Monday, October 14, 2019

10.14.19 I Feel Lucky

During basketball season I wore my UVa pendant and earrings a lot, and posted pictures to a Facebook fan group in a discussion of lucky a result, several folks asked if they could buy earrings or a version of the pendant - so I said yes to both.

I found a source for blue, white and orange glass cabochons, and set about making a couple of custom pendants.

About a month ago, I got a call from my college roommate; she asked if I wanted to meet her in Chicago, and get on an alumni bus to go to South Bend, Indiana to see our alma mater, UVa, take on Notre Dame in football.  Her husband had received a pair of tickets to the game, but couldn't go, so I said SURE! and proceeded to make hotel and airline reservations.

I also decided to make an extra pendant as a birthday gift for her, and took it with me.

Notre Dame had the luck of the Irish on their side for the game, but every other aspect of the weekend was a reflection of my good fortune.

For starters, there was the weather - I didn't have any trouble flying from Austin, but shortly after I landed, it turned dark and stormy, and lots of folks coming in for the weekend were delayed.  Since we both arrived on time, we were able to have dinner with another longtime friend who lives in Chicago, at a fabulous place in Little Italy.

By Saturday morning the storms had cleared, and we got on a charter bus with lots of other alumni and headed to South Bend.  When we arrived, we were greeted by lots of blue and orange at a fabulous tailgate.  We then proceeded to visit old friends and make new ones over beers and burgers before heading to the stadium.

We had great seats (even if we were surrounded by folks cheering for Notre Dame) - and although they didn't win, our Hoos held their own against the Irish and their VERY LOUD fans.

It was a fabulous weekend, filled with fun, good food, and a chance to spend time with people who mean a lot to me. It also gave me to time to pause, and more than anything else, I was reminded of how fortunate I am...

to have had the opportunity to attend college - especially a great state school like the University of Virginia - where I made friendships that I now measure in decades;

to be able to drop everything and dash off to spend a weekend with those fabulous people;

and to have the opportunity to continue learning at Creative Side as a metalsmith.

Sometimes, with all the difficult things going on in the world, it is wonderful to be reminded of how much there is to be celebrated.

Until next time.

Monday, September 30, 2019

09.30.19 Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match...

Ever since I started taking classes and making jewelry - going on five years ago - I've had people ask me if I could repair or rework old pieces for them.  My answer was always no, and after repairing one pair of earrings, the answer remains, no. While I have achieved some level of mastery with silver pendants, and I am happy to make custom pieces for folks, the last thing I want to do is mess up something that is important to someone else.

Photo credit: Snooze Eatery
So, when a dear friend came to me earlier this year and asked for my thoughts on pulling diamonds and emeralds out of old pieces, and doing something new with them - I said I'd be happy to look at them with her - but then I was going to refer her to someone else to do the work.

We met for breakfast at Snooze (the food is all good - but I think my favorite is the Spuds Deluxe), got caught up on lives and kids, and started talking about what she wanted to do with all those stones.

There were some inexpensive diamond earrings she had bought for herself, some emerald earrings, and a ring with a large emerald and some fabulous baguette diamonds.  She was no longer wearing any of it - and she wanted some new pieces that she would wear!

Photo credit: De Pastel
I knew before we had finished our conversation that I was going to put her in touch with De Pastel. You'll recognize De's name from lots of posts - she was my instructor for Fabrication 201, and both kinetic jewelry classes.  She's an amazing metalsmith, and has become a great friend.

Not long after we had breakfast De was in possession of my friend's jewelry, and the process of deconstruction began in earnest.  I also got to be a virtual fly on the wall as the new designs began to take shape.
Photo credit: gift recipient

The first piece was a three stone ring, that I knew was going to be a gift for my friend's daughter's birthday.  I got a message from my friend - along with a photograph - when she delivered the finished ring.  Everyone was thrilled!

The remaining stones were set into new earrings, and two more gorgeous rings that my friend kept for herself.

It can be frustrating to have jewelry that you never wear hanging out on your dresser or languishing in a drawer - and it is so satisfying to see great stones in unworn pieces take on new life.

Photo credit: De Pastel
It's also incredibly satisfying when I can connect people in a way that is beneficial to both of them - and strengthens my bond to the jewelry community.  It has been such a joy to watch the process involving two wonderful friends.

I'm excited to get caught up with my friend later this summer - and see all her updated bling in person!

Photo credit: De Pastel

Until next time.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

09.16.19 A Few Small Repairs

Sunny came home to her favorite room
Sunny sat down in the kitchen
She opened a book and a box of tools
Sunny came home with a mission

-- Shawn Colvin

This time last year I was gearing up for the holidays - I wanted to have enough inventory for the couple of small shows I was doing and to make sure that my Etsy shop was well stocked.  This year, I am taking a somewhat different approach.

Even before we went on vacation in July, I had decided I really needed to take some time and focus on myself - and what was good for me.  So, when we got home, I made time in the studio a priority.

I hadn't really been at the bench on a consistent basis since taking the kinetics class in the spring, where I made this turquoise pendant, which has become a favorite.  I wore it all summer, with my rediscovered turquoise earrings from high school!

I really like the earrings, and started thinking about maybe making some similar ones.  I thought, how hard could it be...get some large, closed jump rings, bezel cups and small stones...I even did a little sketching.

Then I remembered I had a pair of similar moonstone drops (with the earwires cut off) that someone had given me with the suggestion that I could salvage the stones.  I decided that instead, I would see if I could repair them.

I took the earrings with me to open studio with one of Creative Side's wonderful instructors - Rita Marie Ross - and asked for her advice.  She said she thought it would be a great learning experience for me to do the repair - so I got started.

I couldn't repair the earwires until I removed the stones from their settings.  I used a dull X-ACTO knife to open up the bezels, and when the stones fell out, so did a bunch of little pieces of paper (which would probably have caught on fire).  The paper had been packed in behind the stone to lift it up in the bezel, and there was a small piece of black paper on top (to make the stone flash blue - another tip I learned from Rita).

Once the stones were out, I soldered on new earwires, cleaned up, filed and reshaped the bezels.  Even with the bezel cups filed down, the stones were a little short, so I punched out tiny silver discs to elevate the stones - but first, I darkened them with patina.  Same concept as the paper - but now the entire setting was silver.

The next step was to reset the stones...and I was reminded why I don't make things with little, bitty cabochons.

Using a tiny bezel pusher (made using a nail and the belt sander) and a sharp burnisher, I worked until I had pushed the metal down securely over the stones.

In the process I also gave myself callouses on my thumb and forefinger, and poked myself (and drew blood) on my middle and ring fingers on my left hand.  So much for my ambitions (delusions) of making more earrings with tiny bezel set stones.

I am really pleased with the repaired earrings, they look great with my moonstone pendants - including one I made several years ago in Vickie Hallmark's PMC (precious metal clay) class at Creative Side - and Rita was correct, it was a valuable experience.  However, from now on, if I want earrings with tiny bezel set cabochons, I will buy them from a fellow jeweler who enjoys that kind of work!

Until next time.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

09.02.19 Ladysmiths on Labor Day

Photo: National Museum of American History
We Can Do It!

Making is not dainty work.  It's sweaty, and dirty and really hard on a manicure.  It's also women's work...but until relatively recently, the jewelry industry has been dominated by men.

The good news is, that's changing.

I learned a lot about this ongoing change when I took a series of classes at Creative Side Jewelry Academy with Marlene Richie on the business of jewelry  Lucky you - she's teaching her series again later this month.

Photo: Courtney Gray/CSJA

More and more, women are becoming leaders and innovators in the world of metalsmithing.  Living in Austin, I'm incredibly fortunate to be a member at Creative Side, where Courtney Gray has created what Rio Grande calls "one of the most forward-thinking jewelry schools in the US".

Photo: Ladysmiths of ATX
To be honest - before I started taking classes - I never imagined that I would be spending several hours a week using power tools and a torch to fabricate ANYTHING out of metal (and I sure couldn't have imagined working with gold)!  But becoming part of the metalsmithing community has been incredibly empowering for me - and not just the part where I am making things and improving my skills.

Photo: Jodi Rae Designs/WJA Austin
After 30+ years of work in public policy, jewelry is a second act for me. I am continually impressed by the incredibly smart and creative young women I am meeting at the studio and through organizations like WJA and Ladysmiths of ATX.

Yes, jewelry is art; it is creative; it is decorative...but it is also WORK and it has real value.

On this Labor Day, we recognize the importance of work and workers, and that includes people who are creatives and makers.  These are the people who add beauty and richness to our lives - and that matters for all of us.

Until next time.

Monday, August 19, 2019

08.19.19 One Step at a Time

Now that I am mostly done traveling, I am determined to spend more time in the studio - but not just making pieces to fill the Esty shop - I want to work to improve and expand my skill set.  At the top of that list is working with gold.

After having some successes adding granules to pendants (both in my kinetics class with De, and on my own), I had a pretty epic fail.

Combining gold with argentium silver in a single piece is complex process because the two metals have different specific gravities and fusing/melting points. 

In my first attempt to solder a 14K bezel to an argentium back plate, the differences between the metals got the best of me, and the gold actually sank through the silver (good thing Rio Grande recycles scrap metal). I learned some things - which was good - and I will come back to it.  However, for the time being I've decided to focus my work with gold on things that are a little less complicated.

Two things I'd never done before were create a step bezel for a faceted stone or create prongs out of wire (I did create prongs for a faceted stone in a wax class - but that's a completely different process).

I had recently acquired a great faceted turquoise, but because it was not a cabochon, I couldn't make a flat setting, so I built a step bezel.

A step bezel has two pieces of bezel wire - one inside the other - to create a cushion or "step" to created a seat for the pavilion (the pointed underside of a faceted stone).  I made two oval bezels, and then soldered them both to the back plate.

Since the stone didn't have a flat back, it wasn't really suited to a cut out on the pendant; so I went more of a hollow form look that would echo my two tone kinetic earrings.  Instead of gold granules, I chose make prongs using the same 18K gold wire that I used for the earrings.

To solder the prongs on to the bezel, I secured the setting in Kate Wolf soldering clay, used a third arm to hold the prong in place, and worked carefully to avoid melting the small gold wire.

With several deep breaths, and De at my side, I successfully soldered all three prongs on without melting any of them - and then used the same process (clay and a third arm) to solder a jump ring for the bail to the top of the pendant.

The rest of the process was very similar to finishing any other bezel set pendant - except that I used a prong pusher in addition to a regular bezel setting tool.

I'm pleased with the outcome, and the pendant looks great with my hollow form earrings.  However, since pierced backs are kind of my design signature, I'm going to stick to working primarily with flat backed stones.

It's nice to have a couple of options - prongs and granules - for adding small amounts of gold to my pieces, and I imagine that I will get more comfortable with the process as I do more.

Until next time.

Monday, August 5, 2019

08.05.19 What I read on my summer vacation

A couple of posts back, I referenced a book, this time - the post is actually ABOUT the book...

...and if ever a book was written for me, it is Stoned, by Aja Raden.

I am the daughter of a physicist and a mathematician.

I have a Bachelor's degree with a major in government and a minor in religion from the University of Virginia (founded by Thomas Jefferson, the first ambassador to France - relevant, at least to me, because France figures prominently in this book).

I have a Master of Public Affairs degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and for more than 30 years I worked in the field of public policy.

I am now a jeweler.

Stoned touches on all of these topics!

Ms. Raden begins her story talking about her mother's jewelry:

I've always most especially loved jewelry. My mother didn't have a jewelry box. She had a jewelry closet. Some of the pieces were real, some of them were fake. It didn't really matter - it all held me in equal thrall; it was all real treasure.

With that passage, I knew I was going to love this book - because I had the very same feelings about my mom's jewelry (and when I wear pieces that belong to her, I still do) that Ms. Raden describes.  But, her book is so much more than just an appeal to pretty or sentimental things - it is a book about the science of metal and gems, of history, politics, economics and romance. It is funny and insightful, and I am grateful to the person in one of my online metalsmithing communities (I wish I could remember who) for recommending it.

Ms. Raden divides the book into three sections - Want, Need, and Take.

Photo credit: Stephen Lang.
Want is about what things are worth - who determines that, and how - and why the value of things changes over time.

One of the examples she uses in Want is wampum beads - similar to those used to purchase Manhattan Island.

Photo credit: Encyclopedia Britannica

Take is about what happens when we want something and can't have it.

In Take she discusses - at great length - the diamond necklace created by King Louis XV for his mistress (but never paid for) that was ultimately used to frame Marie Antoinette and lead to her imprisonment and death.

Photo credit: Mikimoto Pearl Museum
Have is about when we finally get what we (think) we want.

In Have, she writes about Kokichi Mikimoto and his quest for the perfect pearl. This is the Taisho-ren (Boss's pearls) necklace - the largest strand of perfectly cultured pearls ever created. He never sold them - but he always kept them nearby, usually in his pocket.

Stoned is the story of modern human history.  As Ms. Raden puts it The history of the world is the history of desire. This is an examination of that history.

I won't tell you anymore - I don't want to spoil the stories for you - but I do encourage you to get a copy of the book, put up your feet, and enjoy.

Until next time.

Monday, July 22, 2019

07.22.19 Oh, the places you'll go (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

The first six months of this year were expensive and exhausting (although nothing in comparison to 2003). From the first of March through the end of June, I passed through an airport or spent a night in a hotel in Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Durham, Houston, Oakland and San Francisco.

Generally speaking, I really enjoy travelling - and in the couple of weeks leading up to our recent vacation I made an effort to remind myself of that by posting happy memories of past trips and souvenirs on Instagram.

For some of the posts, I went into the way, way back glass Donald Duck earrings from a trip to Disney World when I was about 15.

I still wear them, especially when attending Crafternoon events with my friend, Emily, who loves all things Disney!

Or these scrimshaw earrings that belonged to my mom and were purchased on a family trip to Boston sometime in the mid-1970s, when my father was attending meetings at MIT for the Department of Energy.

I was a little surprised to see how many pairs of souvenir pairs of earrings I have from the Boston area. In addition to the scrimshaws, I have a pair of beautiful black opals from my cousin's wedding weekend (in 2012!), and multiple pairs from our family vacation on Cape Cod.

I've written about some of my more recent adventures in previous blog posts - like our trip to Rehoboth Beach two years ago (the last time we were able to get all the kiddos in one place for more than a couple of days) - where I picked up two pairs of new earrings, and met my online jeweler friend, Hannah Long, in real life!

Some of the posts were more of a stretch - two weeks turns out to be a long time when you are posting a different piece and place every day.  So, I shared my UVa class ring and jewelry and a few pieces that I took on trips, so they weren't exactly souvenirs.

It was definitely a positive exercise, and reminded me of how much fun it is to see friends, family and new places.  Visit my Instagram, or click here to see my interactive map - and all the places and photos that I posted.

I hope you are enjoying your summer making memories and collecting souvenirs.  Our vacation in Napa was wonderful.  I didn't buy any earrings - but I did pick up a couple of cute tea towels!

Until next time.