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.