Tag Archives: practice

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

That Thing I Was Agonizing Over


This thing. It’s done. Currently, it’s sitting in a case at the Illinois State Fair. Which went well, by the way.


I got beat out by a couple of (admittedly fantastic) woodworkers, because the division is simply “crafts,” not “jewelry” or “wood” or “textiles” or “ceramics” or anything. As awesome and ego-boosting as my third place win was, I’m left wanting a more meaningful competition. Perhaps it’s time to look into jewelry magazines (if any of them are left), juried shows, I don’t know. Maybe just start preparing to go into business. That’s competition enough.

Anyway. Here are some progress shots. I did everything metal–the setting, the end caps, the chain. And I even braided the cord. The hardest part was figuring out how to get the side and bottom bars on. Overlap them? Cut them? Inlay one into the other? In the end, I cut off the ends of the bottom bar and soldered them on to the sides using the world’s tiniest mortise and tenon joint. Whee!



The sketch.

 purplejadepiecesThe plan.



The soldering.


The swearing!


The sawing.


The caps–two sets, just in case.


The cord.


The whole shebang.

Coming soon: socks. Because yes, I still knit sometimes.


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Filed under necklace, pendant, soldering

One Fancypants Riveting Project

darkbluestonerivetedbrass You like? It’s a design of my own invention . . . 

dkbluesketch. . . which I obviously sketched out one day at work on a piece of scrap paper.

That was back in January, I guess. I’m getting older and less able to process the passing of time. I still feel like December just happened, and it’s June. Anyway. I’ve been working on this one on and off since then. Here’s a recap.


I have a dark blue cabochon from a bag of mixed stones; don’t know what it is, but could be opaque, roughly polished glass for all I know. It’s plain enough that I could do something interesting and elaborate with the setting. Now, I like dark blue with brass. Makes me think of very old art, Egyptian tombs with gold stars painted on blue ceilings, things like that. Or Islamic art with repeating patterns of gold on blue. Geometric, celestial. So I made the sketch above (one of quite a few that didn’t make the cut) as my own take on something modern but a little ancient, like it could be the whole universe in this one captured stone.

Honestly, you probably looked at the picture and thought it was a flower. That’s okay. Things change as you progress. Boy, do they change.


Here are the main pieces, which I cut out in January. The original pattern, which you can faintly see in pencil on the white paper, didn’t quite work as I’d hoped. It was too closed up and I couldn’t bend it over the stone. If I had some kind of hydraulic press or something, I maybe could have made a neat dome with it, but alas I did not. So I set that aside for a while.

And then David Bowie died. See that back plate with the star pattern roller-printed on it?


I did this.


Which became this.

And later, months later, I went back to the original plate and cut out the center, so there is no lightning-shaped hole, but a nice circle just a bit smaller than the stone that now sits upon it.

And I re-shaped all the prongs on front so there is less metal and everything is easier to bend over the stone. I took care to make the curves nice, and cut some notches in the edges of both pieces with a triangular file just to make everything a little fancier. (This is my new thing I like to do.)

Now. The riveting. I screwed this up because I initially cut a set of tube spacers (for between the plates) too long, and when I hammered the rivets in, the stone was not held in well, and in fact jiggled around. Sigh. Put it aside. Come back later. Cut off those rivets. Make new ones, shorter. Tape everything together. Set them. Success? Success. No more jigglies.

And then comes the shiny-shiny polishing part, which was kind of tough to do without ruining the stone. I did get some brassy scuffs on it after succeeding in obtaining a high polish on the brass, but scrubbing it off with dishwashing soap only made the brass dull again. A round of polishing papers later, it’s all much better. I would do well to get better at this part, but for now, I waxed it up and called it done.

In any case, I think I’ve come a long way since my first attempt at such a project three years ago.


One thing I’d like to get for future use: a set of cup burs to shape the rivet heads so they’re little circles, not irregular blobs. Can’t wait to try it!

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Filed under experiment, pendant, riveting, stones/gems

I Made a Thing


I post so infrequently these days, it probably seems like I’m not doing much, but I am. I just do a lot of things at the same time, and since I decided not to post about them until they’ve been finished, well, I can go a couple weeks between posts.

Anyway, this is a pendant I designed a couple weeks ago when class started up again. I wanted to (1) do something unique; (2) use up some scrap; (3) set more than one stone in a piece, (and tiny stones at that!); and (4) do a lot of tricky soldering for the sheer practice of it. Well, I’m not 100% happy with what I ended up with, but I learned a lot, and that was the point.

Here’s a reference shot of what I came up with after spending some time fiddling with tiny silver bits that were rattling around in my scrap tin (and two red agate cabs from my stash.)


And here’s what I had after half a class period of soldering. Things didn’t quite stick down exactly where I wanted them to, but they did stick down. And I didn’t melt anything. So . . . yay? I had a hard time getting that last jump ring on, and just when I thought I made it, I put the whole thing in the pickle and the other jump ring fell off.  (Yes, I used easy on both, and did my best to direct the heat away from the first, but soldering hates me.)


Next class period a week later, I put a little yellow ochre on that easy join to keep it from flowing again, and got the other ring on. Cleaned up the whole mess and it was pretty sweet, if a little solder-blorpy.  I cleaned it up the best I could, but the surface just–it won’t ever be good enough. I even got some tiny polishing pins by Dedeco and while they cleaned up a lot of mess, well . . . do I fuss it to death? Do I accept imperfections? Am I giving up? Let’s try silicone wheels. Ugh, how about those 3M discs? Polishing paper? Jeez, this is bad. Am I a total amateur? Isn’t an irregular surface cooler than a perfecty-perfect one? Don’t you want it to look handmade? You’re not a machine. No, you’re a total amateur. Give up and play video games instead, loser.

This is my brain. All. The. Time.

And I’ve got bigger problems. Like these tiny stones in these tiny bezels.


Yeah, Bob took one look and said good luck. He also suggested glue. He wasn’t wrong. The stones fit, and I managed to move the metal a bit, but there’s so little room to move my setting tools around in. I also suspect I ought to have made the bezels higher, even if that means covering more of the stones. They just wouldn’t stay in, so I resorted to a touch of epoxy under each. I’m not proud of this failure, but I am accepting of it.

So, I’ve identified some things I need to get better at. And I’m hoping to start buying soldering equipment for my home studio soon, so I’ll have more time and space to improve. Just one last problem, perhaps:


This is Livia, a six-months-old-ish kitten who turned up at my patio door a couple weeks ago without a microchip to be found. Yeah, I’m a sucker. She’s at that jump-on-everything age, and I can’t really banish her from my basement work area (without moving three litter boxes upstairs; no thanks.) Perhaps I’ll wait until she’s a bit older before I set up a soldering station. Until then, I should probably go clean up any teeny-tiny things I have lying around.


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Filed under pendant, practice, soldering, stones/gems

A New Thing

In my efforts to destash beads and think of new ideas, I came up with something that would utilize more than one bead, which is kind of a rarity for me.


Here’s how that went.

Planish two 14 g wires like so.


Ream the beads a bit with a diamond-plated drill bit so a bit of tubing can actually fit in there (grumble, grumble.)


Mark drill holes on planished wires as carefully as you can. Start the holes by grinding them just a bit with a tiny bur bit.


Cut tubing for each bead. I made mine just a touch longer than the beads . . . and learned the beads aren’t all exactly the same size (or perfect shape, either.) Perhaps they weren’t the best choice for something I wanted to look uniform.

Curl the non-drilled ends of the planished wires over to make bails. (Note they should be planished in the opposite direction of the other ends.)

Put the tubing in the beads, run a close-fitting wire through the planished wire, tubing with bead, and other planished wire. Cut and rivet. (My tubing fit a 22 gauge wire.) Do the other two. Yes, this will be fiddly and annoying and won’t come out as nicely as you’d hoped (if you’re me.)

My aim was for the beads to spin freely on the tubing, like prayer wheels or something. They do turn, but not smoothly. I think if I had had a second, slightly larger tubing to go over the first, I could have accomplished this. Obviously, if I try again, I’ll need beads with bigger holes. And there were some at the local bead shop . . . hmmm . . .

So, not bad for a first draft. And I am impressed by the teeny tiny rivets, if I do say so myself. If I do such a thing again with slightly organic, imperfect beads, I’ll maybe make it look a bit rough on purpose: hammer texture the wires, stuff like that.

Next up: macrame, revisited.


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Filed under beads, experiment, pendant, practice, wire

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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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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Filed under casting, metals, pendant