Friday, November 13, 2009

Kumihimo Journeys - Part I

A bit of background. Back in late March, early April, I took a class on how to make kumihimo braids and incorporate beads with Annie Dilker of Moss Hollow Pottery. (I was interested in Kumihimo because I thought it would be a good craft to travel with - not that I really knew anything about it, but I'd seem some pieces made for a class at Beads n Stitches, and I was intrigued.) The class was given during an Innovative Bead Expo show, which I had only gone to because my PMC class was cancelled. I had been thinking about learning the technique for a while - and when I heard a woman behind me on the line to get into the show ask about the class, I chimed in that I'd like to take it too. It turned out that there were no students signed up for it, but the teacher would be willing to give the class anyway.

I made this necklace - very typical "me":

Unlike other some teachers I'd taking beading classes from, Annie didn't bark at her students, she didn't act like she was the Queen of the May deigning to teach something. She didn't play favorites. Better yet, her instructions weren't full of errors, missing pages, steps or written backwards.* Simply put, Annie was a great teacher - patient and dynamic. She didn't info dump, rather she would have us pause our work and she'd relay some information. I walked away from the class excited and eager to learn more. When I got home that evening (the show was in Tarrytown), I spent hours on line trying to learn more about my new skill, and (equally important) where to find braiding materials. In class, we used satin rattail for the non-bead warps, and SuperLon for the bead warps, and while I bought a range of colors in the SuperLon from Annie, I figured I'd have no trouble getting the rattail. Turns out that finding rattail in quantity, cheap, isn't easy. The rayon cord is better than the polyester, but it more expensive and is much harder to find.

I also discovered Jacqui Carey's site, and learned about the traditional method and materials for kumihimo - the marudai (the loom and stand), tama (weighted bobbins), and the loose multistrand "ropes" made from silk or rayon (in my eyes, the braids made with these materials are much more interesting that the rattail braids). I ended up purchasing a whole range of colors of the polyester rattail from a seller on eBay (Dollites) , a bunch of larger ez-bobs from Primative Originals, the self-covering bobbins favored by the modern kumihimo braider, and a few books.

During the class, I realized that I have a lot of potential braiding materials - loads of gimp (wrapped satin cord used in upholstery), as well as skein upon skein of DMC embroidery floss. I also had a few huge spools of Japanese knitting ribbon in various shades of pink and purple. I tried braiding with the gimp, but the foam kumihimo loom was too rough on it, and the wrapping began to decay. The embroidery floss was just too fine, and didn't work will with the extremely heavy SuperLon. The ribbon faired better - in combination with the SuperLon, it created a lovely, strong and narrow braid.

I got in my order of rattail, and began braiding like crazy. I swiftly became bored with the simply one-over-one basic 8-warp braid, and tried out a few others. After a while, my interest waned. I was not successful in translating the marudai based instructions to the slotted loom, and the rattail was really beginning to bore me. I wasn't incorporating beads, and while I did enjoy the results of the braid, I soon realised that had no idea what to do with the product of my labors.

It was time to start thinking about the beads again.

*Can you tell that I'm talking about someone in particular?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Jumeirah Silver Queen - Pearls & Kumihimo

So much for keeping this blog up to date...I really need to remember to cross post works that I publish on Beading Daily.

Just because I'm travelling doesn't mean I can't bead! My original intention when learning kumihimo in April was to have something do keep my hands busy during a trip out west. I didn't enjoy the process enough at the time to make good on my intention, but after my recent works with kumihimo and beads, I thought I'd give it another shot.

I must say that there is probably no better beading project to travel with than kumihimo. No scissors and needles, no need to worry about losing beads during turbulence. So long as you've got everything set up before departure, you'll have no problems.

I started this piece during the flight from New York to Paris

The first portion is eight strands x 20 rows of antiqued pewter beads. The main section is four strands of "cornflake" beads and side drilled potato pearls x 40 rows. I set up the strands so that the beads would stack 4 of the cornflakes and 4 of the potatoes. It finishes with another 20 rows of the antiqued pewter.

I was able to work on it sitting out on my hotel room balcony for about 3 hours, sipping ice water (that's the glass the strand is draped on) and watching the tourists take camel rides along the beach. It finally got too hot and I had to head back inside. I may finish it this evening, or leave some of it for the flight home.

At the Jumeirah Hilton, with a balcony view of the Atlantis hotel (at the apex of the outer palm island).

Cut to the post trip review:

I've finished the silver pearls kumihimo, finally. I had actually completed the braiding before leaving Dubai, but I had a lot of trouble with the second half - the last twenty rows of antiqued pewter beads. Because the strand was already so heavy, it kept dragging down the active braiding area, distorting the braided beads. I undid and rebraided it so many times (about 5) that the silk wore out and nearly broke. I packed it up and didn't work on it any further until I began recovering from my jet lag (Sunday afternoon).

Besides the problem with the last section of metal beads, it was simply too long and too heavy, and I took drastic action. I cut the ends off on each side, pulled out the metal beads, knotted the end strands together and contemplated how to finish the project. I found a pair of longer bead cones in Hill Tribe silver, a Saki silver clasp, and some jump rings. With an hour's fierce concentration, I finished it.

It sat on my form, waiting to be photographed, when I got a brain storm. I was writing a reply to this thread, when I remembered a WiP - a beaded bezel for a pair of Art Deco crystal cabachons that I created as a proof of concept, but could never figure out what to do with. All the colors were right for a marriage between the two pieces, and with a little figuring out, I attached it to the braided pearls.

I present to you, without further delay - the Jumeirah Silver Queen!

Pendant Detail

The clasp

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Challenge Swaps, Foredom and Serendipity

Whew! Lots of cobwebs in here - it's certainly been a while since I've last posted an entry. There are a bunch of posts in draft, but I've not had the time or the inspiration to finish. I've been busy making things - not finishing much, but making - yes, definitely.

The occassion for this post is serendipity - something I adore writing about, particularly when I am the sole locus of the event. As always, there's quite a bit of background that I need to express, so bear with me.

In mid-July, the ever-talented Jeni Smathers decided to host another color based Challenge Swap. Beading Daily (BD) members would send her some beads in the designated colors (blue, yellow and green), and $2 to defray the cost of postage, and she would divvy out the beads to all the participants, who had a month or so to create things with those beads. Participants would then send Jeni pictures and descriptions and ultimately all of the BD forum members would get to see everyone's work.

I sent Jeni a big box of beads, and got my package about 2 weeks ago. I have to say, I was a bit dismayed - lots of seed beads, some plastic beads, and worse yet - lots and lots of the very beads I sent to Jeni, but in very small quantities (mostly vintage glass that I've been holding onto for years). I sorted everything out then put everything away. There just didn't seem enough of anything that I could use to make the type of jewelry I like to make. Every night or so, I'd take out the package, fiddle around a bit and then put them away. Nothing seemed to kindle any spark of creativity,* and my participation in this challenge seemed quite doomed.  Last Friday; however, I called MDF Lois to ask if she wanted anything from BeadFest, and we got around to discussing the challenge.  She was kind enough to send me an email with pictures that gave her some inspiration, and although the jewelry in those pictures were not the kind I would normally create - I did find something to get the creative juices flowing.

I'm not going to describe the piece in detail (that may come in another post), but it was basically built around copper and copper colored findings.  One of the elements is a chain of copper rings, which gave me the impetus to finally try out my new PepeTools jumpring maker.  In addition to the mandrals and mounted chuck and handle for coiling the wire, there is a cutting rig that uses a blade and collar mounted on a Foredom size 30 handpiece, and a jig that holds the wire coil.

Now, I've got to backtrack quite a bit...this is where serendipity lands.

Back in the dawn of the eBay era - late 1996 or early 1997, thereabouts, I bought a real Foredom Flexible Shaft Machine.  It arrived and I couldn't get it to work - the motor just wouldn't turn on.  The seller basically disowned all responsibility, and I felt I pretty much wasted $90.  The box went into the back of the basement, and although I never quite forgot it was there, I really didn't want to even think about it. 

Fast forward to 2006 - I was definitely getting back into the jewelry arts, or at least beading.  I was surfing eBay for fine silver wire, when I came across the listing pages for Finding King, a jeweler supply company based in Arizona.  They were offering an off-brand (read, Chinese-made) flex-shaft, with the hanger, and several dozen bits and burs, for $75, and I bought it, along with a spool of 28 gauge fine silver wire.  The transaction with Finding King was the worst in a decade of buying on eBay - they didn't actually have the flex shaft in stock; over the course of a month, random parts of the order would arrive - a bunch of burs, the hanger, and finally the flex shaft itself.**

I used the flex shaft on and off since it arrived, and much more once I started working with PMC.  When the peddle  got a bit dicey, I remembered the Foredom and dug it out from underneath a mound of computer boxes.  The Foredom peddle worked fine with the off-brand.  When the handpiece got too hot, I tried out the one from the Foredom, and that worked like a dream - this is the difference between American made quality products and Chinese off-brands.  When I bought the PepeTools jumpring maker, I wanted to dedicate the off-brand handpiece to the cutting rig, but it wasn't a true #30, so I set it up with the Foredom handpiece.

Swapping the handpieces on the off-brand was okay - it always took a few tries to ensure that the flange on shaft connection was engaged.  But something happened on Monday night when I put on the handpiece with the jumpring cutting rig - no matter what I tried, the motor would run, but the shaft wasn't spinning properly.*** 

At this point, I was actually feeling quite sick§.  I really did not want to purchase another flex shaft - and I was intensely disappointed that I couldn't get the jumpring cutter to work.  I thought that I could try to swap out the shaft from the Foredom, but I couldn't seem to make any headway with getting the shaft disengaged from the motor on the off-brand.  In a fit of desperation, I hung up the Foredom, plugged it into the peddle, flipped the switch and with no expectation of anything happening, depressed the peddle.  And guess what!


I was able to finish my Challenge Swap necklace, and I've got a very fine working Foredom Flexible Shaft Machine.  It's so much more powerful than the off-brand - it's the difference between a Geo Metro and an Audi A3.

*I think my head's been too wrapped around PMC to be an effective beader
**The spool of wire wasn't shipped until after I left Finding King negative feedback and threatened to file a complaint against them with the Arizona BBB.  Oh, and sent them an email calling them a bunch of morons.
***It may be that just the bushings need to be replaced
§ It wasn't just the circumstances.  It was also the heat and the stink from the previous night's dye job.
§§ I suspect that it was fully operational all along, but I didn't have the On/Off switch set to On.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Playing with PMC

The results of the PMC I bought myself back in April

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Happy 3rd of July

My company's offices were closed for July 3rd, since the Fourth fell on a Saturday. My plans for that day were set pretty well in advance - I wanted to go to Metalliferous and shop for tools (which I seem to love to buy even more than I love to use). This year, for some reason, the store was not having Saturday hours - I think it's because they couldn't get staff to work, not because there wasn't enough business. The Tuesday evening hours are not really convenient, since I needed to drive in and a weeknight schelp into NYC from work would take about an hour and a half.

Taking the train was also not in the cards - my shopping list consisted of a number of fairly heavy and bulky items - a brass deadblow hammer, an annealing pan filled with pumice, a small crockpot for pickle, and other assorted tools. The thought of schelpping back from 46th and 5th Avenue with those items, through Penn Station and a possibly crowded train filled with semi-drunk holiday-minded workers was enough to make me consider mail order.*

As much as I was looking forward to shopping there, I was also a bit leery. My friend Valerie of had a truly awful experience there a few weeks before, involving the extremely uptight and quite nasty store owner and a box of dropped metal beads. Marie from also reported a less than satisfactory experience with the store's climate control system. Armed with the knowledge that they staff at the store is not known for their friendly and helpful attitude (check out the reviews), I had made up a shopping list the night before, took out my backback (they want you to leave your purse unguarded at the front of the store) and set my alarm for 8 am.

Friday morning dawned clear and bright - a mild breeze and low humidity would make for a perfect day to be in Manhattan. I was on the road by 10:30 am, and through the Midtown Tunnel by 11:00 - unheard of on a weekday morning! My preference was to park on 46th Street, but I was not expecting to find a spot on the street between 6th and 7th - but I had to try. I was surprised to find MANY open spaces on the street, and after contemplating the extremely confusing parking signs, I pulled into a spot near the corner of 6th Avenue, between two private vehicles with NJ plates that disregarded the admonition that the area was reserved for commercial vehicles only between 6 am and 7 pm .

I put $5.50 in quarters into the Muni-Meter, stuck the receipt on my dashboard, set an alarm on the iPhone for the time that the meter expired, and merrily and warily made my way to Metalliferous.

Where I was very pleasantly surprised.

The A/C was cranked up to full blast, and although there were a lot of customers in the store, it was comfortable to shop in. I had a slight moment of aggravation when I found I left my carefully prepared list at home, but since I had been thinking about this shopping trip for several months, I knew exactly what I needed to buy - the list was more for those catalog items that would have been nice to have.

I was disappointed to see that there were no deadblow mallets out, and when I asked for a brass hammer, the salesclerk showed me a tiny little watchmakers' mallet. I nearly burst out laughing, but we got that settled quickly when she pulled out the catalog and I showed her just what I wanted. I also picked up a 7" annealing pan, the mini Crock Pot for pickling, an assortment of sanding sticks, tinner shears, soldering pick, Solderite 6x6 board, a block of charcoal, and a metal scribe.

I also asked about the "Junior Polishing Set," and this is where certain members of the Metalliferous staff really shined. The female salesperson first thought I was asking about a set of polishing burs for the flex shaft, but I showed her what I wanted from the catelog. She didn't know if the kit - a 1/16th HP two spindle variable speed buffer was in stock, so she asked one of the guys - a Russian I'll call Yuri (probably NOT his name). Yuri told me that the kit in the catalog was "no good" but he had a better one, for less money. When he showed it to me, I saw that it was the same one that Linda had brought to class last week (the polymer clay session), which was fairly low powered, but I thought would be ok. I pointed out that I really needed tapered spindles for both sides (it came with a fixed-size chuck for the left hand spindle). Yuri said, rather good naturedly, that that could be a problem, but he'd see what he could do. He checked the Foredom catalog, found the correctly sized l/h spindle and said if I wanted the chuck, it would be $7.95 extra (he swapped it out for the tapered spindle). Now that the tool shopping was out of the way, I wanted to explore the metals.

I had gone through the stampings the last trip, so I concentrated on the oddities in the very back, and picked up some interested "faceted" brass flatback "buttons" in various sizes (they are more like very large sew-ons), a few strips of textured brass, some 6x6 copper sheet in 20 and 24 gauge, a package of bezel wire, 6 inches of patterned gallery wire, a small strip of 22 gauge fine silver, plus easy, medium and hard solder, a small bottle of flux, some flux brushes, a set of needle files (which HAVE to be better than the crap set I bought at Micro Center), a full size flat and a full size oval file, and a couple of leather finger cots. Gathering everything at the front counter, Mr. Full of Himself (the one who gave Val such a hard time) told me I was making a mistake buying the low powered buffer. We talked a bit back and forth, and I actually thought he was right - at the end of the day, I'd seriously regret the purchase. So, I ended up treating myself to a hammer handpiece for the flexible shaft machine**, a chasing hammer and a texturing hammer (this last item I don't know if I'll really ever use).

Checking out was a real pleasure - the salewoman who helped me was a doll - young, but really talented - and a Star Trek freak. She remembered that one of the Dabo Girls from ST:DS9 had the same first name as me. We talked a bit about holiday plans - she's heading home to San Francisco for the week that the store is closed. I left, feeling very satisfied - and about $500 poorer.

I walked back to my car, which reminds me - funny story about parking. When I was getting ready to check out, the alarm on my iPhone started to ring.*** I commented that I probably should run back to my car and put more money on the Muni-Meter, and four people promptly told me I didn't have to bother - it was a holiday and all meter requirements and parking rules were suspended.

Anyway - when back to my car and was going to go bead shopping at the two stores Val told me about on 47th Street.

So I walked around the block, only to find that 95% of the store fronts were empty, and some had signs "Closed for Jewelers' Holiday - 7/1 - 7/13". A guy comes out of one of the buildings, and sees me looking. He asks what am I looking for, and I say there's an arcade with a bead store - he tells me that they are closed until mid-July - like everyone else.

Oh, well, it's not like I really need to buy more beads. I walk down 47th Street, some of the windows still had jewelry on display - I admired one store with some pretty spectacularly large mine cut diamond earrings. There's a vendor on the corner selling "Pashmina" for $5 a piece - I bought four. So the walk shouldn't be a total loss.

I though I'd also stop in at Allcraft - which was located (according to my iPhone) at 45 W. 46th Street. No, it wasn't. I think it's on 29th Street now. So, I bought a bottle of cold water, went back to my car and headed home, a happy shopper.

*I hate doing mail order for tools. It costs a fortune to ship, even though the store is probably using a flat rate Priority Mail parcel.

**I just love saying/writing "flexible shaft machine" - especially to people not in the jewelry trade.

***If you're keeping score, the alarm was "Coultergeist".

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Silver on Silver - Oddly Victorian


Hill Tribe Silver Beads - Cast 15mm bicone - Thailand
Hill Tribe Silver Beads - Woven metal ribbon 8mm bicone - Thailand
Sterling Silver Donut 4mm Spacers - US
Sterling Silver 2mm seamless rounds - US
Dark Silver 10mm ovoid fresh water pearls - China
Light Silver 5mm keishi pearls - China
Bali Silver "S" Clasp

Stringing Material - Light Silver Gudebrode Silk - "E" weight

#10 wire beading needle (2)
Silver "french wire" fine (.5 inch)
Tri-cord knotting tool

A co-worker commissioned a necklace from me. She wanted chunky and silver and long. Since she wasn't prepared to spend several hundred dollars for 48 inches of Hill Tribe Silver, I suggested gray pearls and a little bit of silver as accents. From the selection I showed her, she homed in on the light gray/silver palette - particularly the small keishi pearls and some larger 12mm ovoids. From my silver box, she selected probably the heaviest silver beads I had, but I was able to steer her to some lighter, less expensive accents as well.

The result is oddly Victorian, which really wasn't my goal, nor is it particularly my style, but I am really pleased with the results. I don't normally work with a monochrome palette - contract is king in my book. But I really like it, and will make a variation of it for myself sometime soon.

Materials Cost: $50.00
Time to Complete: 2 hours
Difficulty: 2 out of 5

Bone and Amethyst - A Match Made in Hell

Sometimes the magic just isn't there. It's not a matter of lost mojo, but not every design really works. That being said, a little background on some of the beads...

Early on in my beady-beading career, my mother (and best client) asked for a necklace of ivory and amethyst. A lovely combination to be sure, but real ivory beads cannot be sold except as an antiquity. I convinced my mother that I could find substitutes that would be just as good - and I did. Way back, some time around 1992, I found 16mm round polished bone beads. They were from Germany and I paid a pretty penny for them (probably close to $100 for two strands). I paired them with 10mm round AAA quality amethyst and 14k spacers. The whole thing was struck on silk and was one of my mother's favorite necklaces.

When she passed away in 2002, neither of my sisters were interested in the collection of beaded jewelry I made her, and so they sat in a drawer, in little silk pouches for about 5 years. It took me that long to overcome my grief and appreciate the love and pride that each of those necklaces represented. A few weeks ago, I was about to put on the bone and amethyst necklace when it broke. One of the hazards of using silk - it does disintegrate over time.
Rather than remake the same necklace, I decided to use the beads to create something wilder. I added pearls, swapped out the 10mm amethyst for big faceted chunks, and went against conventional wisdom and used silver accents rather than gold. And you know what, I really, really, really hate it.

It was supposed to be a two strand choker, but it's too long. The stones clack and clunk against each other, it's so heavy that it just pulls my neck down. The amethyst are out of proportion, the clasp doesn't go with the rest of the design. It's just plain ugly.

I guess this endless rain has got me down - and I woke up thinking it was Friday. That's enough to put a saint into a bad mood.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pearl Torsade - It's Alive, I Tell You - It's ALIVE!

8 Strands - 6mm x 8mm teardrop freshwater pearls, mauve-grey - China
10 Grams - Size 10 Rainbow Light Amethyst Matte Delica cylinder seed beads - Japan
150 (approx) 5mm round brass coated pewter beads - China
75 (approx) 4mm Tanzanite AB2X bicones (art. 5301) - Austria
Various Miyuki and other Delica colors - size 15 and size 11 - Japan
Brass Rolo Link Chain - 3 inches - Antique, origin unknown
Brass Colored Pewter Toggle Bar
50 Yards (approx) Fireline - 20lb Test - United States
2.5" Big Eye Needle
Thread Zapper
Nylon Jaw Flat Pliers

Well, not really - but I've been feeling a bit like Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with my own creation.

The materials include 8 strands of teardrop pearls, about 75 Tanzanite AB2X 5301 - 4mm, 5 vintage amethyst Swarovski crystals, 150 brass spacers, 2.5 tubes of size 10 Delica Light Amethyst and a few size 11 Delicas in the same color. And nearly a full spool of Fireline.

Here is a closeup of the center embellishment

Figuring out the closure was a nightmare. When I ended the piece with the peyote stitch caps and the little "ruffle" of size 15 Miyukis, I was planning on using a magnetic closure so the two ends would "kiss" closed. Didn't work - the necklace was too heavy for the magnets. Then I created a toggle set from matching Delicas:

Ugly isn't the word. Two additional attempt were even worse. But last night, I had a brainstorm - and this is how I finished it:

Material Cost: $250 (approx)
Time to Complete: 100 hours
Difficulty: 5 our of 5

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What I've Been Doing Lately...

I'm not the type of person who makes New Year's Resolutions, but something prodded me this year.  I decided I wanted to learn at least three new jewelry techniques.  I settled on beadweaving, glass fusing and precious metal clay work.

All I can say is that I've completed all of my resolutions, with resounding success.  Thanks to my friendly neighborhood Local Bead Store (LBS).  Well, actually not so friendly - some of the staff are, shall we say, not quite Nordstrom-ready if you know what I mean.  Beads n' Stitches, in Hickville is a really incredible place - not for the beads (although the selection is pretty nice), but for the classes.  Since January, I've taken a class just about every other week, starting with Peyote Stitch bezel (which is what induced me to start doing this), diagonal peyote (not my favorite), and toggles and bails with a Russian Spiral, which was nothing that I couldn't have taught myself. 

So, just as I've gotten pretty addicited to the little seed and cylinder beads, I signed up for the basic fused glass class. taught by Jane Cummins.  That one was loads of fun, and I made some really pretty stuff.  I was thinking about signing up for the classes at the Long Island Art League in Huntington, but glass isn't where my heart it.  It's with the metal.

Two weeks after the glass class, I got my first taste of PMC in the first of a series of classes with the amazing Linda Twohill. 

Oh boy, am I hooked!  Well, I wasn't really hooked from the first class, which was ring making.  The skills we learned were pretty advanced for first-time PMC users, and I was not 100% sold on the material when we got done, but it has really, really grown on me.

In this first class, we had the choice of making two out of three ring styles.  Everyone did a PMC on sterling band (mine came out pretty junky, and I wasn't to heartbroken when I broke it), and then there was the choice of making a wrapped wire and PMC slip ring (cool but not me), or a slab/wrap ring.  I think I was really attracted to this style because of the design possibilities.  And what do you think happened?  I got too ambitous, and killed my clay (overworked it and it dried out too much).  I needed to buy a second package (not a big deal, I was able to resurrect the other clay for the next session), and I was thrilled with how the finished product came out.  I wear this ring two or three days a week.  It's not flawless by any stretch - I was a little uneven in the pressure when stamping the pattern, and the ruffles don't quite line up.  It's also a bit big for the ring finger, and a big snug for the middle one on a warm day, but it works for me.  I'm actually still "refining" it - the edges are a bit rough (someone hogged the greenware files in class, and so didn't smooth them before firing).  It also had a strange encounter with some eggs, and a large part of the band turned black.  I've buffed it up, but it should be repatinated. 

Two weeks later, Val and I took the "focal bead" class - and that was a ball.  I had most of a 16 gm packet of PMC from the rings class two weeks earlier, so I made two pendants.  The first one, with the ruffled edges is good, but not perfect, but the second piece is pretty close to excellent. 

Before the end of that day, I signed up for the Intermediate Techniques class, and PMC studio session - no new techniques, just PMC and all of Linda's tools and toys to play with.  (I also enrolled in her metalworking class, more about that in a later post).

The Intermediate Techniques was fantastic - we learned box making and stone setting, how to use stencils, PMC syringe and PMC paper, and lots of other really neat stuff.  I still had some PMC left over from the Focal Bead session (and Val gave me her leftovers), so I was able to create two really substantial pendants.

The zodiac piece is my favorite, and I wear it all the time - but it's pretty wonky.  The top ring is really uneven and the backside is a bit twisted - but the effect is cool, and I love how it feels around my neck.

I also like the flat box piece - it's two pendants in one.  The nautilus on one side, and the Victorian flourish on the other.  It also "sings" a bit - the chain makes a slight noise against the silver walls.

Next Saturday is the PMC Studio Time session, and I've been dreaming of the piece I want to make.  I don't know if I've got the skills to execute my vision, but I am going to try.  It's a set of braclet links.  The large center piece has a Celtic dragon embossed on the top, with a frame around the dragon, the back embossed with a swirl pattern.  I also want a subtle pattern on the frame, too.  The corners will have triangular holes, and I want to set a few orange opal cabachons.  The side pieces will feature the same frame and embossed pattern, but I'll add dragonflies from PMC paper instead of full-sized dragons.  I haven't worked out the clasp yet.  I may just bring in a Saki clasp as a template.  It's very, very ambitious. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Success At Last

Some days are just NOT good beady days. A few days ago, I got home and went to work on a Cellini spiral, only to realize that I made a bad mistake early in the pattern that's become worse and worse with each row. So, I just unpicked it back to the beginning and put all the beads away.

Rather than start another, I thought I'd work on the bezel for a set of incredible dichroic beads:

I have been having a lot of trouble with this. The beads are thick, about 4 mm, the sides slope slightly, there's a bulge for the hole, and no matter what I do, I can't seem to size the bezel properly. I've tried to do make the bezel about five time now, and no, I don't want to back this with Lacey's, or ultrasuede - it needs the light. Blocking off the back makes the colors very muted. Not ugly, mind you - just not as brilliant as I wanted them.

This is what the individual bead looks like:

Why do I want to bezel a bead that is thick and so awkwardly shaped? Because it would be magnificent in a bezel of glossy black delicas. I am planning on suspending all nineteen from a herringbone rope, with peyote columns capped with Swarovski bicones. It will be fantastic, if I can only get the damn thing bezeled.
I spent two hours doing 3.5 rows of peyote with size 15 delicas, testing each row against the bead - but once the bezel had some mass to it, it was just too tight. So, in a fit of utter frustration, I exercized the nuclear option, and cut the darn thing apart. But I wasn't to be defeated by a damn bead!

Well, it took three more evenings of work for this try, but I finally managed to bezel that darn dichroic bead. I only needed 7 or 8 attempts, three different beading books, a download or two from Beading Daily, and finally, my own ingenuity and patience.

I present to you, the bezeled dichroic bead, in all its glory (unbezeled, then bezeled, show the front and back):

I made a peyote bezel using size 15 delicas, 5 next to 5 rows, then I created the picot on the back, which was where I ran into trouble (again). I finally figured out that I needed to work the top line of the picot connecting the points while the bead was in the bezel, so I could figure out the corners. On the front of the bead, I did two more rows of peyote, this time with size 15 miyuki rocailles, then ran an extra row of peyote just at the corner.

For the next eighteen, I will probably not need the two bridges of delicas across the back, but I'll probably take a week or so before starting the next one. I've had a splitting headache since Friday, and there's nothing worse that beading with black beads.

Fakes and Frauds on eBay

This post is an edited version of a message I posted on the Beading Daily forums earlier today. One of the contributors, Robin, provided a link to an eBay seller who had lots of nice gemstone beads. I couldn't help but take a look. Here is my response:

The seller does have some nice looking beads, and the prices are good, but...I'd be wary of a lot of the products listed.

The seller has purple, red, cherry and volcano and other colored "quartz" and does not state that these are man-made materials, and are bascially a forumula of glass. Also, the colored turquoise - "maple," "pumpkin", "fire", and others is listed as "stabilized" but not that its been dyed - turquoise does not come in orange, purple, or red. I'm almost positive that it's not even turquoise but magnasite.

But my biggest problem is the "crab" and "fire" agate. In almost every listing, the material has been dyed and "enhanced". There is a form of agate called "crab" or "crab fire" which is mottled red, orange, and white, and looks somewhat like the back of a cooked crab. It should not be mistake for "fire agate" which is a much rarer type of agate that occurs in nodular form, has similar optical properties to Australian opal.
Crab agate is a pricey material when cut well, but over the last few years, cheaper look-a-likes have come on the market. In the latter case, the manufacturer (probably Chinese) has taken a common form of agate, cut it, drilled it, dyed it, heated it, and plunged it into a cold bath to induce fractures.

This one's the closest to looking like the real thing (but it's not):

This one's pretty scary - it's banded agate that's been dyed green (a pretty common material), heated and cooled to induce fractures, then dyed with white to highlight the fractures, and finally dipped in an acid bath to give it a matte finish.

THIS is what real crab agate looks like:

This one is not:

(These are not examples from the eBeads seller on eBay, but from pictures posted online).

Can you see the difference? In the real one, the mottling is on a single plane - but in the second image, there is a definite layering, like a bird's feathers. Also, in the first one, the mottling is soft, rounded and fit together like plant or skin cells- extending out in all directions. In the second one, the mottling is distinctly directional and very uneven, very much like a broken car window.

I don't think the eBay seller is deliberately trying to mislead, I just think that s/he really doesn't know much about what s/he's purchased and is simply relying on the descriptions from the wholesaler. Just because 50 sellers on eBay believe that "dragon skin" agate (the same process as "crab fire" agate, but with black dye) is a naturally occuring mineral doesn't mean that it is. There's nothing wrong with buying and using these types of beads, but ignorance is not bliss, and you shouldn't pay for something that's essentially a fraud.

I get so aggravated by these frauds. I have too many friends who now have trouble making a living trying to sell the real thing at $20 a strand when the booth across the aisle sells these fakes for $5.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beady, Beady, Beady Weekend

Ever wake up and realize you need to go to work to get a little "down" time?

The past weekend was beads, beads and more beads. Saturday was two back-to-back classes at Beads 'n Stitches in Hicksville, NY. The 10 am session was diagonal peyote (I think I'll be hearing Maryanne's voice yelling, "What are do doing? You did a two-step when you should have done a three-step - you can't count, can you?" in my sleep), with an hour's break before starting on toggles and bails. The afternoon session was interesting too, but I didn't complete my braclet - I'm not comletely happy with the colors I chose. I picked a Volcano Swarovski Cosmic Square, silver-lined orange delicas and olive green triangles to work into a Russian Spiral. There wasn't a terribly large selection of triangles, and the olive worked the best. I love the orange with the Volcano, but not the olive green triangles. I'll finish it eventually.

Sunday was even better. I drove to Danbury, CT. to the Bead Fiesta show to see my very dear friends Mike and Marie Dick, who were vendors there. It's difficult for us to get together - Marie works nearly full time on her Etsy stores, East of Oz and Bead Brats, so it's easier for me to see them at local shows. We had a lovely visit together. Needless to say, I bought some great stuff from them (a strand of hypersthene, a strand of wonderstone and two strands of tiny, perfectly faceted peridot briolettes, which will go into a Cellini spiral with pink pearls and gold delicas). I splurged a bit at a few other vendors - two really great pieces of dichroic glass, some hanks of metallic rocailles, a few really great pink borosilicate lamp work beads from Maureen at Pumpkin Hill and a bunch of tiny Swarovski bicones and rivolis from Eureka. And some leather cord to make a necklace for my friend Gary.

The beadyness didn't end there.

Monday was Presidents' Day, and rather than sleeping late like I would have preferred, I met Valerie at the Roslyn train station at 10:30 for a slow ride into Manhattan, a subway ride down to the Lower East Side and a 3 hour visit to Leekan's new location on Rivington Street. What a change from their old location in Soho, which was a showplace. First of all, the new store isn't really a store, yet. There is no retail space (that will come in the spring), and the wholesale area is still taking shape - right now, it's like a garage that's been painted yellow. The lighting's poor, the floor's worse, but the beads are beautiful, and Ana and Jill are just delightful. Annie and Paddy are still Annie and Paddy, and Reggie the Bedlington terrier wouldn't stop barking at us. While we were waiting for our orders to get wrapped up, Val and I went to lunch. We ended up at Loraley, a German restaurant that's right across the street. Food was very good (I had a cup of potato and bacon soup with a plate of rye bread and gouda cheese, Val had sunnyside eggs on grilled ham and rye bread), but the coffee was pretty awful, like the coffee I'm drinking right now. The picture is of Valerie wearing a strand of softball sized African brass beads. They were so heavy that she had to struggle to stay upright.

I just want to say, I wasn't planning on buying anything, but there were some wonderful Thai silver beads that I just couldn't resist. And a Thai silver link bracelet. I am soooooooo weak.

Walking back to the subway, we passed one of the relics of Jewish life on the Lower East Side, Yonah Schimmel's Knishery. I demurred - but Val got a some - $16 for 4 cheese knish. Oy vey! From there, we made a pointless trip uptown to the Nippon Club to see the The Kakei Collection (I had gone to the opening last month, Val was sick). However, the Nippon Club was closed for the holiday. We schelpped back to Penn Station via the 1 train out of Columbus Circle (I really wanted to take a cab), got stuck in Jamaica, hopped on the train to Mineola, when we got picked up by Val's dearest. I eventually made it home for a late pizza dinner with Dad. By the time all was said and done, I had just a little time to actually put a needle and thread to some beads before I needed to go to bed.

I need to take a serious break from buying beads. Seriously. If just to give me time to actually make stuff!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Dragon's Horde, Neatly Organized

Every dragon needs a horde, and mine is neatly organized.  After a near disaster a few weeks ago - the shelving wasn't strong enough to hold all of the beads - I'm just about completely reorganized. 
This shelf holds the boxes with the precious and semi-precious pretties.  Lots of pearls and colored stone.  The shoeboxes contain packets of rhinestones, cabachons, brass stampings and vintage bead necklaces.
Stash Room - The Precious Pretties

A closeup of the boxes with the stone, and of course - the spools of Gudebrod silk I string it on.

An idea of what type of pearls I love.
Pearls and Precious Stone

I haven't transferred all of my glass beads into large bins.  I'll get there eventually.
Glass, The Long View

And a closeup of the glass.  I sure do love pink glass beads.
Glass, Close Up

While I horde like a dragon, I do work with my stash too - lately it's been seed beads, but I feel the need for a big bead necklace coming up.  Maybe rose quartz and a nice, soft green (thanks Valerie, for the inspiration!)
The Work Space

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Judy Walker - The Beaded Sphere

I want to learn how to do this:


Monday, February 9, 2009

Smacking Down Stupidity - Bead Wise

There's a fairly innocuous blog post on the Beading Daily website - "Five Reasons To Love Glass Beads."  Most of the reasons are pretty silly, and can be applied to any type of material:

1 - Glass Beads are Colorful.  Well so are stone beads.  And plastic beads.  Ceramic beads too.  Also polymer clay.  Wood beads are colorful when painted, and if you use enamel on metal, they can be colorful too. 

2 - Glass is a shape-shifter.  Yes, this one's an area that glass can smack down stone - but not plastic, ceramic or polymer clay.  In fact, I'd argue that the last material is the most versatile of all the mediums when it comes to making shapes.

3 - Glass beads are international.  I've got boxes of stone beads from Africa, China, the United States, Germany, Mexico, India, and metal beads from Israel, India and Thailand.

4 - Glass beads are personal.  Huh?  So an artisan made a lampworked bead.  What about the lapidarist who carved and faceted stone beads.  I can agree that there is something very charming and delightful about a representational piece of lampworked glass, but come on, artisans use all sorts of materials - glass is just one of many.

5 - Glass beads are versatile.  It's cool that glass comes in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes, but guess what, so does every other material.  I've got stone beads ranging from 2mm to 55mm and larger.

But what really got my knickers in a twist was the moron who wrote:

"The harvesting of precious metals and stones can involve environmental destruction, exploitation of workers and even wars. Glass is just as pretty and has much less impact on the planet!"

This twit clearly hasn't got a clue about glassmaking.  Yes, a hobbyist lampworker isn't having a huge environmental impact in his/her production of beads, but what about the materials themselves?  Glass beads aren't fairy dust and unicorn fur.

Glass makers aren't scooping up sand from the local beach. Silica and other elements are mined, usually in dirty open-pit operations. Silica is also one of the leading environmental causes of lung cancer (silicosis).

Pink glass gets its color from arsenic and red glass from gold.  Let's not even talk about cobalt.

There are lots of reasons to love glass beads, but thinking they are better for the environment than stone beads is just being ill-informed

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Sometimes, you just can't help but buy ridiculous materials, such as a full strand of 55mm Christmas Agate beads.  Sometimes, if you get lucky, you can actually use those ridiculous materials effectively.

55mm Round "Christmas" Agate Disc Beads - Brazil/China
Brass lathe milled barrels - Unknown Origin
Red glass/silver lined "Pony" beads - Czech Republic
Antique Gold finished pewter toggle

Stringing Material - Black Satin 1/4 Inch Ribbon


Big-Eye Needle
Crazy Glue
Tri-Cord Knotting Tool
Bodkin Needle

I walking into Leekan Designs about 2 years ago, and saw these lucious and ludicrous agate beads, and I had to have them.  Each one weighs about 4 ounces, and a mere four beads means a pound of stone around the neck, but that didn't stop me.   I didn't have a problem conceptualizing the necklace I wanted to make, but finding the right stringing material was problematic.  I had a spool of gimp, a type of wrapped yarn that I thought would work, since it had multiple plies.  Unfortunately, it was much too delicate (which proves that it's not how many plies there are, it's how strong each individual one is).  I had the same problem with a very small diameter rattail cord.  Leather was a possibility, but it ended up being too stretchy.

The other problem I had was how to get the thread through the agates.  Rattail, leather and gimp were all too heavy to be doubled and used with a needle. When I tried the gimp, I applied Crazy Glue to an inch of the thread, to create a self-needle.  That worked for one bead, and when I encountered an irregular hole on the second big bead, the whole "needle" collapsed.  When searching for another alternative, I came across a spool of narrow satin ribbon (100% polyester), which was a perfect solution.  The ribbon had no stretch in it, and since it could be crushed and spring back without any significant deterioration, I was able to string the beads using a Big-Eye needle.

The necklace is finished in the usual way, except no French wire, and I used "Fray-Check" instead of Hypocement to finish off the ends of the ribbon.

Materials Cost:  $35.00
Time to Complete:  3 hours (including experimenting with various stringing materials)
Difficulty:  3 out of 5