New Projects!

22 09 2010

I currently have 45+ different class projects that I have developed, but I never seem to have anything new! Since I teach at both jewelry shops and thru adult education programs, I need a good selection of classes for the real beginner, as well as for my more advanced students looking to broaden their skills. A few weeks ago I posted some of my new projects for the fall – here are a couple of beginner classes that I’m in process of creating for this winter session, to be scheduled thru Palo Alto Adult Education:

Bold Heart Pendent

I just looooove that this came out exactly as I designed!  This example is made with antiqued copper and faceted garnets – I think it has a real “True Blood / Twilight” kinda feel…. a little goth, a little edge. I  just finished another one in silver with mirrored finish crystals. It’s really shiny, so I think I’ll oxidize it to lower the bling factor…

"Celestra" Earrings

This design was a great accident – nothing like what I originally started out with, but the end result came out great! These earrings are pearl and silver, but I’ve adapted the “Celestra” design to create a larger  wired gemstone component for a pendant.

I really enjoy creating class projects for beginners that go beyond the basic “how to wrap a loop.”  It is vital that  you learn the basic techniques, and learn them well, if you want to continue creating jewelry. But I think that if you can walk into a class knowing nothing about wirework, and walk out with a very cool project, you will be more inclined to take a few more classes – and that’s my goal!

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The Mannequin’s Earrings!

22 08 2010

As I mentioned last week, I’ve just started working with a jewelry mannequin to take  my photos. As thrilled as I am with how it all comes together, I gotta ask one simple question:

Do the people who design these things ever talk to the people who use them??

Not Quite Right...!

Take a look at this – I’m just trying to put an earring in. Nothing fancy… just a regular earwire. The mannequin has a hole in the ear, and the description specifically mentions that it’s for earrings, so I know I’m not doing anything wrong.

She's a Hard Headed Woman!!

Now this just doesn’t make sense – you have a hole for the earring, and yet… you can’t actually put most earring on! Probably a post earring would work, but give me a break! It would have been soooooo easy for the designer to make a slight adjustment to accommodate a majority of the earrings. The ear could have been made a bit thinner, or the area behind the ear could have been sculpted deeper, so that the wires wouldn’t hit. To me, if they would have tested this with peopl who actually use it, they would know that it needs to be changed a little.

The Fix...

So in order to use it, the earwires need to be bent and reshaped every time , and that’s unacceptable! So l have come up with a solution… not the greatest, but it’s the best fix I can think of – I now have a slightly shorter, and different curved earwire “permanently” stuck in the ear. Instead of manipulating the earwires on my earrings, I gently remove the hanging part, and put it on the mannequin’s earwire for the photo, then put it back on the real earwire when I’m done. This works for most of my earrings… but my designs with long soldered earwires will never get photographed on the mannequin!

I love how this looks, but the designer should have put the head in beta test!!





Tools To Go

11 08 2010

When I first started to teach jewelry making, I was always scrambling to pull together my tools before taking off to class. There is a standard subset of tools that I use for most projects I work on, whether wire work, or beading, or working with metal, so I decided to make up a simple tool kit with the items I use the most, so I can just grab it and pack it with my other supplies.

Ooooohhhh.... tools!

This is my tool kit… not some case with elastic loops (never big enough!), but a baby wipes container! Filled with the tools I use every single day…. And the case has a little extra room, so I can always add an extra tool when needed.

To Bend, To Hold To Shape, To Cut

You can never have enough pliers. Really…. I’m serious! I have about 25 pairs at my workbench – some are very very specific (prong benders), but most are variations of the basics.These pliers above are the ones I reach for most, so they are the ones in the kit:

  1. Nylon Faced Pliers: these are really really grungy, but I use them all the time to straighten wire, and gently form metal
  2. Flush Cutters: a sharp point, and a clean edge are a must! And these cut wire as heavy as 14g with no problem.
  3. Round Nose Pliers: I have 2 pairs, since I use a variety of gauges.
  4. Knotting Pliers: although these are intended for knotting, I use them all the time with wire. They are great for tucking in thin wires.
  5. Bent Nose Pliers: I have discovered that I reach for bent nose pliers so much more than chain nose pliers. I used to keep chain nose in the kit, but I don’t use them much – the bent nose work most times for me.

The Other Stuff I Use

Pliers are the basics, but they’re not enough! I always need files, and I found a small 3 piece set that has a great cut. There are also 2 awls (aka “pointy metal sticks!”) that I use all the time – the yellow handle one is thicker, and great for enlarging small holes in metal, and for breaking beads. The nail, at the bottom of the photo, has been altered… I cut off the point and filed, sanded and polished the end, so I could use it as a burnisher to smooth out metal surfaces. And the extendable antenna is my portable mandrel, used when I need to shape wire and make coils.

The Final Touch

I can’t begin to tell you how often I use sanding blocks… ! These are 1/4 size cut from a standard block, and I use them to soften a metal surface (wire or sheet) after filing. I also use them to add a subtle texture, and to clean off oxidation. The crocous cloth is something I was shown years ago… it is a textures grit “painted” onto a heavy denim cloth, and it is great to polish up metal apply a shine – just be sure to NEVER use them wet, because the grit will run!

For most classes, I also need to grab a few other items – for many projects I need to include steel blocks, stamps, punches, and hammers. But having all these basics in one simple case ensures that I all I need to do is add the project specific tools. And as a little time bonus, I keep this sitting in my living room, so whenever I feel a bit creative, it’s always where I need it!





Amazing Students!

2 08 2010

This weekend I had a really great class – a great fun project, alot of different wire techniques, beautiful beads, and just absolutely wonderful students!  In my class yesterday at Beaded Bliss (one of my favorite places!),the students created such great projects – I decided that this week I would focus on them, instead of me!

We worked in wire from 12g – 22g gauge, and did alot of design planning. To start, we learned first how to twist wire in different gauges, and then how to make perfectly wrapped coils…

Twisted up and Coiled!

Some folks used silver, but some decided to use copper instead, especially folks who were new to wire working. No one wants to spend big $$ on silver when you’re learning new skills, and aren’t sure how it will come out.

Kuchi, Kuchi, koo!

Once we mastered basic coiling and twisting, we learned how to make Kuchi beads from wrapped wire. I’m not sure where the name “Kuchi” comes from, but that’s what I’ve always heard them called.

Antiquing makes it come to life!

Everyone made up a nice selection of coils and Kuchi’s, and then those wanting to antique them, gave their components a bath with Liver of Sulpher (LOS). I love how copper gets such a rich look from the LOS – it changes the wire from “hardware looking” to jewelry grade!

So what was everyone making….? They combined their wire components with  some beautiful lampwork beads, natural stones, and a variety of metal, bone, glass, and ceramic spacers. And they made these beautiful bangles!

Copper Bangle 1

I love how these beads work together – the copper really works with the colors she chose, and the end result is a beautiful bracelet.

Copper Bangle 2

Aren’t these cool beads? The carnelians have some real unusual patterns, and they are balanced with the cool blue beads, and tied together with the cream accents. Another beautiful bracelet.

Copper Bangle 3

The beads and spacers in this bangle really work well together – the group of spacers next to Kuchi show such a wonderful variety of textures – when they are all together, they become a subtle focus.

Silver Bangle 1

This is a great bangle… the blue beads are amazonite, and they look fabulous with the carnelian and bone beads. The silver work is really well done – the very precise Kuchi and tightly wound coils provide a very clean look. The decision to leave this bright (not antiqued) gives is a wonderful light feel.

Silver Bangle 2

This bangle reminds me of the African Savannah! The colors, and the patterns on the lampwork beads – they look great with the antiqued silver wire, and ever time it moves on the wrist, you see something new – what a different look than the first silver bangle!

Silver Bangle 3

I love the neutral palette of this design… the lampwork beads have a very organic feel, and the green aventurine beads accent them really nicely. I like how the darker beads make the rest of the bangle pop

I never forget that students take classes for a number of reasons – they want to be among people who share their passion, they want to learn how to do something, and they hope to walk away with a new skill… and hopefully a great new piece of jewelry!

I was really thrilled with the amazing pieces everyone created, and I think they were too!





Getting Hooked (or, How to Make a Clasp)

26 07 2010

Being able to make your own jewelry findings means that you can always create what you need, in the size you need. I love finishing off a handmade piece with a well made clasp, and one of my favorites is the basic wire hook.

Step 1: flatten one end

I start with a 2.5 inch length of wire, in a pretty heavy weight. I’m using 16g here, but you can change up the gauge and the length to customize your clasp. Sand or file the ends clean, and hammer one end to create a “paddle” shape.

Step 2: create a small loop

Next, you need to create a small loop (as small as possible) at the flattened end, using the very tip of my round nose pliers.  Make sure you don’t use good precision round nose pliers – the heavier gauge wires could twist the tips out of alignment and ruin your pliers!

Step 3: make a large loop

On the other end of the wire, make a larger loop, using the base of your round nose pliers. Make sure that the loops are facing the same direction, as shown below:

The wire is now ready to be shaped

The loops are round, facing the same direction. The wire is nice and straight, and  can now be shaped around a mandrel into a hook (I use a pen in the following steps, but you can use any appropriately shaped rod as a mandrel).

Step 4: holding the wire

Hold the wire across the top of the pen, with both of the loops facing up. Position your thumb a bit closer to the large loop, and hold the wire tight on the mandrel.

Step 5: bending the wire

Start bending the wire over the mandrel on both sides – the end with the small loop will be longer. Bend the wire gently, ensuring it keeps a rounded shape.

Step 6: shaping the hook

Once both sides are pushed down (like an upside down “U”), push the longer end with the small loop under the mandrel, toward the large loop. This gives the clasp a “swoop” shape, which helps with the integrity of the hook.

Step 7: the finishing touches

Now the hook is done. The final step is to harden the wire, so that the clasp will not bend out when used. You can either whack it with a mallet, which will keep the wire round (as shown on the left), or you can lightly hammer the wire on the curves, which will result in a clasp as shown on the right. If the curves open up a little, just reshape them closed. And don’t forget to antique your clasp to match your chain and metal components if needed.

Practice a few in copper before working with silver, and adjust the wire gauge and length to create variations that suit your designs and style. You  will never be “held hostage” to store bought components again!





Twisted, Wrapped, Coiled, and Woven…

13 07 2010

… just some ways to have fun with wire! I love how wire can be manipulated, and adapted for so many different looks. Basic wire skills are so important – knowing how wire bends and acts are key techniques that every jewelry designer should know. But wire work is so much more than wrapping a bead or making an earwire! Wire can be a key design element in your pieces – not just an accessory to beads. Luckily, some of of the best wire designers in the country are also some of the best teachers! For those of us looking to broaden our wire skills, Hooked on Wire (Sept 9-12, 2010) is a great venue to meet up and learn from the masters!

Fiore Selvatico with Barb Switzer

Isn’t this just a gorgeous necklace!? Barb is such an artist with wire… I love how the focal rivoli crystal and the antiqued wire are used – it reminds me of flowing vines and flowering English gardens.

Circles Bracelet with Dallas Lovett

Dallas does such great things with wire… his designs are so inspired! This intriguing design combines seed beads and wire weaving to create a bit of art deco for your arms…

Victorian Scroll Bracelet with Lisa Niven Kelly

The inspiration for Lisa’s fabulous bracelet is old style iron gates… in this detailed close-up, you can see how the scrollwork inspired a new art form as it wraps around your wrist!

These workshops teach you so much more than just the projects… they teach you the the techniques. This is the 7th year that Hooked on Wire has brought such talent together, and it’s a great opportunity to meet up with others that share your passion. If you’ve never attended a retreat like this, think of it as both a vacation, and an education… your creativity will thank you for the kick!!

And I’d love to meet you too – I’ll be there, teaching “FAN-tastic Pendent,” one one of the optional night classes, so make sure you check out the entire Hooked on Wire site to see how much fun you can pack in just 3 days!





Learning Something New

28 06 2010

For the past few years, I’ve been playing with bead crochet – I am surprised at how much I really enjoy this technique, considering that most of my jewelry work is with metal. I love teaching classes in it, making/selling my Starter Jig (which is now patent pending!!), and I have found creating bead crochet ropes to be very satisfying.

A Favorite of Mine

So it was really very cool, and unexpected, for me to find something new that I just didn’t expect in bead crochet ropes – working with wire. Now I know people create wonderful jewelry by crocheting wire – I think the open and airy weave is wonderful… but making crochet beaded ropes has been really difficult, because it’s almost impossible to get the first few rows started. But I’ve been talking with the great folks at Beadalon (who now own Artistic Wire) about carrying my Starter Jig in their product line, and they wanted to know how it worked with wire.

Slinky and Cool Necklace

So of course I gave it a try…. and what a surprise! My previous attempts (without the Starter Jig) failed miserably, so I didn’t think it would work, but I was thrilled to find that not only was I able to use the Jig with wire, I also got a different look. Using thread in bead crochet ensures that you have a nice tight stitch in your rope, but when using wire, it’s better to create rows that are much looser. The wire becomes a real design element that shows through the stitches, not just the means to hold the beads in place.

Closeup - Bead Crochet Rope w/Wire

Isn’t this just such a cool look… I love it! I am looking forward to playing with different colored wire to create some interesting contrasts. And I love that I can now show my students that using wire is a great additional option when I teach classes.

For reference – I made my bracelet with size 6 seed beads and C-Lon Beading Cord, and the necklace with size 8 beads and 32g Artistic Wire.