Thursday, 22 May 2008

Basic Tool Kit

This is for the girls from my Thursday night class at Spice Art Studios! We use a fair few different tools during our weekly sessions, and it's difficult sometimes to give lots of up-to-date information about the best places I've found to buy tools and findings etc (i.e. information about what I've found this particular week!) when what everyone really wants to do is play with beads, so I thought that I'd keep this post updated with new sources of tools. I won't put prices as they are bound to change over time, but I will only put links to sites that I know are reliable and offer good value.

The main tools that I use during the wirework classes are (clockwise from the top in the picture above):

Round nosed pliers - used to make loops and bends in wire and to help open jump rings.

Nylon-jaw pliers (two pairs of these shown) - ideal for holding your wire without scratching it. I use these for holding coils as I'm forming them, for straightening kinks out of wire and for helping to flatten down small loops. They come in different sizes. The nylon pads do wear out over time (as you can see from the purple pair!) but it is possible to buy replacement pads.

Flush cutters (2 pairs shown) - These are sometimes called side cutters. I find flush cutters the best for giving a close cut as possible. They are usually the first tool to wear out. The exception to this are my lovely Lindstrom cutters that I bought from Cookson Gold which are engineering grade cutters and so sharp! They have a lifetime guarantee, but you do pay for the privilege.

Crimping pliers (2 pairs shown) - used for closing crimp beads when working with beadalon. I prefer the black nosed pair of pliers shown in the picture as these have a wider working area, but they are also more expensive. I have recently found a good site for them - The other type can be found at PJ Beads.

Flat nosed pliers - very good for gripping your work and findings, these are useful for helping to open and close jump rings and also for squashing closed necklace endings such as box crimps.

If I haven't mentioned a specific supplier for the tools listed above, than they can be found at the following suppliers. A couple of reliable retailers that I use stock tool sets that contain most of these tools plus a couple more. Jules Gems supply several different kits (in different colours!) at a good price, and the Nottingham Bead Shop and JillyBeads also do reasonably priced sets. The Nottingham Bead Shop in particular have a wide range of tools in 2 main price ranges - hobby and professional. PJ Beads (previously known as PJ minerals) also stock a good range.

These are by no means the only UK tools suppliers, but hopefully this will give you a good start in helping to build up your own basic tool kit!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


I use lots of different wire gauges in my work, and at the various workshops that I teach, and I often get asked about the best wire gauges to use for various jobs - so I thought I'd post here some of the information that I give out at my sterling silver wire workshops! Please do remember, though, that these are the wire gauges that I prefer to use - there's no law that says you have to use the same!

The first thing to bear in mind is that some suppliers sell wire by the gauge, others by mm diameter, and that, of course, the two do not match up exactly. From the research I've done on the web (aka browsing through various websites making wishlists of beads and wire) a general rule is that US suppliers, books and magazines use gauges, and those here in the UK use mm. Typical! The larger the gauge, the thinner the wire. Some of the common gauges, their diameter in millimetres and some of the jobs I commonly use them for are below:

16 gauge (1.29mm)
Very thick wire. I use 1.3mm and 1.2mm wire for the bases on my wire wrapped pendants (like those below), very strong clasps and for making the hammered rings such as those in the necklace below. 1.2mm wire is the thickest of the 3 wires that I use in my sterling silver charm bracelet workshops.

18 gauge (1.02mm)
Medium thick wire. I use this for clasps, wire wrapping beads with large holes and for making some heavier chains. 1mm wire is one of the 3 wires that I use in my sterling silver charm bracelet workshops.

20 gauge (0.81mm)
Medium wire. One of my favourite thicknesses! I use this for making earwires, headpins, smaller clasps and for wire wrapping glass beads. This is the thinnest of the 3 wires that I use in my sterling silver charm bracelet workshops - see the bracelet above for an example. 22 gauge (0.64mm)
Medium thin wire. My other favourite! I use 0.6mm wire for wire wrapping beads like Swarovski crystals and semi-precious beads.

24 gauge (0.51mm)
Thin wire. I use this for wire wrapping smaller Swarovski crystals, semi-precious beads with smaller holes and freshwater pearls. I also use it for making headpins.

26 gauge (0.41mm)
Very thin wire. I use loads of 0.4mm wire when I'm making my wire wrapped pendants and earrings! (see above and below for examples) I also use it for wire wrapping beads to tiaras, for making thinner headpins, for wire wrapping tiny holed beads. This wire kinks as it's so thin, so nylon jaw pliers are recommended. A bit more information for you from my workshop booklet:

Wire Hardness is described in the following terms:
Dead Soft wire is extremely malleable and can be bent easily, but it does not hold its shape well if a great deal of weight or pressure may be applied, such as with clasps.

Half Hard wire is malleable and does maintain its shape under moderate weight and pressure.
Hard wire holds its shape very well and is excellent for clasps, but it is far less easy to work with.

Wire does become harder as you work with it, and it can be made harder still by hammering it or by putting it in a tumbler with stainless steel shot for at least an hour or so, but if you make wire too hard it becomes brittle so don't leave it in the tumbler for too long! Think about how you would break a metal paperclip - I bet you'd bend it make and forth until it snapped. What you would be doing is hardening the wire at the bend until it became so hard it was brittle.

Okay, lesson over for today! And if you want to know more about my workshops see here!

Making my mark!

Now, my exciting parcel - on Saturday the first pieces that I sent off to Goldsmiths, the London Assay Office to be hallmarked arrived home! I applied for my own Maker's Mark in April and decided to keep it a surprise for most people until I got my first pieces back. The main person that I wanted to surprise was my Dad. He's an ex-Trading Standards officer and they're the people who enforce hallmarking and things like that in the UK, so I really just want to hand a piece to him and say "so, do you notice anything?". I think he was suitably impressed! I know that in theory anyone can apply for their own maker's mark, but in my mind having one makes me a 'proper' silversmith.

Anyway, this means that I can now start selling my pieces of jewellery with more than 7.78g of silver, as anything over this weight legally has to be hallmarked. This is why I haven't added things like my silver bangles to the website yet - they will be added very shortly! And if you'd like a preview of my hallmark (although you'll need good glasses for this!) have a look at the bangles above - no, they're not scratched, that's a hallmark that you can see! My maker's mark is my initials JRT inside an oval. So, Hannah, was your guess right?!

The parcel containing all my silver and hard work was actually supposed to arrive on Friday, but thanks to the Royal Mail van breaking down after it left Goldsmiths' on the Thursday afternoon everthing was delayed and the Royal Mail had no record of my parcel exisiting until Friday morning. That made me just a little bit upset (!), so thank you to Nichola who came round and gave me a hug on Friday morning! I really needed it!

Monday, 19 May 2008

A busy weekend - again!

Where on earth did yesterday go? I know exactly where Saturday went (my feet are still reminding me!) but yesterday went by in a bit of a blur. We did some work on the shed (on schedule to be in by the end of the month!) and some cleaning and tidying, but otherwise I think my brain was just recovering from Saturday. Now, don't get me wrong, I do enjoy craft shows (of course I do! I get to talk about beads and silver!) but by the time it gets to half an hour before the end I just want to be able to click my fingers and for everything to pack itself up so that I can go home and rest feet!

Anyway, hello to those of you who came along and said hello on Saturday. I hope you had a good day on the tractor rides, the village fete, the helicopter rides etc etc! We had our quieter moments in the craft marquee but all in all it was a very good day, and as I said, I got to talk about beads and silver all day! I even managed to make a couple of pieces, but they need to be polished etc before I show them to you. Mum and Dad were looking after B and brought him along for a while. Dad took a lovely photo of me holding B behind my stall, and as soon as I can get a copy of it I will show you!

On a completely different topic, Contrariwise, a fantastic US jewellery designer, came and visited the list of Barcelona bead shops that I listed the other day and has posted a great google map of the shops on her blog - go and have a look!

And last but not least - I got an exciting parcel on Saturday - I'll tell you more tomorrow as I need my sleep now!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Barcelona Bead shops

I meant to post this the other evening, but time seems to be running away from me at the moment! I've been asked a few times about where the beads shops are in Barcelona, so I thought that the sensible thing to do would be to list them on my blog - so here they are! I dare say that there are more shops than I've listed here, but it'll be a start on your beady tour of Barcelona anyway!

The best place to start is Barri Gotic, an area between Las Ramblas and the cathedral. There are several bead shops on Carrer del Call, which is just off Las Ramblas. Some are wholesale so take a business card with you in case they ask. Some of them are very small but have an amazing amount of stock, including some size stones that I haven’t seen in this country.

Casa Torres is a tiny shop in Barri Gotic on Carrer del Pi just off the Placa at the Cathedral. They apparently operate a ticketing system, just like the deli counter in the supermarket. They have a website at but it’s not finished yet. I haven’t been to this one – yet!

There’s bead shop called Rossello on Carrer de L'Hospital. If you are at Liceau Metro station , facing up toward Placa de Catalunya then Carrer de L'Hospital is on your left. You can also get to the shop if you walk right through the St Josep market (the amazing food market off Las Ramblas!) right to the back and then turn left. It doesn’t do any semi-precious, but has a very good range of plated findings, glass beads and seed beads.

Lastly, Marudama is on Carrer Verdi near Parc Guell. Another one that I haven’t been to yet!

By the way, if you see the sign 'vente al mayor' it means 'wholesale only'. That's not a problem if you by beads by the string as I do. I take business cards with me to show shop owners if they ask, but I've never had a problem. Do remember that the Spanish have different business hours than we do in the UK. I've found that the best time to find as many open bead shops as possible is early evening. I've also found it best to pay in cash, as some of the wholesale places will charge you extra (up to 25% extra) if you pay using a non-Spanish credit card as apparently the transaction is counted as a foreign export and subject to more taxes.

Have fun if you visit Barcelona, but please remember that I take no responsibilty for the state of your finances if you do visit the bead shops!

Turquoise heaven

I've been busy finishing off jewellery this week - lampwork and gemstone jewellery that I started weeks ago and then neglected for hammering and soldering! I've got a stall at the Sparsholt Countryside Day this Saturday (17th May) so I really did have to get them done.
It was only after I had taken photos that I realised just how many of them were turquoise! Here are my 3 favourites. The necklaces use lampwork beads by Mindy Macgregor ( - I love the retro look of her beads, and they also seem to be really popular with my customers! I've used them with sterling silver rings that I've hammered and soldered. I think that the turquoise and black necklace is my very favourite. The bracelet uses my hammered rings again (I love hammering silver) and some gorgeous large faceted amazonite that I bought in Barcelona.

Anyway, Sparsholt - we went as a family last year and really enjoyed it despite that fact that it rained! There was so much for B to do and see - I think his favourite was being able to sit in a real tractor! This year T is away, my parents are looking after B and I (with some fellow Wessex Guild members) am part of the craft fair. If you come along please come and say hello - and bring the voucher below with you! (You may have to copy and paste into word to be able to print the voucher out.)

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Barcelona beads

The Gothic quarter in Barcelona has so many bead shops! I didn't quite visit them all, mainly because the euro isn't good at the moment. I think if the exchange rate was how it was last year then I would have stocked up on beads for the workshops, but never mind! I did, however, bring home these gorgeous wooden beads. I'd been looking for some like it in this country and on the web for a while now so I'm really pleased I found some. They are really tactile and a lovely warm colour. I'm planning to use them with lovely shiney silver so I've got a contrast in materials. I'll let you know how they turn out!

I'll post a few photos from the holiday later - I won't bore you with many, I promise! In the meantime here's one that you may like - T took this photo of a poster in a pet shop in Blanes. What do you think? Will they catch on over here?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Yes, I know!

I haven't been very good at getting back to blogging after being away, have I? Sorry!
We had a lovely, lovely time - great weather, great apartment (for the money we paid!). Blanes was perfect for a holiday with Ben as everything we needed was within walking distance, except the train to Barcelona which was an easy bus journey. I'll write more later but I wanted to show you the treasury on etsy that I put together this afternoon.

For those of you who haven't visited etsy, it's a collection of online shops selling handcrafted or vintage goods and craft suppliers and you can find my etsy shop here. There's not much in it yet though - I've got so many photos to take and upload this week! A treasury is a temporary collection of items chosen by a member of etsy - anyone can put a treasury together as long as there are spaces, and that's where it gets to be fun! Etsy only allows new treasuries if the number falls below 333, so the only way to get one is to either work out when the number will be low enough and log back on a bit before then and wait or just happen to look at the right time - which is what I did!
As I saw the first butterfly in our garden this afternoon (poor thing, hope it's not out too early) and I've got a few butterfly pieces of jewellery to put in the shop this week I thought I'd fill my treasury with butterflies. If you fancy a closer look you can find it here for the next couple of days!


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