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.