Copper in the Arts

February 2013

Ecolibrio: Turning Recycled Cables Into Stylish Jewelry and Handbags

By Nancy Ballou

copper wire earrings Copper wire earrings.

Photograph courtesy of Margarita Hansen

"I had been making beaded jewelry for ten years when my husband encouraged me to create with a small bag of electrical wires and cables he had been holding onto,” she recalls.  “The colors were pretty, but the endeavor seemed challenging. I made a bracelet, wore it to work and people asked 'What is that? It looks like black coral.'  And, the rest is history. 

Hansen began experimenting with copper wire art in her spare time and started collecting more electrical wires.

“I discovered they were being thrown out in bunches at my job so I convinced them to let me keep them. When people found out I was working with these materials, they donated some. Now I have a friend who does home theater installation and saves the scraps for me instead of taking them to the landfill. He hadn't realized he was wasting that much wire. I had been attending small jewelry shoၼws so I replaced the beadwork with wires.”

Though Hansen has lived around the U.S., the self-taught artist currently works from a one-room studio behind her house in South Carolina. The first thing she does is strip the jackets and remove the copper wire inside. She then organizes by color and gauges. She has a tub full of copper and the only metal she buys is copper chain. The name of her business, Ecolibrio, is derived from the Spanish word for balance and one meaning environment. 

Margarita Hansen Copper jewelry artist Margarita Hansen.

Photograph courtesy of Margarita Hansen

"There were no actual books explaining how to make jewelry out of cable and limited information on the Internet,” she says.  “I thought about their purpose, looked for tools like strippers/cutters used by electricians and learned by doing since many packages have basic instructions on them. I now create earrings, necklaces and stackable bracelets with wire-wrap finishing from the copper wire that is soft enough to bend by hand. This malleability makes the copper interesting. Some come straight out of the tube, some come out in crisscross patterns which I'm planning to use for future bracelets. I never use a torch or heat. I design one of a kind pieces unless I find that something is selling over and over."

In keeping with the ecological or green aspect of her work, Hansen has used the colorful cable jackets to make clutch handbags. She cuts and hand weaves these in a size that people must observe closely. "I use different stitches from magazines for beaders and line the handbags with colorful cotton, linen or other upcycled and vintage materials. Sewing with a needle and thread finishes them off and a touch of glue holds them in place. I then make the handles out of copper wire."

Hansen describes her designs as "innovative and eco-conscious, edgy and daring with a bit of fun thrown in." In 2006, she placed 2nd in the Charleston County Creative Recycled Art Contest. In 2010, her bag "A Touch of Love" was chosen in the top five for Best Green Handbag at the Independent Handbag Designer Awards in New York City. During Earth Day in April this year, she will no doubt attend some independent craft shows. She is also busy with future plans for her business.

Resources:

Ecolibrio, Charleston, SC

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