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A peek at the process

I’ve been thinking some of you might be interested in a peek at the process of going from a coil of wire to a finished piece of jewelry.


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This is a custom order I finished recently, taking some pictures along the way. It’s a lovely large oval pillow-cut citrine (domed and faceted face) that they brought me. It was originally in a cast pendant setting, but she wanted to be able to wear it as a ring. The wire ring I made is a mix of 14k gold-filled and sterling silver, .032/20awg, half-hard temper.

Design considerations:

  • faceted pointy back = needs prong setting
  • large = out of the ordinary measurements, may require making copper prototype first
  • Stone shape = stone is oval, domed, and thick, so need compensation when planning prong placement/length, plus alter prong shape more than usual
  • General scale = since large thick stone, and customer also wanted a ring with presence, dictates heavier wire for bold look and also better protection and stronger stability since the stone will be sitting high enough to be exposed and more likely to get accidentally knocked about
  • This style of ring is particularly fussy, where symmetry and balance are everything, and where a 32nd of an inch can make a dramatic difference to the end result.

    I am in the habit for the last couple of decades or so of keeping all my measurements in a little notebook, so the first step is to measure the stone dimensions and scan my measurements for something close. If nothing remotely close, I would extrapolate my best guess and do a prototype in copper first, sort of a rough draft. Fortunately, there’s notes from a slightly larger stone I set last year. Yay! Pretty close, just small modifications, but to be on the safe side, made a copper prototype to test guesses and finalize measurements.

    Adjustments due to slightly smaller stone are prong length now 1/32nd inch shorter, another measurement adjusted by 3/32nds. And the design, extra long wires mid-bundle because I want to wrap 3/4 around stone. The rest normal length (minimizes scrap wire). Really want the measurements close to minimize scrap wire, but no good if too short somewhere and have to scrap entire ring. This is .032 wire (20awg) and lots of it, so really don’t want to scrap it with a mistake because I was in a hurry. That’s why it’s worth a copper prototype sometimes on designs that might have a “questionable” outcome. Better to waste time than waste wire.

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    This is the beginning wire bundle with the initial half-wraps, and start of prong bending. They’ll be bent down, trimmed, then finish side wraps to secure. Note the longer center wires. Had to think ahead in the design for which wires will lay down versus go around the stone. Usually I just do all same length, but it would have wasted a lot of wire in this case. I did leave the outer wires slightly longer than strictly necessary since I haven’t quite decided at this point what I’m doing with them, but not too long. This is all part of the planning, along with the number of wires, pattern of metal, and overall length.

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    Next step, once bundle is wrapped, is to bend the U-shape. Pretty straight-forward, just being mindful to check for symmetry.

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    This is where the full circle of the shank is created, by flipping up one or two of the outer wires on each side. One versus two flips partly depends on stone depth, but I particularly do it on really heavy wire so I can do most of the tying down on the upper wire. It’s a little trickier to do it that way, but it makes it much less rough inside the ring when using heavy wire. Also on large stones, it gives additional bracing on the ends for securing it.

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    Now it’s time to start bending the prongs. There’s three bends for each prong. It’s critical that each bend is the same length and angle or it’ll be crazy-making to set the stone centered and level later. A tiny difference now has a huge ripple-effect later. So on each bend, I visually line them up (see pic).

    It’s not critical that they be shaped exactly to perfectly fit the stone yet, but just that they are all the same. That way, as I make adjustments for the stone, I can generally make the same adjustments to all prongs. It helps keep from overworking the metal because of repeatedly making one little change on one prong that messes up what was once okay on a different one.

    The other thing at this stage is setting the lean of the wraps and pulling tie-wires out of the way. Most prong rings, I angle the wraps in more so the final silhouette of the ring isn’t too boxy, but with the size of this stone, the wraps are nearly vertical. In the pic, these still need adjusting so that they are symmetrical.

    I also round out the ring some and adjust the size. Most rings don’t start on the size they’ll end up on since there needs to be compensation for construction elements like band wrapping (shrinks it 1/2 size), tying wires down (usually 1/2 size on this ring, but since tying down under top arc wire, not one forming shank, no need to compensate). Every ring style has different compensations…some shrink and some grow. On this one, since the final ring needs to be a size 10, this needs to start at a size 10 1/2.

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    Now it’s time to make the prongs fit the stone well, also not be able to get caught, snag, or bend. See the picture? Where the prong has a lot of space open where it’s not fitting the stone completely well? That’s what we’re fixing now.

    This step involves a lot of put it in, see what needs changing, take it out, guesstimate on changes and bend, put it back in, test again. Many subtle, teensy adjustments. Usually repeat this sequence many times. Along the way, also check from all angles that the stone is sitting level and centered. This stage can be extremely fussy, where fixing one issue (ie. one corner too low) can cause problems in another place (ie. fixed low corner but now the stone is crooked). Argh.

    And then sometimes the measurement combination just doesn’t work, like prongs are too long or short–thus the reason for trying out really iffy combos in copper first. Occasionally my guess is just off and won’t work for that particular stone. Start over. If the ring is fine, just not for that stone, hopefully later on another stone will fit instead.

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    After major tweaking, this is closer to how these prongs wound up. This stage of things is what takes the longest. It’s also the stage to resist over-tweaking and know when to stop. Metal only bends so many times before it work-hardens, becomes brittle, then breaks. Busted prong equals scrapped ring, wasted time and money. Start over.

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    See? Now look how the prongs hug the shape of the stone in above pic. And in the side and top views, the stone is fairly centered and level. Final check, the placement and angle of the prongs on top of the stone. I sort of mentally draw a visual X between the prongs. In the picture, there’s still a bit of tweaking to be done with one of the prongs.

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    After prongs shaped, one last critical step, final size check. Yay! It’s still the correct size. A small change is still possible, but massive changes are something to avoid…like if I had forgotten to do the rough size and round ring out way back, and now have to round out and move up 5-6 sizes, it’d mess up the prongs and would have to go back and fuss with them again. Have done that before. Not fun.

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    Now it’s time to twist wires with my pin-vise in whatever pattern. Also, the direction of twisting can make a difference on how the light plays off the wire. And sometimes I don’t twist any wires at all. This is definitely last-call for any size-tweaks, because once twisted, can’t slide the wraps to make the size any larger.

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    I secure and stabilize the prongs in a couple of stages. First, the side wires in whatever pattern on the lower half of the prongs. This ring happens to be symmetrical, but they’re not always. Note that they’re being secured under the top arc wire so the inside of the ring is less rough. Smaller gauge wire, it’s less of an issue, but with .032, it can be really rough. It’s a little awkward to manipulate, but doable. The wires are a little longer than usual (more scrap) but I left them longer since I hadn’t completely decided what I was going to do until I got here at this stage.

    The other thing to be really careful of here is not over-pulling or tightening the wires so that the pressure is unequal. I’m also careful while tying things down to brace the opposite side to keep things level, and I typically tie down prongs that are diagonal from each other, rather than on the same side (helps keep pressure more equal). It’s possible (very!) to have it sitting perfectly, then be over-zealous tying down and completely trash the way the stone is sitting. It’s hard to fix at that point, especially if the wire has already been completely bent and trimmed. If it’s off bad enough, then will ruin the ring and require starting over.

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    Now for second stage of tying things down. Sometimes it’s a single wire providing additional stabilization of prongs or encircling the stone. Sometimes there are more decorative than functional elements at this stage. In this particular ring, I made the center wires extra long to be able to wrap 3/4 around the stone. Partly, it looks neat, and functionally, it really adds a lot of strength and stability to protect the integrity of the setting with that large, high, exposed stone.

    If you look close, the wires are secured under the upper arc wire, rather than the lower one. It’s more awkward to do it that way, but it’ll make the ring less rough inside. I do this more on .032 or .028 (20 or 21awg). It’s not as much of an issue on smaller gauges (.025/22awg).

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    Ah, the moment of truth! Did it come out the size it needed to, or do I have to start over?

    Yay! It’s perfectly on size. The finished ring needs to be a 10, and this is a 10 1/2 (needed 1/2 size larger to allow for shrinkage when wrapping the shank in the next step).

    There’s no re-sizing possible on these rings. Because of the construction, the prongs are connected to the shank, so stretching on that will displace the prongs. If the size were wrong and I have another stone, I’d use this one for stock and just make another ring. But if it were the only stone or, in this case, a customer’s stone, I have to cut the stone out of the ring (trashing it) and try again. Obviously, this is good incentive for all the earlier double-checking to try to get it right the first time.

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    A final step is to wrap the band. This one used around three feet of 1/2 round wire. I start in the bottom center and alternate wrapping about 1/4 of the shank at the time (helps evenly distribute any unevenness in the band), and clamp down each side of each round for clean and even look. Once trimmed and filed, then hammer it with a rawhide mallet and finalize rounding out the ring. I also add a secondary wire to stabilize the top and bottom arcs to each other. It’s not completely necessary, but more insurance and it adds a decorative element.

    The finishing touch is to polish with a polishing cloth, check for snags, and a final check for symmetry.

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    Here’s the finished ring (above), along with some additional views (below).

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    Wrangling jewelry supplies

    Many of us who make jewelry tend to accumulate a stash of beads and stones. Lots of it. The eventual challenge is some way of keeping many MANY little items organized so that they are useable and accessible. Additionally, there are tools and other materials (metal, chemicals, consumables).

    For those of us that do shows, that may also include parts that need to travel. Another consideration is space (or lack thereof) and how that space looks.

    I have my beads and stones split into everyday/travel usage, and archival/stash. I mostly work from home, but my main tools, stones, and beads pack up to come with me when I’m at the renfair in the spring.

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    This is my view sitting at my desk, and things I use the most nearby.

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    On the right is my tower of beads and cabs that I use a lot and are the ones that pack up and come with me when I go to the renfair. They are stored in these in/out trays which enables me to easily access whichever box I need. Inside the boxes are lots of 2×2″ ziplocs. I can store more densely, it keeps beads from rubbing/scratching as much, and will keep things from scattering if I dump a box.

    Beads in here are ones I use a lot. For me that’s mostly smaller beads (under 6mm). Chunkier and larger beads, and ones I just have quite a bit of, the backup stays in the archival stash storage.

    I deliberated for a long time on some sort of workable system to somehow carry “just a pinch” instead of entire amount of some beads. The concern was forgetting about the backups and re-buying unnecessarily, or being stingy with a particular bead because I thought I might be nearly out and couldn’t replace.

    What I came up with works fabulously for me. Just simply put a tiny snippet of paper in the little bag that says “more” and that tells me that it isn’t the last of them. There’s more in the backup stash. And no tag means that’s all of them, period. Works great.

    Immediately to the right of the tower (out of picture) is a folder slipped between the tower and the wall of the cubby where I throw tax receipts until I log them.

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    To the left is my wire. It’s in the ziplocs in the vertical file sorter. I pulled out one bag so you can see how it’s divided. I used a plastic one from the office supply for many years, then some years back, I commissioned this pretty one from wood.

    The type of wirework I do, I’m fine with everything in coils as opposed to spools, plus it stores/packs very flat. I use several shapes and a lot of gauges and have things divided that way, metals are mixed since they’re easy to tell apart.

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    When it’s time to go to the renfair, my critical stuff packs down to this. I leave displays packed in the booth during the season, but this little cart comes in and out with me each day.

    The milk crate goes together like a puzzle. Literally. I’m the only one that can really pack it because for it all to fit, it has to go in a certain order. But that’s not a bad thing since it’s obvious if I’m forgetting something. It contains my beads, wire, and tools. Heavy!

    The rest of the cart holds a few trays with understock, flowery bag (stock), change box and my wooden mug. Add a couple bags of ice on the way in, we’re set! That little wagon is the workhorse of this operation and has seen some hard use. Still going strong. I’m thinking this next year I may repaint it (getting weathered) and tighten everything up again. It’s safe to say I may get creative with the paint job.

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    To the right of where I sit is the archival/stash bead and cab storage. I need to be able to store densely, but still have reasonable easy access. I also prefer more attractive storage when that’s an option. I found this flat-file wooden drawer set at an office supply store (Office Depot/Max, couple years ago, $40ish). I’m guessing for storing different types of paper perhaps.

    I will say, for the amount of weight in it, I’m glad it’s wood. I don’t think plastic drawers would hold up as well.

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    Inside, I have ziplocs of beads (above pic). I keep the type of stone together in whatever the larger ziploc it needs, then inside that, stone shapes in their own bags. The only exception are donuts and hearts. They are grouped together because of how I use them. It’s easy to see at a glance where a bag is, and pull just that out for more thorough digging. Each drawer is roughly organized in broad categories…shells/pearls, man-made, opaque/soft (lapis, turquoise, malachite, etc), gemstones (amethyst, citrine, garnet, etc). You get the idea. The baggies in shallow drawers work well because I can jostle stuff flat to fit and see everything very quickly.

    The two deeper drawers…one holds miscellaneous larger chunky projects and personal stash. The other deep one holds pendant cabs. I have a box of handcut designer cabs in the bead tower that travels, and this is the other random stuff I’ve acquired over the years or things that are weird shapes or fragile and don’t travel.

    The pendant can drawer is divided similar to the beads, snack-sized ziplocs according to type, use, or material. Depends. These are more upright since the drawer is deeper, and I’ve used a marker to write on the upper right-hand corner of anything not obvious from a glance so I don’t have to pull it out and handle everything looking for a bag. Some I have enough for their own bag, like malachite, lapis, onyx, etc. Some are grouped, like “darks” has obsidian and such. There’s “shells and pearls”, then there’s “stripey” (hey, it’s my system) 🙂

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    To the upper left is a cabinet where I keep another set of drawers. This door is normally closed. Found these at either Wal-Mart or Target.

    I keep light-weight small things I don’t need into very often. One drawer is non-clear crystals and rough gemstones (ie. tourmaline, citrine, amethyst, etc). One is druzy and clusters. Another is faceted stuff. Then pearls. A couple are bags of backup ring cabs. One is “weird stuff” 🙂 Basically small light stuff. Clear quartz crystals, I keep them elsewhere (more later).

    I also keep various ziploc shapes in here. I may have a small ziploc addiction. Ahem.

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    Here’s what the door looks like closed. Incidentally, to the left, see the wall? Normally an open door covers that. Behind that door, up on the wall are my drafting tools and cutting mats. Leaning on the floor is my kiln fire-board and stained glass wood board, and some matte boards and large watercolor sheets. Leaning in the corner behind the door are stained glass zinc and copper came for frames, along with several walking sticks for rainy faire days. My lead stained glass came hangs over a bicycle hook on the wall on the other side of the door next to the armoire (more later).

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    My work desk is a large oak corner computer desk with hutch. That means it has all sorts of great cubby holes and under-shelves.

    Under where my legs go, there’s these shelves (books?!?) where I put stuff I only need access to once in a great while. It’s just the right size for stacks of plastic shoe-boxes. Shoeboxes for acrylic paints, ribbons, stamps. One box is full of glass bead soup I add to regularly and use for this one pendant I do. Another is full of colored copper wire. And one is where I keep my clear quartz crystals. Interior bags divide them up by size, quality, etc.

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    This is the underneath to the right of where I sit. See that one little shelf tucked up under there with a small trashcan and things leaning beside it? That’s my shipping station. I can reach right under and pull out flat boxes or padded envelopes. The little trashcan contains tissue paper, marker, ziplocs, business cards, and packing tape. Everything I need to mail an order. I also keep my heavy hole-punch and repoussé bowl under there.

    Just to the right of that, see that tall cubby? I think it was probably meant to hold a PC tower. I use it for my large flat storage (big paper cutter, photography light tent, my music folder, extra work mats).

    And just above those, the things that look like drawers? Those are actually flip-down doors. The right hand one I’m guessing was meant for one of those on/off boxes for equipment. But it’s small and long and opens through to the back. I use it to hold one more box (metal beads and findings) that doesn’t fit in the bead tower, and also my long tool steel for making chasing tools.

    The left of those doors flips down and reveals a mouse tray. I use it with a tray on it to hold my mandrels and hammer.

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    Behind me on the wall is an armoire that holds my other stuff. It’s packed pretty densely too. The big open hole in the middle is where my little kiln goes (out on the kitchen table at the moment). The rest of the cabinet has containers for various interests (stained glass, lampworking, bobbin lace, beading, bookbinding, calligraphy, watercolors, iconography, glass fusing, needlework, knit/crochet, metal fabrication, leatherworking, pyrography).

    There’s a few large drawers below those open shelves. One is jewelry related stuff, one is display making materials, and one is for UFOs (unfinished objects, projects in progress).

    I do things modularly (take out/put away, but most things are doable at my desk or kitchen table). The larger and messier stuff (dyeing, woodworking, pottery) are out in the garage. Fiber arts, ahem, are spread throughout 🙂 Not pictured are a large floor loom, couple spinning wheels, tools, fiber, fleeces.

    I do enough different things, I’m conscious of storing them compactly. This modular system I went to a few years ago has been working really well. My focus is on wire jewelry since that’s my business, and secondarily on fiber since that’s another big love. The other stuff I do intermittently for fun, plus I’m finding all the crossover skills useful.

    Anyway, this is part of my studio, mostly the jewelry, since that was a recent discussion with friends. Sometime later I’ll do a tour of the rest of it. Hopefully, if you’re looking for an idea or two on how to organize your jewelry-making endeavors, this was helpful.

    Boxes and Walls

    Squee! I figured out the missing part of a new display idea I want to build for next season!!

    Okay, so you ever have these half-formed ideas that feel like the beginnings of a GREAT idea, but needs *something*??

    I do that A LOT and back-burner mull things until something occurs (I work through a lot of jewelry designs this way), and sometimes I run across an independent idea that’s the missing puzzle piece…

    So the problem has been that I need a better way to display larger neckpieces and more fragile/expensive pieces at the renfair.

    The challenges are:
    –wind (flat neck boards go sailing, along with jewelry, which can get bent or broken…a few okay, but don’t want tons)
    –not lots of tall along back of counter (it’s already high, we stand behind, and lots of that would be in the way. A few okay, but not solid line or we can’t reach things in front)
    –easy to pack up at end of day
    –not vulnerable to weather (damp)
    –look in keeping with renfair setting
    –unique/artistic/interesting (not common looking)
    –ideally protect some from dust/tarnish since larger pieces are more intricate…less cleaning

    When I had my shop’s back wall behind the counters in my building ripped out and redone a couple of years ago, along adding a few new cute/quirky windows…I had an idea. What if I hung shallow display cabinets on the wall behind the counter? I normally don’t use cases since I think the jewelry sells much better if people can touch it and I like the friendlier atmosphere it gives the shop. But these would be larger pieces or more fragile that don’t need to be handled as much anyway.

    …and ooh! What if, in keeping with the cute little house my shop looks like…what IF instead of just a few plain display cases, I made them interesting shapes and sizes AND made them look reminiscent of picture frames on the wall in a house, but with jewelry hung in them instead of pictures?

    Hmmm…okay, so design considerations:
    –easy way to add/remove/rearrange jewelry and flexible for variety of shapes/sizes
    –some sort of door that won’t be obnoxious that will keep out the dust (more intricate, bigger, more expensive but also may have longer before they find their home…a door would help with cleaning dust and tarnish)
    –shallow so that it’s not in our way as we walk by (especially since its in the busiest area)
    –wall mounting and secure, but removable for off season
    –buildable by me (can customize, make more down the road, and less expensive than commissioning them)

    Some solutions:
    –the easy to add/remove/rearrange…simple. Will fit interior with board covered in Velcro loop fabric yardage. Mount jewelry on my silver cardstock. Can move around at will, take out to show a customer. Cards have room for more detail (these special pieces sometimes have more info). When sold, easy to rearrange so no big holes. Various sizes can go anywhere, so flexible.

    –the look…hmm, half-formed idea of modifying picture frames. Did quick look at store. Nothing commercial case-wise that really works or isn’t cheaply built AND overpriced. Want these to be durable. I can buy frames and modify. A little costly, but if on sale…hmmm…or start haunting thrift stores, get a variety for a song, then paint them similar. Interesting if each a bit different, then painting to tie together. I’m thinking base coat of dark green or black then brushed textures with bronze or copper metallic. Will mull.

    –front…glass or plexiglass? Still mulling. Glass, easier to get super clean but is fragile. Plexiglas is sturdier unless a direct blow, but scratches easily. As much dust as we have, the cleaning it would take…I think it would frost up quickly from tiny scratches and be just as “fragile” when moving because of avoiding accidentally gouging it. I think I’m leaning toward glass and replace with plexiglas if it breaks. Will research tempered glass or display case type glass costs. Would be worth price if stronger if not toooo dear.

    –the construction…have a half-idea of a hinged side that opens.
    Hm, which way? Will mull.
    Have glass over frame? Hinge how? Hardware?
    How deep then should frames/cases be by the time add depth of fabric board, Velcro, jewelry, stones? Not too shallow, but too deep in way. And find frames that deep? More limiting. Hm. Store-bought shadow boxes start getting costly and tend to be plain. Not quite right.
    And look of adding glass on top of or just inside frame? And mechanics. I’m handy and can figure out a lot, but feeling fiddly here. Hm.
    And closure…latch or what?
    Opening…knob (could catch our clothing going by, latch…how/where to attach)
    And how to mount on wall (plus wall is concrete board) so steady while there but removable for storage off season

    Hmmmm…the overall idea I’m loving BUT the construction isn’t quite gelling. Onto the backburner…

    Squeee!! (and DUH! *headsmack*)

    The answer:
    Make shadow-box BEHIND the frame, put the frame (the ENTIRE frame/glass is door) with normal glass as usual on top, hinge hidden behind frame connecting to box, magnetic closure. The interior Velcro board as planned.

    Here’s the video I ran across today that made everything gel:

    http://www.engineeryourspace.com/episodes/how-to-make-a-hanging-jewelry-box-organizer/

    Neat idea. Of course the interior of hers isn’t what I need (though cool) but the rest of the construction, I can totally do.

    AND bonus, I see a new tool in my future! (happy dance!) …corner clamp 🙂

    Making hay while the sun shines

    Here’s a good article on creating inventory when your craft is time-consuming. It could also apply to anyone with limited time and struggling to figure out how to make time for the crafts or art they enjoy creating.

    http://beadingforbusiness.com/2013/04/29/creating-a-huge-inventory-when-your-craft-is-time-consuming/

    I personally make each and every single item I sell. For the renfair, that means production pieces (ie many multiples/variations of a ring style), plus my unique OOAK pieces (one of a kind). It takes a long time to build the amount of stock needed to sustain eight consecutive weekends and filling custom orders and stock holes during the week.

    I notice I have fallen into similar habits this article mentioned.

    One, use your “down time”. My habit is to do my desk work (beading, or complicated) during the day when my husband is at work. At night, I want to spend time relaxing with him, watch TV, etc. Plus my physical and mental energy levels are lower by evening. So that’s when I do more repetative things (ie. twisting piles of wire, prepping bases) or more tedious operations (wrapping ring bands, ordering supplies) or ones that don’t require a lot of thought (some simpler designs). Basically things I can do while watching TV or distracted, and need a minimal set of tools. I have a little table by the couch I work on.

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    The other thing I do is have what I consider “travel projects”. These are ones that require very little thought, tools, or space. Things like wrapping ring bands, twisting wire (it never ends), prepping simple bases (like earcuffs), simple bending (bracelets, bead rings). These are things I literally can do as a passenger in a car, visiting friends, waiting somewhere, babysitting, etc. Those stolen moments really add up.

    That being said, general time management can be a challenge. A teensy one. Ahem. Having *too* much flexibility in the schedule (I work from home full-time) is a blessing and a curse. It makes it extremely easy to procrastinate because there’s time later. Then there’s always distractions of cats and laundry and phone calls at home. It’s a work in progress.

    And then there’s the pessimistic/optimistic view of time.
    1) that’s going to take *hours* (so put off until better chunk of time)
    2) giant to-do list for that day (creating completely unrealistic and unachievable lists without discovering how to bend space and time first)

    I’m always experimenting with time management systems. My best ones have been organic and not so complex they collapse under their own weight. I might have over-engineered a system more than once. Ahem.

    The current one is working well. Designed to handle large amounts of orders (multiple items, realistic time estimations) and be flexible.

    Current new system:
    Basically, notebook paper with line across two or three times, representing three hour time-blocks. Then Post-its of various sizes (easy visual glance) representing my common time projects (4 sizes: quick/under30min, hour, one-and-half hour, three-hours).

    I write the project on the closest size post-it for the time I’m estimating it’ll take. Projects are things like custom orders (big percentage during the renfair), stock production needs, or maintenance (ordering supplies, phone calls, etc).

    Estimating time is helping me calibrate realistically how much work I really have to do. As I fill up my 3hr block pages, I can see at a glance what my week will be. And I can move things around.

    Okay, yes, I know there are these fancy magic boxes (computers/apps) that can do all this. But I am apparently very visual and tactile in this regard and electronic sytems don’t work nearly as well for me.

    I do suspect that once the renfair is over the post-it thing will be simplified a bit, but for now it’s working well with a larger volume of daily details.

    The main thing I’m working on is getting into a good daily routine. I do really well with routines, but this last year in particular has been more chaotic than usual and routines have tended to get upended before well-established. But dust is settling on a lot of things and I feel the beginnings of a very nice routine with efficient and productive days, but relaxed as well. We shall see 🙂

    So what do you do time-management wise? Especially when you have a lot on your plate?

    A beading chuckle

    I find a lot of inspiration and design ideas from historic pieces and ancient jewelry. Sometimes it’s the jewelry pieces themselves, it might be interesting color or stone combinations, and often it’s shapes. I’m also interested in history of jewelry in general, particularly how it was made in the past with the technology of the time.

    I recently ran across this really good book on ancient Egyptian jewelry (available pretty cheap used on amazon). Well, it has the best of everything–lots of pictures with citations (hate when they don’t say where it’s from if you want research it further), and tons of good detail about all the various aspects of how they think they did things back then. Has details about metal work, making beads, niello, faïence, granulation, and more. Also has neat ideas on alternate constructions (love those giant collar necklaces with the counter-poise weights in the back).

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    So, on one page, they have an awesome line drawing from a wall that is of goldsmiths at work, then below that are men making and doing beadwork.

    However, if you look really close, way down at the bottom, the men lying on the floor…

    20130111-194908.jpg
    …I’d like to think it’s some obscure thing they’re doing, lost to the ages.

    But no, if you’ve ever done beading, you KNOW what they’re doing.

    They’re down on the floor looking for that blasted bead that they’ve dropped AGAIN.

    YOJ13wk1: Renewal

    It’s time to welcome in a new year!  I was very happy to see that the Year of Jewelry Project had found new digs in a Facebook group.  It’s a creative challenge to make a piece of jewelry every week for a year, using a weekly theme (optional) as a jumping off point.  It’s very inspirational to see what folks come up with. 

    The theme for the first week of the new year is Renewal. Very appropriate. I often spend those last few days of the year between Christmas and New Years thinking about the direction I’d like to go for the coming year, a time of of introspection.  I don’t really set official goals as much as do a lot of thinking and course correction. This past year is one that has had some major ups and downs and I’m happy to see it gone.  I’ve had a really really hard time keeping my head in the game business-wise.  The last several years actually, looking back…but things are finally settling out and I’m getting back in the good mental groove I’ve been struggling to recapture.  Finally. 

    This first theme, Renewal, is deeply personal to me since I’m going through a major mental and emotional renewal, so I thought it only appropriate to make a personal piece of jewelry.  I got to thinking and realized that in 25 years of making wire jewelry, I have NEVER made ME a piece of jewelry, where that was the intention from the outset.  Oh, sure, I have a few pieces I made to sell and wound up keeping, rocks in the stash that are earmarked but never done, or experiments where I kept the prototype, but nothing at all that I purposely made for myself from the outset.  So here we are, this one is mine.

    The stone is a piece of Ocean Jasper that I saw last December and showed my husband, then he got it for me for Christmas.  It really caught my eye.  The image to me looks a bit like a field of flowers with the sun rising behind it.  A new bright future.

    Here’s the finished piece (click on it for larger image):

    pendant bezel prong gf ss ocean jasper yoj 2013 week 1Even though it’s a fairly basic wrap, there always design decisions to be made, and since I was making it for ME, I stuck to my personal style.

    pendant ocean jasper which metal gf ss
    (click for larger image)
     The first question is which color metal, gold-filled or sterling silver? After debating, I decided both since I love mixed metals and thought they would complement the warm and cool colors in the stone, providing a nice balance.
     
    pendant ocean jasper prong shape
    (click for larger image)

    The next question is what style, bezel variant or swirly frame?  Swirls would pick up the round patterns in the stone, but obscure the shape I love.  Plus, while swirly has its place, my personal style leans towards cleaner, simpler.

    So a bezel setting it is.  Something that will really draw the eye and follow the shape of the stone.  I decided to do prongs to keep a bunch of wire off of the stone, but made a little curve in them to echo the circular pattern in the stone, and asymetrical shape and placement as well.

    pendant ocean jasper side
    (click to enlarge image)

    The other reason for doing prongs is so I could do this wrap-spiral thing up the sides, which really shows off the mixed metals and has a visual texture I like.  Can’t do that with the bezel style where the outer front and back wire kick out over the stone to hold it in, or swirl over it, or whatever variation.

     

    pendant ocean jasper end
    (click image to enlarge)

     

    I did skip the pattern down on the tip so that I could preserve that nice sharp point.  A bunch of wraps going around it would have just rounded it off.

     

     

    pendant ocean jasper last prong
    (click for larger image)

    The challenge with this type of side and the prongs is having to shape as you go as opposed to working the entire thing flat (like on a symmetrical oval or round piece) and shape it to the stone afterwards.  With assymetrical pieces, to get the placement of everything right (prongs, curves, point) and really fit the stone closely, it works better to shape as you go.  The downside is that as things start closing up, the long wire I’m wrapping with is harder to get through the narrowing area without distortion.  Plus just dodging that long wire whipping around in my face in the first place (look in the foreground of the picture).  Above, I’m bending the last prong before tying it back down.

    pendant ocean jasper fish
    (click on image to enlarge)

     

    So when I eventually finish, I realize there might have been another design to have explored.  Add a couple of fins…

    Nah, I like it as is, but a fishie woulda been kind of fun though.

     

    Signs

    Before:

    After:

    Another project done in getting ready for the renfair, I badly needed to repaint my sign. The original sign (first image above), a friend painted for me for last season. I really liked it and got nice compliments on it, but it was a little hard to read from a distance and it wound up flaking really bad by the end of the season. The first picture above is BEFORE sanding and the way it looked the end of last season. Not good.

    Maybe I just needed a push. For these past twenty years, I’ve always had someone else paint my sign. First time, I paid a gal to paint me one. After a few years, just went back over and freshened it up. A few years later, my mom did a quick job. Couple refreshes every few years after. Then the pretty but flaky one last year. Hm, you know what? Maybe I ought to try it myself. Paint my own darn sign. I sketch jewelry ideas all the time, I should be able to come up with a sign.

    First step, sand off the flaking paint.

    Then I put down a coat of outdoor primer on both sides, then background paint coat. This was spread over a couple of days because the sign is two-sided and had to let one side dry between coats before it could be flipped to cover the other side. There’s a frame that goes back on, but it’s removed in the pictures so that I don’t have to worry about getting paint on it (natural wood).

    While waiting for that to dry, mixed paints for the lettering and vine colors.

    My counters at the fair are painted green with purple trim. The base of the paint I used for the sign was my counter paint, so it all goes together nice.

    I took some white and mixed some of my green counter paint into it and it came out this lovely pale green.

    The lettering is the counter-trim purple that I added black to darken it. It saddened it a little too much by the time I got it dark enough so I also added a touch of red and navy blue to keep it dark but brighten it up a bit, then it came out just right.

    Above is my little rough-draft reference sketch I made for my sign idea. Below is what I sketched on the board as a paint-guide.

    I used a T-square to lay out the lines for the text, then sketched out the lettering and vines. Once one side was laid out and looked okay, I flipped it over to do the other side.

    Interestingly, it wound up being kind of a personal project and more of me in the sign than I expected. The letters are very close to my normal print hand, so that seems extra appropriate. The vines, those sort of echo a viney motif that’s been making a regular appearance in my artwork the last few years, across various mediums. Again, personal and appropriate. They also echo a little bit of the medieval illuminated manuscripts I sometimes like to reference for ideas. Not a bad presence on a sign for a renaissance fair, but with my own twist on it.

    So, the final version wound up very similar to the second picture above. I did wind up taking the serifs off of the letters to leave them cleaner and not break up the energy of the letters. I also made the S on the first word thicker like the T on the second, partly to smooth it out (a little jagged in the picture) and partly to give it better visual weight. I also diminished the little sweeps on the large S because they detracted a little from the movement. Better now.

    I thought about a little shading on the letters or veins on the leaves, et cetera, but decided to leave it flat. One, I liked the clean, clear look and sharp contrast. Important in a sign. Two, a more minor reason, most medieval illumination is flat and one-dimensional. If you want to be picky, the delicacy and intricacy of the vines isn’t really all that medieval, but more like later renaissance period. However, it’s the medieval-period illuminations where I find the best source images to adapt for inspiration in my art projects. But like many of my ideas, I borrow a little from here and there, then blend them together. So, a tiny personal thing there.

    And what was happening between waiting for paint to dry?

    Rory helping me glue flowers in my new window boxes for the second-story windows of my shop.

    Here is the finished sign in its final version with its frame back on and hung at my shop.

    Overall, pleased with the sign. It felt like a huge project to me, probably just because I’ve never painted anything like that. My friend that painted the pretty first sign above is probably rolling on the floor laughing to read that. She paints these amazing giant wall murals. My little sign probably felt tiny to her. It felt huge to me. I realized that most acrylic projects I’ve done have been very small scale before now. It’s all in the perspective. But in the end, it was fun and I won’t be as hesitant to jump off into the next one.

    Almost there

    Making progress on my new jewelry displays. This…

    Pics

    …became these:

    Pics

    This is an experiment with making beads and cabochons out of raku-fired pottery for use in my wire jewelry. I’m pleased with results, so I’ll definitely be doing more.

    …and these:

    Pics

    Some of these are bases for my earring stands and some for pendants. The volcano shapes will be getting swirly copper inserts (see prototype in recent post). The rocks with slits are pendant and necklace stands and will have sheets of intentionally aged copper (not too shiny!). More on the copper-aging experiments in a coming post. Fun experimenting with patination techniques and copper-abuse.

    By the way, the solid copper were done in smaller containers proportional to the size of the piece (soup can sized). The colorful ones were in larger containers (coffee cans and small cookie tins). Same glaze on all, just differences in the amount of oxygen available to burn. Cool, huh?

    I like both the colorful and the solid copper. Since they’re for my jewelry counter, some colored ones will be eye-catching, but too many would be distracting. But they all go together. Btw, my counters are green, so all copper and color shimmers should look awesome on them.

    This last raku firing was a good learning experience. Learned the control thing mentioned above. Learned that the small jewelry cabochons we had on a clay shovel and just dropped the whole thing in a container worked great. The little volcanoes on the shovel though…bad. It acted as a heat-sink and the glazes didn’t mature. Small amount of those will have to be refired. No big deal.

    Also learned how to deal with lots of small pieces. Just dumping several smaller pieces in one container won’t work. Tried that the week before. Not good. Too hard to control. If they touch, the glaze sticks to each other and damages both. Have to refire.

    Prepping and pulling lots of individual pieces is tricky with logistics of numbers of containers, opening the kiln a lot (losing heat) and dealing with minimizing smoke.

    Normally the process is pull a piece, drop/cover, rush it away from area so we can breathe (tons of smoke boiling out). Come back. Rinse and repeat. No biggie with a few larger vases and bowls, but a lot of little things (30+) it’s much more complicated.

    So combining a couple of ideas, we tried this below:

    Cans

    Soup cans nested in wet sand. To the left, tray of slightly larger and taller cans to act as lids. Instead of wet newspaper to seal the lid (tricky up in a can), just plopped the larger can over, made sure edge was buried and the water in the wet sand acted as the seal. Worked great.

    Helper (my teacher) pulls the glowing hot piece from the kiln with long tongs, drops it in the can, the combustibles explode into flames, then I quickly slide the slightly larger can over the flaming smaller can (heavy leather gloves up past my elbows!) and push it all down into the wet sand. The sand starts boiling and steaming like crazy. Some smoke, but not so bad it has to be moved outside the kiln area. Great! Open the kiln again, repeat. Once the cans in the tray are filled, then move it all away to cool. Wait a few minutes for the kiln to heat again, and start pulling the next set of stuff.

    I’m just tickled about my new displays I’m working on. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my jewelry displays for awhile now, but had some very specific needs for the replacements. (See a couple of blog posts ago.) I’ve been taking pottery classes for awhile and it hit me recently that clay would perfectly solve the problem. I’ve been playing with raku firing, love the coppery look…well, you can see where this is going.

    The coppery tones will look beautiful with my exisiting displays, have an earthiness that goes with my current aesthetic, and meet the specific requirements I needed. Best of all, made them myself. Love blending several skills in one project (clay, wire, metalwork). I have the last couple of steps to finish them off this weekend, then I’ll do a blog post at some point with the final products.

    Also have been making some other displays:

    Other pics

    These are some rose leaves I got from the bridal section at the craft store, pair them together and wrap with floral tape, bend, then hang them from a manzanita tree on my counter. Earrings go in them and it looks like leaves and jeweled flowers/fruit hanging from the tree. Very pretty.

    Other pics

    Also for earrings, I need hang cards. I don’t like the commercial shiny black plastic ones for display out at the renfair, so I found these neat little stick-on backs that I can use to convert anything to a hang card. I have some nice paper cardstock with a slight shimmer that I use elsewhere. Looks nice and ties everything together.

    I’ve got a wooden display with bars and one of those normal spinner-type displays. I like the tree better, but it takes more space or if I’m low on earrings, I use these instead. Plus if someone buys earrings for a gift, it’s a way to present them and I can write the name of the stone on the back.

    A lot of big changes around here. I’m completely reworking the website to a cleaner look, reorganized, with more content and PICTURES. I had a lot of “coming soon” on the old website and not very many images. The old software I was using had a big learning curve, proving an impediment to regular updates. I discovered WordPress, which is much easier, and very customizable. Once I get the basics built (in progress right now), I’m switching out my old one for this site and moving my blog over here as well. I think it’s going to be awesome!

    Card

    Other changes, I just totally revamped my business cards. Love the way the new ones look and much more representative of me. I put a graphic of a close-in view of one of my personal favorite custom pieces, added background color (mine have been white for 20 years), and found a nice clean but artistic looking font that’s actually very similar to my handwriting. Very cool.

    The renfair is coming up rapidly. This is my last free weekend for the next couple of months. Not like there’s much free-time involved this time of year, mind you. In full swing trying to wrap up a to-do list a mile long and finish up my stock goals before the fair starts. I never get everything done, but I think I’ll be able to get the critical stuff done.

    It’s a little stressful getting ready, but I really enjoy it once it’s here. Seeing friends I haven’t seen in a year, both fellow merchants and patrons…it’s weird. Once I see them, it feels like I just saw them last week and the year hasn’t existed. Very nice. Great to see everyone and it’s like slipping on a really comfortable pair of old shoes. Like going home. Nice. This season will be my 21st year out there. Hard to believe. Time has flown.

    All fired up

    This is another thing I’ve been up to lately.

    Raku bowls

    This is raku.

    Raku bowls

    Recently, while I had my light tent set up taking the jewelry a couple of posts back, I took these too.

    Raku bowls

    The shiny-but-dark is tricky to photograph, especially with the cell phone.

    Raku bowls

    I’m totally in love with this style of pottery. There are lots of styles of pottery and glaze techniques. Raku originates in Japan. Part of the glazes on mine contain a lot of copper, creating a very distinctive look, although there are other completely different glazes as well.

    Raku bowls

    The main hallmarks are that raku is typically fired at lower temperatures (1800 degrees) usually in a gas kiln (not electric) for a much shorter time. While it is glowing hot, it is pulled from the kiln and dropped into an awaiting metal container filled with combustible material. The heat of the piece immediately bursts it into flames. A lid is slapped on, the flame continues to burn inside, using up the oxygen, creating an oxygen reduction atmosphere. Sometimes after the flames are gone and it’s cooled slightly, but still very hot, it might be plunged into water.

    All the temperature changes and thermal shocks, on purpose, produce a crazing in the glaze. The burning material will turn any cracks or unglazed areas black.

    Diz and buttons

    Sometimes the combination of all the factors can result in brilliant colors.

    The oxygen reduction atmosphere and other factors react with the glazes, like with the copper-containing ones, it will create utterly unique and unpredictable results.

    Diz and buttons

    Raku is typically considered decorative rather than food-safe. One, there may be components in the glazes that wouldn’t be food-safe. Since it’s only fired to 1800 or so, the clay body doesn’t reach a state of vitrification (tiny little glass crystals form throughout), which is what makes clay hard and non-porous. Also, because of the thermal shocks and lack of vitrification, the pieces can be a little more fragile.

    Raku process 1

    At the beginning of the process, we use paint brushes to apply the glaze, usually several coats. Like most ceramic glazes, the color of the glaze can look nothing like the finished results. The bucket with the black goop is the one that made all the pretty copper colors.

    Raku process 1

    Here, we’re waiting for the glazes to dry thoroughly. Trying to help it along with a hair-dryer. In the picture, the spiky thing that looks like a denuded tree has high-temperature wire poking out of it and is what I have my buttons hanging on. Glaze can’t be on the bottom of things or when it melts it will glue itself to the kiln shelf. Not good. Things like beads can be suspended on high-temp wire to get around that issue.

    Raku process 1

    Once the glaze is dry, pieces are placed into the kiln to start firing. While waiting for the glaze to get hot enough and start to change, we prepare the cans the hot pieces will go into. We pick metal cans and tins a little larger than the piece, then line those with shredded newspaper and some sawdust. Anything combustible, but these are common. Pine needles can be used, whatever. That can be an art unto itself. We also prepare a lid, ultimately wrapped in wet newspaper. It has to be wet so that it won’t catch fire because you want it to make a tight seal when the oxygen starts burning away.

    Raku process 1

    Here, after a peek, the glazes look ready, so it’s time to start pulling the pieces. It’s a three person job. In the picture, on the left, is my instructor Barrie. If you’ll notice, she’s got on long gloves (we all do), and is using long iron tongs to reach into the kiln to pick up a piece and bring it out. It’s very hot, even with all the protection. These pictures are from when I did it last, but after handling the raku firing some people did today (we do once a month or so), she looked like she had a sunburn.

    Another person is working the sliding kiln door so that it’s not open too long and loses a minimum of heat. It’s possible with only two people, but it’s easier to work more quickly with someone working the door. The idea is to not lose too much heat from the kiln while the door is open, or let the piece cool too much before it is put in the combustibles. Although some let it cool a bit…that whole thermal shock thing, more crazing in the glaze.

    Standing ready, one of the students has the lid wrapped in layers of wet newspaper ready to cover the cannister once the piece is in.

    Raku process 1

    In this picture you can see the very good reason for gloves.

    Raku process 2

    Once the lid is on, holding it all tightly together, the cannister is moved away from the work area so it’s not in the way and we don’t inhale the clouds of smoke it creates. A brick is put on top as a weight to keep a good seal. The smoke eventually dies down, but I always smell like I’ve been around a campfire. Not unpleasant unless I accidentally get in a cloud of it.

    Raku process 2

    We wait for the cannisters to cool and once we can handle the pottery bare-handed, we get to open things up and see what happened. That is totally the best part! It’s so neat, like unwrapping a gift to see what you got.

    Here’s some of my little bowls, buttons and the diz laid out. Awesome! Love some of the effects I got. I keep notes on what I did, but by its nature, raku is hard to reproduce. But that is what makes it special.