Thursday, December 9, 2010

Handmade Holiday 2 Featuring Popnicute

So today I'm back featuring one of my all-time favorite wire artists. Kharisma (Kay) Sommers is the wire whisperer behind Popnicute. She shares her secrets and some of the supplies on her Popnicute Supplies site, also on Artfire.

This first piece of art, the Wire Bow Necklace, was my inspiration for this blog post. I love the ribbon effect she created with the wire! I'd never seen anything like it before! The stone is Blue Chalcedony and it's wrapped in Argentium Sterling Silver. So give the perfect gift this year: a perfect gift!

Angel Wing Earrings. How cool are these? I love the delicate loops and swirls that form the wing shape, and people that aren't crazy for long dangles (gasp!!!) would love these! They'd make a cute addition to anyone's holiday attire!

I LOVE the graceful curves in this Cross Pendant. I've been eying it for weeks myself, thinking of making a simple chain from antiqued copper jump rings to suspend it from.

Let the toppers for your presents be the gift! Look at this amazing Flower Gift Ribbon pendant executed in delicate loops of polymer clay and adorned with a single sparkly crystal. The fun pom-pom shape in it's muted green tone would be a gift topper that you can enjoy wearing all year round.

So head on over to Kay's store to see more of her fantastic work, and I hope you enjoyed this holiday featurette! Stay tuned for more this week!!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Handmade Holiday Featuring BooBeads

Every year around this time, the whole world seems to turn red, white, and green. Bright baubles hang everywhere you look, Christmas trees twinkle in the early evenings, and we all have these wonderful, comforting thoughts about hot chocolate, Santa Clause, and snowmen.

Every year I'm astounded by the Christmas designs people come up with. You would think we beaders would have exhausted most of our holiday possibilities by now, but new and completely innovative designs keep cropping up. Over the next week or so, I'd like to feature some of the amazing specifically Christmas designs that I and my friends have done this year.

The first shop I'd like to visit is BooBeads run by the chic and talented Cat Pruitt. Cat's talents are wide ranging: she does beautiful stringing work, gorgeous wire work, some beadweaving, and lately she has been branching into the wonderful world of metal-smithing, and I find myself casting an envious eye over her results. To hear more about her adventures in metal-smithing, check out her blog.

These earrings are one of the reasons I wanted to do a blog about Cat. I’ve seen all sorts of Christmas themed earrings, but her “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus Earrings” truly take the cake!

The next piece of Cat’s that I particularly love is this Winter Wonderland charm bracelet. Cat has a wonderful eye for color, and that comes through in the mix of silver, white, and pale blue that makes this piece sparkle like the day after an ice storm.

I was raised Catholic, and Christmas Eve was a time of elegance and opulence. Here’s a wonderful pair of Cosmic Star Flower Earrings that are elegant enough for Midnight Mass, but innocuous enough to wear all year round! I love the dazzling colors in the faux Mexican opal, and the striking balance the create with the silver settings!

Of course, no Christmas season is complete without a Christmas Tree, and Cat’s Christmas Tree Earrings are simply perfect!

Lastly, I’d like to show another piece of Cat’s that, while it’s great for Christmas, is also wearable at any time of year… and that’s the lovely dove pendant in her Soaring in Flight necklace.

Spend an hour or so oohing and aaahing at the other amazing pieces in Cat’s Artfire store, and stay tuned this week for more Handmade Holiday Artist features!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chain Maille Classes

Has the design of my blog caught your eye yet? Have you noticed that absolutely luscious necklace that adorns the left-hand side of the page? Want one?

Naturally, the necklace itself is available in both of my online stores, so you can purchase it either at Artfire
or on my new, up-and-coming shopping site, ShopHandmade

In fact, let me put a nice big picture in here so you can feast your eyes on it for a little longer:

But even better than that, I can teach you how to make it!!!

I've recently started offering classes though craft supply superstore AC Moore, and that necklace is the project on deck for tomorrow's class.

It's made from a simple modification of Jens Pind Linkage, possibly the easiest chain maille weave out there. This modification gives you a wonderful, luscious rope chain from which you can suspend the pendant of your choice. The simplicity of the style makes almost any pendant look wonderful, but as my loyal readers know I'm partial to the bling of Swarovski crystal.

So get on down to AC Moore at Lincoln Plaza in Worcester to sign up for the class! The price of the class is $30, and all materials are available at the store. Don't have your pliers yet? Want the most fabulous pendant in the store? Then make sure you take a coupon with you when you register and buy the materials. Coupons are available at the AC Moore site, or by clicking here:

This week's coupon gives you 50% off of one regularly priced item!! How cool is that!!!

I'm really excited about teaching this class. I'd love to be able to teach everyone, but class size IS limited (we can fit about a dozen people comfortably in the classroom) so DON'T WAIT!!! Get down there now and register for tomorrow night's class, fill up your materials list, and come tomorrow prepared to have a FABULOUS time!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chain Maille Feature #1 – Byzantine Weave

It’s believed to be an Italian weave, and as far as I can tell Byzantine chain was never used for actual armor, in the way that European 4-1 was – it was always decorative. Named for the Byzantine Empire, which was rich in both metals and jewels the name recalls a time in history when people of all classes wore jewelry – often a lot of it. Thick gemstone chains, large crescent shaped earrings, and minutely detailed cloisonné were popular. By Justinian Law, only the aristocracy were allowed to wear the most precious of stones, diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires, but the Byzantine Empire was a great crossroads between East and West, and many different precious stones were readily available.

Byzantine chain has become a really popular technique for modern jewelry making. It’s one of the first chain maille weaves we tend to learn. 

This was the first full chain maille necklace I ever made.

I discovered that there was no reason to be afraid of chain maille! I would have thought this project was going to take me days to finish. In fact, I had set aside 2 weekends to work on it, thinking it would take me that long … but they whole 19” of chain came together in about 8 hours! I was amazed!

So this was the next project I did. The silver plated jump rings in here have the same outer diameter as the gunmetal ones, but they were made from a thinner gauge of wire. Notice the difference in the way the chain looks:

To carry this example further, these next to were made by my beading buddy Tamara, whose blog can be viewed at

In this example, the jump rings she used were rather large, which makes a nice thick chain:

In this example, her rings she used were a bit thicker, and she has interspersed them with some Swarovski Cosmic Rings in Crystal Copper for a tone-on-tone feel. This is one of my all-time favorites of hers!!

My friend Dagmar, of Kokopelli Designs ( who runs a wonderful blog here on Blogger, (visit her at to make her clasps by hand, and I think that gives this byzantine bracelet a wonderful feel:

Those smaller yet thicker jump rings give the entire piece a solid, hefty feel. This style of bracelet is a joy to wear!!!

Perhaps the most creative of the pieces I want to show you today comes from Jessah Tiemens of Bright Circle, known mostly for her uniquely dazzling shimmerstones. You HAVE to check out her shop at

This piece contains only a little bit of Byzantine, but it’s gorgeously integrated with the rest of the piece. 

Jessah is incredibly creative when it comes to naming her pieces, and often tells stories. This piece is called the “Stronghold of Khazad-dun” and was inspired by the Lord of the Rings books.

She again is using a tighter byzantine with thicker jump rings, and it gives the entire necklace the look of the heavily worked metal from the Dwarven smiths, and the rough texture of the lava stone provides a striking contrast to the richly worked metal.

This last piece is another one of mine, and it’s a popular technique that uses byzantine chain to create a nest from the center of which sparkles a Swarovski bicone. These are known as “Romanov” links, because they recall the richness of the fine art in pre-revolutionary Russia.

For some reason, these links seem to scream to be done in gold tones and rich jewel tones, so I chose brightly polished brass jump rings and juicy red beads for this bracelet:

I hope you enjoyed this! I’m looking forward to doing featurettes on different weaves, since chain maille is one of my favorite addictions! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pam, Billy Z, and Dragonfly Jewelry Designs

I spend a lot of time on the community pages of Beading Daily. If you’re into beading, I really urge you to check it out; the people there are wonderful and helpful, and it’s a great place to learn, ask questions, and show off what you’ve done. It is one of the most supportive communities I have ever belonged to.

Now, times are tough right at the moment, we all know that. Many of us are out of work, many who are working are struggling to make ends meet – it’s not easy. But what if, on top of the financial struggles we’re all facing, you were battling debilitating health problems as well?

Billy, one of the members of our tight little community, has a debilitating back condition that leaves him immobilized a lot of the time, and in excruciating pain for a lot more of the time. A serious heart condition makes medication a very unsafe option for him, and the moderate doses that he can take don’t control the pain very well. He puts on his game smile and tries, but it’s hard for all of us to see him struggling this way.
Acupuncture has provided him a lot of relief in the past; more, in fact, than the dangerous pain medications he had to take at one point, but his health insurance will not cover acupuncture treatments. He and his partner in life Pam, also a member of our community, are searching for solutions.

They’ve opened up an online shop at Artfire, and several other members of Beading Daily have donated time, talents, or merchandise to help them raise the money for Billy’s acupuncture treatments. What makes this great for you, the customer, is a chance to see many different talents coming together, and you can browse a great selection of wearable art made by my friends! It's a great opportunity to get some early Christmas shopping done, and the selection of pieces available in their store now is stunning. There's something for every style and budget!

So please stop by Pam and Billy’s Artfire store and if there’s something you’d like, please hit the “buy” button, and know that you’re helping out a worthy person who could really use a break.

Thanks so much for your support!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

One of the things that I’ve had to learn a lot about in my quest to elevate myself from hobbyist to professional jewelry artisan is photography. Now, I’m still no great photographer, but I’ve gotten to the point where I can get clean, vibrant pictures of my creations so that they’re shown to advantage. A significant amount of gratitude is owed to my cousin Deirdre Stearns Wingell, whose artistic skills are many and varied, and whose photography is instinctive and elegant. More of Deirdre’s work can be seen at

Three years ago, I was still using my scanner to take pictures of my jewelry. I hadn’t invested in a camera, and I was more of a hobbyist at this point, but using the scanner to take pictures presented several problems: I couldn’t pose jewelry the way I wanted; it had to lay flat. I had a lot of trouble capturing things like rings and bracelets, there was a bright glare that did nothing to help, I got strange funky shadows, the focus was all over the place… it was just bad all around. So I eventually invested in a camera, which I had only the vaguest idea of how to use.

Soon I was a little bit more confident in my work, if not my photography, so I started asking Deirdre to photograph pieces that were meant to be seen on the internet, entered in contests, and donated to charity.

Here’s an example, a picture of a bracelet and ring set which was originally designed for the Harvey Ball, a charity event named in honor of the artist who drew the smiley face, and a member of my extended family. 
Here’s my photograph of this set:

Now there are a lot of things wrong with this photograph. The glaring “hotspots” from the flash bulb almost dominate the picture, and the shadows are very harsh.

Here’s the picture Deirdre took of the same set:

The light is much more diffuse here, and the pieces arranged on the softly reflective surface seem to rise up. The shadows are much softer, and the colors are much crisper.

I started to really try to take better pictures.

Instead of using fabric backgrounds, I started using large plain white plate. This added that nice, soft reflection just underneath the piece I was shooting. I still wasn’t using a light box at this point, but my pictures were beginning to improve.

But while they were improving, they weren’t perfect. I was just learning how to pose my photos and set up my shots. I was waxing experimental during this time, and some photographs came out disastrously. Here’s a picture I tried to take of a necklace I made for Deirdre:

And here’s Deirdre’s version:

What a difference this coiled pose made! Proper lighting didn’t hurt either, but here you’re able to see the entire piece and get a real feel for the weight and heft of it. The coiled shape is also far more compact, so far easier to get a picture of.
So I invested in a light box. This was something of a treat for myself, and it’s the best investment I’ve yet made in my photography. It came with a tripod, 2 small lights, and a reversible drop cloth in grey or blue. This is one of the very first shots I took with my new light box:

I was amazed!! The light looked glorious on my pearls!! My purple bicones stood out sharply against the tiny seed beads! My golds looked rich and luscious and not brassy.
It didn’t take me long to hate that grey background.
Grey is good for many things, and it highlights colors beautifully … but the grey of that cloth was too dark to really highlight my jewelry, and white made it easier for me to adjust the contrast in the photo editing stage if I had to. So the search begins again!
I went to a local home improvement supply store and purchased some 12x12 floor tiles to take some pictures against.

The floor tiles were fun for a while, but the dark brown background wasn’t easy to color balance in photo editing, so I eventually went looking for something else.

And sometimes fate, or karma, or kismet, or whatever shines upon you and something perfect turns up! I inherited a large sand dollar … about 4” across. It was perfect! It wasn’t a reflective finish, it was matte and lightly patterned, but the pattern was subtle enough not to detract from the jewelry, and the gently domed shape gave me something to pose oddly shaped items on. I placed it on a simple piece of white printer paper, and this is the way I photograph most of my jewelry now:

It’s not a Deirdre picture, certainly. But it’s crisp enough that the chain maille shows up nicely, and the brightly colored crystal appears to leap forward and dazzle your eyes. You can see almost the entire piece, there’s depth and detail. The sand dollar enhances the picture, but doesn’t overwhelm the jewelry, and doesn’t take the focus away from it.

I’m sure my photography will continue to improve … and who knows? In a few months I could say “tsk tsk … I need something besides that sand dollar” and the whole look will change again. I’m a work in progress, what can I say!