Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Protecting A Keepsake

Jewelry making tools and jewelry making know-how can sometimes be very handy when things require fixing.
In general, I don't do jewelry repair, but....
if you're family or a friend and something needs fixing, I'll do my best to help out.
I've restrung necklaces, fixed earwires and unbent gnarled rings.
I had my own problem that required fixing.
My twins are now 20 and when they were 8, my one son did a week of Art Camp at Main Line Art Center.
For a key ring project, the kids each cut out a shape from a sheet of brass which was then soldered onto a square of copper.
My son cut out the shape of a boat and highlighted part of it with a blue stone set in a soldered bezel.
I have always loved this small dangle, and it has been on my key ring for 12 years.
I like that it's with me whenever I leave the house.
But....I recently realized that 12 years of actively carrying my key ring was taking its toll on this little boat.
When it was made, my son punched a hole in the copper square so a key ring could be attached.
Those 12 years of jangling around in my purse and on my wrist had worn down the outer edge of the punched hole, and I knew that I was at risk of losing this little piece of my heart.
Any repair work had to be done without heat (no soldering) to avoid reflowing the existing solder and to protect those 12 years of patina.
I also did not want to do anything that would detract from my son's original design because it is just too wonderful.
I cut a square of copper from a sheet that's been in my studio for a few years, so it already had a nice patina.
Holes were drilled in the corners of both my son's piece and the new square of copper and the two layers were riveted together with little segments of 18 gauge sterling wire.
I was extra careful with my riveting hammer to avoid making unwanted marks.
With the two layers securely connected, I drilled a hole through the new copper backing.
Done....and back on my key ring with new confidence that I won't lose this special keepsake.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Sea Glass Nemesis

I never would have thought that a piece of sea glass could prove to be my nemesis.
Actually, the sea glass was my nemesis for a while....I finally outsmarted a beautiful piece of red sea glass that an acquaintance had found along the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. 
I recognize that most people might think it's not a great accomplishment to claim victory over an inanimate object, but I'm feeling proud of myself, nonetheless.
Months ago, a friend of a friend asked if I might be able to make a pendant out of a treasured piece of glass that she had found.
As sea glass goes, this really is a unique and beautiful specimen.
All surfaces have been weathered to a pitted but consistently smooth texture, and the red is so luscious that the glass looks like a piece of candy.
I don't do a lot of soldering, but I loved the idea of setting the glass in a bezel and said,
"Sure...I can do that!"
Luckily, I didn't qualify that statement with a specific completion time, because things did not go too smoothly for me.
First off...because the glass is an organic shape, it was tricky for me to figure out the right bezel wire dimension.
After my initial attempt, I realized that the bezel wire I had in my supplies would not give me enough depth to secure the glass.
Luckily, I love having an excuse to contact Rio Grande, so new, larger bezel wire was ordered.
My plan was to have layers of texture, so the bezel wire was to be soldered on to a piece of etched silver nickel which in turn would be attached to an underlying piece of textured brass.
I got an OK on the pieces of metal and then I began my soldering odyssey of disappointment.
Because the sea glass is sort of biggish, the bezel is also sort of biggish which required a fair amount of heat to get the solder to flow for the entire circumference.
That fair amount of heat warped my piece of etched metal, and if you've done soldering,
you know that means a loss of direct contact
no solder flow
great frustration.
Instead of immediately going to a piece of thicker gauge silver nickel, I foolishly continued on a path that led to a collection of melted bezel sections.
I finally got the message and FINALLY had a successful soldering of the bezel on thicker metal.
After considering options of how to do the bail, I decided on creating a curl out of another piece of etched silver nickel thinking that the shape would be reminiscent of a wave of water.
Many of my pieces have something of interest on what would be considered to be the 'back', so I let the bail have a tail that extends down the piece of textured brass.
The brass had been textured with dried leaves of ornamental grass from my garden.
The pattern that was created made me think of topographic contours of a watershed...very appropriate for a piece from the Chesapeake Bay.
Once the bail was soldered in place, the two layers of metal were tumbled with steel shot before being riveted together with balled sterling wire.
The process took longer than I would have guessed,
but that lovely piece of glass and I finally came to a happy agreement.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


The necklace that I was planning last week....
I stayed with the components that I had assembled, linking them to segments of sterling silver chain with sterling silver wire wrapping.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Thrift Store Find Becomes Earrings

One of my recent thrift store searches resulted in me finding a couple of interesting brass dishes. 
Each dish was around the size of a small bread dish and hand textured with a lovely variety of shapes and patterns.
Each dish was also very dirty, but I'm not easily frightened by a bit of dirt or grime that I know I can either scrub off with my brass brush or blast off with my torch.
When I saw that they were 50 cents each, I knew that each dish was coming home with me.
I cut the rolled rim off the one dish, making further cuttings a little easier to deal with.
I then annealed the dish and flattened it on a steel block so that I would be able to use the metal guillotine for additional cuttings. 
The other dish was cut into sections...
annealed and hammered flat....
and cut into wedge shaped segments.
Each wedge was filed and sanded on all sides and then cleaned in the pickle pot.
I then measured and cut strips of copper...
and filed and sanded all edges and surfaces.
The brass wedges were soldered onto the brass strips...
and cleaned in the pickle pot.
I then drilled a hole into the top of each piece....
formed curves with my rawhide mallet and bracelet mandrel, and polished them in my tumbler.
Each brass wedge is different, so I made the best complementary pairings that  I could....
and added sterling earwires.
And there you go...lovely earrings from a couple of 50 cent thrift store dishes.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Planning My Next Necklace

I've been asked numerous times about the design process that I go through to make my jewelry.
I always have to pause and think, "Huh...what do I do?"
With my background as a landscape architect and years of making jewelry, the design process has become somewhat intuitive for me.
I think that most people who have been working with a particular set of skills eventually reach a point where they can make decisions without agonizing deliberations.
A personal history of successes and failures is very effective in streamlining the various decisions that must be made.
So...I thought I would be more conscious about the planning of a necklace that I began today.
It started with a large piece of jasper that I've had for at least 2 years.
I bought the jasper because I liked the veining and the variety of colors and thought it could become a nice pendant, but I would need to think about it for 2 years.
The jasper had a hole drilled at one end.
I could have done a wire wrapped connection directly through the hole, but thought that would be too abrupt and boring.
Sitting on my workbench were pieces of etched silver nickel that I had already cut, intending to use in a bracelet.
 I took one of those pieces, drilled two holes, and carefully wrapped it over the top of the jasper, creating a collar/beadcap.
The wire wrapping now has a graceful connection to the bead.
I then began to select the other beads that will be part of the necklace.
I chose some small jasper beads that pick up and complement the brown/green in the jasper.
I think I only want a few of these small jasper beads because of the opaqueness of the material.
The rest of the beads that I've assembled (labradorite, honey jade, lemon quartz and smoky crystal)again complement the colors of the jasper pendant and they also have a degree of transparency that will keep the chain from feeling dull and heavy.
It's kind of similar to selecting colors for a painting...the transparent paints bring a nice luminosity to a piece.
The more transparent beads, especially those that are faceted, will bring some sparkle to the necklace, and who doesn't love a little sparkle?
I cut some strips and discs from other pieces of etched silver nickel to make a visual connection between the chain and the beadcap.
The 2 discs were cut from my melted mess a few weeks ago. 
It's my plan to connect the beads with sterling silver wire and chain, but plans often get revised once the actual work gets underway.