What I’m Working On

I’ve been participating in the #100DayProject on Instagram
trying to create something every day and post a picture. I’ve been working on projects, like making a set of mugs, rings for friends, painting my house, helping Boris write stories for the Step Potato and the Step Banana and numerous other things. I’m mixing batches of colored porcelain in my basement to add to thrown pieces and to make jewelry. I’m still puzzling out hollow polymer beads and strong magnetic closures. And doing some volunteer work with the Color Wheels project at Fleisher Art Memorial. Here are some pictures

BeadsinovenPolymer beads in the oven

BorisandhisMug                        Boris admires his new mug

ClayStudioThrowing porcelain at The Clay Studio

ColoredClayMixing colored clay

IMG_20180711_111409Color Wheels: Gelli prints at the East Passyunk Rec Center 

IMG_20180711_111732MoreBeadsMore polymer beads

PendantColored porcelain pendant with gold embellishment.

Recent Work: Cuff Bracelets

I’ve been busy house painting (more on that later) and have taken a brief vacation from metalsmithing.   Here are some cuff bracelets I made last spring.

Brass and copper riveted, roller printed, porcelain shard.

Turquoise donut, fold formed brass, copper backplate riveted to cuff

DSCF2363  Fold formed copper cuff with Jasper, etched brass, and sterling bezel,  Everything is riveted to the cuff including the backplate holding the stone.

 

Tab set porcelain shard, roller printed brass.  The porcelain pieces are made from colored clay and are unglazed.

DSCF2379

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.

Metal Lentils

Here’s a pair of earrings I made this Summer.  First I etched some copper sheet with a Japanese wave pattern and then I cut out  four 1 1/2 inch circles to make disks.

I filed the edges of disks so they were all even,  put holes in the center of each one with hole punch pliers  and dapped a gentle curve into the disks with a wood dapping block.

I sanded the bottom of each disk in preparation for soldering.  The edges had to meet all the way around with no gaps.

Getting a bottom half ready for soldering.  I have pickled and fluxed the discs and am using medium solder.  I like to flash my flux with the flame to dry it out before laying the solder because then the solder doesn’t skitter around because the flux is bubbling.

A lentil bead ready for soldering.  You notice that I’m bit using binding wire.  I’ve never had much luck with it anyway.  Lexi Erickson (see below) suggests pinning the bead to the firebrick through the holes.  This worked beautifully for me.

After soldering before pickling and cleaning

I am learning to use less solder.  It means less cleanup!

I patinated both sides of the lentil beads with a butane torch.




I finished the earrings with brass washers that I dapped to conform to the curve of the lentil beads, and decided to use carbon steel wire to attach the earrings to the ear wires.  I like the look of mixed metals.

I recommend both of Lexi Erickson’s soldering DVDs. They are packed with useful information and common sense tips.  You can order them from Interweave’s Jewelry Making Daily Shop.

The Big Reveal Revisited

The August 11 reveal date  for  group 2 of Lori Anderson’s  6th Bead Soup Blog Party has passed.  I was blown away by all of the outstanding work I saw as I hopped from blog to blog.  Lori put together the map below to show where  all 400 blog party participants live.  There are  more detailed breakdowns on her blog.

Look at what  my partner Kristen Latimer  made with the beads I sent to her

MJM Jewelry Designs

I don’t think my beads and clasp were the easiest to work with.   Kristen’s jewelry seems more delicate than a lot of  mine and the clasp I sent  was pretty big.  And I could never figure out what to do with those minty vintage curved bugle beads.   Kristen found a way to integrate her crystals and smaller beads  with mine and  made a a very attractive set of earrings and a bracelet that anyone would be pleased to wear.

On another topic, the Philadelphia Polymer Clay Guild (of which I am a member) has started a YouTube channel and we intend to fill it with playlists of high quality tutorials with videos we make ourselves.

So, here is the interview with Jana Roberts Benzon.

And finally, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.  That’s right: It’s Beadfest Philadelphia time.  Don’t miss it.

For the Bezel Challenged

My friend Sherman claims to be bezel challenged.    That got me thinking.   Who hasn’t had a cool stone or glass cab that would look great in a metal setting?  And while you can  always wire wrap or make a tab setting (here’s a link to a great  tutorial from Jewelry Making Daily on making tab settings)  maybe you are ready for something a little more advanced’

     So, here is a setting idea for the bezel challenged.  Are you listening Sherman?.

 I took 14 gauge copper wire, cleaned it and made a shape.  I filed the wire ends flat  for a butt join and soldered the join with medium solder.
 

After pickling and rinsing, I laid three 18 gauge wires with balls on both ends on top of  the shape and  soldered them on, again with medium solder.    I also  soldered  the bail on during this step. (It has a little tab of metal I slipped under the 14 gauge wire and gravity held everything in place).  You might prefer to solder on the bail in a different step.    The beauty here is that you don’t have to worry about fit because the wires you’re soldering together already touch each other.  The soldering goes very quickly.  If you solder in three stages you might consider using easy solder for the last step.


  Here I am making a bail from a strip of 18 gauge copper and bail making pliers.

Here’s  another shape cleaned up.  You can see that I was too generous with the solder on one of the wires.  But there is an easy solution.  Toss a steel nail and your copper piece back in the pickle.  I don’t heat my pickle so I leave it for maybe five hours.  The steel makes the copper that is floating around in the pickle coat the copper piece.   If you have any silver or brass pieces in the pickle, they will become copper coated too, so leave them out.    At the end of the period, fish out the nail and it will be slimy with copper  (and your pickle will be cleaner!) The silver solder on the copper piece will no longer be visible.  You can still sand and file it off,  so don’t be any more vigorous than you have to be with the finishing.  And yes, it is durable.

The final step is to bend the prongs front and back to hold the cab in place.  You can also use your pliers to make interesting shapes with the prongs.    You can make the prongs long and coil them into spirals if you like.  You need to make at least three prongs to hold the cab securely.

With this technique,  you don’t have to measure your stone or cab as accurately as you need to when you make a bezel.    I just eyeballed the pieces in this post.  Another advantage of this technique is that you can see both sides of the item you are setting unlike a bezel where you only see the front.    The backs of fused cabs are usually not that interesting but stones are another story.

This technique lends itself to playing with the metal too.  For the piece below, I soldered a bunch of copper rings together and then added a smaller circle with the soldered prongs.

If you are using a micro torch, be sure it’s hot enough; not all  micro torches are created equal.  A good choice  is the Blazer GB2100.  Also, you need a soldering surface that will work with you and not against you.  I prefer a refractory block.   A  Solderite soldering board is another option.

I am not sure how I am going to use this yet.  If I had to do over,  I would have balled the wire that holds the cab from the back.  It doesn’t look bad the way it is, but it could have looked better.

Even though I  “discovered” this technique while playing around,  I  am sure it’s been around for years because it’s so intuitive.  I am  interested in seeing what  other people have made with it.  If you know about anything, send it my way.

Inspiration from The Infant of Prague

I’m not producing many finished pieces  in my workshop right now.  I’m in a playing phase.  I collect  materials and make components  without any idea of what I am going to do with them.  I solder things together,  and  try different patina formulas and  techniques that are new to me.    At some point,  I’ll plan out  a project  using what I’ve learned.  Sometimes I even make something I like.   Maybe.  Or maybe I start all over.  But since I’m playing and having fun it’s ok.

I don’t have to worry too much the cost of materials because  I get a lot of them  from  sidewalks and house sales.  When I something interesting  that could work as part of a jewelry design  I grab it  if I can.  (Assuming it’s not someone’s hood ornament or something.)     I’ve become more selective as my collection has grown which is a good thing.  I don’t want to be a mindless collector of domestic detritus and end up on a reality show about hoarding crafters.  Most  of my metal is reclaimed electrical wire, and brass and copper that had previous lives as plumbing or refrigerator parts, kitchen ware and the like. I’ve bought more than one brass tray at a garage sale for next to nothing and used it for jewelry. I understand that this is now the “in” thing to do, but it’s frugal too.  That’s why I started doing it.

Which brings me to the Infant of Prague and his role in my jewelry making inspiration.  (If you are confused, feel free to continue reading.)

 I was at a flea market and saw the crown you see in the picture above.  When I asked the guy who was selling it (along with other assorted piles of junk) how much it was,  he responded with a question.  (Don’t you hate it when people do that?)

 “You ever hear of the Infant of Prague?” 

 “The Infant of Prague, ” I repeated to myself . . “Infant of —

All of a sudden,  cars screeched to a  to a halt.  Dogs stopped barking, children stopped playing.  The earth’s rotation stopped (OK, it probably didn’t, but it seemed like it) while  I had a flashback to my childhood.    Memories of  dark churches,  smoky  incense,  tall ornate  statues and  ill-tempered Nuns in ankle-length habits started flooding my brain.  I could hear the ethereal tones of  a Gregorian chant  off in the distance-and bells.  I swear I could hear bells.

Let me explain.  I suffered through twelve years of Catholic school.  That included forced conscription into the annual  May Procession,  Stations of the Cross, and choir practice.    My suffering took on a whole new meaning when I attended church  Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania where I had relatives.  Wilkes-Barre had been a destination for many Catholic  immigrants from   Eastern Europe.  It seems like there was a church on every corner (What do I mean “seemed?  There was a church on every corner) where one could hear Mass in the native tongue be it Ukrainian, Croatian,   Slavic, Czech, or any dialect or sub dialect.  And there were  there touches of   scary and exotic (to me) Eastern Europe in the rituals, ceremonies, vestments and church statuary.   The immigrants brought their special icons and saints with them-St. BarnabasSt. Olaf – Saints  we didn’t read about much at my school where mostly everyone was of Irish descent (and all the boys worshiped the Notre Dame football team; what’s up with that anyway?  My husband is Jewish and he sure doesn’t  tear up the living room sofa  when Brandeis takes the field.  Am I missing something?)  There was nothing very exotic about  my Catholic school in New Jersey- especially after Vatican II.   Tedious yes.  Painfully tedious.  Exotic-no.  Going to church in  Wilkes Barre  was tedious too, but at least the churches were exotic; the  relics of ancient tradition and worship  were very important in to the immigrant congregations Northeast Pennsylvania.  And  one of them was the Infant of Prague.

The Infant of Prague entered my life when someone  gave my  cousin an Infant of Prague doll.  It sat on a dresser in his room covered in plastic to keep the dust off  its lace and brocade robes.  The Infant clutched an orb which looked like a softball that someone had stabbed with a crucifix.   I was fascinated.  But we weren’t allowed to play with the Infant who spent all his time up on the dresser staring at us.  It was only when I reached adulthood that I released  he was  spying for my  Grandmother.

 I always  wanted pry the orb from the Infant’s  hand and try to roll it across the floor like a  bowling ball.   I never did, but it was tempting.  To this day I am certain that if I had done so, I would have gone straight to hell  when I died.  It was only the likelihood of my Grandmother creating a hell on earth for me if I got caught that saved my mortal soul.  Maybe.   We were Catholic after all and as that famous Catholic George Carlin said, “It was a sin to wanna.”  And I sure did wanna.

 When my niece was about three,  one of  her grandmothers gave her  a quilted nylon bathrobe  that came down to her ankles.  You know-the kind you wear on Christmas morning and take to the hospital when you have your tonsils out.   When she first put it, on I burst out laughing because she reminded me  of the Infant of Prague.   (The John Waters version from his movie Multiple Maniacs.)  I shared my opinion with her parents and maybe that’s the reason I was never-never mind.    By now you must be wondering what this has to do with inspiration and making jewelry.  That  must mean that we  have reached the end of the flashback and   need to get  back to the flea market  to see what happens  next.

“Yes,” I gulped to the man with the piles of junk for sale.   “I have heard of the Infant of Prague.”

‘Well, this here is from a statue of the Infant of Prague”, he explained  handing the crown to me.  “I don’t know what happened to the rest of it.  You can have it for fifty cents.”

“Sold American!”   I hooted,  fishing two quarters out of my pocketbook.  I took my prize home and tried to put it on the cat’s head and take his picture, but Plumpton was having none of it.

The Infant’s crown now sits on the top shelf  of my jeweler’s bench.  I think it’s brass.  I’ve already used one of the  pieces as part of  an embellishment.  But since it is the crown of the Infant of Prague,  I can’t waste it on just anything.   So there it sits waiting for the right project.

Philadelphia Area Jewelry Tool Suppliers

Many people who are ready to graduate from bead stringing to more complex jewelry projects, and who need to pick up a few tools, often end up buying them at bead shows.  I’ve done this myself, and 99.9% of the vendors at these shows charge a fair price.  And if they take a little premium, that’s OK with me.  I am getting the convenience of finding mostly everything in one place.

But it doesn’t always work that way. I was at a local bead show a few months ago and saw a Solderite soldering board that I bought for $8.25 from Rio Grande on sale for $22.50.  The very same item, and it wasn’t a mistake.  And yet, the beginning metal smith  who might not realize that this price is out of line, is often too intimidated to go to  Jeweler’s Row on Sansom Street in Philadelphia to buy supplies, thinking that the stores there are for “real” jewelers and not them.  That’s not true.

For those of us from the Philadelphia area, Hagstoz is a treasure both for buying supplies and for selling scrap metal.  I have always gotten excellent service there.

Another store I highly recommend is Pamma Jewelry Tools and Supply, located at 809 Sansom Street.  It is a tool paradise and they have almost everything out where you can see it. They carry economy brand pliers like Beadsmith and Eurotool and high end brands Such as  Lindstrom.  They sell all types and sizes of hammers, rotary tool and flex shaft accessories, stainless steel shot, pickle, patinas, soldering supplies (and several kinds of soldering surfaces including charcoal blocks), displays, boxes and packaging.  They carry used tools, too. The last time I was there I saw hole cutters, rolling mills and ring stretchers among the items they had for sale.

One of the best places to shop for everything related to jewelry making is Beadfest Philadelphia.  The shopping bazaar runs from August 19 to August 21.   For a list of vendors, press here.  You can even download a floor plan.  Just remember that the Beadfest  venue has changed to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center this year.  Maybe I will see you there!

Cynthia Toops Came to Philadelphia

to teach a polymer clay class to the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild. I was fortunate enough to take the class in micro mosaics and other techniques.  What I learned is that you don’t have to be able to cane The Last Supper to be a great polymer clay artist. Cynthia Toops makes simple components, but she assembles them with virtuosity and imagination.  And superb craftsmanship.

And she works simply.  I took a lampworking class with her husband, Dan Adams, a few years ago.  He told us that for the first several years, her only tools were a drinking glass and a single-edged razor blade.   Her class materials list was short, but the instruction was intense and personal.  I came away with some mediocre work and the realization that I had a long way to go.  But I had fun and I am already thinking how to integrate the techniques I learned into my own work.

Detail

Detail

 

I fooled around with some techniques in these little pins and then I poured clear resin over the elements, leaving some of them poking out.

To see pictures from the class, go to the Philadelphia Area Guild’s blog.  Cynthia Tinapple took the class too,  and put up some images on Polymer Clay Daily.  To see a video with Cynthia Toops explaining her work, press here.

 

Clayathon Wrap Up with Pictures

 

Clayathon is a place to relax, mix with great people, see the work other people’s work in progress and watch demos of  polymer and non-polymer techniques.  I saw demos on caning, faux dichroic glass,  soldering solver bezels, metal fold forming, and I gave a demo on drilling glass and making ring clasps with copper washers.  Lisa Clarke of Polka Dot Creations was there with the latest books and videos and Wilma Yost was there with the latest products from Polymer Clay Express  including their Shape Frames  that Wilma showed everyone how to use.  We had a cane swap and worked on a group cane too.  To sum it up, we had a blast.

Here are some pictures.