One woman's adventures in the land of hand made jewellery

Monday, 29 November 2010

A Few From Earlier....

Funky Wooden Beads

Do you ever worry about how your mind works? I spent sometime week or so ago being inspired by my wooden bead stash. Then, searching for something else, I turned up a selection of green stones decided to make a glittery party necklace with some matching earrings. Obviously I'd had enough of being funky... or perhaps I really should be worried.
Party Time in Green

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Jewellery Design - the process?

I picked up some lovely shells on the beach at the yacht club recently. They seemed quite exotic to my British eye all swirly and spiky so I wanted to make some jewellery with them. But how, with what? There were no convenient holes to add a jump ring to or thread some chord through. For a week or so all the shells I'd gathered sat on my kitchen worktop and I simply admired them each time I put the kettle on. Some were shiney orange as if varnished others rough with barnacles but my favourite of all remained the white spikey ones. From a brief trawl of the web I believe they are some kind of "Murex" but shell indentification is not my forte. They are pretty however and I wanted to wear them. What could I do that would serve as a permanent reminder of my time in Bahrain (which is rapidly coming to an end) and which would compliment my wardrobe?

Earrings? There wasn't a matched pair of shells and my favourite ones were anyway far too spiney to be comfortable suspended under my ears, close to the neck. Bracelet? Too fragile. Pendent on a necklace... that seems right but what would show them off best? The design process is a funny one. Part inspiration and part perspiration.

First I needed to suspend my shell and was reminded of a email from one of the beading magazine publishers I received a month or so ago where an awkward shaped stone was wrapped in wire to make a pendant. I looked it up decided it wasn't really what I wanted and instead made a gentle spiral of thin 1mm gauge brass wire round a fat marker pen leaving plenty of spare wire at either end. This fitted over my shell with a bit of easing and teasing to fit the wire round and over the spikes. The soft wire opened up too much though and the fragile shell nearly landed on the tiled floor. for security I fashioned a U in one end of the wire and slipped it into the tight curl at the bottom of the shell, a few minutes of further fiddling and the rest of the wire curled round and up following the swirls of the shell and cumulating in a neat twisted loop. I had my pendant.

Inspired by my sucess with the pendant I dug through my stash of beads and ended up making two other necklaces with beads I uncovered before I hit on the right combination of colours and textures to suit my shell! I left the shell and various selections of potential beady companions on a tray over night, pored over it again whilst eating my breakfast and eventually in the afternoon made my choice. Pale round wooden beads interspersed with darker rice shaped beads also in wood. All threaded on tiger tail with a pale brown ribbon fastening, hinting at driftwood but so much smoother. Just right for a beach find but I'm still not sure I understand the thought processes that result in a pleasing design.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Inspired By A Museum Visit

Old Emirati Jewellery in the Dubai Museum
Heavy, chunky jewellery is in vogue so inspired by some pieces I'd seen in the Dubai museum on a recent visit I decided to have a go at a tassel necklace.

My first problem was how to work with all the threads potentially required. The blue glass beads I'd set my heart on for my first tassled necklace "Sea And Sky" (picture below) had relatively small holes but being heavy required some sturdy stringing thread. I selected a blue polyester cord, two strands of which would just fit through the smallest of my selected beads. Looking through some of the beading books I have on my shelf there seemed to be many ways of creating a tassel. Some use all the threads throughout the work, some add in extra threads for the tassle whilst others use materials like embroidery silk skeins which naturally splits into many threads..

Sea And Sky Necklace
For Sea And Sky I used two threads of polyester chord on either side of the necklace, four lengths in all. Two threads were around 70 cm long being the overall necklace length plus extra for the tassle ends and some 15cm spare, the other two were much shorter at 30 cm. After knotting the two ends of the longer chords together I passed both threads through a calotte. Each chord end then received a dab of nail varnish and whilst wet I rolled the ends in my finger tips to make them as fine as possible. It was still fiddly to thread the smaller beads and despite the nail varnish the ends still frayed eventually. However, by starting with extra thread I was able to trim and retreat the fraying ends from time to time. I repeated the process on the other side but this time just strung about an inch of beads onto the two threads.

The clasp was to form part of the decorative front of the piece  so once the main necklace was threaded I added a slightly larger bead. All four ends were threaded though this bead to form the top of the tassle. Below it I separated out the four threads and threaded beads onto each one in turn. Each tassle end was made a slightly different length. At the end of each tassle I by-passed the final seed bead and threaded the chord back through the next two or three beads and then having eased everything together but not so tight that the tasle became rigid, worked a knot. The remaining chord was threaded on up through a bead or two before cutting off any excess. I gave each knot a dab of nail varnish for extra security. Once all four tassle ends were worked all that remained was to add the clasp pieces to each calotte. 

This looked great and received several admiring comments from friends and family so I was inspired to become more complex. For my next piece I wanted a fuller tassle made from seed beads alone. In my bead stash I had a quantity of lovely greeny-blue bugle beads and grey-blue seed beads, exactly the colours that inspired the piece and some large silvered flat glass ovals. The effect I desired for my "Waterfall" necklace was of water like a stream over rocks. One of the ovals used as a focal bead would reflect light like a waterfall but the downside is that these are heavy beads, hence why they had languished so long in my box.

Tiger tail was used for the necklace strands mainly because it is much easier to thread seed beads on this stiffer material but also it would help support the focal bead weight. Two strands of greeny-blue bugles and one of grey-blue seed beads interspersed with slightly large pale blue glass beads were strung. Each length of beads was attached onto a small decorative brass connector at either end, plaiting the three strands a little for texture as I love the way beads at different angles sparkle in the light. The necklace was finished by adding some matching chain at either side and a fastening. Using chain reduces the amount of beads required and makes for more comfortable wear as I hate the scratchiness of glass bugle beads on the back of the neck. It's mostly hidden behind a collar or hair anyway.

The tassle is a completely separate structure which also comprises the "bail" for the focal bead. For this I strung around 2.5 cm of  seed beads into the middle of each of six 30 cm threads, I used Beadalon's Dandyline which is fine but strong. Then a single larger round pale blue glass bead was strung onto six of the threads. The same process was repeated on the other side. These two beads would prevent the seed beads disappearing in to the focal bead's large hole. Once the beads were centred I fed all twelve ends through the focal bead. Easing the loops I'd formed slightly I passed the main necklace through.

Then I set to work in much the same process as the previous tassle working each thread into a strand of beads, by-passing the end bead before passing the thread back through the beads. Each length of tassle was slightly different to give some depth to the "waterfall". I worked each one prior to finishing any of the ends off so that before knotting each tassle thread I could ease an individual tassle tight against its other end to ensure the beads in both tassles and the central "bail" were close together but not too taut. This was a bit fiddly but worth the effort. Having ensured the Dandyline ends in each tassle were securely knotted I finished off the knots with a dab of nail varnish. The end result is I'm sure you would agree very pretty, chunky and I am looking forward to having somewhere special to wear it.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Useful Skill - Planishing

Metal workers use planishing to finish shaping and smoothing an object after roughly forming it with other techniques. Copper washers are cheap, plentiful and with a little bit of planishing can easily become very pretty bling.  Mine cost me 200 Bahraini Fils (about 36p) each in an automotive supplies shop but you can probably buy them in bulk much cheaper from fastening suppliers.

The washers were stamped out from a sheet when to make them so the edges on one side can be a little rough. I gently hammered the inner and outer edges on both sides of each washer with the flat end of a cross pein hammer until they felt smooth to touch. Then, using the thin end at various angles, I added texture to the surface on both sides - planishing. I do need to offer an apology to my neighbours in our apartment block as until I found that a small well stuffed cushion under my steel planishing block reduces the noise considerable my tapping in an echoey room must have driven them mad!

Once planished you can clean and polish the copper rings, leave them "au naturel" or add an antique patina using liver of sulphur and then rub off the black with a burnishing tool to reveal the copper colour again and polish. There is a good descrption of how to patinate metal here , just remeber to do it in a well ventilated space.

For the necklace below I left my lovely copper discs unpolished, just giving them a good wash in soapy water before stringing them to remove any oils from their manufacture. The necklace uses six smaller washers which were originally about 1.5cm in diameter and one larger one plus some green cubic glass beads, a quantity of clear glass bicones and two 60 cm lengths of tiger tail. There are two grey-black nickel crimps on either side as the work is quite heavy and I couldn't the tigertail back down the bicones once I'd added the clasp.

I made a bail out of copper wire to hang one small copper loop inside the larger one. The basic shape is a figure of eight with a small spiral at either end turned at right angles to the eight shape. The bail was threaded onto the two lengths of tiger tail and centred. Next the beads were added with both pieces of tiger tail threaded through them on either side then separating the ends to weave around the copper washer, through a bead back round the copper washer and onto the next set of beads.

The clasp loop is a planished washer whilst the toggle is made from a length of copper wire just over twice the diameter of the washer. I used a wire jig to put a loop in the centre of the wire (this will enable it to be attached to the necklace). Then bent the wire back on itself at either end, ensuring the overall length is wider than the clasp loop and twisted it as I brought the ends back to the centre in an attractive way. Trim the ends if necessary where they meet in the middle. I planished the toogle lightly with a hide hammer to firm it up but not flatten the wire too much.  Once the toogle and loop were attached I bent the toggle bar slightly relative to its attachment point so it laid flat against the loop when worn, that way the tucked in ends of the wire shouldn't come into contact with skin or clothing.

I've spotted some other copper items that might make lovely decorative jewellery with a little bit of inspiration: copper garden labels, off cuts of central heating pipe and of course the copper in electrical wire.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

All the Glistens is Gold...

Have you ever visited a Gold Souk? Everywhere a glittering array of ornate gold collars, lengthy earrings and hundreds of bangles. The very air seems to be glinting in the lighting. The choice is vast ranging from traditional designs - heavy ornate pieces to more European style necklaces. And if you don't fall for all that gold then the diamonds will probably capture your heart.

I love Gold City in Bahrain, a small mall that positively glows and in Dubai there is the wonderful Arabic architecture of the rather quiet soaring Gold Souk in Dubai Mall. However both venues are modern shopping places. Find the old souk, down by the Creek in Dubai or a few streets back from Gold City in Bahrain and you really are in another world where everything glistens and gleams.

If the gold appears very yellow to your western eye, that's because it is. Mostly the gold here is 22 or 24 carats rather than the 9 or 18 sold in the west. A lot of the pieces are designed for an Indian audience as gold is an investment in a brides future. As such to my eye it often looks more like costume jewellery than something precious I'd wear for an evening out. Shop around and you'll find a few pieces you like. I found a wonderful rope of gold, threaded through a fancy 1cm golden ball and finished with smaller balls at each end of the rope - simple and elegant it sits beautifully above the neck line of many of my posh frocks and blouses. Examine any piece carefully to ensure the workmanship is good with no rough edges, no wobbly diamond settings etc. Then simply ask the prices, make a mental note of the shop name and location and move on, you won't necessarily want to buy the first things you see.

Dubai is apparently the cheapest price to buy gold anywhere, though Bahrain also lays a claim to this title, both are tax free states which helps. Either place for most items you will be paying for the gold weight in grams plus possibly a small amount for the making. Before you set off, look up and memorise todays gold prices, you are expected to barter but ultimately won't get much below the gold market price (which is currently in 2010, at an all time high). The jewellers are really only prepared to negotiate on the making costs. Once you've made up your mind about what you would like to buy, go back and haggle, haggle hard. I hope you find a bargain you'll enjoy forever.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Musings on Dangly Earrings

Why do you like your favourite earrings? Thinking about why I wear some pairs more than others I realised that, apart from a favourite pair of crsytal and silver studs that look like expensive diamonds, most of my frequently worn ones are articulated in some way. They don't have to be long, just have movement. Olive green drops that have two silver set cabochons linked by a single jump ring or the pair of plain silver wire inverted V's with a silver ball strung from  one end of each V that I found in a gallery in Sweden.

So how to make my own earrings that dangle satisfyingly? The red pair on the left are simply too long and catch in clothing though I love wearing them.
Then I hit on the idea of incorporating a short length of chain into the design. Two or three head pins threaded with tiny seed beads or bugle beads in colours to match a necklace or outfit. Make them different lengths and finish each of the longest ones with a wrapped loop. Join the shortest one to a few links of fine chain using another wrapped loop. Gather all of the pieces together on a jump ring and attach the earring hook. The picture rightt shows some summery pairs.

Shorter but still with movement are these hoops which are seed beads on tiger tail with a crimp on either side of a focal bead to hold the circle in place. They swing just enough when attached to the earing hook by an oversized jump ring. Simple and fast to make, I now have several sets.

Other prefences for earrings anyone?

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Take a pile of basically old tat: 

Arrange it and measure out some chain:

Combine with some jump rings and a catch and hey presto! something retro to wear:

Another bit of recycled bling, this time in "gold": 

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Gift Wrap Ideas?

Yesterday morning one of my girlfirends here in Bahrain introduced me to a veritable Aladdins Cave of a store just a few minutes drive from my apartment. The Al Anwar Discount Store in Tubli claims to sell everything for the home and it does, incredibly cheaply. Two floors of vases, artificial flowers, glass pebbles, tacky furniture in the heavily ornate style so popular here, candles, stationery, craft items, toys and an incredible array of gift wrapping supplies.

The Bahraini's and the Indians love to give small gifts to their guests and to throw large parties so the shelves were stacked with the twee, the tacky and the possibly suitable for a more staid European taste. Hundreds of 18 inch-wide rolls of tactile wrapping materials including net in all sorts of glamorous colours, a green leaf print paper-fabric, crepe-type materials in pretty pink or blue prints on white and more. All around 3.5BD (approx £5) for 5 metres or so.

There were thick packets of patterend and plain organza doilies in every shade, huge hanks of coloured twine, stacks of ribbon on reels, large organza bags, tiny blue gingham lined baskets, tiny feather covered white doves, net butterflies in sugary colours. Everything had one thing in common it was very cheap, just a few pence for most items. Packaging heaven!

I avoided the very twee royal blue velour ring boxes in the shape of a top hat but came away some butterflies and lots of ideas for presenting my jewellery makes. What about enfolding a bracelet or some earrings in a couple of layers of gold or blue organza doily gathered up with a couple of contrasting ribbons?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

From Texas Oaks... Earrings Grow

Capitol Gardens, Austin TX
Texas is not flat grassland as I found out soon after the plane landed back in mid-August. Austin is in Hill Country - rolling limestone hills covered in ancient oak trees and very pretty. The trees and some earrings worn by a young lady serving at Bead It have inspired me to attempt some 3D beading for the first time.

The Bead It lady had on a fantastic punk-style collar about 10 - 15 cm wide in wire and mainly black seed beads rather like a spiders web in construction. The outer edge had a spiky fringe and her earrings matched this. I liked the 3D effect of the earrings so was inspired to have a go at making something similar but more twig-like to represent the oak trees dotted all over the city of Austin.

Once I'd worked out that in order to get the "branches" hanging downwards, construction had to start from the top it was comparatively easy to make my first "twig" and took about 90 minutes. The second was much quicker, simply following the pattern of the first.  Here's approximately how I did it:
1. Using a long length of fine fishing line (about 65cm/26ins long) I threaded on one silver crimp tube (simpy for decoration and to provide a cover for the final knot), twenty five brown seeds and one green one (all approx size 11). Then by-passing the green bead rethread back through all 25 browns and the crimp tube to the top of the "main branch". Slide everything so that the non-working end is about 8 cm long and add a locking bead to this end to prevent the it being pulled through. Pull tight but not too taut, as you'll need to be able to create a little space between the beads for the thread to exit from at intervals down the work.
2. Add a silver jump ring, preferrably soldered to prevent the fine tread slipping off when worn. and thread the line back through the top 4 beads, add 4 brown seeds plus one green. Skip the green and thread back to the main part. Lay the work down and pull up your first "twig" to the main work.
3. Pass the thread down through the next bead in the main part. Try to exit on the opposite side from the previous "twig". Add 6 browns and one green. Bypass the green and thread back through 4 browns then the two remaining brown seeds back to the main branch. Pull the thread to ease the twig up agaisnt the main branch.
4. Thread the line down another 5 beads in the main part and again exiting on the opposite side to the previous "twig" construct another multi-branched twig as in step 3.
5. Go down one more main bead, exit on the opposite side of the work to step 4 and construct a simple twig as in step 2.
6. Thread down through 5 more beads on the main, exit on the other side and repeat step 3.
7. Thread down through 4 beads on the main part, exit and add 3 brown seeds plus one green. Bypass the green and thread the line up trough the entire main branch to the top. Its easiest to do this in stages, gently pulling everything together as you go.
8. Remove the locking bead and thread both ends, through the jump ring and down through the crimp bead. gently ease the crimp and topmost bead to create a small space. Wrap one end of the line around the exposed threads and tie a surgeons knot using both line ends. Add a dab of nail varnish or glue to the knot and once dry thread the line ends into the work and trim. (I forgot to pack any clear nail varnish or glue in my travelling jewellery kit or make-up bag so will finish off the ends once I get home!)
9. Make another to match and add a silver earring hook to each ensuring if possible that they lie in opposite directions - don't worry if they don't, nature isn't always symmetrical!

Looking at the completed twigs I wonder if made in white with pastel ends they could be coral or would green with red ends look good for Christmas?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Travelling Addict

Stage Coach Inn, Salado, TX
Yup that's me I love to travel and I love my beads and wire.

Over the summer I spent a few weeks in the UK sailing in a regatta and then sailing on my own boat for our summer holidays. Before I left Bahrain I knew I'd love to have something to do during the weeks in between and in the evenings or if stormy weather kept us harbour bound so I came up with a plan....

First I explored the web I was looking for some sort of holdall that would be small yet contain plenty of beads. I found a Craft Mates solution - a slightly padded canvas tote bag that takes six to eight of their handy "ezy-locking" trays. They cost a tad over £50 from UK suppliers but as I was also looking to increase my beadstash dramatically my plan was to find one on eBay. Eventually after bidiing on several,  thirty odd pounds plus carriage snagged me a fully stocked one. Inside were loads of seed and larger beads plus findings in various metals. I am grateful that some people decide to sell-up!

A bit more shopping and I managed to acquire a wallet containing some dinky tools whilst shopping in Kingston upon Thames too, it has everything you'd need. I just added a pair of crimp pliers and a memory wire cutter as they were missing from my kit back in Bahrain. I was ready to go.

There was one problem though. having bought one bead stash on eBay I couldn't resist a few more. One lot of old stock from bead resellers procured me a life times supply of silver head pins, chain and a miscellany of other objects. Another lot from a former bead addict provided me with a large selection of big, and I mean big glass beads in every colour. And finally I acquired a couple of vintage lots. One was a few hundred pendants and I can't wait to be reunited with them as I have lots of ideas for bracelets, necklaces and earrings to recycle these into new bling! Another was for me a heart shaped jewellery box in purple leather complete with the previous owners contents.

I sorted out my purchases to ensure I had an assortment of stringing materials, earring wires, catches and crimps to go with the beads. Mostly the caddy compartment size defined the maximum size of any bead or component but I put in a couple of small plastic boxes to hold memory wire coils and some larger red beads. I also added a bead mat from Beads Unlimited - it folds in four and tucks into the tote. My plan was to purchase focal beads locally.

I packed my toolkit in the suitcase as it had sharps like thread and wire cutters but took the tote as hand luggage (Continental allow you one "personal item" like a computer bag in addition to your carry-on baggage, but do check with your airline before you travel).  At Heathrow after x-raying it I was asked to unpack quite a lot for re-X-raying as it was so dense! But the staff have seen it all before and weren't phased by my array of beads and findings. In Houston when we changed planes it went through without a hitch.

And how have I got on? Well the dinky tools are a little small, I wouldn't want to be doing lots of fiddly wire twisting but for the occasional loop they're fine. The tiny cutters are actually wonderful as you can get really close to the work but you do need to put in some omph to get them to cut even reasonably thin gauge wire. The kit had a thread cutter and a bead scoop both new to me and now I couldn't be without them. There were two things I forgot - head pins and a supply of silver wire but they were easy to acquire here.

And I have made lots of necklaces over the past few weeks, see my previous post. So now I feel prepared to travel anywhere with my beadkit but I'd love to hear of any travel tips you might have.

Necklace Mania Strikes!

Over the past few weeks whilst I've been in Texas I have not just been buying beads, I have created several necklaces too. All are completely different from each other and none really inspired by Austin or the Texan culture although some have included beads I've bought whilst I've been here. Perhaps I'll try and remedy that befoer I leave!

Here are some pictures sorry about the photography, finding suitable light and backgrounds in a hotel room was a challenge..
Making the catches a focal point. The coloured haematite ring was bought in Swanage, UK.
Inspired by a project in a magazine bought in Austin TX: Creative Jewellery 2010

Cherry Red - an assortment of red glass beads I had with
some huge spacers I found here in Austin
First attempt at a Floating Necklace - green glass lentils.

Pastel seeds with some focal silver rings bought in Texas,
again inspired by a project in Creative Jewellery 2010
These brown "Tiger Eyes" look lovely with the sea green and gold seeds

Austin Tuesday

I may as well start off by admitting that yesterday I bought some more beads to add to my stash and a few lovely brass charms by Vintaj including a large and beautifully dainty dragonfly and some tiny fairies. I found two more bead shops, why did they not come up in my earlier web searches?

Nomadic Notions has a huge array of unusual mostly Asian findings and focal beads and is located close to Sea of Beads which I discovered a week or so ago on W Anderson Road to the north of the city. The other I found was the tiny Lapis Lane - friendly but a very small selection of items, mainly due to much of the space being given over to workshops for teaching beading & mosaics. NN is probably my second favourite shop in Austin after Bead It on S Lamar. The latter stocks mostly recycled vintage beads from all era's - 50's & 60's plastic fun, 70's and 80's bling plus loads and loads more, its probably a good job I don't live close to this one! Its where I spent a happy afternoon during my first week in Austin learning how to make rings and I can't wait to get home to put my new skills into action (I couldn't bring my entire toolbox on the plane!).

Legendary Beads just up the road from Bead It doesn't really live up to its name - the place is large and the inventory is huge but nothing special. My aim has been to concentrate on sourcing unusual items not foundor expensive in the UK such as the dragonfly and faires. These together with some lovely hammered toggle clasps I found in a sale at Hobby Lobby which is a cross between Hobby Craft and The Range in the UK.

As a result of my travels I now have a great assortment of arty toggle clasps, much more interesting that the plain hoops or hearts I already had and cheaper than they are at home too. I've also succumbed to a few strands of beads that caught my eye on the way. Today therefore I've spent a few hours happily sorting through the bead trays in my portable beading kit so I could stow my purchases! Perhaps tomorrow I'll spend some time being creative with the dragonfly.