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Beading Blog - May 2006

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One woman's adventures in the wide, wonderful world of beading.
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This 'n' that
posted by Colleen Shirazi, May 31, 2006 at 9:29 PM (Pacific)

I'm getting more used to making my own headpins. It's really pretty easy...especially if you're going to use them for beads with small holes. You need only make the smallest bend you can, using your chain-nosed pliers, then use the same pliers to mush the tiny bend together so that you get the smallest, tight little bend, like the center of a danish.

When I first did it, it was for beads with a larger drill hole and the single bend wasn't enough; that's why I made another bend (so that it really did begin to resemble the inside of a danish). But for today's project, I used the single bend and it worked out quite well (in fact looks nicer than a commercial headpin; you get a little gleam of silver as if you had attached tiny silver beads to the ends).

Plus, if it's slightly heavier on the labor, still it's more economical, since commercial headpins come in fixed lengths. You can make your own headpins to the exact length you need.

Speaking of...since I started using sterling silver wire instead of base metal (I do intend to use gold-filled but my supplier is out of the gauge that I want), I do save almost all of the little odds and ends of it. Even a short length of wire can be used later on for earrings, when you want to add some little "charms" or "dangles" (not sure what to call them). Using your chain-nosed pliers, you can make a tiny bend at the end of that little piece of wire, add your bead(s), then make the other end into a simple loop. Done! A perfectly nice sterling silver wire charm.

I realize that I'm moving forward slowly...I have very few 100% finished pieces. But those pieces have to be absolutely perfect in every way...the materials, the design, the workmanship. That's why there are only a few pieces I consider 100% finished.

The finished pieces are: a moss agate and freshwater pearl set, an oval turquoise and freshwater pearl set (yep, the same oval turquoise beads I've reworked a few times...I have an earlier pic of back when they were a straightforward string o' beads, alternating with small grey glass beads), and a really nice oval turquoise, glass, silver and fluorite set.

The glass in that set is this beautiful grey-blue lustre glass (a bead I bought long ago, not sure at the time what to do with them). The silver...I added some Thai/Bali silver beads...the fluorite is just three fluorite hearts.

I need to change the clasp on this so that my daughter can also wear it...grumbles...the clasp I bought is really lovely (the same Thai/Bali silver style) but a spring clasp is more secure.

The style of that set alternates wrapped links and simple loop's ingenious (not my idea, I saw it somewhere else). You can make most of the wrapped links individually rather than having to fabricate them together. It's like writing a good software can easily move the links around without having to redo any.

I love this piece: Pink Gold by Rainbow Rabbit Designs

It's not really the colors or even the particular beads; it's just the sheer beauty of the she made the wrapped links and joined them with double jump rings, the triangle in the front made of wrapped links, just the overall coolness of it (and she has many interesting pieces on that website).

My current projects are: a pink set...I have the bracelet already made (it's a stretch piece with rose quartz beads, rose-colored lampwork beads, clear lampwork beads with roses in them, and pink lustre glass beads...joined with little pink glass beads) and I made the earrings tonight. Not sure yet what I want to do with the necklace. I'd love to make something similar to the one linked to above, at least in having a triangle in the front.

What I'd like to make also is an amber set. Not sure yet what I want to mix with the amber.
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posted by Colleen Shirazi, May 26, 2006 at 11:03 PM (Pacific)

Oh, there is this...moment...when you finally produce something interesting, that could have been made by someone with much more skill than you think you have.

It's a combination of engineering and design. In my case (since design is not my strength--part of why I wanted to make jewelry in the first place is that it forces me to do design), engineering comes slightly to the fore. i.e. I will make a traditional piece (and I have some of these...a moss agate and pearl set, and a turquoise and pearl set, that are both your basic string o' beads)...but this new piece is as much about construction as it is about beads.

The main part is a combination of wrapped and simple loops. Why the combination? A piece made entirely of simple loops is too easy. A piece made entirely of wrapped loops is harder, but it also drapes better when the simple-loop links are added in. You need only make the wrapped-loop links individually and connect them with the simple-loop links. And, should you change your mind about the design, it's not about cutting into the wrapped-loop links. It's about swinging open the simple loops.

In the front I have three wrapped-loop links forming a "y" shape. Because they're all wrapped, this point is strong (stronger than a jump ring, better-looking than a soldered jump ring).

It's a blend of glass and turquoise. Why glass? Most pieces are either all semi-precious or else contain no semi-precious. So blending the two gives the piece a unique look. (You need not use just any old glass; you can find something with a lovely color and texture.)

And I put this funky fluorite heart in it. And two fluorite hearts in the matching bracelet. No bracelet in a shop has two fluorite hearts in it (and I debated as to the wisdom of doing this, when a traditional alternating or repeating bead design would have done).

For the earrings I went with the glass and turquoise (no fluorite...I couldn't put the hearts as earrings since fluorite is heavy for its size), on handmade headpins (see previous post).
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How to make your own headpins
posted by Colleen Shirazi, May 24, 2006 at 11:28 AM (Pacific)

Ah...okay first an update. I've started using sterling silver and gold-filled components. More expensive (much) but my plan anyway was to first develop my skills using cheap base metal components.

I still use base metal wire and eyepins/headpins to develop parts of my designs. That way, I can wear the fact I wear it all day...and see if the design works. For example, I made some really nice earrings--each earring consisted of a single heart-shaped fluorite bead flanked by two small Thai silver beads. And I wore these all day. By the end of the day I could tell that even by themselves, the fluorite beads were too heavy. No need to waste good silver wire here!

Now to the headpins. Since it's easy enough to make your own eyepins, I felt it was well to be able to make headpins somehow. For today's design, I ran out of headpins...I needed three (one for each earring, one for the necklace pendant). I loathed the thought of having to go out and shop for three headpins when I had more than enough sterling silver wire at home to make some.

On to Google...found some interesting articles. Here's one from (which btw has an excellent jewelry making Guide):

Metal Paddle Pieces

Here you need a hammer and anvil, the latter of which I don't own. The idea is to pound the end of your wire until the end is flat and paddle-shaped, which then becomes the end of your headpin.

Next, I saw numerous tips on making your own headpins by melting the end of your wire with a torch until the end forms a small ball. Now, I don't own a torch either. I tried sticking the end of my wire into a flame (i.e. I turned on my gas stove burner and tried that); it didn't work, the end got a bit black but didn't melt at all (I guess you really need that torch).

Finally, I found this nifty article:

Quick Homemade Headpins

I tried this works, but I thought I'd try a variation on this. Since I'm using the nice silver wire now, I don't care if a bit of it shows under the bead.

I started out with the same technique...take your chain-nosed pliers and make the start of the tiniest loop possible. And, instead of completing the loop, take the same pliers and squash the loop as flat as possible, so that it forms a flat swirl that looks like the middle of a danish.

i.e. instead of the tiny oval-shaped loop in the article, I now had the end of the wire parallel to the wire itself.

Instead of cutting off part of the loop, I then bent the end around again, making it look even more like the center of a danish. Mind you this is a tight loop; there shouldn't be spaces in your danish! Just a tight flat spiral.

That's it! I went ahead and finished my two pieces. I'm very pleased with this. It's too labor intensive to make it worth making your own headpins regularly, unless you like the look so much that you wish to do this. But it's great for when you're short of only a few headpins.
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posted by Colleen Shirazi, May 21, 2006 at 1:50 AM (Pacific)

It's more than that too (see previous post). You start to develop signature pieces. These pieces need not be "different" in look; they need only be customized to you. These are the pieces you wear yourself--your "reach for" pieces, that go with the other items in your wardrobe.

From the beginning I wanted to make my own personal jewelry collection, and sell that. I realize it's probably the least lucrative approach. Making lower quality jewelry would be far less labor could conceivably crank out hundreds and hundreds of pieces. Making, in the sense, higher quality jewelry would mean you could sell the pieces at a high price. Making highly unusual jewelry could mean higher sales in the sense that people may be more inclined to buy something if it looks unusual (whether they end up wearing it or not).

Making excellent pieces that you yourself wear every day...well, that's how I want to do it.
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posted by Colleen Shirazi, at 1:09 AM (Pacific)

I'm still at it...even though I keep telling myself that the learning curve to produce good handmade jewelry is probably about a year, it's not quite like that. It's more like first (assuming you're like me, not crafty whatsoever and not knowing anyone else who does this sort of thing), it's like banging your head against a brick wall.

This phase lasts a month or two. At first it all seems so hard and confusing. There are many, many types of materials and tools on the market but you will end up using a finite set of tools and materials later on.

Then comes a phase where it gets easier...much easier cease to use some materials and tools and replace these with better items.

Then comes a phase where you don't want to make jewelry at all (or can't...something else takes up your attention for a month or two). You want to step back and figure out what it is you really want to produce.

Then, suddenly, you start doing it again and it's suddenly much much this point you have beads you really have no use for...and your tools get better to the point that you're finalizing exactly which tools you want to use; which techniques too.

Then...and this is where I am now. Then, you start to produce the kind of pieces you want to produce. Not 100% of the pieces turn out perfectly, but some of them do (and the ones that don't are nearly perfect).

Of course I would love to already be in the next phase, which is when you can produce perfect pieces every time. I'm definitely not there yet. I need more practice.
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Heh heh...
posted by Colleen Shirazi, May 4, 2006 at 1:44 PM (Pacific)

So I wore one of my pieces to a meeting today. Granted, it wasn't a super formal meeting, but it was a meeting nonetheless.

It's a piece that I need to redo. I like the design but I've gotten so much better at wrapping that I want to redo it. Plus it needs earrings and a bracelet. I have similar earrings and bracelets but for this it's going to be matching.

I don't consider this to be the actual learning curve, naturally, since I'm going to sell the pieces. The real end of the curve is when you develop everything--the techniques, materials, sources for materials, tools even...when I redo this piece I'll decide if I need to get more tools.
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