What’s Going on in the Workshop

This has been a very challenging summer for me. Lots of changes with loved ones coming and going from my life.  There’s the 5th year anniversary of my Mother’s death,  my impending retirement,  more and more silver appearing in my hair (which I refuse to dye-been there done that) and the feeling that things are moving slowly,  but that I can’t keep up with them.    

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It is at times like these that I find myself going into the workshop to make components without any idea of how I will  use them, if I end up using them at all.    I am past the point in my life where everything has to have an immediate goal and purpose.  Sometimes just “being” is the best thing for me.   
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So here are some pictures of the meanderings  I have taken with my materials this summer.  

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Some etched copper.

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I am trying various kinds of chain making, soldered and unsoldered.  

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Mixing chain components with polymer beads

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These pieces will become toggle clasps,

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Spirals for dangles

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Clasp experiments based on vintage belt buckle design.  Front

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And back,

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And here is a bracelet where I try to pull it all together with glass and polymer beads. 

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This picture shows a spiral dangle and one of the finished toggle clasps in use. (after a bath in liver of sulfur)  The wrinkled bead between the red  (one glass and one polymer) beads is a copper bead made from crushed pipe.

Sculpture For Your Ears

A few years ago, I wrote a post about an intriguing  sculpture in the courtyard of Jefferson University a few blocks from my house called Ars Medendi.  

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At the time I wrote the post, there was a dearth of information on the Internet about the Ars Medeni cylinder or the screen, which is a shame.  As I was  reading the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend,   I was delighted t come upon a short mention  of  music composed specifically for these sculptures. by King Britt  called Copper Speaks to Flesh, which you can download here.

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As King Britt explains  on his web site

“So I was commissioned by Bowerbird of Philadelphia to create a sonic re-interpretation of the Ars Medendi sculpture by Jim Sanborn. The sculpture is comprised of many medical terms cut into copper. The sound art can be listened thru your phone by QR Code while looking at it in person or download here. I wanted to incorporate the words in my piece, so I got Ursula Rucker to say sequences of words from the piece. I then processed them through pedals and such. I also asked two people that were standing around the piece, what it meant to them and put that at the end of my piece as a perfect ending….”

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Read my post on the  Philadelphia Percent for Art program,  here.

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I hope you enjoy this marriage of music and metal.

I’m Wired and Inspired

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I have a new project in the April-May Issue of Step By Step Wire Magazine! The African- inspired  Spiral Frenzy is an elegant-looking necklace that rests just above the collar-bone.  

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It’s made from units of spiraled wire that fit into one another.  Then you get to play with the butane torch and make the copper turn pretty colors!

The April-May Issue has lots of other great projects and articles.  Pick up a copy in your local bookstore or buy one here.

Want to make earrings to go with the necklace?  The instructions ( and loads of other great looking projects)  are in Easy Wire 2012.  You can order a copy  here.

My Visit to Wolf Myrow or Thank You Nehemiah

Elwood: It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.

Jake: Hit it.

The Blues Brothers

OK, maybe our trip to Wolf Myrow didn’t start off with snappy dialog, but I was game as soon as a friend suggested we take a break from Clay ConneCTion 2012 in New London and head to Wolf Myrow in neaby Providence RI.  “And don’t wear good clothes,” he added.   I had never been to Wolf Myrow before, but I’d  heard about it and was eager to go.

Some  background: The U.S. costume jewelry industry was born in Providence, Rhode Island 1794, when Nehemiah Dodge, a local goldsmith and watchmaker, developed a gold plating process that opened up the jewelry market to  mass production.   Providence became  a major player in the costume jewelry industry and, at one time,  employed thousands in its factories. In fact, New England was once filled with factories from the looms of Lowell  to the textile mills of Lawrence and the paper mills of Maine.   Hardly any factories exist anymore but one can spot the abandoned buildings with their stone walls and multi-paned windows  near the cities’ outskirts close to rivers and railroad tracks.

Wolf Myrow is a left over from those heady manufacturing days.  It buys and sells jewelry findings and beads, mostly discontinued or  old and items left over when a factory closes.   Poking around the vast  Wolf Myrow  inventory gives a feeling similar to exploring your Grandmother’s attic;  the sense of mystery and discovery is heightened by the plain paper packaging and boxes that hold  most of the items offered for sale.

We approached the ware house from hilly street on the edge of town, parked the car on a narrow gravel driveway and entered through a heavy fire door.  The air smelled musty and old.   We  made our way down a narrow hallway over ancient wood floors worn smooth from years of use.  Then I entered the main room and felt like I had walked into a store in Diagon Alley. 

It was crowded with rows of towering rusty metal shelves and every shelf was piled with  cardboard boxes bearing faded type written labels.   I saw a yellowed newspaper lying on a massive dark wooden counter next to an antique cast iron scale.  I felt like I had walked back in time.

And everywhere I turned, I saw a door to another room.  There are so many rooms that they kept the lights off to save electricity, but the light switches were clearly marked in case anyone wanted to shop there.   Each room I entered contained  rows of old metal shelves piled with dusty cardboard boxes.

I walked into a room and switched on the light.   I felt like I was the first person who had entered that room in years.   As I made my way down an aisle I stopped for no reason,  pulled a box off a shelf and opened it.  I saw scores of a brass stamping that reminded me of a brooch an aunt wore when I was a child, a memory I had forgotten.

When you open a box, you might pull out copper bracelet blanks.  Or brass chain.  Or glass pearls.  Or Swarovski crystals wrapped in crisp paper packets.

 

Customers are required to purchase items in bulk and most things are sold by weight. If you go with a few friends, you can swap  purchases with one another and come away with an assortment of products .  The staff is nice and extremely helpful.

Press here for a link to the website and catalog that will give you an idea of that Wolf Myrow sells. But take it from me, there is no substitute for a visit to the warehouse in Providence.  Thank You Nehemiah.

Learning to Make Metal Beads

I’ve spent some time this summer learning how to make metal beads.  The above bead is a copper lentil about 2.5 inches across.  I etched the metal I used on the front before I made the bead and I patinated it afterwards.   Theresa Mowery of The Patina Studio who commented on an earlier post, suggested that I try Miracle Gro as a patina agent.  What a GREAT TIP!  I ended up using African Violet food because I didn’t have to mix any powder, but the principle is the same.  This stuff works fast!  I got the patina you see above after a couple of days.  I sealed the pendant with Sophisticated Finishes sealer and then gave it a buff with Renaissance Wax.   Here are some more pictures:

The glass beads in the last picture are hollow lampwork.  The beads are lengths of copper pipe that I cut from found scrap.  I pounded them (after annealing) so they looked wrinkled,filed and sanded the ends smooth and soldered  copper disks (with holes in center) to the ends of the pipes.  More filing and sanding followed.  I have a way to go with these.  I found the lentil beads went together with less effort; maybe because it’s easier to sand the edges to get flat surfaces for soldering, so they clean up much more easily.  And the metal is thinner than the pipe metal so it’s easier to work with.  An addendum:  forging can damage your joints including your elbows and wrists.  A safer way to make the wrinkled beads is through use of a hydraulic press. 


Here’s the part of the post where a recommend a book!    Making Metal Beads by  Pauling Warg is a fabulous book on how to make all kinds of metal beads, not just soldered ones.   Be warned that there is no Precious Metal Clay in this book, but Warg does have directions for using cold connections to fabricate unique beads that will catch everyone’s eye as well as tutorials on how to alter ready made beads  into something that looks unique and totally hand made.

Here’s a video featuring Pauline Warg:

Viking Knit Unraveled and Revealed

I recently spent time trying to puzzle out the Viking Knit.  There some excellent directions on the Internet including these on the Fine Art by Rocio website.  The problem is, the Viking Knit that looks so cool is double or triple knit and all of the instructions that I saw, including those in Irene Petersen’s otherwise marvelous book,  tell you to loop down a couple of rows with a single wire and then go up a couple of rows and come back down to double knit and repeat to triple knit.  I don’t know about you, but that would drive me “Ape-something that rhymes with knit.”  Plus it’s hard to keep your rows and stitches even and the wires lying evenly instead of whopper jawed and all kinked up.

And then there was this thing about clamping an Allen Wrench in a vise that seemed like overkill. Viking Knit wants to spiral and as long as you keep your stitches fairly even,  you don’t have to be fanatical.  You can straighten your wire work when you take it off the mandrel.  I was able to find several artists on the Internet who used a mandrel of some sort.  I have had success with dowels and chopsticks.

But my biggest discovery is that you don’t have to do the up and down nonsense to do triple and double knit.  All you have to do is work with two or three wires at a time.  It’s  really not that difficult.

Here’s a crudely drawn picture of how you start:

The red loops are what they call the petals.  The above diagram shows the stitch worked flat, and you can see examples of this in Arlene Fisch’s classic book Textile Techniques in Metal.  But for now, think round.  Since it’s recommended that you work in 24 or 26 gauge wire, working with 2 or 3 strands at a time is easier than it sounds.  When I work with copper wire,  I work with yard long strands of wire taped together one end and proceed as if I was using a single wire.  When I work with brass wire,  I use  18″ to 24″ strands because the wire is stiffer and a little harder to work with, but it is not difficult.  Here are some pictures:

Here is a triple knit chain in progress.  It is three stitches around and I am using 24 gauge wire.  They say that 24 or 26 gauge wire is the best size to use.

Here is a detail:

I add new chain according to the standard directions you will find in Internet tutorials or Irene Peterson’s book.  I worked on this brass wire chain until it was about 16″ long.  Then I annealed it with a micro torch (you don’t need to do this with copper or fine silver, but brass is stiffer) after brushing it with flux to cut down any fire scale.

The next step is passing it through the wooden  draw plate.

The above picture shows the chain during the drawing process.  I passed it through three successively smaller holes, then stopped.  I once saw a video of Charles Lewton-Brain demonstrating fold forming and he said something that stuck with me.  I don’t remember the exact quote, but he said that when you are working on something and reach a point where you like how it looks, STOP!


The picture above is the finished necklace.  I soldered the knitted ends together and soldered a 14 gauge wire to each end.  Then I made the end caps from brass, passed the 14 gauge wire through the holes in the end,  I formed wrapped loops. made jump rings and soldered them closed and finished with an “S” clasp I made for the necklace.

Here is a close up.

To give you a little perspective, the two copper sections below are five stitches around.  The top one is triple knit the same way I did the brass necklace and the bottom one is single knit.

The final picture is a close up of a wide hole bead I slipped over the chain.  The final necklace was about 24″ long.  How long do the chains get when you draw them?  There isn’t a hard and fast answer.  It depends on the stiffness of your wire, how many times you draw the chain and how many stitches around your chain is.  The only thing I can say for sure is better two long than too short.

So now that you know how to make a double or triple Viking Knit chain without all the up and down maneuvering, go ahead and give it a try.  OK, you might think it’s cheating.  You might be a purist.  Just remember, as someone wiser than me once said, “Virtue is its own reward and little else.”

Here’s a late addition:  the Viking Knit is the same as the “Acorn Stitch” or Celyon Stitch” used in embroidery, only it’s worked upside down.  Sometimes you can get the hang of a technique by trying it in another medium first.  If you’re new to wire work but good at sewing,  try the technique with thread to get the hang of it.

Mixing It Up

This year, I’ve  gone from a metal and soldering frenzy to a  lamp working frenzy, to a  glass and ceramics tumbling frenzy, to a glass fusing frenzy, to a felting frenzy.  Every so often, I get in the torch enameling.  And there are always the seed beading designs I’m  working on.  Did I mention that I ruin a lot of stuff?  But some of the metal can be recycled and most of it started out as recycled anyway. (I used to have a lovely let of brass charger plates.)   The fused glass can be cut up and refused.  The lamp working failures can be turned into frit or  become elements in fused pieces so long as you keep the COE straight.  And you can use an ugly felted bead as a base for another bead.

I decided to combine the polymer beads and lamp work into a necklace and make a clasp. The polymer beads are interspersed with the lamp worked beads.  Many of the lamp worked beads are fumed with silver and the focal  bead is hollow .  For for the clasp. I made jump rings and soldered them to copper washers from Harbor Freight that I textured with my home made texturing hammers.  I’m not sure if I am happy with all of the polymer beads; I might make  some new polymer beads at Clayathon .    But here’s what I have so far.

What I made in Olivia Surratt’s Class


I first met Olivia Surratt at a two-day workshop the  Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild sponsored with Robert Dancik.  For some reason, I liked Olivia right from the start.  I don’t know why; sometimes that’s the way it goes.  So when Olivia offered to teach a wire and fusing class to benefit the guild, I jumped at the chance to take it, even though wire working is not new to me.  Not only has Olivia studied with some great teachers, no matter what you think you know, you can always learn something new or a better way to do something from a good teacher.  Olivia did not disappoint me.

One of the first things I did was to replace my portable butane torch with the model Olivia likes best, the original Blazer GB 2001 Self Igniting Micro Blazer Torch. It actually costs less than the torch I already have, but works so much better.

Olivia  and Pauline, her trusty assistant, led us through her methods for fusing fine solver and  wrapping with copper wire.  I used beads I made. Here are some pictures.  I give the class an A plus!

It’s Mural Arts Month in Philadelphia.  Go out and kiss a mural!!!

For earlier posts on Philadelphia Murals,  press here and here.

New Metal Work

Soldered copper patinated with liver of sulfur

Recycled brass from an old charger plate!

Soldered copper patinated with ammonia and salt

Torch fired enamel on copper

Stained Glass Pendants and Suncatcher





Some Christmas gifts from this year. The glass is foiled and hand cut. I used glass on the back of the pendants (fourth picture) in a color to compliment the picture on the front, and I had fun mixing yarn from my stash for hanging the pendants. Since I didn’t have any fold over cord ends, I made wire ends to hold the yarn together, and attached the clasps to them.

I got the globules in the sun catcher at the dollar store. I didn’t take any classes in these techniques; I learned everything I know from YouTube videos.