coding-jewelry 11

By Gabrielle. Photos by Amy Christie for Design Mom.

Last month 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!

coding-jewelry 7coding-jewelry 18

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!

coding-jewelry 13

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.”

coding-jewelry 14coding-jewelry 4

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.

coding-jewelry 2

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

coding-jewelry 24


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

coding-jewelry 19

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.

coding-jewelry 20

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

coding-jewelry 6

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

coding-jewelry 16

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.

coding-jewelry 17

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.

coding-jewelry 9

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.

coding-jewelry 25

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.

coding-jewelry 26

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

coding-jewelry 15

Done and done.

And last, the Long Necklace.

coding-jewelry 22jpg

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.

coding-jewelry 23

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.

coding-jewelry 12


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!

Credits: Images, styling & text by Amy Christie. Graphic design by Annie Galloway