Micro Mosaic Part 1: The Metal

I have finally finished am still working on my micro mosaic necklace. (See what happens when I write drafts? They don’t come true.)

I was really bent on getting it right after my problems with the mosaic ring, so I took my time on it. I’ve got a lot to say about the epoxy and beads and glue, but for today let’s just get to the silver.

mosaicpendantemptyThe setting, with the first of many rejected mosaic designs.


This whole thing started out as something completely different.


Last year I made a square wire setting for this stone, taking care to make nice corner cuts to get 90 degree angles. Eventually I realized how poorly cut some of the facets on the face of this stone were, and that a simple setting would only enhance that problem, so I abandoned the idea.

This left me with a rectangle I could do whatever I wanted with. And after I made that mosaic ring last month and wanted to do a better mosaic project, I turned to that idea again.

mosaic box

On the first day of class this year, I put a back on it. At home, with my new flex shaft, I was able to (relatively) easily grind away the excess and clean up the edges, which was fun.


Now for tricky business: getting 3/4 jump rings on the corners to attach to chain, and then soldering the jump rings between the corner pieces and the chain pieces (not to mention the jump rings on the clasp parts.) I was terrified of this, but Bob helped me through it. The corner pieces were no problem (yay! I can control fire now!) and the rest was fairly simple through the use of super easy paste solder. Now, I’ve been leery of super easy ever since I was taught that it contains cadmium. Well, yes and no. It used to be manufactured that way; these days you can find it without. Anyway, I used very, very little. Bob taught me a neat trick for protecting the chain during this. In the old days, he’d just throw a piece of asbestos (!) over it, but now you can put a piece of honeycomb fire brick on top to keep it relatively cool. Whatever, I didn’t melt a thing, which I consider a personal triumph.

So, I shined everything up, and was left with the hardest part of all. What to put in there.

mosaicdesignstageDoes that top one look like a branch of cherry blossoms to you? Didn’t think so.

These are some design ideas. My earliest design was an abstract pattern of waves in turquoise blue and vermilion, but that really just looked like a colorblindness test, so I scrapped it. Next, I’d have liked to put a cherry blossom branch across it, but I couldn’t get it to work. It just didn’t register as what I wanted it to. More abstract designs and frustration followed. You’ll note I tried to work these patterns out on a piece of tape, taped to a piece of paper (very nice for keeping the beads in place.) Nothing worked until I tried out a landscape with a setting sun over the sea. That wasn’t bad, it registered as a simple landscape, and seemed perfectly do-able. So I did it (carefully!), put in the grout, aaaaand instantly regretted it.


Here’s the problem: Japanese seed beads. They’re too perfect, all the same size and shape. Great for certain types of bead stitching, but not at all visually interesting for a mosaic. If you get them too close together, it’s a problem. If you space them out enough, they look too spaced out. I do have some Czech seed beads that looked good, but they were a bit too large. What I really need to do is get down to the bead shop and buy some teeny-tinies and do this right.

But first: how do I get that mosaic out of there? It’s actually not that hard.

I’ll talk about it next time.




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Even More Casting Madness

I’m too excited to wait until my leaves are shined up and done, because last night this:

leafcastsmoldDried, waxed leaves attached to sprues and stuck onto the bottom of a casting flask.

Became this:

leafcasts1Sterling silver with a bit of residue still needing to be scrubbed away.

So,  I started this last week by painting the back of the gingko leaf (and the front of the oak leaf, oops) with melted casting wax and an old paint brush. Added the sprues by melting the ends a bit and sticking them on. Bob built up a “button” of wax on the bottom of the casting flask and set the leaves in there. By that time it was getting late so he said he’d do the investment part in a couple of days during his usual casting class, so I missed out on that. According to Tim McCreight’s The Complete Metalsmith, which I reviewed later, this part involves mixing up the silica-based investment (for the love of all that’s holy, wear a respirator and do not breath it in) and pouring it into the flask. Put that under the plastic dome of a device that creates a vacuum to pull the investment down and (I think) eliminate air bubbles, and you’re good to go. Last night we cranked up the kiln to 1200 degrees and let the assembly bake for nearly the entire three hours, which is about the bare minimum of time, especially if you have more than one thing in the kiln. It worked out.

I measured out about two and half grams of silver, half scrap and half casting grain. The amount was calculated by multiplying the weight of the wax casts by the specific gravity of sterling silver, with a little bit extra just in case. This was exciting because I don’t think I’ve even heard the term specific gravity since high school chemistry class, and it’s nice to know I’m finally getting some use out of it. (I got a refresher on how to use an old-school, non-digital scale, too!) Bob melted this sterling in the crucible of the casting machine, I grabbed the flask from the kiln with some fire-retardant gloves and a long pair of tongs, set it in the machine, Bob pushed the crucible up against the flask (hole to hole, if I may be so graphic), closed the lid, and bam! The actual injection is very quick, and then the spinning of the machine takes a few minutes to slow down. (Oh, my.)

All right, so that’s done but the flask is still bloody hot, so into a bucket of water it goes. And stays for a bit–do not remove it, because hot investment will spray out. Once that’s pretty much done, it can be removed. The silver piece will be covered in silica-based goo which needs to be scrubbed off with a brush under running water (in no case should one do this out of water; see note above about all that’s holy, do not breathe, etc. etc.)

So I’m enjoying my piece just the way it is, but all good fake sculpture must come to an end and I will be cleaning this up, separating the two leaves from the button, and making pendants.

Meanwhile, even though I haven’t been discussing them much, I have a few other things going on, and one of them is going very badly indeed. Perhaps I’ll soon be able to talk about removing epoxy. Because yeah, it’s like that.

Oh, and next class period: I’m going to try my hand at chasing. Or repoussé. Or both? The thing with the pitch bowl. You’ll see.

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Brushes and Booze

The local art place here has a regular Friday-night event involving drinks, snacks, and–oh yeah–painting. Each night has a theme, and last weekend the theme was Van Gogh. My knitting friends and I headed down there not only for some creative fun, but for our long-overdue holiday exchange (don’t laugh; we were distracted by a charity project in December and had a hard time getting our schedules together in January.)

I brought a snapshot I’d taken maybe 10 years ago. Even then I wanted to do a painting based on it, so as you can see, I really do get around to the things I say I’m going to do–eventually. These are some butterfly habitat boxes at a nearby park:


Aside from some minor detail picking (and later varnishing), this is pretty much finished. I aimed for a Van Gogh-ish build of layers and thick strokes. Actually, that’s not true. I just aimed to do the best I could while being totally out of practice. As usual, I enjoyed this immensely, and as usual, I wish I spent more time drawing and painting. It was weird being in a room with about sixty people painting together. Most of them were really good, or at least really into it. The last time I painted with others it was in high school and the class was total graduation-requirement, low-interest bullshit. Maybe I would do well to take a real class now.

Or maybe I should get back to jewelry and keep my eye on my goals. In any case, here’s what I’ve got after sealing the painting. I think I might actually hang it up in my living room.


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The Girl with Kaleidoscope Socks

Finished! My first socks with actual sock yarn, not worsted:


The lovely yarn is Blue Ridge Yarns Kaleidoscope in a color they call Navajo Sunset but which I think of as 1968 all the way. I recently came across a dress pattern on Pinterest which I think describes what I mean . . .


. . . although I guess the yarn is a bit darker and lacks the yellow-green of the dress. Knowing me, if I ever find a yarn like that, I will snap it up.

As for the pattern, it’s this: The Perfect Fit Sock Recipe. It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a first-timer (to be fair, neither would the pattern writer.) It’s informally written and not very spelled out, and the writer arranges her stitches in a specific way on four needles that isn’t described well at all, rendering directions such as “knit to last 3 sts on needle 2″ meaningless. Fear not, however, for if you’ve made a basic top-down sock before, you’ll know where to do your decreases and such.

I’m liking this whole sock thing, so I’m moving on to Hermione’s Everyday Socks using some Socks that Rock yarn:



The colorway is Gertrude Skein (har, har.) So far it’s working up nicely, although the color changes, I think, are rendering the texture really hard to see. It’ll probably be more obvious in time; I’ve only done about two repeats here after the cuff.

So, let’s see how long this takes me . . . although jewelry has become my priority, and I’m enjoying the slowed-down pace of knitting a little at a time instead of just end gaining and wanting to use up all the yarns. There’s something to be said for that.

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Oh Dear

First up, I’ve been shaping the pewter cuttle bone cast I did the other week. I thought I was done, but the more I look at it, the less I feel like I can live with that flat spot on the edge around 4 o’clock. I’m going to take my time, though, and figure out just where to file and sand to make it appear a bit better. A bit of clever hammering might not be out of order, either.


If you don’t remember, here’s how it started:


Pewter is a crazy soft metal and it doesn’t take much effort to file. It sure can clog up your files, though, and run the teeth right off your saw blades. Its biggest advantage in cuttle bone casting is that it won’t burn out the mold the way silver will, so it’s good if you’re unsure about your design and want to test it out. With silver, you get one shot and that’s it.

So that’s one thing.

Last night I had another project in mind, something I’ve actually wanted to do since the late 90s when I started collecting silver rings, like anybody in their 20s back then. Sometimes, when I found a ring I really liked but couldn’t get it in my size, I’d get it in a larger size and wrap rubber bands around the shank or something stupid like that. I think I mentioned way back that in beginner class I brought one of them (with a very thin shank) in to resize and I did it successfully (it was maybe the second the thing I’d ever soldered.) Well, I recently remembered that I had three more, with heavier shanks, so why not practice and learn?

threeringsTONIGHT . . . on METALS . . . ONE of these THREE RINGS is going to SUFFER . . . don’t miss a SINGLE SECOND of this DANGEROUS SOLDERING EPISODE . . . 

Sorry, I like television a bit too much. Anyway, I sawed a chunk of shank out of each of these three rings, filed the rough edges as flat as possible, and lined them up snugly with as little daylight peeking through as I could. In class, for the two rings with no stones, Bob advised me to use a #3 torch and a third hand (nice holder and nice heat sink.) This actually went really well; although my easy solder resisted flowing a bit, I was able to get it hot enough without destroying any of the detail on the front of the rings. Clamping the ring with the join side up, and pointing the torch up from under the shank helped with that.

IMG_5237A little clean-up started; I bet I can get those seams to disappear.

As for that cray-cray party ring on the left with the malachite stone (I love malachite) . . . well, that took special consideration, because you can’t just torch a stone. For that, we set up a metal bowl full of sand and water, and placed the ring in it upside-down, effectively burying the stone. This keeps the stone cool, but it can also keep the shank from getting hot enough, and that turned out to be a problem. My solder turned into a little dancing ball on the seam, shimmering and glowing but just not giving in to melt. So I asked for some help, and Bob grabbed the oxygen-acetylene torch, which is kind of a Big Mother that gets Very Hot. I’ve never used it myself. Now, I was advised that a job like this can take a huge scary-looking flame, but this was indeed scary. I think everyone in class stopped to stare as he torched and torched. Well, the solder melted. And a split second later, so did part of the band. Because the second the job is done, you have to get out of there.


I think poor Bob was mortified. He apologized to me a million times, and offered to help fix it by soldering in a patch or something, but I don’t know. I’m not as crazy about this ring as I used to be (twenty-three-year-old me didn’t care as much about the sloppy open jump ring detailing as forty-year-old me now does.) I only regret that it wasn’t I who melted it myself, because I prefer to make my own mistakes. I started grinding and polishing down the edges of the melt and I’m getting a notch that isn’t that bad.

malringmeltWabi-sabi, yo.

I haven’t finished this yet (or the other two rings, for that matter) because the new off-brand flex shafts in the classroom kind of suck ass. The foot controls go from zero to sixty, no nuance, no slow speed (oh my goodness, I’ve become a flex shaft snob.) I think I’m going to keep it basically the way it is to show to people who ask me if I can fix their rings, as a sort of warning of what can happen (if not an outright excuse for me not wanting to do it!) And, you know, cool story, bro.

Next time: a micro-mosaic, I hope. I’m still having a devil of a time coming up with a good design, so even if I can’t talk about that, I’ll talk about the making of the silver part.

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More Casting Madness

This week I finished up my first piece incorporating a casting. It’s a small pendant, featuring my teeniest bit of broom straw casting:


I used small bits of medium silver wire solder to attach the casting to the copper; the wire was angled up a bit so that when heated, it would melt down and all around where it needed to go to join the two things. Getting the bail on was a bit tougher, as my copper solder didn’t want to cooperate. I had to file down the round wire bail a bit to make a good surface, which seemed to do the trick in the end. I am sorry, though, that I made more of a mess with the solder than I intended.

broomcasttinyprogressProgress shot, left side shined up.

A patina might disguise that, though. For this piece, I cracked open my brand new bottle of liver of sulfur gel. (The lump stuff I’d been using for nearly two years finally crapped out on me. Seriously, it has a short shelf life and can become inert after as little as six months to a year.) I put a few drops into a bowl of warm water and voila! Patina. I dipped a few other pieces–mostly practice stuff that’s been lying around–while I was there, with the usual results. I still don’t like LOS, despite the convenience of instant results, and prefer to just let things oxidize naturally. But whatever. I polished up some highlights, waxed the finished piece, and now it’s done.

Another thing I did this week: cuttlefish casting! I had a design all ready to go–even made a cardstock template because that’s how I roll. Carving was very easy, as cuttlebone is soft stuff. Still, it’s not really in my realm of experience, and despite my best efforts the final shape of the thing could have been better. But I guess that’s why noobs are given pewter for their first attempt, not silver:


I’ve already cut off the “cone,” which was a v-shaped part where the metal was poured into the mold. A few minutes at the big old sanding wheel took care of any lingering traces of that. Now all I’ve got to do is clean up the edges with some hand files. Bob has some silver-plated jump rings and some soldering stuff that I believe is actually for electronics, but could be used here, so I’m curious to see how to get a bail on next week.

And the last thing I did in class was to solder some very fine jump rings closed without melting the chain I put them on. I’m super proud of this, but I think I’ll wait until I’m totally done with the piece to talk about it in another post. It’s not how I work–one thing at a time–but it seems to make for better blogging, so I’m going to strive to post that way from now on.

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Well, my niece just had her baby, a little girl named Evelyn Anne. I’d been working on-and-off on a sweater for her in a six-months size (approximately) and decided I’d better get it done because it seems a touch small and I’m terrible at baby sizes anyway. Because I still have a lot of Red Heart Unforgettable yarn left, I also threw in a pair of booties in my favorite go-to bootie pattern, Simple Baby Booties by Jessica Felton:


technobootiesIt’s all sort of crazy but she’s a cute baby and I think she could pull off such a vibrant colorway.

In other news, I’ve taken up drawing/sketching/designing again after at least six years of not really doing that at all. Mostly I’m just interested in playing around with color and pattern ideas, and getting into a mindset where I can design my own jewelry instead of picking up a little of this and a little of that from things on Pinterest. I’m not doing anything great (which is beside the point, really) but the cat sure is interested in hanging around.

sketchingwithlaoThis is what you do instead of feeding me?

Other than that, I’ve been making it a point to sit down at my jewelry bench every day. I’m making some rivets and also experimenting with my tube-cutting jig, which makes 45 and 60 degree cuts. Hmm. I found three old silver rings I bought in the 90s; they were always a bit too big and I used to wrap rubber bands around them to keep them on. I cut out a segment of each band and will be soldering them together again–because I can now, and why not get the practice? Otherwise, I’m tempted to just melt them down. They do appear to be solid sterling, but it is true that you never can tell if something you got at the mall or a street fair truly is, so maybe it’s best not to add that metal to any casting I’m about to do.

Cuttlefish casting tonight! I’ve got a pattern all made up, a nice simple one. Let’s hope I’m not total crap at carving, which was never my strong suit.


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