16 Mar 2016

Coiling copper and spring sunshine

She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A. A. Milne, Daffodowndilly, When We Were Very Young

I saw my first ladybird of 2016 on a gorgeous sunny spring day in early March. Obviously catching some rays to warm and wake up.
I saw my first ladybird of 2016 on a gorgeous sunny spring day in early March. Obviously catching some rays to warm and wake up.

My husband and I have been laid low by one of those especially horrible winter colds that happens about once every 15 years.  A particularly nasty variant that kicked the stuffing out of both of us for around 6 weeks.  Whilst we both experience long-term chronic health issues, we’re not ‘poorly’ very often and neither of us take much time off work for illness.  But this episode has caused us to merely exist for all of February, having started at the end of January and extending now well into March too.

So we’ve done a lot of treading water and not made much progress beyond concentrating on getting from one day to the next. And we largely shut ourselves away in an enforced quarantine, as we certainly didn’t want anyone we cared about to suffer with it.

We found a very quiet spot to eat some lunch in the car and just enjoy looking out at the spring sunshine.
We found a very quiet spot to eat some lunch in the car and just enjoy looking out at the spring sunshine.

But I think we both are at the tail end now (I think I’ve progressed a little faster, my husband had surgery just before it took hold and certainly had two separate colds in the same time) and can start looking forwards again and think about a bit more than just going through the motions.

Thankfully, after we’d met our commitments this weekend, the weather forecast was supposed to be decent and we decided to take advantage and just get out for some fresh air – we’ve long wanted to, but this weekend was the first time that we had the energy to make that desire to do so, into reality.

I know that we both seriously enjoyed it and I’m sure it did us both good too.  There’s been talk in the media lately of the value to health and well being of green spaces and spending time in nature, but this is something I’ve known since childhood.  Fresh air, sunshine, good food and quality sleep – Mother Nature’s healers.

My first lambs of spring 2016. They were very new and clean, but Mum, understandably, wasn't keen on me getting too close.
My first lambs of spring 2016. They were very new and clean, but Mum, understandably, wasn’t keen on me getting too close.

We didn’t do anything particularly energetic, but the spring sunshine felt wonderful after what has felt like a bit of an enforced curfew – just hearing the sounds of the countryside and breeze through your hair on a particularly nice spring day was most rejuvenating.

It makes me long for the long days of May and June when we try and get out as much as we can after work to enjoy those extended evenings – I think that’s perhaps my favourite time of year.

The area we travelled through had a lot of livestock in the fields, including some fabulous long horn cattle, which I wasn’t able to photograph due to the narrow nature of the lane and an impatient 4×4 driver behind us, but there were a lot of heavily pregnant ewes.  I finally saw my first lambs of this spring, two youngsters just tucked inside the perimeter wall of their field, so I got out of the car quietly, hoping to snag some photos, but Mum really wasn’t keen and promptly took them away, so all I got was retreating bottoms this time.


I’ve popped the photos from above, plus a couple more into the gallery below, including a couple of new ones from this week.  They each have captions to describe them.  You can click on any of them and it opens a pop up window and you can scroll through the full set.

My work this week:

Coiled copper teardrop loop earrings.
Coiled copper teardrop loop earrings.

I have a number of designs that feature either twisted wire or coils of wire and it has been my practice to use a small cordless screwdriver to give me the twisting/coiling action.  It needs a power tool that’s capable of a gentle start and slow speed.  I’d been using an inexpensive and very small hand unit that worked a treat for this, but it has been in its death throes for some time and I knew it wouldn’t be long for this world, despite giving me long and valued service.

But my father came to the rescue with a more substantial cordless screwdriver that had a failed battery and he adapted to run from the mains instead. It works an absolute treat and the additional size and weigh allows me to use it standing on its big heavy battery base, freeing me from the need to hold it up as well as co-ordinating the trigger finger and guiding the wire etc.

A longer teardrop of coiled copper wire in these antiqued copper earrings.
A longer teardrop of coiled copper wire in these antiqued copper earrings.

It has an accurate, well aligned chuck, which is especially valuable when coiling wire and it starts up lovely and gently, making for much easier coiling, less wire wastage and reduces the amount of swear words uttered.  I’ve enjoyed using it so much, that I replenished my stock of coiled wire lengths for regular designs and was able to make longer pieces than I have previously, so I put together some new teardrop loop earrings, as shown.

I see some wire twisting in my near future too.



16 Nov 2015

Bad weather has at least made me productive

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.   Stephen King. 

I’m afraid that I don’t have any [non-jewellery] new photographs to include in this post, bad weather over about the last three weeks has ensured that we’ve hardly left the house for anything other than work, food shopping and appointments.  Which is driving me a bit bonkers frankly – I’ve not had any opportunity to capture the fabulous autumn colours this year – and now the leaves have pretty much been stripped from the trees in the torrential rain.

The very few nice days we have had have fallen at times when it’s not been possible to take advantage (like right now, when I have the kiln running and orders to fulfill).  It has however forced me to be very productive and I’ve got done a lot of work that has been in the “I really must make an effort to get that done” category.

I live in a perpetual state of having far too many items in my shop as out of stock or ‘made to order’.  It is my practice, if something sells, but I know that I could re-make it, to mark it as ‘made to order’  If someone then orders such an item, I try to make at least two of them, so that I can return it to stock.

But having recently sold a couple of items that appeared to be in stock (only because I forgot to tick the stock control button), but weren’t, I decided that it was time to do a proper audit of my shop and check the stock status of all listings.  I also took the opportunity to review what I had for sale and decided to simply delete a lot of older items.  It was a largely tedious task with almost 800 items listed in my shop – many of which are in the sold section – but also most therapeutic to delete over a hundred of the older pieces to get the numbers more manageable.

During this audit, I realised just how many of my repeat good sellers were not in stock, so I spent one very full-on week addressing many of them and returned over 20 pieces to stock – which was very hard work, but most rewarding too.  I still have many more to do the same task with, but I felt pretty smug for a short while that I’d actually faced it.

Sometimes procrastination can work for you:

Whilst in the midst of this task, I wanted a particular shaped component which I was pretty sure I already had a couple made and knew just where they’d be.  I’d started a particular necklace some months ago, but simply couldn’t get it to work how I wanted, so in frustration, I packed all the components into a bag and dropped it into my WIP drawer – also known as my procrastination drawer – to return to on another day – and, as they do, the months had passed.

Said component was in the bag, but having got all the other gubbins out, I decided to have a tinker with the original design too and unlike the original session with it, the work just flowed.  I found myself totally absorbed with it and went on to finish it completely that day.  The result is the flower garland necklace shown in the gallery below.  I’ve done various versions of this design before, but this has many more flowers over a wider span than earlier incarnations and features bronze as well as copper.  It’s funny how the state of mind on a different day can make such a difference to how the creative mood flows.  I’m pretty certain that the time delay has resulted in a better piece, for various reasons.

Tinkering with white bronze:

My first 'test' pieces in Prometheus white bronze, before firing.  I prefer to make actual pieces as tests, rather than just waste material making test squares - this way I get to learn how it handles in practice too.
My first ‘test’ pieces in Prometheus white bronze, before firing. I prefer to make actual pieces as tests, rather than just waste material making test squares – this way I get to learn how it handles in practice too.

My current adventure is with a new material; white bronze clay.  There have been other versions and brands on the market, but the one I’m trying is by Prometheus and is nickel free, which many non-EU produced white bronzes aren’t.  This brand will allow me to combine it with bronze and copper on the same piece – something I’ve been wanting to do for some time.  My first batch are in the kiln as I type, so cross your fingers for me – my next post is sure to be about the success or otherwise of that process.

My work this week:

I’ve popped some photos of recent finished pieces into the gallery below and they each have captions to describe them.  You can click on any of them and it opens a pop up window and you can scroll through the full set.


27 Oct 2010

Recent work in progress, now completed

I apologise for not making a very meaningful post, but as I’m going to be out of action for a few days, I thought that I’d bring you up to date on some of the work I showed previously in progress. I’m always interested to read other jeweller’s methodology when coming to a design, so thought I’d add some background on my own pieces.

Unfortunately some of the pieces I’d like to show you, that are responsible for quite a bit of my time recently, are custom items intended for gifts, so I need to keep them under wraps for the time being, I obviously don’t want to spoil any surprises.

I’ve been doing some work with copper sheet and showed two pendants in their finished but raw metal state. I’ve now oxidised them and decided upon a final finish.

The pendant and earring set shown below was cut from copper sheet and given a hand finished texture. Then shaped and polished and the smaller pieces drilled for the earwires and a tube bail soldered to the back of the pendant – I wanted to keep the front of it plain without interruption from a jump ring or other bail structure.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

I gave the upper surfaces a high degree of hand polished shine so that once oxidised, it would take on a nice gunmetal style sheen. I polished the oxidisation back a little from the surface to reveal the texture.

I’d originally intended soldering solid earwire hooks to the back of the earring pieces, but decided at their size, they might hang a little low and without articulation. Coming up to winter when ladies are more likely to wear coats and scarves, it might cause them to get pushed upwards during wear, so I went for a long stright drop earwire through a drilled hole instead.

Seeing them finished this way I know it was the right choice, as they move nicely and the sheen on the surface gives rise to more interest as they jiggle in wear. But I think next time, I’d split the difference and solder a loop to the back of them and then attach that to an earire, to keep the front surface plain, as I’d originally intended – that didn’t occur to me until after I’d drilled the holes.

I posted earlier that this particular pendant had proved troublesome – sometimes the plainest looking designs need to the most work to keep them that way. I didn’t feel that the resulting finish was up to the standards I am happy with, so this one will be mine. I had given the front surface of the copper a brushed satin finish and wasn’t sure whether to oxidise, antique or leave raw. I do love the gunmetal sheen of highly polished copper when fully oxidised, so went with that option, tumbling it extensively to burnish the flat surface. I hand polished the Sterling silver nuggets to contrast against the darker background.

This pendant too has a tube bail soldered on the back and I think I’ll probably wear it on my Sterling silver snake chain. I like the simple contemporary lines of it and hope to apply what I learnt in making this one to something similar to sell.

These earrings aren’t a new concept for me by any means, I have made several pieces featuring these wrapped copper buds, but a customer wanted something long and dramatic, so these deep teardrop shapes were born – and I made an extra pair for the shop.

I’ve oxidised the earrings and then polished back just the wrapped areas to accent the texture there. The hammered teardrop loops have been left dark and smooth to contrast the textured details at the bottom. The buds were left a rosy copper and whilst these aren’t as red as some I’ve done, they still have a pink glow to them. I’ve hung them from wrapped earwires to mirror the texture.

15 May 2010

The evolution of a design

I talked in my last blog about how designs come about and that I see the design process rather like a tree – ideas branch out and grow and sometimes overlap other ideas and merge with them.

The design process for me is one of evolution, one thought often cannonballs into another and takes you in another direction – often without any conscious intention or control whatsoever – in fact, for me, this process is sometimes so energetic that keeping it under some modicum of control is the tricky part.

The spiral links I’d been working with previously, in a smaller gauge of wire and size, hammered smooth and highly polished. Here worked in Sterling silver for earrings.

It would seem very unlikely for me to ever be heard uttering the words that ‘I’m stuck for inspiration’ or ideas or ‘don’t know what to work on’. I must have hundreds of sketches yet to take form and variations of pieces already made waiting for realisation, that my biggest problem is deciding how to prioritise on what I give my time. I spend much of my life in perpetual frustration where I have ideas I want to work on and are spilling out of my mind, but other things I just have to do first.

A single spiral link in an intermediate size, used as a connector in these leaf themed earrings. I adjusted the wire gauge to give rise to a leaf spiral around the same size as the glass leaves I wanted to use. Antiqued smoothly hammered copper.

I don’t think, perhaps beyond the age of about 12, I have ever uttered the words “I’m bored”. The concept is totally alien to me. I must have about a million things on my ‘to do’ list – things I want to work on, things I want to try, things I want to learn, books I want to read, places I want to visit – that life is way, way too short to squander any of it in being bored.

That’s how it has been this week design-wise – one idea morphing into another and some ideas I had on the back burner, bubbling away in my subconscious, suddenly gained momentum when brought into contact with some new thought.

I’m still not entirely done with the spiral links I’ve done a lot of lately. It’s such a versatile unit to work with that they take on different guises depending on the size you make them and the finish you give them. This week I went much smaller with them than the links I’d used in bracelets and they come out lovely and delicate and deliciously fluid when worked together and finished and polished to a high degree.

Hammering them smooth and then polishing them gives a reflective, tactile chain that you just want to stroke. They can be used singly as connectors with interest, or collectively as a chain. See photos above.

This was meant to be an experiment to see if the idea I’d sketched would actually work, but I quite like how it turned out as a finished piece in itself, so I finished it off by antiquing. The beads are unakite.

I’d seen some fabulous work in copper this week using lots of wire wrapping – this is something I admire, but perhaps don’t have the patience or technique yet to work on anything extensive, but I had some ideas I wanted to work through too – my initial idea was to make a large spiral link, as above, but wrap the bottom open section with beads.

I was trying to ascertain a methodology for attaching beads around the outside of the shape with wire wrapping and wanted to work with balled head pins and came up with this technique, which I worked out on paper first and seeing that there were flaws in my original ideas, they needed working out. The pendant above was the result of that process – the pins needed anchoring in some way to prevent them from being too easily bent away from the master shape they were wrapped around.

This pendant was the next incarnation along my ideas branch. It was made initially as a leaf (soldered and hammered into shape), that I was going to wrap with small green aventurine beads like the round pendant above, but I decided it was going to come out too large with beads as well, so wrapped it with just the ball ended pins and connected the fine chain in the wrapping as I went.

Having suspended it on the chain the way that I have and without the green beads I was intending, it now looks rather more like a heart than a leaf. I’d made the ball pins as a rosy colour and deliberately allowed this to remain as I antiqued and polished the piece.

Continuing along my branch of ideas, these earrings came about after working the heart/leaf without beads, I sketched some shapes that would work well with that particular wrapping technique – it needed smooth round outer curves or straight lines ideally and this shape allowed me to get a ‘circle’ without soldering, as I wanted to only part wrap the shape and this balanced the bottom detail and intense texture with further interest at the top.

I decided that to balance the round earring, the earwires needed to either be round in shape, which didn’t work as nicely as I hoped, or in some other way reflect the details. So I went with a long straight drop earwire, to drop the wide earrings well below the ear and mirrored the wrapping with a wrapped loop rather than an eye to connect the earrings.

After oxidising, I decided to only polish back the wrapped details and leave this highlighted against the darker gunmetal finish of the scroll and I also highlighted the wraps on the earwires too. I think, having taken that particular evolutionary journey this week through these designs, this is the one I like best.