Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prolific Progeny

I used to do "Progeny" bracelets all the time about six or seven years ago .. the kind with the little square sterling letters that spell out the names of the recipient's children or grandchildren. I still have some of those little letters, though I haven't used them in quite a while .. and they certainly would not have worked for this commission, which needed to represent 17 grandchildren! I doubt the recipient has a wrist sturdy (or long) enough to endure the weight of 17 little sterling names! But then, there are always birthstones ..

What I like about this style of bracelet .. a one-of-a-kind special order using stones instead of names .. is that it's so very much more personal and private. Someone could look at this piece and have no idea that each and every stone represents a special little person. There are no doubt some women who would prefer the conversation-starting style of a bracelet with several names on it .. other women know what those names are and are bound to ask. And some women would love nothing more than to relate the glowing and talented natures of each and every name on her bracelet. This design allows for more subtlety .. someone might see it and comment on it; the recipient is then able to either simply express thanks for the comment (a positive comment, I hope) or go on to explain what the stones represent. I like the mystery of it. Some women like to keep a few special things to themselves .. or not. And sometimes it just depends on the moment.

I will admit that 17 birthstones seemed a bit daunting at first; but I think I came up with a design that is not only balanced, but doesn't even seem like it contains 17 stones at first glance. I have a "Modern" list of birthstones posted in my studio, and it's this list that I use when anyone wants to talk about making a piece like this. I made myself nuts hunting up a list I could use .. there are so many different versions. I finally just found one that seemed to contain most of the recognized standards. This particular list contains alternative stones for several months, which turned out to be useful for this design, as I was able to use one of each for months that represented more than one child. The 17 stones used for this piece are as follows:

4 Jan (garnet)
2 Feb (amethyst)
2 Mar (aquamarine)
2 May (emerald)
2 Jun (pearl, moonstone)
1 Sep (sapphire)
2 Oct (opal, pink tourmaline)
1 Nov (topaz, citrine)
1 Dec (blue topaz, turquoise)

The only segments of the bracelet that use sterling silver are the lobster clasp, the wire used to wrap the small dangling briolettes, and the half hard wire I used to connect loose stones to each other or other segments in the bracelet. Everything else .. the CHERISH and heart charms, the large patterned rings, the smaller jump rings, and the ball-end headpins .. are all hand made and work hardened by me from fine silver. I would have liked to have made the entire thing from fine silver, but I couldn't work harden the wire I used to connect segments without mangling it. Even drawing the wire through a draw plate didn't harden it to my satisfaction (not enough to hold up under heavy wear, which these kinds of bracelets tend to get) .. so I compromised a little.

The photo above shows the little heart charm and a fine silver extension chain to which is attached a small fresh water pearl disk, a peach moonstone, and a faceted lemon citrine briolette.

Once I started thinking about it, I was able to come up with a design idea relatively quickly - though it ended up taking me five .. almost six .. months to complete (it was intended either for the recipient's birthday on November 30 - missed that one due to my anal retentive, gotta get it right, attitude - or Christmas). I would lay out some stones, but would keep coming up with new configurations. Then I'd be unhappy with the stone selection I had for the few more precious versions that were included: I had sapphires, emeralds and blue topaz, but they were all very small and wouldn't have stood out as a part of the piece the way I had wanted them to. Fortunately, I found a fabulous new supplier from whom I could purchase precious stones in small quantities (most stones and pearls come on 16" temporarily strung strands .. more spectacularly cut stones or specimens come on 8" strands or are sold by weight). This made all the difference! A full 16" strand of emeralds, sapphires or blue topaz like those used in this piece would have been hundreds of dollars. It took me a while to find all the replacement stones I wanted .. but it was worth the wait.

The pink stone on the left is actually an opal .. not the usual Australian type but rather a pink Peruvian variety (Peru has blue opals, too, but they're much more rare). I did finally find some traditional Australian opals .. but even though the strands were a bit costly, I was so very disappointed in their quality when I received them, I couldn't possibly have used them in this piece. The pale blue stone on top is an aquamarine. Since there were so many garnets, I used the smallest ones I had. They hang on either side of a sapphire on the left and a Swiss blue topaz on the right (and isn't that a pretty stone!?!)

There's the second aquamarine on the left, two beautiful amethysts on the right, and two emeralds and a little pink tourmaline hiding behind them in the center. The large ring from which they dangle is made of fine silver (that's .999, or as close to pure as you can get) and is patterned on both sides. Adding the two patterned rings allowed me to add those smaller stones without taking up any length on the bracelet.

The CHERISH charm was an after thought .. I knew I wanted to add a charm like that somewhere on the piece, but I wasn't sure what I wanted it to say, where I was going to put it, or how big or what shape I wanted it to be.

It wasn't until I began to assemble the pieces that I got a better idea of what I wanted and how it would fit in. I knew what size the bracelet needed to be and had to lose a larger coin-shaped fresh water pearl in order to use the rectangular charm. I ended up putting a smaller coin pearl on the extension chain .. and was thrilled that it ended up balancing well with the little disk-shaped peach moonstone! I love it when it all works out!

I call this one .. what else .. Cherish. Just in time for Christmas, too. Whew!

Friday, October 23, 2009

A little sunshine on this dreary day ..

I don't make nearly enough pieces in gold, but when I do they're nearly always eye catching. Not that my sterling and fine silver pieces aren't eye catching as well, there's just something so sunny and bright about this metal! I call this one Southwest Summer .. it just oozes the colors of sage, adobe and dry heat - with a few fluffy white clouds and a blindingly bright orange ball in the sky.

This burst of color is one of the things I love about lampwork glass beads .. that and the infinite creativity the artisans who make them seem to harbor in their bosoms. It's difficult not to feel a sense of fun in a piece full of lampwork beads!

While I have several pieces that are solid metal, I think I will always include pieces that speak to me of a place or an emotion or a time which can be expressed with color. Some color combinations are like a song .. or a smell .. that invoke a wealth of thoughts or memories. A sort of sensory placeholder that just sort of pops up when the right combo is put in place. These memories or thoughts most often reveal themselves in the names I choose to give my pieces .. some are obvious, others not so much.

This one seems rather obvious, doesn't it? Despite the fact that the design is based on a similar silver version called Twilight .. which used pale blue/violet color- changing lampwork glass beads .. Southwest Summer seems to fit the piece well. And if I hadn't told you of the design similarities, you might never had made the connection.

OK .. I'm off to begin piecing together a commission for a grandmother's bracelet containing natural stones representing 17 grandchildren! While I've got a basic idea of the design features, I've yet to lay out the individual stones and decide what goes where just yet. And I'm thinking I'd like to make as much of it as I can out of fine rather than sterling silver, which will require a bit more care in keeping connecting pieces sturdy. Stay tuned ..

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Good Day Was Had!

I have no idea how I missed logging and photographing one of my higher-end pieces, but I did. And thankfully, when the customer who bought it wanted it reproduced in another stone, she was willing to give it up for a few days so I could log the materials used and photograph it for my records. It must have just been one of those crazy weeks when I was multitasking beyond my abilities. It happens.

The necklace in question is called Emerald Isle and is composed of a faceted, graduated strand of emeralds separated at intervals with 18k and 22k gold beads and ending in a handcrafted 14k wire clasp. One of those simple but elegant little pieces. She bought it back on July 1 during the Mare's Wares Art Fest up here in Morristown; but she came to the Studio Tour our River Artisans put on in mid-August and asked if I could make another using the same gold beads but with a strand of aquamarine in place of the emeralds. I ordered several strands of aquamarine and found one out of those that fit the bill .. a very pretty 5mm faceted strand (the only graduated strand I could find began with a rather large 7mm center bead .. a bit too large).

The only change I made was in the clasp .. the emerald necklace originally had an 18k gold hook clasp which I replaced with the 14k gold wire one I made. I explained to the customer that I still had the 18k gold clasp; and as the aquamarine necklace was a gift for her daughter's 40th birthday, she was fine with using the 18k clasp instead of a handcrafted 14k clasp on the piece.

My only complaint about the whole thing was that neither necklace was easy to photograph .. or maybe I've just been away from my camera too long! I finally succumbed to my old routine of flat bed scanning the pieces .. though the true color of the two was still illusive, one of the things I have always liked about flat bed scanning jewelry is that there's little concern about clarity or fuzzy shots. The pieces are always pretty clear .. even if the colors aren't ; )

I have to admit, I was a little iffy about combining a pale aquamarine stone with gold .. the customer's daughter had expressed an interest in her mother's emerald necklace, which is where the idea came to purchase one for her daughter in her March birthstone. When I delivered the two necklaces on the 16th, even SHE thought she might not like the result; but in the bright light coming through the windows, it sparkled like sunlight on water. It really was a lot prettier than I would have imagined. She was equally pleased. I love it when it all works out!

Of the two photos of the aquamarine necklace shown here, the one on the display device is closer to the true, pale shade of aquamarine. Though I think the scan is a bit sharper, and allows a better look at the clasp. It's nothing special .. there's a little Bali granulation at the base of the hook .. but in 18k gold, it was about 45% of the total cost of the piece. Invest in gold, folks!

It's funny, but I've been on a sort of familia hiatus for the past couple of months .. helping out with issues revolving around family members .. and haven't been actively selling or doing any shows during this time. Then all of a sudden I sell two high-end aquamarine necklaces in one day! A nice surprise .. much needed and appreciated.

I sold the second necklace .. a longer, 21" faceted strand hand knotted on silk with a pretty little Bali toggle clasp .. to my mom's tenant! Go figure. He's a full-blooded Italian from my mom's old "Italian flats" neighborhood in Watertown and has been occasionally surprising her with lasagna, stuffed shells, and other gustatory delights on weekends when he has time to cook. It just happened that I was staying with her last weekend when he brought over enough for everyone. We got into a gab fest and after a bit the jewelry topic came up .. I had some fun pieces with me (including the emerald necklace which I had just picked up from the customer on the way down to my mom's). I think he told me he needed something for his ex .. who's birthday is October 22nd. What a guy, huh? So when I had to drive back down on the 16th, I brought the hand knotted aquamarine with me for my mom to show him that night. He called later that evening expressing amazement at my talent (I love those calls) and asking how much he needed to leave with my mom for the piece. He also expressed an interest in the solid silver necklace from a couple posts ago for a drum playing nephew named Sam. I'm still a little attached to that one .. but not so attached that I wouldn't sell it! Ah, who knows .. perhaps it was just the several bottles of beer talking .. dunno. I'm not a high pressure kind of sales person, so I'll just wait and see if the topic comes up again .. stay tuned!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Justice at the Museum

My husband, Ed - the Executive Director of the Frederic Remington Art Museum here in Ogdensburg - went in to work today expecting a special visitor and wasn't disappointed. He was able to sit next to Sandra Day O'Connor during a luncheon at the museum prior to the curator, Laura Foster, whipping off the group with whom she arrived for a cook's tour of the galleries.

Being the tactful, sensitive and thoughtful guy he is, he asked her all about her .. how she felt about being the first woman appointed to the court, and the fact that women still make up such a small percentage of it, etc. What a treat! He called me once they were all in Laura's capable hands to tell me all about it. A brief brush with history .. and a photo to commemorate the occasion. Doesn't she look great!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A year in the making

Someone more experienced than I in the field of jewelry making once told me that in response to a customer asking how long it took to make a particular piece offered for sale she will tell them "about 30 years and a couple hours" .. because, of course, so many casual shoppers fail to think about the total amount of experience involved in making any piece when they ask a question like that. There is a flip side, of course .. the customer who oooohs and ahhhs over even the silliest little piece of frivolity (we love those customers .. especially when they're loud and vocal). But, it's the "how long" question I get more often than not; though in fairness, it's often in awe of a particular piece that the question comes about. But still, I think I may incorporate my jewelry acquaintance's response into my own response repertoire when dealing with that inquiry in the future.

And with regard to the fine silver necklace which this post entails, the added time above and beyond experience was a year. If I had sat down and done the thing from beginning to end, it might've been more like a couple days (the precious metal clay portions require drying, connecting and kiln time) - but it began with a book, then a class .. then just recently some fine silver wire and deciding how to complete what I'd begun.

It was actually a little over a year from start to finish, since what got me started was a book on metal clay that I received in the mail in the spring of 2008. The thought of making chain with metal clay really intrigued me, and I purchased some PMC3 specifically to give it a go. As often happens with these things, my show season began in earnest and there was little to no time to experiment or play in the studio. So .. I fired the few rings I'd made and tossed them into a round metal tin until a time when I could carry on with the project.

It wasn't until early December 2008 that I thought of those rings again .. when I saw a week's worth of precious metal clay classes offered in Toronto .. by the author of the book I'd purchased! And, one of the classes was chain making! Major body vibrations. A trip to Toronto from Ogdensburg was about a four to five hour trip .. definitely doable. So I did it. Couldn't afford it .. did it anyway. Wasn't sure if the opportunity would come along again. A class scheduled the day before chain making was PMC Findings, so I signed up for both and was off to Toronto in mid-May.

Much of the findings class was familiar to me, as I'd been making my own ear wires for some time; but there were some very cool tips, tricks and style innovations in a couple other areas .. like how to make a nifty little bail device out of 12 gauge fine silver wire (that I've yet to try, but I haven't forgotten!), or adding funky little PMC ends to a piece of fine silver wire to create your own headpins (sterling doesn't hold up well in a PMC kiln). I kept notes, not to mention scribbled all over the poor woman's book (well, my copy of it) because at $250 a pop for the class ($100 material fee was separate), you don't want to forget anything when after paying for the class you can finally dig up the funds to buy the materials necessary to make more of all this stuff!!

I made the two large "ring" segments for a toggle clasp that first day in the findings class (she had some awesome pastry cutters that are on my list for PMC use and purchase). I haven't yet fired the item that looks like a finger ring .. I have plans for it involving resin, and am still experimenting with clear, two-part resin. The smaller rings result when cutting the holes out of the toggle ring, and are saved for .. whatever .. miscellaneous projects later. I've got a collection of little rings and other various fired PMC pieces that'll find a place on a design when the mood strikes.

Thinking ahead for the chain making class, I brought the PMC3 rings I'd made in the spring of 2008 - good thing because it takes a LOT of PMC to make all those rings and a couple toggles! The rings I made previously (at home) set slightly above the larger clay rings in the picture of my work station that day. You'd think from this photo that the resulting chain would be pretty long once all the links were connected .. and you'd be wrong. As I was. The resulting length after firing was about 10.5". Too long for a bracelet, not long enough for any necks I know. Since I have a kiln of my own, and wasn't staying for day three, I very delicately wrapped all of my dried clay pieces up after day two and drove them home to fire them. I was absolutely thrilled with the results! But, of course I wasn't finished. I had only part of a chain!

The process of making and linking PMC rings was pretty time intensive (and relatively costly) so I decided to finish the necklace with fine silver wire. Easier and faster, by far. After one of my best shows in July, I bought 12 ounces of fine silver wire in 12 and 14 gauge (not sterling, which is .925 silver vs. the .999 of fine silver). The PMC segment of chain varied between small and large links, and it seemed the most desirable thing to do would be to continue with this pattern.

I wound and cut all my own rings in 12 gauge, 14 gauge and 16 gauge wire then fused all of the 12 gauge rings together before connecting them to the 14 gauge and PMC rings. I added the smaller 16 gauge rings at the ends last .. I needed them to be smaller to fit through the hole on the toggle. Because the bar portion of the toggle is so long, several rings needed to be able to fit through in order to allow the bar to get all the way to the other side of the hole.

Several folks asked about the sturdiness of the piece - being made totally of fine silver, which is notably softer than sterling - but I can guarantee that every single ring is seriously work hardened; and it would require a lot of force to bend one.

This is one of those pieces I'm feeling just a little ambivalent about selling .. I've been wearing it, dripping it slowly from one hand to another, listening to the soft clinking sound it makes from hand to hand - it's just a little hypnotic, like a slinky. I'm even amazed at how fabulous it looks all crumbled up into a pile of little links on the table! I was going to patinate it, but I just can't bear to do it .. I mean what's the point of making a piece entirely out of fine silver, which is quite tarnish-resistent, only to blacken it all up with a bunch of Liver of Sulphur?

This is an example of what all those high-end juried art shows mean when they say "handcrafted" .. totally made by me, all of it. It's just under three ounces and has a wonderful heft, and yet has been very comfortable to wear. I think I'm in love.

Addendum: Should I have been surprised that the questions I received on this post were mostly "how long did it take to do the wire link portion of the necklace?" Not so much ; )

The necklace is about 22" to 23" long, so about 5.5" on one side and 6" on the other is made up of fine silver wire links .. it took me the good part of an afternoon to wind and cut all the rings and then fuse them all together (the 14 12 gauge rings I cut with a super flush cutter, the 14 and 16 gauge rings with my jump ringer blade). I just purchased a new (and better) butane torch, as the one I have isn't as hot and is a bit slow. I'm not sure how much of a difference in time it will make in fusing and assembling future chain in this fashion, but I had a chance to use one like the one I purchased, and it WAS a whole lot hotter and better for the task. Time will tell.

The necklace is priced at $680 .. and in response to the customer who wrote and asked why a piece" just under three ounces" isn't closer to the $14/ounce that silver costs, lemme 'splain.

Today (August 31, 2009) the 24-hour spot silver price posted at Kitco is approx. 14.88/ounce. This price represents the cost for a 1000 oz bar of .999 silver. This isn't the way those of us who make jewelry purchase silver. We buy raw materials - either wire, sheet, granules .. or precious metal clay. All of these versions of fine silver require fabrication in one way or another. It does not cost me $14.88 an ounce when I buy fine silver wire .. more like (recently) over $20/ounce. And a 25 gram package of PMC3 (28 grams = an ounce) cost me $34.50 in July 2008 .. the package of clay is actually 27.8 grams but yields 25 grams worth of silver after the binder burns off in the kiln. And then there's the time (and experience) it took for me to create the piece. A great analogy would be the cost of the wood it would take to build a house .. quite a bit less than what you would expect to pay for the completed house, no?

A lost relic comes home

This is probably the most unusual personal story I've ever experienced .. it encourages me to believe in the return of more recently lost treasures, especially since this one was lost over 30 years ago while I was working at Community Savings Bank in Watertown, NY (and not surprisingly considered gone for good). The relic in question is my high school class ring.

The story began with a Facebook "hail" from a classmate asking if I'd heard from her boss regarding my class ring (I vaguely remember a first cousin being involved in there somewhere as well, and having spoken to him .. but I can't remember where he fit in the story, so we'll just leave him out).

After waiting several weeks or more to hear from my classmate's boss, my classmate just took the bull by the horns, snagged the ring and sent it to me with the story, as she'd heard it .. in her words:

"... Someone finds your ring and gives it to the Watertown cops. They, in turn, hand it over to the Carthage cops. Carthage cops, with all the latest technology, go to the local donut shop to do a little detecting. With only a minimum of clues (high school, year of graduation & initials), they decide that it is unsolveable and they put it in the cold case files (or in this case, Chief of Police takes it home and puts it in his underwear drawer. I know - horrible thought - you better get that ring cleaned!) Anyway, 35 years later, said cop's daughter finds the damn thing while cleaning out said underwear drawer. (I can't stress to you how important it is to clean that ring!) Cop's daughter says, 'Hmm, one of my employees graduated in this class, I'll ask her.' 5 minutes later, Eureka! Moral of the story - don't trust the cops!"

I laughed out loud when I read it. And, of course, when I looked in my class yearbook, I am the ONLY KMC in the entire graduating class .. how difficult could it have been? Well, I guess when you're up against donuts, pretty damn difficult.

As a result of this little personal mystery, I've connected with a classmate who I didn't really know in high school and who in my estimation "clicked" almost immediately after we began exchanging notes (a great sense of humor, you must admit) .. and have an invitation to check out a relatively new and highly recommended restaurant in Carthage next time I'm in the area (my mom's only about ten miles away, so it'd be an easy trip) .. as there are few restaurants of that description up here in Ogdensburg, I'm looking forward to the next opportunity to give her a call!

.. and the ring still fits.

Addendum: Yes, folks, I cleaned the ring .. in my tumbler with steel shot, liquid soap and ammonia .. for about an hour!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Knotty .. in a good way

A new customer, recommended to me by Mary Ann Evans (of Mare's Wares Pottery), brought me a tender little knotted necklace while I was at Mare's July 1st Arts Fest and asked if I could put it back together again. Despite having had it in my possession since July 1, I only just recently completed it because I had trouble finding red cord of the right diameter, the color which had originally been used to knot between the beads.

The biggest surprise, however, was when I cut the necklace apart to begin knotting .. I initially thought the beads were red (garnet, was what I was thinking at the time), but it was the little red knots between the beads that caused that optical illusion. When the beads were all cut apart and sitting in a little ceramic dish, devoid of red cord, I discovered that they were carnelian .. a very pretty deep orange and not red at all! And to complete the weird optical illusion aspect of this venture, the silk cord I finally found that fit size-wise was burgandy .. though when next to the carnelian beads looked very much like a deep brick color, and matched the shade of the beads exactly! The brain is a wonderful thang!

The problem I encountered with the burgandy thread, however, was that there was no longer a marked contrast between the beads and the knots between the beads .. I knotted about 20 of them with the burgandy silk and, while very pretty, decided I'd better call the customer and ask if the contrast was important .. and explain what the new configuration looked like. Turned out she was fine with the lack of contrast (I would have had to order another spool of thread, too .. though I was happy to do it) and suggested I carry on. If you click on the photo, you should be able to tell the beads are carnelian. From a distance, they still look red though .. don't they?!?!

After this little exercise, I found myself in a knotting frame of mind and looked through my bead drawers to see what else I might put together in the same vein. I had several little baggies of rectangular pendants I had purchased from Silk Road Treasures at a show five or six years ago .. one little baggie with pale green jade, one with dark green jade and one with lapis. I pulled out the pale green pendants and found about ten or twelve different stones that would provide some nice contrast and completed the tin cup design shown here .. which I call Mountain Ash.

It's a nice mix - there's Mexican opal, green garnet, hessonite garnet, yellow turquoise, orange aventurine, jade, carnelian and pale yellow quartz (plus some Czech glass and #10 seed beads). At about 21", its one of the first long ones I've made in a bit. I added a very simple gold-filled hook and eye clasp .. it's very light weight. It was the colors I saw in our own three mountain ash trees that stand between the house and the river - and can be seen from my studio window - that gave me the idea for the name.

After that I was on a roll and just kept rummaging. I've got a couple drawers full of turquoise, but haven't done anything with any of it in a long while, so found some pretty faceted rondelles with small enough drill holes to allow for knotting and put together this really nice piece! I used turquoise-colored cord, so it blends in quite well; and the knots between the beads allow for a really nice flexibility in the strand. The clasp is handmade in Bali and is a design I sought out for what seemed like months after purchasing a necklace for myself with this same clasp from a little boutique in Albany. Was so delighted when I finally found them, I purchased five or six at the time .. there are only two left. I've tended to use them sparingly; but this piece seemed to call for it. I don't have a name for this one ... any ideas???

The green design came about after I ordered and received a strand of Labradorite marquis cut oval beads, one of which plays center stage here. I tried multiple times to get a close up of the pendant with its hidden opalescence .. but it just stayed hidden. All I could get was the reflection from one of my lights. Labradorite is a type of feldspar .. moonstone is in the same category - they both remind me of opal with their little internal rainbows brought out when the light hits them in the right way or in the right spot. There were several of the pendants on the strand that were rich with these surprising little bursts of color .. all the more likely with so much visible surface on such a large bead.

The strand, on the other hand, is not Labradorite but tourmalated quartz .. both the strand and the pendant have some naturally occuring bits of black in them, so I used black silk to knot; and I couldn't have been happier with the result! It's at once both simple and stunning - I gave it a spare and simple sterling toggle clasp .. I didn't want to take away from the strand in anyway. I call it Green Lagoon because the particular shades of green made me think of a sandy, warm and tropical place.

I'm now working on some variations of the Mountain Ash piece (I might pull out the darker jade and use a couple of those and/or assemble a whole 'nuther collection of stones and work with the lapis pendants) .. and I've pulled a bunch of little baggies full of possible strand and pendant mixes for some more knotted combos after that. AND (I forgot to mention this) since the catalyst for this knotty run - the carnelian and citrine necklace at the top - was completed using French wire, I've finished all of these using French wire instead of bead tips to attach the clasps to the body of the necklace. When done correctly, French wire (a tiny, itsy bitsy little wound wire tube) creates a little loop through the clasp and protects the cord from abrasion. It also looks very neat and tidy and is often used on high-end pearls. I haven't used French wire in a long time .. it's always good to refresh one's skills occasionally, no?

I expect there'll be a whole area of knotted pieces by the time the Stone Mills show in LaFargeville (August 7, 8 and 9) rolls around. I had a request for pearl bracelets at my last show though .. so gotta balance my time. There's so little of it, you know : )

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Whirlwind production!

In an attempt to pump up inventory for a couple of upcoming shows (one small, but last year very good, local show is here in Ogdensburg on Sunday, the 19th at the big golden dome - 10:00 to 4:00 .. stop by!!), I've been tossing my pearl and stone storage and reverting to some old tried and true designs, a few beaded things and some pieces involving chain. I did manage to come up with one more bangle .. a medium weight version. I sold two high end bangles at Mare's Wares Arts Fest on July 1 and had hoped to get two or three made for the next venue. But, it's the designing of the things and not the actual creation of them that takes time - hence my reverting to some quicker things in the short run. This bangle is sort of a cross between the colorful warmth of Sun Drenched and the design aspects of Blue Bayou .. and it contains some of my favorite things: a couple of ancient trade beads, several handmade lampwork beads, three fine silver discs that I made and more twisted wire. I call it Honey Dripper.

This is a fine gauge Byzantine necklace .. it's a little over 18" long and took me forever to finish! Not because it was particularly difficult, but because I kept putting it down to work on other things. And when you're working with smaller rings, it just necessarily takes longer to get any length outta the things. I began this while I was doing a trunk show at Captain Spicer's Gallery in Clayton on June 27. I never used to bring projects to work on during shows, but the process of assembling a Byzantine chain is very impressive .. and it gives me something to do while folks are browsing. I brought it to Mare's on July 1st, when I'd hoped to finish it .. but only completed it this week on my dining room table. I'm thinking of bringing more of the same size rings to the golden dome with me on Sunday and making a pair of earrings. I had a bracelet that went with it, but it sold at Mare's. Not a bad thing .. just have to make another!!

I wore the necklace around for several days after completing it .. it's got a wonderful heft and felt marvelous around my neck! Even after all the time it took to make the thing, I'm now thinking I've gotta make one for me to keep. I mean what's the point of having the materials and knowing how to do it if you can't make one for yourself!! In the photo to the left, it almost looks as though I had patinated it (the best I could do in Photoshop .. it was either make it blindingly bright, or turn up the contrast. And it's the contrast that makes it look patinated). The photo above is more indicative of the look of it .. I tumbled it when I was done, so it's nice and shiny. If you wear it alot, it'll stay that way .. otherwise, it'll slowly patinate itself over time (called tarnish, for those of you less romantic types). And if you're big on sulfur type foods (onions, garlic, eggs) .. it'll patinate itself even quicker!

After finishing up the Byzantine necklace and hunting around for some interesting stones, I found some beautiful briolette and pear shaped stones I'd purchased four, five .. maybe six years ago .. and had forgotten about. These came strung on 8" instead of the customary 16" strands .. really pretty things I kept separate from my other beads because of their cost. I have one of those tall plastic units with a bunch of little drawers that you often see in garages full of nuts and bolts .. well, mine is full of beads, and several of the drawers have rubies, emeralds, sapphires, lapis, vesuvianite and other precious and semi-precious delights hidden within.

These two chain and stone necklaces use vesuvianite .. a really pretty olivine green stone that looks a lot like peridot. I have so many of these pretty little shapes in various stones, I think I may do a little production line after the show on Sunday and make a bunch of them. All those I did over the past couple of days use 14k gold filled chain .. mostly because the stone colors I was using looked best against gold. But I have some briolettes in my larger unit of bead drawers that will look better with sterling: rose quartz, apatite, kyanite, citrine, and onyx.

While this photo may look like a single necklace, it's actually one necklace with five stones and one with a single stone. I've been trying to make matching earrings as I finish up with a necklace .. because people always ask! And it's easier while all the materials are already out. Despite this recent propensity, I'm in serious need of a couple days of nothing but earring production! Especially a couple of the more popular wire wrapped seed pod earrings that sell as fast as I make them .. I could use one of those little time turner devices Hermonine used in HP and The Prisoner of Azkaban!!

Here are a couple more stone and chain necklaces .. I did another of the five stone versions in a smoky topaz (absolutely gorgeous stones, purchased by carat weight!!). I was almost tempted to put them on 14k chain instead of 14k gold filled, but it's already a $135 necklace with just the gold filled chain. And I'm saving the 14k chain for some 3mm faceted tanzanite stones I've had stashed.

The blue stone is lapis .. the strand from which it came was graduated, so I've got several different sizes. Made a couple pair of earrings, and am thinking of doing another necklace. I was going to do this one on sterling, but the lapis has some really pretty gold veining in it .. so there's was no question of suspending it on gold. If you click on the photo, you can see them all up close.

While rummaging through my pearl drawers last week I found several varieties of smaller pearls and brought back a design I'd made six or seven years ago .. a double strand of pearls with a removable pendant. The original pendant was an incredible olive pear drop pearl. But that strand is long gone; so I made a variety of them using stones instead. The three across the top are a pale green kyanite, a gorgeous shade of blue apatite and a golden carnelian. That beautiful large blue stone at the bottom is an aquamarine. I've got eight or nine more of those and use them sparingly .. they come from a fabulous strand I got at a wholesale gem and lapidary show in western MA five or six years ago. When they're gone, I'd be surprised if I find another strand anything like it.

The kyanite is strung on white round pearls, the apatite and aquamarine on a pretty shade of beige rice pearls and the carnelian is on chocolate rice pearls. I quickly sold the five or six versions of the original necklace with the pearl pendant and wouldn't be surprised if these do well .. the removable pendant is appealing because sometimes all you want are simple pearls, or a simple pendant. And the pendants are attached to an incredible handcrafted Bali ring (Nina Designs .. wholesale only, but stunning stuff!) that looks great suspended from a sterling chain. It's all about choices, folks ..

With all the successful rehashing I've accomplished lately, I may need to dig out my old jewelry photos and see if there are any other pieces I can update. When you're low in inventory, you do what works, yes? I may have to save the time-consuming new designs for another time (i.e. when there's more of it ... time, I mean) .. but then, everything seems new to most people stopping by my booth lately. Most of my old photos are pre-light box .. back when I used to flat bed scan them, just to have a record of the things I'd created. And most of those designs were long gone before we re-located to the North Country. So ... everything old is new again!! Happens occasionally. Thankfully.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sun Drenched Redux

Because it seemed to me like I'd gotten into a "blue" streak with the last several entries here .. a bracelet called Sun Drenched seemed like a good post.

I originally posted this back in April when I'd first created it, but I hadn't yet fired the little sun charm, so this is the finished product. Love these sturdy bangles!


Like the book(s) .. or not. Vampires were not what I had in mind when I created it .. but there is a little magic in this bracelet, so if you want to think of Edward and Bella .. and all the other magical personages within Stephenie Meyer's imagination .. it's OK. It works.

However, the magic in this piece comes from the glass used for these hand crafted lamp work beads .. I have other lamp work beads (as well as Swarovski crystals) that have the same kind of inherent magic - an ability to change color in different light. I have no idea how or why it works, it just does. Under the lamp light I use to take photographs - and beneath the lights in my studio - these beads appear to be pale blue. Sky blue, if you will. However, when moved outdoors (and perhaps beneath some other as yet untried artificial lighting) they turn an ever so soft and tender violet. The way the sky changes .. at Twilight.

I've had this one on the tip of my brain for weeks .. I continued to let it stew in there while assembling some pretty, delicate, sparkly little beaded pieces recently - until it finally emerged. With the exception of that one gorgeous rectangular sterling silver India bead (and my pure silver logo charm), this is strictly sterling silver wire and lamp work glass. I wrapped and cut all the connecting rings, made and work-hardened all the sterling eye pins holding the lamp work beads in place, wrapped the 26 gauge wire around the horseshoe link and made the little spiral charm and s-hook clasp. I think there's balance here - what do you think?

It fits my EZ-Size bracelet device at 7.75", so would comfortably fit a 7.5" wrist with a little room to spare. I love this piece!! I have a drawer full of smaller (and all absolutely gorgeous) lamp work beads from talented lamp workers from all over .. and am now thinking I might have to try this in a more delicate version. Or even something in 14k gold-filled wire!

While I'm eternally grateful that my creative muse still pops in occasionally and sits on my shoulder .. I'm hoping she'll stay a little longer this time. She makes me happy when she's sittin' there smilin' down on me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Something Blue

I put this bracelet together back in May .. it's been a little nuts on the home front since then. But I didn't want to miss posting it.

I had originally wanted to include two or three 10mm sterling round beads in this piece .. all I had on hand were 8mm though, and they just didn't look right. The balance was wrong. Being the impatient creator than I am, however, I just pushed on anyway with the whole "blue" theme. I call it Blue Bayou. Next time I place a silver order, I'll get some 10mm silver beads and do a similar design. I guarantee the silver beads will give it an entirely different look. It's a bit .. busy .. in its current manifestation, but it works.

That large black and pale blue item is a fabulous lampwork bead (one of a small collection from the same glass bead maker) .. I love it and had been wanting to do something with it for some time. It was easy enough to find several corresponding beads to add .. several of them (three to be exact) came from one of those ancient trade bead strands I've been hoarding: the teal bead in the foreground (to the left of the logo tag), the little black bead with dots to the right of the large lampwork, and the darker blue bead to the right of the clasp. (Hard to believe, but all three came from the same strand .. a really gorgeous mix of all kinds of trade beads. I'm a sucker for those - you get so much more to work with that way). There's another small lampwork bead - next to the pale blue resin bead - several ceramic discs and a whole lotta twisted wire (my favorite thing to do with wire!).

This is a hefty and substantial bracelet .. made for a woman who knows herself well, and is comfortable with what she knows. A strong woman .. with a strong wrist! ; )

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

Back while I was making the "Sweetheart Pin" .. which is a good sized piece of jewelry .. I was already thinking of a smaller, lighter version with some pearl embellishments wrapped around the larger side embellishments (with much lighter gauge wire). And, as it sometimes happens with these processes, it immediately struck me how cool it would be to make a bracelet using that kind of wrapped embellishment! Which is where this bracelet idea came from.

Before I'd even finished the smaller heart pin (which remains on my work bench awaiting embellishment), I had some copper wire out and was experimenting with some ideas for the bracelet. The tight-against-the-base-wire wrap on the large pin(s) didn't appeal to me for the bracelet (though maybe for a necklace!), so I had to think about how the larger swirly part might work.

Before I even began with the design of the swirl or wrapping stuff though, I had to think about the core bracelet. I was afraid if I made it as a simple large letter "C" cuff bracelet the act of opening it to put it on would stress not only the core wire but also the added swirl and wraps. I was able to use more core wire (and hence more swirly design wrapping) by moving the ends out and away from each other (sort of one end above the other). This way, it's easy to slide onto the wrist without having to pull the ends directly apart from each other. If any additional opening is necessary, the ends can be pushed a little bit further away from each other instead. If any of you are familiar with the proper way to open and close a jump ring, it's the same concept. Once you've got it on, you can then gently squeeze it to fit .. leaving the comfortable-for-you, top-to-bottom distance between the ends as is for continued ease in putting it on and taking it off. Did that make sense??

Anyway, once I had that figured out I moved on to designing the swirly part and then attaching it. It was a bit tricky .. and didn't occur to me right away .. but I ultimately decided that rather than wrapping the swirly embellishment wire around the bracelet core and then adding the beads with finer wire in and around it, that I'd attach the swirly embellishment wire with the fine wire and beads. Took a while to work it out because the swirly wire kept sliding around on the core wire while I was trying to wrap and attach the beads. It becomes a little easier after the first few beads are attached.

The little dragonfly is actually a Thai silver charm I worked into the design. I had originally purchased them to use as one of the little trio of charms on the Thai trio necklaces I made, but the picture on the website where I purchased them showed the jump ring/bail on the charm was attached on top of the dragonfly's head .. not the case when I received them. The ring is in the back .. and low enough that it hangs funny if suspended from a chain. I was so incredibly happy to have found such a great use for them!

Very pretty, very feminine .. and it has a lovely weightiness. I'm still thinking about what to call it .. April Showers perhaps? or maybe Tranquility?? It's very Spring-like .. makes me think of a misty, moisty April morn.

UPDATE - Several folks wrote to ask what the stones were .. sorry, didn't even think of mentioning it! The large pale blue stones are aquamarine (there are also some smaller, more translucent aquamarine rondelles as well), a few small Swarovski pearls, several "Alexandrite" color-changing crystals (pale blue to pale lavender), a few darker "Montana" crystals, and some 2.5mm faceted blue sapphire rondelles.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sweetheart Pin

I just love this pin! It's a big bold one though .. about three inches high and around two and a half inches across at its widest. But, boy, does it look great on a big 'ole bulky sweater or holding a beautiful knit scarf in place!

I made two just because I was curious how the difference in the wire gauge I used might affect the finished pin. The first one (on the left) was made using 12 gauge wire for the base and 14 gauge for the curliques on the sides .. and it's a substantial piece of jewelry! I've made pins that could poke through fine knits without leaving a hole .. however, the weight of this alone would be problematic for anything less than a bulky sweater, shawl or scarf.

The second pin (on the right) was made using 14 gauge as the base and 16 gauge for the embellishments (you understand that wire gets thinner the higher the gauge, right?) Were you to hold one in each hand, you would notice the difference in weight. A design plus in using the 12 gauge wire is there's more wire to pound in those areas where I forged (flattened) and added texture. When I tried that with the 14 gauge wire, it really flattens it (whereas the 12 gauge still has a bit of thickness to it even after some pounding). And you can't really see the indentations on the lighter pin in this picture .. they're just barely visible on the photo on the top (and that's partly because the heavier pin is patinated and the lighter pin is not).

I was playing around with this really cool wooden hand I bought years ago and ended up with one of the best pics of the pin I think I've gotten yet. I find that these kinds of props usually provide more distraction than any positive effect, but it was the first - of all the many photos I took of the thing - that showed more of the detail, so I couldn't resist including it.

I'm working on a design that's about 3/4 size using 16 gauge wire as the base .. and instead of strictly wire embellishments along the sides, I've been playing with winding some small pearls with fine wire in and around the heavier wire embellishments. And THAT idea lit the light bulb over my head for a new cuff bracelet!!

I think the warmth and the birds, the peepers beginning to chirp at night and the promise of a real spring finally arriving has gotten some of the creative juices flowing again. My, but it's been a while ...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Trial by Pearls

If you've kept up with me out here for any length of time (or even if you've gone back over old posts), you know I love to knot pearls. I've been doing it for a long time, I occasionally teach other people how to do it, I've done it from scratch with new pearls and I've cleaned, disassembled and restrung and knotted old, stretched strands to look like new again. But I've never had a strand put me through my paces quite like the graduated strand I received from a lovely and patient customer I encountered at a show last fall!

They arrived in their original blue velvet box .. a tender little strand with obviously stretched silk needing a little care and attention. Knowing what I know now I'm sorry I didn't look at them more closely before cleaning and cutting the strand apart. The first thing I discovered upon removing the old thread was the pearls were not real. This was a surprise - with the naked eye (my naked eye, to be exact) - they looked real. In fact, I'm still searching for any information on the company whose name was on the inside of the box they came in (Styled by Crosby is what it said) .. more out of curiosity about the surface treatment than anything else. Most old faux pearls I've seen look fake. But, the fact that the pearls weren't real wasn't the problem .. what I discovered was that the holes in the larger center beads were too big for the size D silk thread that would look best with the smaller 4mm beads that made up the bulk of the necklace. I didn't recall that the knots near these larger center beads were problematic in any way before I cut the thing apart, so I haven't a clue as to how this issue was addressed previously. I looked closely at all the little lengths of silk I'd pulled out of all the pearls and couldn't find anything that looked out of the ordinary.

And after attempting to knot the strand twice - once with size D, once with size E - I was stuck. No matter how careful I was near the larger beads, the knots would just slip inside the holes and disappear. As pearl holes are notoriously small, I've never needed a size larger than E before .. and didn't have any larger than E except in black, which wouldn't do. And besides, anything larger wouldn't fit through the 4mm beads.

I kept the customer apprised of my progress .. and lack of progress .. as I continued to search for some way to make this work. If I encounter this problem while stringing stone or glass beads, I just add very small seed beads, liquid silver tubes or little rubbery spacers that separate briolettes on higher end strands (which I always save for this purpose) .. but while the holes were larger than normal pearls, they weren't large enough to accommodate any of these. I told the customer I was considering something a lot less conventional (and much more drastic) like stuffing the holes with something like white two part mold compound or polymer clay.

Fortunately, I didn't do anything until I sent an inquiry to a jewelry forum in which I occasionally participate. It didn't take long for suggestions to come pouring in. And I must say I am somewhat embarrassed not to have thought of the solution offered by most people, which was to add another needle with doubled thread when approaching the larger beads. Simple, elegant, nothing new to purchase .. and no need to muck around with the pearls (a thought that troubled me greatly).

Easier than it sounds though .. and I spent last weekend with some beads other than the pearls experimenting with this process. After playing with various combinations of doubled thread (and then doing a dry run with just the nine center beads), what I ended up doing was using size D to begin; then four beads in from the center I added size E for three pearls; I then cut the original D thread and added a second size E for the center and the two pearls on either side of it; then worked backwards to a combo of D and E, then back to one long D to finish up. The combination of the two doubled E threads (four strands of thread total) made knots perfect for those middle three pearls, but was way too much thread for any of the others. The process took me longer than it might normally because I applied a thin gum arabic beading glue with a fine brush to all the knots that had an added tail of thread in the pearl behind it or had a double strand cut away from the knot .. and I gave the glue a good ten minutes to set before proceeding. This process necessarily weakens the strand at the center, but one doesn't expect a lot of rough tugging and pulling on one's pearl strand; so I can only hope that it will be just fine.

As this was the third time I'd knotted the strand, I held my breathe through the center nine pearls .. but I was really pleased with the end result. All the pictures here were taken after I'd finally gotten it right. If you have any knowledge of the company name, please let me know .. I'd still love to understand that great surface treatment! Otherwise, I'm just going to thank my lucky stars for Orchid and all its kind and helpful followers, be grateful for having learned such a nifty new trick .. and hope I never encounter another strand that needs it!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Gallery Event - March 6

Which, in reality, doesn't look much different from the installation photos, does it?!?! Though there are a few shots here with people other than the artisans milling about - just to prove it was an actual event with real guests!

It was a fabulous evening .. everything looked so professional, colorful and artsy, there was great food, laughter (as promised), intelligent as well as silly conversation, lots of wonderful folks pumping us all up with praise .. and a few things even sold! Well, it's a month long, so there's plenty of time for more of that.

Here are a few more pics to add to those from the installation post. Several of us arrived early, and I used the time as an opportunity to take a few photos before people began to arrive. I really wanted to capture a few shots of the tile floor, which lends itself so well to the environment - a piece of art unto itself!

The photo with Mary Ann's pottery in the left foreground shows one segment of the downstairs gallery at Creative Spirit from one end to the other. There's a hospitality area down on the other end where a couple of tables were heaped full of fruit, desserts, crackers, cheese, wine, home made salsa and chips (from the Cantina Grill behind the Gallery), wine, punch and all manner of munchables. There's another long interior gallery off to the right.

This empty gallery shot is taken near the center looking into the interior gallery .. that's my jewelry in the case .. and you can just see some of Bill's bowl's and his table, Sally's series against the back wall, and a few of Steve's things on the left interior wall ..

Once people began arriving and milling around, I only took a few shots .. mostly those that included an artist or two in them. This one in the inner gallery shows Deb Monteith (in the black cut-out top) ..

This one has June Ross (in blue on the left), and a friend of the group's, Mary Harding (with her back to the camera)- a jewelry and ceramic artist.

And this is just another shot of all of us!! Who doesn't like a party! Kyle Hartman is on the far right .. he'd put together an incredible historic preservation exhibit called "This Place Matters" in a smaller gallery down near the food. Lots of photos of wonderful old buildings, most of which are still being used, with a person or persons in front of the building holding one of Kyle's "This Place Matters" signs. What a great idea!! : )