Saturday, 11 December 2010

All tied up in knots

I've blogged several times in the past about how working on one thing takes you down a particular design path - how one idea leads to another and you produce a series of related pieces, often on a theme. Thus it was this week. A returning customer asked me to make a pair of earrings for her that were an amalgamation of two designs already available in my shop - she liked one element of each design and wanted them combining.

Thankfully, with my recent discipline of keeping a detailed journal of my designs with sizes, gauges of wire used and the tools and methods I'd used to make a particular shape, I was easily able to re-create the elements in question, faithfully to the original design and without the very frustration that led me to that practice in the first instance.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

The custom earrings I made this week - using the double looped rosebud knot, but with rosy buds at the bottom, where the originals had a wrapped stone dangling.

Once you've torn your hair out trying to re-make an old design and not been able to get it quite the same as the original, you realise the real value in disciplining yourself to maintain such records religiously. It was with some degree of smugness that I first flipped the pages to find my design 'recipe' for something I needed to re-make and a practice that has proven itself time and time again. The fact that my husband gave me a lovely leather bound book for just this purpose last Christmas has made it a particular pleasure to work in.

When I work, I always jot down the length of wire I cut and the diameter of any turns or loops and if I find I have too much waste, or struggle to finish the shape with too short a piece, I make the adjustment in my notes too. If I find that a particular method doesn't work and I find working from the back, or anticlockwise, for example, cures a problem or gives rise to a better shape, then this is also noted.

Whilst fiddling with my double looped knots, I wondered how well they would work as a single loop with a rosebud knot at one end and I rather liked the results.

We've all done it, had problems making something, found a solution, then come to remake it some time later, fall into the same initial difficulty and can't remember what we did to cure it the first time around. So my journal is used to note all such details, with sketches and diagrams where appropriate. I even note which tools I used if I found that one item worked better than another.

Having made a single loop pair of earrings (above), I wondered how heavy I could go with the wire and made this pendant in 1.6mm (14 gauge) copper wire. The loop is just over an inch (27mm) in diameter.

I've got into the practice of making scribbles on scraps of paper or in my sketch book as I work, which I treat much like we did with a 'rough book' at school - I do all my working out in that, then transpose my final version (which may have been amended or adjusted several times by the time I'm done) to my neater finished journal - so that it's hopefully easier to make sense of at some time in the future.

The matching set of rosebud knot loop pendant and earrings. I've oxidised the copper pieces and then tumbled them extensively to get a nice gunmetal colour on the dark areas, then polished just the rosebuds back to highlight them.

I tend to sit down after breakfast, whilst I finish my coffee, before the day starts to veer away from my intended plans, and transpose all my scratty notes into the journal before I lose them, or lose my train of thought. The investment of time in doing this has proven well worth it on many occasions. I also have this thought in the back of my mind that at some time a long way in the future, my great-grandchildren may find it a fascinating treasure the same way that I do my grandfathers old sketch book - a little glimpse into my life at this time.

Now I was on a roll I wanted to see how they'd look in Sterling silver. I didn't have the same gauge of wire, so these are a little more delicate than the copper version of the earrings, but I decided to leave these as shiny silver, rather than oxidise them.

And so it was this week with these custom earrings. I consulted my design journal to make the same knotted loop element again and once my fingers had remembered the technique required to get a nice even knot, I set about making several other pieces using the same elements, as above. Once you start with something, your mind just takes you where it will and I still have ideas left to try using the same techniques.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Necessity is the mother of a new design

Anyone in the UK this week can't have failed to have noticed the news and conversation dominating cold and snowy snap. It's been unseasonably cold and with rather more snow than the UK is equipped to cope with.

Whilst making dinner on Monday evening, we found that we had no hot water coming out of the taps and the boiler was failing to fire when expected, resulting also in fast-cooling radiators. After wafting a warm hair drier over the external condensate pipes (lagged during last December's cold snap when they froze and stopped the heating working temporarily) in the vain hope that was all there was causing it, but we couldn't get the boiler to fire and it was now leaking water too and showing a fault indicator. Time to call in the experts.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

It ended up a somewhat unusual fault that took some finding and we were consequently without a working boiler for several days. It just goes to show how pampered we've become and how much we take such things for granted. I'm old enough to have lived before central heating was commonplace and yet find myself totally disrupted by the removal of on tap hot water and warm rooms.

So my work routine was somewhat interrupted this week - my usual work area was far too cold to work effectively and as I take photographs on the end of my work bench, I couldn't even comfortably get on with my backlog of those either. Maybe I'm just soft, but trying to grip cold tools with cold fingers just wasn't fun - and as a Reynauds sufferer, actually painful - and potentially dangerous. Time for Plan B.

So as I had a birthday gift I wanted to make this week and various as yet unopened supplies, I gave some thought to a project I could work on with minimal space and tools, sitting somewhere warmer. I had this idea in mind anyway, so gave it some more thought as it would fit the bill; something I could work on at the kitchen table whilst remaining on hand to assist the repair man who visited several times to try and fix the boiler.

I wanted to make something in antiqued copper and using some brown Lucite leaf charms I'd bought. I had in mind a random, clustered necklace with berries and copper buds - something vine-like and autumnal. I wanted it to be busy and full and tinkle when moving and I had an idea that I'd supplement the leaf charms with some copper leaves of my own making.

So I started tinkering initially with a scrap of chain and the design evolved. I wanted to make it a party type feature necklace that would sit well in the open V of a blouse or top, so worked on the shape to make the central section deep in the centre and tapering back to the chain.

The Lucite leaves have been supplemented with graduating sizes of wrapped copper leaf spirals and hand formed leaf shapes. The berries are carnelian, jasper, goldstone, sardonix and green opals. I chose to use large balled headpins so that the buds would also become a visual feature too. I used several wrapping techniques to add some variety of shape and randomness to the necklace. Random of this nature is not something that comes easily to me, I always end up with a distinct and symmetrical pattern and that is the case to some degree here, but I tried to loosen my grip a little on being too precise.

I hand polished and filed all the cut ends of the metal components and oxidised the whole necklace and hand polished it back to an antiqued finish, to enhance the textures of the wrapping and spiralling and show off the red highlights of the berries. I hope that she'll like it. I have enough supplies left to make one more, so will enjoy making another to put on sale.


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