Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Adventures in teaching jewelry: handmade wire wrapped charm bracelets

When doing crafts with my seniors, I like to plan activities that are easy, fun and not too messy. After a friend showed me the charm bracelet she'd received for Christmas, I thought, "That's a great idea! And so simple to make."

You can buy bags of assorted charms on Amazon. They sell Murano-style beads, birthstone charms, colorful enamel charms... really, any kind of shape you can imagine, but I went with a large bag of silver-plated pieces. Each charm is different and I figured that the ladies could choose pieces that reflect their interests and personalities.

At first, I wasn't sure there was going to be a class because the home's rec director had forgotten to put me on the calendar. She made an announcement, though, and pretty soon, my whole table will filled up. Also, the director's new assistant was there for her first day of work, so she was on hand to help me out. She was thrilled that she just started and was already getting jewelry out of the experience.

For the actual bracelet, I simply cut strands of 18 gauge silver plated wire. I was going to use thicker wire, but I decided to go with material that would be lighter and easier for the seniors to work with. I went with a cuff bracelet design, with closed loops on each end, so they can easily take the bracelet on and off and don't have to worry about securing the hook.

The ladies had a great time choosing their charms. One is a self-described cat lady and went right for the cat charms. Another choose the fish bones because they reminded her of a scorpion and she's a Scorpio. And one lady chose the scissors charm, "Because if anyone messes with me, I'll cut them!" she explained.

These charms do have loops on top, but in order to get them to face forward on a bracelet, you need to add jump rings. I'd only brought one pair of pliers with me because I hadn't known there would be an assistant on hand. She used the pliers to open some jump rings, while I just used my fingers to handle the rest. Ouch! I broke a couple of nails in the process, but finished the job.

This was such a simple craft, but the ladies were pleased with their bracelets and liked that they reflected who they are. Here are a few of the seniors showing off their work:

I always enjoy being with this group and especially like hearing their stories. Many of the women are in their late 80s and 90s and have led interesting lives. They're such a kind and friendly group.

Next week, I'm teaching another cemetery class and I'll then be making glass earrings with the seniors. I always have something to look forward to!

Check out the rest of my handmade wire wrapped, fused dichroic glass and enamel jewelry at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Handmade wire wrapped triple tier earrings with briolettes

I've written before about the woman who's become a regular customer and sent me bags of beautiful briolettes. She's always coming up with interesting design ideas and suggested that I use her briolettes in my wire wrapped triple tier earrings:

I've been making these triple tiers with Swarovski crystal hearts, but they work with briolettes, too. Honestly, I hadn't used many briolettes in my pieces until she came along, but the teardrop shape of these stones is so classic and elegant. I can see why she likes them so much.

Some briolettes were too heavy to use in the triple pattern, so she requested that I make very simple dangling earrings. I've made several variations of these for her, but the clear crystals are my favorite:

Thanks to this customer, I've gotten much better at wire wrapping stones. I use 26 gauge wire, which is super thin, but very sturdy. A single strand isn't that strong, but an entire bundle of the wire is tough. I wrapped each briolette about halfway down so there is enough wire to hold it in place, but not so much that it covers the color.

Since I've been doing so many fused glass projects, my designs have become more complex, but it's nice to sometimes go back to jewelry that's simple and pretty.

Check out the rest of my jewellery at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Handmade silver wire wrapped Celtic knot heart pendant

I often get customer orders where I'll be asked to replicate an item that was lost or broken. This was the case when a customer recently asked if I could make a copy of a Celtic knot heart necklace she'd once owned and had misplaced.

To get started, she sent me a photo of her old necklace. This piece had been made with thick silver, which had been cast and soldered. I explained that I don't solder and could do a version that's wire wrapped instead. I noted that while I wouldn't be able to do an exact replica, I could make something in a similar design.

I've never made any pieces involving Celtic knots and they're pretty complicated. My way of working through this was to tackle the pendant piece by piece. I had to do a lot of adjusting so that I could incorporate the wraps. I swear, sometimes I feel as if I'm a structural engineer...

My first challenge was creating the heart within the heart. The original consisted of a much larger outside piece and then inner knots kind of "floated" within the frame. However, I needed them to be close to the edge so I could effectively wrap and attach them. Because of this, the double heart is a bit smaller than the original.

Next, I needed to make and attach those outside scrolls. Making them wasn't too difficult, but securing the 14-gauge wire took some trial and error. At first, I centered the scrolls on top of the heart and wrapped them with a bundle of thin wire. Unfortunately, the scrolls looked "bunched up," as my customer noted, and the wraps were way too bulky. Also, the thin wire I'd used was a shade darker than the thick, which gave the piece an industrial look -- definitely not what she wanted.

I purchased 26 gauge wire in a lighter shade so it would blend more easily and reoriented the scrolls so they were closer to the initial design. They now flow outward and are not squished in the center.

Those loops on each end are actually open curls in the original, but I had to close them so the chain will stay attached to the pendant. I also added an extra loop on the innermost scrolls so they'd be easier to wrap.

I put a lot of time into creating this piece and hope the customer likes it. As I said before, it doesn't look exactly like the original, but there was no way for me to make an exact replica when using different techniques. I'm always nervous when showing a finished result to someone who'd ordered a custom piece. Hopefully, it's close to what she wants!

Though I've been spending most of my time on glass jewelry, I'm still learning new ways to work with wire. Even if the customer ultimately rejects my work, I feel that I have at least gotten something out of the experience by trying something different from what I've done.

Check out the rest of my handmade jewelry at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Selling handmade jewelry: pounding the pavement

One of my new year's resolutions is to sell my jewelry to at least two stores or galleries. I got right on it this week by visiting several nearby boutiques and e-mailing various shops around the country.

There's a "downtown" area about a mile-and-a-half from me that has dozens of nice restaurants and interesting shops. Most of the clothing stores are small boutiques and are privately owned, rather than being part of a chain. There are a few popular brand stores, like Sephora and Banana Republic, but you can get some unique items in the other shops.

I popped into every boutique, as well as a couple of salons that sell jewelry. At first, it was intimidating, but I simply looked the managers in the eye and explained who I am. It's not like I had anything to lose. I knew that the world wouldn't fall apart if they turned me down.

So far, my quest is... not going well. A few stores asked me to return when the owner was in, but didn't think their bosses were interested in buying from new vendors. I hit up a high-end hair salon twice because there is a funky shop attached, but the shop owner never seemed to be in. She's there once a week... and seemed to be "out" every time I called. I finally went down there in person and handed over my card. I'd really like her to see my glass pieces in person, but I also don't want to be a pest. I figure I can always return.

One shop owner really liked my jewelry, but ultimately decided not to purchase anything. I think it's mainly because my pieces are priced a lot lower than the rest of her jewelry. But she was incredibly nice and gave me the names of some other boutiques that she thought would like my work.

I asked my manicurist if she'd consider letting me do a sale at her salon, but she also said no. She doesn't think there's enough room in her shop for such a thing. It's true; her salon is tiny, but I still wanted to ask. Now that I've put the idea in her head, perhaps she'll change her mind at some point.

Meanwhile, I sent e-mails to about a dozen places around the country. I've only heard back from one owner -- she turned me down -- but there are thousands of shops out there. It's a numbers game. I managed to get jewelry into one salon, so I'm confident I can do it again. I just have to keep making better jewelry and putting myself out there. It's very frustrating, but you have to be ready for rejections when attempting to sell any kind of art. I just don't take it personally because a shop owner's main goal is to make money... and if they don't feel like they can make money from me, they're not going to take my stuff. Enough people buy my work that I know it's liked; it's just a matter of finding a place that's the right fit for my style and prices.

This week, I'll write to a dozen more places... and then a dozen more the week after that. I'll keep going until I hear something. I just can't give up.

Check out the rest of my handmade jewelry at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Handmade jewelry: fused dichroic glass clip on earrings

The first time I got my ears pierced, I was eight years old. I say "the first time," not because I have multiple piercings, but because I had to get the same holes re-pierced three more times. I kept letting them close up and would get frustrated when I couldn't fit the earring in. For the fourth and final time, the piercer didn't even use a gun; she simply shoved the earrings through the bit of hole I had left. Ouch!

I guess I can understand why my parents refused to let me get double-pierced ears, which were all the rage in 1985. I was 11 and wanted a second hole more than ANYTHING, but they said one pair of earrings was enough. I attempted to pierce my own ears (don't try it; it hurts!) and eventually devised a method where I'd wear a long earring and stud crammed into the same space. It actually did look as if I had double-pierced ears and my parents didn't object.

As obsessed as I was with having pierced ears, I know plenty of women who've never wanted them. My mom hated the idea of having holes in her head. My sister-in-law let hers close up and didn't bother to get them re-pierced. My mother-in-law never wanted to get hers pierced and simply wears clip-ons.

Most of the ladies whom I know from playing at senior residences also wear clips. I learned this the first time I did a vendor sale at the Atria and several asked if I sold anything other than pierced earrings. I decided it was time to add clip-ons to my inventory. I then got a specific request to make them when I did a sale at another local senior home.

Wire wrapped pieces don't work so well for clips or stud earrings because you need a very solid mass to attach to the backings. However, fused glass is perfect! It's durable and sturdy and the earrings fit well against the findings, which are ready-made. I simply made the pieces and then glued on the backs.

I cut the glass into small pieces -- each about 8-10mm and used only two layers for each: base glass and a color. I'd made three-layer stud earrings, which were very pretty, but they were also quite heavy. I almost sold a pair at the fair I did in September, but the customer ultimately turned them down because they were hurting her ears.

The two-layer clips are light and comfortable, though. Wearing clips felt weird when I tried them on, but I quickly got used to them.

I'm not giving up my pierced ears. I've had them for so long and there's a lot more variety out there for pierced earrings. But I'm happy to offer variety to those who wear clips.

Check out the rest of my handmade wire wrapped, fused glass and enamel jewelry at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My new toy: An extra LARGE microwave kiln for making fused dichroic glass!

When I was invited to teach a glass-fusing class at Maple Grove, I was asked if I could bring a second microwave kiln so I could fire twice as many pieces at once. I decided to invest in an extra large kiln, which is four times the size of my other one. It worked out perfectly because I was able to heat six pieces at once -- and all nine students went home with completed pendants.

Of course, I did a few test runs before using this kiln in public and the first thing I learned is that this tool takes, well, four times longer to heat. When I'm using the small kiln, I usually set the microwave for 30 seconds and then slowly fire my pieces in 15-20 second increments. However, I can't do that with this bigger kiln. It takes about eight minutes to even get hot enough so that the glass gets moving into shape.

As someone who's promoting glass-fusing on a public site, it's my duty to remind you that safety comes first. I frequently write about the minor cuts and burns I get while working, and how important it is to wear safety gloves when operating the kiln. Here's a reminder to also wear protective goggles when cutting glass or dealing with kiln work. I didn't the first time I played around with my big guy. I got complacent because I'd become so comfortable operating the little kiln. But when you're melting glass, there will be smoke and fumes -- especially during the middle of the process. I lifted the kiln mid-way to see how the glass was doing, didn't have goggles on and was hit by a puff of smoke. It went right into my eyes and I couldn't see for a second. I quickly flushed them out with water and was fine after that, but lesson learned. Always, ALWAYS wear safety goggles!

It's taken me a while to get used to the firing times needed for this tool. I generally let the kiln heat for eight minutes, then two more and then I can check on the glass in 15-20 second intervals like I do with the smaller one. Now that I'm getting the hang of it, I've been able to create much bigger pieces, like these statement pendants:

The really long one is almost four inches! I haven't quite figured out what to do with it; whether I want to just hang it from a chain or go all out and turn it into a crazy necklace. This kiln was great, though, for making Christmas ornaments this season. I unfortunately don't have photos, but I made two large glass Christmas trees and big glass mosaic hearts for friends. Each was about three inches and just the perfect size for ornaments. I have a bunch of the giant pre-cut hearts left over. They're way too big to wear as pendants. so I'm thinking they could work as year-round suncatchers.

I love making jewelry, but many friends have suggested to me that I make some other types of glass products. With this kiln, I can create ornaments, coasters, maybe even some small plates if I learn how to slump the glass in a mold. There are so many possibilities!

Check out my handmade jewelry at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Silver wire wrapped necklace with black briolette, black and clear crystals and spirals

Happy New Year! I wish all of you a healthy, happy and peaceful 2017. We rang ours in in the perfect way: we simply spent the night at my in-laws', where we ate Chinese food and watched the Twilight Zone marathon. It was quiet, relaxing -- and just what we needed.

When I was younger, I felt as if my NYE had been a "failure" if I hadn't rung it in in some spectacular way. One time, we went to Atlantic City for the night. Another time, we went down to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister-in-law. Most years, some friend would host a party. However, I no longer feel the need to go crazy on the night of December 31. Truth is, I didn't like those parties all that much. I'm letting them go.

Speaking of letting things go, I've decided to take a break from my enameling class at the Y. I've LOVED that class. I've learned so much, made some beautiful pieces and met wonderful friends... but I'm just not as excited about it as I once was. I've had a lot going on with my glass and music and those have been taking up more of my time. Plus, the enameling class is expensive... and my enamel pieces just don't sell as well as my glass or wire.

The other thing -- and this is hard for me to admit -- is that the class environment has gotten very negative. We've had some memorable discussions about our families, popular culture and world events... but with the way things have gone in 2016, a lot of the talk has been depressing. When it comes to world news, I don't keep my head buried in the sand. I know it's important to be aware. But I really like to keep my art separate from that sort of thing. It's a refuge. I turn to jewelry and music when I need a break from that stuff and enameling was making me feel more anxious than energized.

As of now, I'm simply taking off this semester. I plan to spend my time, well, making jewelry of course, but also networking and seeing if I can get my pieces into some more shops in the area. My goal is to sell my work to two more salons. I also have a similar goal for my music. On Friday, I played a two-hour set at a nearby coffeehouse and really enjoyed the experience. I'd like to book performances at at least two other local restaurants or coffeehouses. So I have a lot of things I'd like to do HERE and figure I should give myself the time to accomplish these goals. I'll see how I feel when the summer semester comes around and can always sign up again, if I want.

Anyway. I haven't made too many pieces in the last couple of weeks because I was preparing for three gigs, but I did finish a few. I made a return to wire wrapping -- yes, I still do that! -- and designed this silver wire wrapped spiral necklace. The black briolettes were a gift from a customer and are large enough to wrap with clear crystals. I then embellished the chain with some additional black and clear crystals. My original plan was to add more crystals to the chain, but I think this is a good balance and doesn't take the design over the top. I also did a version with pink crystals. Really, I can use any color because black is such a versatile base.

It's raining here today, but my husband and I plan to walk downtown. There are several boutiques in the area, so I'm going to mark down the names and then call them this week. See that? I'm already working on my New Year's jewelry resolution!

Start off your 2017 by checking out my handmade jewelry at Naomi's Designs and MayaGirl Creations.