DOES ANYONE ever rave about the pearl studs you got for graduation; the discreet gold hoops that were a Christmas present from him or the quarter-carat diamond studs he bought for your first anniversary?
Chances are your "good" earrings are stuck in the tasteful-but-safe category.
Hang a pair of cheap, but loud, paper parrots in your ears, though, and you're the life of the party, the woman with style.
"Fun earrings make everyone feel better," says Bonnie Dobrusin, who teaches beginner jewelry-making classes through Catonsville Community College's adult enrichment program and
sells her own Beads by Bonnie at area craft fairs, the Smithsonian gift shop and the annual Symphony Decorators' Showhouse shop.
"I took apart one of my mother's old cocktail dresses nine years ago. I strung the beading into earrings and I've been making jewelry ever since. Now every wall and surface of my house is filled with boxes of beads, bangles, wires and tools."
But don't let the idea of "tools" scare you. Your basic earring tool kit can be no more than ready-made disks and ear backings from the craft shop, some round-nose pliers, a fingernail clipper, wire cutters and a good all-purpose epoxy such as Elmer's Stix-All. "Be careful about gluing your fingers!" warns Dobrusin.
"I teach my beginners to loosen up and to see the possibilities of color and texture," she says.
"There is nothing that can't be used to make jewelry. Matter of fact, some of the most interesting and expensive boutique earrings are assembled from unexpected pieces.
"A good place to start is that old box of broken or never-worn junk jewelry that everyone seems to have. A necklace may have half a dozen very beautiful beads scattered among the ugly ones.
"Use the pretty ones," advises Dobrusin, "but save the plain gold-tone beads to scatter somewhere else.
"Pry out the remaining stones from rusty old pins, barrettes and bracelets. Those few "rubies" or "emeralds" can add just the spark you need to finish off your earring collage. Even broken chains can be reassembled," says Dobrusin, who believes in recycling the humblest treasures.
"I buy many beads and findings in New York specialty stores and gem shows, but a neighborhood yard sale or flea market can yield plenty of raw material. Remember, you're not using the whole piece, just rearranging some of the parts.
"Think about using coins you've kept from a trip abroad," she suggests. "You can glue a clip-on earring backing to one side and they're ready to wear. The first coins I used for pierced ears needed holes. A dentist friend drilled them for me.
Beyond coins, there are other foreign objects that can be dressed up to be earrings. The dollar store is a great resource. Funky key chains and trinkets can be transformed into conversation starters. A package of silly refrigerator magnets can become earrings if the heavy magnet can be pried out.
Dobrusin has seen the creative bug bite -- "you just have to open your mind to the possibilities. Some of the senior citizen ladies in my class were definitely the conservative pearl clip types. Now some of them are wearing glittery shoulder-duster dangles they made themselves."
Ideas for interesting jewelry can be gathered in humble and exotic places. The idea is to look at ways others arrange ornaments. Here are some inspirations:
* Walk through a museum that has a grand jewelry collection. The only difference between your project and pieces on exhibit are the cost of materials and the skill of ancient craftsmen. If you're going to borrow ideas, borrow from the best. Ideas for color combinations can be applied to precious stones or plastic.
Talk to the children; they have a naive but wonderful sense of design. You've never seen a kid choose dull objects have you? Better yet, let them cut and paste along with you.
Browse the library. An afternoon spent with picture books is almost as relaxing as an afternoon at a spa.
Browse the beads shops in your area. Sales clerks and customers are more than willing to share their knowledge about techniques.