Friday 30 April 2010

Maintenance time!

While B and a friend were playing the garden this afternoon I sat out on the decking watching them (and playing referee every now and then as you have to do with four year olds) and wire wooled and oiled my bangle mandrels, disc cutters and doming block and punches. It's not exactly a clean job, but it's an essential one, especially as my workshed is, well, a shed and can get a bit damp at times. I use olive oil rather than three-in-one oil or anything more technical like that. I know that there sometimes a fair bit of, shall we say, heated discussion about what you should use for the job, but I've been using olive oil for a couple of years now on these tools and it does the job well - and it also helps my very dry hands!

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Tutorial Tuesday - Cutting Jump Rings

All jump rings start off as a coil of wire, but there are several different ways of cutting that coil into the separate rings. The simplest is to snip them off one at a time with wire cutters, but this takes a while. You also have to remember that one side of the cutters results in a sharp rather than a flush end to the wire so you need to keep turning the cutters round and snipping off the sharp end. I find it a lot quicker to use a blade, and the trick with this is to find a way of keeping the coil together so that you have something to hold onto while you're cutting. This is the method that I prefer and teach my students.

Wire can be coiled round almost anything round - pencils, knitting needles, wooden dowels. I make so many jump rings in various sizes that I invested in a set of mandrels that came with a drill chuck on a stand with a handle. It makes turning the coils much quicker. Whether you use a similar set up or wrap the wire round the coil by hand make sure that you keep each turn as close and neat to the previous as possible to make it easier to cut later on. Keeping your thumb on the wire close to the mandrel helps with this.

Trim off the excess wire.

I wrap masking tape around the coil to help it keep together when I cut it. Without the masking tape the coil would get smaller as I cut through it and the separate rings fell off and it would get very fiddly to hold onto.

Thread the blade through the middle of the coil, making sure that the blade is taut in the frame.

Place the coil on the bench peg so that most of the coil is on the wood with a small place for the blade to run through the V cut in the peg. The mandrels I use have a slot at the end to hold the wire as I start turning the coils. The results in a piece of wire that sticks into the middle of the coil, and I place the blade in the bend of this wire to prevent the blade from slipping as I start sawing.

Holding the blade at an angle so that you are cutting the top rings first, start sawing! Make sure that you use nice long cuts and don't put too much pressure on the blade. This will help make sure that you cut smoothly. By the way, this is the only time that I hold my blade at an angle - I keep it upright for all other sawing work as this makes cutting curves easier.

While sawing the coil, hold it at the top with your free hand to help hold the coil together. I was taking the photo with my free hand!

Once you have cut all the way through, unwrap your new jump rings! There is always a short piece of wire from the top and bottom of the coil that ends up in the scrap pot.

Lots of lovely rings ready for tumbling to get rid of the burrs!

Better than Christmas

Look what Postie Paul has just delivered to my workshed (yes, he knows if where I'm likely to be if there's no answer at the front door!).....

And for an even better view...

Isn't it beautiful?! It's a Botswana Agate from Designer Cabochons - it's the first cab I've bought from them, and it certainly won't be the last! The quality of the cut is amazing.

Monday 26 April 2010

Picture Weekend

T's mum and step-dad have been visiting us this weekend, much to B's excitement! They went home this lunch time for a rest after being run ragged around the park and along Southsea beach. I was teaching on Sunday morning so they and T went down to Southsea and I joined them after lunch - we hadn't taken them there before and I'd forgotten just how much there is to do down there, especially for children.

We went to Gunwharf Quays for tea and watched the ferries and boats sail in and out of Portsmouth Harbour. It reminded me of coming home on the ferry after childhood summer holidays camping in France.

Of course I had to take the obligatory photo of B sitting on one of the cannons!

We still haven't been up the Spinnaker Tower - something for next time we have visitors!

And look what I finished!!
I am really pleased with how my Petrie has turned out. The yarn (Rowan Purelife Organic wool) was lovely to knit with.
Now, I just need to meet my other knitting targets and then I can spend my birthday vouchers on new yarn and cast on a new project - or two!

Saturday 24 April 2010

Work in progress

While chatting with my friend Helen last week (on the phone unfortunately as she still lives miles away up North - how's the house hunting in Reading going Hellie?!) we started talking about the Tutorial Tuesday post I did the other week listing just a few of the projects that are on my 'must-do' list - and then we started talking about all the projects that we both have to finish! We are both as bad as each other - Hellie had a complicated cross-stitch project while we were at uni that she only finished last year (we graduated in 1996) and I've got more than one knitting project that I have now decided to frog (rip out for those non-knitters amongst you) that I started either whilst pregnant with B or while he was a baby. The only one that I'm not going to frog is a maternity cardigan that just needs sewing together in the hope that I may be able to wear it one day!

Ignoring the projects that need ripping out, these are the four that I still need to finish - I thought that if I posted them here then it might shame me into finishing them, especially as a couple are so close to being finished anyway!

1. is a lovely top from Knitty - if you haven't been to this online magazine yet, you really must. Knitty is responsible for speeding up my re-addiction to knitting last year. I was searching for a free pattern for fingerless gloves, found Knitty and the rest is history! This pattern is called Petrie. I started knitting it on the way up to T's Mum's on Good Friday and cast off the back literally as we pulled up outside our house on our return. Not bad going! I'm halfway up the arm holes on the front, so I'm hoping to have it completed by the end of this weekend as there's not much seing up to do.

2. is this crocheted wrap - if you go and have a look at that post and compare the photos you'll see that I haven't done any more to this since October! My excuse is that it's a pattern that I really have to concentrate on so I can't do it in front of the television or in the car, which are my usual opportunities for knitting and crochet.

3. is my Chevron Tunic. I've finished the back since showing it to you at the end of March, but I haven't cast on the front yet. It's a relatively easy pattern to knit, but it takes a while.

4. is my guiltiest secret! I started this a year ago and it's been in this state since last summer! All I need to do is to knit the rib cuffs on the arms holes and the edges of the front pocket - but I keep putting it off as it means picking up and knitting several hundred stitches!

The thing is that there are, as you know, other projects that I really want to knit, and also I've just been given vouchers for John Lewis and Knits in the City for my birthday, and there are so many gorgeous yarns I could spend them on!! So, I've promised myself that I must finish Petrie and the blue long tunic and restart (ie work out where on earth I got up to in the pattern) the crochet wrap before I can buy more yarn or cast on a new project! Hopefully telling you lot will make me keep my resolution - what so you think? Can I resist temptation?!

Thursday 22 April 2010

Yes, I know...

I've been a bad blogger - sorry! The problem is that when I get close to a deadline I tend to forget nearly everything else and I think that I'll blog the next day, and then that turns into the next day, and the next - you see the pattern here? And I haven't been well (nothing particularly bad, just a cough and cold I can't seem to shake off. Doctor says my immune system is low after spell in hospital last year). And it was my birthday on Friday. And I was ill on my birthday. And my college classes are coming to the end of their courses so there's lots of marking to be done. And magazine articles to be written. Need any more excuses? No? Good. Moving on then!!

It's not as if I haven't been busy - I really have, I promise! I've got lots of photos I can't show you yet as they're to do with a commission I've been busy with, but I've got a bunch of photos to edit for here and the website. These are some of the ones I've edited so far - I hope you like them!

Bonbon earrings
Everyone I showed these to said something along the lines of
"How sweet!"

So I've called them Bonbons.
They were inspired by Jane's crocheted earrings that I posted here
and in case you haven't got your copy of May's Beads and Beyond yet
go and get it now as Jane's written a fantastic masterclass
on making crocheted jewellery.

A rejuvenataion of a previous design.
The first one I made sold really quickly, so I'm really not sure why
it's taken me until now to make more!
This necklace will be a made-to-order piece and can be oxidised or shiny.

The new designs aren't quite on the website yet as I need to edit a couple more photos, but they will be on there soon - I'll let you know when!

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Tutorial Tuesday - Weekender Bag

This is going to be my next knitting project - but I'm not allowed to start it until I've finished at least two current projects!! I'm dreadful when I see a new project I want to do as I just want to cast on there and then, especially if I can use yarn I've already got in my stash, but I need to be stricter with myself about finishing! I think I'll have to post pictures of my WIPs, as if I show you, I might be shamed into finishing them!

Anyway, I thought I'd show you this great bag as Hilary (the designer - you can find her blog at came up with a really cool and very easy way of adding handles and a gathering closure at the top of the bag using a belt and recycling an old handbag. I've managed to get what I need from one of the local charity shops, so below are my materials ready and waiting - but only to be cast on when I've cast off AND sewn up at least two WIPs! If you'd like to make your own, you can find the instructions here!

Don't worry though, I won't make the materials wait outside on the bench -
they can come inside until I'm ready for them!

Monday 12 April 2010

Picture Weekend

It seemed like a three-day weekend this week as T had all but the last part of this afternoon off - we managed to fit a lot in!

Building super-dooper train tracks - of course!
Some of this is the train track that B got for his birthday last December. Each time we make a track (virtually every day!) we think it's the best ever, but we seem to surpass ourselves the next time!

Painting the garden fence - no it wasn't child labour! B said he wanted to help, but the photo really shows as far as he got before he asked Daddy (who was clearing out the shed) to help him change his painty clothes so he could play with this....

....while I finished the job!
(well, finished that section of fencing, anyway. You can see the trickest bit of what's left behind B. Think we might have to take the panels out to be able to paint them)

Not too bad for an afternoon's work!

Today we went here for a picnic and a runabout.....

Royal Victoria Country Park, in Netley Abbey just outside Southampton.
We are really lucky to have so many beautiful areas to visit so close to home!
(the photo, by the way is from here)

Shells collected from the beach

Warm enough for sandals - but I was pleased that I took my warm cardigan!

We ended the trip with and ice cream and the bouncy castle - but not at the same time obviously!

Tomorrow we get back to a bit of normality as B's childminder is back from her holiday and so I can work during the day without asking Mum and T to help out! I've been working in the evenings, but I've got a lot of hammering saved up to do tomorrow as I don't like to disturb the neighbours with that in the evening.

I hope you all enjoyed the weekend, and that it was sunny where you were! (be warned - it won't be sunny at the end of this week as it's my birthday - it has been known to snow on my birthday!)

Thursday 8 April 2010

Think I need to tidy up......

No, I haven't picked up all my tools and thrown them about the workshop - this is the state of my workbench at the end of this afternoon's work. I'm off to tidy up, and then take some photos so i can show you some of what I've made!

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Tutorial Tuesday - head pins

Head pins are definitely an essential when it come to jewellery making, and I go through tonnes of them for earrings, pendants, bracelets - everything really! I started making my own as soon as I bought my first torch and realised just how easy it is, and I always teach my beginners classes at college how to make them - most people are expecting the process to be a lot more complicated than it is.

I thought it was about time that I did a photo tutorial on making head pins for the blog - so here it is! Once you get started you'll wonder why on earth you ever bought mass-produced head pins, as you can use this method to make pins in whatever length and from whatever gauge wire you wish.

You will need:
  • sterling silver or fine silver wire - I am using 0.4mm sterling silver wire in this tutorial as that is the size that I use most often for earrings, hanging charms off bracelets etc. I also make a lot out of 0.8mm wire for pendants.
  • wire cutters
  • reserve-action insulated pliers
  • small blow torch
  • fireproof surface to work on e.g. tiles, firebrick
  • quench pot
  • safety pickle, pickle pot and brass tweezers if you are using sterling silver, or your preferred method of cleaning the oxidisation off sterling.
  • a means of polishing your finished headpins - I prefer to use a polishing tumbler
Cut your wire into the length required. I have cut my wire into 4cm lengths to make headpins that are approximately 3.5cm. I also put aside leftover pieces of wire from other projects and scrounge through my scrap pot to find suitable pieces of wire - nothing ever gets wasted!

Make sure that your torch and quench pot are positioned so that you can leave your torch running while you drop a head pin into the water without endangering your hand!

I prefer to hold a bunch of wires in my left hand ready to be picked up by the tweezers in my right. I make big batches of head pins (at least 100 or so at a time), so this tip saves me time.

Light your torch. Hold a piece of wire in your tweezers, about halfway up, and put the bottom tip of the wire just in front of the blue tip of the flame. This is the hottest part of the flame. As the wire melts it will ball up and 'roll' up the wire. I move the wire about a little while it melts, as I find that this helps it to get the smoothest ball possible. Getting a nice smooth ball will take practice, and it is easier to do with thinner gauge wire than thick. If you use really thick wire (1mm or more) you will probably have to use a bigger torch than the one shown, and may have to file the ball slightly afterwards to remove any craters that have formed - although the craters look good in the right design!

Once the ball on the end of the wire is the right size remove it from the flame - but not too quickly otherwise the ball will not stay nice and smooth. I move it away from the blue tip while keeping it in the flame, and then remove it.

Quench your headpin and make another one! I usually make a whole batch and then pop them in the pickle pot to clean. If you are using fine silver you will not have to pickle the head pins - the oxidisation is formed when the copper reacts with the oxygen and heat in the flame, and fine silver has no copper content.

I polish my head pins in my tumbler as it's easy! It also hardens the pins for me, which makes them slightly easier to use in my opinion. Mind you, finding the last few in between the stainless steel shot can be fun - I can still be finding the last few several days later!

One last tip - some people find it helpful to dip the wire end that is to be melted into some flux before putting it in the flame. I don't do this with 0.4mm wire, but it does help to make the balls as smooth as possible when I'm using 0.8mm or thicker wire.

You would not believe the number of photos we had to take of the silver wire melting to try and show you what I was describing! Thank you Mum - and you thought you were just coming over for a cup of tea and a chat!

Saturday 3 April 2010

Easter Flowers

Happy Easter! I hope that you are all enjoying your long weekend!

We've had a fairly relaxing, family weekend so far. It was T's Mum's birthday yesterday so we drove up North to met up with everyone from his side of the family (two grandparents, three sons and wives (including T and me, obviously) and four grandchildren) for a long lazy early evening meal at a local pub. All the children were really well behaved, and we had a great time. B was thrilled to see his eldest cousin again! There's only 7 months between the two boys, and they get on brilliantly. It was the first time we'd met our newest niece - she's gorgeous, and fell asleep in my arms!

I've spent this afternoon editing photos of new products and uploading them to both my website and to my notonthehighstreet shop. Here are a couple of them, and there will be more to come at the beginning of next week!

I've shown you the Full Bloom necklace before, but I've added more stone choices now - you can choose from aquamarine, citrine, iolite (my personal favourite - such a beautiful rich purple) and turquoise, but if you fancy a different stone let me know!

And some pretty earrings to go with them. These swing gently as you move your head, and are lovely to wear. They have the same stone choices as the necklace, and I did have a turquoise pair to show you but they got sold before I photograph them - not that I'm complaining about that!


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