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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A glance over my shoulder

As I walked out of our apartment the other day, my neighbor was coming out her door. We stopped and chatted for a moment and then she commented on the pendant I was wearing. It is one of my favorites, a marquise-shaped open pendant with a large black AB fire-polish bead at the bottom. I made it last year when I started experimenting with the pave' technique using tiny silver beads. This was the third time in a few weeks that someone had commented on this particular pendant, so I took that as an indication and thought about making a variation for my next project.

I decided to take the opportunity to use the light blue Swarovski pearls that I had in my stash. Over the past several years I subscribed to the Beads of the Month club. I cancelled, reluctantly, because I couldn't justify the cost at this moment. But during that time I accumulated a nice assortment of good quality beads, Miyuki beads in all shapes and an assortment of Swarovski. While I love transparent and AB Swarovski crystals, I have mixed feelings about their opaque beads. In particular, I don't quite know what to make of their "pearls". In fact, they are just fancy round glass beads. They are not pearls, not even freshwater pearls. At the same time, they are very uniform and come in some very pretty colors and a good range of sizes, which makes them potentially very useful.

Technical details: Core wire is19g sterling. Wrapping wire is 28g sterling. 2mm sterling beads around the edge. 6mm Swarovski light blue pearl highlighted with 2-2mm and 1-3mm Swarovski crystal AB beads. The crystals are meant to give a tiny bit of sparkle from time to time, like dewdrops, maybe. The frame is two rounds with the silver beads woven into place on the second round. They then sit in the space between the two rows of the core wire. The bail is 5 wrap herringbone, my usual bail for a simple pendant.

I like the shape of this, and I like the balance of the silvery blue and crystal with the silver. I think as it ages it will take on a nice patina. I'm less happy with the way the pearl and crystals are set -- they are not quite symmetrical. Since I'll be using this format again, I'll have to take better care next time to make sure the bead is set straight, particularly if I use the crystals which just draw attention to the problem.

At this point, I think I'm caught up with YOJ for the moment. Since I'll be traveling next week, I may be playing catch-up again in a week or two, but for now it's all good.

Please be sure to go over to check out the beautiful things at the Year of Jewelry. The artists participating in this project are really giving a wonderful effort, and you'll love what you see.

As always, I am interested in what you think of this and any other pieces, including your suggestions. I plan to post again soon, if'n the creek don't rise.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Punctuated Equilibrium

One of the reasons I signed up for Year of Jewelry again this year was to help give a bit of structure and order to my time, since I was looking for a job and finding that it is very easy to completely lose track of time passing when you don't have a regular schedule. As you can tell from the past few weeks, that hasn't worked out so well, has it? However, I'm okay with that, and okay with the work I'm producing and have no intention of quitting YOJ. There's a lot more to the project than just a deadline, and it is a good thing to know that at least a few people are looking at my jewelry from time to time. Thanks!

I started weaving a cuff using the same technique as the woven pendant for my project for last week. It turned out to be really slow and time consuming, so I set it aside to work on a quicker project. I had been thinking about some earrings and knew that earrings were a quick project. They were nearly ready in time, all but the earwires, then the weekend somehow ate up all the time and the dangles were ready with no wires. Wires are boring. Really boring. I should just take an hour to be bored and make about 20 pairs so they don't hold me up in future. Can you imagine that for a YOJ post? Sandi made 20 pairs of latch earwires, how creative and unusual, what an artist!!

Now that the earrings are done, I like them. They are a little large and fancy for my current look. (Summertime grandma who plays with kids a lot) OTOH, large and fancy is something I think a lot of people are looking for, so that's okay.

Technical details: 19g sterling core wire, #11 Miyuki delica beads couched with 28g sterling wire. 8mm Swarovski rondelles in Indian Pink. The delicas are a similar shade, slightly iridescent. The geometry worked out that the beads are couched outside the top and bottom squares and inside the center square. Once I saw it I rather liked the effect, so I kept it. Overall length excluding earwire just over 2 inches. Earwires are handmade latchbacks in 19g half-hard so they have some spring to them. Once I tried making them, I really came to like these earwires. They answer all the concerns I have had about french wires -- I've lost far too many earrings over the years to be happy with un-stopped wires, and I don't like the way the plastic stoppers look.

I am starting another project today that could theoretically be done before the sun sets tomorrow so I'm close to back on track for time. I think I have a couple free days, then I have a large number of distractions looming so I really need to concentrate when I can. Over the next three weeks, my grandson turns 4, we plan to spend some holiday time with friends, I will be going to visit my sister, and we have a wedding anniversary. I better bend some wire right now to get ahead of the curve.

What do you think of these? I love to read your comments. Also, don't forget to check out all the beautiful work at the Year of Jewelry Project website.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

And now the happy ending

When I started the whole tree adventure, my original plan was to make little beaded leaf components that I could use in a number of different ways. Instead, I got sidetracked into a whole series of byways and of all the things I learned and accomplished, the beaded leaf was still the least satisfactory.

To end this week, I decided to remedy that. I applied the lessons I had learned over the past several weeks and made a spiral beaded leaf component attractive and sturdy enough to use in a wide variety of applications.

Lesson #1: 22g copper wire is too thin and soft to hold its shape.
  • Remedy: Use heavier, harder wire such as 19g half hard sterling wire.
Lesson#2: Beads that are strung directly onto the spiral are unstable and have a tendency to shift around.
  • Remedy: String the beads onto a fine working wire and couch into place.
Lesson #3: Wrapped loops create an unbalanced look.
  • Remedy: Make a plain loop for the leaf stem.
Lesson#4: Left to itself, the spiral can become distorted by catching on clothing, hair, etc.
  • Remedy: Take advantage of having the couching wire available and stabilize the open top of the coil, effectively creating a closed shape.
Applying those lessons, here is the finished product.

All of these remedies come back to using a heavier, harder wire. You can't string seed beads on 19g wire, but you can easily string the beads onto 28g wire and couch them in place. Couching also allows you to use a much wider range of beads, including gemstones and crystals as well as glass seed beads. The couching wire is then available to stabilize the leaf form so it won't catch and bend. The heavier wire is suitable for a plain loop, which is much better balanced with the appearance of the leaf. Worked in 19g, the leaf is only 1/8 inch longer than the 22g leaf (5/8 inch vs 1/2 inch -- 15 mm vs 13 mm) so it is still a small delicate component. The plain loop opens the possibility of creating a chain of these leaves as well as using them as charms or dangles.

Technical details: Coiled spiral leaves in 19g half hard sterling. #11 delica beads couched around the edge with 28g sterling. Latch-back wires, also 19g sterling.

I'm extremely happy with the way this came out. The learning curve on this one was a stinker, but ultimately worth it. At the end of the month I had a lovely new leaf component as well as new variations of wire armature pendants under my belt, and a wide range of variations bouncing around in my mind. Not only that, but as difficult and time-consuming as the process was, the final products are very manageable in terms of difficulty and of time spent. Once I finish my current project, I'm looking forward to being able to make some really lovely pieces with both the leaves and the trees.

Now I'm on to the next thing. Don't forget to check out all the talented artists at the Year of Jewelry. There are new and beautiful things posted there nearly every day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Catching up with my muse -- Part 3 -- Caught her!!

Previously, our heroine has been slogging through the wilderness, accompanied by her muse's wicked step-sister Uglificia. Overcoming two challenges, she is now poised to pursue one more test to release her true wiresmith's muse from imprisonment and banish the annoying, banal and technically inept Uglificia forever (well, actually until the next time she sneaks in, but this is a story, and there are conventions, you know).

Now that I had almost caught up with my Year of Jewelry committment, I wanted to make something quite different. The design that had been bumping around in my head while I was struggling with the very free-form trees was much more ordered, and I was eager to try it out.

Once again I worked in hardware store materials, this time copper and dark annealed steel wire embellished with some of the half-kilo of matte black #11 seed beads that I am unlikely to use up if I live to be a hundred. The base frame is 1 inch on a side 18g hardware store copper. The warp wires are 24g hardware store copper, fastened with something like larkshead knots on each side of the frame. The weft wires are dark annealed steel wire also from the hardware store. The spool says it is 28g, but it is exactly the same size as the 24g copper. This is not uncommon using hardware store materials, part of the exchange for being so cheap and easily available. I used a simple 3-strand basketweave with 15 strands of wire in each direction. I ran another course of the 18g wire around the outside coiled with 28g copper and adding a bead every 5th coil. This created a nice border and also minimized any messy appearance of the selvedges.

The first challenge on this piece was the wire hardness. Hardware store copper is dead soft, and I mean softer than soft. It also work-hardens very suddenly, becoming brittle just after being as soft as overcooked pasta. Okay, I can allow for that. But add in the steel, which is a lot harder, something between half-hard and full hard, and even in this small gauge it gets interesting. Still, it was okay until I got to the part of fastening the ends of the weft wires to the frame.

Which lead to the second challenge: What do I do with the short ends? There are a lot of them, there really isn't any place to weave them in, and they are a bit short to be trusted to stay on their own. Not to mention that they are prickly and the steel is too stiff to just smish into place with my pliers like the copper warp wires. That is really the reason for the outer frame, however nice it looks. The snipped off ends are captured between the two courses on the outside, which helps lock them in place and also recesses the sharp ends between the two big wires so they won't scratch or snag. The beads also help prevent the wire ends from unraveling by the simple fact of being in the way.

YAAY! I'm thinking like a wiresmith again! Begone, Uglificia!

So, how do you like it? Do you think I could say it was a little bit steampunk, with the steel wire and all? How do you like the idea of a woven cuff like this? Inquiring minds (mine at least) want to know.

As always don't forget to stop by the Year of Jewelry for beautiful things made by beautiful people.

Catching up with my muse -- Part 2

Previously on "Where the @#$& is Sandi's Muse?" we related the tale of the Tree of Life that ate the universe. As we left our intrepid heroine, she had spent weeks on the leafy version of the Tree of Life pendant, and wasn't quite sure what to do next. . .

So, as I looked at the finished leafy tree, I knew there were some good things about it, and if I wanted to get anything other than a vaguely unsatisfactory pendant from the time and effort spent, I needed to pursue those things. I determined to make another tree pendant, this time using gemstone nuggets instead of the coiled leaves. That would leave me to focus on the weaving elements as well as allow me to make a smaller, more wearable pendant.

So, what do you think? My immediate take is that it prettier in a conventional way, maybe not so interesting but equally not so odd. It still has the amuletic and symbolic elements -- 18 leaves (gems), 18 roots/branches, and has the additional virtue of being made from natural(ish) materials rather than glass beads. I see a lot more potential in this one. For example, I could make one in chrysophase or emerald for my grand-daughter whose birthday is May 18. Or I could do one in any month's birthstone. Or a family one with multiple birthstones. Or a blooming tree with small colored beads woven in among the larger stones. Or a representation of any number of mythical or literary trees. Could be done in other metals, too, tho the copper is nice for the weaving. I could hammer the frame, or use a different shape, a diamond or a circle or an ellipse. Hmmm, not bad for a project that was intended simply to justify a large perceived waste of time.

Technical details
Hardware store copper wire. The 18g frame is 1 1/2 inches on a side or just under 3 inches tall including bail. The branches/roots are 24g, 9 strands fastened at the top with a larkshead knot. The gemstones are jasper nugget/chips, medium sized, I guess, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch each (4mm to 10mm). I chose the greenest ones from the large strand I had, which also included pinkish, brownish, whitish, and mixed chunks. Muddy green and copper is a particular favorite color scheme of mine, so that was my choice for this one. The bail is again 5 coil herringbone in 28g over the 18g core, curved on a 7.5mm mandrel.

Instead of nearly three weeks, this piece took a couple hours over the course of a day. Since it went so quickly, it opened up the possibility of getting caught up with Year of Jewelry with just one more piece. I was feeling less like a poseur and more hopeful as I chose my next project. . .

Which will be featured in my next blog entry, coming VERY soon.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Do you like it better, or prefer the more off-the-wall look of the leafy tree? Would you wear either one? Give either one as a gift? Should I keep pursuing this or just let it wither on the vine (obligatory groan)

You know I love your comments and conversations. Also, don't forget to check out the Year of Jewelry blog for lots of inspiration.

Catching up with my muse -- Part 1

It's a long story, so if you want to just cut to the *technique* chase, scroll down below the picture for that stuff. But the journey has something to say about something or other, so I think I'll put it in, just because I can.

Three or four weeks ago, when I was doing all the wrapped loops, I also found Sharilyn Miller on FB, and was reminded of a component that I learned from one of her designs, a leaf shape based on a coil. I thought it would be fun to try embellishing that shape with seed beads to create a leaf element that I could use in a larger piece. I started making a few of the leaves with 22g copper, adding a wrapped loop in place of the simple loop that I would use in a heavier wire gauge, and they were okay.

Then, as I was thinking about what I would do with them, a non-jewelry project came up that demanded all my time from Sunday through Thursday. So the ideas percolated in my mind, but I couldn't make any jewelry time and they grew and morphed and got strange. When I got back to the leaves, I quicky realized that they were too soft and fragile for any bracelet application, although, seriously, they would look awesome as a charm bracelet. I thought some more about a charm style necklace, but wasn't too excited about that. Then I remembered a couple articles I had seen lately using a tree of life motif, and decided that I wanted to make one and the leaves would be wonderful.

Now, bear in mind that the last time I worked with the sort of technique I was planning was probably about 30 years ago when I made a really cool semi-macrame wall hanging of a tree, using coiling rather than knots for the bulk of the piece. It hung in our entrance for years, and it is still around somewhere, just not on display.

Not only that, but regardless of my personal beliefs, I am always fascinated by the things various cultures consider auspicious and amuletic. A tree of life should contain one or more references to 18, and since I had been reading Norse Code, a novel by Greg van Eekhout with a lot of references to Norse mythology, the 9 roots and branches of the World Tree also was playing in my mind. So I decided I needed 36 leaves. Working slowly (for reasons I really don't understand, these components should just fly off your pliers, really) I got the leaves done, but by that time I was more than a week late to post this for Year of Jewelry. Started the frame, and it just sat for a day. Looked at the frame and realized that it would hold 18 leaves at the most, and that might be a stretch. Added the branch/root wires, and it sat for another day, looking at me mournfully. At this point I was 2 weeks behind, and beginning to hate even the components. Finally I buckled down and began adding the leaves and twisting the branches and all that and I REALLY hated it. They stuck out every which way and were just ugly. So it sat some more, and at this point I'm almost 3 weeks behind. Finally I bit the bullet, braided the branches, braided the trunk, and it was looking less vile. I spread out the root wires and began fastening them, and darned if it didn't start looking kinda sorta okay. In fact, the trunk and roots looked downright cool. What do you know!

So here it is, my tree of life with coiled beaded leaves, 18 leaves, 18 roots, L'chaim.

Technical Detail:
Hardware store copper and seed beads. The frame is 18g copper wire, measuring 2 inches per side or 3 1/4 inches tall, including bail. Yes, this is a large pendant. The tree armature is woven and braided from 9 strands of 24g copper wire, doubled and attached at the branch end via a larkshead knot, forming 18 working strands for the macrame/braiding/coiling/whatever technique. Each pair of strands holds 2 of the leaves. The pairs of strands are braided together into 3 main branches, which are then braided to form the trunk. The roots are then separated out, fanned, and coiled onto the base of the pendant.

The leaves are coiled from 22g copper wire, with #11 seed beads added to the outside coil. I first saw this leaf (unembellished) used by Sharilyn Miller in a tutorial that was in one of the first issues of Belle Armoire magazine (on a much heavier scale) and have loved it from first sight. I used 6 different varieties of seed beads, some round, some delicas, some hex, with different finishes. Instead of the plain loop you would use in a heavy gauge wire, they are topped with wrapped loops.

The bail is a 5 coil herringbone in 28g copper over the 18g core shaped over a 7.5mm mandrel.

I'm still ambivalent about this. People who have seen it think it's cool, and I love the way the roots came out. But it still is not quite right. I'd love your comments and recommendations -- any reasonable suggestion will be considered :-)

So what will I do about that?? I'll tell you in the next post, coming very soon. Meanwhile, do take a look over at the Year of Jewelry to see all the wonderful work there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A recipe for you

When I started this blog, I mentioned that I might include other things than jewelry-making. This week a couple of you have asked about my recipe called “Taco Rice” and I decided this was a very good time to expand my topics, maybe post a little oftener. Sharing some of my favorite recipes seems like a good place to start.

I love to eat, and generally love to cook, too. However, as Peg Bracken said in “The I Hate to CookBook” it is the daily-ness of it that can wear you down. To overcome that you need to have a selection of go-to recipes, dishes you can prepare without much thought, from ingredients that are easy to keep in the house, that taste good.

Taco rice may be the ultimate go-to recipe in our house. In some ways it's more of a method than a recipe. I'll start with the basic recipe – you can prepare this as is, following the recipe exactly and have a really nice supper. Then I'll let you in on the secrets, the ways you can adapt this recipe to fit virtually any situation. So here goes.

Taco Rice – 4 servings

½ pound ground meat

Garlic, onion, peppers – optional to taste

1 cup uncooked rice

1 can tomatoes

1 packet taco seasoning

About 2 cups water – depends on how much juice is on the tomatoes

Large skillet or everyday pan with tight-fitting cover


Sour cream or yogurt

Scallions/green onions/sweet onions

Shredded cheese

Other taco-style garnishes as desired

Drain the juice from the tomatoes into a measuring cup and reserve.

In your large skillet over medium high heat, crumble and brown the ground meat. When it is about half-cooked, add aromatics as desired. I always use garlic, sometimes onion or peppers if they are handy. I don't salt it because there is usually enough seasoning in the taco seasoning. However, you might want a little salt and pepper. Just be careful and taste as you go.

When the meat is completely browned, add the uncooked rice. Stir it around with the meat until it begins to look somewhat chalky and is coated with the pan drippings. Stir in the taco seasoning, then the tomatoes. If you are using whole tomatoes, crush them with you hands as you add them. If you are using diced tomatoes, just add them as they are.

To the reserved juice, add enough water to make 2 ¼ cups of liquid. Add this to the pan and mix thoroughly. Raise the heat to high to bring the dish to a boil. When it reaches a boil, cover, count to ten, and lower heat to a very low setting, barely simmering.

Now go away and leave this entirely alone for 20 minutes. Do not lift the lid to peek or see how it is coming along. After 20 minutes, check to see if the rice is tender and most of the juice is absorbed. If not, return the mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let cook 5 to 10 minutes longer.

Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, some finely chopped scallions or sweet onions, and some shredded cheese.

A green salad and cornbread or tortillas are the perfect accompaniment.

So that's the basic recipe. But this is one of the most versatile recipes on record, and I'd like to share some of the variations that we love.

Meat: You can use any ground meat. Hamburger, meatloaf mix, ground pork, or ground turkey all work perfectly well. If the meat is very lean you may want to add a little olive oil to help it brown and to carry some of the spice flavors. Half a pound is just a guideline. If you like a meatier dish you can use more meat, but it really doesn't improve things that much.

But what if you are vegetarian? Well, you're in luck. You can substitute soy crumbles or cooked/canned beans (or a mixture of both) for the meat and the dish will be just as good – different but excellent. I would recommend that you saute the aromatics alone and then add the crumbles and/or beans with the tomatoes so they don't burn, but otherwise the preparation is just the same.

Tomatoes: When I first developed this recipe, over 30 years ago, I used plain label generic canned whole tomatoes for it and crushed them with my hands as I added them to the pan. Lately diced tomatoes have become widely available, and I have been using them most of the time. You can use salted or unsalted, seasoned or unseasoned, whatever kind of tomatoes you like. The whole tomatoes have more liquid in the can, while the liquid on the diced tomatoes is very thick, which is why you need to adjust the amount of water each time you cook it.

Rice: Any kind of uncooked unprocessed white rice works for this. I generally use medium grain rice, since that is my favorite. However, long grain, basmati, jasmine, sushi rice, even short-grain rice all work fine. Use what you like. Avoid converted or quick-cooking rices as they don't absorb the flavors as well. Short-grain brown rice could work but you would have to adjust both the liquid and the cooking time, and I haven't done that often enough to speak with authority on those numbers.

Taco Seasoning: What kind of taco seasoning to use? What kind do you and your family like? When I started making this I used the plain label generic taco seasoning. When that was no longer available, I used whatever was on sale, often McCormick. Now I get most of my seasonings from The Spice House, and I couldn't be happier. Their spice mixes are delicious, extremely fresh, and very economical. Check out their website for yourself.

Spiciness: Depending on the taco seasoning you used, the basic recipe is not particularly hot. If you want more heat, try using tomatoes with jalepenos, such as Rotel. Or you could saute a couple hot peppers with the aromatics. Or you could add a squirt of your favorite hot sauce like Sriracha. Or if some of you want heat and others don't, you can add hot sauce or sliced jalepenos to the toppings to taste.

Toppings: I like greek yogurt or plain yogurt and shredded sharp cheddar. You could use sour cream, full- or low-fat if you prefer or if it easier to get in your area. I use scallions, both the green and white parts, about 1 per person. Chopped parsley or cilantro are both good if you happen to have them on hand, and a fresh salsa is delicious, also if you have it on hand. And guacamole is always a luxurious touch on any Tex-Mex style dish.

Other options: If you want to sneak in some extra vegetables, it's easy. Corn, green beans, and spinach are all good. Just add them as you assemble the dish. They tend to absorb sauce and almost disappear, which may be helpful if you have fussy eaters. You can also add broccoli stems, finely chopped, and I promise your fussiest family member won't notice. The tomato and seasonings make its flavor blend in.

So there you go. If you have canned tomatoes, rice, taco seasoning, and meat or beans in the house, you have a delicious filling meal that takes about 10 minutes of preparation and less than half an hour of additional cooking. Winner all around.

Please let me know if you enjoyed this recipe, and if I should post some more. Thanks for looking. I'll be back later in the week with more jewelry, and maybe other things too, if you say you are interested.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Loops and Spirals - A Teaching Exercise

This week's challenge for me was to solidify my plans for a beginner class at the gallery that sells my jewelry. The owner was not very specific about what she wanted, so I thought for a while and gave myself several criteria for a successful presentation, and of course, class.
  • The project should teach a very basic skill set, easy enough for someone with no jewelry-making experience whatever.
  • It should fit in the timeframe -- quick enough that the students have something nice to take home, but enough substance that they can spend the whole class time working on it.
  • It should be an attractive finished product, something the students would be proud to wear.
  • Because it is being made in the gallery, it should incorporate supplies that the students can purchase there, i.e. gemstone beads.
  • Aside from the gemstone beads, the tools and materials should be very basic and, if possible, inexpensive without being cheap or tacky.
Because I feel very strongly about the value of practice and mileage in jewelry-making, I also wanted something that repeated the skills several times in the course of the class time.

The project I came up with is this set called Loops and Spirals. Basically the students will learn a wrapped loop and the simplest tight spiral. After making several wrapped loop/spiral dangles, they will make ultra-simple earwires and an ultra-simple pendant hoop to hold their beads. The cool thing is that the earring drops are interchangeable, so students could go home with several pairs of earrings as well as a pendant, depending on how quickly they get the technique. They also will be able to practice it several times, which is pretty much necessary if you want to make nice loops.

I made my first version with hardware store copper, very impromptu, and then this version in sterling with a lot more attention to detail so I could get the instructions exactly right. I will bring a sample of the instructions as well as the set to the gallery this week, and if they like it, we can hammer out the details. My thought would be to make up kits with 4 or 5 each of 4 or 5 kinds of beads, each kit the same. That way they could break up only 4 or 5 strands to make a bunch of kits that would still have a nice assortment of beads. I lean toward working with copper at first, but I'm not sure if copper earwires are a good idea so we'll have to discuss that, too. We also haven't talked about pricing, class size, all that. I have thought all that out and will have a pretty detailed bullet list of ways it could work.

Now for what I actually made -- I used 4 kinds of gemstone beads, 2 shapes of pink peruvian opal and 2 shapes of lapis nevada. The drops are made with 22g sterling wire, roughly 2" for each bead. I made 5 of each, 2 for earrings and 3 for the pendant. The earwires are 20g sterling, again a 2" length each. If you look closely you will see that the drop simply slides into place and falls into the bend behind the spiral at the front. This means that you can exchange a different drop onto the same set of wires. The spirals on the drops and the earwires are both decorative and functional, eliminating the need for headpins. The omega-style hoop pendant is made from 18g sterling. I slid the beads on in an order that pleased me. The top is very simple closed (not wrapped) loops to go over a cord or chain. I used a 3mm 18g jump ring to close and stabilize the top of the pendant. It will help it hold its shape and also prevent the beads from slipping off.

The tool list for the class will include round-nose pliers, chain-nose pliers, cutter, a pen and a wine cork as mandrels. Students who have only one pair of chain-nose pliers will have to share for two brief steps that use 2 pair of pliers (closing the loops on the pendant, opening and closing the jump ring) but that should work okay.

Now, my cheater alert -- I use step pliers exclusively for wrapped loops, wouldn't do otherwise. I like uniform loops, and that's how to get them. In fact, I almost never use my round-nose pliers any more. However, I'm not about to require students or the store to buy $15 step pliers when $4 round-nose will work fine for absolute beginners, and come in a starter set with a chain-nose and a cutter. Likewise, I use both chain- and flat-nose pliers, depending on which step, just because I've been doing this long enough to appreciate the difference in the way the different pliers bend the wire. But that is NOT necessary for absolute beginners, and there is no reason that they need the $150 of fancy Swedish ergonomic pliers and cutters that I use every day when for $13.99 they can get the whole set including a handy zipper case from Beadalon. By the time they wear out or break down, the students will know if they enjoy wire enough to get better quality tools.

How do you like this project? If you had never made jewelry, but were at a shop for a meditation class, would a class like this appeal to you?

Please share your thoughts, and meanwhile, don't forget to stop by Year of Jewelry and check out all the beautiful things my jewelry friends are sharing there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Networks, Spirals and Triangle Beads

Social networking is a wonderful thing. This week, thanks to Facebook, I found a very helpful article on jewelry pricing strategies. Jodi Bombardier, the artisan behind Jewels by Jules, has built a wonderful site full of information and beautiful things. Please stop by there for a look. I also had a nice conversation with Camille Sharon, the artist whose Facebook tutorial got me started on the string art variations.

Because it was a fairly quiet week with little on my schedule, I was able to make several pairs of earrings in styles you have already seen, and then tried another variation on the couched beads technique. This time I made a pendant of 20g sterling with silver-lined blue #10 Miyuki triangle beads. Excluding the bail, the pendant is 2" tall by about 1 5/8" wide. The center of the spiral features a Swarovski crystal in a similar blue for a bit of sparkle. It is finished with my signature herringbone bail. Because this will be placed for sale at the same gallery that sells my chains, the bail is sized to fit either a medium byzantine or double spiral chain as well as a cord or ribbon.

If I make another version of this pendant, I will use a heavier base wire, maybe even as heavy as 16g, to give it more solidity. I would even consider hammering it a bit for texture and a more rustic look. As it is, it is delicate and open and that is nice, too.

Next week I'll be going back to string art with a couple of new ideas. If you came here from Jewels by Jules or from Camille Sharon's site, welcome, and I hope you'll come back for more. Don't forget to check out all the pretties at the Year of Jewelry, as well.

I always appreciate your comments and critiques. Thanks for looking.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Busy week (with earrings)

What a busy week this turned out to be. So busy, in fact, that I'm posting my item for Year of Jewelry a little late, although the earrings were done almost on time.

We spent several days during the past week watching and/or playing with Yosef and Shalom. I think it's just about my favorite thing. Yosef is big enough now that he wants to help, and I was able to find a way for him to help. With supervision he was able to run the Coiling Gizmo. He just loved that he was helping make necklaces. He has always been very interested in my jewelry, and it was a big treat for him to start being a part of it. When he is a couple years older, you better believe that he will get pliers and learn to make chain.

The first part of the week I made several more string art pendants and earrings. My biggest success was in finding a way to stretch the coil uniformly. I use a plastic card -- actually the Morningside College Alumni luggage tag that my college sent me -- slide it between the coil and turn to open it just exactly the right amount. What a useful gift! Thanks, M'side! I also tried some variations, with different degrees of success. I tried using beads as spacers instead of the coil. Unfortunately, the spacing of even very small beads was too open to make a nice looking weaving and the smaller the bead, the less depth to help hold the thread in place. However, the beaded examples did lead to this week's project, and probably next week's as well.
I'm calling them Widdershins earrings because the trick to getting the beads to set perfectly is to wrap counterclockwise. I suppose they could also be infinity or figure 8's or Kringle -- oh, that would be good. The core wire is 20g sterling, the beads are #10 triangle Miyuki beads in a green AB finish, and the wrapping wire is 28g sterling. The triangle beads align easily and have a hint of faceted sparkle, and I like that. Also, I have a bunch of them in boxes that I'd really like to use, so there you go.

Overall they are about 1 1/4" or 3 cm tall. Once I figured out what I was doing they went really quickly. These are actually the 2nd and 3rd ones I made. The first one was repurposed because by the second one the bead placement had improved so much.

I personally prefer post earrings to earwires because I have attached earlobes and don't like the way that earwires look most of the time on me. This is the 4th post earring design I've come up with this year, and I'm enjoying it very much. It was also nice to get back to working with silver. I have not used sterling for the string art pieces because of the tarnish problem. I know copper tarnishes, too, but it should darken to a nice patina that will be somewhat unobtrusive while the tarnished silver would just look dirty, and would be hard to clean with the thread in place. Or so it seems to me.

I guess I've been babbling, but I hope you like the earrings enough to allow me that. Be sure to check out everybody's new pretties at Year of Jewelry, and feel free to comment, critique, whatever, in the comments either here or there. Thanks for looking and see you soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Learning about String Art

It seems that string art jewelry is showing up everywhere just this week. Maybe it's something in the water. I spent my jewelry time this week experimenting with it, and am sharing 3 of the 5 pendants I made. The others are just as nice, or possibly nicer, but they already have new homes, and I'll get their photos for my records later.

Here are some of the things I learned:
  • Nice quality sewing or machine embroidery thread works really well for this technique.
  • Spooled thread is easier to manage than embroidery floss, regardless of what the tutorials all say.
  • Variegated thread is lots of fun to work with and gives really interesting effects.
  • The direction of the coil makes a difference in the way the thread lies and has a BIG impact on how easy it is to get it to look nice and stay in place.
  • Because you are wrapping in several different directions, sometimes the coil direction will be against you, and you'll just have to learn to work with it.
  • Generous application of sealant is important to durability.
  • The tension on the final wrap before the knots is critical.
  • Getting the coil uniformly stretched without wobbles is the very hardest part -- still working on that one.
  • String art is still fun, 45 years after freshman geometry class.
I'll be experimenting more next week because I bought a few spools of thread on Friday and can't wait to try them. I also bought some steel wire for frames, to see how that works. The dark annealed finish is interesting and should contrast nicely with the gloss of the threads.

Technical details: 18g hardware store copper wire for the frame, 22g colored craft wire and/or niobium wire for coils, 28g copper wire for the herringbone bails, Sulky brand #30 mercerized cotton sewing thread in both solid and variegated for the string weaving.

Are any of you playing with this? Want to talk about it in the comments?

Thanks for looking, and don't forget to look at all the beautiful stuff over at Year of Jewelry.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Aspect Ratio and a Blast from the Past

Remember last week that the folks at On the Rocks were interested in chainmaille rings? Well, I spent most of my jewelry time this week wrestling with creating the perfect chainmaille ring. I have one that I wear all the time, in European 6-in-one weave. It is close to the perfect simple, elegant and comfortable ring. I say this as someone whose hands are prone to swelling, so rings in general are not something I can wear any more unless they are very flexible.

So I am trying to recreate this exact weave. Unfortunately, it seems that the wire I used for it was from an irregular lot, labeled as 22g but somewhat oversize -- possibly IRL a 21 g. So when I naively treated it as 22g, the weave was loose and floppy, and when I tried to use 20g, it was unworkably stiff. My mandrel set is in .5mm increments, and the AR is so sensitive on this weave that I haven't found the exact match yet, and I don't have any more of this weird wire. I spent a lot of time playing with the math, and came to the conclusion that the perfect AR for this weave as a ring is 4.75. Then I had to figure out the ring size for each of the gauges of wire. Either I have to find an alternative mandrel -- a possibility, I have a bunch of mandrels in inches that I haven't tried out yet -- or I will splurge and add an ounce of 21g to my next wire order. Trouble is, I'm trying to use up wire I have, for budgetary reasons, and would like to put off buying wire for a few weeks at least. Or until I have a job if that happens sooner.

However, those things don't make for much of a picture for Year of Jewelry. On Friday morning, Gen Smith posted a Youtube of Camille Sharon making string art pendants, and I decided to take a break from math and rings and useful things like that and try my hand at one. I used some 18g copper for the frame, 22g craft wire for the coil and one plain and one variegated rayon machine embroidery thread (contrary to the video's advice and because it was handy) for the string. I made a nicer bail, just because I can. It needs some practice to refine it, but definitely a fun, quick project with a TON of potential. I highly recommend it.

Next week I have to make a bunch of earrings, also plan some Earth Day fun with grandchildren, and make up a nice presentation for Carolyn and Gonzo at On the Rocks. When that is under control, I hope to post a bunch of new things to Etsy for sale. Oh, and look for a job.

Thanks for looking! Till next time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Great week, not-so-great jewelry project

Don't you just hate it when your blog software eats your post?? That's what just happened here, but I'll try my best to remember what I meant to say, ok?

This week was full of win. On Saturday, after a lovely birthday lunch (thanks, Dad!) and a trip to Spice House (mmm, smells so good) we decided to drive past the gallery where I have some pieces for sale. I had been concerned that they might be suffering in this economy, and was wondering if maybe I should just try to sell my things on the internet. Imagine how pleased I was to walk in the door and see the shop full of people, eagerly buying things. Even better, when the owner saw me, she exclaimed,"Oh, I have a check for you!" They had sold several pairs of earrings as well as a bracelet, one of the high price point items. In fact, they only had 3 of my things left.

After a nice conversation in which I agreed to bring more earrings and some rings, and also to bring some other new items to swap out with the stock that hasn't moved yet, I asked, just in passing, whether they might be interested in my teaching some classes. She loved the idea -- it seems that her fiance, the other owner and a very talented wire artist, has been so busy with custom work that he no longer has time to teach, and they have been looking for a way to offer beginner classes. So I'm also preparing proposals for a couple beginner level classes. I'm thinking of bead-drop earrings with hand-made wires, and a bead pendant with a simple bail. I'll be very busy this week. Yaay for busy!

Now, my Year of Jewelry project falls more in the category of "best laid plans", I'm afraid. It was supposed to be the next installment in my embellished herringbone series. I think the title for this embellishment is "Lumpy Ugly Embellishment Option." I don't like it at all. I actually cut away about half of the work I had done, it was so ugly. It also follows a pattern -- I have a string of these beautiful moss agate beads, one lovelier than the next, and I have yet to make a project from one of them that pleases me.

Still, you deserve the technical details -- 28g sterling wire wrapped on 22g sterling wire, 2mm sterling beads as embellishment to the herringbone weave. The stone is about 1 1/2" or 35mm tall and has a very pronounced mossy pattern. My lesson for this week is that this is not the way to embellish herringbone, and the next one of these beads will be treated as a cab in a pendant.

Thanks for stopping by, and of course I love to read any and all comments!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another week, another pair of earrings

I came to jewelry-making from a needlework background. In fact, I have several pieces of embroidered jewelry that are very beautiful and involved a lot of work and lovely materials. For some reason, though, they are always seen as novelty pieces, something you would wear to a quilters' meeting, but not "real" jewelry. I never understood that, but the truth is that once I started working in wire and beads or gemstones, my work gets a LOT more respect, regardless that it is using the exact techniques I used with silk or even metallic thread and a threaded needle. Go figure.

In any case, these earrings are, as promised, the next variation on the herringbone stitch earrings from last week. I made the hoop diameter 1/2 inch smaller for a slightly smaller, rounder earring. I also bowed out the sides a bit more, making for a slightly wider earring, at least at the bottom of the hoop.

After the herringbone portion was finished, I added #11 seed beads in a blue iris colorway. The beads are stitched in place using a backstitch. The technique is similar to one that is used in a form of embroidery called hemstitching. In that technique, threads are pulled out of the fabric adjacent to the hem, and various stitches are used to group and embellish the remaining crossthreads, creating a lacy but geometric effect.

Anyway, I'm pleased with this first variation, and have several more in mind, so I'll be working on those. And as long as I have to keep making herringbone base earrings, I'll be taking step-by-step photos so I can publish a tutorial for them. Since you can use the same technique for earrings, a bail for a focal bead, the bail on a wire-wrapped piece, and probably several other things I haven't thought of yet, I figure it might be a nice value if anyone is interested.

Apologies in advance for the photo -- Photoshop dot com wasn't happy about allowing me to upload so I wasn't able to edit it at all. I would have cropped it, at the least.

Thanks for looking. You know I love to hear your comments and critiques, how your day is going, whatever.

This is also posted at CWJ's Year of Jewelry. If you haven't already done so, stop by there to see all the wonderful work. You'll drool, I promise.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back in Synch

After the last week with no inspiration, or more accurately, flawed inspiration, this week's project fell into place very nicely. I've been thinking about earrings a lot as they seem to be something people are interested in buying. And I needed to do something that was not a new skill to be learned in just a few days.

I've made many pendants using a herringbone bail, and have refined the technique to the point that it looks good and I can create it without too much drama. I have also made several post/hoop style earrings in the past several weeks. These earrings combine the two techniques to create a very simple classic earring, one that I would wear on a daily basis. They are woven in herringbone weave with three wraps between crossings using 28g sterling wire on a 20g sterling core. They have a straight post that hooks into a loop. This creates an earring that sits close to the ear rather than hanging from a wire, and is my all-time favorite type of earring. I wove them flat and then shaped them around a wine cork, making a loop with about a 7/8 inch or 22mm diameter. I find this a nice size to wear -- large enough not to disappear but not so big as to be considered gaudy or inappropriate for work.

This particular pair of earrings is very plain, which I find elegant. My next project will involve experimenting with ways to ornament this pattern. I'm pretty sure I can find some nice ways to incorporate or add crystals or beads to zing them up a bit, for those who prefer a fancier earring.

In case you're interested, the weaving took about 45 minutes per earring and used about 5 feet or 1.5 meters of the fine wire. Because I wanted a seamless finish, I worked with the entire length from the beginning. Yes, it was substantially work hardened by the end of the weaving, thanks for asking. I think it was worth it, though, and I've done enough herringbone to have some tricks to minimize the handling of all but the part of the wire closest to the actual work at any given point. Each earring took 7 inches of the core wire. So the total for the project was 14" of 20g sterling, 10' of 28g sterling, and 2 small silver beads to cover the endings. Total time was just over 2 hours, including shaping the frames, weaving, preparing the posts and smoothing the posts and their ends for comfort.

Because of the computer problems we had -- Augie's computer attacked by evil malware and not yet repaired -- the photo was edited on my little pink computer I'm very pleased with the service so far. I haven't had the time or opportunity to use more than their basic tools, but it looks like there is a lot of functionality there in a friendly format. If I have any complaints, it would be about the speed of working online. On Saturday it was so slow that it was hardly usable, while today -- midday Sunday -- it was quite quick and worked really well.

Thanks for looking at my work. I appreciate any comments or critique you might have.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Running in circles and waving my hands

Did you notice that it is not Sunday any more?? That it is in fact, Thursday? Well, it's been that kind of a week. I had tons and tons of really cool ideas. But the first one, while nice, was sooooo slow that I put it aside for one that was supposedly quicker. It was quicker, all right, up to the point of not working out and turning into a weird mass of tangled wire and beads. So then I tried a fallback that has been in my mind for several weeks, and it came out okay -- not good, mind you, but okay.

So we scanned it and Augie said "OMG the finish is rubbed off all over the work and it looks really bad." I looked at the piece and couldn't see it, but the scan really did look bad. But before I could do anything else, evil malware attacked the big box computer, and I couldn't get to the scan anyway. By this time I was late and cranky and decided to put it out of my mind and post later than normal.

Today, I got out the earrings and Augie got out the camera and took a photo to see if there was any point in trying to salvage them as a YOJ project or if I should just start over yet again. Lo and behold, the picture came out okay, works really nicely as an online editing option, and thank you little pink netbook for working and letting me post.

These earrings are based on Victoria Gould's yarn ball tut, done in 22g niobium. I wanted to learn to do this because I thought they might make extra-cute stitch markers. These are the 5th and 6th tries to get a nice shape, and I need a bunch more practice to get them nice enough to suit me. I have enough wire to do that. They are kinda cute, I guess, and I did start to learn a new element, so the week is not a total waste.

Meanwhile, the box computer will be carried off to the gurus to be cleansed and we will be relying on the netbook for computing for the next while. Fortunately, even if we develop wireless problems, there are a Subway and 2 Starbucks in east walking distance so I should be able to stay in touch. And my project for this week is one that I KNOW works.

I love to get your comments. Thanks for looking.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Online in Pink

I said that as soon as I was able to get online with the little computer I'd post a review of sorts. I am now online and here it is. Bear in mind I've only had the computer about a week, so I haven't had a chance to try out every little thing it can do, but I've tried out a lot of things and it has impressed me in every case.

The computer is an Acer Aspire in the 8.9" size with the 6 cell battery. It is really small and lightweight even with the large battery. I'd say that more than 6 hours of battery life (yes, I tested that right away) is worth the small increase in weight. It will still fit comfortably into my purse or any of the totes or briefcases I might want to use.

For all its small size, however, the screen is really easy to read and look at. I've discovered that it makes an outstanding PDF reader, both for stories and articles and for tutorials. Imagine being able to open a jewelry tutorial, set it beside your lapdesk, and go to work without having to print it out. No piles of paper, no pages to get messed up, no losing your place, it's all right there, easily navigated and ready whenever you need it.

The keyboard is small, too, and I am having a bit of a learning curve getting to the point that I'm not tripping over my own fingers. However, I think that a few more days of typing on this machine will be enough to take care of that. I'm already noticing an improvement.

The big challenge for me is the trackpad. Again, it's a matter of lack of experience. Although I used a laptop extensively when I was working, I nearly always used a mouse, so I don't have much practice using the touchpad. From other reviews I have read, that may be a blessing since I understand that the Aspire touchpad is set up a bit differently from the standard. In any case, I'm also improving at that, and don't think it will be a problem for long.

Although it came preloaded with a trial of Microsoft Office and of course with Internet Explorer, I loaded Firefox and Openoffice cuz that's the kind of gal I am. Installation was quick and easy. I put all the stuff I won't be using into a folder on the desktop and will uninstall when I'm sure I've made the right decision. I had no difficulty setting FF and OO as the defaults, either. I was also able to import my bookmarks from our other computer. The only very minor inconvenience will be teaching Firefox my passwords, and that will just happen as I use the various sites.

Finally, did I mention that my very own personal netbook is pink? It could be Breast Cancer Awareness pink if I am feeling high-minded, or it could be Pink Cadillac pink if I'm feeling retro, or it could be Barbie pink if I'm feeling all lipstick feminist, or it could be rhodochrosite pink if I'm in jewelry design mode, or it could be Invisible Pink Unicorn pink except for the Invisible and Unicorn parts. Which shall it be today? You'll only know if I tell you.

In fairness, there are a couple features that bother some people. Mainly, it doesn't have a CD/DVD drive. Since I'm not particularly interested in looking at movies on this computer and since I probably won't be installing much more software, that is not a particular drawback for me.

Anyway, I really like this computer a lot. Every little thing about it has performed better than I expected. If you don't mind not being able to play CDs or DVDs without a separate drive, I would give this an unconditional recommendation. Besides, it's pink. Did I mention that?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Beaded Bead, in a way

This week, I have been a little pre-occupied with my new tiny pink netbook. Since I was laid off, Augie and I have been taking turns on the computer, and it has been getting old for both of us. We had been talking about getting a laptop for me before September, but put it off as an unnecessary expense for several months. But when it became apparent that the Acer Aspire was a really powerful little computer with just exactly the features I would use the most, we decided it would be an acceptable investment. That it was available in pink is just icing on the cake.

You all know how it goes when you get a new computer, though. It might have everything pre-installed and ready to go, but there are always a bunch of things you have to adjust to get it to the way you like your computer to be. So I've been spending a fair amount of time fooling around with the netbook, not to mention being distracted trying out different new things. It's just about perfect now, but we're still working on getting the ethernet/wireless modem set up, so I'm still blogging on the desktop. I'm hoping my next blog entry will be posted from the new computer, and I'll tell you more about how I like it so far (spoiler alert: I really like it a lot).

Meanwhile, back at YOJ, I had some 18g 8mm rings in a tin. I have no idea why I would ever have cut rings with that large an aspect ratio, because they are far too weak and unstable for any normal chainmaille use, but I had a small tin of them and an idea. What if I used basketweave to make a barrel-shaped beaded bead? Perri and Iza have used a similar idea with coils, why wouldn't discrete rings work, too? So I pulled out the 28g wire and some #11 seed beads and started. I used 6 of the rings and added three rows of beads, starting with the third row. Once I got the hang of anchoring the ring at the beginning of the row, using a pin to maintain spacing between the rings, and dealing with the seams, it worked well. This one is simply slipped onto a twisted cord. I'm thinking of making several thinner ones, two or three rings with a single or double row of beads, and stringing a group of them onto a soft ribbon that would puff out between them.

Thanks for looking, and please feel free to comment or critique.