Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2.25.15 Thinking of New England

Looking toward the Boston Yacht Club
from Fort Sewell, Marblehead, MA
Colder than normal weather here in Texas this week, and all the news about the wicked weather in the northeast has me thinking about time I have spent in New England.

My daughter is having the time of her life experiencing her first "real" winter.  She's never seen anything like what's going on up there right now (of course, neither have her classmates who grew up in that part of the country, they were infants the last time there was a winter like this).  As for me, I've seen all the winter I care too, and I'd much rather visit that part of the country in the summer and fall.

Several years ago, we were in Marblehead, outside Boston, for a fall wedding and it was wonderful.  While temperatures in Texas were still flirting with the century mark, we were enjoying temperate days and cool evenings.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog that my preferred souvenir from any adventure is (wait for it) jewelry.  Wandering around Marblehead, I found a wonderful shop, Mahri, featuring artisan pieces created by owner Marianthe “Mahri” Anagnostis Bode.

I spotted this pair of bezel set opal earrings - and really loved the red in them.  As it happened, I had a red dress to wear to the rehearsal dinner, so I bought the earrings, and they were perfect with it.

I have some other, older, souvenirs from previous trips. Nearly fifteen years ago we took a family vacation to Boothbay Harbor, Maine during their Windjammer Days tall ships festival.  One of the artists at the festival was a silversmith, and he had this wonderful ship brooch - which I thought would be the perfect remembrance of what was one of our best family vacations.  I still smile and think of blueberry pancakes and duckpin bowling each time I wear it.

A couple of years later, shortly after my mother had died, and I was going through her jewelry - I came across these scrimshaw earrings, with tall ships, that she had picked up on a trip to New England when I was a girl.  They were on a pair of badly tarnished kidney wires, so I put new silver shell leverbacks on them. Now, I often wear the two pieces together - bringing back wonderful memories of time both with my parents and with my children.

With so much family up and down the east coast, I have plenty of reasons to visit often - but I think I will wait for warmer weather, and simply wear my trinkets for now.
Until next time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

2.23.15 Heartfelt

My daughter was home for a few days last week.  It was great to have here here, but once again she's gone back to college.  It's okay - but the house is really quiet - just me and the dog (thank goodness for his snoring, right? It does break the silence).

Being a mom is the hardest, best job I could ever hope to have. It was made even more difficult when my own mother died, because my children were still young - and I knew I hadn't asked all my questions, or gotten all the advice I was going to need.   Fortunately, I won the mother-in-law jackpot.  She and I both knew she could never replace my mom, and she never tried.  But she has been there for me in so many ways and filled a huge void in my life.  She is, in every sense of the word, a gem.

One Mother's Day, a year or two after my mom died, my mother-in-law bought me this birthstone heart - and it is one of my most treasured possessions.  I went through a period where it was the only necklace I wore, and even now, I wear it often.  A mix of silver and gold, with an alexandrite - for my oldest, with a June birthday, and two blue zircons - for my December born middle son and daughter.  I love everything about this pendant - the mix of silver and gold, the delicately scalloped edges, and that it represents my mother-in-law's love for me, and mine for my kiddos.

I have several pairs of mixed metal earrings that I like to wear with this pendant, but my current faves are this silver pair from Yvonne Raley, at Cecile Raley Designs.

Her jewelry caught my eye a while ago, and I had purchased a couple of things from her already before she had an earring sale last summer.

Photo credit: Cecile Raley Designs
I saw these kite shaped blue zircon dangles and knew I had to have them.  The delicate design and millgrain edging are a beautiful complement to the detailing on the heart pendant.

As I've said before, I don't look for pieces that necessarily match - but I am always pleased when I find a new item that works well with something that I already have, and enjoy wearing.

This heart really does "go with everything" so any day I'm feeling the need for a little extra love, I put it on before heading out to face the world.

Until next time.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good news. Bad News. Sale News.

The bad news - my friend Laura, Metalsgirl, had to buy a new water heater.

The good news - you can help her out by going to her cool etsy shop and buying a piece of her jewelry - on sale!
Happy shopping!

Monday, February 16, 2015

2.16.15 Bling it on!

I love my fine jewelry pieces and enjoy wearing them.  The great thing about diamond or pearl stud earrings, or a simple classic pendant is that they really do go with everything. But, fine jewelry is an investment - and for me - not something I buy on impulse.  Fortunately, there is a lot of great costume jewelry out there, ranging from simple to statement, at price points that make it easy to give in when the mood strikes.

As I've written before, I work primarily from home, and wear my mom uniform most days.  However, I do have occasions to get more dressed up - and that's always fun.  This past weekend was one of those times.  It was a great weekend.  My daughter is home from college on a break, and we went out to dinner and to the ballet on Saturday night.  I was in the mood for some big bling - so I chose these costume pieces that are bigger and flashier than any fine jewelry I could afford.

Photo credit: Girls Day Out
This pendant - the Great Gatsby Mia - from Amy Schilling is one of my favorites.  It is SO SPARKLY, just putting it on makes me feel happy and festive.  Amy is another of the great jewelry designers I discovered through my friend Hillary, and her Chick's Picks shows.  I'm happy to report that you don't have to live in Virginia to shop with Amy at one of the many shows where she sells her wares; you can just click through to her Etsy Shop, Girls Day Out, and see all her wonderful pieces.

Even though it has a lot of flash, this piece looks equally great with dressy clothes for Saturday night, or with a black top, jeans and cute flat shoes.

Late last summer I was with my daughter at Nordstrom's anniversary sale. I wasn't really shopping for me - we were outfitting the girl to send her off to college in the cold weather.  Good thing we did - she's living just outside of Boston with 6+ feet of snow!

In any case, we wandered past the jewelry counter anyway (because I always do) and  I happened to be wearing the necklace - with a tee and jeans.The saleswoman noticed it and asked where I got it - I told her - and if I had earrings to go with it?  I said I didn't have "matching" earrings, but had plenty of things that worked well. She was not dissuaded, and said "you have to look at these!"

Photo credit: Nordstrom
Score one for mom!  These Nadri crystal drops were marked down to $19.99.  How could I pass them up, right?  We can all use a little more sparkle in our lives, and earrings just don't take up that much space. Honestly, I probably spend more than that on coffee some weeks.

So, I say, bling it on!

Until next time.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2.12.15 By the light of the silvery moon

Wax for casting - finished on Saturday
After 8 hours of sawing, carving, filing, heating, filing and carving some more on Saturday, I had this little wax moon pendant.  The last thing we did to the wax before calling it a day was to prepare it for casting by attaching it to a sprue (a small tube that allows the molten metal to flow into the mold) and putting it in a heat-proof cylinder called a casting flask.  This allows the flask to be connected to a casting crucible so the liquified metal can be poured in.

While the students were gone, Courtney and fellow Creative Side Jewelry Academy instructor and jeweler, Wynn Bradford, were busy getting ready for the next day.  They put the casting flasks in a kiln, vaporizing the wax - hence the term "lost wax" - leaving behind a void in the shape of my pendant in a plaster of Paris type medium - called investment. The flasks were left to cool overnight, and ready for us on Sunday morning. 
Argentium silver casting grain

I started with 16 grams of  argentium silver,  just enough to cover the bottom of a small Dixie cup.  Now I was ready to melt, pour and turn these little silver pebbles into a piece of jewelry.  

With my casting form ready to go, and my silver casting grain measured out, it was time to turn up the torch and cast.  The casting flask is aligned with the crucible where the metal is melted and poured into the mold, and then spun in a centrifuge to ensure even distribution and no bubbles or flaws in the finished piece. 

Heating casting grain to molten.
Photo credit: Creative Side
After allowing the flask to cool, and removing the plaster I had my cast piece, which to my great surprise looked like a lot like jewelry - even in it's unfinished form.
After casting
The next steps were straightforward - but time consuming - saw off the excess metal, file down the rough spots and polish the silver to a nice, high shine.  All the tools I needed were at my bench or elsewhere in the studio, so I got to work.

For the next several hours I worked to refine the surface of the pendant.  First with a coarse metal file, then with finer files.  After the files came sandpaper, moving from a coarse grit - around 300 - to one so fine you almost couldn't feel anything on the surface. It was amazing to watch the silver start to shine and begin to look like a real piece of fine jewelry.
Preliminary polish

With the hand finishing work done, it was time to move to the machines.  Small and large - hand held and bench mounted - there were tools with spinning wheels that removed burrs, scratches and marks, and others that added texture and polish. The last step was to solder on a jump ring so that the pendant can be worn.

The final result - 6 oz of shiny silver knowledge and beauty, and a fun, fun weekend.

Until next time.
Ta-Da! Look what I made!

Monday, February 9, 2015

2.9.15 Waxing and waining

Photo credit: Courtney Gray Arts
If you ever wondered why that piece of custom jewelry you covet is so expensive, I can now tell you with certainty - it takes talent, time, materials and equipment and a lot of skill.  I recently scratched the surface on some of those skills in a two day lost wax casting class at Creative Side Jewelry Academy in Austin. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and it was fabulous.

I first met Creative Side's owner, Courtney Gray, at a small holiday art fair a few years ago. We had a lovely visit then, and taking one of her classes went immediately on  my "to do" list.

In addition to creating custom jewelry, including especially beautiful engagement rings and wedding sets, Courtney wanted to teach and mentor other jewelers, so she started CSJA.  Since our initial meeting, her school has had great success, and recently expanded - there are two bench studios, each with a dozen seats, and jewelry artists from all over the country come to teach and learn.

Photo credit:
Metropolitan Museum
It took me a couple of years to find the time to get there, but now that I'm an empty nester, it was much easier to commit to a two day, ALL DAY class.  What I didn't realize, was that I was also signing up for a significant two day physical workout.  One does not simply sit down with an idea and voilà, a piece of jewelry appears - no - there is a lot of WORK involved in making art.  Courtney describes each piece of lost wax jewelry as a "small sculpture" - and after two days, my arms certainly felt like I'd created something big.

Lost wax is a technique that has been used to make objects - small and large - for centuries.  One of the most famous lost wax casts is Degas' Little Dancer.  Made in very much the same manner as the jewelry we fabricated in class - it was first carved in wax, cast in bronze, finished, and a mold was made from the finished original.

My workspace
The class ran from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two consecutive days.  We started the first day, as does anyone embarking on new knowledge, learning about our tools and materials.  When we arrived, Courtney went over all the tools we would be using - the first day for wax, and the second day for metal, and made clear that they needed to be kept separate.

With an understanding of the tools, we got to work on our designs. 
My final sketch

Initial transfer to wax
After finalizing a sketch, we used a charcoal pencil and traced on to both sides of a piece of tracing paper. 

Then it was time to prepare the wax by covering it with a generous layer of china white grease pencil, and transferring the design to the wax block so that we could begin carving......

The first phase of carving
The finished wax
and carving...

It took a full day to move from concept to a wax rendering to be placed in the casting flask. 

Even with the carved wax, it was honestly hard to visualize the pendant in silver.   I felt like I'd learned a lot, but had my doubts about how it would turn out, especially because I don't consider myself to be a particularly artistic person.

But I had already decided that if I am serious about making a foray into the jewelry world, I need to understand how the fabrication process works - and the knowledge I would be taking away from the class could well be more valuable than the tangible finished product.

Until next time...when I'll share just how things turned out.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

2.5.15 Cold hands. Warm heart.

Sigh, the last few days have been cold and dreary, I am reminded that it is still winter.  It doesn't make me happy - not at all - but new jewelry does.

Photo credit: Coach
I first spotted this pendant a couple of months ago when Coach  posted it on the web in their new December items.  When my daughter was home over winter break she and I went on a shopping trip, and I took a closer look in the Coach store.  I liked it, a lot, but I'd also just bought holiday gifts and December birthday presents - so I decided I didn't need it that day.  Then I got a "preferred customer" code in the mail, and figured THAT was a sign from the universe that I should give in and move it from my wishlist to my shopping cart. 

It appealed to me, of course, because it's a heart - but for several other reasons as well.  The weight, the pendant is solid brass with a warm glow; it  feels good when you hold it or wear it, and it reminded me of this pair of earrings that belonged to my mom.

The earrings are from Robert Lee Morris, a jewelry designer who first made his mark in the 1970s.  I suspect my mom bought them in the late 70s or early 80s, and probably at Neiman-Marcus, which carried the line.

Hearts can certainly be overdone - but when they are done well, without frills or unnecessary embellishment, they are as much a classic design as hoops, or Greek boats.  That RLM is still selling a similar pair of earrings nearly 40 years later is evidence of that staying power.
Photo credit: Robert Lee Morris

Until next time, stay warm.

Monday, February 2, 2015

2.2.14 Heart of Gold

Hello February!

How are y'all doing on your new year's resolutions?  I'm feeling pretty good about mine right now  - but I think it helps to have reasonable expectations of we can and cannot do.

As you may recall, writing for this blog on a regular basis was at at the top of my list. I really appreciate those of you who are reading (blogger stats tell me there are some of you out there), because you're keeping me accountable.  Along with writing, I have...
  • worn a lot more of my jewelry, something different almost every day;
  • taken a lost wax casting class and made a silver pendant (more about that in a future post);
  • stayed with my commitment to exercise;
  • started to clean out things I don't use - it's going, maybe not quite as well as the other things.
Photo credit: Madewell
Since it's February, I thought I'd start the month with hearts.  I love hearts and not just in the form of jewelry.  I saw this Madewell shirt and thought it was so cute - I asked my daughter about it and she said "Mom, I went through my hearts and flowers phase a few years ago".  Not me,  I have more than enough pieces of heart jewelry to get me all the way through this month, if I so choose.

I'm going to start with this pendant - the photos really don't do it justice.  This "Heart of Gold" was created by Al and Caroline of Beyond the Rockz Jewelers.

Photo credit: Beyond the Rockz

If you've been following the blog you will have notice that I often talk about the weight and feel of jewelry.  For me, a perfect piece has enough weight that you know it's there, but not so much that it isn't comfortable for all day.  This pendant has just the right amount of heft.  Almost like a heart shaped Möbius strip, the ribbon of gold flows seamlessly and hangs  beautifully on a simple chain.

So - for the next month, follow my hearts, and follow your own - as we make our way through winter towards spring (when I might blog about flower jewelry).
Photo credit: Beyond the Rockz
Until next time.