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30-something mother, wife, lawyer, writer, design junkie, craftaholic, cook

likes: clever tools, snazzy colors, working for justice, kid wrangling, Meyer lemons

dislikes: inefficiency, civil discovery, most shades of purple, Tori Amos

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Entries in jewelry (3)

Tuesday
Jul212009

Three Birds

Three Birds © 2009 Cameron Blazer
Some people have a vision in their minds eye of a drawing or a design, and they can sit down with pen and paper and produce what's in their heads. I have spent most of my life wishing I had that gift.

Instead, I design and draw the way wind and water carve channels and figures out of rock—through relentless effort. And more often than not, what I set out deliberately to create gets left behind in favor of what has serendipitously taken shape.

I guess that's a metaphor for the way I live my life, too. I've been known to strike out intentionally on a nutty path, only to wind up, miraculously, more or less unscathed on a different route, accidentally doing what more or less always made sense. My life is a catalogue of dubious decisions that have turned out unreasonably well.

When I signed up for the silversmithing class I took last month, I was determined that I would try things I have read about for years but never been able to try. But by the time the class started I had fixated on the idea of the ginkgo leaf. And, really, there was absolutely nothing about making that leaf that was on my list of gotta-tries. On the last night of the class, with about an hour to go, I finished up my leaf (having worked about 5 hours total on it), and I still had a half a sheet of silver left. I started cutting out leaf and petal shapes with my saw, thinking I could make some components to use in earrings. But after I'd cut the first three of them, I realized I hadn't soldered a flipping thing, which was the whole reason I had wanted to take the class in the first place. So I quickly changed plans, cut out a base rectangle shape, filed and sanded feverishly, and took the pieces to my slightly annoyed instructor.

As I set the pieces into place, I knew that when I heated the flux (which is a wet paste that helps the solder flow), they would probably move out of position a bit, but I fiddled and tinkered to get them just right anyway. Sure enough, as soon as the flux heated up, two of the pieces started sliding around. I poked the first one back into place, but the second one looked better where accident had made it land than where I had planned, so I left it.

It was only as I was sanding and polishing my little piece that I realized that it's a metaphor for my life, too. There weren't any petals or leaves in the end. Just three birds, each flying a little off-center,* together.

And it's a reminder, too, that though I am not the gifted artist I have often wished I were, I do have a talent for making do with what the talents and skills I do have and letting serendipity do the rest. I'm okay with that.

*If you know my husband and my son, you know who the other two off-kilter birds are in this equation.

Thursday
Jul092009

Ginkgo Industrialist

Silver Ginkgo © 2009 Cameron Blazer
So, unless you are having this read aloud to you while you recline with cucumber slices over your eyes, sipping daiquiris and being fanned with palm fronds, you have probably noticed that I like ginkgos. And while I'm guessing that every expert treatise ever written about world blog domination has a chapter about "synergistic branding" or some such, my love for ginkgos is in no particular alignment with the subject matter of this blog, and I haven't ever much cared.

But now. Now, I can say that I am a cottage industrialist who makes ginkgo leaves.

For as long as I have been making jewelry, I have longed to escape the limitations of bead store tools and materials and to control the design process from the raw material stage to completion. I finally had the opportunity over the last few weeks to try my hand at the basic tools of silversmithing (yay, Redux!), and I am, just as I expected to be, smitten. There's just something so satisfying about taking a flat, dull sheet of metal and cutting, hammering, and folding it till it starts to feel and look like something alive. And while I'd love to have access to a full bench of jewelers' tools, I was careful when designing this project to choose something that I could replicate at home without needing to buy too many new geegaws. A rare example of supply restraint. I will be patting myself on the back for that one for quite some time.*

What about you? What have you longed to try but stopped short because the tools or the skills seemed just out of reach?

*Though if my as-yet-nonexistent-personal-art-patron is reading this, there is a lovely outfit of tools (in my size, no less!) available from Rio Grande...think...free silver ginkgos for life!**

**Apologies to Prof. Carolyn Matalene for my shameful misuse of the ellipsis. Yes, you did teach me better than that. And yet.

Sunday
May172009

Coral Necklace Tutorial

Of all my many craft loves, my love of jewelry making is my oldest and most enduring. I've been making jewelry for nearly 20 years (and, yes, that does make me feel old). From the first package of headpins and carefully chosen beads I brought home, I was hooked. As with all of my favorite craft forms, I love the idea that things we all too often take for granted as being manufactured in some far-off place by a machine or a nameless worker can be made athom with a little skills, a few supplies, and two willing hands.

This necklace, based on the one I wore to my sister's wedding last month, takes that idea a step further. As you are probably aware, the world's coral reefs are threatened by ocean warming and other man-made perils. So, while I love the color and movement of natural coral, I avoid it in my work. Instead, a simple technique, combined with beautifully colored beads, makes it possible to capture the spirit of that nature-made wonder with more eco-friendly materials.

If you've never made jewelry before, you may need to review some fabrication basics before starting. If you have questions, leave them in the comments section, and I'll try to answer them for everyone. This is a very simple technique--don't be afraid to change it up and make it your own--use different colors (opaque white coral? very chic!), make short branches of coral and connect them together using lengths of chain, make a multi-strand bracelet, or dangle a branch or two from earwires for a real statement.

1) MATERIALS. You will need the following:

  • chain-nose pliers
  • crimping pliers (optional -- you can use the chain-nose pliers to flatten the crimp beads, but the effect will not be as polished as if you use the crimping pliers)
  • flush wire cutter
  • 2 crimp beads
  • multi-strand beading wire (I used a high-quality product that is plated in 24K gold--you can also get this wire in silver-plate, stainless steel, and sterling silver varieties. Usually, the higher the number of the beading wire, the higher the quality)
  • clasp
  • jump ring or chain with large (1/8" or larger) links
  • Czech fire-polish beads (I used a color called "persimmon")
  • coral and/or red briolettes (I used two sizes for variety, but this is not necessary--any size briolette will work so long as you like it--see below for some suggested online sources)

2) Start by cutting a length of beading wire 4 inches longer than you want your necklace to be. Some of this length will be lost to the kinking caused by the briolettes, and the rest will be needed to pull the necklace taut. Thread a crimp bead onto your wire. Then pass the same end of the wire through your jump ring (or chain--if you want an adjustable necklace, pre-made chain works like a charm). Thread the wire back through your crimp bead, creating a loop around the jump ring. Push the crimp bead flush with the jump ring, and pull the beading wire taut, leaving about a 1.25" tail. Flatten the crimp bead in place with your crimping pliers.

3) Begin threading your fire-polish beads onto the wire, making sure to pass the first 3 beads over the tail you created in step 2.

4) Add a briolette. Then add three more beads. You will alternate three round beads, followed by a briolette for the entire necklace. Leave the remaining 1/2" or so of the tail exposed as you continue to bead.

5) Continue the pattern of three round beads, followed by one briolette, stopping occasionally to push the beads tightly against one another. This tension is necessary to create the kink that gives this necklace its organic feel.

6) When you have about 1.5-2" of beading wire remaining, thread your wire with a crimp bead, followed by your clasp. Loop the wire back through the crimp bead loosely, and then pass it through 3-5 more beads. Grasping the end of your wire with your chain nose pliers, pull the wire very taut. Flatten the crimp bead in place with your crimping pliers. Trim the exposed wires with your flush cutters, et voilà!

[SOURCES: I must confess I have not been able to find online briolettes identical to the ones I used here. But looking around on Etsy, I did find several that should do the trick just right: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. My finished necklace is about 22" long and required 37 briolettes. Unlike the briolettes, fire-polish beads are plentiful online and in most bead shops, though the persimmon color I used does not seem all that popular. It's always fun to go to a show or a shop and see the beads you're going to use close-up, but if that's not possible, I'd say any opaque red or orange faceted round should work just fine.]