Local jewelry maker is right on target

Erin Ortman, owner of Wild Thyme, is enjoying extra time these days for creating jewelry and other items.

“About four or five years ago, my business wasn’t very fun because I was busy with too many orders, too many shows and too many parties,” Ortman said. “I’m somebody that needs to have some downtime, so I scaled way back and had to remember the reason I was doing this is because it was supposed to be fun and relaxing for me.”

Ortman does not have a storefront, but she has a room in her home that serves as a workshop where she makes a variety of handmade items, including jewelry, keychains, Christmas ornaments and more. Her specialty and what she is known for is making items out of bullet casings.

Born in New Albany to John and Deborah Engleking, her family moved to Seymour in the 1970s. Her parents bought a house in the boulevards in 1977 and sold it around 1995.

“The house went on the market in 2016, and when I asked my husband, Jon, about buying it, he said yes, much to my surprise, so we decided to buy it,” Ortman said. “Before that, we lived at Reddington out in the country in a home that we built, so it has been an adjustment.”

Her husband is a 1985 graduate of Crothersville High School. The couple have been married for 26 years.

They have two sons, Ethan Ortman, 23, a senior at Indiana State University, and John Conner Ortman, 19, a freshman at Ball State University. The brothers are both going for a degree in education and want to be teachers.

Erin is a 1989 graduate of Seymour High School. Then she went on to Purdue University to pursue a degree in social work.

“I’ve been employed for over 24 years with The Villages for the Healthy Families parenting program, and I work with new and expecting mothers and help them get what they need,” she said. “I’ve managed four locations of Healthy Family sites for The Villages and work with mostly staff now. It’s a good job, and I’ve enjoyed it.”

Even with a full-time job, Ortman finds time for crafting handmade fun, which is the tagline for Wild Thyme. She was a teenager when she discovered a passion for vintage jewelry and even more so restoring vintage jewelry.

“I would go to auctions with my dad and buy that cheap box of junk jewelry that’s always left over at the end of the day because I always needed parts to either restore a vintage piece or to make it into something else,” she said. “I did that until I left home and went to college. I still enjoy that, but it’s not something I’ve done for pay.”

After she got married, Ortman rediscovered that enjoyment when she was pregnant with Conner and started going back to auctions again. By that time, she had started making pillows, which she took to a couple of craft shows.

That’s when she started her Wild Thyme crafting business.

One day while at an auction, she purchased a lot of jewelry, and at the very bottom of the box, there were three or four beautiful rings — the crocheted kind from the 1970s that were stretchy and had beads on top.

“My grandmother, who was my mom’s mom, taught me how to crochet, so I knew the basics, and I was so fascinated by the rings and thought maybe I could create one,” she said. “One of them was all stretched out, so I took it apart to see how it was made, and that night, I got my thread and crochet needles out and started working until eventually I figured out how to make those rings after several tries.”

Ortman bought some super sparkly Swarovski crystal to make her bling rings and began wearing them. Her friends and other people started taking notice and asked where she got them.

“People were enjoying the rings, and I’d made several for people, so when I went to a couple of local craft shows that year, I had my pillows and I had my bling rings, and I sold all of them,” she said. “So for a few years, I kept making the rings and some very simple beaded bracelets to go along with them. Then people started requesting for me to make a necklace or other items, and my skill just grew from there.”

The name Wild Thyme came from a book she read where the main character was a caterer and her shop was called Wild Thyme.

“It just stuck with me and I liked it, and I think it’s serendipitous how it all worked out,” Ortman said. “Now, I love the name of this business because it reminds me of the wild west but also sweet like the spice.”

Ortman had a feeling she might evolve over time into doing other things, so she has always appreciated her business name, as it allows her to do other things if she wants to, she said.

She has taken a few classes on jewelry making, but for the most part, Ortman is self-taught and has dabbled in all sorts of things jewelry-wise, including simple beading, polymer clay and making vintage jewelry into other things.

“Then one day at work, a co-worker came in wearing a pair of bullet casing earrings and was just over the moon for them,” she said. “She had bought them online somewhere, and I thought I could probably make some like it, but little did I know how difficult it is to cut a bullet casing and slice it off at the top.”

It was easy for Ortman to find spent shell casings since she and her husband were shooters and so were several other people in her life, so she enlisted the help of her husband, dad and some friends who reload casings to try and figure out how to cut them.

“It has been a process over time that has evolved, and it’s still not easy, but I have a method and can do it myself, so then I was able to start incorporating the bullet casings into my jewelry line,” she said. “Now, it’s primarily what I do and what I’m known for. Even though all of those other crafts that got me to this point are still incorporated into my work, it just kind of centers around bullet casings.”

Ortman has never looked at her crafting business as a means of support or a money-making venture.

“I just wanted it to support itself and wanted it to be something that made me happy, and if it ever gets to feeling like a job or a business, I don’t enjoy it,” she said. “My day job can be pretty stressful sometimes working with families, and I like the idea of getting to do something that I enjoy and spending time working with my hands and trying new things and different kinds of crafts and activities.”

Ortman is really enjoying what she’s doing now and has met a lot of interesting people by doing her specialty craft, and as far as she knows, there still aren’t a lot of people in this area that do what she does with bullet casings.

“I’ve gotten to do a lot of really nice and interesting things and my favorite of which are the funeral bullets,” she said. “When a service member passes, they have the 21-gun salute at the funeral and the family gets to keep those casings, and so I’ve gotten to do so many things with funeral bullet casings. Necklaces, keychains, bracelets and Christmas ornaments are really popular.”

But it’s the people behind those casings that have been so interesting to Ortman. She may not be a person who engages socially, but she loves to hear people’s stories and thinks that led her to social work, she said.

“All of these people were veterans and have these amazing stories, and I enjoy allowing people to tell me the story of their loved one who has just passed,” Ortman said. “I’ve heard some really great stories and have been honored to have been able to put that memory into something that people will use and not just stick in a drawer.”

She said after a 21-gun salute, she has been able to make a set of 10 keychains for people.

“I ask what was special about that loved one to the person or what reminds them of that loved one. I listen and then try to plan the design around that,” she said.

Ortman said she has made necklaces, keychains, tie tacks, cuff links and money clips and can make about anything, so the bullet casing jewelry might be her most popular craft but not her only skill.

“I’ve been fortunate with bullet casings and don’t have to buy them because people give them to me if they’re not going to be reloaded, so I feel good about repurposing them. I’m always needing more spent shotgun shells, though,” she said.

“People need to know that when they work with me, it might take me awhile to get something done, I work at my own pace and in the end, I’ll make sure you’re happy with the finished product,” she said. “I ask for grace because I do have a full-time job and kids, and this is my side hobby.”

Sometimes, she has to order special items and it takes some time, and it’s important to Ortman to keep prices as low as she reasonably can and try to stay true to her mission for the business, which is for her to have something that is relaxing, fun, fulfilling and supports itself.