The summer of 2010 was going to be “the summer of self-improvement” for Lucy Kelly.
On the verge of turning 30, living in Pittsburgh’s South Hills and working as a speech pathologist in the Hopewell School District, she was looking for a hobby to fill up some free time.
She signed up for sewing, quilting and jewelry-making classes.
“The only one that wasn’t a failure was the jewelry,” said Kelly, who now lives in North Huntingdon. “The woman who taught the sewing class said, ‘This isn’t gonna be your thing.’ But the jewelry making stuck.”
It stuck in a big way. Kelly progressed from making jewelry for herself to making pieces for friends, selling at local fairs and markets, opening an Etsy shop and eventually selling her bel monili line on her own website.
Through a second business, Bloom by bel monili, she’s also created an online business development course for makers interested in replicating her success at turning a hobby into a money-maker.
To top it off, she recently was invited to write a beginner’s jewelry-making guide. “Beaded Jewelry Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Earrings, Bracelets, Necklaces, and More,” launched April 19 from SkyHorse Publishing.
Kelly specializes in handcrafted jewelry and accessories using vintage and repurposed materials, including earrings, brooches, chain, books, buttons, flowers and other materials.
It’s not surprising that she gravitates toward vintage materials. As a child, she would skip down the street from her house in Pitcairn to spend time in her grandmother’s antique shop.
Agnes’ Antiques, run by her late grandmother, Agnes Wozniak, “was a teeny, tiny little space, but it was like a neighborhood gathering place,” Kelly said. “She had a little chair and a tiny coffee pot by the door, and people would come and hang out.
“She would take me with her when she would go check things out and buy what she wanted for her shop,” Kelly said. “I always thought the sparkly, vintage jewelry was really cool. The flowers, the colors, the sparkle, really caught my eye.”
“In looking for things to work with, there was no shortage of beads and old broken jewelry, and I thought I could use that,” she said. “My designs started to shift into this unintentional niche of working with vintage jewelry, because every piece came out as one of a kind, and every piece was so interesting.”
Kelly is also drawn to the quality, the history — and even the abundance — of the vintage pieces.
“There are boxes and boxes of it at the flea market or auctions,” she said. “People don’t want to wear it, but they don’t want to throw it away because there’s an emotional connection. They remember playing with grandma’s clip-on earrings as a kid.
“It evolved so that was my specialty, taking it and making something new.”
‘People are paying me’
Kelly’s first pieces drew attention when she wore them herself. People started requesting her custom-made pieces, then encouraging her to sell them to a wider market.
She opened an Etsy shop in 2011, and also started selling at local markets and craft fairs. Making $160 at the I Made It! Market in Pittsburgh was a revelation.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, not only do I get to make stuff, but people are going to pay me for it. That’s amazing!” she said.
About 10 years ago at Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade market, Kelly met Jeanne Cherry of Plum, whose juNxtaposition line of Bohemian-influenced jewelry and gift items incorporates vintage and found objects.
“I was in business about five years prior to her,” Cherry said. “She started as a hobby, and I was doing it to try to make a living. She grew so fast. Her jewelry designs and art of display have grown immensely.”
Kelly’s business and confidence took a big leap in 2013, when she was accepted to “Country Living” magazine’s Country Living Fair in Austin, Texas.
“People from the magazine were there, people from HGTV, so you were in front of big people doing really big things,” she said.
As her sales picked up and her reputation grew, Kelly started thinking about creating her own website.
“The (Etsy) fees per transaction were getting expensive,” she said. I was paying hundreds of bucks a month to Etsy, where I could pay $30 for having my own website.”
Among their network of makers, Cherry said, Kelly was the one who was always thinking ahead. Along with having her own website, she also was one of the first to develop a list of customers’ email addresses — something that came in handy in trying to sell during the pandemic shutdown.
“Lucy has always been the idea person,” Cherry said. “She would say, ‘If Facebook and Instagram and the shows went away, what would you do?’ And then it happened.”
Kelly launched her bel monili site in 2018. Not only did that help her bottom line, it also led to another business opportunity — the business development course, “Get Online, Grow Online.”
As she grew her business and got into better shows, people started asking how she was doing it.
“I was answering the same questions for different people, and it was taking up a lot of my time. So I thought this was a thing I could make and give access to more people,” she said. “This is so meta, but I took an online course to learn how to make an online course.
“I wrote my curriculum at the end of 2019, and the premise was doing what I do — going to shows, connecting with customers, getting them on your email list, connecting on social media, getting them to your website,” she said.
‘On chapter 12’
The first round of the course was offered in January 2020 — perfect timing, Kelly said, as artisans scrambled to replace income lost as in-person fairs and pandemics fell prey to the shutdown.
“It’s a full online course,” Kelly said. “It launches with a live, hour-long workshop, then it’s $497 for lifetime access to full curriculum.
After the opening workshop, there are four self-paced modules, each with multiple lessons covering branding, content creation, social media and email marketing. Kelly also offers eight weeks of live support, allowing two weeks for each module.
“She just put together all of her skills,” Cherry said. “She has the ideas, the people skills, the marketing background, and people love her. That’s what has made Bloom successful — she’s not arrogant at all; people feel like they’re learning from a friend.”
Being asked to write the book on beaded jewelry came as a surprise to Kelly. Before finding out that she had been recommended by a maker friend who had written a book on crafting with flannel for Skyhorse Publishing, she thought it might be a scam.
Her friend said, “I didn’t tell you ahead of time, because I didn’t want to get you all worked up if they didn’t reach out.”
While hard work went into growing her business and reputation, Kelly said, she also has been fortunate to have had moral and financial support from her husband, Erik, a software engineer. While most of her time is devoted to jewelry-making, she does some contract work as a speech pathologist via Zoom.
Kelly and her husband have a 6-year-old daughter, Evelyn.
“Self-confidence is the biggest problem I see in the maker community and in my students,” Kelly said. “There are people who make really beautiful things, and they hold themselves back. It’s important to note that the business I have now is years in the making, from learning and practicing and honing my craft.”
“I made necklaces 12 years ago, but the necklaces I make today are so much different and so much improved, because it’s a practice,” she added. “People might look at what I’m doing and say, ‘I could never do that.’
“You can, though. I’m on chapter 12 here.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, email@example.com or via Twitter .