Monday, October 7, 2013

Designing a Collection

Like most people when they start metalwork or other artisan work, I tend to think of single pieces, not of a collection or line. Of course, I might explore a theme in more than one piece, but it tends to be more of an exception than a concentrated effort.

For a while now, I have been toying with the idea of doing a themed line of pieces but it always fizzled out, mainly from the lack of a framework to build on. This time, I am publicly taking on the commitment! So, my readers get to follow the process, I get the pressure to make this work or face public embarrassment (feel free to mock me if I stall or delay this).

I chose to create a line of beautiful, mainly utilitarian hair accessories (aka, most pieces should be able to hold back hair, not just look pretty, although I am giving myself license to make a few that are just for ornament).

Why hair accessories? Simply because I don't see a lot of good quality hair stuff out there. Most seem to be cheap plastic, mass produced base metal or the good old pencil in a bun. There are too many well dressed, well accessorized women going around with plain hair. I felt the need myself when I worked in an office: I wanted my hair out of the way (clipped back, braided or whatever) and looking elegant, but I could never find a decent looking clip or pony tail holder.

I have already made several hair forks or hair sticks, which sell well, and a couple of hair clips for my own use.

Hair fork
Butterfly hair stick 
So, here is the collection so far:

Focus: functional hair accessories, including (but not limited to - who knows what I will come up with!):
- large barrette for holding a full pony tail
- small barrette for holding a half pony tail
- tiny barrettes for holding back bangs or clipping hair to the side of the head
- decorated bobby pins
- pony tail holder/cover
- head band
- hair fork or hair stick
- comb for a chignon or french twist
- comb for the side of the head (are these still used? I see so many gorgeous antique ones)
So, what did I miss? What do you need or would like to wear in your hair?

Target audience: sophisticated and elegant women (sorry, guys, I am focusing on the ladies now) who want to look polished and well put together, not fussy or childish (aka, no bows or childhood hair things)

Look: minimalist, sleek, modern

Inspiration: deserts. I want to explore some of the world's deserts, ranging from sandy and hot to rocky and cold: the vistas, the flora and fauna that survive there as well as the people and cultures that live or lived there.

To get started:

From, a pagoda in the Gobi desert
Uploaded to Pinterest, Atacama Desert

From, a girl from the Namibian Skeleton coast

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Making a Handwoven Silver Chain

I have said before that I love weaving chains. They are quite labour intensive but the results are so beautiful. They also require a lot of patience and calm - each stitch must be perfect before moving on to the next. Once it is folded in place, the wire will kink if you try to adjust it.

Blatantly showing off my latest woven necklace.

This is where it all begins - 20 grams of wire, well annealed. I am using 0.4mm sterling silver wire for this project. The choice of wire - metal and thickness - influences the final chain. Some alloys are harder and less flexible, which will make both a stiffer chain and give you a harder time. Thicker wire will give a nice weight and make the stitches more visible. Finer wire leads to a more subtle chain. Some of my double or triple woven chains are made with wire as fine as 0.2mm while the thicker ones can be as heavy as 0.5mm.

The second design consideration is the thickness of your chain. This is mainly determined by how many stitches you start out with (5 to 7 is a good average) and how thick your needle is, which will make your chain tighter or more open. You can also work some fancy stitches for different textures. I am particularly fond of very large - huge! - stitches with a messy texture.

Messy weave with a twist

Ok, let's get started. I will mention other design ideas as we go along.

First, we need to make the initial row of loops. There are many, many ways of doing this and they all work if you end up with a circle of similarly sized loops for you to start making your chain on. I prefer methods that make a neat beginning but don't worry too much. You will cut the very beginning off at the end so just go ahead.

One way is to hold the tail of the wire, loop it over your needle and back to your fingers. Twist the loop a couple of times so it will stay together. Repeat until you have your starting loops. Wrapping the "stems" together will keep it neat and give you something to hold on to when you begin.

My favourite way, though, is to simply snip off about 2cms of chain I just finished weaving, before I stretch it or do anything else. To start a new chain, I tuck the new wire down the center of the old chain, give it a light twist around the old tail and start working. Of course, this won't work for your first chain but consider saving a few ends to use as starters. It saves time and makes the first rounds a lot neater, so you will have less waste.

Ooops - my starter chain is quite tarnished!

Now, let's make our first stitch. Push your needle through the first loop, hook the wire and pull it through. Don't pull a lot - just a little, to form the new loop. It is easier to make a little larger in the next step than to make it smaller without kinking the wire.

Hook the wire and pull it through

For your chain to look good and hang right, all stitches should be same size. To make this easier and to take the guess work, my crochet needles flare out in the middle. I choose a good loop length (so that it will be snug but not too tight) and I mark the right place on the needle with a permanent marker. Then, I push the needle straight down through the new stitch, until it just hits the mark, pulling enough wire to make it the right size.

I am using just the beginning of the flare to mark the stitch size
Fold the stitch up neatly and your first stitch is done. Move on to the next loop (I like to work counter clockwise, but that is a personal choice) and repeat. Be careful that you don't pull your first stitch out when you form the next one!

One stitch done - more to make (ok, I exaggerated a little)

Now, keep going round and round and round, as your chain slowly grows. Don't rush it. Make each stitch perfect and your chain will be beautiful. If they are uneven, your chain will kink, twist and not hang right. Every once in a while, stretch your chain out and check that all the stitches are lining up straight. Since we are constantly turning the chain to reach the next loop, the chain may sometimes twist a little as well. Hold the very end of the chain with two fingers of one hand and about 2 inches further down, with your other hand. Gently untwist the chain. Gently! If you move too fast or pull too hard, you may end up twisting it the other way or marking your work. Do this every once in a while, so that the entire chain grows straight. It is easier to do this as your work than trying to get any twist out at the very end.

Work patiently, make sure every loop is right before moving on and that it is growing evenly. Perfection is the result of making step perfect, not of trying hard at the end to fix something.

You can count on it stretching around 10% in the next step so you can stop when your chain is an inch or smaller than your final size for most chains. Once you hit that length, cut the wire and we can move on to finishing it.

Here is the first nerve wrecking step. You want to anneal your chain before we smooth it out and stretch it. Use a large, bushy flame, keep it moving constantly and never, ever concentrate the flame on one spot. Bring it up to annealing temperature slowly and evenly, so that the wire doesn't melt. If it gets bright red at any one point, pull the flame out, fast! Quench, pickle and let it dry thoroughly.

I like to use a wooden drawplate to even the chain. Here is my fancy-schmancy one:

Yes, I made it myself with drills and a ball burr (to flare one side a little). It also doubles as an anticlastic "stake". What can I say? I make do! There are commercial ones available but I hate spend money that could be better used for other tools or pretty stones. Extra holes are drilled as needed and I make a note of the size in pen.

Find the hole where your chain fits snugly and pull it through. I find that I can do this with my bare hands but use a pair of pliers if you prefer. Repeat in the next hole down, keeping the direction consistent. This should be enough to make it neat round and smooth. If you continue working your way down, your chain will grow longer but it will also be stiffer and the stitches will be distorted.

Finished chain, after stretching and tumbling

Now you can solder on some end caps and add a clasp. Brass brush and tumble to make it shiny and you are done!

One more safety note: don't polish a chain on a buffing machine! It can whip out of your hands, taking a few of your fingers with it and whipping you in the face. No, I am not joking. I am deadly serious - this is dangerous. While you don't need all your fingers to make fine jewelry (Tom Herman), it makes it a lot easier. Healing from an unexpected amputation also takes a long time and a lot of pain.

Next time, I want to show double stitches as well as how to increase and decrease the diameter.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Blogging Revere - Project 3

I hope everyone who celebrates Easter had a nice holiday, that all who celebrate Chocolate Day had a luscious weekend, that Passover was great for those who observe it and that those who don't do any of those had a fun weekend.

This last post is a bit late, since I was away for the extended weekend and I forgot to download the pictures from my camera (not that there are a lot of them, for reasons that will be clear in a moment). However, I am already working on Project 4, so I hope that will go up faster.

So, to work!

Project 3 is a pair of domed earrings. They have a cool ethnic vibe and I love the curve. It is also quite different from my usual work so I knew I would learn interesting things. I didn't expect that they would be quite so challenging.

The instructions start of detailing how to lay out the blank, so here are the pictures. I chose to do this project in copper for reasons both aesthetic and practical. On the practical side, I had plenty of light weight copper sheet around and it is a nice, malleable metal to form. On the aesthetic, copper takes on beautiful patinas that would work well with the shape of these earrings.

I also decided to go ahead and drill small pilot holes (0.5mm) instead of only marking them. After forming, these holes will be used for the posts and closure. A word of advice - gently round the angle at the widest point of the blank. Otherwise, the tip will impact the forming and you will never get a nice curve.

Copper blank with earrings laid out
And, here things got tricky. After all the details on layout, I was surprised at how little detail was given for the forming procedure. Revere recommends forming on a thick magazine, hard felt or soft wood end grain with an embossing hammer. After a few general recommendations (working from the center out, working both sides to keep symmetry, hollowing out an indentation on the wood), I was on my own.

My first attempt was using a very hard foam, similar to hard felt. It was, however, too soft for forming and the curve was erratic. Sometimes, the metal would bend too far, at others, it wouldn't respond. The hammer would bounce back uncontrollably and it was just miserable. Once I had a kind of half dome going, I decided to give up on the foam and lightly tap around the edges, to further the dome. This had mixed results - it can work but the metal tends to buckle and crimp. It also only forms the edge, so it can give the earrings a somewhat squared off look. But it is hard to control and the outline would be every shape except round, so I needed to fix it with a ring mandrel every few seconds or so.

This process was frustrating enough that I didn't stop to take pictures to share with the world.

At this point, the copper was work hardened and pretty textured from all the hammering. It was also not domed, not circular, not regular and not nice. So, time to start over. The only thing looking good was the texture, from all the messing around. I decided to just straighten out the metal and reuse it, to see if I could keep the texture. I annealed it and looked around the studio for another hammering surface.

I next moved to my stump, which, looking back, should have been my first choice. Without a dent that fit my hammer, the metal was still not doming. That one is my own fault, since I, for no reason, had not made a good indentation. A few good whacks with a raising hammer (so the dent would be a nice groove, to accommodate the earrings), a little shaping with a burr and I was off.

The strips began doming nicely, until I hit the next bump on the road. As they domed and curled, it was harder and harder to accurately hammer. The hammer head had to fit inside the curve and strike the right point of the edge, on the right place in the stump. My solution was to use a medium dapping punch and a mallet. This gave plenty of control, even if the going was a little slower.

At this point, I remembered that I wanted to document the process, so here are pictures.

The edges are still a little irregular but, over all, it is looking
pretty good and recognizable as hoop earrings

The next step is installing the ear wires. They are soldered on one of the tabs and snap into the matching opening on the other. I admit I was unsure about this design. The earring was pretty snug as it was and I felt that both twisting it to the side and pulling it wider in order to put it on would be both awkward and, potentially, would stress the metal at the opposite side, making it bend. But I try to be a good student and follow instructions (at least, the first time) and I found that it does work pretty well, as long as the ear posts are cut just a tiny bit longer than the catch - enough to hold on but not enough to make it hard to put on. The problem is that soldering annealed the copper, making the earring floppy. Back to the stump for a couple of rounds of light tapping, similar to planishing, to work harden it again. Otherwise, it lacks the springiness required to stay on.

Finished earring

While I am quite happy with the end results, I did feel let down by the instructions. There was a lot I had to figure out myself and a lot of unnecessary fumbling around. Looking back, this project would have been very simple with a small forming stake (like the Fretz bezel stakes, which I have been drooling over for months now). I want to experiment with the shape and, perhaps, make a wearable pair out of heavier copper or silver.

Now, onto project 4 - making chains!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Blogging Revere - Project 2

I am going to excuse myself from this project, a crochet chain. I love crochet and woven chains and I have done many, many meters of them by now, which means I have drawn many more meters of wire down. I have done tapered chains, twisted chains, messy chains, open chains and, yes, the traditional chain as well.

So I will leave a few pictures up and move on to the next project, forged hoops. If anyone has any doubts or questions on this project, feel free to ask on the comments and I will do my best to answer.

A loose, open weave. I love the airy effect - perfect for spring

I am proud of this one! A very fine double weave which was very tightly drawn.

A tapered chain, oxidized.

And the promised traditional look!

PS - I have just been scolded for my lack of marketing sense. Yes, these chains are all available in both my website ( and on Etsy ( They can also be custom made in 22k gold.

Have I mentioned how bad I am at marketing my work? Yep, very bad.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Blogging Revere - Project 1

The first project of the book is a forged bracelet, which presents a few problems:

- my bracelet mandrel is wood. It isn't even particularly hard wood (just light reshaping will dent it) and there is no way it will stand up to several rounds of forging
- the largest hole in my drawplate is 2.9mm

But I decided to go ahead any way by adapting the project for a forged ring, instead of a bracelet. This is the first project and covers several basic skills, including forming and soldering.

I started out with 2mm square wire (why square instead of round? Because I am a distracted airhead). The ring blank was formed and the 4 corners were marked with a file, to keep everything symmetrical. I also lightly marked the solder seam, in order to keep an eye on it as the ring was forged.

First round of forging - spreading the center of each side. Everything is looking pretty good.

Next, the edges were forged out, to create the square silhouette. I skipped photographing this step but here is the ring after filing. The original bangle kept the beautiful forged texture but it just wasn't working on such a small ring.

Filed and sanded to a matte finish, so that any mistakes will stand out. And. believe me, they do! I had to do several small fixes. Here, you can really see how my project is different from the one in the book. When I scaled it down, the forging proportions changed considerably. The transition from the center to the edges has to happen in a much smaller space and the curvature just isn't as clear. In the original bracelet, the center of each side is quite clearly curved, so the overall outline is still rather circular. My final ring is a square.

Overall, I am satisfied with this project. It was quick, fairly easy and, despite all my modifications, it is a nice piece. It is a pretty but quite delicate piece so I want to experiment with heavier wire (2.5mm first, then I might go even heavier) for a more substantial man's ring.

I was surprised by the size increase from the forging. I started out with a size 6 blank, expecting it to end up as a size 8 (a 10% increase in diameter). However, the final size is a full 10, giving it a 20% diameter increase. With thicker wire, requiring more forging, the increase should be even larger.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Blogging Revere

Alan Revere's "Professional Jewelry Making" is something of a legend for jewelry makers. It is comprehensive, didactic and leads students step by step up to advanced techniques. It was also out of print for many years. It was reedited in 2011, with new projects, new layout, even more pictures and, best of all, once more easily bought for a reasonable price (directly from Revere, from Amazon or your favourite bookseller).

After hesitating because of the price ($70 is expensive for a book!), a lost Amazon shipment and waiting for international delivery, I finally got my hands on a copy. It is gorgeous! The explanations are clear and thorough, there are plenty of pictures and the projects are interesting and varied.

My first plan was to read through the book and select the techniques I wanted to master (clasps, findings in general, etc). But once I started leafing through the pages, I changed my mind. I am going to work my way through the book, from beginning to end, with the focus of precision, good finish and as close to fine workmanship as I can get. And you, my dear readers, get to come along for the ride.

6 basic techniques, 10.000 tricks.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Big News!

The 2013 GBK Oscar Gift Lounge starts today and my Moonlight Sonata pendant will be on display.

I love how this pendant captures the light of the moon shimmering over the water.

And the lucky celebrities invited to the gift lounge will also receive this lovely sterling silver bracelet:

It has been a huge undertaking for me, as an artisan working alone on my pieces. The required 100 bracelets translates into close to 20 meters of handwoven chain. That is a lot of chain! To give you an idea, about a third of the way through, I draped myself with all the chain I had so far:

That is "only" around 6 meters of chain. I admit I love the look and I will, someday, make myself a necklace like that. After I get a brief rest, of course.

You can read all about the gift lounge here:

Both piece are also available for sale on my site: and