Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Same .. yet Different

A friend of mine who'd been out here catching up on old blog entries saw the Fibula post I made a while back and sent me a link to a couple pieces from the website of the Smithsonian American Art Museum: Ramona Solberg . Hmmmm, says I .. that's kinda cool! And my first thought was this could be another way to show case some of the beautiful handmade lampwork glass beads I'd been collecting; my second thought was that unlike with the Thai Silver Leaf pin from the first Fibula post, I could do THIS version using gold-filled wire.

The thing about these pins is that in order for them to be strong and sturdy (and provide a nice spring in the pin part), a larger gauge wire is best. But when you start looking for beads that will actually fit on a heavier gauge wire, your prospects begin to decline. Most bead holes are tiny little affairs. Lampwork beads, however, are absolutely perfect for this application. The downside is they tend to be a little pricey. I mean they're made - one at a time - with colorful glass rods, a torch and a steel mandrel .. a tricky affair and much more difficult than you might think. And the glass artists who really have it down turn out the most amazing little pieces of glass!! I understand the cost aspect .. though I once wished I could learn to make the things myself to lessen the material cost of including them in my work. Alas, there's just no room in the studio for yet another set of tools and accoutrements! AND, to get to the level of some of these artisans would require givin' up all else for quite a while - even a few great lampwork bead makers have no time for making jewelry with their little works of art. If you're interested, here are a couple of my favorite sites (some of these sites have email "alerts" when new beads are available for sale .. if you aren't around when the email arrives, I mean right there to hear the thing come in with a 'ding', you miss out. With some of these sites, even ten minutes late, and the beads are all gone!). Bluff Road Glass - gorgeous sets, a couple hundred dollars a set (or more); Shibumi Glass - Round, flat, square, clear, rich and robust, Robyn Knapp's beads always causes severe decision-making stress; and Blue Iris Designs - you just know that when prices aren't visible, you shouldn't ask unless you're ready to do the deal!

Anyway, I babble. I was so excited about this slight variation on the fibula, that I created a bunch of 'em. Only a couple are in sterling; the rest are in gold-filled wire. I don't know if you remember the first pin with the big, gently curved Thai silver leaf; but the sharp pointy part of the pin slips beneath that little upturned part of the "shepard's hook". On this "new" version, the shepard's hook is turned towards the front and its entire large looped shape holds the sharp pin part in place.

Another little serendipitous event occurred when, while snipping and shaping the sharp pin point, I accidently snipped the shepard's hook and destroyed the whole pin as a result (whaddya gonna do, accidents happen). However, when I realized what I'd done and broke it apart to see what wire pieces could be salvaged for another project, I discovered that the squiggly wire part - with the addition of another hook at the top - would make a great new clasp! A clasp like this would work well for the Viking knit bracelets .. or even on a strand of pearls (though I'd probably use a finer wire gauge for that application).

And speaking of the Viking knit bracelets, another slightly different change on a current design is the addition of some gold pieces. I've only got four of them so far - dark blue, dark purple (think eggplant), and the red and black versions shown here. I found a nice, reasonably priced vermeil version of a short cone I could use on the ends. Since it's 24k gold over sterling, the gold in the cone is a bit more vibrant than the gold-filled wire clasp. But using gold wire is out of the question .. too soft and too expensive. It works as is (the red is particularly spectacular), so I'm putting them out at the Clayton show this weekend. I'll keep hunting for a gold-filled bullet or end cap; but I'd be very surprised to find one. And I was getting requests for gold versions, so I had to go with what I could find.

I can't remember if I've explained gold-filled wire before. I have a few "high gold" pieces containing 14k, 18k and a few 22k components; but most of my "gold" things are gold-filled. A perfectly acceptable alternative to gold .. and significantly better than plated materials, which involve a thin coat of a precious metal. Items made with gold filled wire are considered professional jeweler's quality and not fashion jewelry. 14k gold-filled wire is made by forming a tube of solid 14k gold which is then "filled" with a base metal. The gold is bonded to the base metal with heat and pressure. The base metal is also gold in color and is made up of almost the same mixture of metals (usually a brass alloy) used to bring 24kt gold down to 14kt, 10kt, etc. The exterior of the product is solid 14kt gold, and everything you can see or touch is a solid layer of 14 Kt. gold. This is why it will never tarnish, chip or wear off. The gold layer on gold-filled wire is approximately 100 times thicker than gold-plate and is bonded with heat and pressure. (Gold-filled wire is actually available in 10k, 12k, and 14k. In the symbol 14/20, the 14 stands for the karat of gold used and the 20 means 1/20 - the gold content is 5% or 1/20 of the total metal. I use only 14/20 gold filled components).

Oh .. I fired most of those PMC pieces earlier this week and have been tumbling, patinating, and tumbling some more hoping to be able to get most of the stuff into this weekend's show. No time for pics today, however. I'll take a few next week after all the hustle and bustle of preparing for the show are over. Everything turned out great .. can't wait to make a few more of the "poet pendants"!!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

PMC Impressions

I know, I know .. I've been bad. I apologize for the great gap in posts, but tis the season to be out there gettin' it done, so blog time is on the back burner.

I AM very excited about some new Precious Metal Clay stuff I've been doing though, and thought I might just pop a photo up real quick so you could see what I've been up to (up to this point, most of what I've been pounding out are repeats of existing pieces and LOTS of those colored wire bracelets and necklaces .. so you haven't really missed much).

A couple exciting things have happened to get things moving on the PMC front: (1) I finally received my logo and business name stamps, and (2) I serendipitously discovered an incredible little "rubber stamp poet" kit at a local antique show a couple Sundays ago filled with the most wonderful word stamps!! And that's all it took!

You might have to double click on the photo above to get a closer look (can't do it from an email "post update" folks .. go to and click on the photo there), but the small round piece on the bottom shows my logo stamp. I used Original PMC for these, as they'll shrink down about 25% to 30% and will be perfect little charms for the Viking Knit bracelets. The stamp with my business name .. using the same OzHandicraft font as all my business materials .. can be seen on the back of one of the word stamps in the lower right. That particular stamp - representing "obsenities deleted" - made the whole box full of 80 stamps worth the $6 I paid for it! I just know that I'm not the only one who has days that such a pendant would perfectly represent! The other two, "Wild" and "Juicy" were among my first experiments with the stamps. Every single stamp uses a different font; and they're the proper size for either Original PMC (which will shrink down to make smaller pendants) or PMC+ or PMC3 (which shrink only about 10% to 12% and would create slightly larger pendants). And there are enough wonderful words to keep me busy making pendants for a while: Moon, Mystery, Beauty, Dream, Passion, Dance, Secret, Fate, Laughter, Heart, Always, Magic, Imagine, Soul, Secret ... among others that can be combined on one stamp or doubled up and suspended on chain, leather, ribbon, etc. The possibilities are endless!!

I've poked jump ring holes into several of the pendants above to allow them to be suspended from whatever necklace material I choose; but "Wild" I left alone, as I think I might solder a fine silver tube bail onto that one. I'd like to try it at least once to see how it looks before getting crazy with that idea .. but I've only just recently found and ordered some fine silver tubing, so we'll see how it goes. The inside diameter of the tubing I ordered is relatively small; so I think they might only be appropriate for something easily threaded through them - like leather cord, rattail or ribbon.

The leaf is from a maple tree ... again I used Original PMC, so it'll end up being only about 1.5" long after it's fired. I was really pleased with the way this one turned out. I'd been trying to find a leaf small enough to impress, but who knew trees stopped growing in June!!! Sheeesh! So it's been a trial hunting up an example that was not only small enough, but which also hasn't been destroyed by various leaf-eating creatures. I rolled this one awfully thin (not recommended), so it'll be very delicate once it's fired. But the thing that got me especially excited is that I pressed a little too hard in the center where the largest "vein" in the leaf is located; and when the piece dried, it cracked through to the other side. Normally, this would be cause for disappointment. However, in this particular case, it makes the leaf look so much more real, that I couldn't believe my good fortune! However, it ain't over 'til it's fired ... so I'm crossing my fingers that it holds up in the kiln. Once it's fired, I'll be able to bend some of the leaf segments this way or that way so that it's not completely flat. It was so thin, I hesitated to get creative while it was still wet clay.

For anyone who thinks PMC is a "faster" way to make precious metal pieces, think again!! If you want your PMC pieces to look GOOD when they come outta the kiln, ya gotta spend some time with 'em before you pop 'em in there. Once they're dry (and while I have a hotplate I can use to excelerate the process, I prefer to let them dry on their own ... less rolling up on the edges that way), you have to clean them up - soften any rough edges and sand, sand, sand!! I have really fine micron-graded abrasive finishing paper from 3M that I use, beginning with 400 grit and working up to 8000 .. slowly, one grit at a time. The more time you take with this process, the happier you'll be when they come out of the kiln. If you don't do it at this stage, you'll have to do it when it's finished .. and it's a lot easier to sand leather hard PMC than fine silver metal!

OK .. that's all for now folks! Oh .. one more thing .. I have a show coming up in Clayton on the 25th and 26th (in the heart of the Thousand Islands, for those of you unfamiliar with the area) for the benefit of The Handweaving Museum and Art Center, so I've got to get busy and pound out a few new pieces. It's at the Recreational Arena in Clayton, right off route 12. If I have time, I'll post a couple of the new pieces ... the ribbon necklaces have been getting some attention, so I may pull out the colors I haven't yet used and see what I come up with.

Ciao for now!