Make it! Computer Code Jewelry

Awhile ago I went to a lecture about girls and tech given by Cynthia Bailey Lee of Stanford University. Cynthia is a mom of two, and teaches C++ programming, computing theory, processor architecture, and number theory. Specifically her lecture was about getting our daughters and nieces and any other young girls in our lives to get more excited about working with code, and making the coding world more accessible.

One idea she had was making jewelry based on ASCII code. (And if you don’t know what ASCII code is, no worries. It’s all explained below.) I was really taken by this idea! I called Amy Christie and we brainstormed options for both kid jewelry and grown up jewelry (because hey! it’s not too late for us grownups to learn coding either).

The basic idea is to use beads to write your name or initials or a favorite word or a secret message in code. It’s so cool! I’ve got all the information — what ASCII code is, ideas for jewelry, and how to make it — below.

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I adore how these pieces turned out. I think this would be a really fun activity for a girls night out or a birthday party. This project is the perfect combination of smart, nerdy and pretty.

Amy is a jewelry pro and added clasps and hooks to all these pieces, which really step them up quality-wise. But if you find jewelry work intimidating, or try to avoid anything that requires needle-nose pliers, you can still make similar versions. Just use elastic thread and knot it well when you’re done. Easy peasy!

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Before we jump into the DIY, let’s talk a little bit about code and share some learning resources for the kids. Here’s what Cynthia, the lecturer, writes about ASCII:

“As I’m sure you’ve heard before, inside a computer, EVERYTHING is numbers — specifically, binary numbers. As far as the computer is concerned, every photo in this post is just a bunch of binary numbers. This blog post, your grandma’s voice and face on Skype, all the movies you watch on Netflix — all these things are just binary numbers.

The computer doesn’t actually distinguish between these things in storing the data or performing computations. Software imposes our human interpretations on the data — it could interpret the exact same binary number as a high pitch sound in one case, as a shade of dark green in another, and in yet a third case as a letter of the alphabet.

When people agree on what interpretation we want to impose on different collections of binary numbers, it gives them meaning in that context. We call these agreed-upon interpretations encoding schemes or just encodings. This activity explores an encoding named ASCII, which is one common way of interpreting binary numbers as letters of the alphabet.”

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And here is more from Cynthia on ASCII specifically:

“ASCII is abbreviated from American Standard Code for Information Interchange. ASCII codes represent text in computers, communications equipment, and other devices that use text. Most modern character-encoding schemes are based on ASCII, though they support many additional characters. ASCII was the most common character encoding on the World Wide Web until December 2007, when it was surpassed by UTF-8, which is fully backward compatible to ASCII. The ASCII code for capital letters is shown here:

Unlike base-10 numbers, which can have the digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, binary (base-2) numbers can only have the digits 0 and 1 (we usually call the binary digits bits). On this cheat-sheet card, the black squares represent 0 and the white represent 1.”

We also made a printable sheet for you to make things really easy and the link to that is below.

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Okay. I think we’re ready. Let’s get nerdy!

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Anything you already have around for jewelry making, can be used to create code jewelry. We went into detail for the specific pieces we made but search through your supplies first! Just about anything works. Here is a basic list of the possibilities:

– printable alphabet code
– beads — glass, plastic, pony, wood, seed, shell
– cinch beads
clasps — all varieties
jump rings
– stringing material — nylon thread, elastic, wire, leather, cording,
– scissors
– wire cutters
– needle-nose pliers
head pins, eye pins
earring hooks, kidney wires
– charms

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First, let’s make the simple earrings. We used kidney wires, glass beads in two colors, and a dangling bead.

Pick your initial (or two different initials) and check the chart for the bead pattern. Use 2 different color beads — one color to represent the black squares on the chart, another color to represent the white squares. Each letter will have 8 beads. Place beads on kidney wires.

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Add a dangling bead to the u-notch on the kidney wire. And that’s it!

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Next, let’s do the Looping Bracelet. We used, jewelry wire, black and white beads, cinch beads, and a claw closure.

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Spell out a name or message on jewelry wire. We used cinch beads to separate the words. You could also use cinch beads to separate each 8-bead letter if you prefer.

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Loop the ends of the jewelry wire through the rings of a claw closure and double back through cinch beads. Squeeze with needle nose pliers to cinch them.

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Now, let’s make the Statement Necklace. We used a metal chain, a jump ring, a claw closure, jewelry wire, cinch beads, and glass beads in two tones.

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First, create three coded lines of beads. We did initials, one initial per strand with each letter separated by a cinch bead. The ends of each strand should be looped back and cinched in place to create a loop. These loops are then strung onto jump rings, one on the left, one on the right. This jump ring is also connected to the metal chain.

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Cut the wire down to equal lengths (depending on where you want the necklace to hang) and attach jump rings and a claw closure.

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Done and done.

And last, the Long Necklace.

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On a length of cording, use multiple color pairs to spell out a name or message. For each letter, we chose a set of two colors. We didn’t use any spacers or cinch beads in this one, because you can easily see a new letter starts when the color-pair changes.

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Because it’s long, this necklace can be simply knotted together and then slipped over the head to wear. If closures are your thing, add one in using cinch beads and a closure.

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What do you think? Isn’t this a fantastic idea!? I’m so excited about it. I can’t wait to make some coding jewelry with my own kids. Would you like more info on this topic? You can see a video of Cynthia Bailey Lee’s lecture here. Additionally, I spoke with Cynthia after the lecture and asked for more kid+coding resources. She said for ages 8-100, Kahn Academy’s Java Script Games are great. For older teens, try MIT’s App Inventor. And for younger kids, ages 5-10, try Scratch — it has drag and drop coding.

Do you have other resources on kids and coding you’d like to share? I’d love to hear!

Created by Amy Christie for Design Mom. Graphic design by Annie Galloway

17 thoughts on “Make it! Computer Code Jewelry”

  1. This is so great! I’ve seen it done with Morse code, but this adds a cool tech element. Would it be possible to edit this post to tell us what letter(s) each piece of jewelry represents? I think it would really help me to see what letter each string of jewelry spells out. Can’t wait to try this!

  2. When my kids visited the computer history museum they made little backpack dangly things with their initials in ASCII. More gender neutral. The kids loved it.

  3. Coool! Sending a link to this article to Ms. Schmick, our technology/maker/inventor teacher at our STEM school. She’s the most awesome teacher, always incorporating hands-on projects with technology, and this sounds right up her alley. :)

  4. Oh my gosh this is awesome!!!

    I can’t get over the “statement necklace” that actually says something in a secret code. That is too cool.

    I was immediately reminded of my favorite graphic novel of the year: Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang. It’s definitely my current favorite resource for kids and coding at the moment. I wrote all about it on my blog:

    Oh, this is just too cool, Gabby. I think I’m going to have to get the family making some jewelry.

  5. I’m a Girl Scout troop leader, and I’m always looking for new meaningful activities to do with my girls. This is so cool! Definitely pinning this for a future project!

  6. Thanks for this idea! We used it for my 4th-graders social studies class’ market day. We used cereal to make necklaces spelling out the name of the school and printed the key above with a message asking if they could figure out what the necklace says. It was a fun family activity, we learned something, and we think his classmates will like the challenge and treat.

  7. Would love to share a pic of the necklaces that my daughter and I made. We loved this craft! Thanks so much for sharing

  8. Love this so much. My husband is a computer programmer (well now he’s a manager – doesn’t program so much anymore) but when we first started having kids I had this idea to create an art piece from their drawings of 1 and 0s that spelled out “We love you.” I never did it, but maybe I will now! xo

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