Category Archives: yak yak yak

I Still Exist!

And I’m still making things!

I won’t linger over the details anymore, but I’ve been busy in the metals lab since I stopped keeping up with this blog. Here are a few things I’ve completed.

This is a labradorite bead riveted into a silver frame. I like the look of these riveted projects but I’ve become tired of trying to find long beads that are drilled through cleanly and without chips around the ends (which can cause the rivet to bend and distort.) I had to really ream this one out–but it was so worth it.



Ah, I finally found something to do with the copper “crazy quilt” disc I made a couple years ago when I was experimenting with copper solder. I really like how this turned out (and I also recently made a bead with nine little texture samples on each side like this, but don’t have a picture.)


Here’s a bit of fun made with some scraps. I got the color with a power stripper.


Malachite is always good for some drama, I think.


Inevitably, when you get a reputation for making jewelry, friends and coworkers come up to you with broken jewelry, hoping you can fix it. This piece is pretty much a copy of a cheap, plated bypass ring that someone I work with wore for years until the band snapped at the point where it adjusts to size. She’d hoped I could fix it–nope. But I thought about it, and made a band that night with a piece of sterling wire and a hammer and a mandrel. From there, I got the OK to recreate the ring (tip: get the shell bits out by heating the back with an alcohol lamp until the epoxy weakens and they fall right out.) She was really pleased with it, and I am too. It was a good learning experience (and I made the band thicker so it won’t break this time!)


After I finished the above piece, I still had bypass rings on my mind, so I hammered out one for myself and tried out different stones until I fell in love with the look of this red agate. Soldering was tricky, but I’m getting better all the time.


I bought this stone a few years ago and made a few failed attempts to design a pendant and set it (remember?):


Well, here she is now! That brass framework was a real . . . challenge. I bought my own solderite board to bring to the studio–perfectly flat, and with grooves carved into it to hold those pieces exactly where I needed them. The end result comes close to what I had in mind all this time. Still waiting for the chain to tarnish a bit, though. I randomly melted some silver solder around for an old, industrial look (note the solder around the joined areas) but it doesn’t quite show up on the links yet.


Here’s a fun scrap piece I made with some wire bits I melted together some time ago but never knew what to do with. At one point last spring I was making a simple ring with this stone (and, for the first time, adding a jump ring inside the bezel to make the stone stand taller) when I held it up next to the scrappy bit and thought, “Wow! Perfect!” And that’s how this happened.


Remember these old dudes I hammered out back in the day? The two on top became earrings, and I hung onto the big piece for a long time, trying to think up a good necklace idea. A little extra piece and a little crochet later:

I rather wish I hadn’t punched holes in the corners, but I did, and that made what I ultimately came up with a bit more difficult than if, say, I had soldered loops on the back. Still, I’m loving the simplicity of this one. I’m glad I waited on it.


I sketched this out last October, hoping to make use of this neat sardonyx cabochon I’d been holding on to. This piece turned out a bit difficult due to its size (and trying to solder on square copper wire bits without silver solder blorps everywhere!) The back has a pin mechanism that was a bit tough–the pieces are so tiny and need to be placed exactly, and you have to be sure not to clog up or fuse the catch during the process . . . but I pulled it off. I even made a pin/pendant converter with a piece of tubing and wire.


My teacher, Bob, was recently given a huge box full of jewelry supplies, casting stuff, sterling silver, you name it, from a donor who had retired from jewelry making and didn’t want the stuff anymore. Among the treasures was a spool of 30 gauge argentium which he had no idea what to do with–but knew that I would, as a knitter/crocheter. I ended up buying it off him (with proceeds going back to the studio) and made this crochet cuff with some beads and a sterling frame I made myself. It’s got a bit of beginner’s wonk to it, and I ought to have practiced more before making the real thing because one side of the strip is looser and sloppier than the other, when I started really getting the hang of it. But this was interesting–and I’m in the middle of using the remainder to make a kind of mesh amulet bag from instructions I found in an old Lapidary Journal from the 90s.

And last but so, so not least. Remember when I started futzing around with wax to carve rings?

I finally got these both finished after months of inactivity, messing up one and doing it over, and just generally worrying about doing something wrong and ruining all that work. Last week, they were cast in silver.

They’re still not done (clearly), but man, is it a relief to have gotten this far! They are heavy as hell–I wish I’d carved away more wax on the interior but the wax was getting delicate and I was nervous about breakage. I shouldn’t have been, though. The thing on the left, if you’re wondering, was a slice of ring wax that I’d carved into with a new set of wax working tools as a kind of technical exercise. I figured if I made the design well enough, I’d cast it. And so I did–with a different design on each side. It’ll be a reversible pendant when I’m done.

And that’s about where I am on the jewelry front. As for knitting, I haven’t bothered all that much. I’ve got two pairs of socks made with crazy rainbow yarn I tried to dilute with solid colors, and a clone of my cat.

Pattern: SlipStripe Spiral


Pattern: Ugly Duckling Socks


Pattern: The Parlor Cat

And that is . . . probably . . . all for now! I’m sure I’ll catch up again in a few months. Until then, keep crafting!


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Filed under amigurumi, beads, bracelet, casting, crochet, knitting, metals, necklace, pendant, pin, ring, riveting, socks, soldering, stones/gems, wax carving, yak yak yak

New Year, Clean Bench


This state of cleanliness lasted all but an hour. Still, it’s been a few weeks since I really sat down to work here, and it helps to take a look at where everything is and what I was doing and what still needs to be done. Class starts again in a couple weeks and I’d like to say I’m preparing for it, but I’m not . . . yet.

I’d also like to say “It’s 2017 and I’m going to start a business and be a real artist!” but that’s not happening either. I like Making Stuff, but I don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve checked out the books, signed up for basic bookkeeping, talked to people who have done it (surprise: they didn’t always find it a positive experience) and have concluded that I’ve screwed around enough. For now, anyway, it’s time to find a full-time job, take care of some things. I’ll keep taking classes, and I’m starting to focus on developing my own designs, but there are no plans. No real ones, anyway. And maybe that’s all right. There are benefits to being a “Sunday painter,” like being able to truly create whatever the hell you want and not having to worry about business, customers, and the market.

In other news: knitting. My husband and I drove down to Memphis for a couple days during the last week of the year and had a great time. Some of the car ride was spent on these:


They were quick and easy and meant to use up the yarn left over from this:


I suppose I’ll keep up with socks and the like for a while, to use up my stash, which is my only knitting goal for the year.

And finally, I think this might be it for the blog. It’s been fun working through and talking over what I’ve been creating for the past few years, but I think it’s time to go. I don’t know what the next stage will be, but I’m sure . . . of nothing.

Goodbye, and keep creating! I know I will.


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Filed under knitting, Uncategorized, yak yak yak

Happy Halloween

Well, just as I was getting all into my wax ring models, I realized I had to get down to business on my Halloween costume before a community trick or treat event  on 10/21 that I volunteered for. The good news: I had it half-done. Sort of. Remember this crazybusiness?


I made that a good three years ago and never got around to the rest of it. So, thanks to my buddy Pinterest, I found a diagram and some basic–really, really basic–instructions for making a Viking coat. The bad news: this was written for someone who knows their way around a sewing machine, and while that kinda-sorta was me years ago, I’d forgotten it all. Actually, that’s not quite right. The sewing machine is the easy part. The measuring, the cutting, the pinning, the marking, the ironing, the seaming . . . so many steps with their own little quirks.

helpI did have help, though.

It all took more time than I anticipated, and though it’s got an amateur-hour quality to it, I got it done with no major problems. The only real alteration I made was to shorten the coat to a tunic (and not cut the front open); if I were to do this over next year with better fabric (yeah, right) I’d make it just a bit longer, because I forgot that actually having a, you know, body tends to make tunics shorter than you think.


Accessories weren’t difficult: I got a belt from the thrift store, a ring featuring a skull with a giant axe through it from Six Flags Great America a billion years ago, my husband’s gray sweat pants, furry slipper-boots from the Kmart that’s going out of business in our town, and as for a weapon . . .

lilmjolnirOh, Li’l Mjolnir!

My riveting hammer just didn’t seem mighty enough. The fly-by-night Halloween store in my neighborhood had a Marvel licensed Thor hammer, but it was 20 bucks so I said screw that and bought a giant plastic broadsword for 10 bucks instead.


My favorite comment of the evening was probably from the kid who was all, “I know what–who–I know what that is! It’s like from the dragon–How to Tame Your Dragon movie.” And my least favorite was probably from the boy who grabbed my hem and was all, “Is this a dress?” Hands off, kid.

As for sewing, I can’t tell if I never want to do it again or if I want to look through some old patterns I have and get busy on something else! Truth is, this isn’t the time to get involved, and by the time it is, I’ll have lost interest, so farewell again, my sewing hobby.

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Feeling Better, or: Something Old, Something New


A couple weeks ago I made a trip to the local bead store to do a little impulse shopping (actually, there was one thing I needed . . . and I’ll get to that in the coming days . . . ) and these are some beads I took home and strung up. A bit more expensive than I usually do, but I really liked the iridescent daggers and thought I’d just go for it. I like to have beading breaks in between classes, although this time around we had studio time every single week right up until fall session started.

And speaking of studio time, I’ve decided it’s time. Time to learn how to do this.


Hoo boy. I’ve heard that it’s good to always be a novice at something; keeps the brain sharp. Well, here we go. I tend to suck at subtractive processes–I can add bits together to make something, but to see it in a block of wax and carve away the excess? No, I don’t have any innate abilities there. But maybe I can get some experience. Anyway, I’m excited. The project is a very simple ring and surely I can’t . . . no, I won’t jinx it.

And in other news, I hit the annual gem, fossil, and rock show and scored (among a few other things) these beauties, which remind me of nothing so much as vintage 1970s art:

stones1pretty sure that bottom one is a sunset from an old Sesame Street cartoon

I’d like to sit down and draw up some sketches for what I could do with these stones, and as luck has it, it’s now October, which you might know as #Inktober. I’ve been meaning and meaning to get back into drawing again, but my efforts have been sporadic and my hand has gone to crap. Really, I’m terribly out of practice, and my writing/drawing hand is now just my mouse hand and it shows. So, every day this month, I am going to draw. Maybe not always with ink. Maybe I’ll just doodle or do exercises some days, I don’t know. I’m not going to bother posting them anywhere. I just need to do it and be that person who draws again.

And one last thing I’ve been doing: I set aside the crafty business books for a while in favor of some guides with titles like “Art and Fear” and “Staying Sane in the Arts.” So far they’ve been very helpful for me in deciding what I want to do and how I want to go about it and how to get and sustain the mental energy I need to accomplish this. More on that as I go.

And more posting in general. I might go back to, indeed, posting my works in progress instead of waiting until something’s finished. It seems to keep me going some days when I don’t feel like it.


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Filed under beads, casting, drawing, necklace, stones/gems, yak yak yak

Weight and Balance

Enlightenment is mistake after mistake.

                                                         –Zen saying


Well, this big boy was two years in the making. I got the stone from a flower and garden show–of all things. My oldest, dearest BFFs and I get together in Chicago almost every year for it, drink a considerable amount of wine, peruse the flowers, and buy crap we probably shouldn’t from the vendors in our lubricated state. One of my friends offered to buy me some jewelry from a lady who has a booth of handmade goods every year; as I make my own, I didn’t quite see the need, but she was selling a few loose stones on the cheap. I could see why: this one wasn’t very well cut, off-center, and the back was not quite flat, but I have a soft spot for imperfect things, and wanted to make a project of it. And so I have.

Last year, I took the back of the stone to a diamond honing block submerged in water. Flat back, easy as pie. Then I put it aside with vague ideas of what sort of cuff I’d like to make for it. Also, I needed some taller bezel wire than I had on hand, because the edge was, well, high in spots, uneven, goofy. A challenge.

This year, I decided to go for it. At some point in the winter class, I made a bezel, did my best to trim it to the correct height in every area, and got the bezel onto the backing sheet. This required a bigger torch then I generally use, just to get the solder chips to flow instead of lumping up like little jerks.


Then there was some cleaning up and setting aside, and some consultation with Bob to figure out what kind of wire I should order, and how I might bend it to get the shape I wanted.

I think what I ended up with was 6 gauge half-round. The trick to getting a nice, even double band is to cut two pieces, solder only the ends together, shape the resulting piece on a mandrel, and then carefully pull the two wires apart: separated on top, joined underneath. I practiced first with some copper, as I wasn’t sure exactly what length I needed, and didn’t want to waste the expensive half-round sterling. I ended up thinking I had planned for a full inch too much, but now I’m not so sure . . . but more on that later.

Next I had to file down some spots on top to get the bezel box to lie flat and have good contact area for soldering. In retrospect, I ought to have remembered this little problem:


Two years ago I gave myself fits with this ring I almost made, because a band with a big flat thing soldered on top of it doesn’t look very good from the side. How I did I forget that?

Well, it’s what I chose to do, and I got it soldered on with a minimum of fuss, so it is what it is.


Then I finally made use of the little brillo-y wheel that puts a nice brushed finish on your metal. At least this was a happy find. I love that look much more than a mirror finish.

Now here’s what I really, really failed to consider.


Do you see any weight there? Because there isn’t any. And the front side with that giant fossil stone is heavy.

So even though the band fits will, it slips to one side or the other.

And the stone tips forward when my hand is down.

And it tips back when my hand is up.

Insert bad words here. Lots of them.


It may be a good thing that (1) there are a couple gaps in the bezel that I can’t close because of the roughness of the stone’s cut in some spots (and one chipped area); and (2) the opening in the cuff is a bit wider than it should have been. Maybe, when I feel ready and willing, I can pry the stone out so that I can solder some supportive bars to the cuff ends. Or figure out some other kind of decorative weight to add. I don’t know, I’ll have to ask about it.

Right now, I’m down about the whole thing. And this weekend was the major art fair, the one with the real professionals and the tons and tons of fabulous handmade jewelry. I should be inspired by it, but yesterday I checked it out and came home feeling terrible about myself.

But at least this book on Art and Fear came in the mail this week. Maybe it will help me with my mental hurdles. I want to be a pro someday, but I’m too easily frightened by all the business shit that goes with it. Meanwhile, I can’t just keep puttering like this while working part-time in what is essentially a college kid’s job, can I? Or can I?

That’s enough of that. Coming soon: four rings and a seahorse. Not starring Hugh Grant.


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Tale of the Twister

Finally, my big project of the summer! And when I mean big, I mean, well, I spent more money on silver than I had for any project yet (hey, being employed again IS kind of nice!) Psychologically, this made me more nervous than I needed to be, and physically, I wasn’t always up to the challenge, but with (a lot of) Bob’s help, I got it done. And here it is.


This sterling cuff is a somewhat less competent version of one that Bob wears often. A couple months ago, I asked if I could make one, and what kind of stock I needed. His incorporated 2 gauge half-round wire, and 12 gauge round (but his 12 turned out a bit thick and smooshed after hammering, so I went with 14.) As far as the amount I needed to order went, it involved the pythagorean theorem, which tickles me because I always like to use the crap I bothered learning in high school. Suffice it to say that for a 6 inch cuff, 9 inches of the 2 gauge is enough (you need a bit of selvage to get all chewed up in the vise) and the 2 feet of 14 gauge I got just to deliberately have some extra in stock was more than fine.

So. First thing, put the ends of that 14 gauge round in the vise, stick a mandrel in the loop end, pull as hard as you can, and twist. A simple thing, and remarkably fun. When that’s done, snip off the excess, anneal (using lots of flux because who wants fire scale in all those grooves) and wire it to the flat side of your 2 gauge.

twistyprepThis post will have the last of my crappy old cell phone photos, I swear. New phone arrives next week.

Here’s where it gets less easy, especially if it’s been less than a week since you threw your back out (cough.) I had to get Bob to do the twisting for me, and I felt really bad about that because it hasn’t been too long since he’s had his own health problems, much worse than mine.


You can’t see it, but the end is in a pair of pliers. And you can’t feel it, but it’s pretty tough to turn.

Next up, snip to size and fuse the ends. Here’s Bob demonstrating with the big old oxygen acetylene torch.


Grind off any melty, pitted mess, buff it up, and you’re good to move on.



A couple things didn’t go quite as planned here, because it’s easy to forget exactly how you did something the first time. So I ended up being advised to do a few things out of order. And that’s cool, because that’s certainly how I learn, anyway.

First up: I put silver black in the grooves at this stage, when I should have annealed instead. I ended up with a super pretty swizzle stick, and darned if I don’t want to recreate this with thinner wire and make a bangle someday.


Alas, it was meant to be squared, so I hammered it on the anvil, a little bit at a time, from one end to the other. Despite my constant checking to see if it was squaring up properly, it went a bit trapezoidal at times. I was depressed about that, but the truth is, if I wanted it perfecty-perfect, I could have sent it through the rolling mill. That was definitely an option. The takeaway here is, I need to practice my forging.

Here’s another truth: squaring the piece will make it longer. So I had to snip off an inch or so. And I had to fuse the end again, but I somehow didn’t quite realize that yet. I cleaned it up, ground it, buffed it, but my brain didn’t register that those wires needed to be joined. So the next step, shaping the piece into a C, left me with a bit of the 14 gauge sticking out sharply. Don’t be like me.

And speaking of don’t be like me, Here’s where we realized annealing would have helped. A lot. Bob showed me how to get the ends curved under with a rawhide mallet, forming stake, and a lot of effort, but that’s as far as we could go that day because the metal just wouldn’t move any more. Next class session, I fluxed and annealed the crap out of it, trying to watch for the dull pinkish color that shows you you’re there. (I tend to be bad at annealing evenly, especially with larger pieces.)

Turns out I did ok, because I was able to set the bracelet on its side (now with ends curled under and a straight section in between) on a piece of leather on the anvil, and hit the top curve with a mallet to make the middle bow out gracefully. Flipped it, did it on the other side, adjusted it with the bracelet mandrel, etc. etc., but before getting to the finished shape, decided it was time to take care of that annoying unfused end I should have done long ago.

Because Bob was busy with other students, I ended up doing that myself with a size 6 torch head on the acetylene tank. If you don’t know what that means, look at a gel pen. The flame is going to be that fat and scary. Also, you have to really crank up the gas to get it lit, which is the opposite of everything you’ve been taught about putting the gas on low, lighting it, and then adjusting the flame. I tried that but it just kept popping and then smoke came out. So Bob took it, cranked it, lit it with a lot of HISSSSS FOOMPH KKKKKKKKHHHHHHHH and handed it to me, all, here you go! Have to admit, it was the first time I was really scared since beginners’ class, but more from the standpoint of oh god am I going to ruin it at this stage rather than a safety thing. It took some time and a lot of heat to fuse the end, and the surface there got a little jacked up, but nothing I couldn’t polish off with silicone barrels later. (Whew!)

More slight adjustments, another application of silver black, and a lot more polishing at home later, and I think I like it quite well. Wish I hadn’t hit it too much on one end, but whaddaya gonna do. As one of my fellow students said, perfect is overrated, and it’s awesome when something looks like a person actually make it by hand. So I guess it’s awesome.

Bonus picture: my scraps! Will probably melt them down for casting, although that long twisty calls for me to use my imagination . . .


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The Leaf at Last



So I finished this up yesterday, although I gave little evidence here that I’d been working on it off-and-on for six months:



This project is a mash-up of two things. First, it’s a lacy leaf pattern I found in Jewelry Craft for Beginners (1974), a book I have had since childhood. It’s not the greatest guide by today’s standards, the equipment used in those days was questionable (hello, asbestos), and most of the projects were just . . . ah . . . typical of the era, but the book had a certain charm, especially the hand-drawn illustrations. I always liked this leaf template, which was meant for plique-a-jour enameling (think stained glass, with enamel in every little cutout space.) So, ever since I started metalsmithing in earnest, I’d been wanting to just make the leaf in copper. Getting a flex shaft last winter made the idea even more appealing, because I could easily drill a hole in each cell and saw them out at home, at my leisure. Which I did.



I also made a matching leaf shape from a piece of brass I’d used in the rolling mill, which had a bit of texture on it. I started thinking about how’d I’d rivet the two together, and then I got interested in the pendant on the cover of my new favorite jewelry book in the whole wide world, The Complete Photo Guide to Making Metal Jewelry. This features a copper piece and a brass piece riveted together, with tubing spacers keeping them a bit apart. That seemed nifty, because that way the lacy top would make some pretty shadows on the brass below. So I sanded and polished these two up, and stuck the copper part in the oven at 500 degrees for some 10-15 minutes to get a nice magenta/green going on. I thought I should seal both pieces right away with some spray Krylon–well, I ought to have waited.* Riveting tends to make dings, no matter how careful you try to be, and I should have waited until that was done and the dings polished out. But anyway.



The riveting itself made me nervous–imagine screwing that up, after all this work–so I dug up some small discs and some tubing and gave the concept a shot.



Making rivets is a bit of a pain, as you have to get the pieces exactly the right size, and I didn’t have the right drill bits and had to order some, guessing the exact size I needed, but . . . no big deal. Just fuss, and ordering, and waiting, and getting busy on other projects. After months of sitting on this one, I decided to finish it up last night.

Because these holes are so teeny–smaller than my center punch–I used a tiny, tiny bur to just barely divot the center of each black spot where a rivet would go. Then I was able to drill on the marks with no skittering. These holes were just a touch too small, so I reamed them out a bit with some diamond-plated burs (new toy!) until the rivets fit.


Did the same with the brass piece (taped the two together to make sure they were exactly the same) and now, the fun part: assembly. I picked up a great tip from The Complete Photo Guide . . . hold the rivet in your pliers, and hammer one end to spread the metal a bit (do NOT have anything under the rivet; do it over the V in your V board or something.) Now you can put them in the holes of your bottom piece, and they won’t fall out (from the bottom, anyway). I added tape under mine, just to make it easier to get the whole thing over to the anvil.



Did that make sense? Hope so. Because now you put your carefully-measured, annoying little tubing spacers on each of the rivets (they should be of a diameter that fits outside the rivets perfectly) and finagle your top piece over those. If all goes well, and you didn’t drill anything a little off, you can start whacking the rivets with the spreading end of a riveting hammer. Once you’ve got them all going, you can flip the piece and start doing the same to the back . . . back and forth, back and forth . . . until it’s all neat and together, at which point you switch to the square head of the hammer and whack them all down one last time.

leafdoneAnd there you go! I screwed up a bit on one spacer . . . just the tiniest bit smaller than the others! . . . but besides that, not bad for my first time! I’ll have to get a brass chain for this.


*Also, in the end, I’m not sure I like the shiny-shininess of a glossy finish. Perhaps I ought to have left it unsealed and open to tarnish, but that magenta is just so darn pretty.


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