Thursday, November 19, 2009

Essential Elements Part II: Making Lampwork Bead Jewelry

Green and Lavender Amulet with lampwork and fresh water pearls.

This is the second in my Essential Elements series, where I discuss things I couldn't live without for my small handcrafted bead and jewelry business. I would love to hear about your Essential jewelry making elements in the comments.

In this installment I'd like to talk about jewelry making. Clearly there are a number of design approaches you can take with lampwork beads. You can string them on thread, embellished with seed beads, gemstones, and what not. You can wire wrap them, or incorporate them into traditionally metalsmithed settings to make some very lovely jewelry. You can even use fiber in lots of creative ways to incorporate lampwork. I have created jewelry using all of these techniques except for traditional metalsmithing, however my collaborations with other artists have taken my beads down this path, with some really cool results.

Piece from my "Primitive Directions" collection, made with hammered fine silver components, wire wrapping, and lampwork.

My preferences lean toward making jewelry using components I make with fine silver wire. It simplifies the number of things I need to shop for, and makes my work unique.

Here are the elements I find essential for creating my jewelry, by category.


SoftFlex nylon coated wire rocks, period. Unless you make very tiny beads, and depending on the weight of the piece you're making, I'd recommend using the Medium or Heavy versions. I used other brands of wimpy stringing wire before and always had trouble with the crimps failing. No more. I found this article helpful on crimping, as was this one. I like to use fairly heavy weight sterling silver crimp tubes.

I keep beads I use a lot (e.g. sterling silver daisy spacer beads, small seamless sterling balls) in a shallow bowl on my jewelry design table for quick access. Others are kept in separate bins in compartmentalized plastic storage boxes. One thing I find essential for jewelry making are the stackable plastic 8 1/2" x 14 1/2" jewelry trays with velvet pads. I use these to transport jewelry to shows, to store jewelry, and to keep my unfinished projects in. They come in different depths, and I have several of them to fit my flatter and thicker jewelry pieces.

I have not found the grey fuzzy beading layout boards to be very useful for the way I work. When I have mine out it tends to get cluttered up with all kinds of flotsam, and I rarely seem to use it for its real purpose: laying out a piece before stringing. I can do this just fine in my stackable trays, which are much easier to store a partially completed project in.

Wire wrapping

I do a lot of wire wrapping, and love my small sized Swanstrom flat and round nosed pliers, and my regular sized Swanstrom flush cutters. Flush cutters are critical for removing sharp ends when wire wrapping, and for getting good clean joints for fusing fine silver.

I like to use fine or medium gauge (e.g. 24 or 20 ga) fine or sterling silver wire for wire wrapping, depending on how heavy the piece is. I have used a wide range of wire gauges for viking knit, and like the solid feel of some of the heavier gauge tubes I've made. For larger beads I use heavy sterling headpins (.027"), or fine silver ones embellished with metal clay. Smaller diameter ones work fine for crystal charms or very small beads, e.g. in charm/cha cha bracelets.

Metal Clay

Kate McKinnon is one of my Essential Elements! I took my first PMC class with Kate McKinnon about 4 years ago so I could learn how to make my own clasps, and it was one of the smartest investments I ever made. I learned so much, and continue to learn from her website and books. As such, I deeply respect her knowledge of this material, and her brilliant insight how to create functional, lasting pieces with it. I use my AIM-84 kiln to fire it (2 hours at 1650 for PMC3), and would not for a second consider torch firing any metal clay pieces. I have found Rio Grande's two part silicone molding compound to be very useful for making molds of interesting textures I find in nature.

Metal clay links (fine silver), impressed with the texture from fan coral I found in Mexico.

If you work with metal clay, you really need a tumbler with stainless steel shot to harden and finish your pieces. If you do any kind of metal work at all it's also great for shining up your work. When you take a class with Kate, you'll learn how fine silver wire is the perfect companion to metal clay - they are essentially the same material and will fuse together beautifully in your kiln. Since most fine silver wire is soft, the tumbler helps to make the wire harder and stronger. Other tools I use a lot include my chasing hammer, bench block, dapping block, and various sizes and shapes of forming mandrels.

I fuse fine silver wire to make rings, which I can use as is or hammered for interesting design elements, or folded to make loop in loop chain. My essential supplies for fusing fine silver include my flush cutters (mentioned previously), my butane torch, a solderite pad, tweezers, and a ramekin of water. These supplies also allow me to make my own head pins by balling up the end of the wire. For making sterling headpins or ear wires I also use a pickle pot - pickle removes the fire scale on the sterling. This isn't necessary for fusing or balling up fine silver. I've worked for years without using pickle, but recently added it to my studio because I've been making my own sterling silver ear wires.

Loop in Loop chain, made by fusing fine silver wire.

I've been making all of my jump rings by hand so far, using dowel rods and mandrels as the form, and either cutting each ring with my flush cutters or using a jeweler's saw. I recently bought a jump ring maker that works with a Dremel, but unfortunately it doesn't work with the Dremel model I have.


I don't do a lot of this, as I tend to make holes in metal clay using a cutter when the clay is wet, but when I do I use my Dremel tool and a tiny drill bit.

There you have it - my essential elements for making jewelry with my beads. It's probably a short list compared to some, but where possible in the kitchen and in the studio, I like to work with tools that do more than one thing.

What are your Essential Elements for making jewelry with your beads?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


The Meanie pendants are done! Just in time for the show. They're lovely, don't you think? After the show some of them moseyed on over to my Etsy shop, where you can see them in several colors and styles.

My goodness, I hope I'm not trending toward once a week updates. How awful! Shame on me. Here's a recap of my weekend at BABE, the Bay Area Bead Extravaganza.

Joyce, ready for action as the show opens.
It was nice doing a local show and it wasn't too tough to set up and break down. I shared a table with the lovely and talented Joyce Chadderdon, a friend and local metal artist. She was showing her incredible anodized titanium and niobium jewelry (check out those wild cuffs!), and offering anodized components as well.

At the show I discovered that my dry run at home used about 36" of depth (and 4' of table width), while the tables there were only 30" deep. I swear I used every inch of space available for my goods. I had to rearrange at the last minute so that I could see my customers over the top of my displays - yikes! I ended up swapping the Mean Green Mother Earth piece and the white focal bead display so I could at least gain eye contact with my customers.

My part of our table.
If you're wondering, yes, that is fake fur lining my second bead display, and it seemed fitting for my collection of animal-themed bead sets. Look for them soon in my Etsy shop.

They were lined up at the door and flooded in when the show opened at 10am on Saturday. By the time they made it to our table near the middle, many of them had glazed over looks in their eyes, and were visibly tired. I wish I had some refreshments to offer them. One of my first customers told me she knew my work from Etsy, and she bought a set of beads. Others would walk by (with that glazed look), and when they saw the Meanies they would laugh out loud. Ha! Glad I could bring a little humor to their day, if not offer a cool drink and a foot massage. I parted with some of my favorite new focal beads at the show, so I guess I'll have to make more.

I love checking out everyone's displays, particularly the ones that were designed to be lightweight, beautiful, and easily transported. I admired Ralph McCroskey's multi-level PVC marvel (not to mention his playful new eyeballs inside the eucalyptus pods), and coveted Aimee of Polychrome Beads' foamcore display masterpiece. The inner workings of shows and how to eek that last 20% of efficiency out of your set up fascinates me. By the way, I recently purchased Rena Klingenberg's ebook, "Your Profitable Jewelry Booth" (see link up there by Joyce's picture), and she's right on track with her show tips. Many I had heard of before, but several were new. I tried some of her suggestions at the Sacramento Art Fair in October, and I was amazed at how well they worked for sales.

Since I shared a table, I was able to get out and about and visit some of my friends there - Barb of SierraCatz, Lena and Robin, Shirley Cook, Hayley, Toni Lutman, Gretchen of Piece of Mind (Awesome kits!), and even more I can't recall. It was fun being next to Marion Jewel's in Fiber - between her energy and Heather Hopman's it was like mainlining caffeine all weekend.

Everyone was buzzing about the little beaded lizards and frogs at the Tropic Options booth, and I was lucky to score some for holiday gifts. What's even cooler is that they are made by Guatemalan women using some recycled content. So, if you're a person I regularly exchange gifts with, don't read this paragraph, or your Christmas surprise might not be so much of a surprise.

So there you have it - a not so hot off the presses update on BABE. Yeah, my feet hurt, and the days were a bit long, but it was fun and I'll do it again next year. There's just something special about the vibe you get when so many beady people and creations are assembled in one place. It's...beadriffic.

Next in my sights is the Bargetto Art in the Cellars show in a couple of weeks, Dec 5 & 6, but I have to wrangle a turkey and 8 dinner guests before then, and try to find some sort of place settings that don't too much resemble the sale bin at Goodwill. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

As the Bead Turns

Sorry for the radio silence, but it's been a week, for sure. We had a near tragedy with our young adult chocolate lab, who was hit by a car one evening. He's recovering quickly now, but for a while there it was dicey as he ruptured a lung and had unspecified lameness in addition to the horrible abrasions and cuts. We're very lucky to still have him with us. Fortunately he's a good patient and I'm a good doggie nurse, so between pain meds, antibiotics, ice and heat, we're on the mend. This was the final straw in a series of roaming episodes that have prompted us to take a hard look at our dog containment system. It will be changed. It was devastating to see him so hurt. There heavens are recalling a lot of furry friends lately, and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost their dear companions recently. It's so cold and quiet when they're gone, isn't it?

Come see me in booth # 603 at BABE this weekend in Oakland, CA!

Needless to say the accident put a little damper on my preparations for BABE this weekend, but I'm back on track and will be at the show in Oakland with all kinds of focal beads, new sets, jewelry and great affordable holiday gifts. I'm excited about this show as I've not done it before, and I'll be sharing a booth (#603) with my friend Joyce Chadderdon of Choyce Creations, who has delicious PMC, titanium and niobium, and sterling silver jewelry and components. We're going to have fun for sure.

So, if you're in the market for the fixin's for your holiday creations, or a little sumthin sumthin for yourself (I know you've been good), please stop by my booth at BABE and say hey.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Treasures and Treasuries

"Wild Ones", now in my Etsy shop.

I've got some of my new bead sets up in my Etsy shop... I'm trying to offer more choices for designers these days, and these are some of the sets I'll be taking with me to BABE, among many others. I have to admit, I'm getting in the set groove. Granted, I have to take a break after a few to do a complex focal or two, but all in all, I'm loving it.

A simple dotted set in coral and silvered glass, now in my Etsy shop.

And the Etsy treasuries, oh my! I just found myself in three of them today. Many thanks to my friends Mallory (Rosebud101) and Cyndie (cyndiesmithdesigns) for including me in theirs.

My favorite item in Rosebud101's shop this week is this gorgeous lampwork glass thimble:

Cyndie's treasury is a knockout (as usual) and features quite a few amazing Etsy finds:

My favorite item this week in Cyndie's shop is her "Mother Nature Fall" necklace. I am ever fascinated by Cyndie's creations using my beads and her organically inspired wire and metal work.

The third treasury I found my work in was curated by Gulinoartjewelry, and included my Salsa cha cha bracelet:

Golden Harvest, curated by Gulinoartjewelry.

A big shout out and thanks to you, Gulinoartjewelry, for including me in your beautiful collection. Since I seem to be in an "animal" mood lately, this Alligator Skin Necklace caught my eye in her lovely shop filled with metal clay and gemstone treasures.

That's all the news for me today - it's foggy and cold here in Northern California (remember it's all relative), and I've got to get to the torch.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the Business of Busy-ness

One of my new focal beads.

It's been incredibly beautiful here lately. The fog-kissed mornings, the sunsets, the balmy breezes, and I'm just loving it. As usual I'm reaching for the ideal balance between indoors and out, work and play, and feel like I'm getting the formula right lately. While a feast for the eyes and good for my inventory, too many hours of nose and shoulders to the torch is not good for the sun and earth loving spirit that needs some sun and sweat on her face, and a dusty mountain trail winding off from her feet to the horizon.

I got the best of both worlds this past weekend. I walked with some friends in the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event, and felt even more connected than usual to my gender while getting some exercise and raising a few bucks for research to deal with this horrible disease. My husband and I also got out with the dog for a nice 5 mile hike in a local forest, and between the two events I've been sleeping well.

On the other end of the scale, balancing these excursions was a very productive torching session and a long overdue cleanout of a D3 area (disheveled, disorganized, and dirty) where I store gardening and art show equipment. How satisfying it was to finally see some order in the chaos, some clear counter and floor space, and a few less cobwebs. Now I need to find the right way to deal with the rodents who seem to think they own the place. Apparently a plastic tub is not secure enough for storing dried food, and maybe metal is required. Comes with mountain life, I guess. I actually had a STAREDOWN with one last night, when the cleanup was all but done. This one came out of hiding to show its cute little face (I think it's a tree rat - they are kinda cute) so I froze, and we stared at each other for a good 30 seconds before he/she went back to mousing around, checking out my stuff.

I'm getting ready for BABE in a couple of weeks, and have been training myself to make sets of smaller beads instead of just focals. But as a reward, in between sets, I've been quite happy with some of my new focals. Didn't this one photograph beautifully? Maybe it's the bead, maybe it's the incredible autumn light we've had lately, but it's sure something.

With luck the progress will continue this week, along with the next installment of my Essential Elements series on things I find crucial for making jewelry.


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