Where Have I Been?

30 05 2011

Some Changes Going On…

I usually keep my blog focused on jewelry making activities – creativity, my classes, tips and projects, and the business side. But today, I’m doing a quick write up about some changes going on.

It has been extremely difficult to realize that as much as I love creating, designing, and teaching classes, jewelry making is not a way for me to make a living. Even though I no longer live the style I used to as a corporate manager, I still need to pay the bills and feel comfortable financially, so I had to shift gears a bit, and look elsewhere.

What a Very Cool View!

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Florida for a class I took (so nice to be a student for a change!), and this was the view from my seat… I love this picture! The class wasn’t about jewelry making – it was for a totally different business venture of mine that I have been involved in for the past 6 months, which is about to be launched.

In about 2 weeks, I will be opening up a store (brick and mortar), called “Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More of Mountain View” and I was in Florida to attend my business training at FrogU (really!).

I had been looking at franchises for a while. I had a pretty extensive list of what I wanted, and after a few years of looking, the Big Frog franchise opportunity got before my eyes. It pretty much meets the key elements of what I was looking for in both a franchisor, and a business – a fun place, focused on customers, with potential to use both my creativity and my marking backround. So… I jumped into the pond, and I am now a Big Frog!

This is why I’ve been posting sporadically… I’ve always wanted StudioDax to remain mostly focused on jewelry – not my personal life, and not my Big Frog activities. Like so many others, I started StudioDax as a natural extension of my jewelry making hobby. StudioDax will continue – I will maintain my StudioDax Shop on Etsy, where I will continue selling some of my jewelry, some great jewelry tools, and of course my bead crochet Jig/Tutorial. I will continue developing and creating new designs because I love to design jewelry!!

AND – I will continue to post here on my blog, keeping the focus on things that the jewelry community will be interested in Although it is no longer the way I make a living, it is still a big part of who I am!

If you are interested in seeing what has been my focus for the past few months, you can check out my Facebook page for Big Frog of Mountain View. And I promise – my next post will be on something bling bling!





Death of a Printer

9 05 2011

(… and it wasn’t pretty!)

It started with a simple “5200 ERROR” – nothing I couldn’t handle. Just unplug the printer, wait a few minutes, plug it back in and power up while holding the reset button. But when new errors started showing up once or twice a week, I feared the worst…

Eventually, the message “WASTE INK ABSORBER FULL” showed up, and I knew it was time to get professional help, so I perused the “FIXYOUROWNPRINTER” website. If you own an older printer (or one that is worth less than a service call!), you need to check out this site. Non-techie types of people post questions about their printer problems, and wonderful technical folks respond, providing help and advice on how to fix their issue.

So… I learned how to clean out the waste ink absorbers. And I learned how to set the ABS-M and ABS-P LEVELS to zero (I have no idea what that is, but it helped…!). I cleaned the cartridge contacts, the underside foam buffer pad, and weird little plastic combs that collected huge amounts of ink. And I got very, very, dirty…

Not My Best Look...

But it seemed to work – my printer was printing, and all was well. And then the black ink  gave out, so I changed the cartridge. Nothing new about this – done it many many times. Except now the printer says “INK CARTRIDGE JAM” – so I go thru all the steps to clear errors, and the red alarm light goes off, and the error goes away.

Until the next day. Now the error is “”PUT IN CARTRIDGE,”  so I do what all the expert advice says to do – I remove the entire cartridge, turn the printer off/on, replace the cartridge, and reset. It doesn’t help. I unplug the printer. I get into maintenance mode in the menu, and reset all the user controls. PUT IN CARTRIDGE. PUT IN CARTRIDGE. PUT IN CARTRIDGE…. the friggin cartridge is in – I swear! I disconnect everything, and unplug it, and leave it for 2 days. I try again. I get the same message, so I shut it down, open it up, and re-clean all contacts. I try again… PUT IN CARTRIDGE. PUT IN CARTRIDGE. PUT IN CARTRIDGE….

I Killed the Printer!

I confess… I went a little crazy. I pulled up the platen and ripped the ribbon cables right out of it. I tore the plastic front plate off with my hands, and I pried off plastic bits with a screwdriver. Then I dropped it on the floor. Several times.

Sometimes, the frustration is just not worth the effort. And tomorrow, I get a new printer….





A Cool Cool, Clasp

23 04 2011

I doodle with wire… that’s right, I’m a doodler! When I’m sitting in front of the TV, I often have a few spools of copper wire in front me, along with my tools, and just twist and wrap and fold and coil! Seeing different designs and ideas come together is very satisfying!

Sometimes I start out with a sketch that I made, and see how it turns out. And sometimes I start with something specific in mind, to see if I can make it work. I wanted to see if I could come up with a simple circular clasp, maybe to use for some multi-stranded necklace designs, and this is how it progressed!

Doodle Try #1

I had a few parameters for the clasp: I wanted clean lines, I wanted the hook side and the eye side to lay in the same direction so it would be comfortable on the neck, and it needed to be easy to use. The first “doodle” started with a figure “8” in wire, which I sorta folded over, so that the smaller loop rested on top of the bigger loop. This has a construction issue, because I would have to solder both ends to a common wire at the point where the clasp folds, leaving 2 potential weak spots.

Doodle Try #2

The next doodle was similar in look, but it starts with an “O” shape that is pinched to create the two loops. This has a real advantage over the first style, in that the ends of the wire meet together, so it only has one connecting point. And since the original shape is round, it is easy to make sure the solder point doesn’t get stressed.

Final Clasp in Silver

I decided to create the clasp using some twisted wire I had, and I love the end result. I started by soldering a large ring, and then shaped it like an “8” using some mandrels. Once the loops were nice and round, I carefully folded it at the place it pinched to create the hook. Next, I created the other side sizing it to the clasp.

Silver Clasp Closed

Here is the clasp closed – you can see how the two sides are balanced, so it looks nice, both sides lay in the same direction, so it is flat against the neck, and there are no wire ends, so nothing catches onto your clothes or sticks into you.

I have tried variations of this without soldering, some work ok, but the advantage of the soldering is that it makes the clasp robust. Knowing a variety of techniques is key to being able to create your designs as you envision them…!





Perfect Wirework!

11 04 2011

Although most of my work is very “one-of-a-kind” and organic in nature, being a professional means that I don’t mess around with my wirework! It takes time and practice to achieve a clean line, and it can be difficult to get repeatable results.

One of the things I’ve been doing for years is to always prototype and document my new work. Whenever I develop a project for a  class, I write out notes and sketch my ideas – many don’t work out, but I often find an element of the idea that appeals to me, and I wind up using it for something totally different.

I also teach my students one of the “tricks” I use for wire components, which helps to really ensure repeatability – I create wire templates.

16g Wire Clasp Components

Once I know HOW to make something, I like to play around with different wire gauges and lengths – there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” so if something works, I always see how far I can take it! In the photo above, it’s easy to see how the different length of wire makes clasps of different sizes (you can learn to make a wire clasp in this TUTORIAL). This way, I can just pick the clasp that works for my project, and easily make it the same size. On one side of the tag I mark the wire gauge, on the other, the length.

Wire Wrapped Beads

Not just for clasps – I make this type of template for other wire components (such as wire spirals HERE), as well as these wire wrapped beads, so I can make sure to cut the right size wire when making bead links (I just love making the link with the zigzag on the wrap!).

And if you like to make earwires that are as creative as your earrings, than wire templates are a great help – it’s important to get the proportions accurate.

A Variety of Hooks and Hoops

I love creating different earwires – these are the ones I use most because they are the most flexible. You can make a whole earring wardrobe using simple gemstone or pearl drops, and putting them on different wires! I have already posted two tutorials in this blog for SIMPLE EARWIRES and SIMPLE HOOPS – I always seem to get alot of folks who check out the wire tutorials, so I’m thinking it’s time to post a few more… any favorites?? Just post a comment, and I’ll see what I can do!





I Love Mandrels!

31 03 2011

Part of the “Tools that Delight” posts… As a wire worker, mandrels are some of my all time favorite tools. Since there are always lots of wraps and loops and coiling in my designs, it is important that there is consistency in the techniques used – sloppy wire work stands out, and makes a good design cheap.

Wire Wrap Stepped Mandrels

These are a new favorite tool of mine! I’ve been doing wire work for many years, and I’ve always used round nose pliers – I’m pretty good at it too! But there are some problems that folks have with pliers – most notably, it is difficult to repeat wire wraps with consistency, because the wire is easily moved up and down the pliers, resulting in loops that are not the same size.

Wire Wraps.... Step Style!

Using stepped mandrels ensures that the wraps are always consistent, because the mandrels are cylindrical (rather than cone shaped), and the wire actually rests on a “step” so it can be repeated over and over with no change.

Coils and Jump Rings

Look how nice this coil looks, perfect to make a few jump rings. I confess – I have a complete jump ringer power system to make jump rings in quantity. But often, I just need a few, and it’s easier to wrap up a coil and saw or cut them.

Easy Links - a "Figure 8"

And it’s simple to make links – these mandrels have a range of sizes between 1.5mm and 10mm, so it’s super simple to create whatever size you need for your project. I make a whole bunch of these at one sitting, so that I always have them ready when needed.

Hammered Link

This component (above) was made using a small wrap on one end, and a much larger wrap on the other. Then, the link was hammered flat to harden it so it doesn’t pull open, and also, because it looks cool hammered

I really really love these, and I now keep a set in my portable tool kit and bring them to class for my students to use.

Textured Padded Grip - Set of 2 Steel Stepped Mandrels

I also decided to sell them – if interested, they are available at my Etsy store in the Tools section. I include a tutorial on using the mandrels, as well as some practice wire, so it’s easy to get going… wire work is fun, and the ability to make your own jump rings and links and clasps is a great way to start adding handmade wire to your jewelry.





End of Winter Blahs…

22 03 2011

This is really not a blog post. It is an excuse, and an apology, for my lack of blog posts…

I can’t believe I am still coughing, and still lightheaded. It might have turned to bronchitis. I haven’t gone out in almost 2 weeks, and I even had to cancel a class, which I really hate to do. No matter what, I have to go out tomorrow (gotta see the tax guy – can’t put it off!), but I’m having my sister drive me, because I’m still feeling pretty fuzzy .

Before I got sick, I took photos for my next “Tools that Delight” posting, and I will try very hard to get to it this week.

But right now, I’m taking some Nyquil, and heading back to sleep… zzzzzzzz…..





The Bead Crochet Jig

9 03 2011

A Bead Crochet Rope Bracelet

When I learned to make bead crochet ropes a few years ago, I found it to be beyond frustrating! In my class, the instructor (Stephanie Riger – a wonderful jewelry designer and friend), made it look so easy… but I was totally unable to create the starting base rows. I was not the only one – Stephanie is a great teacher, but she had to create the first few rows for many of us. Once started, it took a while to learn the technique, but I didn’t find it too difficult to learn the basics, and now I can zip thru it! But the first few rows continued to be difficult – alot of rework, much frustration, and ripping out the first few rows. When I was asked to teach classes in bead crochet, I knew there had to be a better way to make the first few rows, so that it was easier and faster to get to the fun part!! So I did a lot of experimenting and prototyping, and finally came up with the Starter Jig.

So why is it so frustrating to start bead crochet ropes??

Close Up: Bead Crochet Starter Rows

Just look at it… to start, you crochet a ring of beads, and then add stitches thru the ring. This is 2 rows of bead crochet rope (5 beads around), done in size 6 beads. It can be difficult to tell where you would put the crochet hook, and where the next stitch should be, especially for someone learning. Although I tried to straighten it out for the photo, this is a real mess of thread and beads. So how does the jig help…?

Using the Starter Jig creates a stable base

Creating bead crochet ropes is the same technique, whether you use the Starter Jig or manually create a starter ring. It’s the first few rows that are so frustrating, because there is no structure. Using the Starter Jig, you are able to easily stabilize the first few rows, so that you can position the crochet hook, and add stitches in the correct orientation. Once you have about 2 inches of beads, you remove the jig, and continue crocheting and finishing off your project.

Comparing the Starter Jig

In this photo, you can compare what 2 rows looks like when on the Starter Jig, or when done in a manual bead ring. For reference, I also show the same pattern of beads after about 2 inches – if this was a “real” project, the rope would be ready to be removed from the jig.

When I go to shows and events, I am able to demo the jig, showing customers the benefits: it’s easy to use, the starting rows are stable, and when you remove the jig, the starting rows are clean and neat (no more ripping out starter rows!). But I can’t always be there, so I created a mini display with a few pieces in process.

Demo Display

You can see the 3 comparison items shown above, and also a few sample pieces showing the ropes using varying size beads. Personally, I think people are a little crazy to use the tiny size 11’s (shown on the jig at the right), but alot of people asked if it could be done, so I had to try it out, and it works just fine…

One of my favorites!

I make most of my bracelets in size 6 beads, but I also like using size 8’s which are a bit smaller. This bracelet has been a favorite of mine, even though I no longer have it… the beads are vibrant, and the center focals and silver endcaps accent the pattern beautifully.

If you’re interested in buying a jig (it comes with an emailed 20+ page pdf tutorial, with over 50 photos), please CLICK HERE to visit my Etsy store (or you can click on my Etsy menu, in the right side), and check out the section on tools.