A little dilemma

My week ended like this:

Display 2

It started with a little dilemma.

The problem with selling jewelry is how to display it. There’s a fine line between being boring and ho-hum, but the jewelry stands out…and being interesting and eye-catching, but not so much it distracts away from the jewelry.

My displays at the renfair have seen 20+ years of use with me, and they were used velvet commercial displays to begin with. Plus, being outside, we have additional issues with weather and dirt. Looking a little tatty, to be kind. I’ve been working on replacing them the last couple of years.

Ideally, I’d like to make them instead of buying, because of the expense (commercial display costs are outrageous). Also be somewhat easily replaceable (my current ones aren’t made anymore and my display will look like a hodge-podge flea-market with too much of a mix. Replacements have to be able to be complete or blend in very well. I don’t want to have this mismatch issue again). And critically, they need to work well outdoors at the renfair atmosphere and weather.

My wishlist for new displays:
-weather resistant (moisture, dirt)
-inexpensive to make
-heavy (cheap necklace displays sail like kites)
-won’t shop-wear easily
-easy packing/unpacking (daily for us)
-easily replaced/reproduced (my dilemma now)
-not overtly modern-appearing (renfair, remember?)
-not an enormous time-investment to make
-unique if possible, particularly appropriate to me
-distinctive if possible (eye-catching but not distracting)

Not a lot to ask, right? Ok, just weather-resistant and cheap, but not cheap-looking, would be lovely.

I’m expanding a little on some ideas I started last year, and finally have come up with what I think will be a solution for nicer individual earring displays, and pendant/necklace displays that a gust of wind won’t send sailing off the counter to get bent hitting the floor. I’m sick of taping and nailing stuff down.

This last couple of weeks, along with stock and other renfair prep (it starts in a month–ack!), I’ve been making more of my normal displays and also some prototypes for the new display ideas.

Speaking of prototypes…

…this followed me home from the hardware store the other day. The clerk by the giant rolls of wiring in the electrical department looked at me a little strange when I asked for a couple feet each of solid-core copper in heavier gauges (10-16awg). He especially looked at me a little strange when I was test-swirling the ends in pretty little loops.

I’ve had an idea for a free-standing earring display. In the past, I hadn’t worked out the balance problem (base either needs weight or size so it isn’t tippy, plus it needs to be in my skills and tool availability to make). Plus, whatever goes in the base needs to be sturdy, easy to make, and fit with the look I want.

Now that I’m taking clay this past year, bingo! Clay: has weight, any shape, reproduceable, low cost, weather-resistant, reasonably sturdy, doesn’t take too much time investment to make, and unique.

Yippee! And using clay as a medium opens doors on several other solutions to display design challenges. Now, to figure out the top, since that affects the design of the base. And the bases have to be done this weekend so they’ll have time to be fired and finished in time.

I get the test-wire home, get my tools out, and ooooh boy, this isn’t the kind of wire that’s meant to strip easy. Had to do 1-2″ at a time. Took 30 minutes to do enough to bend for the test-run idea. And has a gouge at every cut spot. Will need to source bare wire if this works, since I estimate needing 30-50 feet. For the time involved, I’d rather make jewelry than strip wire.

It works! The 12-gauge turned out to be the right combination of strength, so it won’t get bent easily, and bendability, so that I can shape it like I had in mind. I like the shape a lot. Functional, but pretty. Free-handed, so each one will be a little unique. Basically, the design is a magnified version of the swirly-viney jewelry I do, and made out of wire, too, so it’s particularly appropriate. For extra strength (well, and it’s pretty) I hammered it a bit on my bench block with one of my chasing hammers.

With a successful design and clarity on the amount and gauge of wire, I located an Internet supplier that had what I needed for the tops, plus some copper sheet to experiment on for the other display I’m wanting to make. A few clicks and a couple of days later, we have the picture at the top of the post. Thanks, Internet!

Display 2

At clay class, now to design the prototypes for the freestanding earring bases, and also for bases to hold the backs for pendant and neckpieces (think glorified recipe card holder, but heavier).

For the earring bases, the urgency on making the wire prototype earlier was because it affected the clay design: how big of a hole for the wire size, how deep to be secure, how much clay for the base and the shape it needs so it won’t be tippy or too fragile.

For the look, I wanted something organic, like a little mini-mountain, versus clean and structured. The swirly top echoes my wire jewelry, and a bottom shaped like rough-hewn rock echoes that earthy part of my jewelry. My counters have vines on them and my current display colors are earthy and natural (browns, blacks and greens). With each base uniquely shaped but easy to match, later additions are easier. I’m planning on raku-firing these with a matte copper glaze that will show off the underlying texture and shape. I think the unique results and serendipity of the raku technique will also be very fitting with the overall theme.

In the picture above, the copper swirl is standing in the test-base. The bright yellow rib is in the other base (the final insert will be about the width of the yellow rib, but taller and made of copper too…a coming post, that one.)

Display 2

With successful prototypes, I made a bunch of earring bases. I only made a few of the other style for pendants since I’m still working out the insert prototype, but it’s close. Need something to test. More if it works. If not, back to the drawing board. It’s only mud after all.


Here’s an interesting set of wire jewelry I recently finished.

This was a custom order, part her stones and part mine. We started off with an alternating brown and blue goldstone beaded necklace of hers. She wanted something more substantial and eye-catching in the front, like a pendant that looked like it was part of (beaded into) the necklace strand. Also a ring and earrings to match. Everything gold and silver, mixed.

I pulled out my stash of goldstone cabachons and she picked out the stones for the necklace and ring. I thought it’d be neat to create this as an enhancer that would be removable so that it could be worn separately or added to different beads or chips.

I did a rough sketch of the design, a similar construction to a piece I did about 12-15 years ago that turned out kinda cool. I hadn’t tried to do the enhancer part as opposed to closing it permanently, but no reason it shouldn’t work. Kind of figure it out when I get there.

The thing I like about this kind of work is I’ll start with a general idea, then things sort of develop as I go along.

The first step, always, with wire is guesstimating the length of wire to cut. I had to cut longer than normal because I intended to wrap the large stone, then split at the top and wrap two more.

Goldstone pics

Then, because I split the number of wires (V-shape over stone in pic above), I’m short by half the wires I need for the next bezel. Now to add an inner course of wires (arc above V-shape and inner long wires) to complete the interior bezels of both upper stones. The trick is keeping all the wire bundles together and not allowing things to bunch up. I use loose bindings from scraps to temporarily hold things together (little bumps along those long wires).

It wound up a cool serendipity that instead of three or four wraps a couple of places, I did a longer course of permanent wraps for the interior course. The resulting gentle arc between the split-V wound up visually echoing the lower multiple wraps on the bottom cabachon. Neat.

Goldstone pics

Notice all the extra wire, Just In Case. I can always chop off the extra and use scraps elsewhere, but can’t grow wire longer. Get stingy initially with the length and run out later, now have trashed ALL the wire and time.

Once the tops of the second bezels were together, now how to do the enhancer part so that it’s secure while on, but removable. And will accomodate a heavy chain or such. I wound up wrapping them with multiple wraps to echo the other components, then curled them over in enough of an arc to stay put, large enough circle for a chain, and just open enough to slip on and off the cord the beads are strung on.

Goldstone pics

It came out very striking looking with very clean lines. Bold but feminine. And functions the way I wanted. Also pictured are the earrings.

Goldstone pics

Forgot to get a pic with it actually on the beads, so use your imagination. Kind of a nice change of pace. I don’t do this construction often, and I enjoy creating something that meets that balance of aesthetic and functionality, and working through a technical question.

With this one, I put it on the mental back-burner for a couple of days. I figured something similar, but which particular wires so that it still had strength and then transitioning the orientation of them, I had to work that out. I like how it turned out.


Revisiting a couple of projects…first, an update on the weaving. After threading the loom (previous post), I decided that the sett (how close the threads are to each other) was too loose. Way too loose. Figured out where I erred in my initial calculations, but now to fix the problem.


First, I needed to wind more warp to thread on the loom. This is a warping board, used to measure consistent lengths of threads and keep them in order. A short warp could be done between a couple of chairs, or pegs clamped to something and just circling between them, but more than a few yards would be more difficult. However, with a warping board, you can just stand in place and zigzag on the pegs.

This particular board holds a max of twelve yards. On this project, my warp is six yards long, so I measured a piece of yarn six yards long and played with zigzagging until I found the right combination of pegs (notice some are skipped) and leave it there as a guide. Then I set my cone of yarn on the floor and and wound 270 more passes. Took a couple of hours.

There’s a critical alternating cross on the top row of pegs that is what is used to keep the threads in order once the warp chain is tied to keep threads from tangling and bunching up. When I spread it back out to thread the loom, I use that to know which thread is next.

Before removing all this from the warping board, with regular yarn, I put in several ties to keep everything tidy and manageable. First, a circular one that goes around the cross to preserve it (important!), a couple of tight ones near the ends, and semi-tight ones every few feet to keep the threads together. As I remove it from the board, I start at the bottom and chain the entire group with my hand like a giant crochet chain. This makes it much shorter to manage and is so common, all these threads ready to be warped are often referred to as a warp chain. At this point, I could also throw it in a box and save it for later.


Here, with Rory’s help of course, I first spent a couple of hours moving over and rethreading the first set of threads. Four more hours, got the new threads sleyed (threaded) in the reed.

Now it’s time to go around to the back of the loom and pull threads through so they’re long enough to thread the heddles at the center of the loom. The heddles are thin metal rods (on my loom) with an eye in the middle that are strung on bars on the harness frames. The harnesses move up and down when I step on the treadles and raise pattern threads. The combination of the threaded heddles, which treadles are attached to which harnesses, and the order of the treadling–all these affect which threads are raised, producing the pattern in the woven fabric.


Hmmm, before I can thread heddles, I have a new problem. My loom has eight harnesses and the last project had the majority of the heddles on the first four (they can be moved around). This project, however, the pattern calls heddles more evenly distributed on all the harnesses, so I have to move them.

On my loom, it has a high castle (that raised center part Rory likes to lay on to “help”). The floor of the castle is removable, then I can unscrew the harnesses from the treadles and lift them out through the castle.

Rory is a bit disturbed to find the floor of the castle missing. Where’s he going to lay to oversee things?!

The heddles are strung on flexible heddle bars that I can bend slightly to get the end loose from the frame and slip heddles on and off.


This is a closeup of the harness and heddles. While I’m moving them around, I’ve found a size 1 metal knitting needle (left) makes a great temporary holder.

Now that all that is fixed, it’s time to thread the heddles. This is where I’m at now.

The other project update is the fiber blending for a specific style of yarn I wanted to spin and also fiber batts I wanted to use for my spinning group holiday gift exchange (today) . Last attempt, I liked the blend, personally, but not for either purpose.

For the spinning group gift, I wanted something softer and in a color palette most people would like.


I wound up using some soft blue, purple and a bit of burgundy wool from my stash. I Love purple and brown together, so I also threw in some scrumptious brown llama. I wanted a bit of silky softness and shine but none of my stash silk roving was the right color (wanted something purplish), so I stopped by my friend Michele’s ( after pottery class Saturday. I found some yummy bamboo (shiny pile in middle of picture) in a nice purple, touch of pink, and copper.

A little bit of quality-time with the drumcarder and we have a couple of very lovely batts (below).


My spinner’s group had their holiday meeting today. The gift exchange is always hilarious. It’s the kind where all the gifts go in the middle and we draw numbers, and when it’s your turn, you can pick from the pile or steal someone else’s. I wound up with 6 ounces of soft brown alpaca roving. I think it will go nice with some black and silver alpaca in my stash for a scarf or something.

Of course, while I was picking fibers to blend from my stash, Alaric found it all very entertaining.


For my other project, a specific yarn (drapey, very soft, highly textured, shades of blue), this pile of bamboo also followed me home from Michele’s. I’m in love with these colors. Great for my project, plus some. Part of it I’ll spin highly textured, and what’s left I’ll probably spin very fine (weft for weaving) which should make the colors blend quite a bit and read as a shimmer.


Good news and bad news

So the good news is that I got my drumcarded batt for the yarn gift spun. Bad news is that, while I rather like it, it’s not quite fitting for the project I was thinking (not as fluffy and bouncy), and not quite as soft. Below is the batt I did on the drumcarder the other day (see previous blog post).


I think the percentage of one of the blends I added had a little too much adult mohair and Romney wool. I like the strength, body, and hairiness, but the percentage of higher micron sized fibers is making it slightly prickly. I had some merino wool, silk and kid mohair, but the balance is a bit off. Didn’t use as much of the merino because the dark color of what I had was muting the overall color.

Also, the majority of the fiber was a longer staple length (length of individual fibers). That makes it trickier to not spin as dense. And density adds to the prickle-factor. This yarn came out with a nice halo, as planned, but dense and not as lofty as I’d hoped. It’ll be great for showing stitch definition, but a light-weight fluffy yarn it’s not.

I do like the electric green kid mohair I added. I’ve found adding a small amount of a slightly uncomfortable color (in thus case a high-value complement of the dominant purple color) gives it a pizazz. Squint your eyes and visualize the blend without the green. Much duller, huh?

On spinning the batt, the first thing I usually do is tear it into fluffy strips.


Then pre-draft or attenuate the strips so they’re thinner and longer. Once a strip is attenuated, I wind it into a loose nest and pile those up, ready to spin.


When I have a bobbin of single-ply I can leave it as is, spin another bobbin or two and ply all that, or just self-ply it back on itself. Or to preserve color shifts and have less blending, can ply making sort of a long crochet chain 3-ply. Or can play with tension and make something highly textured. In designing yarn, there are all sorts of choices.

In this case, I wound a center-pull ball and plied from both ends for a two-ply yarn. Once the spinning and plying is done, then I wind it in a big loop on a tool called a niddy-noddy. It’s the wooden stick in the picture that has the cross pieces on both ends. This is a simple tool that is pretty ancient. I’ve seen a book with a picture of one found in an unearthed Viking ship. Quite a few fiber tools today have changed very little from their ancestors. I like that feeling of connection with ages past. We do it for enjoyment rather than necessity today, but the basic action is the same. Kinda neat.


The idea of making a big loop is a couple of reasons. If the yarn is going to be dyed, it needs to be loose so the dye can penetrate, but contained so it won’t tangle in the water. (I tie loose figure-eights at least a couple of spots always, with each end of the yarn. If submersion dyeing, I’d secure it with more like six ties.) Along those same lines, when I wet-finish, I don’t want it to tangle while I’m swooshing it around in the water and hanging it to dry (see a couple posts ago regarding wet-finishing). Also, it can be twisted into a skein (below) for storage. I like skeins for storage, rather than balls (unless loose), so that it doesn’t put a lot of tension on the yarn and stretch it out.


So, time for Plan B. Next week I’m going to get some dyed alpaca and bamboo, and then use a different spinning technique. That should give the texture, sheen, and drape I’m looking for.

As for this yarn, really like it. I think I’m going to go ahead and spin the other batts since I’ve switched projects, so I’ll have a bit more yardage. I’m not hung up on everything being next-to-skin soft out of fine wool or luxury fibers. There’s a use for everything. What makes a scrumptious scarf makes a crummy hard-wearing sturdy bag.

Hm, speaking of bags, this would probably make really good weft for a woven bag. Would need to spin the warp still. This yarn ain’t it. Remember the deliberately making it hairy? Hairy yarn is grabby and insanity-inducing in a warp. There’s ways to work with a hairy warp if you just want to. I don’t. Not at all. A similar fiber content, prepared and spun differently to be worsted-style or smooth versus woolen-style or fuzzy will work. Hm, will have to dig through the stash. Sounds like a project for next quarter…


And also on the subject of bags, made some clay buttons in class. I was wanting some buttons to use on woven bags that had larger holes (and no rule it has to be 2 or 4-holed). I like the darker mottled green of the bigger on and the subtle beige-pale green of the smaller two. I think they’ll look great with natural or earthy colored wool or the neutral-palette cotton I’m thinking of.

This and that

These few days off during the Thanksgiving holidays, I’ve been working on several random projects. The ongoing weaving project will be in an upcoming post.

Next week it’s back to work and clearing the decks of old business before the turn of the year. That means some outstanding jewelry stuff, plus my fall projects and house goals. Start the new year fresh and new set of goals (the standard long term goals, but also very specific goals that I focus on quarterly).

On the jewelry front, did a batch of earrings for a shop. I like to get out little piles of beads within a particular palette and play with them until I’m happy with the combination or the look I’m going for.

Bead piles

I tend to deliberately not do a lot of duplication of identical earrings because it gets boring really fast. I like to just sort of follow my inspiration at the moment. I do have some regular styles I do, but there’s a lot a variation within that style. Below are several earrings I thought turned out especially pretty.

Earring closeup, better

At pottery class, I picked up several items that were done with the final step, the glaze firing, and brought them home. At this stage of things, I’m focusing on learning control throwing pottery on the wheel and experimenting with various glaze combinations. I have a notebook I keep everything in. Pottery has so many steps over many weeks, once more than a few pieces are in process it’s hard to remember what’s where or what you did if you want to reproduce it. So, I write down everything.

These two bowls I threw maybe my second or third week of class. They’re a bit thick, but the walls are nice and even. Will be perfect for soup or icecream. The first small bowl, the picture doesn’t show it great, but it came out kind of a mottled blue-green with bits of brown. Glad I wrote it down since I’ll try this glaze combination again. Glazes can be tricky since how thick/thin or application method can affect them radically, and layering them can be unpredictable since the chemicals will sometimes combine between them in wholely unanticipated ways. This little bowl is a good example of that.

Small bowl

The larger of the bowls, different set of glazes and application method. The black on the outside really traveled (was just around top edge). Notice the carved rings filled with black on the sides? I didn’t do that. It just filled in on its own. Couldn’t have done that if I’d tried. Interesting, huh?

Larger bowl

The small items in my hands are diz, a disk with a hole in the center, and is used as a tool with fiber combs when processing sheep fleece to prepare it for spinning using a drop spindle or my spinning wheel.

Diz set

I’ll do pics of fleece combing some other time. The metal one is explained below. The other two I did in class to see if I could make them out of clay. I put a lot of texture on the outside (showing) and then iron oxide to turn them that leather brown color. The functional surface is actually the inside, concave and smooth glazed to funnel fiber smoothly toward the hole.

Overall, I was experimenting and am pretty happy with the result. The only thing, I was guessing on the hole size. The older metal one has the hole at a size I like. Seeing them all together in the picture, the holes in the clay ones are much bigger. Will see if okay when I try them out. If not, it’s just hardened mud anyway…and back to the drawing board. I’d say they’re a success, but need to test-drive them.

The diz below is one I made a while back in jewelry fabrication class. The back is copper sheet and the design is inspired from a 10th century illuminated manuscript that I had in my sketchbook (in background). I used a jeweler’s handsaw to cut it from thin brass sheet and solder it to the copper. Tricky to get them both hot enough to solder without melting the brass (way less and thinner metal than the copper). I did melt it in one spot, but that’s okay. It was a learning thing.

Diz closeup

I think I have a thing about pretty tools. Tools you use alot should be good quality and enjoyable to both use and look at. Plus, I tend to prefer making pretty but utilitarian things, no matter what the object or medium.

Anyway, I really like that viney motif I did in metal and thought I’d try it in clay. This is a hollow form I threw with extra thick walls so I could carve it. The item is a paperweight or breadwarmer.

Carved clay

I waited until it had dried to leather-hard (not gooey anymore, but still moist and not crumbly). I made a small version of a wire loop tool that I had but needed something more delicate. I took some half-round wire from my stash, bent it, and an old ball-point pen and some super-glue later, the perfect tool! Then, using a point, I lightly free-handed the design, then slowly carved it out using my new improvised tool. Cleaned up the details with my needle tool. If I do much of this, I may try to get a set of wax carving tools from my jeweler’s tool supply.

For a first carving effort, I’m pretty darn pleased with it. Now to let it dry so it can be bisque-fired (first firing to harden it), then to glaze (I’m thinking iron oxide) and fire it again.

Next, I needed to blend some fibers on my drumcarder for an upcoming holiday gift exchange, and also some for me to spin into yarn for a gift I’ll need soon.

This pile of fibers is wool, silk, and mohair from various parts of my stash. The fluffy ropes (“roving”) are technically ready to spin, but they can also be blended together into something new. I want the resulting yarn to be lofty, bouncy, textured, and a little hairy, so that made a difference on the fibers, in addition to the color palette. Also added some metallic sparkle.

Fiber pile

This is the fibers being blended in my drumcarder. This is basically a bigger version of traditional flat hand-held cards, just more volume.

Drumcarder in process

The resulting sheet of layers of fiber is referred to as a “batt”. The most common way to spin it is to tear it into strips, attenuate those, then spin the yarn.

Carded batt

And of course no project is complete without Rory making himself at home. It’s especially enticing if he thinks I probably don’t want him to lay on it.

Rory helping drumcard

‘Round-to-it Day

Every so often, my to do list accumulates with procrastination-prone items, often quick but easy to put off. Well, so last week I had an official ‘Round-to-it Friday where I spent the day knocking out a good chunk of that list.

A lot were things like making calls, getting gum that someone thoughtfully left on the movie theatre seat (thanks!) out of David’s brand new shirt, taking care of some business items, cleaning out the fridge, etc. A few were procrastinated project-related items.

'Round-to-it Day

This is a bunch of handspun yarn drying and waiting to be skeined up. When I finish spinning yarn, I have a basket I toss it in to await the final step, wet finishing. In most circumstances, I squish the yarn around in warm water to thoroughly wet it, squeeze water out, then hang and let dry. That’s how I finish 90% of my yarn.

The idea is that fibers, especially wool, get stretched out and compacted during the spinning process and getting them wet lets them revert back to their natural state. Like human hair, some is straight and some more textured. You could stretch out and flatten curly hair, but get it wet, what’s going to happen? Yup, curly again. Same with wool. If you look at the bottom edge of the skeins, they all came off the niddy-noddy (tool for making large circle if yarn) the same length. See how some have drawn up quite a bit shorter? The tighter the wool crimp (like wave in hair) the more it’ll do that. The majority of the short ones are Merino. The really short blue-green one towards the right is Tunis breed wool, very sproingy (technical term).

Wet-finishing helps the spun yarn look like its true self. Also, since it can change so much, it’s important to do it now instead of make a project that changes dramatically first time it’s washed. Also during wet-finishing, I’m checking to make sure all the dye is fast and I finish rinsing or setting anything that needs it, in case it wasn’t quite rinsed well enough by whoever dyed it. Again, easy to fix now instead of it bleeding dye later on other threads. Also some fiber content needs different handling. Yarn that I’ve deliberately spun very hairy, blends that include angora, or anything that I want to bring out its texture and create that fuzzy halo, I abuse it a bit by whapping it on a hard surface a few times (the wall) to help it bloom.

Some people weight it, I guess to straighten it more, but I’ve found that the water weight is plenty and I want it to draw up however it’s going to. If it were energized singles (kinking back on itself) I might weight that. And weaving yarn wouldn’t matter since could allow for take during the planning process, but since I often crochet or knit with it or don’t have a specific project in mind yet, I don’t want to worry about the yarn changing a lot in a finished project the first time it gets wet.

A while back, I crocheted my Mom a soft yummoluscious throw. I usually take a pic of finished projects and put the pic and the story or details in a journal, sort of like a scrapbook, my style. Anyway, forgot to and eventually borrowed it back and have the picture now.

'Round-to-it Day

About the project, crocheted out of random skeins I collected over time in a color palette I knew she’d like. I deliberately try to collect a dark, medium, and light value, whatever the palette (mostly analogous here), a slightly uncomfortable color (teensy bits of lime green here) to give it pizzazz, some metallic, some shiny/matte/fuzzy/plain. A dark and a light/medium carrier for thin threads and repeated regularly to tie it all together. Usually, can manage all this with approximately 5-8 different yarns. The more the merrier though. I probably have 15-20 in this. It’s a great project for leftover yarn or falling in love with a cool skein and just getting one. My general rule is try to use some stash, buy it on sale or only pay full price on a couple if they’re fabulous (otherwise this can be expensive if buy all from scratch).

'Round-to-it Day

The yarn size is worsted-bulky or combined to equal that size (used size L hook). I chose the open ripple pattern for three reasons. One, the ripple lets the colors optically blend better. Two, with heavy to bulky weight, the open stitch gives it better drape and flexibility. Three, given how many of the yarns are thick, fuzzy, and all acrylic, it would be hot if more solid.

'Round-to-it Day

Another project I’ve got planned for this fall is a piece of stained glass as a housewarming gift for a friend. I made some final design decisions on some of the elements and plan so can get started on this in the next week or two. This is a thumbnail sketch on its page in my journal where I keep notes on all my projects. Never have to wonder what I did with a slip of paper, it’s all in that book.

I already have the glass. It’s going to be peacock blues and greens with copper patina and frame. I wanted build some personal symbology for her into the design. The design is adapted from a Frank Lloyd Wright tree of life motif. It’s a favorite motif of mine I like to use in different mediums, so my stamp, plus she’ll appreciate it. I altered the leaf design to include groupings of three, a larger block to represent her (blue/green mixed glass) and a smaller blue and a green block to represent her two boys.

Slightly Warped

One of my projects this fall is to do some weaving. Part of this will be for a gift later this fall so I definitely needed to get started on this since I have to do my weaving in little bits at a time.
Of course, the cats find this all very entertaining. Below, Rory is right in the middle of all the action.

Slightly Warped

A couple of weeks ago, I planned out the project and did my calculations. It’s a 22″ wide 8-shaft twill pattern gamp out of 8/2 cotton. Translation: am using a neutral rosy beige somewhat fine cotton warp (lengthwise threads) that is being set up to weave a variety of patterns without changing the threading (time-consuming setup part), just change what my feet on the treadles are doing. By changing the treadling pattern and weft color (across threads on shuttle) I should be able to get several very different looking pieces of cloth out of the same set up.

Slightly Warped

This weekend I measured out all my threads (274 ends x 6 yards each) and prepared the warp chain (way of keeping everything neat and bundled to avoid tangles). I’ve started threading through the reed, one thread per dent (slot). The reed is what is moved back and forth to pack down the weft. I work in small groups of threads at a time since I sometimes only have a few minutes here and there, and even sitting right there, I don’t completely trust one of the cats not to jump up and accidentally pull threads out.

Below, I am half done threading the reed. The warp chain (larger bundle of threads) is wrapped loosely around the breast beam while I’m threading so its hanging weight won’t pull on threads as I’m working.

Slightly Warped

Below is a close-up of the reed and my very specialized tool (old plastic card) I use to thread through the reed. Notice the loose knots behind the reed. This way, even a cat jumping on the wrong thing, I won’t lose my work, just maybe a few minutes at the worst. Later, I’ll undo them when I’m ready for the next step (threading heddles for my pattern).

Slightly Warped

It’s a “Thing!” not a….thing…

I’m getting my long neglected blog going again, so this is a sort of test-post from my cell phone.  We’ll see how this goes…

So check out my little clay pot I made.  Cute, eh?  Made it to hold teabags when drinking hot tea or holding yarn scraps while I’m working on a project.


This little beauty is my first finished piece I’ve brought home from my pottery class I’m taking on Saturday mornings.  This is the second of two pieces I threw on the pottery wheel my first day.  (First piece still in progress, more elaborate.)

Huge for me because the is the third time I’ve tried to take a pottery class, but the first time I ever made friends with the wheel.  Not as easy as it looks.  I tend to pick up artsy stuff pretty easily, and pottery is something I’ve always felt like I’d really like and could become good at with practice…but never got the hang of the wheel at all.  There’s a lot of subtlety and nuance to it, and is very tactile, which is a common thread in most of the things I like to do.  Just never got past an initial critical step before (centering).  Thwarted until now.

Cool stuff can be done with handbuilding but last time I took pottery (7 years ago maybe) I was in a different creative mental space and lacked inspiration.  Now I’ve got oodles of ideas and plans for both wheel-thrown and hand-built projects.

The other interesting thing I’ve noticed is over the last several years I’m in a creative phase where my ideas for one medium are really cross-pollinating with a completely different medium.

The last couple of years, instead of having separate sketchbooks for different medium ideas, I just keep one central sketchbook that I brain-dump every idea or image that bubbles to the surface with no particular thought of how I’ll execute it until much later. This has turned out to be enormously helpful with things blending and melding. I deliberately don’t put a lot of notes with the sketches and unless I’m refining the lines of something to use, I often draw only vaguely and later it’ll spark an idea.

Sometimes I’ll get in a creative groove where a certain look or motif keeps reappearing.  For the last couple of years I’ve been in this curvilinear phase, clean lines but organic shapes. Also swirly viney stuff.  And I really like the Tree of Life motif (amazing how many culture’s artwork if appears in).  I also really am drawn to representations of hands…I think they represent potential to me.  Especially craggy gnarled calloused ones…there’s history there and they have their story.

I have several fall projects in the works (clay, weaving, stained glass), and even though they’re not all wire jewelry (my main weekday activity and work), it seems like all the different creative efforts, ideas, and mediums are creating this neat synergy that’s boosting each one.

Very interesting.  Like today I had an idea to use some of the Edwardian-style jewelry images I’ve been researching for a wire jewelry project to decorate a clay project…there’s some beatiful bold but delicate lines with the antique Edwardian jewelry I found online that will lend gorgeous curves and sweeps.  It’s the period before Art Deco (sweeping, but more delicate), so you have an idea how it looks.

Anyway, back to my little pot pictured above.  So that first day of class when I finally made friends with the wheel (and yes, totally in love with pottery now), I made two pots that actually came out nice and didn’t look like a third-grader made them.  Tickled to death.  I came home after class and told David, “I made a Thing!  Not a…thing.”  Coolness.

So it might not look like much, but this little pot represents success after many intermittent years of poor frustrating attempts.  And a punctuation mark for this current very interesting period of creativity.

FSOJ’06,wk3: Synergy

Hairpiece_coppersilver_mal I debated on what I wanted to post for week 3’s theme, synergy.  I finally decided that the perfect thing was a piece of jewelry I’ve been working on for a good part of the summer in fabrication class (my first project) and actually just finished this week.  Good timing.

Originally the first project was supposed to be a cuff bracelet, but I figured I’d wear a piece in my hair a lot more (long hair) and I made it more complicated than it would have been by adding  the stones, texturing and shaping.

The synergy is the combining of the copper, fine and sterling silver and stones to create something altogether different than the individual components.  It was a good learning project, especially getting the bezels shaped top and bottom to fit the curve of the piece and the curve of the stones.  Very subtle shaping, and I think some of my wire experience was an unexpected help there since I was already very used to making very tiny tiny subtle adjustments.  I was going for a fairly organic  look and love the mix of the silver and copper peeking out here and there, and all the texture on top.   Some of the silver I sprinkled was some of my wire scraps from wire wrap.  I thought it’d be a nice personal touch for my first fabricated piece.

I still need to finish several picks to go through the holes on either side to keep it in my hair.  One I’m going to do is from wire (ss and malachite, maybe pearls too).  Another, I’m going to beat up some heavier gauge copper wire to make it look like a stick of driftwood.  I also made earrings to go with this piece.  I’ll eventually put the rest of the pics and details for anyone who wants to see the rest of the set when it’s done. 

out the door

I’ve had a few interesting projects head out the door to their new homes recently and thought I’d post them.  I’m going to go ahead and elaborate (warning: long post) with some design notes on here for some of my students and anyone else that is interested in the design behind some of the pieces.  A lot of what I make is pretty straight-forward, but even some of the simpler appearing ones often have lots of little decisions along the way.

RutilatedquartzdoublepenThis first piece was a fun little pendant I just finished yesterday and they picked up tonight.  The stones are rutilated quartz.  The top ones with the rutile growing in those central star shapes as opposed to normal shards only comes from one place in Brazil, no where else.  It was interesting to wrap.  The customer already had the idea of hanging them like this, which I completely concurred with.  I really like the contrast of the shapes.  I wrapped it in 24 gauge gold-filled wire.  I wanted to complement the sheen of the rutile shards, so I didn’t twist any wire this time.  We also debated when they dropped off the stones if she wanted it to be a solid fixed piece or let the bottom piece swing freely.  We decided that swinging freely would be nice.  Personally, while I would have done whatever, I strongly felt it’d be nicer swinging freely as well and am glad they decided to go that way.  I think it will add more physical movement to the piece and really add a lot of light movement across the rutiles in the quartz.  I knew from the beginning that I would do a clean simple wrap with clean lines so it didn’t detract from the stones and emphasized the geometry of them.

I wrapped the angular piece on the bottom first.  I debated doing the bezel similar to a couple of recent projects (half-round wraps mostly, with prongs where needed) but thought it would look heavy on that stone–wanted to keep it lighter looking and really frame it in to draw attention to the neat shape it’s cut in.  I tried something a little different.  Normally, I wrap all one style (prongs, or kicked in, or swirly, etc.) but if you look closely, you’ll see that I used prongs at the bottom (angeled to complement the direction of the nearby rutiles), kicked in on the right side to emphasize the vertical lines and then a wire laid across the front of the stone in the upper left.  I rarely run wire across the face of the stone like that, but I thought it rather looked like more rutile and sort of neat.  Structurally, could have done either prongs or kicked in all the way around, but with the asymmetry of the stone, I like the asymmetry of the mechanics as well.  Also shaped the wires at the top of the bottom pendant where they’re gathered to close it so that the angles complemented the angles of the top of that stone. 

It wound up being a little trickier to wrap as I worked my way to the top because I had to bend the angles as I went to make sure things were hitting right, which meant they were in my way and I was having to dodge wire once I got near the top, especially avoiding bending the ones that I’d temporarily dropped in that upper left corner, then getting everything on there tight enough to bind them back in and yet still be able to get the stone in and out until I was ready to bind it in permanently.  The other tricky bit was that I had to be exceptionally careful throughout the piece to make sure my bails were centered so that the bottom piece hung centered from the top piece and all that centered above the point on the bottom piece.  Visually, if something is a little off on a normal pendant, I can usually compensate to make it look right.  With this piece, there were several points that if it wasn’t all perfectly aligned, it would have just looked and hung "off" and not looked right.  I did compensate the tiniest bit for the added mass on the left side (extra weight) so that it would hang straight and not want to tilt from the weight.

I left the very top loop of the bottom pendant unfinished until I got the top stone wrapped for two reasons.  One, the orientation of the loop (side to side, or front to back) would be determined by which design I used for binding the top stone.  Sure, I could turn it later, but no reason to weaken the wire even a little if I can avoid it.  Two, having the loop finished would mean that I’d have to incorporate the bottom pendant in the top pendant as I made it, almost from the beginning.  Having that hanging off while working on the top piece, while doable, would have been unnecessarily crazy-making between the weight of it and it being in the way.  Far better to add it way at the last.  As it turned out, good thing I waited because I wound up changing my design I thought I was going to use for the top stone.

The top stone, what’s on there is actually the second attempt.  I scrapped the first one.  I was originally going to do what I do on high dome stones like this one, and often amber and thick domed dichroic glass.  It’s a simple wrap in heavy wire that lets a lot of light in, but as it turned out, while the stone has a nice dome, it’s just shallow enough that I didn’t think it was secure, and it also let the stone turn a little too freely.  I was concerned that one, the stone turning…well, it’s prettier from certain orientations, so I wanted to be able to fix it in place.  More importantly, if it turns freely over time, I wondered if it would either eventually wear a groove or scratch in the stone, or wear the underside of the wire and weaken it.  Anyway, it just wasn’t working for me so I took it out and redid it in a simple bezel/cage wrap and kicked in the wires on the sides.  I think it echoes the wrap of the bottom piece and the wire kicked in on the sides emphasizes the shape.  Started the wrapping at the bottom center, which is what I normally do on ovals and rounds.  It’s easier to get the sides symmetrical that way.  Plus, I needed to remember to put that bottom loop in there for the other piece to hook into.  Once everything was bound on the top one, then the last little step was adding the bottom piece to the top.  Overall, I was really pleased with how this piece came out.  I think it framed and complemented the stones nicely.

Trinity_cross_ssgf This is a piece that I sent off fairly recently.  It’s a Trinity cross that was custom ordered by a gentleman, a design he asked if I could do.  I thought, sure, it’s a variation of any other number of shapes I do occasionally.  Overall height is 1.5" or so.  The base wires are 22 gauge gold-filled and sterling silver, mixed, and it’s wrapped in gold-filled 22 gauge half-round.  I twisted the outer course (sterling silver) of the internal wires.  It was a prototype design and I’ll probably do variations of it later, a neat project.

This is another one of those pieces that wound up being more involved than first appearance.  The general mechanics of binding a bundle of wires and shaping to whatever shape is something I’ve been doing periodically and isn’t all that complicated.  That being said, there were several design decisions to be made with this one:

  • drawing out a clean "cartoon" to go by (more on this later)
  • to interweave or not to interweave, and if so, how
  • what to do with the ends
  • how to do a bail for a chain

On the cartoon, this is basically something I do for anything where I want to make my design to a certain shape.  For example, if I’m shaping a heart, I always sketch one to compare against.  I can’t freehand a heart out of wire to save my life, for some reason.   Angles/curves just don’t look right when I’m holding it.  So whatever the shape, heart, snakes, etc. I sketch a shape.  Then as I’m working, I wrap a little, shape a little, compare against cartoon, adjust.  Wrap/shape, compare, tweak.  Wrap/shape, compare, tweak.  And so on, a little at a time.  For this type of wrapping, I usually use wrap wires about two feet long or so.  Longer, the weight causes the wraps to want to twist around easier and it’s a pain to support the ends, so I just piece it on the back periodically.

For this type of design, the symmetry is critical, so I didn’t want to freehand the design.  I played around with my compass and drew out a new cleaner design to use as my cartoon.  As I worked, I just wrapped/checked against the design constantly to make sure I was maintaining the correct curve.  I worried about what would happen at the corners, but the wraps worked out just perfect.  I spread the wires slightly at the corners to give a similar appearance to the bail.  More on that below.  I also rounded corners ever so slightly–sharp bends would make the piece weak, especially with wear over time.  I think this piece was meant to be something that is worn pretty much constantly, and by a guy (and military if I recall) so sturdiness was an extra important consideration.

To interweave or not.  Originally, I don’t think I was going to, but once I got going, I decided it wouldn’t be any harder to interweave it versus just layering it as I went.  In the end, what made the interweaving more complicated was at each point where a layer passed another layer, I had to do some funky manipulations and be very careful to not distort the lay of the wrap wire.  I think in the end, the interweaving also gave it a little more strength.  Plus, as the layers crossed, I had to do subtle adjustments to put a little bump up or down and made it overall with an ever so slight convex shape.  I think the undualations mixed with the wrap/spiral makes it really catch the light and will give it a lot of visual and light movement.

The ends.  That’s always the quandry with wire.  What to do with the ends.  Half the time, something decorative can be done with them, but with this kind of design, that would detract.  I wound up doing a hidden thing (that’s the point) I do occasionally.  A little bit of planning is needed since it has to be done right from the outset, not something you can decide on later.  Just need to make the outside course of wire doubled so that it goes across the end of the bundle and provides a place to hook onto when I came back around.  The only fiddly part was with all the movement and shaping initially, I was constantly having to check my opening because it kept closing up.  It was basically just a wire’s width–too much and it’s weak–too narrow and it won’t admit the wires I want to hook into it later.  I wound up adding some temporary spacers hooked in there that I cut out later so it didn’t close up on me.  When I got to the end, took out the spacers and hooked the opposite end in.  The join is on the underside course of one of the center intersections.  Barely even shows on the back because I added a little halfround to finish the pattern.  I like the backs of my pieces to be nearly indistinguishable from the front when practical.  Sometimes I put special little things on the back that only the wearer ever knows about.

The bail.  I initially thought I was going to put a loop at one of the points.  When I got there, I decided it would look strange and disturb the symmetry of the piece.  What I wound up doing was slightly spreading the wires at the tip to maintain the visual sharpness of the points (otherwise, it would have looked more rounded) without adding an actual sharp bend.  The top point in the picture was the first point I did and I spread it a little more than I would the others to be able to admit a heavier gauge secondary bail that I made later.  Avoided the loop and it’s barely noticeable in the overall design.  I did wind up putting a spacer in that as well since making the curved side as I left the point, it kept wanting to suck it down closer.  My tolerance was just barely to admit the large wire so any shrinkage would be a real problem…so again, the spacer wire I removed later.  I also added spacers on the other points as I did them so they kept their points (and also used spacer wire to keep the right distance as I bent each wire individually as I rounded the points).

Pearlamth_set_2This next set of pictures are part of a set I did this summer with these two really large blister pearls a customer brought to me.  One she wanted in a pendant and one she wanted as a pin.  Wanted one silver, the other gold.  Didn’t matter which.  Didn’t particularly care what color beads since we’d determined in our initial conversation that we tend to like similar palettes–if I liked the colors, she probably would.  In other words, total artistic license.  A lot of freedom in a way, but more pressure too.

For this pearl (yes, the big flatish stone…big, as in probably 2" tall, both of them), I thought would be prettiest to hang as a pendant and it had a little more of a grey cast to it, so I put silver on that one, and put gold on the pink-cast one (below, later).  The other interesting aspect of this stone was that it actually had a strong convex curve across the bottom third of it.  (Side picture is lower down.)

I decided to use amethyst, purple pearls and austrian crystal on it.  Especially with the convex bottom standing out, I thought a waterfall pouring off the bottom and swinging freely would give it a lot of movement.  For the asymmetry of the stone, I didn’t want the waterfall to go all the way across, but gave it visual balance and weight by adding the little sweep of beads on the left side.

Pearlamth_pendant_side_4 The cage/bezel wrap was pretty straight-forward, but I ran into an unexpected issue with the bezel not wanting to stay in place due to the convex shape of the stone.  The thin edges of the piece didn’t let me build something thicker/stronger to keep its shape independently, plus it would have looked too heavy to use a thicker bezel or one of heavier wire.  I think I used 22 gauge as it was.  I really wanted the bezel to almost fade into the piece so that you mostly saw the pearl and the beads, not the wire.  I wanted the wire to be more subtle.  That’s also why I didn’t do a lot of swirly sweeping curly things with the wire on this one.  It had such a pretty shape, I really wanted to keep the clean lines.

Pearlamth_pendant_back_2  What I wound up doing (right–>) to stabilize it was a crisscross across the back.  It was actually pretty strong going around the stone, just the convex shape made it want to jump out of place and the crisscross served to stabilize it.  I’ve never needed to do this to any other pieces, so it was kind of a new thing, but a good thing to remember should this come up again.  Plus, I thought it actually turned out looking pretty neat.

The earrings are a waterfall style I do, topped off with a focal bead of faceted amethyst bead that I’m pretty stingy with and pull out when I really have a good use for it.  I used similar beads to those on the necklace so they go together.

Blisterpearl_pin_set_1 This is the other blister pearl, this time set in gold-filled wire with faceted garnet and citrine.  The pearl had rich pink cast to it that definitely needed garnets for the gemstone.  I added the citrine because I think it’s an especially rich combination, the garnet red and gold.

If you’ll notice, the pearl is cut in an pretty unusual shape that I wanted to take advantage of.  I figured I’d do the swirly wire work on the pin, partly as a contrast to the clean lines of the previous style above.  Where the last style was cool and clean, I wanted this one sumptuous, bold and rich. 

I wrapped the pin first, using a heavier gauge round wire (20 gauge maybe) and something lighter and twisted (probably 21 or 22 gauge).  I made the pin a separate piece on the back out of the round wire and made sure to catch it as I swirled around the stone.  I was originally going to put a lot more beads on it, like nested down in some of the lower swirls, but everytime I laid something down there, I wound up cutting it off.  It wound up being way more eyecatching to make those pretty faceted garnet beads the focal point.  Too many other beads kept being distracting.  That one little sweep is just resting nested there at the swell of the pearl and wound up being far more effective.  The swirls and a lot of beads were just too busy.  The earrings are another style I do that I use a lot when I make sets with lots of swirls that complements them nicely.  Again, same beads as on pin.