Jewelry designer Laura Bruland turns old book covers into wearable art

Some jewelers work with gold. Others beads. As for Laura Bruland, she works with books.

But this wasn’t always the case.

Bruland, 25, started her jewelry company Yes and Yes Designs in 2007 as a fun side project in addition to her day job as a barista at Oakland’s Subrosa Coffee. Her initial creations were made solely out of wool fabric, which she crafted into flower-shaped designs for use on headbands and pins.

But fabric flower jewelry, it turned out, was already a lot more popular than Bruland had thought. “I was seeing a lot of fabric flowers out there, so I was thinking maybe I’m not adding that much to inspire people,” she said. “I didn’t see why I should keep making something that other people were making.”

Bruland then turned her attention to laser cut designs. Laser cutting is typically used for industrial and manufacturing purposes, but can also be used for cutting smaller designs, oftentimes in materials like felt, textile, leather, wood, acrylic, paper or cardboard. A laser cutter, which looks somewhat like a photocopier machine, uses high-power lasers that are operated by a computer to either cut or etch the materials a designer is working on.

For a while, Bruland purchased laser cut designs to use in jewelry from sellers on Etsy, until she realized that many of the designs were “really interesting, but a lot it really looked the same,” she said.  If she wanted unique designs, she realized, she’d have to make them herself.

But laser cutting machines can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000, she said, and were something she could not afford. So she opted for a yearly membership to Tech Shop, a workshop in San Francisco where members have access to a variety of industrial tools and equipment, including laser cutters. Outsourcing the laser cutting was also an option, she said, but it would have distanced her from her work by not allowing her to experiment with materials.

After attending a class at Tech Shop on how to use the machines, Bruland started laser cutting different materials, such as wool, bark, and other finds from the East Bay Depot For Creative Reuse in Oakland. But old book covers were her favorite. “Once I started playing around with [books], I got really inspired,” Bruland said. Book covers were not only easy to work with, but created a unique look for her line. “That’s another thing about using book covers: they’re all very much one of a kind,” she said. “It would be one thing if I was just making the same thing over and over again, but … they’re all different.”

Because each book cover that she works with is different, some of her designs look more book-ish than others and may include text or images from the original covers. The thicknesses of her pieces also vary because so do the thicknesses of the books. To help people better understand that her designs come from books, Bruland likes to display the cut-out book covers to make the correlation more obvious. Because she keeps the spine of the books intact, the end result still vaguely resembles a book, albeit with no pages and many “holes” cut in the shape of her designs punctured throughout the cover. “Sometimes people think the book covers are so cool, they actually want to buy them,” Bruland said.

Most of the books that she uses tend to be old textbooks, Reader’s Digests, or children’s books. She avoids books with glossy covers, preferring fabric or textile covers, and tries to use books with lots of colors or images. “I don’t cut up classics or first editions,” she said, adding that she always tries to buy books that most people would not want to read.

One of her first designs, and Yes and Yes Designs’ bestseller, is her “Little Ladies.” Like all her designs, Bruland created the “Little Ladies” design herself, basing them on images of fashionable women from vintage fashion magazines and sewing patterns. She uses the ladies primarily for pins and often sells them with matching stud earrings made from the same book cover. Bruland’s other laser cut designs include typewriters, hearts (literally hearts, as in the flesh and blood kind), robots, vintage cameras, bows, roller skates, skulls and suitcases. She also makes geometric shapes with the laser cutter for use in earrings.

Bruland uses programs such as Adobe Illustrator to format the designs on the book covers, making sure to fit in as many as possible on each cover. This process, she said, is a great way to ensure that she’s getting as many designs out of the book covers as possible, but it’s also a bit nerve-wracking because she can’t control how the designs will turn out. “I don’t plan out how they’re going to fall on the book,” said Bruland about the patterns on the book covers. “I just fit in as many ladies as possible and then, when I’m done, I get to discover each one.”

It takes about 45 minutes to cut a standard 5 inch by 7 inch book, she said, and she can usually get about 30 pieces from each. After the designs are cut, she sprays them with a clear acrylic coating so that they don’t leave a residue. Once they dry, she starts making them into jewelry.

Bruland has only been working with book covers since last fall, but the new material has allowed her to greatly expand her line. In addition to pins, Yes and Yes Designs now offers necklaces, earrings of varying lengths, and cuff links. Business has also picked up and her jewelry is now sold at seven stores around the Bay Area, including the gift shop at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Oaklandish, Rock Paper Scissors Collective, and Modern Mouse in Alameda.

Bruland credits her use of book covers as the reason for her recent success. “It has this history that draws people in,” she said about using books as material, “and I think a lot of times, [people are] attracted to the idea that it’s a book.” Occasionally people chide Bruland for destroying books, but she said that when this happens, she assures them that she only uses “books that are either out-of-date, unwanted for some reason, or falling apart. I’m not cutting up treasured masterpiece books that are really beautiful.”

Eventually, Bruland would like to be able to quit her day job at the coffee shop and work full-time on her jewelry, but she can only do this if she has her own laser cutter. “It would just be a million times more efficient if it was in my own space,” Bruland said, because she would no longer have to commute to Tech Shop to cut her designs, or be limited to six hours a week on the cutting machines, for which there is often a wait of more than a week. Buying her own laser cutter might cost fifteen times the price of a yearly membership to Tech Shop, she said, but, according to her calculations, it would also enable her to make at least 50 times more jewelry.

In order to afford a laser cutter, Bruland started a Kickstarter project at the beginning of April, requesting a goal of $8,000. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website for creative projects that are often related to food, film, music, art, or other indie endeavors. The projects have a deadline of one to two months, during which time the public can donate money to the project, often times receiving gifts or memberships in return.

Bruland’s Kickstarter project ends this Friday and Bruland will only receive the money if her goal of $8,000 is met by that time. She is still short a few thousand dollars, but said that she is “feeling good” about meeting her goal because she heard that there is usually a spike in donations during the last few days. And if worst comes to worst, she added, she will try to raise money from friends and family members for the final amount if it looks like she won’t raise enough by the deadline.

Regardless of the outcome of her Kickstarter project, Bruland is determined to continue using laser cutting to create jewelry. “I really like experimenting,” she said, “and there’s a million possibilities I want to try. I have ideas for all different kinds of things.”

 

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