Tuesday, 22 December 2009

New Toys & A New Addiction

I got myself a Christmas present a few weeks ago.  I make my own jump rings for my jewelry, but it's a laborious process, requiring a jeweller's saw to cut the rings.  It might not be as big a job if I had a proper place to do it, with a place to put a vice to hold them, but since my kitchen table is my workbench, it was a pain in the butt.  For years, I've yearned for a jump ring maker and when I saw the Dave Arens model touted on one of the jewelry forums, decided to treat myself.

Dave Arens has a company called Gemstones Etc. and he makes a Koil Kutter (the "ks" almost put me off it!) that works with a Dremel.  Here's the picture of the Koil Kutter.

The wire needs to be coiled somehow, and I use a plastic mandrel that I've had for years and probably picked up at Michaels.
You slide the coil off of the mandrel, wrap it in masking tape to hold it together and set it in the bottom channel.  Screw the lid down, set the cutter (kutter!) in the top channel, turn the Dremel on, and slide it along the groove.  Zippo!  A whole whack of jump rings, whatever size you wanted, in less time it takes to put the blade in the jeweller's saw.

I need a little more practice with the Cutter.  Tried sliding a pencil inside the coil of metal to hold it steady instead of taping it, and found out why the pencils were called HB HARD. That coil didn't work out too well.
But the rings accumulated like confetti at a wedding.  I started with green artcraft wire, good to practice on because it's cheap, did whacks of copper and bronze copper wire and twisted some sterling silver and tried that too.  Great fun!  The Koil Kutter is easy to put on the Dremel and Dave's instructions are simple to follow and he has some very helpful tips.  The key is reading them before you start to cut.

Now...should be cleaning my house for Christmas (not sure if the dust on the jump ring picture is on my table or on my camera!), but I've been wanting to try doing some chainmaille patterns and never had enough jump rings...until yesterday. 
Pearl, the Beading Gem, has a wonderful tutorial for a Persian chain on her website. (http://www.beadinggem.com/)  She has very clear pictures and directions, and a video too, so that you can flip back and forth.  I started it in the store and kept getting interrupted (darn customers!) and was starting to think that maybe this old dog wasn't going to learn a new trick.  When my shift was over, I started again with a little peace and quiet, and almost right away had the "eureka moment" and knew I'd got it. 

Since it was a learning experience and some of the jump rings were a result of the pencil fiasco, I wasn't worried about closing them seamlessly.  But talk about addictive!  I put it down at 11 p.m. last night and went to shut off the light and thought, "just the last bunch of rings."  Ha ha.  I finished all the copper rings I had and then decided it should be finished.  So I went to another fantastic site for chainmaille tutorials, changed the pattern and finished the ends about midnight.  And can't wait to start another one, maybe a different pattern.  Pictures can't do justice to the suppleness and smooth feel of a woven metal bracelet.

Anybody who is interested in trying chain maille, should learn the basics with Pearl's tutorial, and then learn the amazing variations on http://cgmaille.com/index.shtml.  Jeff Olin very generously shares his knowledge of chainmaille weaves with very clear and picture-heavy free tutorials.  It's probably the most comprehensive library of chainmaille patterns anywhere.
I've often wondered about people who spend so much time creating entire chainmaille shirts and armor.  Now that I've discovered just how addicting the darn stuff is, all I can say is, "thanks, Dave, for giving me the opportunity to make hundreds (or thousands?) of jump rings in a short time."  And please, Santa, send me some more wire for Christmas!

Monday, 7 December 2009

My Good Sunday

I wonder if there is anyone out there, so confident and sure of their own abilities that they don't need approval and approbation.  Sometimes I feel like my dear dog, wagging my tail when somebody says, "oh, you are such a good girl!"
Every once in awhile the muse visits when I'm making something and I am incredibly proud of the end result.  So it was with the pendant in the picture,  .999 silver, made with silver clay.  It's my interpretation of the Sea Cow Head lighthouse, one of my favorite local places to take visitors.   Because it is pure silver and totally unique, I priced it fairly high and thought it might be a little pricey for the regular customers of my convenience store.
Yesterday, a man came in for milk and stopped dead at my jewelry display.  When he left, he had bought one of my watches and the Sea Cow Head pendant.  The best part was that he asked me to sign the back of my business card so that he could "include the artist's signature with the gift.  It's not just jewelry, it's a piece of art."  Whoo hooo!!!  It's one thing for me to consider it a unique piece of art, but it's like your mother telling you you're pretty - slightly biased and seen through rose colored glasses.  But when a complete stranger says it, well it just has to be so!  (Especially when they back it up with cash!)
So the rest of my Sunday was spent floating several feet off the ground.  It's not my first sale and hopefully, not my last sale, but boys oh boys, to use the local vernacular, it was certainly my most motivating sale.  Thank you, Dave, whoever you are!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Not So Pretty Diamond Rings

Colored Stone Gem Mail, a great magazine for artisans and gemstone enthusiasts, has an interesting article this month about the jewelry industry going green and two large retailers adding to the list of sellers pledged to clean gold sourcing.  They aren't talking about different cleansing agents.
A diamond ring has come to symbolize love, romance and commitment.  But an informed consumer needs to know that the diamond has been mined by a conflict-free source and the gold has been mined ethically.
Gold mining is one of the most destructive activities in the world and has been linked to grievous environmental, social justice and human rights violations.  One average gold band generates approximately 20 tons of cyanide-infused waste that seeps into the groundwater of the land where it is mined.  Gold mining has been identified as the cause of lead poisoning in children in Peru.  The mines leave scars on the earth's surface so devastating that they can be seen from outer space.
The Blood Diamond is a film about diamond mining in Sierra Leona and shows how violent rebel groups sold diamonds to the western market to finance the purchase of arms.  Lily Cole, the face of the most famous diamond producers, DeBeers, refused to model their stones after learning that they had evicted indigenous Bushmen in Botswana, in order to mine their land and she was followed by former spokesperson/model Iman.  Diamonds have been linked to arms funding in Africa to slave labor in India and extreme environmental damage.  DeBeers claim that a UN-led embargo on diamonds from rebel-held areas in Angola and Sierra Leone has eliminated the sale of "conflict diamonds" from the market.  However, this only applies to traders who buy through a certification scheme, called the Kimberley Process.  You can be sure a diamond with this certification has been bought from a legitimate market but it will not halt the human rights abuses and environmental costs involved with this sparkly stone.
Many eco-conscious people are following in the steps of celebrities such as Liz Hurley, Julia Roberts and Madonna, and shunning diamonds altogether in favor of semi-precious stones such as tanzanite and sodalite.  A spokesperson for a large British jeweler says, "Demand for semi-precious stones has soared.  We have been designing with agate, jasper, carnelian, rose.  Customers are really looking for a unique style."
Millions of dollars of marketing has ensured that people think they need a diamond engagement ring.  But if you still think you need one, make sure you are buying from a dealer who can tell you the provenance of his stones.  Or buy from a reputable jewelry artisan and have a unique statement of your love with an amazing choice of fair-trade and ethically mined sparklies.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

When It All Comes Together

Some artisans are lucky (or smart) enough to be able to make a sketch, detail what they need and then create a piece of jewelry from their own plan.  Not me.  In this case, it was the sunflower charm that started the journey and the bracelet pretty well grew around it.
I cook like that, too.  My mother laughs at me and says she hopes nobody ever asks me for a recipe because even when I start from a recipe, the finished dish has nothing to do with the original.  A little of this...oh, let's try a little of that...  She calls me the Great Substitutor.
I can always tell when I will be really pleased with a finished piece of jewelry.  It grows quickly and there is no hesitation, even while the "little of this" and "little of that" is going on.  Some pieces sit on my bead board for months because they just don't want to grow in my garden.  And if they're forced, just to get them finished, they don't flourish and take forever to sell, if at all.  This bracelet grew like a weed.

Silver Garden
Three strands of sterling silver chain with swarovski crystal cubes, sterling beads and silver plated charms.  The clasp is sterling silver.

$40 CDN

Monday, 16 November 2009

Magnetic Necklaces and More

Everybody seems to know somebody who sells magnetic jewelry but some of it is no more than decoration.  Does it really work?  Some sellers claim that magnets will cure anything that ails you.  Scientists say that the magnets used in jewelry are too weak to have any effect on blood flow.  Who is right?  The fellows who carry cow magnets in their pockets know for sure that they have a great effect on their credit cards.
I'm not going to make any claims about my magnetic jewelry, other than the fact that it has certainly helped my arthritis.  And it's better made than most of the others you will find.

The hematite:  Magnetic jewelry is traditionally tubular beads and round beads.  The round beads do not have much of a magnetic charge but are necessary to make a necklace, bracelet or anklet drape properly.  My hematite tubes are diamond cut and extra strong and instead of alternating tubular and round, I increase the strength of the piece by using a 1 tubular/1 round, 2 tubular/1 round pattern.  Instead of the traditional fishing line, this jewelry is made using a 19 strand .015" wire, flexible and with a 17 pound test.

The clasp:  Traditional magnetic jewelry has a plastic clasp with magnets, with the line glued inside the clasp.  These comfortable and attractive clasps are  metal with extra-strong magnets. Their exceptional strength makes these some of the most effective pieces of jewelry on the market.  A sterling silver wire guardian keeps the wire from fraying but gives it great flexibility.  Anklet clasps are tubular for more comfort.

All jewelry is guaranteed for workmanship.  Magnetic jewelry should be "rested" for a few days every month or so and some people claim that rest should be on stone or concrete for at least 48 hours.  They can be cleaned with mild soap and water.  Magnetic jewelry should never be worn by people with pacemakers. 
Necklaces - $30
Anklets - $20

The Necklace Efficiency Test:
Clasp your hands in front of you, palms up and hold them about six inches in front of your body.  Have someone push as hard as they can on your clasped hands.  You will lose your balance and step forward.  Put a magnetic necklace on and repeat the whole operation.  If the necklace is a good one, you will be very hard to pull forward, if at all.
This test was told to me by an old fellow who sold really good magnetic jewelry and I couldn't believe what a difference it made!  I've got a lot of upper body strength and it doesn't matter when someone pushes on your hands like that.  You'll step forward.  But with a necklace on, I was like a rock - didn't move!  (Cue the Outer Limits music...)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

My Kingdom for a Workshop!

You need to eat cheese with this blog post because it's a whine!  I'm grateful for so many things:  being my own boss; living in such a beautiful place; living in a cute little apartment and not having to drive to work...lots more, but I need to get to the whining part.
Being a very visual person, I need my beads and findings out in plain sight to get inspired.  Because the only furniture my dogs don't think is theirs is the kitchen table and chairs, I need the table to eat.  I can keep a little spot clear that's big enough for a plate and water glass but every once in awhile people actually threaten to visit and that requires a mad flurry of cleaning.  Then it looks so good clean, I don't make any jewelry for a while because everything is all neatly filed away in drawers.
And metalwork is calling, along with silver clay, of course.  Copper and bronze clay is calling too, but the only way I could put a kiln in here is to put it where my microwave is, and I'd starve to death if I wasn't able to nuke frozen food.  My kitchen island has the accoutrements of every sophisticated kitchen - tumbler, fire bricks, a butane torch and an anvil. 
Some people dream of kitchen renovations.  I dream of being able to fire clay or anneal copper without setting off the fire alarm and choking the dogs.  The time of year probably has a lot to do with my complaints, because the furnace runs when I open the windows or the door and the only thing I'd like more than a workshop is a furnace that runs on air.  I dream of a nice, warm working area with great ventilation and lots of counters.  Nice, open trays full of gemstones, beads, and pearls, with clear drawers for findings.  I'd build a wooden holder for all of my pliers and cutters, instead of having them in a tacklebox under my table that creeps out and trips me when I'm not paying attention.

Ah well, it's great to dream, but Dewey hates change and he gets very suspicious if I do anything differently.  Better get back to counting my blessings...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Pretty Coral...Is It Worth It?

Coral reefs are home to an abundance of sea life, providing food, shelter, hiding places and areas for reproduction.  When most people think of coral, they think of the little branches in our aquariums, little white sticks, or beautiful red coral beads.  But coral is a living, breathing organism and we are systematically killing it. 

In poorer areas of the world, fish are captured from the reefs both for upscale restaurants in Asia and aquariums in North America.  Some fishermen use dynamite and collect the stunned fish from the surface.  Of course, the reef is not just stunned by the blast, it is destroyed.  Some fishermen pour cyanide in the water and collect the stunned fish that float to the surface.  The fish recover but the reef cannot.  Reefs are bulldozed off the coast of Africa to crush for roads.  And probably the biggest killers of all, pollution and global warming are changing the acidic level of the ocean and killing the reefs.  It's hard to believe, isn't it, that we puny humans can destroy something as big and powerful as an ocean?

I can do my infinitesimal part to save the world by practising the three "rs" and trying to buy local when possible, to support small farms instead of factory farms and to be one less person buying goods that were shipped across the country or continent.  I'm probably not as consistent as I'd like to be because cost is always a factor.  But when it comes to coral, I am now adamant.  As much as I'd like the beautiful red beads, real coral will never be a part of any of my jewelry. 
There are many organizations devoted to saving the reefs and one of the most recognizable jewelers, Tiffanys, has lent their name to a new one called "Too Precious to Wear."  Tiffanys will no longer sell coral jewelry.  A plethora of information and organizations is available if you google "reef destruction" if you would like to learn more about how these beautiful reefs are vital to the health of our oceans and our world.

The Death of Coral Reefs

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Autumn Dance

Man, I like copper!  So warm and rich  and it complements so many other colours.  Pair it with warm beads and it's autumn; pair it with cool colours and it's perfect for summer.

This bracelet was fun to make because I got to hammer, use my torch (I'm a budding pyromaniac!) and just put the whole thing together with no idea how it would turn out.

So here it is - Autumn Dance - dancing between the ancient and the funky new, and the somberness of fall with the joy of knowing the seeds will wait and spring will always come.
Copper, glass and gemstones - $35

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Bubbles & Butterflies

Whoo Hoo!  Finally had time to get some work done! 

I had a whole bunch of watch faces in my stash and lots of ideas in my head, but when they finally made it to my work (kitchen!) table, they had ideas of their own.  The first watch was supposed to have a pearl and crystal band but I'll have to try that one later and see what it ends up as the third time.  Butterflies kept creeping onto this band and they didn't want pearls.  Time To Fly
The band is approximately 7" and the watch is stainless steel.  Clasp is magnetic (it's upside down in the picture) and the band is all Swarovski crystal and Swarovski crystal findings.  $22 CD


Okay, thought me, we'll put the pearls on the next watch.  Apparently my left brain and right brain don't communicate, because the next watch not only made me go upstairs and root out a stash of funky clear beads that look like gasoline puddles, it made me learn how to do a Peyote stitch. 
I really enjoyed making this - the clasp is right at the watch face ("Life Is Good") so that it can be worn upside down or rightside up, whatever your fancy.

The bubbles really look like bubbles, although my pictures don't show it properly.  It's a very happy, good-mood watch and very unique and pretty.
Stainless steel watch, silver plated  "Life Is Good" clasp, 7 - 7 1/2" in length, clear, resin beads.

Time to think about Christmas presents!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Up West

Prince Edward Island sits in the Gulf Of St Lawrence and to somebody "from away" like me, it seems to be divided into three distinct sections.  The north-west of the Island is a medley of Irish and Acadian settlers; the eastern end seems to be more Scottish and the centre, which includes Summerside and Charlottetown, had a more sophisticated nucleus of old merchant, shipbuilding and fox breeding families.  Like any urban area, families from east and west, and like me, from away, have gravitated to commuting distance from employment.
If you live "across" (on the mainland of Canada) and go to western Canada, you go out west.  If you live on Prince Edward Island and go to the western end of the Island, you go "up" west.  Being directionally challenged and someone who can get lost in a small mall, I assume the "up west" is because you're also going north, but I wouldn't want to be quoted on that.

Anyway, still on my turquoise kick, only this time it's so-called "white" turquoise.  Whatever this gemstone really is, it's a beautiful creamy colour with brown and black, interspersed with real turquoise chips and sterling silver beads.  The feather charms on the agate pendant are silver plated.  Because it has a real western flair, I've named it "Up West." 

Sterling Chain

In my mind, this is one of the prettiest necklaces I've made, and one of the hardest to photograph.
It has a large Swarovski Graphic crystal part way down the side and picks up a diamond chain and small oval link chain.  The three chains end at a smaller vintage crystal just past the centre if it's worn full length.  The beauty of the large round link chain is that you can clip it as a shorter necklace with the three strands in the centre.  If I hadn't been so anxious to get it up on my blog, it might have photographed better outside, but not in the pouring rain that we're getting today and supposed to get tomorrow. 
Special thanks to Designs By Sheila in Saskatchewan for the idea of putting the swarovski crystals with the large chains.

Monday, 21 September 2009


This marquise set of B grade turquoise has been sitting on my bead board for over a month.  It is a special set that required a special setting and it underwent several transformations.  I finally decided that the stones were too beautiful to do anything but accentuate them with some silver beads.  So here it is in its final incarnation - just a short necklace with sterling and gorgeous turquoise and a silver-plated Swarovski belt buckle clasp.
Price: $65 Canadian

I made two pairs of matching earrings, either of which would complement the necklace or look terrific just on their own.  One pair is a matching marquise turquoise dangling from a sterling ball.   The other pair is a caged turquoise nugget.  Earrings are $20 per pair.

Ghost crystal

Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in earth's crust, and clear, quartz crystals come in many sizes and shapes.  The ideal shape is a six-sided prism with six-sided pyramids at each end.  They are reputed to be able to structure, store, amplify, focus, transmit and transform energy in our bodies, thoughts and emotions.
I picked up some nice Brazilian crystals at the Brantford Gem & Mineral show a few years ago with the intention of wire wrapping them, but with my jewelry production being a little slow, still have quite a few left.
Imagine my surprise when I pulled one out to wrap last month and discovered that it had an owl "ghost" living in it.
Ghosts or phantoms are found in quartz when the crystallization has been interrupted at some point in its growth, but the phantom is usually a crystal within a crystal or the inclusion of another mineral.  This one is pretty special and I hated to see it sold!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

This is my new blog!

Since I rarely have anything exciting to say, I've created this blog mainly for my jewelry business.

As you can see from the montage, I still create beaded jewelry but my two new loves are silver clay and argentium.

Argentium is the same percentage of pure silver as sterling but the composition of the "other" 7.5% alloy is mainly germanium, instead of the copper used in sterling.  It doesn't tarnish like sterling silver.  It is more expensive to buy than sterling silver but well worth the extra expense.

Silver clay is an amazing mediums for a jewelry artisan.  Invented by the Japanese, it is microscopic particles of pure silver suspended in an organic binder.  It can be rolled, sculpted or painted on and when it is fired, the binder burns off and results in .999 pure silver.  It truly becomes "wearable art."