Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Rain, mist, ocean, chloros

These are earrings I made for my youngest sister - the one I call "the arty one" on this blog; she loves dangly earrings and the colour green! I made these for her last year, but I didn't take any photos of them at the time so today I took the opportunity to take some photos for this blog.

Until today it was hot and sunny, but today we're suddenly in a rain-soaked world: lush green trees rising out of the mist, with the sea all around (ocean. I must remember to call it the ocean). We also went to the swimming-pool today so we all smell faintly of chlorine. Chlorine was named by Sir Humphrey Davy from the Greek word χλωρος (chlōros), meaning yellow-green. So these earrings, all in all, seem to reflect the day quite well.

My sister suggested that I could go outside and take some pictures on the patio under the shelter of the balcony. Excitingly, I got to use her amazing camera complete with tripod. I felt very professional, even if I did have to stand the tripod on a super-size box of baby-wipes in order to get it up to the level I needed.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Necklace takes a trip out for afternoon tea in the sun

My sister and I are visiting our other sister, so yesterday we all went out for afternoon tea. It was a beautiful setting and we had an amazing view of what I like to call "the sea" (apparently to be correct however we should call it the Harbour, or possibly the Ocean). We had a lovely time and ate lots of cakes! But they were just tiny little cakes, so that's all right.

I'd brought my sister a necklace because she'd said she liked the colours in this picture:

Taken in the weak and feeble winter sun of Northern England

She was wearing the necklace yesterday, so my other sister (who'd brought her extremely swanky camera along to record the event) kindly volunteered to take some pictures of the necklace's trip out to post on this blog. (Extremely Swanky Camera sister is now officially dubbed The Arty One). She also likes all things Cath-Kidston-esque so you can imagine how much she liked this traditional tea-set we drank our tea from:

The cup and saucer! The sugar-bowl! (note: picture taken prior to pouring tea into cup)

The silver teapot! - And yes, that's real sunshine in the background!
 It was, quite possibly, the Afternoon Tea of a lifetime.

Monday, 20 February 2012

I have not given up blogging!

I'm going on a trip to see my sister, so I will only make the occasional blog post for the next couple of weeks. Normal blogging activity will be resumed on my return :-)

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Earrings for cancer care

Tonight I did a good deed: I made some earrings to raise money for a local cancer care charity.

One of my friends is going to run the London Marathon this year to raise money for this charity. She's been following the programme her trainer has designed for her. She is currently at the stage of racking up the miles week on week, with only one rest day in between each training session. She is struggling to eat enough calories to maintain her weight - despite eating record levels of chocolate!

Anyway, to raise money for this charity, she has been holding jewellery sales of second-hand costume jewellery donated by friends.

The earrings shown here are in fact for illustration purposes only (I couldn't give these to her because I couldn't resist trying them on myself!). However, the ones I made for her today are made from the same batch of earwires and headpins/eyepins as the ones shown here - I didn't have time to photograph hers before handing them over. 

I find it hard to get the wraps nice and neat with this wire, as it's quite thick and not very soft - still, that does mean they are pretty strong once they are made. The wooden rings were recycled from a cheap elasticated bracelet bought in a street market in York last summer. The glass dangles are actually a little more brightly coloured in real life than in this picture, especially when the light's shining through them.

My friend, by the way, went home via the chip shop!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Inspired by Roman designs and prime numbers

This bracelet wasn't meant to happen. What I was supposed to be doing, was to be dismantling two necklaces I had (one of graduated blue-grey glass pearls, which was a gift, and one of purple beads, which I had bought at a craft fair), neither of which I actually wore.

The blue-grey glass pearl necklace was subtle and elegant (so I didn't wear it! it seemed rather elderly in outlook), and also was rather heavy to wear.

The purple-bead necklace is rather special to me as I agonised for (what seemed like) hours before buying it. This was some years ago and I really didn't have much money. The kind and friendly vendor patiently answered all my questions about handmade jewellery and even made me a pair of purple drop earrings at a discount price to go with it. I was hugely impressed; this was one of the things that eventually inspired me to have a go myself! Also, I think the person I bought it from was only just starting out; I still see her quite a lot at our local craft fair, and her style has evolved a lot over the last few years; she's now got a lot of new techniques and is developing her own unique "signature" style. Now she's established a profitable business, I think she also uses more sterling silver rather than silver-plate. I am still very happily at the silver-plate stage! My current business model is to keep giving things away, or keeping them for myself, until further notice, because I don't want to be worrying about whether my stuff is good enough to sell until I know it is.

So anyway I thought the central focal bead from the purple necklace, which is a disc-shaped lampworked bead, would harmonise nicely with the blue-grey glass pearls and bring out all its beautiful colours.

Then I remembered I had some two amber-coloured beads. The golden amber colour is complementary to the purple colour so the combination brings out all the richness of both colours. Then, because I associate amber with Roman jewellery (I think I must have seen some amber jewellery when we "did the Romans" at school!), I added in some curly silver-coloured spacers which also always make me think of Roman designs. My beads, needless to say, are not actual amber. They are quite pretty when the light catches them, though.

Since it was turning out to have a formal, classical look, I gave the bracelet mirror symmetry, with the blue-grey pearls in threes. If in doubt, I like to use prime numbers in the things I make: threes, sevens, elevens - I don't know why, it just seems right. I added a large clasp to balance out the purple disc-bead. On each side of the clasp are a small, clear Czech crystal and a crimp with a silver-plated crimp-cover. Honestly - those crimp covers take substantially more practice to get right than do the crimps themselves! I think I am starting to get the hang of them now, though.

And I added two of those little iridescent leaves as wire-wrapped dangles; one just by itself, and the other with a clear Czech crystal. The dangles have not photographed very well, but you can maybe see them slightly better in the last photo, taken in wintry afternoon sun. Their lightness contrasts nicely with the weightier round beads.

Of course this bracelet is only reminiscent of half-remembered Roman motifs. It makes me want to go to the British Museum again, or the museum at Bath, or the Hadrian's Wall sites, or any one of the countless Roman sites and museums scattered up and down the country. Did I tell you how much I love museums? I really love museums.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Rotational symmetry

This is a recent reworking of the early bracelet that you can see in the photo behind the title of this blog. This one, like the original, is mainly made from beads which my sister had bought for me in Covent Garden, London. (I do miss London sometimes, it's an amazing city.) It was a nice bracelet, and I liked that it draped nicely around my wrist, but I had overestimated the length, so that what with the drape and the length, the original bracelet used to keep falling off my hand when I wasn't looking. And whenever I was walking along holding my small son's hand, the bracelet would always transfer itself onto his arm, which probably got us some odd looks while walking around town.

To shorten it, then, I decided to take out the long, light-blue (almost lilac) foiled lamp-beads from the original version. This immediately made the bracelet much lighter to wear. Now all the beads were round except the crystals, so I took the crystals out, too. Then I changed the symmetry from mirror symmetry to rotational symmetry, which gives a slightly less formal look. Now, though, it was too short, so I added some dark wooden beads to add a contrasting note without adding too much weight. Despite the colour contrast, the spherical shape and surface-shininess of the wooden beads is similar enough to the other beads that they seem to sit quite happily with the cool blue and silver colours.

Toggle-clasps like this are good for bracelets because they are pretty secure, and they are easy to fasten with your other hand. But if the clasp is wider than the diameter of the largest bead in the bracelet, then the clasp won't want to flip over when the bracelet slides up and down your wrist. This, together with the fact that I used slightly stiffer beading wire here than I usually do, makes it feel much less drapey than the original; it feels almost bangle-y but sits much more snugly than a bangle would, so that it only rolls a little bit up and down my arm, and never falls off anymore.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A free-association exercise

There is a certain sort of freedom to be gained by not worrying too much about whether things are meant to go with other things.
I made this necklace last October. We'd just had a fragment of glorious summer, a little Indian summer right where autumn usually is, and I decided to make a necklace from beads that somehow said something to me, without any reference to what I thought ought to go with what - it was a harvest of mismatched metals, colours, sizes, shapes, textures... It felt organic and unplanned, compared to what I'd done before; the wood and the flower motifs were meant to reflect the abundance of nature, as were the colours: late summer merging into autumn.

I strung it all together on a piece of turquoise string, so that the beads all hang in a slightly higgledy-piggledy way because of their very different hole diameters.

To my surprise I found this type of free-association exercise turned out to be a pretty emotionally cathartic experience. It all felt a bit like my life: my life as a mother, and my life as someone who works outside the home.

My day would start at the flower part of the clasp: I'd get up in the morning, have a very little bit of time at home, go to work, look after all the different projects and try to keep them in order, then come home and have a nice period of calm and quiet to myself in the evening before my own bedtime. And do it all again the next day, and the next, round and round and round...

Looking at it that way, when the necklace was complete, I realised some things about my work-life balance that hadn't occurred to me before.

To my utter surprise, a lot of people have since commented "I like your necklace" followed by "did you make it yourself?"

I am not entirely sure whether this should be taken as a compliment, but I'm taking compliments wherever I can get them these days!

Monday, 6 February 2012

The meaning of a special necklace

This is a birthday-present bracelet I made for my mother. We had kept planning to meet up so that I could give it to her, but we never quite managed it for one reason and another, so eventually it turned into part of her Christmas present.

It has amethyst chips, small crystals and pearls (both of which were a present to me from my youngest sister) and a silver-plated clasp from Viking Loom.

This bracelet needed to be symmetrical, to balance the pleasing "organic" feel of the irregular amethyst chips, and because my mother likes classic designs. And it has pearls, of course: as a child, I always used to know when she was going out in the evening because she would be wearing her favourite pearl necklace. So whenever I saw her wearing her pearls, I would be really happy and excited for her. There may also have been a selfish motive for this excitement, too: our beloved babysitter, besides her fondness for obscure popular songs from the 1940s, was a bit of a card-sharp. She used to play whist with me and my sisters for Cadbury's Fudge bars, which she used to keep hidden in her handbag until my parents had gone out. Sometimes she even let us win. It was all marvellous fun.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

First steps away from symmetry

Last summer my friend A who made the ice bracelet gifted me a blue-green maxi skirt that I'd really liked when we'd been shopping together. In return she asked me to "design a necklace for her". She wanted a long necklace - longer than I'd ever made. It was really great to get the chance to do this, because it really stimulated me to think about the design process itself and how to make the beads work together as best I could.

Being challenged to "design" something gave me the courage to take some tentative first steps away from strictly symmetrical designs. I do like symmetrical designs, but I think that some asymmetry can really highlight the special element of handmade jewellery - it really emphasises the fact that it's not just something picked up from the high street.

I chose blues, greens and purples because those are colours she likes (and, as you may have gathered, they are also colours I like too - so I had a lot of choice of beads!). Also I decided to use some jump-ring and chain design elements because there are some chain-maille-like elements in one of the jewellery items she already has. I decided to make it using an extender chain so that she could alter the length slightly to go with different sorts of clothes. Also this was my first excursion into using crimp covers - a lot of commercially-available handmade jewellery sold in shops (I'm not going to link to the sites...) frequently has the crimps in plain sight, but I thought I'd see whether crimp covers were any better. For this necklace, I think they were better, but only because they were "designed in".

The overall design - overall symmetry of major features but with some variation in the smaller beads
I was especially pleased to be able to use some mock turquoise beads that my middle sister had given me as a present from the London Bead Shop, and which I had been waiting for an opportunity to use:

And I used a dichroic glass bead for the main focal pendant because of the way it reflects light so nicely:

The rest of the beads in the necklace are Czech glass, other glass (some handmade), abalone shell, silver-plated spacers, and some other pewterish beads upcycled from a piece of vintage costume jewellery. The little leaf beads were from my visit to the Bead Show one year previously; they had been waiting patiently ever since then in my stash for their turn to be used. I still have a few left - you will probably see them in future posts on this blog.

Anyway, I hope she likes it - and I hope that other friends and family members will ask me to design things for them too, because I really enjoyed the challenge!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Icy conditions

We're currently in the middle of a cold spell here; it hasn't snowed yet, but 5-10cm of snow is predicted today. Yesterday, one of my co-workers skidded on a patch of ice and had a tyre blow-out in the middle of a busy dual carriageway. He then got really stressed, not just because of the blow-out, but also because he was on his way to the garage to take the car for its annual MOT test - the certificate had just expired - and he was worried the police would arrive on the scene and that he would get into trouble for driving without a valid MOT. He then had to wait ages for the breakdown people to arrive as they were rather busy.

I do have a valid MOT certificate, but after hearing that story I don't fancy driving on icy roads, and accordingly we are staying at home today. At the moment we have got the crayons out, and my son's busy drawing all his favourite things: knights, horses, dragons, pirates and treasure maps.

Apparently this is two knights fighting with very long swords.

So, while he's doing that, I thouht I would show you a bracelet that was actually made by my friend A, who is a very skilled crafter (she does lots of textile work), when she was visiting me last year. I showed her how to do spiral rope stitch: she picked the white, silver and light-blue seed beads to resemble ice. Afterwards I added the flower bead and loop as a clasp.

The photos don't really do this bracelet justice. I think, in general, seed bead work is hard to photograph: it's so difficult to capture the three-dimensional form of the work and the way it transmits and reflects light. I also had problems with the auto-focus, which I think was focusing on the shadow rather than on the beads. Clearly I have some work to do on my photography lighting conditions.

It turned out, by the way, that my co-worker's car failed its MOT: something to do with faulty brakes ...

Thursday, 2 February 2012

I'm proud of these earrings!

There's not much of a story to go with these, except I don't know why I originally tried to be all clever and original by adding twiddly bits, when these are actually just perfect as they are :-)

A penguin rolling down a hill

Do you remember that old joke "what's black and white and black and white and black and white...."? There are lots of answers, but my favourite is the penguin rolling down the hill.

Anyway, this is a necklace I made over a year ago. I wore it first on a work trip to Brighton (incidentally Brighton has two very nice bead shops... my favourite was KerrieBerrie, which sells some very pretty and unique beads). It's very cheering to wear things you have made yourself when you go away, I always think. It's like taking an old friend along with you.

Anyway, particularly in view of this being a work trip and all, I thought it would be really sophisticated to have it in a monochrome palette. Rather handily I had been given these nice silver-coloured filigree beads for Christmas by my sister. Since I wasn't being very adventurous on the colour front, I mixed up the sizes and textures, and ended up with something I was actually quite pleased with. I strung it on black tiger-tail (from the now-closed-down local craft shop that I may mention again in this blog, if only to mourn its passing) - so it wasn't very drapey, but that was OK. I liked the way the black tiger-tail shows though the filigree beads and the clear glass seed beads - neither of which you can see at all in these photos, it must be said, but that's why I'm telling you about it! The obvious advantage of choosing this colour-scheme is supposed to be that it's pretty hard to find any item of clothing that doesn't go with it.

Although, you know, it turns out that I do have some things that don't go with it. That is my not-entirely-convincing excuse for continuing to make more things.