5 Jan 2011

My scrap pot bracelet and Christmas gift makes

My name is Boo and I’m a hoarder. I just can’t help myself – if I think something might be useful, I just keep it. I can’t bear to part with anything that might just come in useful some day, be used to fix something or just the part I need when making something. The fact that my house is stuffed to the rafters with junk is testimony to my [bad/good/environmentally sound; take your pick] habit.

Inevitably, the true usefulness of a saved item often peaks the very week after you finally part with it, so I tend to hedge my bets and keep things anyway. Just in case. I also feel slightly smug about re-purposing what most would probably consider to be rubbish and Christmas is one of those times when the rubbish generated is often of even higher calibre than the rest of the year – it’s amazing, once you tune into it, just how many foodstuffs and gift items are packed with nicely coloured or coated card liners, for example.

I spent a few happy hours in front of a film over the Christmas period, making gift tags and bags ready for next year – the idea being that I don’t want to end up in a last minute panic like I did this year – wrapping gifts into the early hours, as I’d left it too late. I made in excess of 50 gift tags just from one box of Christmas crackers, more from chocolate boxes and lovely received wrapping paper spray mounted onto white card.

All the smaller pieces of gift wrap I had from wrapping my own gifts were made into small gusseted gift bags – a habit I’ve got into in recent years as a quick and much easier way to wrap small and awkward items – a little tissue to wrap the item itself, then the bag is tied up through a punched hole with copious quantities of curling ribbon. making an attractive and easy wrapping method and you can make a bag with as little as an A4 sized piece of wrapping paper.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

The rag tag assortment of failed links from my scrap pot that went on to become a new bracelet for me.

I’m loathed to part with anything that might have a future purpose and it’s no different with the materials I work with. Failed parts, clumsy solders or those that break when working, are put aside for potential repair, re-use, or simply melting into other components. I grade my Sterling silver scrap into two pots, one that’s truly scrap, every smidgeon of trimming is saved for melting into nuggets etc. and larger pieces that might be useful are kept separate.

Thus over time, I’d accumulated numerous silver ‘rings’ that had the potential to be re-worked or rescued in some manner and the idea formed some time ago, to make these good, in between other work, to make myself a Sterling silver bracelet. So I started working on sorting some of them out and soon had a dish of assorted links for a bracelet. I made some new smaller links from those that couldn’t be made decent and supplemented these with some new jump rings (some indeed cut individually from scrap itself) and a hook to bring it all together. I wanted to finish it to wear at Christmas and didn’t really have the time to do it properly, so rather rushed the finishing.

The finished, albeit rather rough and ready scrap pot bracelet ready to wear for Christmas.

I have filed off the worse of the blimps and hammered to cover a multitude of sins, but the work certainly couldn’t withstand close scrutiny or be good enough to give someone else, but I rather like it for myself – it feels rather virtuous that I have something nice to wear from my rubbish and whilst I could do with giving it some more time, I suspect that I won’t and it has already been worn most days since I made it.

I don’t normally do haphazard or random, it doesn’t come naturally to me. But this ‘scrap pot’ bracelet was made up from a completely random assortment of parts – I just hastily arranged them on my bench in a way that looked pleasing to me and actually gave the end design very little thought. I suspect that this is part of its charm – I certainly think that, on this occasion, the end result benefited from very little thought and serendipitously just worked. Although I don’t think I’d recommend this approach in client work – I was lucky this time.

The original source photograph for the leaf pendant – the larger leaf was manipulated into a black and white line drawing as an etching resist.

One of the reasons that I didn’t have much time to work on the bracelet just before Christmas was that I was concentrating on making gifts for others. Further to recent posts on copper etching, I still had some ideas I wanted to work for loved ones as gifts. One of which was a leaf pendant for my mother which started life as a photograph of a backlit beech leaf taken one autumn, as above. I created a two tone resist design, transferred this to the carefully prepared copper sheet, sealed all the edges and back surface, etched it, cleaned the etched copper and sawed around the leaf shape and polished and rounded the edges, giving it a little leaf like shaping too.

I wanted to keep the plain border of copper sheet beyond the etching to a minimum and parallel to the leaft outline, but didn’t want to drill a hole through the etching either, for various reasons, so this would require fixing something invisibly on the back to hang it from. I didn’t really want to use a tube bail, as I have in the past, as I wanted to put it on a chain with quite a large clasp and a tube bail works best on fine chains with in-line clasps like snake chains.

So a soldered D shaped hoop on the back was the obvious solution, I could make it easily in whatever size I wanted to accommodate the clasp. My usual practice when soldering, especially in silver, is to use my own cut strip solder pallions, but I’d recently bought some solder paste to try and have found this especially good with copper, but less so with Sterling. The texture and workability of the paste allowed me to get a nice neat join and I was delighted that it took oxidising so well – as an Easy paste I didn’t expect it to. So I left the back of the pendant with a dark gunmetal finish as a potential alternative way to wear it.

I made my first pair of cufflinks for a Christmas gift and I’ll write more about the process and inspiration behind the pattern I etched in a later blog.

5 Jul 2010

50 years to bloom – and my 60th blog!

“The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose” Kahlil Gibran.

I’m sure that I’m not alone in my current concerns at how much material and how many of the planet’s resources we waste. The materialistic consumer lifestyles we currently lead has given rise to an obscene amount of wastage and use of materials on a very temporary basis, in packaging and disposable items.

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

It’s a joy to re-purpose something I’ve kept hold of for a long time and see it come to life.

Our household operates an enthusiastic policy of recycling and re-using wherever possible and I’m loathed to throw anything away that I think might have some future use. Which is a worthy approach to have, although it does tend to give rise to a house full of junk.

I’m also conscious that as a maker, I too am potentially adding to this mountain of consumer wastage. So I do try and use recycled, or re-purposed materials where practical. I re-use all packing materials that I receive and new items I buy are made from recycled materials. I supplement this by making many of my own marketing materials – hopefully cutting down a little on energy costs during manufacturing and resulting transportation of goods. I try to buy from sources that I know manufacture in the UK, especially locally.

Vintage ribbons – things of beauty, just as they are.

Every scrap of ribbon is saved to wrap jewellery parcels and I make gift envelopes from ends of rolls of nice papers, bought directly from the paper mill that makes them. I like to find old materials and make them into something new. I have old copper from my grandfather’s toolbox that has made its way into many pieces of new jewellery and still use many of his tools.

They waited around 50 years to bloom. They’re about 25mm (1″) in diameter, from 15mm (.6″) wide ribbon.

My other grandparents were manufacturers and importers of fancy goods – long before the public could fill their shopping basket with globally made or grown goods – when such an idea would seem so elusively exotic. They’d buy fancy goods made overseas and package them in Lancashire to sell to department stores. Much of the packaging was cellophane and bows – thankfully no sealed and moulded plastic contraptions available then.

I have a quantity of ribbons left from said venture and have gradually been using them when packing my jewellery. Lovely thick satins and fancy shaded organdie and even some pre-made bows. I have a biscuit tin which is full of what must be at least 100 yards of a basic woven pink ribbon that must have fallen off its spool at some time and was seemingly put aside for future untangling and has remained, shut away in a rather creased and scruffy knot, for what must be close to 50 years. There are several cut ends to it, where someone has used some of it, without wanting to unravel the whole mess. I also have a bag of short ribbon pieces from when I had a haberdashery shop from the ends of rolls, some of these, at least 12 years old, feature below too.

Vintage ribbons. I love that the ‘Approx. width’ is 15/16 inch – if it’s only approximate, why not just say 1″?

Even once untangled and pressed, the pink vintage ribbon isn’t really good enough to use as flat ribbon, there are grubby patches and snicks and it’s not in very good shape. I’ve kept it on my shelf, determined that some day it will find a use. I hate throwing things away anyway and it had sentimental value too.

As a teenage student (what seems a lifetime ago) I’d first travalled to America and bought some lovely satin ribbon roses in China Town in LA, having watched this tiny old lady making them on the street with the swiftest of tiny movements. I spotted them on my mirror a few days ago and wondered how easy it would be to make something like that myself to decorate my jewellery packages.

A vintage ribbon rose put to use on a finished jewellery piece wrapped and ready for packing. I make my own envelopes too and a tutorial to download for these can be found in an earlier blog.

A bit of ferreting on-line found various tutorials and I made several roses and rosebuds using different techniques. Some methods were clearly going to be too fiddly to be worth persisting with, but I found one that was quick enough to be worth mastering. The tutorial I found was in itself flawed and my results were variable – I needed to figure out why some were clearly better than others – some had a gorgeous little spiral of petals at the centre, some were a ragged knot. Some systematic trial and error figured out why, the early part of the tutorial was either missing a stage, or mis-drawn. Once I overcame this gap in the method, I found that I could reliably make a decent looking rose in a matter of seconds, which I then wired together to secure and finished with some green florist’s tape to give them a stem.

I tried some in oddments of organza and chiffon ribbons and they work just as well, if a little more freeform – the dark red one on the right is from a wide piece of ribbon folded in half lengthways.

Some larger roses in satin and organza ribbon.

I’m absolutely delighted that I can at last put that vintage ribbon to good use and that I can add something pretty to my packaging that is genuinely vintage and re-purposed. And I think my grandparents would be pretty tickled to see me make something new from materials that were perhaps thought beyond use by all of us. I hope they’d approve.

I’ll probably put together a new tutorial on my method, if this would be of interest, as an aide memoire for myself if nothing else. Let me know if you’d like to see it here on the blog.