beading, jewelry, jewelry design

Untitled; completed 10-12-2019

I’ve completed another necklace, and though I do have all the tools I need to figure out how much it cost to make (in materials, at least), I haven’t yet calculated that out. What I know is that it wasn’t cheap; materials from four different strands of gemstones went into it.

Making this piece has reminded me of why I stopped working in stone and precious metal: it gets very expensive, very quickly. This is mostly due to the cost of precious metal parts. If I tried to circumvent this by using base metal, I would be stuck working in brass, copper, and silver-plate…which are all vulnerable to tarnish. The negative thing about silver-plate is that it can be worn off, for example, by polishing off that tarnish. For this reason, I’ve tried to work in sterling or gold-fill, where it matters most. (Using solid karat gold is so expensive that it isn’t a realistic option.)

This photo came out closest to true-color, likely because of the background…

The above necklace is a 21″ strand made of Aquamarine, Hematite, Pink Botswana Agate, and Dogtooth Amethyst. The clasp and strung beads are all sterling, except for the crimp beads, which are silver-plated brass; and the wire guards and jump rings.

Detail of the clasp area

I used crimps and wire guards to finish this necklace because I needed to use steel cable to string it (Soft Flex Medium weight, 49-strand). I don’t really have a good way to weigh it, not that its exact weight would matter, but it’s fairly heavy. Also, because of the width of the cable, I had to file down the insides of the holes on each of the sterling bead caps. I couldn’t use the round silver spacers at the very ends of the strands because they wouldn’t allow me to double back through the rest of the beads. Doubling back enables me to hide and protect the end of the cable, which would otherwise become an irritant to the wearer.

If I had just gone down a size in cable, there is a chance that the cable may have eventually worn through: gemstone beads, like “crystal” beads such as Swarovski and Preciosa, are known for having sharp holes, and with the weight of this thing, I wouldn’t have wanted to take the chance. If it breaks, that is, these beads are going to scatter. If I were to make this again, it’s possible I could have hidden small crimp beads on the insides of the bead caps. That would mean that if the cable broke, only a small portion of the strand would be potentially lost — if I could fit them under there.

Apologies for the lighting and failed attempt at color-correction. It looked better in-person.

I’ve…got to get better at digital photography. It doesn’t help that by the time I remembered to take photos today, it was after 6 PM, and the sun was setting.

I have more to say, but it’s unrelated to this. Right now, I’m tired and I need to get back to bed…

beading, beadwork, color, glass beads, jewelry design, seed beads

A very long beading design post…

I actually have been able to get some design work done, recently. Essentially, I was able to visit a bead store — like a real-life, in-person bead store. I’ve said before that I have hesitated to work with natural stones because things can get very expensive, very fast. That’s still true.

There’s also the fact that as I’m working, I realize that it isn’t entirely worth it to make things to sell…unless, that is, I’m using some leftovers of other projects that I otherwise would not. Because of the time it takes to design things, and the time it takes to construct things, and then unmake and remake projects as I revise the design…it costs me so much in time that what I make becomes prohibitively expensive, if I’m charging by the hour. I’d rather not be designing against the clock, especially when I could regain the money lost in design more easily, simply by going to work more.

In any case…I have an Amazonite puffed square cabochon that I got at a recent convention. It’s a pastel green with blue overtones, white-streaked, glossy, with a hairline fracture. I’ve decided to pair it with some Aquamarine 8mm rounds (pale green-blue, displaying some silver internal reflections; mostly otherwise opaque), and some Pink Botswana Agate 6mm rounds (pale salmon-pink, mauve and white, opaque). These are now the center, anchoring elements of this piece.

So essentially…I’m designing around a cabochon; particularly where it comes to color and texture. I am echoing the color and gloss of the Amazonite cabochon with the Aquamarine (which is slightly paler than the Amazonite), and contrasting that with a secondary supporting point in the Botswana Agate. That’s why the Agates are smaller than the Aquamarines. When working with natural stones, it can be hard to find them in usable shapes (other than rounds)…

When I got these home, I did start looking through my project box to weed out some beads that were too warm. I know that “warm” when it comes to blues, means “violet” tending (as violet is closer to red — green is considered a “cooler” color, though that’s counterintuitive to me); in this case, I weeded violets which were closer to Cobalt Blue (a deep, intense blue-violet when in glass). I kept greens and blues which were substantially greener, ranging more towards yellow. I also added a good amount of pinks, warm white ranging to pale gold, violet which is closer to red, ambers, and browns (“Smokey [sic] Topaz”, “Crystal Celsian”).

This was a generative task, not a selection task. It is, however, much more stimulating and inspiring than what I had before. The next task is to try putting some of these together; most of the designs that I’ve made which really made leaps in innovative construction, have occurred when I’ve just tried to assemble things in any way I could (keeping in mind that threads need protection, and that bugle beads, unless something is done to stop them, will easily shear thread in two: these are practical constraints). There has been a basic idea of what I’ve been going for, but it has often been abandoned as I found better ways to do what I’m trying to do…or an alternate path to success.

I decided to go for stranding as a possibility, as I’ve realized that a more complicated design is not necessarily a better design.

And the seed beads…

Having said that, I still want to try St. Petersburg Chain. I’ve been looking for some excuse to try it; I’m just not sure if this is the right project for it. I’ve separated out some colors of Czech seed beads which echo the Botswana Agate…but to be honest, they’re a little dull against the Japanese ones. For instance, I have an old tube of “Ceylon Lt Peach” (unknown brand, likely Japanese) 11/0 seed beads, which are just…brighter, than my Cheyenne Pink 8/0 Czech seed beads. I could still use them together, but I should not overuse anything too dull.

No, I don’t know why the half-hanks of Czech seed beads I have, are duller than the Czech fire-polished crystals I have…and the Czech pressed-glass SuperDuos and MiniDuos. When I got them, I was looking for a solid color throughout the glass, which is normally more resistant to fading, while sacrificing some of the bright colors of surface-dyed or color-lined beads (which are known to be more often susceptible to fading or other color change).

Note that I don’t consider surface dyeing (like the use of Sol-Gel) to be the same thing as a surface treatment such as Aurora Borealis (AB), Luster, Iris, Vitrail, Capri (I have some opinions about Capri’s durability…but, later), or Ceylon. At least, that’s not what I mean by it. I also realize that my Light Peach Ceylon beads may indeed be surface-dyed. It was so long ago that I didn’t think to mark the vial as permanent or possibly prone to fading. I probably also didn’t think that I’d be trying to remember any cautions at the store, 10 or more years later.

But no, I did not expect to find a clean, bright pink or a clean mauve-grey in an affordable stone, either. These both match the Japanese beads better.

There is, still, a range of quality, here…it’s important when buying stranded beads, to look for size uniformity (at minimum), unless you aren’t doing anything (like a beading stitch/weave) that depends on things being even. That is: not all “Czech” seed beads are the same quality. I’ve even seen half-hanks of beads with other beads of the same color stuck to their outsides, which look like there was paint that dried with two beads touching. (I don’t particularly like glass beads which look like they have paint on them…it’s a reason I don’t use a lot of the newer multi-hole beads.)

The only way that I really can even tell that they’re Czech (or from someone trying to pass themselves off as Czech) is either through the catalog description (when purchased online), or through the method of sale. Czech seed beads are generally sold stranded and tied together in bundles of 6 or 12 strands. Japanese seed beads are generally sold loose, in vials or bags. They have different brands, sizing regulations and shape standards…and apparently, at least somewhat different methods of attaining their colors, or a different aesthetic which causes the companies to aim to produce different palettes.

In buying beads at conventions, however…you may not know who made what, unless you ask. Vendors may also not recall their sourcing, on top of it (especially if they’re a Mom-and-Pop operation). Right now, I only know one rocaille (round, uncut seed bead) manufacturer from the Czech Republic, which is Preciosa Ornela. (I’m not counting manufacturers of shaped seed beads.) However, I am very sure that they aren’t the only game in town.

I also wouldn’t put it past other manufacturers to try and pass their material off as though it has the quality that “Czech” beads are known for. Though I intend only to use Japanese and Czech seed beads in my work, that doesn’t mean that my suppliers are paying attention to how their customers think about quality.

I’m thinking that some people would rather get a low price than a quality product. The problem with that: low-priced products can also easily be low-quality products, and I don’t know that anyone on the receiving end is overtly asking for anything more. Raised prices for low-quality products would mean that the higher-quality products win out because they are higher-quality (and then there is no reason not to buy the higher quality instead). You can see how that works.

I did, once, buy a terrifyingly expensive half-hank of Dark Copper (I’ll just call them that) 8/0s: $17 for 6 strands. Very even in width; uniform, beautiful finish. They get higher than that — for instance, when there’s a special metallic coating which requires gold — but in the majority of cases, they don’t range higher than $15-$20 per half-hank. My low end of the 8/0s is currently $4.25 for six strands of something that looks like Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, just in glass. Keep in mind, though, I don’t have a sample of Sleeping Beauty Turquoise here to compare and see if it’s any more intense; the beads just bring it to mind.

I got the 8/0s to make knotted bracelets. More on that another time, hopefully.

So, the half-hank of Cheyenne Pink 8/0s ($7.50 for 6 strands) are beautiful on their own. The only thing is, the Pink Botswana Agate outshines them and makes them look dull in comparison. With too many of the glass beads, I could also unintentionally dull down the stones. The colors in the stones are just much cleaner. Why? I really don’t know. I might have to be a chemist to know. I have seen at least one text on the chemistry of glass colors…and I am not interested enough in how they’re made, to go back into a hard science.

That’s another reason to buy stones that you can see in-person, before purchase, though. It’s much easier to mix-and-match a dominant stone against a wall of other stones and find a perfect complement, than it is to flip back and forth between online windows, or bring up multiple windows showing multiple products (and then hope the photography is reasonably true-to-life).

I’ve delayed posting this because I have wanted to add images…it would be of use to me to remember what this particular project box looks like. There’s a lot of information, that is, in just seeing what I’m dealing with (and how it differs from what I was dealing with before — which I did not photograph, because it was that uninspiring). Adding the pink and violet, along with that pale green, it helps a lot. They’re all unified, in a design sense, because they’re all pastel tones.

However, because I’m still in training at my job, I’ve been working a lot of the time, and studying, eating, and sleeping for a lot of the rest of the time. That is: I haven’t had a lot of time to write, much less to take and optimize photos. I was lucky I had time enough to go out on the weekend…

This current writing, I began on Sunday. I’ll get beyond the point of relevance, if I delay for much longer. The obvious choice would be to hold off on posting until Friday or Saturday…but this is aging in my consciousness, and nagging me and causing me to waste time filling it out further. I should post.

beading, beadweaving, beadwork, color, craft, glass beads, jewelry design

Brainstorming a new design

I’m back into jewelry design and beadwork! :D I was playing around with some cabochons last night and came up with a couple of designs. Right now I’m busy still collecting parts that I might be able to use for a necklace. By chance, I found a set of faceted glass rice beads from a really long time ago, that I ended up not using because they were too large and glittery. They might work well for the back of this necklace, though, at least so if I space them out. I’ve also thought of using beaded beads (beadwoven beads made out of smaller beads). Though that hasn’t gone anywhere yet, it’s still a possibility.

The alternative is utilizing a set of Amazonite beads which I haven’t bought, yet. Minimum size, 8mm in one direction, looking for a fluted oval (this is an oval with a square cross-section which twists). I’ve been looking around online, though unfortunately I don’t have a great catalog of stone suppliers, as I primarily work with seed beads. Most of the stones I have were bought a long time ago, with the exception of several cabochons. That, in turn, is due to the relatively high cost of quality natural stones, plus the fact that if I use one stone I often have to pair it with metal and other natural stones and crystals — as versus synthetic material like glass. That multiplies the cost of a piece, several times over.

Though I could use inexpensive suppliers from overseas…it’s really hard to trust mail-order. Especially mail-order from the other side of the world. I’d be looking at local bead stores and local conventions, first.

Also an issue here is the fact that with buying things like stones and pearls online, I don’t get to examine the goods before purchasing them…which affects quality significantly. It’s also a reason I’ve told myself that I am not going to buy any more (grubby) pearls online. And a reason not to buy cabochons online (I can’t tell if the base is all the way flat and if the shoulders are even, even if I can see the patterning in the stone via an individual listing). Even if stones look like they’re cut well, small unseen irregularities can appear through the sense of touch.

I still need to design the bezels for the main two stones, though I’ve worked out that I want to have multiple threads leading away from the upper one. I also know what the base row should look like, and that I’ll need to cement down the cab before beginning work (which I am extremely reluctant to do, especially as one is translucent, and I don’t know if E-6000 will cleanly release from a mirror-polished surface).

The upper cabochon is an aqua-blue puffed square Amazonite, and the lower is a pear-shaped Moonstone, which I feel is too valuable to glue down to something…but the alternative is to create a custom bezel out of Fine silver, which requires the use of fire. If also done for the upper cabochon, it also complicates the process of attaching that cab to the rest of the necklace.

I’m going to practice my beaded bezels on a couple of mail-order cabs I will likely not use for actual jewelry, because they look too much like googly eyes. I should try gluing down and releasing one, to see if I even can separate them. I don’t want to use 2-part epoxy. It sounds like heresy to do that to a Moonstone (and most of the time, I don’t care about heresy). I would really hate it — unless, it worked; or unless I could undo it, if it didn’t.

Right now the palette for the potential necklace heavily depends on Capri Blue, playing off of the schiller (rainbow) in the Moonstone and the aqua blue of the Amazonite. I’m also using white/Crystal (clear: I need to see if Rock Crystal [quartz] has a different refraction index than glass, and if so, do I want to use it instead [a quick lookup says yes]), Light Topaz (light yellow — which also appears in the Moonstone), and green (the latter, if the design needs a slight contrast — though I’m hoping it would be very slight).

I haven’t continued the design writ large from last night, given that I was busy earlier and needed to rest afterward. I also only remembered that I had Japanese size 15/0 beads in Capri Blue and Light Topaz, last night in bed. I find in my stash, limited amounts of size 13/0 Czech seed beads in Galvanized (metallic) gold, iris green, and a half-hank in pale pink; another in Galvanized copper. I might need those for the bezels.

I’m really not sure anymore that I want to continue using copper, as it tarnishes so easily…and I’m pretty much over nickel-free Antique Brass (although I have a project in-process that uses it). I should note as well that Galvanized colors often have issues with wear, where the metal rubs off. There are newer variants of it which sometimes do also contain the word “Galvanized”, but which are longer-lasting. The thing is, their names are brand-specific, so as with anything, do your research.

Last night I cleaned off all the earwires of my old earrings which I took in to a showing, due to concerns about the cleanliness of the venue, and to guard against too many bacteria getting into my piercings. I’ve decided — at this point — not to install the heavier-gauge earwires into my own ears. That’s largely due to realizing that I can go “alternative” with my jewelry in other ways, such as through the use of anodized niobium earwires (I found a good source), or the use of unusual color combinations. If I put in the heavy earrings, I’ll only be able to wear what other people make, or things that are like what other people make…and spirals seem to be becoming a bit cliché.

I have 12 pairs of earrings that I’ve made over time, that I consider successful. I also have a few more pairs which can be deconstructed and redesigned into other things. Getting them out of my jewelry drawer felt (actually) good.

One of those sets of earrings have what I believe are Bali sterling silver cones (they were sold by the Troy ounce, which likely wouldn’t have been the case if they were only silver-plated). They’ve never been the most convenient things to wear, because they’re heavy. I had been thinking of using them for this necklace, but right now — I’m thinking about a different transition between the front and back of the necklace (like buttons). Particularly, as they would be some of the only silver pieces on this necklace (aside from silver-lined beads).

Bali silver — last I saw — was notoriously expensive, but very recognizable, and very beautiful. The hard part is trying to find Bali silver beads without having to buy in bulk (by the strand…which, given the fact that they’re individually heavy, on strands about 18″ long, and sold by weight, obviously infers their expense).

AND…I’ve just realized that I have some white pearls here that I can use! They’re pretty old; I took them from a pearl and rock-crystal necklace I didn’t often wear (it was too formal). The pearls themselves might (still) be too formal, but there’s at least that possibility of use. I had also separated out some tiny green pearls last night (they’re about 3mm long), but I forgot about them until just now. There are also at least 12 slightly-green pear-shaped pearls I can use, but (unless I also undo my practice stringing, which I probably should) that will be the last of them.

I went through my (limited collection of) bugle beads, today. I’m not sure that I want to use them; bugles are notorious for cutting through thread (I would have to use Fireline or C-Lon). They also lend a geometric look to whatever they’re used in, which isn’t what I’m aiming for at all (it’s also a reason I shied away from Miyuki brand, this last time I bought beads: I just don’t like the machined look). They are in the right colors, though: Capri, Light Topaz, a warm green (though I may need a cool green, if I use green at all: I’m thinking, ocean, sky, sand, seaweed: in that order). I basically got them out so I wouldn’t narrow down my design options too much, at this beginning stage.

And…I need to get to bed. You didn’t think I’d say that, did you? ;)