Sunday, November 29, 2009

On My Floor

I spend a lot more time on my floor than I would like to ... it's absolutely amazing how far a bead can fly when the beading needle hits it at the wrong angle or how much a jump ring can roll when the pliers don't have a good grip on it (note that it's the needle's and the pliers' fault, of course!). My beading workspace is a fairly small corner of the room, and there's a lot of stuff around my beading desk, so looking for something that has fallen can mean being on my hands and knees, moving things around to look for the missing object.

So here's my rabbit story: last year, I was in Philadelphia, and the day I left to fly back to France, I called home from the airport to say that I was indeed on my way. Marcel told me that he had let the cat out at lunchtime, and when he called the cat back in, the cat brought a small rabbit with him. The rabbit was still alive, and it took off to hide, right in the room where I bead - Marcel wasn't sure exactly where, but he closed the door to keep the rabbit in there.

The next morning, when I arrived in Paris, I called home to say that I was in the country. I asked about the rabbit: Marcel said that he had opened the door again, and in the morning he found the rabbit done for in the hallway, the cat having done his hunter thing for once in his life. The rabbit had been appropriately disposed of, and I didn't think a lot more about it.

Fast forward about two months. Once again, I was on my hands and knees on the floor, looking for a bead. This one had really gone astray, so I was under my work desk to look in the deepest corners of the room. My desk is a sheet of plate glass that sits on two small bookcases, and I finally got under as far as I could to look behind the bookcases. And behind one of them there was something unidentifiable ... and I thought, what on earth is that ... and suddenly I realized where the rabbit had been hiding until the cat got wise to him ... and the rabbit had clearly been distressed and left lots of evidence of it ... and let's hear it for hand-held portable vacuum cleaners ... and luckily, the bead turned up somewhere else!

From top to bottom:
*Matte glass hearts, turquoise matte 8° seed beads
*An assortment of large stones, jasper rounds, quartz rondelles
*Vintage red and yellow glass beads from an old jewelry shop in Paris - long enough to be worn double or triple

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chain Mail, Part One

Chain mail has been with us for centuries! In all simplicity, it is connecting one ring to another to create armor, jewelry, juggling balls, handbags, you name it. However, connecting one ring to another is a bit more complicated than it might sound. Rings are made from wire, and wire has gauge (thickness); rings also have a diameter measurement that is variable, depending on how the ring is made. The relationship between the gauge and the diameter - a ratio - has an influence on how the linked piece looks and wears; it can also determine how easy or difficult it is to work with the rings.

Rings can be made out of many different materials: gold, silver, copper, brass, bronze, aluminum, steel, rubber, niobium, titanium ... they don't all behave the same way and they certainly don't all cost the same. I have particularly enjoyed working with aluminum, which can be anodized in many colors. There is the fun of trying different patterns AND seeing how the colors play with each other.

Whenever I try something new, I like to wear it for a while to see how it is. I LOVE wearing the anodized aluminum!! It is lightweight (but almost too lightweight for pierced earrings that hook - they tend to fall out of the ear lobe) and a pleasure to wear. And some of the weaves jingle - it's a nice sound.

Learning the different weaves has been an interesting process. A pair of pliers in each hand requires some coordination (which I don't have some days!). The anodized aluminum coating does not stand up to rough handling with the pliers - you have to practice. The rings come cut and slightly open, and every single ring has to be opened or closed to start, and if it is opened, it has to be closed at some point in the process of making the chain.


From top to bottom, left to right:
*Chaos Chain in black, turquoise, purple, red, pink
*Box Chain in blue, green, yellow, orange, pink
*Byzantine Chain in red, black
*Spiral Chain in golden, bronze
*A chain whose name I forget because it was the first one I learned, and that's been a while; it's done in purple and blue, and it has teal crystals dangling from it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Prague, Beads, and Me

The first time I ever went to Prague, which was about ten years ago, I was ready to buy beads. And I looked everywhere for them, but all that was available was jewelry - there were no loose beads to buy anywhere in the city. Before I went home, I looked in the yellow pages and discovered that all the bead manufactures were located in a town about 100 kilometers from Prague.

The second time I went, several years later, I had a guide, and I asked her to arrange a visit to this town so that I could find beads. She made appointments at two manufactures and off we went for the day. Today this town is known to most beaders as THE source of Czech beads, but this was not the case when I went. Our first stop was a normal-looking house in the town which turned out to be the main office for a manufacturer of lampwork glass beads. The glassworkers, mostly women, worked at home - a cottage industry. We were allowed to select whatever we wanted from the stock on hand. (I was with a friend who was not a beader but whose sister-in-law was, and my friend kept saying to me, "do you think she'd like this bead? do you think she'd like that one?", to which I replied, "she'd love any and all of them"). That visit took care of all my available cash ...

Then we went to a factory that made pressed glass beads. There we were taken into the storerooms, handed plastic bags and scoops, and told to scoop whatever we were interested in right into the bags. At the end, the bags were weighed, and we paid by the kilo. This time, I had to make a detour to the bank for a cash withdrawal on my credit card (and it turned out that I had forgotten to sign my Visa card, which caused some difficulty at the bank ... ). When I got home, I had hours of sorting to do, because all the beads were mixed up in the bags, but I didn't care - I like putting things in order.

It was a truly marvelous experience! But by the third time I went to Prague, the Czechs were on to us, and loose beads were available in stores all over the city ... more expensive, less fun (not that that kept me from buying any but I didn't have to raid my credit card this time).

So these beads have been around for a few years now. I've always loved looking at them in their boxes, but only a few have actually made it to the finished jewelry stage. However, suddenly, they've been talking to me - it's their time to shine!

From top to bottom:
*Lampworked rectangles (blue, red, purple, amber) with color inserts, orange foil glass squares, bronze glass rondelles
*Clear glass pebbles with foil and amber inside, tortoiseshell glass cubes, little silver balls
*Pink/green and pink/orange square tubes, orange rectangles, green rounds, art class sections

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Time to Rev Things Up!

Just this week, I received an invitation to do a small show in December - adding that to the two I already have on the schedule means that I have to get to work!!

I like starting with necklaces ... I'll get to earrings and bracelets later. In the mail several weeks ago came this Chinese chalk turquoise, dyed in many different colors. I played with various combinations of the colors, a small bead between each chip/nugget strung randomly with regard to color. I tried dark blue, but I really love black mixed with multi colors, so I decided to sort the colors and set off each one with a big black bead. And this is the result (before and after):

Stones are it at the moment, and they are big sellers ... on one of my first posts, I showed a necklace that had moakite - this one has moakite in three different forms. I like the effect of the ocher and mauve tones, even though they are not colors that I wear myself!

Bon weekend!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Technical Matters

I started with the red lampwork ovals from the latest batch of beads, and I took photos as I went along in the designing process ... but someone has been playing with the camera settings, and the photos were worthless. Without using a thousand words, I'll say that I first tried them with old Venetian glass beads in black with blue and gold accents ... okay but not spectacular - too much from another era. Then I wrapped a strand of golden seed beads around the necklace - it looked great lying on my worktable, but around the neck, it was really unimpressive. So I switched gears and found these terrific pink puff beads in the pink-and-purple box, and I highlighted everything with orange. Orange, pink, and red together - that has some punch!

I'm getting ready to do a couple of shows around the holidays. I straightened up my workspace, which will stay neat for about a week, but it is satisfying to start out with things in order.

I enjoy reading about how other beaders organize their beads and their work area ... I have all my beads in boxes, originally sorted by color. This technique is splendid, but it's only really useful when you're getting started. No matter how you arrange things, the day comes when you have no more room in the red box for red beads, so they have to go somewhere else, and eventually, there are boxes of mixes of all sorts! The rolling cart holds tools, threads, wires, tubes of seed beads, etc., and it's a great place for the laptop to live (it's an old computer - Windows 95 with no possibility of upgrading - but it's all I need to keep track of inventory and sales).

Then there are the books and magazines ... when I first started beading, I owned every book on the market, all 7 or 8 of them. I think Amazon has over 300 today! Ditto with the magazines. I let my subscriptions lapse last year, but I think this year for Christmas I might ask for one or two - I keep up with what's new on line, but the computer really does not replace poring over a glossy magazine.

The last clean-up task was what to do with the pile of broken beads. We recycle everything in our house, and these beads are no exception! One of my high school classmates does miniature furniture decorated with a variety of techniques. I selected all the glass beads, and I'm sending them off to her for whatever she is inspired to create. We'll do an exchange ... I'm looking forward to creating something just for her, too!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Look What Came in Today's Mail!

Living out in the wilds of western France, I don't have the kind of access to bead sellers that I had when I lived in Chicago, so I rely on the Internet. I stopped buying beads on eBay quite a while ago, because the photos were frequently unreliable, and it is so disappointing to open a package of beads and have them be duds. I have found a seller whom I like doing business with, so if you're looking for stones on line (and some other beads, but mostly stones), try This is my latest order, which arrived today:

It includes dyed chalk turquoise, which I've never worked with, but both the nuggets and the disks will look fabulous with black! The golden yellow Chinese topaz is paler than I thought it would be - these beads might be around for a while. I love the faceted opaline moonstones, and they might be a great pairing with the purple crystal rondelles, although that wasn't what I had in mind when I ordered them. The carnelian chips have lots of possibilities - hematite springs to mind, but I can see them with some autumn green agates and jaspers, too ... The pink and red lampwork glass beads were on sale, and I couldn't resist - I have a stock of odds and ends of Venetian glass beads in this style, and it may be time to mix them all together.

So now they are out of the box. They all get entered into my master Excel file, so that I know when and where I bought them and how much I paid (this is worth doing if you sell your jewelry!). Then I'll have to find space for them in my storage boxes. And FINALLY I can to start to play with design - I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Epingle de Pardon

I live in Quimper, in Western Brittany, where the old traditions are alive and summer folk festivals are glorious with dancing, music, and old costumes. I'm a member of the Quimper Club International, a collectors' club for Quimper pottery, made here for over 300 years. At our annual meeting, we often have an auction whose proceeds go to charitable organizations, and the members of the Club donate items, either pottery or things related to Brittany and its culture.

This year, I'm offering an ├ępingle de pardon, a "pardon pin", for the auction. This is a sort of stickpin that young ladies received from young men - it was a way of popping the question in an era when there was not much money for things like engagement rings. The young man gave it to his sweetheart, and if she wore it at the next appropriate occasion, which was quite often next Sunday's church service, then he knew that she was willing to become his wife. If she didn't wear it, the message was clear (and she got to keep the pin).

These pins were made of base metal and fake round pearls, with lots of little pendants, often crescent-shaped. They came in different colors, but only one color for all the beads on any given pin. They were called "pardon pins" because they were bought from itinerant sellers at pardons, which were (are) Catholic festivals particular to Brittany. To see an old one, click here.

This is my modern version of a pardon pin, designed to be worn as a stickpin. I have one of my own that is multi-colored (a real break with tradition!), but for the Quimper Club auction, I stayed with one color range, even though the beads are different in shape, color density, and age. The stickpin is silvered metal, as are the bead caps; the little pendants are sterling. I've done them before in just about every color imaginable, and this time I was inspired to use purple/violet tones!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Designing for Others

When people ask for a custom necklace, I always ask about their preferred color(s), length, and style (classic, funky, vintage - whatever those mean!). Then I make an effort to do something that falls within their guidelines - sometimes it works right off the bat, and sometimes it doesn't. It's a challenge to not impose my personal taste and still create a piece that I'm happy to say I made.

A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a bag of square beige foil glass beads and asked for a necklace. Because I'm a brunette, beige beads are outside of my usual design color schemes, but I love foil glass, so I was happy to give it a try. These were my three trial runs:

This one alternated the square beads with roundish beads in a shimmery copper luster tone and small glass cylinders with a copper-color coating. The overall effect was on the elegant side, copper and beige with highlights.
This one grouped the square beads in threes and set off the groups with dark brown half-opaque round glass beads - the overall effect was classic.
This one alternated the square beads with small vintage beads in luster lavender and luster sage green. It was a great mix of old and new beads.
My friend chose the second one; which one do you think was my preferred necklace of the three??

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Forever Amber

It is always an interesting challenge to be handed a string of beads and asked to "relook" them. A friend of mine gave me a long rope of unpolished chunks of amber, which her mother-in-law had brought with her  when she left Poland many years ago, and asked me to create something for her. She wanted to honor the memory of her mother-in-law, and she wanted something fairly serious.

It was truly awesome to be working with these beads - they were fabulous morsels of amber which were matte, as they hadn't been polished. There were too many beads for one necklace (my friend is short and doesn't wear long, drippy strands), so I opted for two. I played with many combinations of the amber with other stones, and in the end, the most simple was the most effective.

These chunks were strung in groups that were separated with a large chip of quartz, to play up the importance of the color of the amber and the impact of the massed effect.
This necklace was intended to be worn as a double strand, with the individual chunks of amber highlighted with golden color glass seed beads and clear glass rondelles between each chunk. It is a more airy effect that allows each amber bead to be appreciated for its own form and color variation.
When I was finished with the two necklaces, I made a bracelet with the few pieces that were left. And I kept the one bead that I broke while I was working, as a souvenir of this remarkable experience that I don't expect to have the opportunity to repeat.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


The heart shape is a clean one and easy to work with. Clear glass hearts mix well with other beads, in this case metallic-tone small glass rounds. The toggle clasp with the large heart pendant sets the mood for the necklace!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Last Sunday's Crafts Market

The market was outside in the courtyard of a manoir, which apparently had once been a ruin and was now in the final stages of major renovation. There were maybe 15 exhibitors, including at least 4 who did jewelry (too many for a show that small!). I shared a tent space with a pleasant young woman who was selling her mother's pottery - some nice stuff - and her own stickpins and leather cord necklaces with pottery pendants. It was sunny but it was cold. I was dressed to stay warm, except my feet ... my super-thick soled sneakers were good for about 20 minutes - my feet were freezing all day!

I was there at 8.30am and all set up by 10.00am. As is pretty standard for these things, there was almost no one until about 3.00 in the afternoon, so the exhibitors stood around and talked to each other. Finally, there started to be people, which at least made it more interesting.

It was an earring crowd! I sell earrings for 5 euros a pair, and usually when somebody buys a necklace, I offer a pair of earrings. These were earrings-only buyers, and we spent a lot of time choosing posts over hooks, and vice-versa (I have findings with me so that I can change things for people) ... a lot of to-do for what are after all not expensive earrings!! However, there wasn't much else to do ...

The worst part of my day was the bathroom situation. I brought a thermos of tea, and there was coffee being served. Around 11.30am, for obvious reasons, a pit stop was necessary, so I asked where the facilities were. Where they were was out in a field in a port-a-potty (or the French equivalent thereof), which would have been okay, except that it was Turkish-style, which means a hole in the floor. I don't know why anybody thinks women can use these things, and as I was wearing a skirt and pantyhose and it was cold, I certainly wasn't up for undressing so that I could take advantage of the facilities. After about an hour, I managed to corner the owner of the manoir, and in most apologetic way, I asked if there was any possibility of using a toilet inside the house. Lucky for me, she was quite nice about it (and I got to see the results of the renovations - quite an impressive place!). However, not wanting to take advantage of the situation, I spent the rest of the day not drinking anything. As I was packing up my car that evening, I saw a young woman come in the field putting her clothes to right - she clearly preferred nature to the hole in the floor, and I think she was probably right.

So it was not a big sales day, but on the other hand, the table rental was 8 euros; that and my time were the entire costs for the day ... I'm still fantasizing that someone like Christian Lacroix is going to come along at one of these things and flip for my use of colors, and then I'll be off on a new career!!

Above necklace: red coral slices, watermelon jade

Below bracelet: agate nuggets, quartz "peanuts" (first time I've used this shape!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009


This is my Crayola necklace, made out of all vintage glass beads - it's long enough to be worn once, twice, or three times around the neck.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


For 20 years that I've been putting things with holes in them on thread and wire! I don't wake up in the morning with a great idea for a necklace and then go out and look for the beads to make it. I let myself be tempted by interesting beads and then wait for the necklace inspiration to come, which sometimes takes years. I love working with glass, contemporary and vintage. These are foil glass - they have a leaf of silver inside them - and the big green ones are brand new, whereas the others are old or at least older. A lot of Venetian glass has a foil interior.

I also like to work with stones, for their geometric forms and sculptural effect. And for past five years, that's what sells the best. This stone is a jasper called moakite (there are lots of variations of this spelling ... ). I like jaspers, agates, hematite, rhodonite, and quartz. Most stones are treated to either add (or change) or to enhance the color.

And finally, I'm always interested in new techniques. I've been on a wire kick for a couple of years. I like doing these necklaces that are colored wire crocheted with beads - I had to learn how to crochet first! Lately, I've been playing with chain maille ...