Monday, February 18, 2008

Making gifts for friends

I love making jewelry for a friend's birthday. Recently, I had the occasion to make two new designs for two wonderful friends. One of them was a little problemmatic as she is not so much into the habit of putting on a necklace or bracelet, so I had to think hard to come up with the "hook", that would entice her to wear whatever necklace I gave her. The other was problematic in that she already has lots of beautiful necklaces and earrings to wear, so I wanted to make something that both suited her and really stood out.

For friend number 1 -- she of the non-jewelry habit -- I went to one of my favorite jewelry stores to ponder. I looked and looked and then spotted the perfect stone: blue kyanite. I had shopped with her enough in Costa Rica (where we originally met) to remember that she was particularly drawn to blue glazes on pottery, and this kyanite was of a particularly appealing shade of blue. I originally combined it with sterling silver beads, but it just seemed a little lacking in imagination that way. I ended up making two necklaces, one combining amber and kyanite, and the other combining the kyanite with lovely shades of lilac. After making the two, I ended up putting the amber/kyanite combination up for sale in my etsy shop, and putting the blue and lilac in a silver box for my friend.

For friend number 2, whose jewelry collection I had to compete with, I found the perfect Venetian glass beads at another local bead store: copper shading into gold with bold black stripes and a hint of beautiful green at the edges. This friend has gorgeous green eyes and brown hair with a hint of copper, so I knew these beads were a good start. I ended up weaving in multiple strands of bronze and black hex-cut Czech seed beads -- which have such a lovely sparkle -- with green seed beads and beautifully faceted and sparkling rondelles of carnelian and peridot. I made a little pair of earrings to match, using more of the carnelian and peridot.

I hope both of them wear these necklaces in good health, and the knowledge that a lot of thought and love went into the making of them!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Combining Silver and Stone

I love silver. I love semi-precious stones. I love precious stones, but I can't afford them. I love combining silver and semi-precious stones in the same design. One of my favorite shapes to create from silver wire is a teardrop. I find it to be such a graceful shape, and so much fun to make. I also find that it combines beautifully with stones, whether round or oval or other.

I recently came across some beautiful strands of kyanite, which I'd never worked with before. I was surprised when I read that one of the places that kyanite is mined is Burma. When I lived in Burma, I don't recall ever encountering the stone, although it is quite possible my attention was more riveted by rubies and sapphires. Kyanite comes in several different colors, but the blue that I found is by far my favorite. It reminds me of mica, with its silvery striations, but it is the color of a favorite pair of blue jeans. I've combined it in necklaces with beads of a lavender or lilac hue, and it comes out looking like the color of a beautiful hydrangea. I've combined it with amber, and it looks like a deep blue autumn sky shimmering over a stand of golden aspen trees. But I love the simplicity of combining it with sterling silver.

I made two teardrop shapes out of 16 gauge sterling silver wire, soldered on a loop on top, and then hammered the base to create a contrast with the thinner silver wire. I hammered it for additional texture and lightly oxidized the teardrops to emphasize the texture. Handcrafted earwires and headpins joined the teardrops in my tumbler, which strengthened and polished the lot. A final polishing by hand to bring out a rich gleam in the silver, and they were ready to pair up with the kyanite. I love how they turned out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Winter Branches Earrings -- Handcrafted Sterling Silver

Several months ago, I came across a photo of a piece of fabric that instantly appealed to me. It brought to my mind an image of bare branches in the wintertime. Inspired by that image in my mind, I decided to sit down with some sterling silver wire to see what I could create. Yesterday, I finished my third pair. Each pair has taken its inspiration from that piece of fabric and the image that came to my mind. Each pair is unique. I have loved making each pair.

I take the sterling silver wire and start cutting branches, being careful to cut each branch twice, so that each earring in a pair turns out to be the same size. I hammer the ends to get a pleasing shape and then I sit down and start putting them together in such a way that they mimic the branches of a tree. Once I have them in the right place, I start soldering the branches together, stopping now and then to pickle them as I continue to solder. When all the branches are soldered and the earrings are out of the pickle pot, I start working on the details. I hammer a texture in the end of the branches, clean up any excess solder with my trusty dremel, then I add texture to the limbs with another dremel attachment.

The next step is to shape the branches carefully again, and put them in the tumbler for several hours to harden. When they are fully hardened, I pass them quickly through some liver of sulphur to oxidize them slightly, and polish them by hand to a rich gleam.

Making these earrings is incredibly time consuming. If I were to charge my full rate for the amount of time I spend on them, they would be beyond most people's budget. Truth be told, I love making them so much that I don't mind "wasting" my time in such a wonderfully creative and satisfying way. An image inspired by a photo, some silver wire, and lots of time: in the end, they are absolutely worth it to me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Craftsman Earrings

I have always loved the craftsman style. My dream would be to find a craftsman bungalow, and be able to restore it to its original glory. I love how the craftsmen of that time took simple elements -- wood, copper, glass -- and turned them into works of art without artifice.

These sterling teardrop earrings are my homage to that wonderful era. For one thing, they were entirely and lovingly made by hand. I took simple 16 gauge sterling silver wire and formed two equal teardrop shapes, which I then soldered and further shaped into an even more graceful shape. I hammered the base to give it a weight that contrasts with the more delicate wire above. I then hammered a texture into that base to heighten the contrast further. The finishing touch was a brief oxidizing bath, and a final polish which gives them a rich, antique gleam. Handmade sterling silver ear wires finish off these lovely, simple, and graceful earrings.