At Amaliah, we’ve started a series talking to women who are championing the art of hobbies. We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic illumination, Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting and how to get started and knitting for social issues, Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls, Chaimaa Creates about baking and cake design, Katie Haseeb about illustrating and fine arts, Nur Hannah Wan about documentary-making and painting, Firdaws Clotaire about ceramics and pottery-making, and Zainab Alema about her journey to becoming a professional rugby player and encouraging more Muslim women to get involved in sports.
This time, we’re speaking with Brooke Benoit a silversmith.
If you would like to interview a Muslim woman about her hobby, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
I began altering and decorating my clothes and accessories when I was a kid. Now I make jewellery and accessories, often using recycled and upcycled materials.
I’m really not sure. I was always into arts and crafts, spending all my chore money on little bits and bobs I could sew onto my clothes or make things with. I first sold decorated hair clips on the playground in elementary school. In my teens, I searched thrift stores for things to tinker with and make into a style I enjoyed.
A decade later, when I had my third son, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t bought myself any jewellery in some years . I went onto eBay and accidentally wound up in the “loose gemstones” section. A beautiful string of blue chalcedony briolettes caught my eye and I wondered if I could make myself something really magnificent with them. I didn’t. Instead I began researching how to sell handmade jewellery on eBay.
I learned how to hand wire gemstones and initially, seventeen years ago, I sold jewellery as my full-time hustle. It took a back burner while I returned to school and then moved across the world from Alaska to Morocco. But after the move I started back up making jewellery as a side job, calling it my “sparkle therapy.” I wanted to make and sell jewellery full time, but hadn’t learned how to be a silversmith, which I felt was critical to create the kinds of jewellery pieces I had in mind. Last year I finally learned how to be a silversmith at 47 years old!
I love taking raw materials and making something beautiful – more beautiful – with them. And that these things are important or sentimental to the people who buy them is a cherry on top.
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Learning new things is usually challenging. I get intimidated about doing new technical things, but I take the challenge and am amazed at how much I can do with my own hands or ideas. Marketing is an even bigger challenge.
Making jewellery is now my full time business, so supporting my family is a huge motivator. But I also miss the feeling of being in flow if I miss too many days in the studio. I truly find joy in making. I’m more likely to lose motivation with my housework, which sometimes motivates my older kids to get more involved.
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What is the jewellery you created/worked on that you are most proud of, and why?
I love when a piece turns out pretty or cool, and I feel really good about meeting my goals, such as getting my work into shops or creating an entire collection. I guess that’s a sense of pride – meeting goals. I’m also really happy with my “Reminder Bracelets” featuring the sandal of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). If I in any small way help people to remember their deen – alhumdulillah!
I do not stay on top of everything. A lot of things fall through the cracks, and that’s kind of how I prioritise. If it’s really important, it gets taken care of – either by myself or outsourcing to my children or another artisan. If it’s not that important – like keeping a perfect house – then I can just let it go.
Selling vintage jewellery has been a great way for me to study the works of other jewellery makers. I often find inspiration from these pieces, especially with technical aspects. Clean, modern design is my favourite kind of jewellery. I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and in various connoisseur threads drooling over slick jewellery.
Research a bit about the ethics of jewellery making. Like many fields, there are a lot of toxic materials and practices in the industry. It’s important to me to have a halal income, so I do my best to use ethical practices in my studio.
Brooke Benoit is a magazine editor who, dissatisfied with her own education, originally unschooled herself in the 1980’s. She currently unschools her seven children, preferring the radical democratic or Sudsbury-style of home educating. She is currently running a project in Morocco that supports the local community and is the founder of Fitra Journal: A homeschool magazine. FB: Brooke Benoit
By Chantal Blake