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Painting With Fire

I have learned lots of techniques within the scope of jewelrymaking: wirework, soldering, polymer clay, beading, resin, lampwork, PMC, the list goes on.  There are certain things that just don’t interest me at all, and one of those has been enamel.  Powdered glass melted onto the surface of metal, usually in a kiln.  I skipped the Thompson Enamel booth at the last PMC Guild Conference.  Call me a purist, but I like the neutrality (goes with everything) and polishability (is that a word) of silver by itself.  I could bring color into a piece with beads, plus I didn’t care for the garishly bright enameled pieces I had seen.  But last year Barbara Lewis published this book about torch-firing enamel, and she asked different jewelry bloggers to write what they really thought about the book and technique.  We saw torch-enameled beads popping up all over the jewelry web, and many of them used a filigree base lightly coated with beautiful glass.  My interest was piqued by Jen Judd’s necklace at the artBLISS* Meet & Greet.  Beautiful enameled filigree beads in blues and greens.  I had a tough time making eye contact instead of staring at the necklace.  So I bought a torch-fired enamel kit.  After all, I already have (most of) a lampwork station and it works for both.

That was December.  Today it is the second week of March and we’re having 80-degree weather, so during naptime I decided to try torch enameling out in the garage with my “big” butane torch, the one that melts silver way too fast.  I figured I’d see if I liked it before spending my free time trying to get my propane tank and lampwork torch to talk to each other.  I skimmed the tutorial, lit my torch, unscrewed the cap on an enamel jar, jabbed a few beads, and went at it. 

I know you’re not supposed to use enamel straight from the jar.  You are also not supposed to eat peanut butter straight from the jar.  Don’t tell, ok?

*While I’m off topic I’d like to mention that artBLISS is happening again in Northern Virginia September 21-23, 2012.  Registration opens soon, and you can sign up for the mailing list to get notified:

So anyway, aside from having to refill my butane I just kept heating and dunking beads.  It was so fun and easy!  And no kiln annealing like with lampwork; you can use your beads as soon as they’re cool.  I only burnt myself twice.  Ahem.  Here is what I made today.

Now a Thompson Enamel booth would be like a candy store!  Good thing I can mail-order from Barbara (Painting With Fire Artwear).  If you’re interested in learning how to do this technique, check out Barbara’s blog with links to everything you need.

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And for the record

So after I wrote about the 800th earrings it took me another day before I started wondering how many necklaces I was up to.  (Seriously. I don’t have time to notice stuff like this.)  Here is a necklace in the current grouping I’m prepping for the shop, N900. 

That’s right, the nine HUNDREDTH necklace I have inventoried.  This just blows my mind because it doesn’t even count the dozens (hundreds?) of stamped personalized necklaces, like this one I did last week with my new handprint and footprint tags.

My daughter has been bringing home sweet little handprint artwork from preschool, and the little foot reminds me of the “fingerprinting” they did on my son as a newborn.  This necklace is for someone else, but that reminds me I still need to add a “Bowen” tag to my “Olivia” necklace.  What is that saying about the cobbler’s kids having no shoes?

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800 pairs and counting

I’ve been pricing and tagging new inventory for the shop and as I wrote “E800” on the back of an earring card it struck me: this is the 800th pair of earrings I have made. That doesn’t count the countless pairs I made that didn’t stick around long enough to get a number, or the ones I made in my pre-professional jewelry life.  (You can read more about that era here.)  And I’m sure there are other jewelry artists who have inventoried way more than 800 pairs of earrings. But AnneMade Jewelry is coming up on its 8th birthday next month and it’s fun to think about the different chapters of my story.  (You can read about chapter one here.)  And I sometimes struggle with the instinct to one-up myself with every new piece of jewelry.  But I’m striving to showcase good materials with simple settings, so while there’s a lot I could do with a fluorite briolette and an earhook I have come to love the beautiful simplicity of earrings like E800.  I don’t need to win awards for creativity or earn badges for making each new piece different than anything that came before it.  I just need to make jewelry because it keeps me sane!
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Wire Button Bail

Hi, gang.  I have been sqeezing in studio time here and there, working on a grouping for the shop downtown.  When my son was born in October he slept all the time, so I was able to keep making jewelry for the Christmas season. 

My newest studio helper

But as Bowen has gotten older his naps don’t usually coincide with Olivia’s naps, so now my bench time is that much more precious.  I apologize if I don’t update my blog a whole lot; it’s just something I’ve had to cut out along with listing jewelry for sale online. 

A while ago I found some old steel cut buttons in an antique store.  They were from the estate of a button collector, lovingly arranged on a card.  I took one off to give to a friend who loves romantic-vintage stuff like that.  The second one came off the card today when I was creating this sampler necklace inspired by another that sold right after I made it. 

The floral centerpiece is a PMC piece I made, and the dangles include freshwater pearls, vintage crystals, sterling silver beads, quartz, and an antique button from my precious stash.  If you’ve ever tried to dangle a shank button without having it tip forward or altering the shank, you know my challenge for today’s studio time.  Now I’m sharing my tricks with you.  Here is the bail I created as a solution.

Reverse side
Forming the loops after putting the wire through the shank is harder than it looks, especially when using half-hard wire.  Once I did that, though, I squeezed the loops tight around the shank so the bail wouldn’t jiggle.  Then I pressed the top of the bail forward so it would sit close to the top of the button (the center of gravity) to prevent the whole thing from tipping forward.

I did something similar with a big, orphan bead cap that has been laying on my bench for awhile.  Rather than capping a huge bead, I wanted to frame a small pearl but I didn’t want it to hang face-down.
I threaded the pearl, bead cap, and a small sterling bead onto a headpin, which I then bent sharply so it would stay put.  I bent the headpin to follow the contour of the bead cap, through a hole in the cap’s edge, and into a hanging loop.

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Sugarloaf Crafts Festival

It’s January.  It’s cold in Virginia.  The holidays are over, our decorations are (mostly) put away.  Maybe you know someone with a birthday coming up. Maybe you were hoping to find something more creative under your Christmas tree. Maybe you’re tired of watching football on the weekends. Maybe you have cabin fever (especially if you have little ones).  Maybe you’re a jewelry artist who is burnt out after Christmas and needing some inspiration.

River pebbles ring with rhodalite by Rona Fisher

The Sugarloaf Crafts Festival is coming to the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly January 27-29. Mingle with the artists who make the beautiful things you see in each booth (over 250), and ask them to tell you the story behind a piece that you love.  This is a juried show, which makes for a top-notch group of craftspeople including my favorite, Rona Fisher.  There are also children’s theatre presentations, handmade goodies to eat, and artisans demonstrating their craft.  More info:

I’ve got free tickets to give away!  I’ll send a pair of tickets to the first two people to email me with their mailing address.  I’ll update this when they’re gone, so don’t be shy. 

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Jewelry making: The gift that keeps on giving

I got this email today:
“Dear Anne,

I would like to buy a quality kit and tutorial for my 14 year old niece who is very creative. However, I can only spend about $30.00. Do you have any suggestions?  Thank you for your help.
Warmly, Jennifer”
First of all, it sounds like Jennifer is gunning for Cool Aunt status.  What a neat idea for a Christmas gift.  I suggested she keep it simple and stick to one type of jewelry: earrings.  Simple drop earrings are a really basic technique but one can do a lot with it just by varying the size, shape, and color of the beads. Maybe add a bead cap, or with a pair of beads try the big bead on the bottom vs. the big bead on the top.  I suggested that Jennifer print out the supply list my Earring Basics tutorial and head to the craft store. 
If you want to put together a kit for someone on your Christmas gift list to make simple drop earrings, she’ll need round-nose and chain-nose pliers, wire cutters, packages of headpins and earhooks, some practice wire around 20-24 gauge and (if there’s room in the budget) a small assortment of beads.  That way you’ve provided what the recipient needs to practice making loops and then several pairs of earrings.  Then she can pick out more beads on her own to suit her taste.  Plus, with that practice wire and her extra beads she can make a Link Bracelet (free tutorial download).
Jewelry making: The gift that keeps on giving!
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Bead Table Wednesday

I’m in the throes of holiday orders of personalized stamped jewelry, plus it’s miserable outside and not good for taking studio workbench shots, so here’s the result of my bead table Wednesday. 
On the way to new homes!
Okay, here’s a little eye candy…

These are my small and large tags stacked and stamped in Kismet font.  Merry Christmas, Ashley!  (Alina and Addison’s mom.)

Okay, I’ll throw you another bone along the “behind the scenes” line.  I was drilling a hole in a piece of sterling strip, AKA my Linear Drop Pendant, when my drill bit stopped drilling.  It went halfway through the material and then just sounded like a dental drill without making any progress.  I have a set of bits in various tiny sizes, so I put another bit in my Dremel and tried again.  No luck, same deal.  Plus that bit didn’t want to drill other pieces of sterling either.  After I went through a couple more bits I realized that a piece of the original bit had broken off and become lodged in the edge of the hole I was drilling, so it was dulling subsequent bits.  Fail!  And I didn’t know how to fix it.  If I hadn’t already stamped the piece I might have just scrapped it, but I’m stingy with my time and materials.  I finally just used my center punch (conical tip) to make divots on the front and back, and tapped my solder pick through the thin spot.  Fortunately the finished piece looked fine.  It’s days like this when I want to limit the design options to stamping blanks that come ready to stamp, no filing or cutting, but what’s the fun in that?

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Bead Table Wednesday

It happened again!  I have a project going (okay, 19 projects going) and remembered to take a picture on a Wednesday.  Embellished discs…

I resisted the urge to clean up the periphery because I want  you to see the chaos in which I thrive.  If I have everything put away my work space seems cold and uninspiring.  When I have things around I often get ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, simply by seeing components unintentionally sitting together on my bench.  So if you can’t tell, my current project is those four wooden discs which I spray-painted black.  Then I coated the top with adhesive sealant, punched circles from an old book of poetry, and sealed the top. 

Now the decision…  I want to put doming resin on top of that, but I also want to have riveted holes.  Do I put the resin on the disc, then drill through once it is cured?  Or do I drill & rivet the holes first and then pour the resin around those?  Something tells me this will still be sitting on my bench in February, waiting for me to experiment.

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Messy Wraps

A lot of things I do go in phases.  I get obsessed, I wear it out, I move on.  Okay, maybe not quite that extreme, but I am pretty fickle about what I’m into; it’s always subject to change.  One trend I’ve noticed in my wirework is a departure from perfect wrapped loops…

Free tutorial on my website
(Link Bracelet)

…in favor of something more organic looking.  I call these messy wraps.

They kinda remind me of tornado beads.

Sure, messy wraps use more wire than coiling, but we’re talking about 22- to 26-gauge “little guy” wire here. And it’s actually easier for me to tuck in the tip of the wire if I do messy wraps instead of perfect coils on briolettes.  Dare I say they look more interesting as well?

And messy wraps are a subtle nod to my beloved bird’s nests.

But wait!  There’s more!  The other day I was on a turquoise kick and strung some simple strands of beads into necklaces.  (Why do I always feel like I have to come up with something new and different when making jewelry?  Why do I fight the feeling that *just* stringing beads is uninspired?  Sometimes simple is elegant.)  This is actually a strand of chrysocolla, but it coordinated nicely with the turquoise grouping. 
I wanted the wearer to be able to put this willow toggle clasp at the front, and I love twisted crimps because they feel so solid, but I don’t think they’re pretty enough for the front of a necklace (left side of photo).  And they’re too big and flat to fit inside my 2mm crimp covers so necessity led to invention.  Rather than order and patiently wait for larger crimp covers, I messy-wrapped the crimps in fine-gauge wire (right side of photo).  This also helps take up slack if you decide that your stringing wire is a bit too long after you crimp.  Not that this ever happens to me.