Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ain't we got fun?!?!

Well, it's been an interesting coupla days! Lots going on! I whipped off the pearl bracelets for three individual donation baskets my artisan guild is putting together (and which I need to deliver at one of our all-day meetings on Saturday). The idea was for each of us to have a consistent value for the items we include in our group's charitable donation baskets so we can always use the same value statement about the basket as a whole. Keeps things simple. I didn't mean to get so carried away; but I love working with pearls and I love to knot. So I just dove in and did it without really thinking about what the end value might be. As it happens, these three work out to $58 each .. they're Grade A fresh water pearls (a pale peach color, in case your monitor turns 'em pink) hand knotted on pale peach silk cord (incredibly sensuous stuff!!) with a delicate hand crafted (as opposed to cast) Bali heart toggle and a little spiral charm I made (if you click on the pic, you can get a closer look). And, of course, I had to make up little individual paper tags with the name of the piece (it's Blossom), a brief description of the materials - and a condensed version of my blurb on the "care and feeding" of pearls .. not to mention my logo and all my contact information. I had initially planned on something in the $28 to $35 range, but I'm pleased with my choice. Since the donations are all for a good cause, the little heart toggle seemed perfect. But I'm not married to the design .. I can always create something else for the next round of baskets!

And THEN, I get online this morning to discover I've been awarded The Wizard's Hat Award!! How cool is that?!?! Wizard is an exceptional local photographer with the heart n soul of a true Earth Mother. Besides having an incredible eye (a Wizened Eye!) for things you and I would pass unnoticed, she's connected to the earth. I think it's probably this connection that allows her to see those things the rest of us don't. Anyway, we've been corresponding a bit and getting to know one another. So I've made revelations .. you know, the kind of revelations you make when you open up to a new heart. And in an independent twist of the ubiquitous blog award, Wizard has created one of her own .. for, in her own words, "artists recognizing artistry" .. and awarded it to five of us. I feel like I've just received an Academy Award or something! It's a trifle, yes .. but it's so much more satisfying to receive praise and recognition from a fellow artist .. someone who understands the grasping, frustrating, exhilarating, tryin' something new, fun of the creative process. However, the pressure is now on - to keep the flow of "ideas and creative energy" ... flowing!

And with great timing, and in keeping with that theme, I tried a whole new process yesterday!! I was so excited when I completed the thing, I tried to call my friend, Andrea, in Albany - who was both wonderfully open and forthcoming with tips and tricks for making it work and instrumental in helping me believe I could do it. Now that I've done it .. and another in a copper craft wire .. I'm ready for sterling, I think. I may make one more in the copper craft wire, as adding a new wire while weaving has posed a couple bumpy problems. I got such a rhythm going though, that the work moved along at a nice little clip .. it's kinda meditative in a way.

The process is called Viking Weave .. and it requires a LOT of wire. The first one I made (above) uses coated copper craft wire. I didn't read through the directions completely and carried on after an initial "starter weave" using just a single weave process, so it didn't use as much wire and was a bit more loose and open than the uncoated copper craft wire version I did next using a double weave. Tried to keep track, but I think it was something like 15' of wire on the second one. It just seemed amazing to me that I was weaving wire like this; but a truly incredible transformation takes place when you draw the completed weave through a wooden drawplate: it condenses down and becomes a tight little design. A drawplate includes a series of holes in progressive sizes. With this design you squish the leading starter weave so you can polk it through the largest hole, grab it on the other side with drawplate tongs, and pull it through. It's like magic, what comes out on the other side!! I pulled it through two additional smaller holes to end up with the tight weave you see here. This one has a core wire of copper running through for support (you can just barely see the copper through the black wire); and because I have no copper findings, I had to create my own copper end caps and clasp. When I knew I was going to be trying this design, I placed an order for some sterling end caps. They haven't yet arrived, but they'll provide great motivation to complete a sterling version once they get here! I can barely contain myself, I'm so excited to complete a sterling weave .. though I'm now thinkin' five sets of end caps aren't going to be nearly enough!!

But, in the interim, got a few other things I'm working on. I think I'm going to try a fibula today .. another new technique for me, but one I've been meaning to try. And I have a very cool collection of conch shell discs with which to work .. you'll be amazed! : )

Fibula: An ancient and often ornamented clasp or brooch used in ancient Greece and Rome to fasten clothing. It usually consists of a piece of bowed metal with a pin connected to one end with a hinge. The pin is pushed through the clothing to hold it together and is secured into the other end of the bow behind a catch plate. A fibula is sometimes referred to as a ‘safety-pin brooch’.

See ya again soon!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A bead tip is a wonderful thing

I've been remiss in posting, I know; and it was looking like a week was gonna pass before I got something up again .. can't have that. Home owner issues, donation jewelry, orders that needed makin', and repairs have all impeded my regular schedule just a bit. So I thought I'd just put something up that I was working on.

This bracelet (called Roma) is comprised of Bali "barrel" beads, granulated "daisy" spacers and faceted garnet rondelles (aka roundelles, rondels or donut shaped beads). A good friend of mine purchased this at a show in November 2005. It fit, but it was a trifle snug. I offered to lengthen it; but she wanted it NOW. You know how it is .. you see something, you buy it, you want it - right then and there. Understandable. I was sorry I didn't persist at the point of purchase though - and was delighted to hear that I was going to have an opportunity to get it back for a little while. I could have predicted what would happen. The strain of the snug fit was finally too much, and the bar end of the toggle clasp came off. The good news is that I always use bead tips on my strung pieces .. these are little cups with a hook. The knot from the bead cord/wire sets snuggly in the cup, and the hook is what attaches to the clasp. When there's a strain on a piece with a bead tip, it's almost always the case that the little hook opens and the clasp falls off. Not a biggie .. easy to remedy.

However, what you often find on the ends of beaded/strung jewelry are crimp beads. I really, really don't like using crimp beads, and don't use them if it can be avoided (and it usually can). A crimp bead is a tiny little cylindrical tube .. you thread through a crimp bead once, then through your clasp, then back through your crimp bead a second time before you begin adding beads to your strand. You hold the crimp bead in place near the clasp by squishing it against the beading wire with a crimp tool. Three things are wrong with this: (1) Your beading wire is exposed to wear, as there is nothing between it and the metal of the clasp, (2) I don't think it presents a professional-looking finish, and (3) the only thing holding that crimp bead and wire together is the pressure you exert when you squish the two against each other. And what happens when there's a sturdy tug on a piece finished with crimp beads is that the wire inevitably breaks free and you have beads everywhere. And women (your's truly included) are extremely hard on bracelets. Bracelets get caught on all kinds of weird things. Bound to happen .. your hands are all over the place.

The only other alternative to bead tips I would use is French wire (also called bullion or gimp), an itsy bitsy little wire spiral you string through, capture your clasp, then string through the last bead, and then knot. It's used primarily with pearls - besides being a very professional way to finish pearls, it also protects the bead cord from wear. I wouldn't suggest it for bracelets though .. I've only ever used it on necklaces. Since you secure it with a knot at least one bead in from the clasp, it doesn't have quite the same breakage issues that crimp beads have; but it's not so strong that it wouldn't break with a really good tug.

So, the bracelet .. remember the bracelet? .. got a little make-over while visiting. I took the whole thing apart and tumbled the barrel and granulated beads for a couple hours; replaced one of the garnets (which had a chip out of it), added a couple of links to the bar side of the clasp and a sterling 5mm flattened "saucer" bead at either end. (At her request I also added one of my The Wild Inside tags). She didn't need much additional length - just enough so it's not so snug. She's gonna love it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Not quite Spring .. yet

I got an itch to do something a little more "Springy" the other day and pulled out a bunch of pale blue Swarovski pearls, some little Bali granulated spacer beads and an exquisite, hand crafted, two-strand Bali slide clasp. I bought several of these clasps, in a couple different designs, a while back and found them while hunting up any two-strand clasp I might have buried in my supply drawers. Each one of those little silver dots in the design is added .. one little silver dot at a time. A little bit of silver is torched until it balls up, then it's quickly "picked" up with a soldering pick and put in place. The process is called granulation. The same procedure is used to make the little "flower" spacer beads between the pearls. When you consider how long it must take to make one of these little gems, it's a wonder they don't cost a lot more than they do.

At the moment, this bracelet is filed on my Zip Drive as Bali n Blue .. I may change the name if another more suitable name comes to me. It's a pretty little thing .. the color of a little blue bell maybe. As there is still snow on the ground from a recent snow fall, it'll be a while before we see blue bells. And we awoke to frozen pipes in our master bath this morning .. Spring in date only.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Chain Reaction

Ooooh, oooooh ... just made this new chain maille pattern and had to take a coupla quick photos and get it up!! Since I didn't have exactly the right size mandrel for these rings, I made the piece in copper instead of sterling. The rings were just a tad larger than required, but it seemed to turn out just fine. Though I think I may head over to JoAnn's this weekend - with my digital calipers - and see if I can find a knitting or crochet needle mandrel that's the right size and wind some more rings .. maybe in copper again .. before winding and cutting any rings in sterling.

Pearl knotting for the masses

The adult education coordinator at The Remington Museum approached me last fall about teaching a class this spring. As I don't have a whole lotta tools to share, at least not for a class of more than three or four, I thought something that wouldn't require a whole lotta tools might be the answer. Pearl knotting seemed like the right choice. I wrote the class synopsis after thinking back on the tradeshows I did in 2006 - it really did seem to me that pearls have been experiencing a renaissance. They're always classic - like a well-made A-line skirt or a fine knit sweater - but I think I sold more pearls in the past year than in any prior year. And I was so surprised the first few times a 12 or 13 year old girl pawed through my pearl dish, or asked her mother to buy her a pair of my pearl earrings. Even more surprised when it continued to happen.

I bought some beautiful strands for the class .. a soft, pale cream/peach/mauve combo. Very Springy! I even purchased some little 3 x 4 embroidered pouches for the students' finished pieces. If you've got nuthin' to do on Saturday, May 12, give the Museum a call and join me! Their website link is available below on the right ..

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Urban Girl Pearls

For the woman for whom the usual pearl strand is just too sedate. 8mm seamless sterling beads on 16 gauge wire with an ornate, handmade magnetic Bali clasp. A show stopper.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Match Maker, Match Maker ...

If I no longer have available an example of a piece I sold, I almost always have a scan of it or the original "recipe" (the list and costs of materials that went into it). I quickly learned that if you haven't made matching pieces, a customer will want one .. or more (though it's often been the case that I'll make the matching pieces all at the same time, and they end up selling individually .. go figure). So it's always handy to know which piece a customer is talking about when they ask if you can make earrings to match "the bracelet with the wired pearls and little heart dangles" .. 'cuz they aren't gonna remember the name I associate with the piece they purchased .. well, sometimes .. maybe.

I mention this, of course, because I just received a couple of these requests recently. The ruby earrings I made to match a ruby pendant are a few posts down; but I have a new email request from Friday.

This is a limited edition bracelet called Purple Phantasy - limited mostly because I had to drill/enlarge the holes a bit more in the large purple stone (called Sugilite) in order to get the wire gauge I wanted to use to go through it. I have an electric bead reamer for doing this, but it still takes a bit of work. The customer already has a pair of earrings to match the blue goldstone bead enclosed in a wire herringbone wrap and wanted a different pair. So I came up with five versions. I love doing this because I get to pump up my earring inventory a little .. and because it's always fun to see how many variations can be made. It's often the case that a bead that wasn't used in the piece, but is the same stone in a different cut or size, will also work as a match.

I did this in a couple ways here: in the pair below, I used a 6mm version of the 8mm Swarovski pearl used in the bracelet as a dangle beneath the granulated Bali bead cube;
the narrow, rectangular Fluorite "tube" beads here echo the striations in the larger, wider Fluorite bead; and then I combined a smaller ametrine bead with the wide Fluorite bead to create two quite different versions; the larger ametrine beads below were the best matched pair I could get out of the remaining beads from the original strand. This bead is a combination of citrine and amethyst; and I obviously chose beads for the bracelet that had more purple in them. These beads were two of the few that were not only the same size, but had enough amethyst in them to be considered a match. This pic shows them to be a bit darker than they really are.

Friday, March 9, 2007

And now for something completely different!

I'd been wanting to make this one for a long time .. sometimes you just have to wait for the right moment. Don't know why today .. the mood struck. Took a while .. had to make all those wire "cages", add 'em to the beads, put an eye-pin through them all, connect them, then add the clasp. I was going to make a clasp for it, but I have a few of these Bali toggles .. and they seemed to echo the wire-wrapped cages .. so I used 'em. The beads are lava rocks - matte, pitted, earthy ... organic. Or rather, volcanic.

I thought about calling the piece "Rock On" .. but I have a couple other ideas for that name. I started thinkin' about lava .. which lead me to Pompei. So I call it Ancient Civilizations. It's a hefty bugger! Not for the 'faint of heart' or 'shy of accessories' person. Woof!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Happy 39th Birthday NCPR!

I was listening to our local public radio station (North Country Public Radio) during their pledge drive today while making the custom order ruby earrings mentioned in the post below .. public radio is on most days - all day- around here .. and it occurred to me that another pair of ruby earrings would be perfect for a pledge donation. Especially since today, March 7, is NCPR's 39th birthday!

I went back and found the receipt for these stones .. I got them from an importer of precious and semi-precious stones in New York City (they sell strictly to the "trade"). I always try to jot down as much information as I can on these kinds of purchases, and my notes for the ruby strand says only: "hand cut, hand faceted graduated ovals". What this means is that they're rough cut .. one can easily tell the difference between hand and machine faceted stones. I have no idea how someone would "hand facet" a stone, but when you look at all the individual stones in this strand, discounting the "graduated" aspect, they do differ in girth and shape somewhat. But, while I love those gorgeous machine-faceted stones, these have an earthy quality to them .. more, I dunno ... organic.

I put these earrings on 14k leverbacks instead of posts, like the special order below, because they're a bit larger stones than the others .. and while I still struggled with getting the pair to stop moving (or to both face full front) for a decent photo, I think I actually got a better picture this time! Or maybe not ; ) I dunno. Anyway, comes with a nice gift box to the winner of the pledge value NCPR sets for them.

So NCPR .. these are for you! Happy Birthday .. and many more!!

Ruby in the Rough

During a time when I was still living in Albany and going to wholesale gem and lapidary shows regularly, I purchased quite a few lovely, higher end strands ... some emeralds; tiny, sparkly little sapphires; beautiful lapis nuggets from Afganistan; some more obscure stones called spessartite in a graduated set of briolettes (an absolutely gorgeous root beer colored stone); tender little tourmaline briolettes; rich, deep brown topaz .. and several strands of deep, rich red rubies - as well as a handful of individual rough cut and faceted ruby "pendants". I've turned a few of these strands into pretty things, the others I pull out and look at once in a while, hoping something will come to me. It does, on occasion. Ya can't rush the creative process. With me, stuff has to "stew" for a bit. It's usually worth the wait .. but we can go into that another time.

A local woman twice, at two separate shows, saw one of the rough cut rubies I had simply suspended from a sterling snake chain. She asked about doing it in gold. Not a problem. Gave her my number, or I called her with the price .. can't remember which. But it was later her daughter who called and wanted to purchase the pendant for her mother for Christmas from her and her brothers. Did it up in 14k, packed it up and off it went. I'm sorry to say I neglected to get a picture of that one. Happens sometimes. But .. got another call just recently for matching earrings. This in response to a casual comment I'd made to the daughter about having a necklace I was thinking of taking apart. A graduated strand of faceted flat oval rubies with small 18k gold granulated beads and an 18k clasp. I didn't mind that it wasn't selling, as I got to wear it now and again (it's difficult to resist the "Ooooh .. what kind of stones are THOSE?!?) .. but, since the whole point of this venture is to actually SELL, I had toyed with the idea of taking it apart and using the beads for earrings and bracelets and little charms and whatever. It was this woman's call for matching earrings that finally found me at my bench cutting it up and putting its individual components into little zip lock baggies. Sigh. It wasn't going to sell up here in the north country .. it was a $1500 necklace. Better to put the pieces to good use elsewhere. Had the opulent pleasure of wearing them while I could, though! And there's still a VERY nice smaller strand of rubies that look darn nice with just a white t-shirt and jeans .. no kidding. ; )

Anyway .. I completed the earrings for this customer today. I even assembled a little photography station with the light cube n everythin' .. but, as it often happens in these cases, it didn't make a difference. I just couldn't capture them in the right light (and I tried several times without the light cube before I finally gave up and thought, what the heck, gotta set it up sooner or later). But here they are, looking like anything but rubies! I included the pic of the necklace so you could see their true color (the necklace was placed on a flatbed scanner) .. or at least closer to true than the earrings might suggest. They're very delicate and hang about 3/4 of an inch from the 3mm ball to the bottom of the loop beneath the ruby.

It was difficult getting them to stop swinging so I could snap the shutter. I deleted probably 10 or 12 blurred shots. I finally had to just sit there quietly and ... wait. The problem was that in order to get the camera into a good position, one of the tri-pod legs was on the shelf beneath the light cube .. so every time I even touched the shutter, the earrings would ... well, shudder. It can't be this much trouble photographing kids! I so hope I get to a point in this venture where this part of it becomes second nature.
In the spirit of "practice makes perfect", I also took a pic of another Flower Weave bracelet I did this morning, this one with a hand made clasp. A little bluish, but not bad. I guess the next bit of experience I need to acquire is with PhotoShop. Onward and upward!

OK, back to the fun part .. got a few more rings laid out all ready for assembling a couple more spiral bracelets. I'm off!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Not Yo Momma's Charm Bracelet

Had a customer ask if I made charm bracelets .. well, there are SO many different kinds of charm bracelets out there these days. The ones I remember (back when I was old enough to have a boy buy me one) involved a charm chain and a long-term commitment to additional charm purchases for each and every "special" event or occasion. If you were VERY special, over time you'd end up with so many little jingles on your bracelet, your shoulder would hang lower on one side. I don't make those. Though I have been known to special order charms at a customer's request, I don't keep a ton of 'em on hand. I prefer to make my own ..

This is the kind of thing *I* really like to make. Out on the trade show scene I've heard them called "Cha Cha" bracelets. I do a lot of this bead burst kinda construction .. in earrings, pendants, and bracelets. I call them either bead bursts or "Melange" designs. They take a bit of time to design, and even more time to construct. But when ya get one right, it barks at cha. This one has something like 80 attachments .. but it was a real beauty. It sold at a show down in The 1000 Islands (Clayton) last summer.

These are some Bead Burst pendants on hand dyed ribbon, Greek leather cord and sterling snake chain. Two separate vendors called that first rectangular bead on the left Red Sunstone and Muscovite .. so I never know what to tell my customers. It's kind of a pretty strawberry color. The middle stone is chalcedony (kal SAID knee), one of my favorites .. whether it's a blue or green chalcedony, it almost always looks as though it's lit up from the inside. The stone on the right is sugalite .. once again, the photo doesn't do it justice. It's a deep, rich purple color. This pendant is from the same series as the bracelet above. Got a ton more hand dyed ribbons to play with, so I'm thinkin' there'll be some more Bead Bursts comin' in the spring!

But, I digress ... yes, indeedy, I do make charm-ing bracelets. What would you like??

Spiral, Captured

Well, came down to the studio this morning, sat down with my nifty little spiral bracelet, quickly found the incorrect links (removed them), and - with a little more attention to detail - captured the end appropriately this time! Now it's a nice even spiral all around. It didn't help that Cara was thwapping me for a walk Friday afternoon when I was trying to end the thing .. she can be very insistent. And her internal clock is pretty darned concise!

Here's another try at the photography thing .. I refuse to scan it. I'll get this thing down sooner or later (just discovered this setting called "white balance" that seems to have made a bit of difference). At least I don't have to wait for my prints to come back any more .. ain't technology grand!
Oh, and while I was messin' with the camera anyway, I tried again with the Flower Weave earrings, too. At least you can now see that they're sterling! : )

OK .. now that I've got the Spiral weave down, I think the next few days is for making several additional sizes. Don't think I'm ready to give mine up just yet : )

Friday, March 2, 2007

A Busy Day!

These are the earrings that go with the flower weave bracelet. They're amazingly light. I do believe I need to work on my camera skills .. either that or pull that light cube out and start using the thing : ) The picture really doesn't do them justice.

The earrings below are another of the finished PMC pieces I posted a week or so ago. I left these out to dry naturally and experimented with carving the PMC with small and delicate wood carving tools. I was afraid I'd put too much pressure on the piece and break them; but they were pretty sturdy in that stage. I kinda liked the carving aspect versus impressing a pattern into the clay while it's still wet. I had them tumbling with a bunch of rings I used in the spiral bracelet below, and just added the hand made earwires and dangles this afternoon (the dangles are an 8mm creme rose Swarovski pearl and a peacock blue freshwater pearl on a fine silver headpin. The pearls add a little elegant contrast to the primitive look I was shootin' for with the PMC portion. And, of course, after firing, the PMC becomes pure silver, fine silver, .999. Again, very light weight.

This is new chain maille weave for me .. tried it for the first time today. We lost power for a couple hours during a snow/sleet storm while I was working on it, so no radio, no tumbler, no computer, no nuthin'. It was VERY quiet. I almost wished I'd picked out a little more difficult weave for this time when it was so very easy to concentrate! Again .. my photo skills need work, I know. It's a continuous circle .. no clasp. You roll it onto your wrist. I was skeptical at first .. thought it might be too big if you had to put it on that way. Not the case .. it was perfect! Well, for me anyway. I'll have to make others another half inch to an inch larger. And while it was a real easy weave .. I understood the pattern quickly and was bopping right along .. the ending was a bit tricky. In fact, I'm certain I didn't get the last two connecting links quite right. Before adding the last two connecting links, you must tighten the twist just the right amount. Too loose, and the spiral pattern won't hold, too tight and it kinks up on itself. So .. not so easy after all. I'm wearing it at the moment, however (it really is a pretty little thing!), so I'll go back and get it right first thing on Monday. And I'll try to get a better photo of it at that time ; ) Promise.