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Beading Blog - September 2007

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One woman's adventures in the wide, wonderful world of beading.
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I also blog here

posted by Colleen Shirazi, September 21, 2007 at 7:55 PM (Pacific)

I realize I haven't been posting as much as before.

I haven't lost my interest in making jewelry, that's for sure. I suppose I've had to accept that for me, it has to be done in phases. I can afford to spend some on tools, but I can't afford to get all the tools I want at once.

For example, I haven't gotten into soldering. It's pretty basic, but it also represents a whole new cost in terms of equipment and materials. So I've had to put it aside and work around it...when possible.

My most recent project was what I call an "engineer's pearl pendant." :D This uses a very large, very nice freshwater pearl in a slight teardrop shape. Now if these pearls were perfect, they would cost a bum; they're not. They all have a distinct "bad side" where the nacre is slightly less than shiny, or else...what's the word for it? A little circle shape is pressed into it. The other side is entirely perfect.

Here's the engineer part:

A pastor, a doctor and an engineer were waiting one morning for a particularly slow group of golfers.

The engineer fumed, "What's with these guys? We must have been waiting for 15 minutes!" The doctor chimed in, "I don't know, but I've never seen such ineptitude!"

The pastor said, "Hey, here comes the greenskeeper. Let's have a word with him." "Hi George! Say, what's with that group ahead of us? They're rather slow, aren't they?"

The greenskeeper replied, "Oh, yes, that's a group of blind firefighters. They lost their sight saving our clubhouse from a fire last year, so we always let them play for free anytime."

The group was silent for a moment. The pastor said, "That's so sad. I think I will say a special prayer for them tonight." The doctor said, "Good idea. And I'm going to contact my ophthalmologist buddy and see if there's anything he can do for them." The engineer said, "Why can't these guys play at night?"

Okay...why can't these guys play at night? Why not engineer the design of the pendant so the bad side never shows?

I took some silver wire and made a regular wrapped loop on top of the pearl as you would expect...but brought the wire down some to make a tiny "bead cap" on top of the pearl. The bead cap shape didn't have to be "machine perfect," just nice-looking. The idea was to use just enough silver, and wrap it just firmly enough, so the pearl wouldn't turn easily (it didn't have to be ultra-tight, which might damage the pearl). As long as it didn't turn unless you grabbed it and turned it...that's the idea.

That wasn't the problem...the problem was the bail.

I didn't want to buy a bail...I mean there has to be a way of making your own wire bail. Right? I have seen some rather elaborate wire wrapped bails on the Net, but what I wanted here was something exceedingly simple, like those rabbit ear bails.

I tried a bunch of designs in wire...I have made bails before, in a design that looks like a small tube fashioned out of wire. (Now that I'm thinking about it, couldn't you make your own tube bail that way? Like a little coil of wire, with a coil in the middle sort of pulled down, or stretched out enough for you to attach something to it?) That works well for casual pendants, but didn't work for the pearl.

Finally I got sick of the whole works, grabbed some soldered silver jump rings I had sitting around, and started hammering them. I hammered three of them flat and then squeezed them into oval shapes with pliers, hammered some more, basically came up with three long narrow hammered oval links. And that became the bail.

(Observant folks will have observed I now needed to redo the wrapped loop on the pearl, since I was using closed jump rings for the bail...oh well.)

So that's been the kind of thing I've been doing. I haven't been buying much in the way of new materials. I've been slowly, slowly, producing better pieces. Did I mention I've been doing it slowly? It took me two or three days to come up with the three-smashed-jump-rings-bail, engineered-top pearl, yet it looks perfect.

Along with this I had some old sterling bulk chain...very fine links. Did the Camali Design trick of finishing the chain using wrapped's really a stroke of genius, it works with any chain you can pass a piece of wire through. You can even make the "loop" part of the wrapped loop longer and narrower, if you wanted to be able to pass smaller bails over it. Here I didn't need to, just made a small loop and hammered it out.

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Prehnite and peridot earrings on Argentium sterling silver wire
posted by Colleen Shirazi, September 12, 2007 at 6:28 PM (Pacific)

prehnite and peridot earrings on argentium sterling silver wire

I'm writing a post about these in The Lipstick Page Forums Beauty & Fashion Blog, should be published in a day or two. :)

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posted by Colleen Shirazi, September 8, 2007 at 1:45 PM (Pacific)

I made my first ring today, and discovered something. You need a ring mandrel. lol...

Making the ring isn't difficult, but controlling the size is next to impossible without the mandrel. I kept grabbing it and trying to size it, but as you're working on it, it tends to slide apart and get bigger. Grabbing it and pulling it back tends to make it too small.

I did finish it and it was a tiny bit too big. Ugh.

People often ask what tools are absolutely necessary to make jewelry. Tools aren't cheap, so it is a good question.

Of course it depends what kind of jewelry you want to make, but even if you know what you want to make, there does seem to be a sort of endless array of tools.

For example, it's only recently I got a cup burr. It's not that cup burrs cost a lot, it's just it's on top of the bazillion other tools on my wishlist. All along, I'd been using a regular emery board to smooth the ends of my wires. So I wondered if the cup burr were absolutely necessary.

Since getting it though, I like it. It doesn't miraculously smooth the wire into a dome, exactly, but it does make the end smooth and nice, better than the emery board.

When I got that EZ Bracelet Sizer, I didn't use it at first. I was used to trying to measure the strand, putting it on a wrist, yadda yadda... Once I started using the sizer, my life suddenly got a whole lot easier.

I'm not saying you have to buy a bracelet sizer; you could make one. I saw some plastic drinking glasses at the dollar store that would work. They'd be horrible drinking glasses--besides being thin crappy plastic, they were too long, and narrow at the base--but that's also why they'd make good bracelet sizers. You need something that's too long, and narrow at the base.

I'm actually pretty happy with the ring; it looks nice, but I can see the necessity of the mandrel. Apparently you can hammer the ring right on the mandrel; check this out:

Free Form Ring - Jewelry Making at

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Hammered Argentium sterling "links" earrings
posted by Colleen Shirazi, September 2, 2007 at 9:14 PM (Pacific)

hammered argentium sterling links earrings

hammered argentium sterling links earrings

I'm getting a bit better at this. Now I can tell, as soon as I put the earrings on, whether or not they'll start feeling heavy toward the end of the day. It's a fine line...on these, I had to change out one of the Bali sterling beads. That tiny bit of extra weight makes the difference between "featherlight" and "starts to feel heavy if you wear them long enough."

Pretty pleased with these.

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Hammered Argentium sterling earrings
posted by Colleen Shirazi, September 1, 2007 at 1:10 PM (Pacific)

hammered argentium earrings with rose quartz

Been playing with these over the past couple of days. They're long, but lightweight (being only thin pieces of hammered silver, with two small rose quartz beads), and because they're neither hoops nor anything terminating in a loop, they don't get stuck in your hair or collar.

This is also the first time I've made earring wires, thanks to Argentium silver. Before that, I would have had to use niobium, titanium, or 18KT gold...procuring the first two kinds would likely be more headache than buying the blanks, and 18KT gold...hardly worth making this type of earring wire (for that, you would want either a readymade leverback, for a special pair of earrings, or else a kidney wire idea where you could interchange the dangles).

About the rose quartz beads...I've had these for a long time. I never actually got rid of the inexpensive materials I started out with...and if it's possible, I recommend you don't either. My daughter is managing them now. For these earrings, I started out using two small freshwater pearls instead of the rose quartz. But the idea of the earrings was to capture light, so I decided to look for something clear or translucent.

I had in mind to use glass, something like two small rough-looking glass beads (like Indian glass). I found some blue ones, but it occurred to me that making the two stones blue would limit these earrings to being worn with clothes that go with blue. I already have a fair amount of blue earrings. So I looked for clear glass, but it occurred to me the faint pastel pink of rose quartz was actually pretty versatile, almost like "blush makeup for the ears" (on the concept you don't have to match your blush to your clothes).

Anyhow there's the theory. :)

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