Saturday, January 31, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect and the Value of Notetaking

I just managed a few hours in the studio this week and at first it was quite a frustrating time. A while back I made a loop in loop bracelet that I call the double heart since the links look like hearts to me. Well, it's kind of hard on my hands so I made a looser version that is only a single link version. It's still lovely but goes together a little easier. I'd devised a neat catch for the double heart that worked really well with this unusual chain and I thought it would be easy to duplicate it for the single heart bracelet. Wrong. The original was too big and the hook part was too narrow proportionally and it looked awkward. So I started trying to make it smaller and I didn't have the right width rectangular wire so I kept trying to roll out round wire width the right thickness. When I tried the first new catch, the hook was rolled around too tight but I'd already cut it to the right length so when I unrolled it and gave it more height so the chain would sit right, the hook was too short! So then I thought maybe I was soldering it at the wrong angle so I turned the solder spot up on the edge of the jumpring but that didn't help the chain sit well at all. I went back to the original design and did it again, this time with the wider rolled wire, a smaller jumpring and I rolled the hook around larger and finally it worked.

Although it was frustrating, I was reminded of 2 very important lessons. One, be patient. It was highly annoying to keep making these catches and have them be wrong but in the end, the last one was just right so it was worth it. I am now practiced at it and I should be able to make them faster next time. The second lesson is ALWAYS TAKE NOTES (and if possible keep a good prototype in your samples box for physical reference). Now I've got a little piece of paper I can refer to on the proportions (and I put construction notes on the back like how much space to leave when rolling the hook) if I don't come back to making these for awhile. If I do make another one, I'll try to remember to take pics of the process. When they are done, I'll take a pic of what it looks like on the chain :-)

These photos below are of a little pendant I made from scrap. I believe it was in the photo of work to be tumbled but when I put the liver of sulphur on the surface to patina it, I didn't like it after I'd scratchbrushed the surface. So I put more liver of sulphur on and I'm going to tumble it again when I've got a few more pieces ready to go. The tumbler will give the surface a smooth dark shine, which hopefully will do what I want. I will take a pic when it comes out of the tumbler so you can see the difference. I'm also still trying to decide what stone to set in it. I'm leaning towards the moonstone. I think color might throw it off although the jadeite is looking kind of nice, too.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Primal Scream

I was able to squeeze a few hours into the studio this week between car repairs and the first week of classes at SMCC. I got the eye stones set for my new pin series, now titled "Primal Scream", but not much else. But any little bit of progress is good :-)

When positioning pin backs, it's just like hanging a picture. Keep the pin above the mid-line of the piece. Also, angle the pin stem holder (not the catch) so that the pin will lie just a little higher than the catch once it's secured. See the second photo for clarification. Hopefully you can see that the end of the pin stem rests just above the catch. That is so there is tension on the stem to help it stay in the catch even if the rotating catch portion actually rotates up during wear. You should have to apply just a little pressure to seat the pin stem into the catch on a properly aligned pin.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Well, I just found out all my classes are running for the spring, which is nice- don't have to start job hunting in this current economic climate. Now I just have to figure out what days are going to be my studio days for spring....

I've been working on the gallery pages today and when those are done I'll be able to launch my new website! I'm very excited! I will need everyone's help with their browsers to let me know what's looking funny as I can only test on IE7, Firefox3, and my hubby's old version of Safari. Soon! Soon!

We went to Bisbee for a couple of days this week and I can't wait to go back! For photography. But I met some neat people and we went into an old copper mine.

Friday, January 9, 2009


I managed to squeeze a few hours in in the studio today. I was thinking I might be able to finish the enamel piece in time to photograph it for the Enamelist Society show but no such luck. But I did get a number of pieces ready for the tumbler.

For those of you who are not familiar with the quirky properties of sterling, it is prone to a nasty thing called firescale. Firescale occurs when the copper in the sterling alloy is exposed to heat and air (during soldering and/or annealing usually) and it oxidizes. Here is how I understand the reasons behind the two traditional fixes for this issue:
The pickle removes the upper surface layer of the oxidized copper (in fact, pickle only eats copper) but unless one sands into the metal to remove the lower layers that still contain some oxidation, that oxidated copper will show up as a purplish discoloration on the silver. It does not EVER look good. If you sand the metal to remove the firescale, you must not heat it again or you will cause the copper in the alloy to oxidize again and you will have to start your cleaning process all over.

The other way to attack firescale is to anneal and pickle the piece until the pickle has removed all the copper from the surface of the piece, leaving a thin layer of fine silver. Over successive annealings, the exposed copper is oxidized. The pickle eats the copper, but not necessarily all in one go. It may take several heatings and picklings for the pickle to eat all the copper away from the surface of the silver to the point that when next heated, the copper is too far from the surface of the metal to oxidize.

If you use this approach, make sure you beef up your solder seams because solder is eaten by pickle faster than the piece will be eaten and it will evaporate under the torch some as well. If you have wimpy seams when you start your piece, you run the risk of the pickle eating through them during your finish work. Also, you must not sand the piece again because you will remove that layer of fine silver (although you will not then expose firescale, just sterling). This process leaves the piece with a microscopically (sp?) porous surface and it leaves the piece very soft. To work harden the piece and seal the surface, I tumble everything I do (pre-stone setting) with stainless steel shot for at least 18- 24 hrs. I don't like to sand because much of my work has texture and/or large flat expanses with elements on top and I don't want to create any dips from sanding the flat surface nor do I want to ruin my textures. And also, I really don't like to sand.

Both ways have their pros and cons. It's just a matter of preference really. One fabulous advantage to the tumbler is that it finishes chains beautifully. It polishes them safely, work hardens them and makes them more supple than any other method I know.

Here are some of the items I was able to get ready to tumble today. It's so nice to be close to finishing some work!!! Notice how white the metal looks. That's the unpolished fine silver.

BTW, I don't bother raising the fine silver on findings unless I've had to heat them for some reason. Notice I've connected the jumprings. You will be searching through your shot for hours to find those little buggers if you don't string them, hook them together or something.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life in the Ether

I'm much further along with my new website and Etsy site for my jewelry. I'm really looking forward to uploading it- hopefully by the time school is supposed to start back up. I'll post the URLs once I've got something to show! However, my enrollment is looking very low. I may not have a full load this spring....

Monday, January 5, 2009


Well, today opened up and I decided to get into the studio again just in case my car was in the shop longer than anticipated this week. My hands are starting to stay sore, but not too badly at the moment. It's probably a good thing I'm going to be forced to take a little break. My left thumb is the worst and of course that's the digit that does most of the heavy lifting in jewelry- human clamp, grip, etc. But it was a good day! I finally finished the shaping for the bail on a setting for an enamel I did a while back. I wanted the bail to coordinate conceptually with the imagery so I was going for a sort of tree-branch look. The best part was the soldering went off without a hitch! Now I've got to solder tiny little jumprings onto the ledge of the front because I'm planning on doing an old-fashioned bead edging around the setting. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Also, the first face pin in silver is ready to have the fine silver raised and I finished cutting out the second one. I'm going to set carnelians in the first one and I plan on sending it to Bob Coogan as a belated Christmas present as soon as it's done. Shhhhh. I included the copper prototypes in this pic so you could see what the finished pins should look like. I solder 5mm bezel cups over the eye disc and then I solder a plate with my name stamp, metal grade and copyright symbol along with the pin backs all in one go on the back. I'm starting to do many more solder seams at once with minimal pickling in between. It seems to be working just fine and definitely speeds up my production time. At this point, it looks like I'm going to have a nice little load for the tumbler here in a week or two. Some new finished pieces! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

s-hooks and jump rings

I haven't downloaded any pics from my camera yet so I don't have an exciting picture of what I did in the studio Friday. Mainly, I worked on little stuff- s-hooks, jumprings, bails, etc. We all need s-hooks, jumprings and bails, etc. and I like to make them in batches rather than one at a time anyway. I'm finding that when I'm working on some pieces (and I am) that have design challenges I have to work through, being able to take a break from the intense focus they require and still be productive helps keep my in the studio and slows my antcy-ness down. At this point in my life, I can only work in the studio about 4-5 hours before my hands and/or my brain give out so I have to make the most of the time I am there. Making findings is tedious and not so creative (it's not completely un-creative, but, you know...) but it helps slow me down, give me a mental rest, and re-tune my focus. I get so impatient wanting the work to be done that it helps to be reminded how slow jewelrymaking can be- and that that's okay. A little repetition is a good thing now and then....
My stones and bezel cups finally came in so I'm planning on heading for the studio on Monday before the car really really has to go into the shop. With any luck, I'll get a couple of pieces actually finished (they are close!) and ready to tumble.
I should have some pics at that point....

PS- Here is a pic. They are just shaped- not pickled or polished at this point.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ah the luxury of a teaching schedule

Even if I am a lowly adjunct :-) Well, I had a lovely day in the studio and I'm planning on going back tomorrow since I can't guarantee next week will be very free. I'm still waiting to hear if my school is moving my drawing class to MW afternoons like they'd planned, which would give me TTHs completely free to head to the studio. In any case, I've got to just set a couple of days in stone as my studio days. Here is a shot of some of the pieces I'm working on. I've got so many things half way done I just have to pull out a few at a time to focus on finishing, otherwise the task is paralyzing.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step....