Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wait, how did that happen?

Well, folks, it seems that in my desire to participate in Secret Santa again this year, I kinda found myself coordinating an exchange, ably assisted by Remy. All the details and rules and stuff are over at Facebook-- Jewelry Santa 2009 Exchange -- so if you want to participate, head on over there before Saturday, November 28 at noon, USA Central time.

Meanwhile, I thought I might talk about exchanges and the ways this one is similar and different from the CWJ ones.

Over the past 5 or 6 years, I've participated in Santa exchanges and other kinds of swaps, always hosted at Creative Wire Jewelry. I have always had a good experience, and I am pretty sure that all my recipients (except one, maybe) have liked and worn their gifts. Some of them are still either forum or FB friends and mention their gifts from time to time. I know that I wear the jewelry I have received. The moderaters at CWJ, starting with Metallique and continuing with Eva, Celia, Micki, Sorcie, and a bunch more, put a tremendous amount of work into making just the right pairings, setting up all the emails and websites and all that goes on behind the scenes. So I was initially very hesitant to try it.

However, the tools available for the behind-the-scenes part have come a long long way, and once I decided what compromises I could live with, with Remy's urging I went ahead. It turned out that using Gmail and Facebook's tools, it took less than half an hour to do the basic setup and send out the first round of invitations. I've poked away at it in my spare time, but since it's the holiday weekend and I have a few days off, that is no hardship. So far so good.

So, like the CWJ exchange, each person makes and gives a gift for one person and receives a gift from another. But unlike CWJ, we are matching your names pretty much randomly. With the invitation going to such a broad group, we don't have the long-time knowledge of each participant, so our careful matches probably wouldn't be much better than random ones. Oh, we'll be taking some things into consideration -- for example, the participant who expressed nervousness about international shipping will be matched with someone in her same country. Other than that, we've got a randomization method planned that should work just fine.

Like the CWJ exchange, there will be pictures. Unlike CWJ, the pictures will be posted in a FB album by the recipient. We made the assumption that if you are using Facebook, you or someone in your immediate circle would be able to take a picture, put it in the album, and tag it. This makes one less bit of stuff to track along the way, and it means that the pictures should be posted very soon after they are opened. In fact, we're encouraging folks to post pics of themselves opening the package and wearing the gift as well as pictures of the actual pieces. So it won't be the elegant album that CWJ was noted for, rather more like candids. I hope that's an okay compromise for everybody.Like CWJ, we have emphasized the personal responsibility aspect of the exchange. If you drop out, somebody doesn't get a gift. Also like CWJ, we have some contingencies in place.

Like CWJ, once the names have been exchanged we'll also share whatever insights we can about shipping and so forth. However, since so many of the participants are selling their work on the internet, I'll wager a guess that they probably know more about it than we do. I am actually planning to call on participants' expertise, particularly regarding international shipping.And like CWJ, we'll be trying to keep track of where everybody is in the process, encouraging, reminding, and otherwise bothering all the nice folks along the wa.

So far, with two more days before the deadline, we have 28 confirmed participants and half a dozen maybes. I also am catching some comments from friends of friends that might mean several more taking part. That is comparable to the CWJ Secret Santas, which is really gratifying.

One big difference with CWJ is that this exchange is not limited to wire workers -- oh, I know CWJ did not require you be a wire worker to participate, but the majority of the group worked in wire, and so the majority of the jewelry was wire jewelry. Because this exchange is wide open, there are beadworkers, lampworkers, smiths, and polymer artists in addition to the wire work group. I'm very excited about that part. I'm also excited because a number of my wire jewelry friends have moved along in their art to different aspects of jewelry, and I'm glad they will be able to share their new work.So, provided that nothing blows up, and that my faith in my jewelry friends is not utterly misplaced, things should roll along. I'll be posting specific information on the event site itself, and using the power of this blog to ramble on about the more personal aspects. Hope that's okay with you.

Oh, BTW, in case you wonder what I've been making, here's a recent piece for your enjoyment. Sterling and yellow turquoise tree of life pendant, with much improvisation after a near-disastrous error involving work-hardened wire. I'll tell you all about it sometime.

Have fun, and I hope your holiday season is off to a great start. More Later!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'm not actually missing, really.

Yes, I have been missing from here for a couple of weeks. And, yes, I should have seen that coming. After all, I started a new job and also had a long weekend of travel. But I guess I wasn't thinking very clearly when I assumed I'd be able to keep up with my jewelry schedule without any difficulty.

The whole thing started when a pendant I was working on went horribly wrong. Instead of cutting my losses right away, I disassembled it and tried a slightly different approach. By the time it became obvious that it was simply a doomed project, the week was gone and it was time to get ready to make the transition back to traditionally employed person.

By the end of my second day of work I realized that I would need to put my jewelry projects on hold for a week or two while I found my footing. In addition to learning my job and developing relationships with my new co-workers, I was also learning my commute and trying to figure out how to budget my evenings to fit in the essentials and still find a little time. A weekend of travel and celebration with family was wonderful, but meant there was not a break between week one and week two of work.

So now I have a weekend, and I'll begin catching up. My muse has not been missing, and I've been sketching and remembering ideas. It may be a few weeks before I'm back to posting jewelry regularly and on time, since I can't make jewelry on the bus and I'm still not to the point where I am finding much free time in the evenings after work, but that is also moving in the right direction. I expect to post a little something tomorrow, and we'll just go on from there. I may also do some non-jewelry blogging since that seems to be a better fit on weeknights.

Just to be clear -- I will complete this year of jewelry, I will do Secret Santa, if that is offered this year, and I will continue to blog right here about jewelry and other things.

Meanwhile, please do remember to give your love to the wonderful artists of the Year of Jewelry.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Handful of Rings -- My personal challenge

Ever since the beginning of Year of Jewelry 2009, I have had the idea that it would be interesting to set myself another level of challenge, perhaps a piece of jewelry a day for some designated period of time. This turned out to be the week. I decided to set myself the challenge to create a 5 rings, a handful, in one week. I chose to make 5 because I had a reasonable expectation that I might be interrupted on at least one of the weekdays, and I had no interest in setting myself up for failure before I started, and because the idea of 5 rings and 5 fingers appealed to me in a silly, juvenile way.

I chose to make the rings because this ring pattern has been very well-received by so many of you that I wanted to make a tutorial, and to do that, I needed to make several. I needed to nail down the exact materials requirements, refine the work methods, and get the measurements for exact sizing figured out precisely. I'm pleased to say that I accomplished all those goals and also ended up with 5 rings, size 7, in a nice range of styles, all using exactly the same technique. I also refined a number of techniques so the rings at the end of the week were actually better constructed, quicker to construct, and will be clearer to explain than the first rings I made.

On Monday, I began my week using a blue Czech glass bead, an inexpensive bit of nothing that has a very pretty deep color and an pleasant shape, a little gaudy, perhaps, but fun. It is the simplest of the rings for the week, just one bead and the herringbone back. Making this ring, I learned that the depth of the bead can make a significant in the ultimate sizing, and needs to be allowed for. On this ring, I wove the back with two pieces of wire, working from the center back. That gave me greater stability and control of construction, but also created two ends to hide. The bead is almost 3/4 inch or 18mm high, making this the widest and boldest ring of the group.

On Tuesday, I made a ring using 6mm light blue Swarovski pearls and crystal AB beads. This is the narrowest of the rings, almost a band. It occurred to me that if I took a full length of the weaving wire, but only worked with half of it at one time from the center back outward, I could retain the tension control I needed while still keeping the inside of the ring seamless. That worked well but I was less happy with the job I did positioning the beads. I'll have to do better the next time.

Yellow jade nuggets purchased at Queen Bead in Brownsville, TX, while on vacation with my sister, are the centerpiece of Wednesday's ring. I love these beads -- they look like butterscotch candies. I also like the idea of a clump of these asymmetrical chunks of rock. It makes me think of a cocktail ring from the 50's or 60's. This is a big favorite. I'll be making it from other kinds of nuggets.

Thursday's ring featured amethyst beads highlighted with pearly magatamas and coiled spirals. I had made a sample ring with the oval amethyst last week, and it turned out MUCH larger than my measurements indicated it should, so I needed to use the bead again to confirm that my new method of measuring was correct, as in fact it turned out to be. The 6mm round beads are incorporated on the spirals, which are then wrapped. Unlike last week's bali ring, the spirals actually overlap the ring armature, making for a different look from the front. The Miyuki magatamas were added because the spaces needed something, and I decided pearly went with amethyst. but the cream seed pearls I had were too large and these beads were just right.

On Saturday I finished the week with my favorite semi-precious gemstone, lapis nevada. If you are not familiar with it, it is a beautiful mixture of mossy green, white and pink with the occasional fleck of darker material. It comes from only a single mine and the last I heard, that mine was not being worked because of a dispute over its ownership. I like the way the stone looks, but the rectangular cut doesn't lie quite the way I want -- I need to work more to refine this particular variation.

Technical details for all rings: Each ring used just under 6 inches of 20g sterling and an average of 5 feet of 28g sterling, for a silver cost per ring at today's price (8/2/2009) of $1.28 -- very affordable, I think. Obviously, the different stones and beads range in price from a few pennies to a bit more for the Swarovski, but it is still not an expensive project. The central bead or beads on each ring are incorporated in the armature, with the remaining beads or embellishments woven into place with the 28g wire. The back of each ring is worked in herringbone, 3 wrap at the center back for stability and 5 wrap as you move to the front of the ring to create the open construction I like.

You may notice that I did not make a ring on Friday. As you may know, I was laid off from my job almost a year ago, and during that time have not had many people interested in even talking to me about work. Although I sent out endless resumes and networked as much as I could, I had only a few interviews, and none of them had produced any results. I couldn't even find temp work although I have a very good skill set, if I say so myself. However, over the last 3 weeks, I entered the interview process for a job and it moved from an inquiry to an interview to a second interview. Not only that, but the job fulfilled virtually every item on my wish-list for the ideal job. After the second interview, I was told that I would hear sometime next week. On Friday I got the great news that I was chosen for the job. I won't talk more about the job itself here -- if you want to know that and you know me at all, you can probably find the information. :-) In any case, I had planned to have a day off from this ring project, and Friday turned out to be that perfect day.

Now, my job news obviously means that I will need to take special care to make sure I am able to keep up my YoJ commitment, and I am more than ready for the challenge. I may be coiling wire or weaving chain on my lunch hour or perhaps sketching on the bus, but I'll be back next week and the next and the next.

Don't forget to visit the Year of Jewelry blog to see the wonderful things all my jewelry companions are posting. See you next week, or maybe even sooner.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I love rings!

Last week I posted a simple little ring and much to my surprise received the most positive feedback I have ever had on any piece of jewelry I have ever made. Since the technique was on my list for further exploration, I decided to make this week a week of rings. Like most of us, I have a fairly extensive collection of random beads of all sorts so I selected beads that were square, rectangular, or more or less oval that I thought might work well in a ring. Then I set to work.

Of course, life intervenes, this week in a good way. I got a callback for a second interview for a job that I would love to get. We also took out time to spend with our grandchildren. So my jewelry time was more limited than I expected when I got out my beads and made my plans for the week. Still, all things considered, I was very productive. And I even took out time to watch Torchwood: Children of Earth.

My first ring for the week used an oval amethyst bead. Because the green ring came out small, I carefully measured 3 inches as the length for the ring segments. The ring came out nicely, but at size 9 1/2, quite a bit larger than I was aiming for. After further experimentation, I realized that the sizing has to be based on a combination of the length of the wire as well as the shape of the bead. A flat bead would call for shorter wire lengths, while a thicker bead needs a longer wire. Since ring sizing is critical, I felt it was very worthwhile to get this down to a formula. There is still a little refining to do, but I'm really close.

Meanwhile, I've been seeing a lot of coiled-style earrings, rings, and other jewelry being made. One of the beads I pulled out was this bali silver bead with coiling and spiral details.

It called out to me to echo the motif on the bead with handmade coiling. As I worked on it, the spaces in the coiled element looked too empty, and I just happened to have some corrugated beads that just fit, both in size and in appearance, so I wove those in, too. Finally, I finished the back with the herringbone wrapping. Best of all, when I finished the last coiling and trimming and slipped the ring on my finger, it FIT.

Technical details: Bali silver bead, about 3/4 inch or 18 mm long, 3/8 inch or 9 mm at the widest point. The coil details on the ring are roughly similar to 30g wire. The ring form and the bases of the spiral elements are 20g soft sterling. Coiling and weaving wire is 28g sterling. 3mm corrugated melon beads in sterling and 2mm plain beads for embellishment. The coil and bead detail is repeated on each side of the focal bead, while the back of the ring is wrapped in herringbone weave. The center back uses 2-wrap herringbone to tie the two wires closely and then transitions to 5-wrap herringbone as the sides flare out to meet the central motif section.

I'm wearing this ring right now. When I finish my blogging for today, I already have another ring started, this one with blue glass and swarovski beads. And all the other beads I pulled out for rings are still calling to me. Not only that, but this week I will be hearing whether I got the job -- I think the interview went well, so I am cautiously hopeful. And if it doesn't work out, I won't be any more unemployed than I am currently, so it's all good, right?

Do be sure to stop over at the Year of Jewelry site. As the year progresses, the participants are doing more and more wonderful things. I love the project, both for the artistry and for the positive motivation it gives me to keep working and growing as an artisan.

Love your comments! Thanks for looking!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Ring for Summer

For the past several nights, I had trouble sleeping, and so I visualized different ways of wrapping wire. Inspired by a number of beautiful rings that Facebook jewelry friends have been making, I thought about rings. When the geometry for this ring settled in my mind, I knew I had to make a ring for this week. So I tried out the armature (for lack of a better word) in copper, and when it seemed that it would work, got out the silver and went to it.

The stone is an aventurine bead, half an inch square. I placed it in the middle of a length of 20g sterling, bent the wire above and below at right angles in opposite directions, wrapped each section around a ring mandrel and secured the ring sections onto the post holding the bead. Then it was wrapped in 28g sterling, herringbone weave.

I learned a couple things from this. First, with some practice, this will make a very reliable ring format because you can control the size very accurately and because the inside is completely smooth with no ends in contact with your fingers. Second, the ring needs to start out about a size larger than you want the finished ring to accommodate the angle and the wrapping. This ring, which was meant to fit my right ring finger, about a size 7 1/2, is closer to a 6 1/2, a tad small for my pinky. Learning experience = good thing. The next one I make, which will be made soon, will be made larger, and will use a slightly smaller stone. I will probably embellish the sides but not the back with seed beads or the tiny silver beads, just for some added texture. I could also see this with a random mosaic of beads all over the front half and the herringbone only around the back.

So this was pretty successful, after all.

Don't forget to go over to Year of Jewelry. There are a number of really exciting new pieces there.

And yes, I know I owe you some Summer Vacation posts. Not only was I traveling this week, but I had a job interview as well. Early next week, I promise to tell you about my nephew's play and the amazing tacos at Mr. Taco and the incredible grapefruit cake and how beautiful the Rio Grande Valley is and how great my sister and her family are.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Goth Flower

This week's Year of Jewelry project was done early in the week because I was leaving for vacation on Wednesday, and we all know about best-laid plans when it comes to vacations. Remember homework and the winter holidays? So I made the project, took the pictures, dropped them on my desktop, and took my netbook with me on vacation, figuring I'd find time to post them at a more appropriate time.

And here it is!

I purchased Robbie Ward's Spring Flower tutorial when it first came out, and just hadn't gotten around to making it. A couple months ago when I was working with hardware store materials, it occurred to me that the dark annealed steel wire would be very dramatic in a solidly woven piece. My judgment was confirmed when I made the basketweave pendant. I also was looking for a project that could be made with minimal tools with the idea of having something to keep my hands busy during my vacation. At the same time, I didn't want to take a project that was entirely new to me. So I decided to make a sample flower in the dark steel wire, just to see how it would work.

I tried to make the framework out of the 18g steel that I had used for frames of some other projects, but it was too springy for this particular project, so I went ahead and used 18g copper. I made the modified herringbone petals with the 28g (which is actually closer to 24g) dark annealed steel wire and filled the center with a mix of crystal, fire polished, and delica beads. I intentionally tried for a goth, corpse bride, steampunk meets sparkle effect.

Technical details: 18g copper frame, 28g dark annealed steel wire herringbone, mixed beads for the center, hidden bail woven in 5 wrap herringbone in 28g copper. The flower measures about 2 1/2 inches or 7 cm overall, with the beaded center measuring about 3/4 inches or 18 mm across.

The finished piece is fairly dramatic, but the materials make it a bit more casual. In the photo I have it on a twisted cord. It also looks really nice on multiple strands of matte black seed beads.

Don't forget to stop by the Year of Jewelry blog to see all the wonderful projects.

Next up, What I Did on my Summer Vacation. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Crop Circles

I love crop circles -- no, not because of aliens, but rather for the opposite reason. Crop circles are wonderful expressions of the joy and playfulness of humans making art in the most unexpected places and ways. Just think about people sneaking out under cover of darkness with planks and ropes into a field, using stone-age technology to make designs that are intentionally full of all kinds of symbolism, a wonderful combination of art and a prank. You just have to love it. But the best thing about crop circles is that the designs have a sense of geometric beauty that is exactly what I love.

A couple months ago I ran across a photo of a crop circle representing a jellyfish. I saved it for inspiration, intending to work it into a pendant. Earlier this week I decided to do a trial run of the techniques I was planning to use, and these earrings are the result.

Technical details: Core wire is 19g half hard sterling woven with 28g sterling and embellished with 2mm sterling beads. Each earring uses 10 inches of core wire (not including the earwire), about 5 feet of weaving wire and about 37 or 38 beads. The weaving is a herringbone variation that both fills the gap and holds the couched beads in place. By using 3 wraps on the inner ring and one bead plus two wraps on the outer ring, I was able to get the weaving to radiate the way I wanted. The outer circle including beads is just about 1 1/2 inches or 38mm diameter. I mounted them on the latch-back earwires I've been using. They are dramatic, but not heavy either physically or visually.

I know I always seem to be saying I'm happy with my work, but this time, I guess I'd have to say I'm ecstatic. I love these earrings, I love the technique, I loved making them, I love the way they turned out. I will probably make another pair almost right away so I can have some to keep and some to sell, because I think these are definitely salable. I also have ideas for a bunch of variations -- a bead or dangle in place of the inner coil or colored beads or tiny crystals for the edging, perhaps.

Because I'm traveling next week, I'm planning to start next week's Year of Jewelry project a tad early. I do plan to work on jewelry while visiting my sister, weaving wire while she knits, but I'm not pushing myself to finish any big project during that time. We may well decide to sit and drink coffee with idle hands, and that would be wonderful, too. Meanwhile, please do go look at the Year of Jewelry blog. There are really wonderful things being posted all the time.

Before I go this week, I want to give special props to Augie, my wonderful in-house engineer (also beloved husband of many years) who restored my little pink netbook to health after a nasty hard-drive crash. We think that there was some kind of power anomaly overnight that messed up several electronic devices, and I had been lazy enough to leave the computer plugged in to the charger. The next day when I went to turn it on, it couldn't even find Windows. He did the internet research to learn all the little ins and outs of restoring Acer netbooks from crashes, and was able to fix it much more quickly than either of us expected. I lost my data, but all of it was backed up or out in the cloud, so it's just a matter of gathering things up and putting them back in convenient places. Backup is your friend. Also, Augie is awesome, even if there is no extra charge for awesomeness.