For teen jewelry designer Katelyn Nolan, sewing bracelets from designer brand labels like Coach and Chanel was an empowering act during a tumultuous period in her life.
The Cutchogue resident, who struggled to fit in during her high school years, was hospitalized for cutting at the age of 15. To heal emotionally, she needed a way to show the world she refused to let others judge her.
“It was to not be labeled,” Nolan, now 18, said in a recent interview. “Who and what we wear will not define us.”
A victim of bullying, Nolan recalled painful memories like how other girls would fling her bookbag off a lunch table and laugh, or when a clique of people she thought were her friends would organize a social shut out.
But making accessories has been a source of self-confidence, a way to channel the pain of being picked on by her classmates into something beautiful.
“It has shown me that even if people don’t see beauty in me, when I make something I like, I see beauty in myself,” Nolan said. “I make something that makes other people happy.”
Nolan, who creates her whimsical designs under the label See Beauty Everywhere, has been selling the exceptional pieces in local stores for the past three years and now through her Etsy store. She began her career as an apprentice under Rena Wilhem, owner of The White Weathered Barn in Greenport.
“Katelyn has a unique style that mixes a bit of vintage, a bit of military and a bit of nature,” Wilhelm said. “She has an intrinsic ability to work in very fine detail. Katelyn didn’t need much direction when it came to designing jewelry. I taught her a few techniques that perfected what she already knew how to do.”
Nolan might not like labels, but if there is one category that defines her creations, which include necklaces made from watch parts and barrettes fashioned from colorful feathers, it is that their beauty lies in their daintiness.
“I don’t limit myself to one thing,” she said. “I try to stay delicate, but I want it to be able to be worn every day.”
Some of the materials, like beads and pearls, she purchases online. Others, like strands of wool from the Icelandic sheep at 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, are sourced locally.
“The stuff she does is amazing. It has a beautiful halo effect from the fiber, which is dual-coated,” said Carol Festa, co-owner of 8 Hands Farm, who sells Nolan’s jewelry at the farm store. “People really admire them. And it’s great to help someone who is young and so passionate about what they do.”
Nolan also scours the local shores for oyster shells and other bits of inspiration.
“I go to the beach when I’ve had a rough day and try to find the smallest shells I can,” she said. “I try to do one-of-a-kind items. I want it to be unique and different for each person.”
A self-described “old soul,” Nolan makes pieces with vintage flair, like a feather hair piece bundled with an old military button or necklaces made from antique keys. She also crochets some of her necklaces and bracelets, making the jewelry more durable and giving it a more unusual look.
“It’s just different. It’s not your everyday jewelry,” said Nolan’s mother and biggest supporter, Shari Nolan. “Her jewelry has just made her come out of her shell. She’s come a long way.”
While Nolan is talented enough to pursue a career in jewelry making, she prefers to keep it as a hobby.
She is now working in the tasting room at McCall Wines in Cutchogue, though she plans to return to school and pursue a career as a sonogram technician.
“[Making jewelry] has shown me that I have talent and I can go places,” she said.