Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Commitment comes together in a bracelet

It's been a while, I know. Things have slowed down considerably in the jewelry studio over the last two or three years - clutter, dust and mouse scat had become the norm down there. As the annual Arts Fest I help coordinate, and family issues, began taking up more and time, I just gradually slowed down on the small business stuff .. jewelry making, shows, contributions, etc. It's OK. When I do get down there now, it's less about "I need to" and more about fun, inspiration, a special request, or just mucking about among the tools and components. Kinda like the early days again. More about fun, less about work.

Fortunately, I've had a couple cleaning jags down there because I had a request from a cousin a couple months ago for an "engagement bracelet". Feeling a tad rusty, I was initially hesitant but suggested a chat and the possibility of moving forward if his thoughts on a piece were within the scope of my abilities. Turns out they were, so we chatted .. and I took notes on important variables. He wanted a tree, the initials of their first names (A & G), a symbol of their faith, and some color. OK then ..

I began with the tree. I actually have a metal tree stamp, but it's only about a half inch across. My thought was to put their initials beneath the branches; but even with the relatively large collection of metal alpha stamps I have available, none of them were small enough to fit beneath the branches of the tree in the metal stamp. So .. my next idea was to look for a bigger stamp and create a charm in metal clay. I was grateful to discover a lot of them out there, though I purchased and returned three before I finally hit on one that was the right size and depth for clay. Originally, the initials requested included those of the recipient's two sons. I played around with it a bit in polymer clay. This was the best impression that came out of it. After sending the image off for comments, it was agreed that perhaps just the initials of the two getting engaged would be best.

Because the resulting metal clay piece was going to be on a bracelet - which usually get pretty hard wear - I had at first thought of doing the charm in PMC+ or PMC3, both of which are stronger out of the kiln than PMC Original. However PMC+ and PMC3 only shrink about 12% to 15% in the kiln. In order to find a stamp large enough to allow for the inclusion of letters beneath the branches, when I finally found a cutter large enough to encompass the entire impressed image, the resulting piece was just shy of a quarter in size. I could make a thinner charm, but the resulting piece would be quite a bit larger than I wanted it to be. Though Mitsubishi no longer makes PMC Original (much to my dismay), I had some available in the drawers beneath my kiln. PMC Original shrinks around 25% in the kiln .. I knew this was what I wanted and was glad I had some left!

This is the piece in PMC Original clay setting beside a quarter. When set on top of the quarter, the edge of the coin is all that can be seen. I ended up cutting the charm about 4mm thick. I cut and re-cut the thing repeatedly because one aspect or another was off. I kept thinking the tree was out of balance, but when I finally got the letters the way I liked them, I realized that the base of the tree was the defining factor for the tree. And I knew the upper right would shrink back toward the center a bit in the kiln.

From upper left to lower right is the progression through sanding from fresh cut clay to ready for the kiln (the green is 400 grit, gray 600, pink 4000 (front and back), blue 6000, and there were a couple others in between and at the end, but these revealed the most dramatic changes from one grit to the next).  I was pleased when the piece came out of the kiln. Such a tidy, substantial little charm!! Now about the size of a dime, I popped it into the tumbler with some steel shot and soap for a couple hours to clean off the silver "sparkle" and harden it a bit.

Once out of the tumbler I dropped the charm into a small dish of liver of sulfer and blackened it all over. Once cleaned up, the impressed areas remain black and help the design to pop. With coins on either side you can see how much the piece shrank in the kiln. The nice thing about PMC Original is that no matter how big you begin, the entire design is maintained.

This is what it looks like finished and patinated (or antiqued) next to the bright silver Byzantine chain to which I will attach it. I did go in later and darken up some of the center of the tree before finishing up. I had already made a length of chain while I was waiting for a wrist measurement. I had a couple ideas about working the next variable, color, into the mix, but couldn't continue without a measurement. As I was given birthdays in that original call about the bracelet, I thought birthstones would be appropriate.

As it happens, the birthstones were for September and July. Birthstones are different depending on who you ask - you can find contemporary, traditional, and several other more obscure choices in between. But if you Google the birthstones for either month, the top of the page shows ruby for July and sapphire for September. The more traditional choices. And I just happened to have both in my arsenal. From the beginning my thought was to put the stones on either end, one attached to the clasp and the charm, the other attached to the clasp "catch" ring. Before I could even mess around with some ideas, I had to enlarge the holes in both stones. I'm not sure why, but all my precious stone beads have very tiny little holes. I've only ever strung them up with 14 and 18 karat gold; I've never considered mixing them into a bracelet like this. Most are pretty small, too. But I wound and cut 18 ga wire into 3.5mm rings for the Byzantine weave, and the two faceted stones I chose (about the same size donut shaped beads) were just the right size for this elegant but sturdy small chain weave.

I'm sorry I don't have photos for this part, but as ruby and sapphire are both in the corundum family of gems - just one step down from diamond in hardness - the only thing I could use to open the holes was a diamond drill bit. Thought I had some, but could only find carbide drill bits. I did, however, have an electric diamond tipped bead reamer. I've only ever used it for pearls, but what the heck. My first attempts, just holding onto the stone and giving it go, left me with a hot bead pretty darned quick! So I set the stone into my pearl drilling jig, dipped it into a dish of cool water and tried again, under water. Bingo!! Not quite like a knife through butter, but a whole lot easier and quicker than I thought! I had both stones drilled through to accept a piece of 18 ga wire in about five minutes. Yay!

Once I had better information for bracelet length, I played around a bit with the stones. I didn't like them at the ends at all. Too much going on with both stones, the clasp, the charm .. it was way too busy and would have skewed the weight and design. So I removed a short length of chain from either end and inserted the stones between them. I wasted a little wire even at this stage trying just a wrapped loop with the loops the same size as the woven rings .. wasn't quite right. So I tried again and double wrapped the loop. Perfect! I opened all four of the wrapped ends (one on each side of both stones) then flattened and filed them smooth before tucking them back into their wraps so they wouldn't catch on anything. I don't normally need to do this, but 18 ga wire is kinda hefty .. a straight, clean cut on the end of the wire would have left a noticeable tubular end. And it would have caught on sweaters and fine knits. Annoying, to say the least.

This is what the wrap looked like on the sapphire (you can see the forged and filed end on the left). And it's obvious from the photo why I needed to be able to use 18 gauge wire on the stones - it blends in so much better with the rest of the bracelet. I also wanted the entire bracelet to be secure. If I had left the bead holes as they were, I could only have used 26 or 28 gauge wire, which is akin to thread (and is often used that way by folks who do intricate wire weaving with it). Bending wire repeatedly will naturally work harden it, but too much bending and the wire will become brittle and break. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back  :-)  I'm just so pleased with the end result!!

The last variable was "faith". Another coincidence was that I happened to have two or three small, delicate crosses in my component drawers. Another wonderful coincidence is that when attached to the Tree of Life charm, it sets nicely on top but still allows the initials and tree to be seen. I love it when things work out!!

I will mention that at some point after I attached the stones but before I added the clasp and charms, the length of chain, now adorned with two lovely stones, spoke to me. It said patinate. I've made and sold a lot of Byzantine bracelets. They're very impressive, hefty, and sturdy .. they're purchased by men and women and can be dressed up or dressed down depending on the clasp and - like this one - add ons. I have one I love. But most of those I've sold I've left silver. I don't know why, but this one just cried for some additional definition. So I dropped the chain, stones and all, into a dish of liver of sulfer. Not for as long as the charm, or I would have spend days cleaning the thing. As it was, it took a while. The end result was worth it.

What I really loved about this piece was the symbolism throughout .. the tight weave of the rings is so very appropriate for an engagement bracelet! And both stones are rich with symbolism for romance, marriage, integrity, devotion, passion, positive energy, peace and serenity.

There's always so much involved along the way when designing a piece like this, and I often wish I could be there when the piece I've created is given.

Ah well, I can at least hope the bracelet is well received and that both it and they hold up over time.

Joy and Peace Anthony & Grace

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mare's Wares Arts Fest!!

I help coordinate an incredible arts & entertainment event on the St. Lawrence River every year, and once again the property behind Mare’s Wares Pottery on Route 37 will be transformed into a stunning outdoor gallery and entertainment venue hosting a wealth of talent, fun and food!

From its humble beginning as a local “Festival of the Arts” just a few years ago, Mare’s Wares Arts Fest has grown into a popular local arts and entertainment event. The vision has always been to present a full day of art and entertainment: music, quality handcrafted artisan goods, wine makers, farmers and agricultural products, food, authors, body workers, theater and kids activities, etc. In its sixth year, the event is still in its infancy and we continue to learn from our annual efforts, but each year sees gains in new and interesting participants and fans anxious to experience them.

A few of the new and repeat vendors in 2013 include five North Country wineries who will be offering wine tasting and bottle sales; Home Again Farm’s alpacas (and their products); Fragile Planet Wildlife Foundation with a selection of exotic creatures; pony rides and puppet shows available throughout the day for the kids; pottery wheel work and raku firing; rug hooking with Helen Condon, chair caning with Bill Balling, and Tracy Cox of Inlay Design Studio and Custom Guitars will be demonstrating his considerable talent with custom stringed instrument design and inlay. The event lost its psychic on short notice in 2012, this year the show is promising three!  The show features a variety of live music throughout the day, many new and returning talented artisans will be displaying and demonstrating their craftsmanship, and Mullin’s Catering, LaMont’s Food Fair, Carriage House Bakery and Not Your Average Cookie will be providing a variety of mouth watering fare.

Photos of past shows and vendors, as well as this year's participants, are included in photo albums on the Mare’s Wares Arts Fest Facebook page and are accessible to the general public. Here are some of the few artisans and other vendors who will be participating this year (we continue to add photos daily):  Arts Fest 2013

The 2013 Mare’s Wares Arts Fest is brought to you by North Country Public Radio (Canton), SeaComm Federal Credit Union (Massena), and Creative Connections (Ballston Lake) on Canada Day, July 1, from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Everyone is welcome, and there is no charge to get in - stop by and check it out for yourself!  Bring your friends and family and make a day of it. There’s nothing to lose, and a whole day of fun to be had!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Shadow and Light

In Chinese philosophy the concept of Yin-Yang, often called "yin and yang" - literally meaning "shadow and light" - is used to describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and how they give rise to each other as they inter-relate to one another. The concept lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine. Which is why a local veterinarian looking for something special to gift some lab mates, all learning the art of acupuncture for animals, asked me if it was possible to make some earrings with the yin yang symbol on them. She suggested the yin yang symbol, but I thought I might be able to find a Kanji symbol (Chinese character or calligraphy) that might work just as well - I had "balance" or "healing" in mind.  

Kanji characters are elegant on so many levels - individual characters often convey abstract meanings all by themselves and when combined can be used to communicate complex meanings. And they're all lovely to look at. However, I couldn't find what I was looking for, if I was to proceed as I had intended; so I went back to her original idea of using the yin yang symbol.

What I decided to do when she initially approached me with the commission was to make the earrings out of fine silver metal clay. There are a multitude of different metal clays out on the market now (including but not limited to copper, bronze, sterling, & gold), but what I use is the very first kind that came out called PMC (Precious Metal Clay), created by Mitsubishi in 1990. When PMC comes out of the kiln it is 99.9% silver .. not sterling (which is 92.5% silver).

Mitsubishi makes three kinds of silver clay: PMC original, PMC+ and PMC3. They each have varying degrees of microscopic silver particles, binder and water in them which affects how long you can work with them before they begin to dry out, how much they shrink in the kiln, and how strong the resulting piece is out of the kiln. PMC+ and PMC3 have less water and binder and both create a stronger end product. This makes them good for things like rings, clasps or entire bracelets, which all get a lot of abuse. I usually make earrings and pendants out of PMC original, which shrinks more, though I used PMC+ for the earrings because I didn't need a lot of shrinkage. In fact, I was hoping for very little, and PMC+ shrinks only about 10% to 12%. 

The thing that held me up the most in completing the commission was finding an appropriate image I could use to make an impression in the clay. I have a drawer full of rubber stamps of all kinds, as well as a few antique metal molds and a few molds I've made myself. Though, alas, there's not a single yin yang symbol among 'em.

Here are some of the impressions I was able to get out of the few Yin Yang stamps I found online. I returned several stamps that were unusable due to their size or design. Some websites only show the resulting stamped image and not the actual stamp .. the stamp itself must make a clear, just deep enough, impression. Not all rubber stamps work well for this process.

These impressions were all made in silver polymer clay, not metal clay, just to give you an idea of what the images look like. All of the top three, surrounding the quarter, were just too big (OK for a pendant, but too large for earrings - even with PMC original's 30% shrinkage). And - for one reason or another - I just wasn't happy with the resulting images from any of them.

The smaller stamped examples along the bottom came from a lovely little wax seal rather than a rubber stamp like the other three (a serendipitous discovery after a LOT of searching and several rubber stamp failures!!). It was the right size, the design is nice and even, and the stamp impressed well .. relatively well, anyway. I did have some issues getting the image to stamp evenly in metal clay, but was able to work most of the trouble spots out while the disks were still in their clay form.
Dried PMC earring prior to cleaning

After cutting and sufficiently drying, the little pieces must be cleaned up .. I use a small emery board to clean up areas like the little ridge along the left bottom of the dried piece shown. I then use a series of successively finer micro sand papers (beginning with 400 grit and working up to 8000 grit) to smooth out other minor issues and to create a shiny finish. I also had to use the point of a small, round file to deepen and define the two small impressed circles in each of the ten earrings (the commission was for five pair). I did that first so that successive sanding would eliminate any rough edges around the circles.

Once out of the kiln, I tossed everything (the earrings and two shelves worth of additional pieces) into the tumbler. This work hardens them just a bit and cleans off the fine silver "glitter" surface created by the kiln. I then patinated them with liver of sulfer (sometimes called antiquing). I discovered a longer lasting and more stable gel version of liver of sulfer several years ago and love it! A couple drops in a dish of warm water, then drop your clean pieces in. Unfortunately, deeply impressed segments often don't darken - no matter how long you leave them in there. When that happens, I take a very tiny brush, dip it in Black Max (another, quicker, way to antique) and just briefly touch the spots that need to be darkened. The letters in the pendant tags, the little circles in the yin yang design, even the line delineating the left side from the right, all needed a bit of help. Patinating a piece like this, especially one with a deeply impressed design, helps to make the design as a whole "pop". 

After the Black Max dries, I take a small piece of "000" steel wool and clean off the surface of the pieces. This will bring out the shine on the surface portions and leave the blackened segments so that the design shows.

Ten little earrings with wax seal and original pre-kiln size

After all that, all that's left is to add the leverback earring portions and  package them .. print off some earring cards and pop them into a box for delivery. 

All five polymer clay examples, plus the finished product!

There was a lot more frustration in impressing, cutting and finishing them than I thought there would be. I ended up having to use the large, open, round end of a cake decorating point to cut them out after I impressed them .. it was the only thing I could find that was the right size. If I didn't press evenly when I pressed the wax seal into the clay, I'd get one side thinner or fatter than the other. And there was no way to determine if I got it right, except to cut out the design. I rolled up the clay and started over more than once. And PMC+ dries out relatively quickly, so there's not a lot of time to mess around. An additional concern was the little ring at the top that allows the silver yin yang symbol to attach to an earring. I've soldered things like this onto kiln-fired pieces before, but I was concerned about doing it perfectly .. ten times. So I used a little fine silver embeddable jump ring, which is a ring with a small tab on it that inserts into the clay (it looks like a tiny little tennis racket .. the entire thing is only about 7mm long). The cut out clay pieces had to be thick enough to accept the insert, and just inserting the tab turned into yet another learning experience (and resulted in as many clay re-rolls and starting over as the impressing and cutting portions did). If I didn't insert exactly into the center of the cut disk, the tab would create a small bulge through the front or back. Not so bad out of the back, but a bulge like that ruins the look of the design on the front. You can see a slight bulge on the dried clay below, which hasn't yet been cleaned.

I was understandably thrilled once they were all completed, packaged, and ready to be delivered .. YAY!!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

With All My Heart Redux

A little over two years ago (August 2010) I made a bold little piece called With All My Heart

The original necklace
This was originally meant to be a one-of-a-kind piece, but in late July of this past year someone left me a comment on this post:

“How do I order this key to my heart jewelry? I am in afghanistan and would love to get it for my girl at home.”

It was actually a few months before I saw the comment. I’m supposed to be able to moderate comments, so they don’t post until I see them, and I should get an email telling me I have comments to moderate. But not this time. Not sure what happened, but I contacted the guy, whose name is Jon, apologized for the delay and asked if he was still interested. As it happened, he was!

“It is beautiful and (we) have that special "Key to my Heart" relationship so this piece is very fitting and she will love it. I wish I could use the key she gave me in a gift but I believe we will gain quite the key collection in time :)”

I had sold the original piece at Mare's Wares Arts Fest in July of 2011, but told him I had all the materials and could make another. So we discussed payment, shipment, delivery, etc. As it was to be a Christmas present, I only just shipped it. But THIS time, I photographed the process along the way.

I don’t know if he’d be interested in the process, but I find myself interested in explaining it. At art shows, which are supposed to be (though aren't always) filled with vendors who hand craft their products, I still get the occasional browser in my booth who'll ask “did you make all this?”, which only serves to make me wanna grab ‘em by the collar, pull ‘em in close, and explain how each and every piece on display is made. OK, maybe not. Well, I might think it, but I would never actually follow through (grin). This piece took me a little longer to complete than it might have because of a few complications, so I thought I’d take a few shots along the way.

Most of the components assembled on a cork board work space.

I assembled everything and put it all together on my work space so I could think about the order in which I needed to proceed. I cut two 19.5" lengths of sterling silver chain for the main part of the necklace and a small 1" piece from which the little puffy heart hangs; I added - and fused - jump rings to the three components that will hang from the pendant; I wire-wrapped the little piece of coral and connected it to the eye pin that then goes through the puffy heart and will attach to the bottom of the short length of chain. I used heavier 16 gauge wire for the hook clasp, 20 gauge wire for the pendant that holds the three components shown, and lighter 22 gauge wire as a finishing touch wrap where the strung segment connects to the chain.

Chain, hook clasp & small components
After I had everything assembled, I began patinating individual silver pieces. I never used to like using liver of sulfur. I always preferred bright and shiny silver to artificially blackened pieces. But blackening, and then cleaning, the silver really does add visual interest. And in the case of the De Tout Mon Coeur tag, it was necessary to make the letters really pop and more easy to see.

The letters in the fine silver tag really pop after a dip in LOS!

There are times when I can dip an entire finished piece into warm liver of sulfur, but I didn't want to do that with this piece; I had more control over the components by dipping and cleaning them individually. And the little puffy Thai silver hearts had already been patinated a bit, so I didn't want to have to clean them off again.

Completed pendant, ready to string
In the original piece, I used half hard silver wire for the round pendant piece that holds the three pendant elements; but I couldn't find any of my 20 gauge half hard wire. It's on my reorder list, so it's possible I used it all to make ear wires this summer. Ah well. So, what I had to do was work harden the wire a bit. I just put it on my steel block and worked it over with a small rawhide hammer. This hardens the wire without forging it. Still .. even with half hard wire, this segment of the piece can be mangled, so it should be handled with care when storing and wearing it.

Partially assembled

The portion of the piece connected to the chain is strung on Soft Flex beading wire. This is 49 strands of fine nylon coated stainless steel. It comes in multiple strengths and I used the .024 diameter "heavy" type, because it's a relatively hefty piece and I wanted it to hold up over time. Generally when I use beading wire on a piece, I end it with bead tips, tiny little bead cups with hooks. The cups hold the knot (yes, this stuff can be knotted), and the hook allows the strung piece to be connected to a clasp. On this piece, however, a bead tip wasn't going to work.

Beading wire through a crimp bead
The design was such that I had to use a crimp bead. I really don't like or trust crimp beads. They're tiny little sterling silver tubes through which the beading wire is strung. Then with a special crimping tool, which has two separate crimping stations included on it, the crimp bead is smushed against the wire. The first crimp creates a crease down the middle of the tube making two separate channels .. through which each piece of wire passes. The second crimp brings the two channels together and rounds them out a bit. If you do it right, it should be secure. But even when you do it correctly, it's not always secure .. and somewhere down the line, the thing will release its hold on the wire and your piece will come unstrung. That doesn't happen with bead tips (the hook on the bead tip may open and release the clasp, but the strung piece remains intact, so you don't lose any of your beads).

The 1st crimp creates two channels
But I have used crimp beads like this before and have found ways to reinforce or strengthen them when the design calls for their use, like this one did. It amazes me that even expensive pieces like those you might find in the Sundance Catalog use them (here's a lovely little example that could have been made sturdier with gold-filled bead tips instead of crimp beads). Not only are they untrustworthy, they are a relatively unattractive way to "finish" a piece. Just my humble opinion (and a designer soap box issue, as you might have determined); but if you're going to charge a couple hundred dollars for a piece, as Sundance often does, it should be both attractive and sturdy.  So ...

Almost done!
.. this is what the connections look like once both of the crimp beads have been attached (that little extra piece of beading wire on the right will be tucked into the silver bead). I couldn't possibly, in good conscience, leave it like this. So I dipped a couple pieces of 22 gauge wire in some fresh liver of sulpur and wrapped those areas where the crimp beads and the beading wire meet. This not only adds a nice finishing touch, but it also adds a bit of strength to the beading wire and crimp bead connection. Any favorite piece that's worn and handled a lot can be subject to breakage, but I do whatever I can in the design process to make it more difficult for that happen.

The finished piece!
So, here it is! The necklace proper is around 30 inches or so long, the pendant is an additional 3.75" long. I really love this piece and after I sold the first one in July of 2011, had fully intended to make one for myself. So this one should have been mine (smile). I wore it with various white t-shirts all summer long (though it would probably look just as good against a black one). I truly hope the recipient loves it as much as I do (and did). Lucky girl!

I made some matching earrings, too .. they weren't part of the order, but I had a couple set backs (I had originally promised delivery mid-November) and Jon was so wonderfully patient and understanding that I included them as a concession to his patience.

Plus, if she's not in the mood to wear the larger, bolder piece, she can still wear the earrings and remember both the gift, the giver .. and that she's loved!

It's hard not to love commissions like this!