bug would bite me too and lead me to create pieces that can harmonize with knitted garments.

What have been your most popular sellers?

The Demi-sec tiny bubble fork and Circular shawl pin.

What inspires your designs?

I draw inspiration from all over but art history, ancient cultures, and Modernist and Mid Century design have all played a significant role in my collections.

As of late, I have been nerding out on all of the mind blowing fiber art garments and hand dyers on Instagram and Ravelry, and they are quickly becoming huge inspiration to create new designs.

How often do you create new designs?

I start my day with a cup of coffee and new design. I’ll wake up to design for 20 minutes or hours depending on the day (or my level of productive procrastination). A design is my morning meditation and mental yoga. A small percentage of those pre-coffee designs make it into production, but it is a daily process.

What are some of the best things you’ve learned running your handmade business?

Learning how to transmit my passion for my designs and my design process to others has been one of my biggest challenges, and something that I have spent considerable time working on this year. The lost wax casting process is mystical and fascinating and I am absolutely thrilled that so many other people seem to share this excitement and passion once they learn about it, too.

This year I also began learning and integrating 3D modeling into my design process and it has opened up my design potential in ways that previously would have required a team of people, with 20+ years of experience, and thousand of dollars of equipment. This new skill allows me to create work with a small eco footprint by cutting out waste and designing within a small workspace. The versatility of 3D molding opened my design process so I can offer items that are complicated and refined right out of the gate. It’s also really exciting to be at the forefront of a new production process that combines the ancient art of lost wax casting with new and modern design and manufacturing technologies like 3D modeling and printing.

But I am always striving to learn and grow. Since starting Porterness Studio and developing each subsequent collection, I have worked to refine and further develop all of the techniques and processes I utilize both modern and ancient, and this ancient modernism toolbox has manifested itself into every facet and design of Porterness Studio.

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