Monday, November 12, 2018

11.12.18 It's about more than cookies

Being a Girl Scout has been part of my life for almost 50 years.

Fun fact: more than half of the women elected to the 116th Congress were Girl Scouts.

For me, it started as a Brownie, in elementary school (that's me in the third row, in my uniform). I was a troop leader and a cookie mom for years while my daughter was involved in scouting.

I was really delighted when earlier this year, not one, but two local troops asked me to come spend an afternoon and help them earn their jewelry badges.

I took my roll of hand tools, my saw, and some pendants - both finished and unfinished - and spent part of an afternoon talking to them about the art and skill involved in metalsmithing.

They were good listeners, asked great questions and reminded me how eager young people are to learn - especially when you make the teaching relevant.

We talked about the history of jewelry, and that many metal techniques have been around for thousands of years...some of them have changed very little (lost wax casting, for example) and others have been modernized and automated (the use of CAD and 3D printing in design).

I spent some time on stones, too. I explained the difference between precious and semi precious designations; geography and the impacts of mining; that I don't cut my own stones, but rely on lapidary artists for the beautiful cabochons I use.

Not only was it fun, and a little nostalgic, to hang out with these girls and their moms - but it made me think about how important it is to remind our kids (and ourselves) that there is value in creating things that make us happy.

I hope this post will inspire you to do something you enjoy - and find time to you share it with a young person in your life.

Until next time.

Monday, October 29, 2018

10.29.18 May their memory be a blessing.

Ordinarily, this would be the week that I post the latest installment of my blog.  Today this space is dedicated to all those whose lives have been taken by acts of gun violence and hate.  

The lives taken on Saturday morning were members of the American Jewish community, my community, so I share with you my collection of Judaic jewelry - from my mother, her mother and pieces I have acquired over the half century of my life.

For nearly six millennia - from the Babylonians to today's hate filled white nationalists - there have been those who would destroy us, yet we survive and flourish. 

These are the names of those who were slain while observing Shabbat at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.

Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal , 59
David Rosenthal , 54
Bernice Simon , 84
Sylvan Simon , 87
Daniel Stein , 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

Zekher tzadik livrakha - May the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

10.15.18 Back to Beading

Like so many jewelers, I started with beading...when we went to the Outer Banks for family vacations, my sister-in-law and I would take our girls to the bead shop and let them pick out glass beads or shells to string together for souvenirs.

On one of those trips, I bought some seaglass, jump rings and earwires and made a pair of simple earrings.  Next thing I knew, I had a couple of pairs of pliers and a tackle box full of beads and findings.

It was fun for a while - I made a lot of earrings; I sold a few on Etsy and I gave them as gifts, but over time, my interest in it waned. For a long time, the beads languished in in the tackle box in my office.  Then, my friend Sarah Gish put out a call for bead donations for a project she was doing with youth in recovery I sent her pretty much everything I had and she put them to great use.
Fast forward a couple of of my pendants sold at Russell Korman, and the customer wanted a pair of coordinating earrings.  She asked for simple blue glass with a silver leverback...

...I remembered - and went looking for - these earrings, made with vintage Japanese millefiori beads (one of the few beaded pairs I kept). Turns out, they are a great match to my wildflower pendants. I decided in addition to the custom request, I'd make a few more.

After going back to some of my favorite bead sellers, I cut up a lot of 21 and 24 gauge wire to make head pins and earwires (it feels a lot more "smithy" when you make your own findings) and started putting beaded earrings together again.

Because I don't have a jewelry bench or equipment at home (and I don't want to) - I can't do metalsmithing work unless I go the studio.  The nice thing about beading is I can do it at the kitchen table...once I've taken a torch to all those little pieces of wire to ball up the ends.

So look for updates to the Etsy shop that included beaded earrings to coordinate with some of my millefiori and pressed glass wildflower pendants.

Until next time.

Monday, October 1, 2018

10.01.18 Becomes her treasure - Inlay Jewelry - Part 2

After completing the frames for both pairs of earrings, it was time to start cutting and shaping the stones to fit the finished settings.

Using the lapidary equipment was a totally new experience for me - and while I was glad for the opportunity - by the end of the weekend my fingers were pretty chewed up, so my lapidary vendors don't need to worry that I'm going to start cutting my own stones.

The first step was to take the broken pieces of stone to the saw, and cut them down so that they were close to the size of the settings

This was the first of several very messy steps...not that working with metal is particularly clean or neat, but you keep the lapidary saw lubricated with oil, which flies pretty much everywhere as you cut (those are garbage bags taped to the wall to protect them from the spray).

After the saw, I moved - with my very small pieces of stone - to the grinding wheels - which you also have to keep wet, with water - to shape the pieces more precisely so they would fit into the settings. Moving from left to right, you take away smaller and smaller amounts of stone from the surface with increasingly fine levels of grit.

It took a while to get the stones to fit - and with the first pair - I actually ground the spectrolite a little small...but inlay involves using jewelers epoxy to set the stones, so I was able to make them work.

Because the spectrolite is dark, Steve instructed me to mix some crushed charcoal into the epoxy to fill the space between the stone and the silver. I wasn't sure how I felt about this - but he assured me that I would be pleased with the result.

While waiting for the first pair of earrings to cure (it sets pretty quickly, but for the best results, we waited 24 hours to do the final grinding and polishing), we moved on to the second pair of earrings and repeated the process.

When both pairs of earrings were fully cured, it was time to go back to the wheels, grind away the excess stone, and put them on the polishing wheels.

When doing inlay, the stones are set so that they are taller than the metal frame, and they are finished by grinding down both the metal and stone.  We ground the howlite/spectrolite pair down to a flat surface to bring out the flash in the stones, but opted for a domed surface on the turquoise pair to show off as much of the matrix as possible.

Steve, of course, was right that I would be pleased with the outcome...and honestly, I was more than that, I was thrilled!

Both pairs have entered into frequent wardrobe rotation - and while I'm not sure I'll do any more inlay on my own, I definitely glad for the experience.

Until next time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

09.17.18 One woman's trash - Inlay Jewelry, Part 1

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

-- Leonard Cohen

This is the chorus of Leonard Cohen's song, Anthem. I've thought about these words a lot over the past few months. When something cracks we often think of it as broken, rather than as simply presenting a new opportunity...and I'm trying to think differently, and more positively, in what seem often to be dark and trying times.

I was really upset when I cracked this spectrolite cabochon. I had ordered it for a custom project, made the bezel, and it broke when I was just about to set it.  I didn't really know what to do with it - I talked to my client, got another stone and finished the piece. I put the broken halves away and didn't think about them again for quite a while.

Almost exactly a year later - while making another custom pendant - I cracked a piece of Kingman turquoise. Same story - new stone, finished, and moved on. opportunity to take advantage of the broken pieces presented itself.  Creative Side Jewelry Academy posted their list of master classes for 2018, and it included inlay setting with Steve Kriechbaum.

I've taken classes with Steve before, and he is a great teacher. So, I signed up and decided I'd take my broken cabochons and see what he could help me do with them.

Inlay is an ancient technique - used with wood, metal and stone - that dates back to the third or forth century BC.  Inlay jewelry is made with either crushed or solid stone.

Photo credit: Hoel's Indian Shop
Native Americans, especially those from the Navajo Nation, are famous for their inlay jewelry using turquoise and coral.  The techniques Steve taught us similar to those used by Navajo jewelers.

In my previous work setting cabochons, the size and shape of the stone dictated the metalwork.  When making inlay jewelry, the reverse is true. The first task in inlay is to fabricate the metal setting, then the stones are cut to fit.

For my class projects, I opted to make earrings...for a couple of reasons...first, I love earrings, and second, the pieces of my broken stones were relatively small which made them ideal candidates for long, narrow settings.

The fabrication of the metal was not significantly different than for a bezel setting. I made rectangular channels  which I would then solder (along with small jump rings for earwires) to backplates, and finish.

Then it was time learn how to use the lapidary equipment.

More about that in the second post about my class.

Until next time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

09.03.18 Shop small and thank a union member.

Photo credit:
Happy Labor Day everyone!

If your email inbox is anything like mine, it's been filled up - for at least the last 10 days - with announcements of "HUGE Labor Day Sales" - and while today marks the unofficial end of summer for some folks (certainly not those of us living in Texas), it is really much, much more.

The celebration of the contributions of organized labor - most notably the 40 hour work week, and the weekend - dates back to the late 19th century.  The trade and labor union movements evolved from skilled labor guilds - where groups of highly skilled workers came together to create opportunities for new, apprentice labor and to protect and enhance the quality of life for those workers.

Photo credit: YouTube
When I was growing up, I remember hearing the jingle "look for the union label" for International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and so I did - making every effort to buy clothing that was manufactured in the US. I still do - one of my favorite labels is Fresh Produce Clothing, which has "Made in the USA" on all its tags.  The clothes cost a little more than fast fashion or big box brands, but since I am fortunate enough to be able to afford it - I want to support US based manufacturing.

I do the same thing when sourcing my jewelry making supplies. Virtually all of tools and materials come from American sources, starting with Rio Grande, my go to for just about anything you can think of, and the small, independent lapidary artists from whom I buy my stones.

My "Visitor" pendant - recently on the Rio homepage
I'm certainly not opposed to spending this holiday shopping, either out and about or online (especially if it's as hot where you are as it is here), but when you do - please consider making your purchases at small, woman owned, American made businesses.

Here are a few of my favorites:

- Eliza Page
- Jodi Rae Designs
- Haley LeBeuf
- Metalsgirl
- Leigh Elena
- Lea Smith Designs
- Armenta
- Vicki Hallmark

- Jewelry by Cari
- Peggy Li
- Metalicious
- Dune Jewelry

Until next time - when I'll be back with updates on what I've been up to over the summer.

Monday, July 23, 2018

07.23.18 Inspired by Austin...

Photo credit: Dallas Morning News
...Ellsworth Kelly's Austin, that is.

When my daughter was home earlier this year, we visited the installation of Ellsworth Kelly's chapel at the Blanton Museum on the University of Texas campus.  It was awesome and inspiring.

The chapel is permanent, but the exhibit of his works on paper and canvas closed at the end of April.  I'm so glad we saw it, because it was filled with bright color, including studies for the glass he would use in the building.

The windows in the chapel are incredible. The colors are intense, beautiful and throw light on to the floor of the building as the sun comes through.

I was especially drawn to the one with the "tumbling squares", which is what he calls the ones set at varying angles. I liked that while being off kilter, they are very precisely arranged.

My daughter went back to school, and I went back to the studio...but I kept thinking about those jewel toned I decided I would try making a batch of earrings that reflected the design of the chapel.

I thought "what if I made singles?", tumbling square and long bar earrings that could be purchased individually to mix and match in the way each window is a little bit different from the one next to it.

I filled a kiln shelf and waited to see how the pieces would look after they were fired...and remember those "striker" glasses I wrote about...that's what the pale lavender and yellow ones are (they came out of the kiln pink and bright yellow).

I was thrilled!  The baubles look - just as I had hoped -  like little stained glass windows!

So I made dozens of earwires, sent photos to the manager of the Blanton museum shop and crossed my fingers.  I had an initial positive response, then things slowed down because...summer...but I am hopeful that they will eventually find their way into the jewelry case.

Also, because summer, I'm taking a break for the month of August.  If I have an update on the Blanton shop, I'll let you know when I get back.

Until next time.