2020 saw a boom in “do it yourself” or DIY crafts and activities, from bread making to the often unsuccessful at-home haircutting. Resin crafts, specifically resin earrings, seemed to secure a high spot on the list of DIY trends last year, and it seems to be sticking around.
Epoxy resin is a reactive liquid that cures as a durable plastic. In 2020, the search terms “How to make resin earrings” and “Resin earrings DIY” reached their peak popularity in the summer according to Google Trends. But this is obvious if you were on Tik Tok during this time. The popular video app was one of the main vehicles for this trend on social media, with resin craft creators gaining over a million followers. YouTube played a big role as well, with resin craft videos from channels like 5-Minute Crafts gaining over 35 million views in about a year.
Quick to jump on trends, some University of Kansas students tried their hand at resin earring making for the first time last year. Two KU students who have become semi-experts in resin jewelry making in 2020 talked with me about their experiences working with resin.
Elizabeth Millburn, a junior from Topeka, jumped right into the resin earring trend close to the peak of its popularity in March 2020. Millburn, a pre-dentistry student and a human biology major, is self-taught and learned by doing research online. Most of her earrings are made from clay, but she has her fair share of experience with resin earrings as well and uses resin to coat some of her clay creations.
Millburn says her first experience with resin was when she made pressed flower earrings coated in resin. She used flowers from her own garden to make them.
She began selling her creations last year by starting her own brand with a shop on Instagram and Etsy called Handmadesbyliz. Her earrings are colorful and geometric statement pieces that draw the eye. She does mostly drop or dangle earrings, many times with multiple tiers.
Although she spent her high school career taking art classes, Millburn says she’s never taken jewelry making. She says that she started resin jewelry making as a creative outlet between her demanding STEM courses at KU.
“I had been out of doing art for a bit, so I wanted to reconnect with that side of myself,” Millburn says. “I’m currently studying to take my dental admissions test, and I was also doing that over the summer, so it was kind of just a break from that too.”
Millburn uses craft ultraviolet resin in her earrings. As the name suggests, this resin is cured with UV light to harden it. It’s best for small resin crafts like earrings or anything that is made in molds shallow enough for the UV rays to penetrate through it.
Zoie Thomas, a senior from Los Angeles, also began making and selling her resin jewelry last year during quarantine. She sells her earrings on her personal Instagram and Etsy. Thomas is a communications major but says she has always had an artistic side.
“I like to make things before I buy them because when I look at things, I’m like ‘I can make that,’” Thomas says. “There’s no point in buying it when I can just make it at home by myself, and I’ve been like that since I was a kid.”
Thomas started selling her resin earrings when the Black Lives Matter protests were underway last year, and she began using the profits of her BLM inspired earrings to raise money for social justice groups. Her earrings are often made in letter molds to spell out words or acronyms.
“I had always wanted to [make resin earrings] and the timing kind of just lined up perfectly,” Thomas says. “It was just like ‘wow, here’s this thing I’m passionate about and here’s this hobby I want to take up, might as well mesh them together and get the best of both worlds.’”
Safety is a concern when using resin. Craft ultraviolet resin is generally considered safer than epoxy, which Thomas uses, and comes with more safety precautions. Thomas says epoxy resin can be harder to handle than craft resin because of the added step of mixing it with hardener. Although epoxy resin is usually used for larger projects such as mold casting and wood coating, Thomas says she uses it for her earrings because it is more durable and long-lasting.
“It’s resin that can be used on pretty much any and every surface which I really like,” Thomas says. “I’ve used craft resin before, and it doesn’t hold up as well over time.”
In its liquid form, resins are toxic. Breathing in certain types of resin fumes for prolonged periods or getting it on your skin can lead to serious health issues such as asthma, dermatitis, and eczema, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Gina Westergard, a jewelry and metalsmithing professor at the University of Kansas, takes resin very seriously. Professor Westergard says she mostly avoids resin-making in her classes because of the risks and messiness. She says she has had students and friends who have suffered the effects of prolonged exposure to resin. When she does teach it or helps a student with a resin project, she and everyone else in the room wear respirators, goggles, gloves, and garment coverings while working in a ventilated studio.
“My motto is better safe than sorry,” Westergard says. “I don't care what resin it is, you should not be working in your home or in a closed garage.”
For those who want to take up resin craft or jewelry making, professor Westergard suggests doing it outside, looking up the product’s safety data sheets online, using PPE, and keeping it away from children and pets.
“It's exciting, it's seductive, you can embed things in it, you can work with colors,” professor Westergard says. “But then other people are going to shy away from it because of the health ramifications and the ramifications on the environment.”
For safety, Millburn says she uses gloves and works in a well-ventilated area whenever she uses resin. Thomas, who works with harsher epoxy resin, uses goggles and double gloves, even when working with dried resin that she drills to make holes. She also says she tries to work near an open window or door to get as much airflow as possible.
“I feel like people aren’t being as cautious as they could be, and I think it’s mostly due to that rise in popularity,” Thomas says.
“You have to really look and read the instructions and precautions on it. But even then, I don’t think it really says you need to be wearing a mask and goggles and gloves and all that,” Millburn says. “I think that it definitely needs to be made more aware to people who purchase it.”