If I Sits, I Knits


Here’s what I do on the Amtrak, besides reading so-so forensic novels by Patricia Cornwell: knitting easy socks. I did indeed finish my fuzzy house socks, which I worked on during my weeklong stay at my mom’s house, where I ate a lot of corned beef sandwiches and watched marathons of recent CSI episodes. (On videotape. Video. Tape. My mom is old school, yo.)


Once again, the pattern is Tin Can Knits’s Rye, with a shorter leg. The yarn is some discontinued stuff called Geologee, and if Ravelry is any indication, I’m the only one in the world who thinks it’s an appropriate yarn for socks. It may be a touch too nice for that, but unlike all the pretty pretty scarves and cowls I make, this yarn will actually see some use because I love me some fuzzy, bulky winter socks. And apparently, I could have used them yesterday, because the midwest got hit with some snow, just after spring was starting to peek out. Crazy times.

I should also note that I did overcome my second sock syndrome and finished up these bad boys.

sockisasockdoneLook on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Next up: I was given some very Valentine’s Day-appropriate self-striping yarn in red, pink, and white, not to my friend’s taste. Not really to mine, either, but I want to try a toe-up sock with an afterthought heel, and this looks like the perfect thing for a first try.




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Look, Ma, no bezel!


As this latest round of classes came to an end, I figured it was about time I actually made something with one of my larger broom straw cast pieces. I particularly liked this one, and the way it had a neat groove that a red agate stone I had could neatly slip into. Only one problem: how to keep it there?

I thought about soldering on a bit of metal, like a ridge or a prong, but that might make getting the stone in there a problem. Bob suggested sawing a sort of prong from the ridge on the left–two cuts, and fold down the little strip in between on top of the stone. You wouldn’t really see anything missing, except from the side a bit. And look at the nature of this piece, with so many random vertical bits–it wouldn’t matter.

Sounds easy, except the metal turned out to be way too thick to fold in that direction. I tried futzing with it until that piece snapped off (sigh), and then cut some more. I tried grinding the new “prong” down a bit (from the outside–forget being able to do anything from within that very small ridge.) I don’t know if that helped much. After a while I just started to despair and handed the project off to Bob, who soon realized the problem with the whole idea in the first place. He’s a clever guy, though, and with a bit of thought was able to dig up some thin tools to push the prong with. Also, if you think about it, the shape of this piece precludes being able to clamp or hold it down steadily–just look at all those (relatively) weak points on the bottom! Even so, Bob wrapped it in some cloth and stuck it into a convenient bracket/hole in the desk for a missing work lamp, and that turned out to be just the thing. He got the “prong” to move a bit, and pushed down the rest of that ridge (you can see it angling over the stone a bit in the picture) so nothing is sharp or sticking out or anything. Then a quick ride in the tumbler proved that the stone would not be coming loose anytime soon, if ever. So: success.

Just one thing, which I hadn’t thought of because I was so busy just trying to make this work: I wish I’d thought to polish up the area behind the stone before I set it. A piece with lots of small ridges like this isn’t going to get 100% polished in the tumbler, and though I was able to do much with a steel brush, there’s no way I’m going to use that around a stone. I got as much as I could with a bit of polishing paper and a toothpick, but, Future Me, if you’re reading this: take care next time and polish that part first.

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A Little Pitchy, Dawg

paperdarumaPaper daruma my husband made for me with a free pattern from Canon

Until now, the only use I’ve made of the pitch bowl in class has been to scrape out a little bit and attempt (once successfully, once not) to paint a bit of it on the back of moonstones to make them stand out more in a bezel setting. What it’s actually for is repoussé and chasing, and I wanted to give it a shot with some 20 gauge copper I’ve been carrying around for a while.

I might have gone with a simpler design for my first project, but I like to be a bit ambitious at first because there’s more to learn, and I’m not terribly hung up on the looks of the finished project because I know it’ll look like student work no matter what–and that’s good. It’s easier to experiment that way. So I picked a Daruma because I love Japanese folk art and because he’s a lucky little guy, and I could always use some luck in class.

The first thing to do was to heat up the pitch bowl to smooth out the surface, and then let it cool enough that you could touch it without getting tarry gunk on your fingers (actually, the very first thing to do was to turn on the exhaust fan, because as pleasantly woodsy as the fumes are, they’re not exactly good for you.) After that, bend your corners (two up and two down, so you can push two firmly down into the gunk, leaving two you can pull up later when you’re done.) I made a cardstock cutout of the basic design and traced it on with Sharpie, then placed the metal in the bowl.

Now for the repoussé, which is fancy talk for hammering out a relief in metal from the back. This is a bit tricky because you have to think in reverse. I had trouble making the mouth, for instance, because I really worked up a good line from the back, which just looked like a big pushed-out area from the front. In fact, the whole thing kind of looked like a tentacle monster (pushed-out face + belly ridges = Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) after the first day I worked on it, and I was a bit worried, even though I was told I was doing things right. I even got in touch with my old buddy Jane and we spent a pleasant afternoon earlier this week catching up on our various projects and working on things together in the studio. I really, really, punched out the belly that day, at which point I was ready for the chasing. And here you see the piece right-side up in the pitch, ready for some detailing from the front.

daruma1A set of these tools will set you back at least nearly $200, and I’ve been told that’s not even a good quality set. Yikes.


Two things I forgot to mention: (1) 18-20 gauge metal is good for this, because a lot of work on a thinner metal might tear it or punch through; and (2) pitch is a tarry, disgusting mess. When you pull your piece out of the bowl, you’re likely to take a lot of goo out with it. You can heat it with a torch until most of it slides right back in the bowl, but there will still be a lot of yucky cleanup, for which denatured alcohol is your friend. Oh, and there’s a third thing: annealing. You will be annealing your work, often, to keep the metal malleable. So, have fun with that if you can.

All right. So: chasing. This went better for me, I think. I had to fill in the back completely with melted pitch from a second bowl, let that dry a bit, and then place it as you see above. You do not want air pockets where you’re working. Working from the middle of the piece outwards, I did my best to pick out some details, and outline Daruma’s belly stripes and the edges of his hood around his face, and his body. You have to “walk” your tools around the outline, hitting them with a (duh) chasing hammer as you go, and bracing your third finger against the piece to steady everything. I really liked the way the body rounded up with all that pitch underneath it; very interesting to feel that happening! Now I think I’ve done all I can with the pitch bowl, and currently have this, cleaned, annealed, and straightened out:



I’m going to clean up some tool marks as best I can with the flex shaft, and use liver of sulfur to make everything pop. I’m not sure, but I’m thinking of engraving some detail, like eyebrow wisps and a firmer mouth, but I don’t know that I will any time soon. I’d like to practice for a while on scrap, because my hand is anything but steady. I also need to decide whether I’ll cut him out at the edges, or keep a bit of the background (make him a square/rectangular plaque?) Daruma was a lot of fun, and this learning process has given me an idea connected to a stone I really like but haven’t figured out what to do with, yet. Good thing I have some 18 gauge silver in my tool box . . .


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Second Sock Syndrome

You know . . . when you’ve finished one sock but can’t get excited about making the second one.


This is Hermione’s Everyday Sock, a pattern I’ve been eyeing for a long time. It’s written for those who use two circular needles (rather than the set of dpns you see here) so I was a bit leery before I actually learned how to do a sock. It was actually quite easy, and I really like the eye-of-partridge heel which seems thick and sturdy. Since I’ve started wearing my handmade socks, though, I don’t know that flap heels in general are the best option for my feet. They don’t feel bad, but I think I could do better. Perhaps I’ll start exploring other types.

Although I did just cast on the second Hermione sock (and boy, is the tubular cast on still annoying, even though I’m getting better and better at understanding it enough to fix problems without having to start all over constantly) I’m a bit distracted by another sock project.


Here’s a super soft and squishy ankle sock I’m making with some bulky yarn, to replace some cheapie, aging store-bought socks I like to wear around the house in winter. The pattern is simply Rye with a much shorter leg. No need to get fancy with this yarn.

Speaking of half-done projects, I’ve got a few things going on the jewelry realm, but nothing finished. Maybe soon, because class is coming to an end in March.

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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, 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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