Enameling Class

I can’t keep myself away from my neighbourhood jewelry studio! I’ve taken a few classes at Jewel Envy: Introductory Fabrication, Introductory Casting, Intermediate Fabrication, and recently I completed an 8-week course on enameling. I must admit, the look of enameled jewelry is not really my first choice for pieces I’d like to wear, but I just love being in the studio and learning new techniques so I thought, what the hell, let’s try enameling.

Enameling is really just coating metal in melted glass by applying powdered, pigmented glass in fine layers and firing the piece in a kiln until the powder melts and fuses into a smooth, glossy coating.

This is the chevron necklace I made.

Copper & enamel chevron necklace

copper & enamel chevron necklace

I’ve currently got a thing for turquoise blue and red in combination, apparently, as I used it for two of the pieces I made in this course. For the piece below, we were learning the cloisonné technique, in which fine copper wires are fused perpendicularly onto a copper base to create ‘sections’ into which different colours of enamel can be applied. The word cloisonné actually means “partitioned” in French. As it turns out, bending wires into shape is harder than I thought (which is actually a pervasive theme running throughout my entire experience learning how to make jewelry — *everything* is harder than it seems). Those triangle sections could be more uniform and even, but whatever – I’ll leave uniformity and evenness to machines and factories.

Cloisonne pendant

Enamel pendant using the “cloisonne” technique

Below are a few practice pieces I made in the first couple of weeks of the course. The purple heart key ring is for my young niece, and I made it using a technique called sgraffito (from the Italian word meaning “to scratch”. Bonus to taking this enameling course is that I have added arcane vocabulary to my paltry European language skills.)  I applied several layers of pink enamel and fired each one, then applied a sparse sprinkling of purple enamel and scratched away some of the purple to form the initials, then fired again. The black & yellow cedar leaf outline was done using the stenciling technique: I fired several layers of yellow enamel, then I applied the ‘stencil’ (in this case, a sprig of cedar) and sifted black powdered enamel over top, removed the stencil and fired in the kiln. I seem to have been playing with just adding a fine sprinkling of enamel on the last layer in these pieces; looking at them now, I should’ve gone for the gusto and put a full coating of colour on for the last layer — that might have looked better. But these were all first-time experiments.

Enamel pieces

The blue and yellow piece is kind of interesting, in that I accidentally produced a piece that showcases the three different finishes it’s possible to achieve with enamel, depending how long you fire it for. The smooth, glossy finish you see in the other pieces takes the longest firing time, but before it reaches that stage the enamel goes through two earlier stages: ‘sugar’, where the enamel particles just start to slump and fuse but they still have a powdery, crystalline texture (see the white bits in the close-up below), and then ‘orange peel’, where it starts to melt even more but hasn’t quite smoothed out fully and retains a slightly pitted surface like an orange peel. My instructor said she’s tried to get a sugar finish but has never been able to pull it out of the kiln in time, as the enamel only stays at the sugar stage for a moment. For me, it was just accidental luck, as I was underestimating how much time the piece should be in the kiln for fear of scorching/oxidizing the piece. I used a combination of stenciling and sgraffito on this piece, starting with several layers of blue fired to gloss, then stenciling on some yellow, scraping some lines away and firing to orange peel, then finally sprinkling some white on top and scraping lines away, and firing to a sugar finish.

sgraffito enamel: sugar & orange peel finish

I love the vibrant colours you can achieve with enameling but I can’t help but think that my pieces just look like made-in-China baubles. I don’t mean to be all self-denigrating but truly, I haven’t seen all that many enameled jewelry pieces that look like “fine” jewelry to me. Maybe it’s because we are used to enameled things that are made in factories and available for cheap? Or maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. I’m not sure. What do you think?

The final piece I made in the enameling course is a double layered pendant: the bottom piece is enameled and the overlay is a silver geometric cutout.

Silver & enamel medallion

It’s a riff on the bracelet cuff I made in another class:

Silver Geometric Cuff

The bottom layer started off purple, and then I decided to add a sort of gradient sprinkling of fine silver powder for the final firing. What I didn’t know was that the purple enamel somehow reacts with the fine silver when fired and turns yellow! Here’s a pic of the underpiece when it was purple (it looks quite red in this pic, but it was actually more plum-coloured), as well as the silver overlay in the early stages of piercing & cutting.

silverenamelmedallion1

Here’s what the purple piece looked like after firing with fine silver particles:

silverenamelmedallion3

I think the unintended yellow is actually alright — it’s a nice neutral, understated tone. The fine silver powder would’ve really popped against a purple background, but the universe was not going to allow for that, so who am I to argue? The universe wanted a yellow necklace!

silver_enamel_medallion2

Now that the enameling course is over, I’ve signed up for another lost-wax casting course. (You can read about the jewelry I made in my first casting course if you’re interested.) Stay tuned for the results of my attempt at creating a silver-and-pearls ring in a few weeks (*fingers crossed*). Thanks for reading!

Suzanne Somers Likes My Dress

Who remembers watching endless reruns of Three’s Company?? (Go on, admit it. You can’t lie about your age forever.)

Three's Company

Today I met Suzanne Somers (pictured on the left, in her role as Chrissy) at an event for work at which her husband was being honoured with an award. Anyway, I was introduced to her, and she said, “I love your dress!” I was wearing this one that I made:

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Dude, Suzanne Somers likes the dress I made. Fucking awesome. I am so not above being excited that a 70’s TV star gave me a compliment on my dress. I told her I made it and she said she used to make a lot of her own clothes, as, she said, “it was the only way to get new clothes.” She was friendly and gracious and the whole thing was pretty cool. (If you’re interested you can click to read more about this dress pattern.)

Funny to look back at the premise of the show by today’s standards: three roommates, one of them male, trying to hide the fact that they were living together because a single man living with single women would have been absolutely scandalous. Huh.

Right, so I’m thinking if I can attract one star’s attention with my handmade dress, there’s no reason on earth why it couldn’t be Lenny Kravitz next, RIGHT? Or maybe I’ll set my sights just a tiny bit lower to start, and see what’s possible with the guy that invented the Dyson vacuum cleaner — I have a big nerd crush on that guy. Because by god, who WOULDN’T love a man who’s made it his life’s work to invent a vacuum that doesn’t lose suction???

The Nip-and-Tuck Saddlebag Dress

Why would anyone want to add a little saddle-bag action to their dress at the hips? I’m not sure but this seemed like a good idea many months back when I picked out Burda’s Jersey Dress, 10/2013 #112, to sew.

Burda V-neck dress 10/2013 #112

I think the saddlebags are just fine…but, I haven’t got much going on in the hip area in the first place.

Burda V-neck Jersey Dress 10/2013 #112

I started sewing this dress a long time ago, but it got put aside into the Too Frustrated to Deal Anymore pile*. I had everything sewn together except the sleeves…but the armholes were a big hot mess, all floppy and clearly way too big. I cut a 36 and it came out huge; I spent a LOT of time nipping and tucking and hacking back and resewing to get it down to size. In fact, I have two leftover pieces that I *think* maybe were supposed to form part of the skirt (who knows? Burda’s instructions will never tell), but apparently weren’t needed after all the reduction surgery.

Burda V-neck Jersey Dress 10/2013 #112

My favourite thing about this dress is this beee-yoooo-teeful ponte knit print fabric I found at my local Fabricland. Score! I was very worried I had squandered it all on this pattern until I finally was able to finish sewing it reasonably well despite the sizing and extra pattern pieces challenge. One armhole is definitely still off — I have to give the sleeve a tug every once in a while to get the shoulder seam to sit in the right place — but I haven’t got any idea how I might have fixed that better. It’s worth it to me to do the tugging-at-my-dress thing to be able to show off this gorgeous jewel-tone blue fabric.

Burda V-neck Jersey Dress 10/2013 #112

waistflapdress4

Just look at this fabric!

Here are Burda’s variations on this pattern. I love them both for different reasons. The pink version (#112) looks so soft and lovely I just want to wrap my arms around the woman wearing it and whisper in her ear, “My dear, soft creature, why are you wearing shoes that are clearly 6 sizes too big for you?”

Burda V-neck Jersey Dress 10/2013 #111

And this military-style version (#111) is right up my alley…if you’ve seen my recent makes you know I am a sucker for any type of colourblocking or contrast trim. It has an exposed zipper up the back which also makes me happy…in theory, at least. I don’t have a happy history adding exposed zippers to jersey dresses.

Burda V-neck Jersey Dress 10/2013 #112

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*So what’s in your Too Frustrated to Deal Anymore pile? I’ve put a few half-sewn things into Time Out there. I’m finding if I wait long enough, I surprise myself with what’s in there, and get inspired to try to finish something off. Here are some of my things currently in Time Out:

This peplum biker jacket. The sleeves are painfully tight and need to be ripped out and redone. I also used a shitload of fabric glue to stick those faux-leather strips on (I haven’t stitched them yet), and they’re all stiff as a board now. I don’t know if I can soften up that glue or not. We’ll see.

bikerjacket2

This jersey dress. The neckline is one hot floppy mess. Must rip out neckline and resew, if the fabric will take the abuse.

Burda Cap Sleeve V-Neck Dress 06/2014 #102

This snake-print tent dress. This is actually the pattern that got me started sewing again a couple of years ago. I wandered into a fabric shop in Portland, Oregon and for some strange reason was inspired enough to buy this pattern even though I hadn’t sewn for at least ten years. When I got back to Toronto I found some similar snake-print fabric and cut out size 10 (the smallest size), and proceeded to sew up a two-man tent with room for storing firewood. This thing is gigantic. It needs some serious reduction surgery. But am I really going to wear a snake-print tent dress? Really?

NewLookTentDressPattern

Blog Hop!

I was nominated to participate in this blog hop thing by Raphaelle over at Deux Souriceaux (thank you, Raphaelle!). She paid me the nicest compliment I could’ve wished for which is that she said I’m “smart and fun”. How did she know that those are way up there on the list of how I’d like people to perceive me? Awesome. Anyway, the way this blog hop is *supposed* to work is that highly organized people manage to respond to their nominations within a week and post their response to a set of questions on their blog the following Monday. Ha. In my world it works like this:

1. Be flattered and excited that someone wanted to nominate me to talk about my blog and think “for sure, I can TOTALLY write a response for next Monday!”

2. #RealizeImAnIdiot

Right. So here is my post, late as it may be, and definitely on the wrong day….

“Why Do I Write?”

A very good question. Truth is, I’m not sure. In trying to answer this question I asked myself whether I actually like to write. I’m not sure I do. I know I like to write when what I’ve written turns out to be interesting and funny, but that doesn’t happen all the time. Maybe I write because I am a little obsessed with collecting, categorizing, and cataloging…when I make something, I have to keep some kind of record of it to satisfy my anal retentive impulses. (Discovering Ravelry was like a dream come true for me, what with options to catalogue all my knits and even the yarn in my stash. Except I couldn’t keep track of my sewing and jewelry and other things on Ravelry.) So, writing about my makes on a blog seems like a good way to keep a record of my process and outcomes. I guess writing is a necessary means to an end for me!

“What Am I Working On?”

Currently I am working on knitting a friggin’ sweater that is taking *forever*. It’s Milla Mia’s Vanessa Cable Cardi. I really like the cabled zigzags on the fronts, but what a lot of cabling on every right-side row. I’ve been at this since July. And how much would I rather be knitting this in the colourway shown in Milla Mia’s photo? After working with this taupe and burgundy for a while I’m not feeling terribly inspired. This one should be finished in time for the 2022 winter Olympics in Kazakhstan (or whatever other unlikely country the IOC desperately manages to get to agree to host while most other countries quite sanely say NO). Oh, that is, if my local yarn store manages to get in the special order I placed in July for yarn I will need to actually finish this. YES, I started a sweater without actually being sure I will ever be able to get ENOUGH YARN TO FINISH. That’s me in a nutshell.

Milla Mia Vanessa Cable Cardi

Milla Mia Vanessa Cable Cardi

Vanessa Cable Cardi - my version in progress

My version, in progress

“How Does My Blog Differ From Others in its Genre?”

I am interested in a lot of different creative practices, from sewing and knitting to jewelry making & silversmithing and even wearable electronics and 3D printing. So perhaps that mix makes it a little different? Or maybe just a little scattered? Ultimately, though, I share something in common with a lot of other blogs I read — a passion for creativity and an excitement to share that passion with others.

“How Does My Writing Process Work?”

Hmmm, something like this, I think:

  • get an idea for something to write about (or finish creating something to write about)
  • procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate
  • spend time seemingly doing nothing except cuddling with the cats, knitting, or sitting in the backyard with a cup of tea (but really during these times my mind is ruminating, often subconsciously, on the thing I want to write about or create)
  • take photographs — my writing depends almost entirely on having decent-quality photographs to go along with it, since I’m usually writing about an object or a garment I’ve made
  • Usually when I’m editing the photos is when I’m finally able to pound out the writing, often in one go. I’m sure I could use some sober-second-thought editing but I find it very difficult not to hit the Publish button as soon as I’m done. I’d probably be more careful about proofing and editing if I were writing for any other reason except for fun.

Now it’s my turn to nominate two others to do this blog hop thingy!

I’d like to nominate Olgalyn from O! Jolly! Crafting Fashion with Sweater Knit Fabrics. I only recently discovered her blog but it’s very intriguing. She’s a knit designer and off-handedly mentioned in one post that she used to be in an electronic art music ensemble “known for building/designing/performing with original music synthesizers”. Cool! Would love to hear more about her and her blog.

I’d also like to nominate Metalsmithing Poodle. I enjoy following her posts about learning metalsmithing in art school, where she created some truly amazing pieces. I like that she’s so open about sharing her post-graduation struggles: finding her place in the world, and the place of art-making in her life. She’s also into Parkour — how cool is that?

Hop on over to their blogs and check them out!