Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Two women walk into an auto supply store...

While having a lovely dinner with my husband's cousins last night, I heard one of the most "reckless" sewing moments ever, so I had to share it.

Maria found a beautiful large area rug at a garage sale, but the edges were frayed and the fringe was worn. However, that was nothing that she and her seamstress extraordinaire mother-in-law (my husband's aunt, Laureen) couldn't tackle. They put a sewing machine on a creeper (those things mechanics use to roll themselves under cars) and sewed bias tape around the edge! I can just imagine the two of them pushing this sewing machine around the rug, working together to keep perfect tension and speed.

It's a good reminder that "use as directed" is not always the way to go when it comes to our tools.

Have a great week!


PS - Trying to convince cousin Nick to write a post for us on his paintings using ink from color laser toner cartridges. Cross your fingers...I can't wait to learn more about this!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Thoughts on Focus

Last week I returned from teaching at Beadfest Santa Fe. I soooooo enjoyed the company of students who learned about metal etching, Faux Bone and leather. As I was packing leather dyes, tools and hides, etching supplies, metal tools, finishing products, and inks and tools for Faux Bone I had a deep sense of satisfaction. It wasn't long ago that having to pack such a variety of materials would have brought me great distress.

You see, a year or so ago, I found myself bogged down by the question...what exactly is it that I do? Do I teach? Write? Design? Sell finished goods? Consult? Work with wire? Metal? Faux Bone? Leather? The questions kept pouring out and I beat myself up for having no focus.

My business school training kicked in and I decided to write myself a mission statement. I wish I had saved the lengthy paragraphs filled with shallow adjectives and lofty goals. We'd all get a laugh. But, through that process I decided that there was just too much going on. I needed to focus.

I stopped making anything, for well over a month, and accepted defeat for not being able to pick a focus. And then one night, I was having dinner with a friend and was asked, "what do you see yourself doing in 5 years." I verbally beat myself up some more for having no focus and went home vowing I would be able to answer that question.

The problem was that I couldn't imagine not doing all of these things. They all brought me great joy. Just because it made for an impossibly long and boring mission statement didn't mean it was wrong. In fact, I realized I had already started my mission statement the year before...

Create Recklessly

Those two words covered a lot of things for me. I was able to check off nearly everything on my list as fitting under these two words. All that was left was teaching, writing and consulting. I hoped I didn't do those things recklessly! I thought some more and the simplest answer seemed the most appropriate...

Teach Thoughtfully

And there it was, my mission statement. "Create Recklessly, Teach Thoughtfully." Whenever I venture down a new path I ask myself if it supports my mission statement. When I have deviated from the path and have taken on projects that were neither, I found them hard to finish, and in the end, felt like I didn't do my best. I am not proud of it, but I know myself better now.

What inspires and drives me can be stated clearly and simply in just four words. And I am okay with that.

If you had to pick four words as your "mission statement," what would yours be?


PS - Off to Beadfest Spring in a few weeks, be sure to stop on by and say hi! And yes, I'll be packing allllll that stuff up again...plus supplies for the wire project pictured on the front of Spotlight on Wire!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reclaiming Framing

In Progress: Recycled Frame Fragments

One of our local frame shop owners is retiring this year after 30 years in business. She called me to see if I wanted the frame samples to "Create Recklessly" with. I was thrilled and immediately went down and filled three bins with beautiful textured and colored frames. I am swamped with deadlines right now, but the frames kept staring at me so I "budgeted" myself one hour to play with them. As a result, this blog project is not as refined as I'd like, but I'd thought it would be fun to share an "in progress" piece as I explore a new material.


Prep the Frames
I prepared the frames in two ways. First, if the frame was especially thick or angled, I cut it thinner using my band saw. Safety is of utmost importance when using this tool. The leg of the frame allowed me to safely push the frame part of the way through without my fingers coming anywhere near the blade. Second, I placed painters tape over the decorative surface to help preserve it.

Create the Bezels
I used Judy Freyer Thompson's bezel technique as previously shared in her guest blog. Instead of buying copper pipes, I used copper coupling so that I could have a little bit of a lot of sizes. I used a chop saw to cut off a slice of each pipe and then sanded and soldered them together. A decorative edge was applied using the edge of a riveting hammer.

Drill the Frames
I used a hole saw bit in my drill press to cut the frame into circles that were one size larger than the bezel sizes. It is important that you secure your stock when using this equipment as it can easily catch on the saw bit and spin at high rates or fling across your room.

Sand the Frames
I hammered an awl into the back of the frame stock and sanded it on a belt sander until it fit the bezel snugly. You have to be careful to not oversand (you can see that the wood is actually a bit too small on the smallest bezel).

Assemble the Piece
I placed the wood pieces into the bezels, occasionally having to hammer the wood in if it was a tight fit. I then used a small hacksaw to cut the excess wood off of the back and used the belt sander to sand the back flush with the bezels.

I stopped here, but my intention is to tap some wire into screws and insert these screws through holes drilled into the sides of the bezels, this will secure the wood rounds. I would then stain the back of the wood in different shades, making the pendant reversible.

On a final note, I asked the frame shop owner what would happen to the remaining samples. I took less than 1%. Once I heard that they were destined for the trash bin, I knew what I had to do. I spent two days packing up the store. Half of the store I donated to Tinkertopia and the other half I hand selected for my friend Linda Larsen's website Objects and Elements. Linda and I will go though the stock and package it up and will offer it on her site by mid-April. I hope you'll be inspired as much as I am by these beautiful wood pieces and rejoice in the fact that we saved them from the landfill. More projects to come!

Create (and recycle) recklessly,


Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Blog: Wood Finishing for Jewelers – Just a Starter Course!

Welcome guest blogger Aaron Barr, jewelry designer and fellow reckless creator. Aaron is going to give us a crash course on finishing wood, a material I used in my last blog post and one that Aaron specializes in. I know you will enjoy his work as much as I do! Be sure to check out his website at www.aaronbarr.com. Thank you for joining us Aaron!

Aaron Barr

I’ve been working with wood as a major component in my jewelry for a while now (wow, I think it’s seven years!) and I’d have to say that I’m still just a beginner when it comes to finishes.  There are just so many options out there!  There’s varnishes and polyurethanes, lacquers and shellacs, sealants, oils and stains...oh my!  Books and books have been written on the possibilities, but most of them focus on working with larger pieces like tables or doors rather than the small, hand-held pieces we jewelers create.  Yep, we have rather different challenges to overcome. 

 Aaron Barr

Rather than get into all the possibilities, perhaps I can just tell you a few of the challenges I’ve had and what’s worked for me?  Sound good?  Alright then, here we go…

1) One of the biggest challenges I’ve had is how to apply a finish to such small pieces as pendants and earrings.  When you look at the cans of finish, they say things like “Brush on” or “Best used in a sprayer.”  Well, there isn’t really enough room to do much brushing and I’m certainly not going to set up a spray station for an earring, so I’ve pretty much gone with the Karate Kid method – wipe on, wipe off.  (Yes, I know it’s Wax On, Wax Off, but wiping covers more finishing options!) 

Wearing disposable rubber gloves, I basically take a rag (old t-shirt usually, though sometimes a paper towel works just fine), dip it in the finish (make sure it’s stirred according to the instructions on the container) and wipe the finish on the wood.  This is easy if your wood is only on the front of your piece, like an inlay, but what if your entire piece is wood?  That’s where I’ve found creating a home-made stand helps!  

Mine is just a couple of pieces of wood I nailed together.  I drilled some holes, inserted some metal rods (from the big box store – designed to hold up insulation) and voila!  A drying rack. With wood earrings I usually 2-part epoxy in the ear-wires first, then I can put the finish on easier and hang them to dry.

2) Now, what finishes do I actually use?  Here are three of my current favorites.

Zinsser Bullseye Sealcoat is an absolute essential!  It seals any wood with a hard shellac coating.  This is great for woods the wearer might be allergic to, like some exotics, and particularly great as you can also put either oil or water based finishes on top of it.  I often do two coats of Sealcoat and follow it up with a spar varnish.

Spar varnish, like Man O’ War, gives a very hard, waterproof surface which is nice for jewelry since it is against the skin and might get worn in the rain.  Not that anyone would do that… umm…  Anyway, the biggest plus of most spar varnishes is that they are UV resistant. Many woods tend to fade in color over time (yes, I’m talking to you Redheart!) and a UV protectant helps with that.  Note: different spar varnishes have VERY different color tones to them – Man O’ War gives a strong amber hue, so I use it for certain woods and other brands for when I don’t want to change the color so much.

Just recently I found Daly’s Kitchen Wood Treatment which is made right here in my hometown of Seattle.  It’s designed to be wiped on butcher blocks and cutting boards, so I know it’s safe to have on my hands.  I don’t even wear gloves!  Following the wiping instructions, it gives a warmth to the wood while keeping it still feeling like wood.  As opposed to Sealcoat and spar varnish, there’s no coating here as the product just sinks right in. Daly’s keeps the natural feel when it’s appropriate.  I definitely sand the wood with much finer grit sandpaper when using Daly’s (as high as 800 grit sometimes).  Also, (and yes, I’ve learned this the hard way) since Daly’s is sort of like a wax, don’t use it on pieces with tiny grooves or designs – it really needs to be rubbed in, which isn’t easy in those details.  Go with a liquid finish instead.

3) Finally, I do want to say that every type of wood reacts differently to each finish, so I HIGHLY recommend testing whichever finish you choose before applying it to your masterpiece!  Here are some test blocks of black walnut and lacewood.  See how the different finishes give different hues on each?

Some make the wood ‘pop’ and some just look horrid, so it’s definitely worth testing first.  I’ve started keeping a list of what works best for me with each type of wood!

It definitely takes some experimenting, but wood is truly a spectacular medium and I hope you try it.  With so many natural colors and patterns, I’m sure you’ll find a piece to inspire you!  If you have any questions, feel free to come by www.aaronbarr.com or my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AaronBarrJewelry.  Enjoy!


Note from Melissa: Join me in thanking Aaron! Drop him a note in the comments by March 19th and I'll enter your name in a drawing for one lucky winner to receive a small priority mail box of various woods, including some exotic scraps...perfect for jewelry making.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Faux Reticulation

I wanted to share some of the inspiration and techniques I used for the piece I featured in my last blog.

The assignment was to create a brooch using a glass taxidermy eye. I'll admit, the eye creeped me out, but I wasn't going to question Andy's method. As the class was called "Imaginative Captures," he was looking for us to find unique ways to set the glass eye in our piece. Of course, I had to set it in Faux Bone. In fact, Andy got so tired of me talking about Faux Bone that he compared me to Steve Martin's romaine lettuce skit on Saturday Night Live.

I wish I had taken a photo of the table at Danaca. Andy had no less that 50 samples spread across the table in varying degrees of completion. It was heaven. We got to touch and play with each one and examine how they worked, asking questions as we went. I was inspired by this lever (below) that he created using a bezel cup.

Volcano Set Pendulum
As you can see, I constructed my pendulum just a little differently by using what he calls a "volcano setting," which was the first thing he demonstrated in class. It works along the same lines as my Faux Bone Frame Flaring tool, so this type of setting came to mind immediately.

Faux Reticulation
Before I punched and flared the hole which would cradle the brass ball bearing, brass tubing, and silver bezel pendulum, I wanted to texture the metal. I began to anneal it with a torch so that I could run it through the rolling mill. I was using what Rio Grande calls a single clad silver filled sheet, meaning it is Sterling silver on one side, and brass on the other. To my surprise, the metal almost immediately "reticulated." Stunned, I stopped and thought about it, quickly realizing it made perfect sense. Silver melts at 1640 F while brass doesn't melt until 1710-1800+ F (depending on the alloy)*. That meant the silver had flowed on solid brass, creating what appeared to be reticulation wrinkles...or at least that's my best guess!

A little research reinforced I would be doing that again. Reticulation sheet (which can take some practice) costs $35 for a 3X3 sheet of 24g, while the single clad sheet only costs $13 for the same size! The only reason I used the sheet at all was that I had some left over from making the dahlia in my new book, Metal Jewelry in Bloom. When shaping/folding/rolling metal, it gives you the opportunity to see both silver and brass.

Wood Backing
As I mentioned in the last post, I tried lots of different backing materials and eventually settled on a beautiful piece of wood. Well, I have to admit, while it looks like solid wood it is actually a piece of wood veneer backed by a piece of 1/16" Faux Bone. I had bought a pack of dozens of different veneers at Woodcraft after seeing jewelry made by Aaron Barr. He uses a lot of wood in his work, and I loved what the wood had to say in his pieces. So I tucked the pack away in my studio knowing that one day, I would pull it out...and I finally did. Aaron will be joining us as a guest blogger in the next week so he can tell you more about how he works with wood in his pieces.

The benefit of using the Faux Bone under the wood was that all of the tiny rivets on the front metal plate are actually wire tapped as screws and screwed into the Faux Bone. Only the four corners are rivets that go all the way through the silver bezel.

Survey says...ding! Romaine....err, Faux Bone was the answer! Sorry Andy.

Keep creating recklessly,


*Melting temperature source linked here

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It's Not a Finishing Problem, It's a Starting Problem

Melissa Cable
Sterling silver, brass, rosewood, Faux Bone, glass eye and peridot
The eye is mounted to a pendulum and swings, revealing the flash of peridot

I just completed a 4-day class with instructor and artist extraordinaire Andy Cooperman. His classes are always so liberating. He practices "ninja soldering" (just get in there, leave a pile of bodies and get out), he hates the jewelers saw, and he mocks me for using my jeweler's tap and die when you can simply use a pre-made screw (always in jest of course, and I am convinced I will change his mind on this one topic someday).

This is the second class I have taken with him (the first being his Flexshaft class, coming up again at Danaca) and I again walked away feeling great about what I learned and what I accomplished...and for me that is big. I often leave a class having learned a lot but rarely have something to show for it. Which is okay, of course, but it is so fulfilling to use the class skills to create an object that I am truly proud of (and can't believe I made). My buddy and classmate, Linda Larsen, finished three such projects in class, including this amazing pin she made for me! (It made my heart happy).

Linda Larsen
Sterling silver, brass and glass eye

I learned both from Andy and from my own experiments and mistakes. I will share one of those accidental findings in my next post, but today I want to touch upon the most important lesson I learned.

I finished much of my piece the second day and sat with Andy for some one-on-one time. I explained that I was at the point in the project that always causes me frustration...the finishing work. How do I give the piece the perfect patina and polish. He didn't see why this was a problem. And then, like the best teachers always do, he began to ask me a series of questions, allowing me to come to my own conclusions without feeling like he was judging me or my work. I walked away not sure I had solved the problem, but the questions stayed in my mind all night.

I woke up the next morning and realized something important. I didn't have difficulty with the finishing work, I had problems with the starting work. My solder seams were sloppy (I had given myself too much permission in the name of learning), my filing and sanding could have been improved using the Flexshaft tools he had demonstrated rather than being done by hand, and the overall design would be enhanced by taking the time to do some mock ups and trying different materials.

So with the class half over, I started again. I pulled the piece apart, soldered the areas that needed fixed, played with dozens of backing materials from leather and linoleum to fabric and wood (which I eventually settled upon). I came home and painstakingly inserted 31 tiny hand-tapped screws into the piece (remember, I will convince him one day), and burnished every single one of them.

It was 1am. My husband had stayed up with me, vowing to be the first person to see the piece. We cracked open a bottle of our favorite wine to celebrate. I made a piece I was proud to bring into class the next day, even knowing I'd have to share it with someone I admired as much as Andy Cooperman.

And that was the start of a beautiful finish.