A chronicle of the meanderings, false starts (which in retrospect, while sort of embarrassing turned out to be highly instructive), epiphanies, selective apathy (still evolving), wild mood swings, opinions (subject to frequent change), and life lessons of an inveterate dabbler (and her latest dabblings).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Experiment

I am nearing the end of my staycation, which started last Wednesday. Back to work on Thursday. I accomplished one goal, cut out a pendant with my saw and etch it. The other goal--make a bunch of stuff--not so much. At all. But I did get a bunch of pants.

So the sawing went OK (no broken blades yet), but I didn't quite get it round. It's a tad lopsided. But I thought, that's OK, it will be a "rustic", "organic", "freeform" pendant. My idea for the bale turned out all right--I left a tongue at the top that would be curled under later.

So after I had the edges all ground and sanded and all that (I have no idea which attachment to use on the Dremel so I used them all), I drew my design on it with Sharpie markers.

I tried to ink up the edges really well too so those wouldn't get etched. I stuck a piece of duct tape to the back and really stuck it down by rubbing it with something (I don't remember what), to keep the back from getting etched. (Worked like a charm.) I donned my protective gear:


Safety goggles.

Heavy duty rubber gloves.
Then I put it in the acid bath. At 1/2 hour I checked it, and half the ink looked like it had washed off. So I took it out, neutralized it, and reapplied the design with fingernail polish. Oy. I don't recommend this, but it was all I had. (I made a bit of a mess with it. Lots of stray smears and stuff). I put it back in the bath, and then noticed that one of my markers was actually a Sharpie Rub-a-Dub Laundry Marker. Silly me. Perhaps that was part of the problem.

It took about 3 hours to get a decent etch. I would have liked it deeper but my sheet was only 20 gauge so I called it good. (There are a couple weird circle things on there that I think are from bubbles.) Took it out and cleaned it up, sanded it a little, domed it some, and then patinated it in the liver of sulfur. Tumbled it. This is the final product:

Extremely rustic, sloppily rendered, charmingly amateurish pendant.
It's a tad, or maybe outrageously craptastic, but the process seems to work in theory. Before I attempt another one, though, these are the things I need to do first:

1) For a pendant this size (one inch in diameter or larger), I need much heavier gauge sheet, like maybe 16. I think 20 would be OK for charms. It just feels too flimsy.
2) Find a better resist. I ordered some pens from an electronics company that are made for this kind of thing (or rather circuit boards), I'll give that a try. I'll poke around on the Internet too for other resist media (any suggestions would be welcome). Apparently Staedtler red ink pens work better than Sharpies. Eventually I'll probably try the laser printer/toner transfer thing. Maybe. It would be nice not to have to draw anything.
3) Learn how to use the grinder attachments on my Dremel so I do a better job finishing the edges.
4) Probably clean it better before applying the resist, like get some citric acid cleaner to make sure there's no oil on it. Should have sanded it more to give it more tooth.
5) Remember to wait to curl the bale under until AFTER I've domed it. Duh.

It's too craptastic to sell, but my goal was to become unafraid/unintimidated by the process. Goal reached! I have to say it's a huge PITA actually. Sawing takes forever. My hand got really tired trying to hold the piece down on the bench pin. My metal shears work well on this gauge metal, but I don't think I could use them on say 16 gauge. (I have a pair of straight shears, and a pair with a left curve that I thought I could use for cutting circles but I haven't tried it yet). Etching takes forever too but at least you can go do something else while it's cooking. I think if I had the right tools/materials it would turn out a lot better. I'm really looking forward to spending more money on that. I love that. Spending money. Because I have so much of it. Money everywhere. Just lying around in big fat piles. Big fat piles of money. You know how it is.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grape Jelly and Autumn Splendor: A Natural Pairing

Ashanti cross in pewter with garnets and Crazy Horse Stone.

I can't help it, those garnets make me think of grape jelly. And the Crazy Horse Stone make me think of plum glaze. I've combined them above with Hill Tribes sterling silver spacers, each intricately stamped with a tiny design, some other sterling silver spacer beads, and a pewter Ashanti-style cross from Happy Mango Beads. Hand-forged sterling silver S-clasp and rings. I love these two stones together.

I couldn't resist doing this monochrome number below--I've been obsessively churning out these heavy wrapped copper rings, and after they came out of the tumbler all darkly glowing I pawed through my pearl stash to find something to pair them with and these teardrop and potato pearls in dark copper said PICK ME. I love the varying colors of the freshwater pearls--from dark gold to bronze to copper to almost cranberry. The teardrop pearls look like molten metal to me--very irregular and organic looking. Wish I could remember where I got them. (Jewelry Supply?)

Copper and freshwater pearls.
Hand-formed spirals, oval link chain, toggle bar and ball headpins.

In other news, I can say that I have mastered (as far as I know) the art of sawing jump rings, and getting my saw blade strung nice and taut. My project for my upcoming staycation is to saw metal sheet with it, and do some etched and stamped pendants and charms. I have some sketches done of what I am hoping will be easy designs. I don't have the patience right now for the iron transfer technique so I will attempt to freehand them with my limited drawing ability. I figure if they look too kindergarten-y I can just hammer the crap out of them and turn them into beadcaps.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Heat Vent Treasures (or, the Ductwork Adventures of an Inveterate Renter)

Tom and I live in a quaint little hut mere blocks from charming downtown Whitefish, Montana. Well, "hut" is probably somewhat of a misnomer. It's more of a shack really. It has a certain beach-side flair, with its little sailboat cutouts on the white shutters, and its powder blue siding (makes me think of that blue and white striped ticking you see in Pottery Barn catalogs). I think perhaps it might have been a lake cabin at one time, and been transported to this lot in town. I have a fondness for small spaces (I'm only going to say that the square footage is in the three digit-range. And not the upper range.), and we both live very simply and have a visceral terror of accumulating too much personal impedimenta, so it suits us. Although there is perhaps not quite enough storage for my burgeoning jewelry paraphernalia. (I should put the bed up on blocks, I could get more under there).

I've never had the urge to own a home, and frankly, it's never really been in my grasp financially anyway. Well, maybe when I first moved back here, before the real estate boom, I could have got into a house if I'd really wanted to, but I hated the idea of possibly being trapped in a soul-killing job because of a mortgage payment, or not having any emergency cash savings. Mobility, options, and emergency cash have always been top priorities in my life (freedom to change jobs, to move, cash to do stuff with), and having a mortgage seemed like it would do away with those things. I was never home anyway so I never much cared what my house was like. So I've always rented. This can lead to living in a house with a relatively...bohemian maintenance history.

When I first moved into this house ten years ago the interior was appalling (a long series of men must have lived here), but it had potential--mainly because of the location, the big picture windows (so much light!) and the gas heat/forced air (unusual to find a gas furnace in such a small house). I thought, I could peel off those three layers of dog-eared wallpaper, paint that circa 1972 faux-wood paneling, wash the nicotine stains off the ceilings, paint over those multicolor patch jobs on those old sheetrock walls, and paint over the faux-marble wallboard in the bathroom and it would be just fine. It smelled like an old bar--an old bar that was in a basement--a basement with inadequate drainage--but that got a little better with a coat of Kilz and open windows. Tom joined me here some years later.

Over the years our little shack has aged like an exotic cheese. Ripened, if you will. The last couple years a really piquant odor has crept in during cooler weather that I can only describe as distinctly organic. Or more precisely, mammalian. And not live mammalian, as in, like, wet dog, but rather...dead mammalian. Like a dead rat in the heat vent.

My impression of this odor has probably been influenced by the fact that the room in which I'm sitting as I type this, the second bedroom, has a barely functioning heat vent. All the other vents in the house are busy pumping out toasty air when the heat comes on except for this one. This room is typically freezing from October to June.

Judging by experience, I didn't think the landlord would spring for a vent guy to come and clean the vents (and it's not apparently cheap to hire someone), so I Googled "smelly heat vent". I was surprised, and somewhat relieved, to discover this exact phenomenon was extremely common in everything from brand new  to fairly old houses. I found a message board where someone was looking for feedback on this exact problem, and they must have gotten about a hundred responses, all from people describing the exact same thing. A rank, pestilential odor appearing to emanate from their heat vents when the weather turned cooler. And not even when the heat was on. A few people found dead mammals, most didn't. Many had their ventwork cleaned, the vast majority of those to no effect.

So I sort of stopped worrying and just poured some Dove body spray down the vents.

But before I did that I Googled "DIY clean heat duct". Not very helpful. One guy said, well run a ShopVac down in your vents, at least get that part clean. So before I dumped the Dove body spray down there I vacuumed them out. In the process I discovered this room where I type was apparently at one time a child's room. A very bored child. Or maybe a very bad child who spent a lot of time in her room. Probably a girl. Not because she was bad but because of the tea set.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This was the last vent I vacuumed. And as soon as I had snaked the ShopVac hose down there, there was that telltale THUNK. I had just sucked up something big. (I'm thinking of a badly decomposed Fivel). Well, it being a ShopVac, the object worked its way without a problem into the canister. I continued my probing with the vacuum hose--THUNK. THUNKITY-THUNK-THUNK. TINK. WHUMP. A series of rattles (bee-bees?). Eventually I sucked up something that got caught in the hose. I took the hose outside, detached it and shook it onto the pavement, fully expecting to find something that would make me barf. This is what came out:

Plastic knife, fork and spoon; part of the blinds that must have hung in the window (formerly a classic 80s burgundy color); part of an erector set (the yellow thing); plastic bread bag fasteners; plastic wheels off a toy car; some change (just pennies, unfortunately); an ear from a Mr. Potato Head; cheap clasp from a piece of jewelry; and some other random crap. The other half of what I sucked up is still in the vacuum bag. I'm too cheap to cut it open and see what it is because the bag's only about 20% full. The other half of the tea set maybe. A barbie head. Mr. Potato Head's lips and mustache. The car that went with the wheels...

Ah, well, something to look forward to.

I excitedly turned on the heater after it appeared there was nothing else within reach of my ShopVac hose. Nothing. No hot air. I'm guessing there might be a doll baby head down there that was resistant to the power of the ShopVac. Maybe a tennis ball. Something big and round that rolled down in there. Or I guess it could be Fivel and the tea set is just a coincidence.

The smell has abated quite a bit. Perhaps because the heater is running more regularly now. Or Dove is more powerful than I ever realized.

Oddly enough I don't really have any desire for a bigger house. I probably wouldn't even use a "studio" because it would be too lonely. I'd haul my crap into the living room so I could sit next to Tom while I make stuff. Every day I expect to get a letter from the landlord saying the house is being torn down to make room for a parking lot. Or a real estate office. They're all over the place. (Har har. Good luck with that.) But for now apparently the lot owner thinks renting to us is a better deal. Thank God for the recession.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

MAPP Gas: the Secret to Unlocking Maker's Block

Been feeling rather uptight lately about making stuff. So I sort of stopped. Then I got a canister of MAPP gas and a new torch head because I wanted to make some copper S-clasps and toggle bars (I like the hammered ball at the end) and the propane just wasn't cutting it on the 16 gauge wire. Apparently I melted right through my inhibitions! Nothing like a little FIRE and molten metal to get you stirred up. Here's my pile of melted stuff, and some more wrapped rings:

As I had mentioned in a previous post, the incomparable Shannon LeVart of Miss Fickle Media had posted on her blog about wrapping rings as an alternative to soldering. I really like how they look! She also--God bless her--shared some VERY handy tips in her "Color Drenched Metal" tutorial about using liver of sulphur. I was dying to get that rich, reddish brown color on my copper but all I could manage was black. I learned the secret from Shannon's tutorial of how to achieve that rich dark color! YES. I also made a couple of plain bars, above, for I don't know what, wrap around something, and some oval link chain (they were just going to be jump rings but then I thought--HEY! why don't I just link them all together and make a CHAIN. I'm effing brilliant. I don't know where I get this stuff.). To make the ovals I wrapped my wire around a couple kebab sticks (wrapping your wire around two round rods produces a nice oval shape--I'm too cheap to buy an oval jump ring maker), and then sawed it at the top with my jeweler's saw (first time I ever used it--didn't break the blade! ha! next time.) I use my flush cutters when I'm making round jump rings, but since you have to keep nipping off the chiseled end of the wire for each ring to make both ends flush, you can't use it on ovals (if you always want to have the cut at the same place. It sounds complicated, but trust me. Sharilyn Miller shows you how to use flush cutters to make jump rings in her "Ethnic Style Jewelry Workshop" DVD. Among MANY other handy things. Highly recommend.)

So after I got my jollies with the torch (it's much noisier than the propane torch and the flame is a little more...exuberant) I rifled through my purse for the myriad little notes I make throughout the day of things I think I should make. There were about 7 loose sheets of paper with scribblings and incomprehensible drawings and lists. One indecipherable hieroglyphic went in the trash (not sure what I was getting at) but the pendant below made it onto the workbench and into the shop (I was trying to keep it less ornate--this one involves no ball headpins). Deerskin lace in chestnut and buckskin colors, waxed cotton cord in navy blue, wood and lapis beads, pewter tulip-shaped endcaps, and silver-plated rolo chain from Lima. Hand-forged sterling silver S-clasp.

This is one of Happy Mango Beads' fabulous Celtic spiral pewter pendants. They also have some wonderful smaller spirals and triskelia (triple spirals). I posted a picture of this pendant to Happy Mango's Facebook page this evening and Rudi Taylor, Happy Mango's directrice, told me the winsome story of this pendant (I believe she is currently in Bangkok! having recently arrived from Nepal on a bead-buying trip). I post it with her permission:

"I know there are spirals everywhere, but this particular one has a story. We were in Galicia, Spain (the section of Spain that hooks over the top of Portugal), an entirely Celtic area, and we were driving forever and ever and finally came upon a village with a single bar - so we went in to get a glass of wine and some bread (that's all they had), and inside was an old guy making spirals to be used as some sort of decor for a celebration the village was having, he gave us this spiral (and permission) to have it cast in pewter. So as you can see, it's not just 'any' spiral :)"

Is that not the coolest thing ever? I might have to buy more.

I took some other pictures of this pendant on a cushion from my favorite chair my Mom gave me (she found it at a yard sale and gifted it to me when she replaced it with a posh club chair), and I just loved them because they MATCHED so perfectly and I was dying to use them as the main photo for my item on Etsy, but the pendant just seemed to disappear. I used one of them anyway for the second picture. This is my favorite one:

The Chair:

Pardon the mess. Is that not a fabulous chair? I SCORED. Men are not allowed to sit in it. Except on holidays. Major holidays. Not the minor ones.

I also made these a couple weeks ago--wrapped them at work on my lunch hour but I didn't get around to listing them until recently:

Czech "Picasso" glass in red.
Czech glass in orange with "Sunshine Dust" and Antiqued Brass.

Czech "Picasso" Glass in Turquoise with Sterling Silver.

Czech glass in Purple Luster Finish with Sterling Silver.
I was going to make a copper bracelet this weekend too but all my time got gobbled up with picture-taking/editing and posting stuff. I guess the next time I get all inhibited and angst-ridden I'll just melt more copper with my new torch. I'll probably have to open a second shop to get rid of it all.

Next post: Heat Vent Treasures (or, "The Ductwork Adventures of an Inveterate Renter").

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Experiments in Fiber and Something Off the Cuff

A while back I became captivated by Jamn Glass' "watercolor" dyed silk strings and ribbons and bought a couple delicious lengths, not knowing what I would do with them. Figured it would come to me one day. A few weeks ago I hauled out the "fairy whispers" string and selected some stones for it. I was thinking copper. Or brass. And there it sat.

I started making a bunch of wrapped, hammered metal rings in the car on my lunch hour (I don't solder yet and Shannon LeVart had provided a little lesson somewhere about wrapping jumprings and such to close them and I thought, well, heck, solder schmolder) and after I had antiqued them, I liked the way they looked with the silk. But how to incorporate the silk? I muddled over this for about a week, strung it this way and that, and nothing worked. I was frustrated. Threw everything in my tool box and took a damn nap.

Thought about it some more, and I thought why don't I turn those big fat rings into some big fat chain. Then maybe I could weave the cording in there. Lo and behold it worked. I even stumbled across a way to finish off the end with some of my smaller rings without having to tie a knot or use wire crimp coils or anything. Here it is:

The stones include picture jasper, moss agate, teal quartz, purple aventurine, fancy jasper, and matte Crazy Horse Stone. Copper plated pewter crimp ends. I just love the tawny colors in this silk--when I get the 12 gauge brass wire I just ordered I think I'm going to make another similar bracelet with brass rings, and draw out the tawny colors more.

I also did this. A couple of these snow quartz coins were lying around and I just LOVE them (I'm so into lozenge and coin beads, but just to fondle usually. I love the way they clack together in my hand. Like money.) And an idea that was not on my to do list seized me. Took me about a week to finish it--I just got sick of it after a while. It always needed more dangling beads and I got tired of making the headpins. It was a mofo to polish. GAH. I think this was what I was working on when I got my hair caught in the dremel.

The red side of the bracelet is actually a base of black deerskin lacing but you can't see it because of all the stuff I covered it up with. I interspersed sterling silver coils along it and added the dangling beads between them. Mostly I dangled the beads from jumprings (I realized belatedly that this was a better idea) but some of them are just wrapped right onto the leather.

That fabulous red, black and silver lampwork bead is by Kelley Wenzel. I'm hoarding the rest for now. Maybe a pendant too. The rest of the beads are little rainbow moonstone coins, black glass coins, a blackstone nugget, and loads of red bamboo coral nuggets. Nifty pewter rings from Happy Mango Beads.

Phew. Time for bed. I'm old.