Sunday, 28 August 2011

Beaded beads - trying something new

Further to comments I'd posted earlier about launching my 'Credit Cruncher' range of less expensive items, I have been giving some thought to designs to utilise some of my stash of beads. Many of the things I bought in the early days as I tried different techniques in my hunger to learn as much as possible, were no longer suitable for the style of work I'm currently doing.

I seem to have stashed quite a lot of seed beads - largely to use as small spacers and the like in other designs, but I'd also tinkered with some modest bead weaving. Bead weaving is one of those jewellery making techniques that I love to see and am attracted to the work and can see the skill and value in, but think I'm perhaps short on the right sort of patience to do more intricate work myself.

My first attempt, was the middle one here - intended as a netted surround to a single larger centre bead. When I say my first attempt, it was actually my second, the fist one was rather over-estimated on the size of the beads and would have covered a golf ball! I simply didn't have any beads that big.

But I had the idea that making some larger beads from the smaller beads I have already might give me a range of less expensive earrings to market, especially with an eye to the holiday and party season ahead - I known {{{shudder}}}.

I was given a book of beaded designs for a Christmas or birthday gift in the recent past and this had several beaded bead tutorials to follow. I've opened this book on several occasions with a needle in my hand and never progressed very far with them - they look like they should be simple enough to follow, but the techniques are outlined more like a knitting or embroidery pattern with colour coded charts. After another frustrating session with it yesterday, I just decided that the fault in not grasping it wasn't entirely mine, but the patters were simply poorly described. At least for the way my mind works. I've since found others that I could follow straight away.

The faceted gold beads in this front beaded bead are Murano glass bought for me in Venice. They're made on a square mandrel over silver, so they're very sparkly.

I hit my bookmarks and re-visited some sites I knew had tutorials (some as videos) and even after scribbling down some very incomprehensible-looking notes, I was much more able to follow these than the initial book and was soon on my way with some designs.

I also decided pretty quickly that there were things about these designs that I thought I'd prefer doing differently, so once I'd grasped a few techniques, I pretty much did my own thing and have made my own notes so that I can come back to it later.

It's always amazing to me how much you learn - and how quickly - from trying something new like this. You quickly find shortcomings in the instructions and think there are better ways of doing things - hark at me like I'm an expert.

Once I'd made some larger netted beads, it was clear they were too large for earrings, so I set about adapting the technique to make something smaller using only one row of main beads - in this case, satin finish glass pearls with seed beads and more Murano seeds as the accents. This design ended up pretty much my own invention.

Swarovski crystal pearls with black seed beads.

For example, the instructions I followed for the netted beads above instructed to keep the thread taut and keep good tension. It became evident pretty quickly, that trying to keep it taut with your fingers as you worked (which in itself was like trying to plait fog) simply gave rise to too loose a bead, so I simply repeated each stitched round as I went along, doubling the thread, so that the tension was much more consistent and gave a nicer result - my first attempts look okay, but feel somewhat squishy and fluid to the touch, where later ones feel solid.

When selecting beads to work together, I thought I had some nice combinations, but when finished, they look rather less subtle than I was hoping for. Largely I think because the small beads are simply too large, they need to be really tiny. When teamed with some matching Swarovski crystals, they do make quite luxurious looking party bling. My husband said they looked like Jacobean jewels. I'm not sure the pale pink ones will progress, they're very pink.

I think with beads of this nature, any unnecessary movement between the beads will give rise to more wear on the threads and shorten their life. And doubling the thread is bound to give greater longevity to the bead too.

It also became evident pretty quickly, that the sort of seed beads I'd accumulated weren't really the right sort for the task - largely because they were far too big - I hadn't realised just how tiny some would need to be to give the right look. So I think my resulting beads lack some subtlety and would benefit from gentler colours and rather smaller beads for the netting - even though these seemed incredibly small to me - and my ageing eyes.

But it was an interesting departure from my usual work and nice to hone some different skills. I found making them to be totally therapeutic and addictive as you get totally absorbed in the rhythm of the rows and counting the beads. But I'm not sure that the resulting designs are going to end up as best sellers for me. I'll finish these items up (and the first two need to be re-made to make them tighter and more robust, not to mention I can see a few stray stitches) and see how they look as finished earrings. At the end of the day, what sells in my shops isn't necessarily what I could wear myself - I don't go to anything like enough parties for starters.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

500 items - reason to celebrate!

Over the last couple of days I've reached a significant milestone in my on-line selling career - at least it feels that way to me - of 500 different items added to my own on-line shop.

I had been aware that I was approaching 490 items and the 500 was in my sights, then after a listing frenzy in an attempt to try and get myself straight, it almost passed unnoticed. These turquoise magnesite hammered teardrop loop earrings were the 500th item that I added.

It's true that a number of these are on the sold section, but it doesn't seem five minutes since I was struggling to get 30 or so items on there so that I could finally launch the shop - I figured that was the absolute minimum items to look like I meant business - I think I finally went public with something like 45 items.

At the time it seemed like an insurmountable task. I had to get to grips with my cart system, settle on a decent method of taking my photographs, pricing, measuring and a writing descriptions. It took an age in itself just to settle on the cart system to use, as there weren't so many options readily available as there are now - and I was on a limited budget and it had to be something I could set up, personalise and manage myself. It seemed to take a very long time for it all to come together in those early days and I almost gave up before I even got going.

It is so much easier today - although the time it all takes doesn't seem to diminish that much with experience. I constantly hone my methods in an effort to shave a few seconds off tasks here and there. I know that I work significantly more efficiently than I did in times gone by, but it's still nowhere near as much fun as making the items themselves.

I could do with a tech-savvy minion who would accept payment in hugs or metal scrap to do it for me, but despite leaving items to be photographed out overnight next to the camera, I've never seen any evidence of elves offering assistance, unfortunately.

Sale to celebrate:

So to celebrate and in conjunction with the forthcoming Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, I'm holding a sale in both my own on-line shop and on Etsy, offering 15% discount on everything in the shops. On my site, the 15% is deducted automatically, but on Etsy, use Coupon Code CELEBRATE500. The sale lasts until 07:00am on Tuesday 30th August.

As if that isn't enough - necklace giveaway draw:

I'm also going to hold a giveaway draw for this oxidised copper and Sterling silver nugget pendant necklace. All you need to do to enter is complete this very simple form on my site. It is free to enter, but please read the very simple rules on the page before sending off your entry.

I'd be delighted if you'd enter the draw for the necklace - it's currently shown on a black PVC thong, but I'll make a necklace up for you to your requirements - you could have it on oxed copper chain or cotton if you prefer.

I wish you luck!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

But it's only the middle of August

Anyone has read any of my blog previously will have figured out that I like to be outdoors and preferably amongst trees. If I had my own way, I'd live like a hermit in a log cabin in woodland, spending my time as a camera and jewellery making bum without having to worry about paying the bills.

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

I'll grant you, you were pretty well hidden there amongst the long grasses, but I did spot you!

I'd be quite happy to live the simple life, I don't need clothes shops or restaurants and night clubs, I'd be pretty happy to have fresh air, peace and quiet and would even be prepared to grow and manage much of my own food. People talk of the 'Champagne lifestyle' if you won the lottery. What I'd buy would be solitude. I'd buy the biggest tract of land I could afford and plonk a nice house in the middle of it. I think I'd quite like to be reasonably comfortable - I'd need a hot shower and broadband connection, but I wouldn't need gold taps or marble floors.

Come on, play fair, we haven't even had a summer yet!

Even the leaves that are outwardly green, are starting to turn and the green is becoming more golden.

Both of us work pretty darned hard and often very long hours and it becomes very important to us to get outside - either at the weekend or in an evening. So whenever weather is suitable - and often when it's not - and we have the briefest of opportunities, we abandon chores and head outside. Thankfully, we don't really have to go far, we have several nice places to walk within a ten minute drive, so come the weekend, we grab walking boots and waterproofs, camera and walking pole and head out.

A significant amount of the bracken is already turning - not just the odd dead leaf, but great patches of it.

We did one of our usual weekend routes at lunchtime today and I was astonished at how many trees were already turning to their autumnal display - many trees were both dropping leaves and turning colour - is it me, or does this seem to happen earlier every year?

I'm sure in the past, you wouldn't see any golden leaves until well into September. It's simply not fair, we haven't even had a summer yet! Summer never seems to have even got going this year and here we are, already tramping over scrunchy dried leaves and feeling a bite of chill in the air.

I certainly like autumn well enough - but what I don't like is how it sneaks up on you whilst you're still contemplating summer and don't feel ready for it to appear yet. We didn't get a summer propper, so maybe we'll get an Indian Summer?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Introducing my new Credit Cruncher range

I've been aware since I first started selling my own hand crafted jewellery on-line and at craft fairs, that my prices were probably below what they should have been - considering the time I spend on pieces, the range of tools, resources and skills we need to maintain and the direct costs of actually selling - most of which have increased significantly in the last two or three years - like postage and packing materials, raw metal stock etc.

I therefore made a decision to gradually set my prices more realistically for the work and costs each piece represents and the average unit price has no doubt crept up in recent months.

Two of my new 'Credit Cruncher' range of less expensive pieces - handmade glass bead pendants, topped with molten copper buds and a double wrapped antiqued copper bail.

But I'm also acutely aware that money is tight for all of us. Many of my best and long-time customers have lost jobs, had hours reduced or have other financial pressures on their household, as we all do.

A customer commented the other day that she'd love to buy a particular piece but just couldn't justify the expense at the current time, so this set me thinking about making a range of lower priced items to address this issue.

This is a new piece I will be adding for sale shortly - antiqued copper necklace with matching earrings, wire wrapped with a line of freely moving blue green Chrysocolla dangles - but it was quite labour intensive and this will be reflected in the price.

This is my Credit Cruncher variant of the same design idea. There are fewer processes, less expensive materials and this will allow me to keep the price lower to customers.

I saw a TV programme many years ago which was a fascinating insight into how a design is developed for the high street. It started with an original blouse design - a little summer short sleeved blouse with embroidery on the pocket flaps and lots of interesting stitched details and pretty buttons.

One of my new simplified designs to keep the price down. These glossy scarlet glass beads are so striking that they don't need anything else.

They set about cutting a pattern, working out the stages and costing the materials. They made up the garment and timed the processes and came up with a cost to make it and how much it would need to retail for to be profitable - a task that many of us must be all too familiar with. The resulting retail price was far too high to be competitive, so they set about modifying the design, process by process, detail by detail until the price to make it was in-line with other high street fashion chains and what the market could stand. Every row of stitching had a cost implication and even the direction it was sewn and the order it was assembled had cost implications.

I have quite a lot of my own polymer clay pieces that I'm putting together for the Credit Cruncher range. I sold several necklaces with these heart pendants on and thought they were all gone and I found one I'd seemingly squirreled away.

They replaced the original breast pocket which had a separate flap over fastened down with a pretty button and embroidered flower to a single piece pocket with a top stitched detail to look like a flap and a less expensive decorative and non-functional flower button sewn directly onto the pocket - they eliminated several stages and a chunk of saving in the materials too. This process was repeated with the front placket, collar, shaped hem and sleeve. Even the separate body panels that gave it the fitted shape were eliminated for shaped darts and the 7 buttons of the original shirt were whittled down to 5.

The finished high street version was superficially very similar, but a much trimmed down process, halving the manufacturing cost and bringing the retail price in-line with customer expectations and making it profitable to sell.

I have a lot of accumulated semi-precious beads and used to sell a lot of these simple silver plated wire wrapped bracelets and someone asked me recently why I no longer made them, so I'll be adding a few more back to the shop. This one is black spider web jasper.

So I've applied this thinking to some of my own designs this week - looking at elements that customers like and are familiar in my work, but trying to streamline the processes to be able to offer a range of pieces at lower price points - I'm calling this range my Credit Crunchers.

I'm also re-photographing some earlier designs to give their shop pages a new lease of life.

It's early in the process yet, but I already feel pretty good that this is something worth doing - none of us have any money and whilst I'm still keen to stretch my ability and make progressively sophisticated work - I think there's still a place for pieces that I can make more quickly by streamlining the amount of processes and in using more modestly priced materials.

I don't aim to compromise my work or customer service ethic in any manner, but there are other ways in which I can make savings for the customers.

Monday, 1 August 2011

A leisurely approach proved very productive

I think the aspect of being an on-line sole trader jewellery maker that troubles me most, is finding the time to do everything that's necessary, properly. I never come close to doing everything I plan for any given week.

When you do everything yourself from designing, making, managing web sites and selling venues, marketing, photographing, packing orders and speaking directly to customers - there are just never enough hours in the day and the luxury of time to just tinker with design ideas and new pieces is somewhat limited. Yet I'm also mindful that constantly developing my skills is essential too, so pushing myself with new ideas is actually a necessity.

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

One of my favourite spots at Beacon Fell. I've photographed this scene many times and have never quite yet captured the shot the way I want to. You walk through a very dark corridor of trees and on sunny days, the clearing at the end of the path positively glows as a beacon through the darkness.

Last weekend, we decided to just turn our backs on the long list of chores and took ourselves out for the day, got some fresh air, had a walk and a picnic and thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, that we planned the same for this weekend, but on Saturday we felt it was a little too hot for the walk we'd panned (and we couldn't go too far as he was on-call) and decided instead to just potter in the garden. We got our planned walk when it was a little cooler on Sunday.

Some dramatic lighting when the clouds broke after a dark dull spell during our evening walk earlier in the week.

We don't seem to have been able to enjoy eating in the garden as often in recent years, the weather has never seemingly been suitable on days we're about and we've really missed the luxury of a leisurely breakfast al fresco, something we both really enjoy and value. So we started the weekend as we meant to go on. We did have to laugh however, our quiet slow-paced peaceful breakfast outside was accompanied by the most enormous cacophony of sounds - lots of coming and going and car doors slamming, someone had a chainsaw going, some workmen were up ladders and shouting to each other, an alarm had been set off, even the weekend steam train passing blew it's whistle several times. So whilst it was enjoyable, it wasn't that peaceful.

Chunky molten Sterling silver drops. I decided for security (due to the weight of the pebble) to spiral the earwire at the back and make a decorative feature of it too.

So having decided to stay at home and just potter, once the essential chores had been done, he set about finishing his book and I wanted to work on some ideas I'd had for myself - much of which I could plan and work on in the garden.

I had intended to polish the molten pebbles of silver very smooth, but once pickled, it was clear that they had the beginnings of a reticulated surface and I rather liked the tiny ripples, so only polished for shine, not to smooth them too far.

As I have long and messy (dragged through a hedge backwards my mother calls it) hair, wear glasses and often walk wearing ear buds with my MP3 player, adding dangly fiddly earrings to the mix does have the potential for painful entanglement. So for a while I'd been planning on making myself some plain studs from molten nuggets of Sterling silver. As I'd used the best of my stash of molten nuggets on recent pieces, I was due to make some more for stock anyway.

I made the largest of the nuggets into plain studs, also leaving the slightly reticulated surface in place. These pebbles are 9mm (0.35") in diameter, so a decent weight and size.

But as is often the case, my mind took on a journey of its own and I ended up working rather differently than my initial thoughts and I think the results are all the better for it. I made myself a pair of molten nugget drops in the end, I decided that they suited me better slightly dropped below my earlobe and then made another slightly larger pair to sell, as well as a large pair of plain studs.

The fruits of my leisurely afternoon in the garden - the smaller back pair are for me and the other two pairs to sell.

I also had an idea for a customer order who wanted big chunky wraps above the faceted labradorite beads she'd chosen, which called for me to abandon my leaning towards really tightly controlled work and wrap them somewhat more loosely than my usual style. I liked the results and made another pair to sell too.

Faceted Labradorite with chunky triple wrapped tops in Sterling silver.

So having set out to spend the time leisurely in the garden, I actually had a very productive (and most enjoyable) afternoon - much more so than if I'd sat down with work I had to get done. And I've always felt that when you enjoy making something, it shows in the work; pieces made under pressure or sufferance are rarely your best work. Perhaps I need to decide not to do anything more often.

I also got on a roll in the evening with photographing recent pieces and made a nice big dent in my backlog, including the rosebud knot earrings to match recently blogged pendants, a finished bracelet that I'd totally overlooked and a darkly oxidised variant of a stock bracelet I usually sell in a slightly lighter 'antiqued' finish. Now I need to sit down and write descriptive text for 11 new items to list for sale! Wish me luck.

For some reason, I'd made this bracelet some time ago, but it had been overlooked in my 'backlog waiting to be photographed' box. This is a finer more delicate version of the ones I've previously shown.

Two different designs of rosebud knot teardrop earrings to match my earlier pendant design - I wasn't sure which approach I preferred, so finished both pairs.

Whilst re-making this design that I usually aim to keep in stock, I oxidised one version darker than the antiqued finish I normally offer it in, so will add this as an alternative finish.


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