I grew up in Ambler, one of six children,” said Kay Bryant. “Our parents were very frugal. So, we learned to save and make a lot of the things we wanted. For instance, I was using a sewing machine when I was very young. If I wanted something in the latest fashion, I designed and made it myself.”
In the 1980s, her interest and talent led to her starting a small business creating wedding dresses. After a few years, she was designing and making wearable art. Using fabrics mostly found at local markets and money-making events such as 4-H sales, she was creating vests, jackets, scarves and so on from a variety of material, most very colorful and using vintage fabric when she could find it. This led to her producing a line of handbags and jewelry.
Her work area is about 300 square feet, with much of the space taken up by a large worktable and sewing equipment, along with racks holding her wearable art. Surrounded by this colorful maze, there’s a smaller work table that is well lit. It has lots of containers stacked on it and near by. These are color coordinated and full of items that will be incorporated into the jewelry for which she’s known. As Kay said, “Every woman can use an extra handbag or necklace to go with a special outfit.” Her handbags are made from a variety of fabrics. Since many of her wearables have an Asian flair, some of the handbags have chopsticks for handles.
All of her jewelry is very creative, each piece distinctive. Along with found items, she crafts many of the components she uses to decorate her necklaces and earrings. For instance, she takes polymer clay in thin layers of different colors and then presses three or four thin sheets together. She next cuts out interesting shapes from these “piles” of clay. Once she has crafted some forms and designs she likes, she bakes them in a 265-degree oven, doing several items at one time.
She likes to point out, “I have no rules when it comes to designs. I decide on the color of my mood and set out those colors. I don’t know what else I’m going to add when I start. I might use a found key, a sea shell, a pretty stone or beads.” She sees beauty in most things, saying, “I’m a very visual person.”
Kay makes her own molding clay from a two-part epoxy material. Once the clay is ready, she uses it to cast interesting designs she likes, saying, “I find lots of things to cast,” as she showed a small elephant she had cast from a toy. It now is a pendant for one of her necklaces. “I used the bottom of a vase to make this,” she said, pointing to another pendant.
Each of her necklaces is a one-of-a-kind. They may have only one element like shells or just beads. Or, they could consist of beads of many sizes, cloth, origami and a pendant of clay. All of this is dependant upon how she feels and what she thinks go together at the moment. Each is a unique, artistic creation.
In each of the clear containers on and around her worktable, Kay has a great assortment of necklace and earring parts, all of it very brightly colored. Although she makes most of the components for her jewelry, she also buys some, including coral and several different sizes, shapes, and colors of pre-made beads of glass and other materials. “I use no precious stones or metals. I like to keep things simple,” she said.
Another material she uses is origami paper. She rolls a sheet into a tight log and then cuts it into small sections. She may use these pieces in a necklace, sometimes with other items or only by themselves as a strand of the origami. These go well with her wearable garments or a summer dress. She strings her necklaces on beading wire with crimped ends.
When she crafts earrings, they have some of the same components as in her necklaces. When she’s set up at shows, she displays her necklaces and earrings on the same board. Each board is made to hold a single necklace and one pair of earrings that she feels go well together. However, her items may be mixed and matched since they work together easily.
Kay Bryant Design items are on permanent display at the Pearl Buck House in Bucks County. This summer she’s set up at the Antietam Valley Farmers and Artists market at historic Carsonia Park in Reading. She also shows her wares at some local farmers markets, crafts fairs, art shows and festivals.
Being in the retail business seems to be in her blood. When she was young, her mother and sister had a shop in Ambler called Creative Things. She said, “I used to hang out there all of the time.” She explained that her entire family is creative with sewing, woodworking and so on. She’s had her present business since 2005. She likes what she’s doing, saying, “I don’t do this because I have to. I do it because I love to.”
To see some of her “wearable art” and jewelry, go to her website, www.kaybryant design.webs.com. Also, you can email her at [email protected] or call her at 610-275-4745 to find out where she will be showing her creations next.
Lew Larason is a freelance writer who specializes in antiques and furniture.