Mar 212010

Just a few notes I wrote up for my Continuing Education students at Iowa Western Community College.  Copper is one of my favorite materials to use, and it’s great for practicing wire wrapping, because it’s softer and less expensive than sterling silver or other materials!

Copper is used as an alloy…sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.75% other metals, usually copper. This adds strength, but also causes the silver to tarnish more quickly.

Bronze is a metal made from combining copper with tin; brass is copper and zinc.

Copper will tarnish when exposed to oxygen. Make your copper new penny shiny again by using one of the following methods:

  • Polishing cloth – my favorite is Sunshine brand.
  • Tarnex – dip or wipe the piece, but use care if the piece has stones (no opal, turquoise, or other “soft” or porous stones). Rinse very thoroughly with clear water and dry.
  • Natural jewelry cleaner: 1/4c white vinegar, 1t salt. Put in a plastic container and shake to dissolve the salt. Add jewelry and stir around or shake gently. Rinse very thoroughly with clear water and dry.
  • Rub Ketchup on the piece using a soft cloth. Rinse thoroughly. – Combine lemon juice and salt and dip/rub on the piece. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Tumble in a rock tumbler with mixed stainless steel shot, water and burnishing compound (blue Dawn works well).


If you wear copper and it turns your skin green or black, your body chemical makeup has a high acid content. “Treat” your copper using a thin layer of Future floor wax, Renaissance Wax, or clear Krylon spray. Any treatment will wear off over time and will need to be reapplied.

If you have a higher alkaline content in your chemical makeup, you’ll naturally “shine” the copper that touches it!

Copper can be artificially tarnished (or antiqued) using chemicals or the natural sulfur found in hard boiled eggs. Tarnishing metal and then polishing the high points brings out the detail in wire wrapped and stamped pieces.

Verdigris is the green/blue patina that you see on copper outdoors (think of capital domes or garden decorations). Verdigris can be removed from copper, but like rust, it may have damaged the underlying surface.

You can buy copper wire at the hardware store.

Copper is alleged to have healing properties, especially for joint aches and arthritis.

Copper is probably the oldest metal mined and used by humans…when you wear copper, you are wearing a bit of history!

Mar 112010

After 10+ years of doing craft/art shows, I still have the occasional butterflies and nerves about a show.

Scenario:  new event on Friday…myself being somewhat OCD, I want to know all the details (who what where when how) as soon as I sign up.  It’s Wednesday night and I still don’t have them.

Last night, I had one of “those” nightmares about this event.  In my dream, I am parked several blocks from the venue, and when I try to set up, I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.  When I finally find that piece of information out, I start to set up, but discover I don’t have a table or any of my stock.  I run several blocks back to my car to get the table, but then realize I’ve forgotten something else.  Over and over again.

I wake up, panicking.  Even with all the checklists (and my 10+ years of experience) I have at my disposal, I don’t want to recreate the dream!  So what do I do?

Well, it’s Wednesday.  And the show is Friday.  Of course, I pack my car with the tables, displays, and stock I’ll need in two days.

 Posted by at 5:12 am
Feb 212010

I’m intrigued by the Steampunk movement – described as “Victorian meets Jules Verne”, Steampunk combines romantic elements with mechanics for an instantly recognizable design style.

Jean Campbell’s Steampunk Style Jewelry is the first book I’ve found that focuses on Steampunk jewelry…and it does a great job of doing so!   From the 20 projects, to Sidebars, to a Gallery of Designs, this nicely written, beautifully photographed book is well worth purchasing.

Steampunk projects are full of “found objects” – items you pick up in a flea market or garage sale – but Campbell includes a nice listing of supplies for projects at the end of the book.  You’ll probably end up finding Steampunk Style Jewelry offers more inspiration than “follow to the letter” instructions, but the instructions for each project ARE clear and easy to follow.  You find the goods – Jean and the other artists credited with projects will walk you through how to create cool-looking jewelry!

In addition to the great projects, I found the Sidebars to be extremely interesting.  Campbell has written great mini-articles about other facets of Steampunk, from Modding (modifying modern items) to music, films, and costumes.  Yes, the Steampunk movement is not just about jewelry…there are entire conventions that focus around the lifestyle!

Bottom line, if you find Steampunk interesting, pick up the book and be prepared for entertaining reading as well as giving you some great ideas.  At $24.99 US ($31.99 CAN), it’s chock-full of inspriation and information and a great value!

Feb 162010

I’ll admit it.  I have a thing for tools.

I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve spent on tools in the last 10 years since getting serious about my beading and jewelry making habit, but sometimes I think I have more tools than my husband.  (Not really…the man has an entire shed of them!)

So, what are my favorite every day tools?  In no particular order:

1. Ball peen hammer.  A nice little ball peen hammer works wonders on texturing my metal clasps, hardening them right along a slinky curve.  An economy model from Contenti has worked just fine for me for years.  Remember, if your hammer head is hitting your metal work, you want to keep it as shiny and scratch free as possible.  All those nicks and dents will transfer right into your work!

2. 16oz hammer.  This one is just a simple claw-hammer from Sears, but it’s great for smacking anything that really needs a smack.  When I’m stamping or cutting discs, this baby can’t be beat.  And at under $10, it will last a lifetime (provided your spouse or children don’t use it and never put it back!)

3. Crimping pliers.  A stringers staple, crimping pliers crimp beautifully and make your stringing projects look as professional as they can.  Plus, crimpers are great for picking up and closing those pesky little crimp covers…AND they are great for tucking the end of a wire in a wrapped loop right up against the stem you wrapped.

4. Smooth jawed pliers.  I prefer Wubbers brand pliers, but any smooth jawed pliers are a must when you are working with any kind of wire or metal.  Any teeth on the inside jaw of your pliers will instantly mar your metal and chew up your wire.  My favorites are bent nosed, chain nose, flat nose and round nose.  Okay, I love all of them. ;=)

5. Cutters.  True flush cut pliers are impossible to find (and expensive!), but you can’t beat a nice sturdy “flush” cutter for nipping beading wire or metal wire.  Don’t use anything but cutters designed for memory wire on memory wire or you’ll ruin them!

6. Polishing cloth.  I do consider this a tool!  I love Sunshine cloths…they are inexpensive (buy them at and last forever!  I like to include one as a freebie when I sell a piece of jewelry, or include in the package when I give jewelry as a gift.  Polishing cloths are also excellent for work hardening wire – if you need your wire a little harder, just run it through the cloth a few times!

7. Beading mat.  Probably didn’t expect to see anything this basic in here, did you?!  But beading mats, made of plush velour material, are essential for beaders, maillers, and metal workers.  Putting a beading mat down on your work surface will save you hours of chasing loose beads or jump rings, and it’s actually easier to pick up rings with a pliers off a beading mat!

8. Ruler.  Another obvious, but essential tool…I have almost as many rulers as pliers!  A large metal 18″ ruler sits on my work area so I can quickly measure wire, necklace/bracelet length, beading wire, etc.,  I keep a smaller ruler in a drawer by my computer so I can measure the length of a pendant or clasp when I’m listing an item on Etsy, and I carry a tape measure in my purse to take down the wrist size of a co-worker who asks me to make them a custom item.

9. Sketch pad and writing utensil.  I have lots of these scattered around as well…I never know when I’m going to see or think of something inspiring, or hear about a cool web site on the radio.  My sketch pads are filled with doodles and notes…sometimes they make sense, sometimes I scratch my head days later and wonder what I was thinking!

10. Tumbler.  My essential tool, now that I work primarily with metal.  I use my tumbler to finish pieces, to work harden pieces, to clean up pieces I wear.  Fill the barrel with mixed stainless steel shot, water, and burnishing compound (a squirt of blue Dawn dishwashing liquid works well!) and tumble for anywhere from 30 minutes to several days.  Your work will come out scratch free, shiny, and gorgeous!

Feb 162010

Sterling silver, fine silver, argentium silver, copper, aluminum, bronze, brass.

I use all of these metals (and more!) when making my jewelry…and a recent conversation with one of my friends (a fellow Karate Mom) made me think that while the characteristics and properties of different types of metals may be second nature to me, my spouting off “.925 silver”, “.999 silver”, and “sterling versus fine” might closer to a foreign language to others!

I thought I’d start with a quick primer on silver, one of the materials I commonly use, along with answers to some of the most common questions I’m asked.

Silver is shiny, but it’s not all equal! Pure silver, like gold, is much too soft to use on it’s own for jewelry. Alloys are added to the silver to strengthen it, resulting in a “less than pure” state.

Sterling silver is comprised of 92.5 parts pure silver and 7.5 parts alloy, usually copper. Because of the relatively high copper content, sterling silver will naturally tarnish when exposed to oxygen and other elements, such as humidity. Sterling silver is usually stamped or marked with “.925” to identify it.

Fine silver contains less alloy than sterling (99.9 parts silver, .01 parts alloy), so it tarnishes much less quickly, but is a lot less durable than sterling.

I generally use fine silver only for components that don’t have much stress on them (headpins used to hang beads from earrings or dangles on necklaces or bracelets) or for links I know will be hardened by hammering. (Hammering is soooo therapeutic after a long week at the day job, it’s a wonder I don’t have ONLY hammered pieces!)

Argentium (pronounced AR--TEE-UM) silver is desirable because it combines the best of sterling and fine silver into one metal.

Approximately 1% of the copper alloy used in Argentium silver is germanium, which doesn’t oxidize as quickly as copper. Argentium silver still has 92.5 parts silver, so it’s strong like sterling, but tarnishes very slowly, like fine silver. Argentium is fairly new to the jewelry making world, and is more expensive than sterling silver, but does make very nice jewelry!

Some of your work is BLACK or really dark, but you’re telling me it’s real silver! What’s up with that? I use chemicals or natural oxidizing agents to artificially tarnish and antique some of my pieces. Complex wire wrapping especially looks great when it’s been oxidized – makes that wrapping pop! All my oxidized pieces are polished in my tumbler for at least 12 hours, then hand polished to finish them off to a perfect sheen.

ACK! My jewelry doesn’t look pretty and shiny any more! What do I do? Cleaning and care of your jewelry is something I’m frequently asked about. If (okay, WHEN) your silver jewelry starts looking a little dingy, or even (shudder) has a yellowish tinge, use jewelry cleaner, a polishing cloth (I like Sunshine cloths) or Lynn’s Super Secret Jewelry Cleaner* to get it sparkling again.

In extreme cases, you can even use Tarnex, but be VERY careful…it’s strong stuff, so use it sparingly! (Plus it smells horrible.)

You do need to be extra cautious about cleaning any jewelry that includes porous stones, such as dyed stones, turquoise, opals or pearls…liquids can potentially damage them! When in doubt, use a polishing cloth.

Okay, what’s the super secret recipe….
Shhhh…it’s a secret! But since you asked, here’s an easy and natural jewelry cleaner that you can make at home!

Combine 1c white vinegar and 1T salt. Stir (or shake, I’m not Bond, so it matters not to me) until the salt is dissolved, and drop in your jewelry. Swish it around for about 30 seconds, remove, and RINSE THOROUGHLY in clear, cool water. Dry (I use a ShamWOW!…they are great for drying jewelry!) and admire how shiny it is!

Hope this helps you to understand silver a little better.

 Posted by at 12:08 am
Dec 292009

Just found out that the Rings N Things “Your Designs ROCK” contest is accepting entries beginning January 1, 2010!  Early entries get a great perk – if your entry is received before February 3, you’ll be entered in a goodie giveaway!  Additionally, first time contestants are entered into a special drawing as well.

Wondering what to make?  Some info straight from the source:

  • 2010 categories are glass & crystal, gemstones & pearls, mostly metal, metal clay, and found objects/miscellaneous.
  • You don’t have to be a Rings & Things customer to enter. You do need to include a majority of parts in your design that are available from us.

Details are available on the Rings N Things web site. Contest deadline is February 28, 2010…so get working on the designs that rock your world!!!

(pssst….R&T has a great “5-day” sale going on through January 3!!  Check it out for fantastic bargains that you can use to create your contest entry!)

Dec 272009

Now that all the presents are unwrapped, the cookies are eaten, and the guests have all departed, it’s time again to challenge yourself with the annual Fire Mountain Gems jewelry making contest!

Those of us who love metal are in for a treat – this year, FMG has separated out the ArtClay, Metal Beads, Wirework and Chain categories into their very own contest.

Grand Prize is $1000 gift certificate…and there are also prizes for the first three placements in each category (see below)!  Your winning piece could even be featured in a future FMG catalog!

Contest categories:

Necklace: Let your ingenuity and creativity shine. The sky’s the limit on the number of strands, length or techniques used. As long as you can wear it as a necklace, it qualifies.

Bracelet: Showcase your best work with an innovative bracelet design and take this classic accessory to a new level.

Earrings: The right pair of earrings complete any look—from long, short, hoop, cluster, chandelier and every style in between. Create one-of-a-kind earrings that make a statement.

Home Décor and Doll: Bring jewelry-making into the home with throws, pillows, beaded chandeliers or centerpieces. Give porcelain, clay or soft dolls radiance as you dress them in beaded elegance or create from scratch with Kato Polyclay™.

Wedding and Holiday: Go beyond the traditional to create over-the-top wedding jewelry. Celebrate your holiday spirit through jewelry—any holiday is included (Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc.).

Fashion Accessories (including rings, brooches, hairpieces and accessories): There’s no such thing as too much embellishment. Incorporate beading into clothing and accessories with beaded embroidery, crochet, adhesives, knitting and more.

Looks like fun, but hurry!  Contest entry deadline is January 12,  just around the corner!

Dec 082009

A frequent question new beaders ask is “what is the best beading wire to use?”  I’ll admit, it can be confusing…there is wire, beading wire, seed bead thread (Nymo type), and different weights or thicknesses of all!  Here are a few tips to make sure you are using the best wire for your project!

1. Start with the right type of wire.

If you are stringing beads for a bracelet or necklace, you’ll want to use one of the multi-strand, nylon coated brands such as SoftFlex, AccuFlex, or Beadalon.  These are most commonly referred to as “beading wire”.   These wires are flexible and strong, and even under the toughest conditions, I’ve found they hold up well!

Seed bead projects will use something more like a thread or even like fishing line.  Look for brands like Nymo (thread), Supplemax or Fireline (monofilament).  Flexible and thin, they can be re-threaded through beads multiple times for complex seed bead projects.

Wire wrapping is the one type of project where you will choose actual uncoated wire.  Use fine gauge wire (24g or smaller) to attach beads to a wire frame or clasp.

2.  Select the right gauge and number of strands in your wire.

I’ll focus on stringers in this post…it can be confusing, especially if you are new at making jewelry!  As far as gauge goes, the best rule of thumb is to use the thickest beading wire that will fit through your beads.  Remember that at the end of your bracelet or necklace, you’ll want to run the wire back through one or two beads…so don’t make it too tight of a fit!

Another good general rule is to evaluate the weight and size of the beads you are using, and determine what size wire will work best.  Heavy beads, like the river rock and silver in the first bracelet pictured, need a stronger base.  I used .019 Accuflex for the tan bracelet pictured.

Lighter or smaller beads can use a smaller gauge wire – .014 beading wire was used for the pink necklace comprised of 4mm coral and glass beads.

When it comes to the number of strands in the beading wire, the more strands, the more flexible the wire.  So…49-strand (7 twists of 7 wires!) will be more flexible than 21-strand.  You will usually want more flexibility in a bracelet than a necklace, but 49-strand is a good pick for most projects if you are trying to limit the number of spools of beading wire you have on hand.

 Posted by at 3:20 pm
Dec 022009

It’s been a few years since I began making “mother’s bracelets” using engraved beads from Generation Gems.  I love their products, and their customer service simply cannot be beat!

My most popular design is a women’s bracelet, using hematite, Swarovski pearls and assorted Bali silver beads.  Neutral and understated, most of the folks who look at the sample I have of my own mother’s bracelet have a harder time pronouncing my daughter’s name than deciding on what style to order!

But lately, I’ve noticed a trend…can you believe guys like to brag too?!  Why yes!  I have more and more men who are interested in (and order!) my chainmaille version of the mother’s bracelet.

So I’ve started calling these Brag Bracelets, after a friend ordered one for her husband and used the term.  Recently, a client named Brad ordered his own version, using beads with the names of his children and his wife in a strong Byzantine weave.  I can’t wait to deliver it to him this week.

After all, Real Men like to brag about their family too. 🙂

Nov 282009

Throughout the year, I take photos of my work.  It not only helps me to remember what I did, but if I sell something, I can use the photos for “show and tell”!

Plus, it’s kind of silly, but I actually find it inspires me to look back and see all the cool things I’ve done in the past…I’ve looked at some of my pieces and thought “Hey, I really liked that!  I should make something similar again.”

Last year I made myself a calendar using the software that came with my HP printer.  I hung it up in my studio where I could be inspired all year long.  This year, however, I’m thinking about going a little higher tech and ordering a calendar through Shutterfly.  I’ve gotten posters and my daughter has created scrapbooks using her own photos,  and I’ve been amazed at the quality of the finished product!

Here’s a sample of the posters I ordered.  You do need to have pretty high quality photos to end up with a decent product, but the software will tell you if the photo you’ve chosen won’t work for a specific layout.  (I’ve found that changing the style or size of the photo layout may allow me to use a photo that was giving an error message in another layout.)

A great gift idea for a jewelry maker would be to hijack their computer for a day, create a calendar for them using photos of their work, and then watch their eyes light up when they see the calendar.  Whether you use Shutterfly or software you already have on your computer, it’s really thoughtful to give something so personal.

Have fun!