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.