Monday, January 25, 2016

01.25.16 Fabrication (part 2)

Honestly, now that I have learned the basics of stone setting, I could spend all my time thinking up new things to make, and working in the studio…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  You will recall that I started thinking about this part of the class months ago – and started looking at cabochons for the two pendants I would make in class.

I had a very clear mental image of how I wanted my Fordite pendant to turn out – and I couldn’t be more pleased with the final result.  It helps that I had really great instruction, and that because of its composition, Fordite turned out to be an excellent material for my first bezel set piece.

Once again -we started with just a couple of pieces of plain silver.  A square of 20 gauge sheet for the backing and bail, and bezel wire. The first steps were to size and shape the bezel and solder it to the silver sheet.  Because I wanted my piece to have a hammered texture, I did that first, before attaching the bezel to the backing.

At the suggestion of my instructor, I added a cut out heart to the back of the bezel - a little something extra.  I really liked this idea because it helps tell the story of each piece of jewelry.

After finishing the opening on the reverse, I cut my bezel backing to the shape I wanted, created a bail and a jump ring, and was ready to solder all my pieces together and polish them.

Setting the stone is the very last thing - so once my setting was clean, shiny and finished on the edges, I put my fordite into the bezel and tightened it to hold the cabochon in.  The result is a beautiful pendant that I am really, really enjoying.

Our final week was also devoted to stone setting - this time with tabs rather than bezels.  A somewhat simpler technique (although I confess I prefer the bezels) - and good for irregular stones, it just what it sounds like - creating tabs that hold a stone in place against a backing.

For this project I chose a triangular labradorite cabochon, and decided to put an Erlenmeyer flask cut out on the back - a nod to my daughter, I'm calling this piece "chem lab".

The first steps included sawing out the reverse opening, and space in the tabs so that they could be folded over the stone.  After getting the backing filed down to the proper size, I realized I hadn't fully thought through how to attach the bail...of course...this is why we have instructors, and Shalena came to my aid.

She helped me bend up the top tab so that I could position and solder on a jump ring, then it was time to think about a bail.  I decided I wanted the bail to follow the open triangle design I had for the tabs, so I formed one using square wire.  The result was a split bail, that looked great on the finished pendant.

I learned SO much in this class - and I am so pleased with how the pieces turned out.  I'm looking forward to spending time in open studio working on my metal skills between now and my next class (probably Fabrication 201 in the spring).

Until next time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

01.18.16 Finally, Fabrication (part 1)

This post (and part 2 - which will follow next week) - are a bit out of order, and probably should have at the beginning of January - but I had other things to write are my posts about my fabrication classes.

I feel like I made a quantum leap the end of 2015 when I took four weeks of introductory fabrication classes at Creative Side.  While I really enjoyed the wax carving and precious metal clay classes, neither of those spoke to me like metalsmithing. I think I have found my jewelry making calling – at least for a while.

There is something truly fulfilling about taking raw materials, working with them, and seeing them take the shape of a finished piece.  I’ve sewn since I was in grade school, and always loved it when, after a few critical seams were sewn, the oddly shaped pieces of fabric started to look like a garment.  The very same thing is true of working with metal.

We started simple – the first week was spent primarily learning to use the tools of the trade.  Hammers, saws, files, torches and mandrels enabled us to take wire and two plain looking pieces of sheet silver and transform them into rings. 

One of the most important lessons I learned in that first week – and I think a large part of the reason I have taken to metalsmithing – is that you WILL make mistakes, and the metal will forgive you.  You can heat it to soften it (called annealing), hammer to harden it (forging), mangle it and reshape it.  For better or worse, this made me just a little bit fearless!

The second week, we started building on what we had learned before.  Working with a base metal (copper or brass – I chose copper) to make a pierced cuff bracelet.  Our instructor, Shalena, had given us a weekend homework assignment – spend some time coming up with a design – so that we could get to work when we arrived at the studio.

I sat down with my jewelry notebook, a pencil, a ruler and some ideas…and quickly realized why we had been encouraged to sit down and do this at home – it wasn’t so easy.

In doing the design you have to think about so many things – not only what you want to cut away, but how big your design will be, how much metal you need to leave in place – both for structural integrity and so your work doesn’t end up just looking like a big hole.

I wanted to do some type of monogram – but realized all three initials was too ambitious – so I settled on a single letter – “H” – for my last name.  I’m not much for wearing bracelets (they get in my way), but I am still pleased with the end result.
It was during the second half of the class – weeks 3 and 4, when we got to stone setting – that I knew I was hooked.  More about that in the next post.

Until next time.

Monday, January 11, 2016

01.11.16 I see a pattern here…

My daughter and her doll
with matching dresses
My mother should have been turning 75 tomorrow.  I say “should have” because when she died at 60 – after a decade long battle with cancer – she wasn’t done living, and we weren’t ready to let go.  I wasn’t sure I’d write about her again this year – since one of my first posts was on her birthday last year – but then I realized that she is still with me (every day) and teaching me things, even in her absence. 

My mom loved to sew – she made gorgeous things – clothing, quilts, table linens…and I have her sewing machines.  I used them a lot when my daughter was young – I made clothes for her – and matching outfits for her dolls.  As my daughter got older, and we got busier – I sewed less – always presuming I would return to it when I had more time…

Instead, I found myself drawn to making jewelry, but over the past few months I have realized how many of the things my mother taught me about sewing have helped me in my fledgling metalsmith work. 
lapis pendant sketch
When you set out to make a garment, there is a specific order for doing things – you choose fabric and a pattern; then you layout the pattern on the fabric and cut; maximizing space and minimizing waste.  Once cut, you mark the pieces so that they align properly and begin assembling them in order.

pendant parts
While working on my first original piece- this lapis pendant – I realized that while the fabrication methods are different, the need for an understanding of the steps is very much the same.  You want to have a clear vision for the design, minimize waste (silver is expensive), and a plan for assembling the parts.

I was sitting at the bench, having sawed out all my pieces and was filing the edges when this realization struck me – and for one split second – it was like Mom was right next to me, just like when she first taught me to sew.

I’ve had moments where I wonder if Mom would be disappointed that I’m not sewing and using her machines – but I don’t think that would be the case.

My mom always pushed me to be my own person, to do things that felt right for me – and not give those things up under pressure from other people.  I think she would be pleased that I am making jewelry – because she was a fan of jewelry, too – and because creating beautiful things makes me happy.  I only wish that she were still here – so that I could create things for her with the same love that she sewed into every stitch for me.
finished pendant
and a pair of Mom's earrings

Until next time.

Monday, January 4, 2016

01.04.16 Changing of the Garnet

Tanzanite pendant
Photo credit: Cecile Raley Designs
Happy New Year – and welcome to the start of Year 2 on the blog!

The end of last year I was so busy writing about opportunities to shop local, that I totally dropped the ball on December birthstones…despite having two children with December birthdays.  I do have a lovely Pinterest board devoted to them – and with apologies to the December babies - I’m going to take a little time to talk about them now, before moving on to January.

According the American Gem Society, December has three birthstones – turquoise, blue zircon and tanzanite.  A broader search on the term “December birthstones” yields an even wider array of blue stones including topaz and lapis lazuli.

Blue zircon pendant
Photo credit: Cecile Raley Designs
Over the years I’ve bought a lot of blue zircon jewelry – for myself (because, as I mentioned I have two kiddos with year-end birthdays) and my daughter, who shares my love of jewelry.  Every year since she was a pre-teen, we have given her a piece of blue topaz or zircon jewelry.  Last summer I asked her if she was tired of it – and would like something different this year.  Her response was NO! – she loves getting a new piece of birthstone jewelry every year, so the tradition continues.

The most recent of these gifts came from Yvonne Raley at Cecile Raley Designs.  I am especially fond of her engraved settings, and this pendant is no exception.  Delicate petals encircle one of the brightest zircons I’ve ever run across, and made a perfect 20th birthday gift!
Photo credit: American Gem Society

Unlike the plethora of options available for December, January has but one stone – the garnet - but it does come in a rainbow of colors.  There are also "color change" garnets.  Stones that exhibit color change are also called "phenomenal gems" and have been highly prized since antiquity.

Because my non-December child has a birthday in June, I've long known about alexandrite, and it's color change properties...but that garnets can also show color change was news to me.
Color change garnet - showing purple
Photo credit: Cecile Raley Designs.

Once again, Yvonne was my information source.  She posted a beautiful color change garnet in her shop, at a fraction of the price for a comparable alexandrite.  She had also just introduced a new pear shaped setting - so it seemed like perfect time for me to add a new piece of her jewelry to my growing collection.

The result is the gorgeous pendant you see below - with the same garnet, but showing more blue than red.
Garnet pendant
Photo credit: Cecile Raley Designs

Gem Select provides an excellent explanation of why certain stones show these effects: color change gems have two, approximately equal-sized transmission windows. A red gemstone appears red because it absorbs all frequencies of light except for red. A gemstone that absorbs all frequencies except for blue and red light will appear blue when the light is rich in blue wavelengths (e.g., fluorescent light) and red when the light is rich in red wavelengths (e.g., incandescent lighting).

While this one is mine, Yvonne does still have some beautiful color change stones in her store, and I have another Pinterest board devoted to garnets, with lots of inspiration for January gifts.

With that, dear readers, I am off - but I'm so glad you are back with me for 2016, and hope that your year is off to a sparking start.

Until next time.