Friday, 15 September 2017

Jeweller Interview with Sasha Garrett

Sasha Garrett's jewellery is incredibly striking. When you see it, first it catches your eye. Then you notice how beautiful and professional it looks. And then you wonder just what gem those amazingly coloured stones actually are made from...

Fordite Pendants set in Silver by Sasha Garrett, against a fordite backdrop

The bold and beguiling colours are set into artfully simple silver settings and are dazzling examples of bold jewellery. But, still, just what are those gemstones?

If you're similarly intrigued then do read on as in this interview, Sasha will explain everything including just who Jacques and Gibby are...

How long ago did you begin making jewellery and what prompted you to start? Are you self-taught or have you attended classes?

I've made jewellery since I was young (I love sparkly things and my personality type is very much a doer) but got into it properly in 2005ish when I did several terms of evening classes in silversmithing at a local college. That covered the basics and had much more of a club feel to it rather than taught course with objectives - we could turn up, use the equipment and bounce ideas (and problems) off each other, if we got stuck the tutor was there to help. Since then I've used blogs and youtube videos to fill in the knowledge gaps as required.

Where do find ideas for your designs and how do you develop them into the finished piece of jewellery?

I tend to be lead by the colours and patterns of the stones I use so there is normally lots of laying combinations out together to see if they work and shuffling them about until I get it right. At the moment my computer desk has disappeared under beads whilst I work out which murano beads from the stash go better with tanzanite and which with apatite. When I've made my mind up it will get moved round to the work bench for construction.

I love to travel and my boyfriend has many stories of me pouring over trays of gems and haggling in markets for cabochons and beads (he prefers it when I buy the already cut and polished stuff rather than the heavier rough slices as he has to carry it!). So I tend to buy when I find something interesting and figure out what to use them in later rather than designing first. This does mean I have quite a stash but I have sold pieces 'off plan' when people have chosen their stone and asked me to set it like something I've already got made up.

Fordite Cufflinks, finished and a work in progress, set in Silver by Sasha Garrett

What is your workspace like? Is it set up exactly the way you want, a work in progress or a kitchen table?

I share my workspace with Jacques the faux taxidermy cow head and Gibby the zombie gibbon (aka 'the artistic directors') and other mementos so its very much a reflection of me and if I'm being honest its a bit of mess (an organised mess with not an inch to spare but a mess none the less) so I'll go with a work in progress. I have a dedicated work room but would love some more space to have a photography area with proper lighting and a lapidary zone (screened off to keep the muck under control).

Where did you discover fordite and why did you decide to incorporate it into your jewellery?

For those who have never come across fordite it is layers of cured car paint that built up as a by-product of old spray painting processes which are no longer used.

I fell in love with it about a decade ago when I read an article in The Times. Its not just the colours and patterns but also how it reflects the changing fashions of when it was made, it's a little bit of social history. Back then the jewellery making was just a hobby but I knew I wanted some for me so made a chunky ring and some cufflinks for the other half and then thought nothing more of it.

When the jewellery became a business I went back through the stash and found the few cabs I had left from doing that and made another pair of cufflinks, they were much admired (and sold pretty quickly) and I started getting questions about whether I could do rings or pendants. I realised that I wasn't the only one who appreciated its uniqueness and set about finding more so that I could produce a whole range of pieces.

Fordite is quite rare here in the UK (we stopped producing the rough material by the mid 80's but I have a dwindling stash of what is known as Dagenham agate) so I buy the rough from the USA and cut and polish it myself. I'm stockpiling at the moment as supplies will run out at some point (it's already been described as rarer than diamonds) and prices are creeping up.

Fordite set on a Sterling Silver Hollow Ring Pendants by Sasha Garrett

How does working with fordite differ from working with traditional gemstones? And which is your favourite to work with?

I do love some of the more traditional stones, I have a soft spot for malachite and opals but fordite is definitely my favourite. In terms of handling it is similar to softer stones like opals but it comes with a couple of drawbacks; with traditional stones you can normally be certain of getting a standard range of shapes and sizes whereas with fordite the cabochons are free-form and you have to buy what you can get rather than being able to shop around for what you want. If you go wrong you can't phone up a supplier and get a replacement! Every setting has to be made to fit the piece's unique undulations and getting pairs for things like earrings and cufflinks is unusual and one of the reasons I learnt how to cut it myself.

The other drawback compared to the traditional stones is that not many people know about fordite - I'm working on changing that - I sound like a broken record at craft fairs explaining about it but it pays off and I have converted many people to its charms. That is much harder to do online which is reflected in the rate of sales.

What jewellery making tools could you just not do without, and what is still on your wish list?

I wouldn't be without my P1000 autobody wet and dry paper; I shape the fordite by hand with saws and files but its not until I get to this stuff, used wet, that the colours and patterns really start to appear and I know if it has been worth the effort.

My wish list consists of buying the end of my neighbour's garden and putting a work-shed on it (shed is a bit of a misnomer I have visions of solar panels, lots of insulation, storage shelves, veranda for sitting out on, a hedgehog box, tea on tap). And more fordite, always more fordite.

Fordite Earrings set in Sterling Silver by Sasha Garrett, against a fordite backdrop

What is your favourite part of making jewellery?

I still get a kick out of seeing people wearing my work and was recently told a story of someone showing off a 'specially commissioned ring by a local jeweller' at a party and someone else looked at it and asked it if was 'a Sasha Garrett?' (it was). I don't like to think of my work languishing in jewellery boxes.

What is the best tip or advice you've been given, in jewellery making or life in general?

I'm always worried that I'll sound like a fortune cookie if I go giving advice. Life has thrown me rather a lot of curve balls over the years and I've always landed on my feet so I work on the principle of 'never be afraid to try something new'. It's working well for me with both the jewellery and life.

All photographs in this post ©Sasha Garrett

Thanks so much for answering those questions, Sasha; I really enjoyed reading your replies and I hope other people did too.

Do check out more of Sasha's jewellery at the links below:

Shop - Folksy
Facebook - Sasha Garrett
Pinterest - Sasha Garrett


Click here for other jeweller interviews.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Book Review - How to Make Jewellery by Mary Helt

How to Make Jewellery - Easy Techniques and over 25 Great Projects
by Mary Helt
published by Pavillion Books, 2017
160 pages

Book Review - How to Make Jewellery by Mary Helt - SilverMoss Jewellery Blog

One Line Review

A wide-ranging introduction to making jewellery with beads of various materials is a little let down by a lack of photographed instructions.

First Impressions

The cover of this book is rather excellent and easily persuaded me to pick it up. It's bright and fresh with muted colours of turquoise, terracotta, and white and a well-designed title graphic that is nicely integrated with the photo used. This led me to feel the book was modern and vibrant and the layout and designs within would, hopefully, be the same. On picking the book up and flicking through its pages the layout looked pretty traditional for this kind of project book but the vibrancy seemed carried through into the photography and the designs themselves.

At The Start

The Contents page is simple and text-based, and shows that the book contains designs based around sections on Stringing, Wire Wrapping, Polymer Clay, Textiles and Advanced Techniques. Each section contains five different designs.

Following this is a brief Introduction from the author and then a section on Tools and Materials, which covers Basic Equipment and includes information on and photos of the tools needed for each section of jewellery making covered in the book. The photos are a nice touch but would be more helpful if the individual tools pictured were numbered and related more clearly to the text.

In the Middle

Each section has a few pages of techniques at the start of it. For example, the section on Wire Wrapping has photos and instructions on making different types of loops, and the section on Textiles goes into detail on needle felting, embellishing, and making crocheted-covered beads.

The projects that follow are labelled as easy, intermediate or advanced and a mixture of all are included in each section.

A list of materials required is clear and simple to follow. The instructions for each project are in the text and, whilst these are detailed, they are hampered by having no photos displaying what is being described for each stage. Instead the only photograph for each project is one or two showing the finished piece. This is a little unfortunate especially if the book is being used by a beginner, but I always find photos or images of the 'making of' stages of individual projects are exceedingly useful.

It's worth saying that this lack of images isn't carried through into either the techniques pages near the start of each section, or into the section on Advanced Techniques, where photos accompany the instructions for each of the projects - this seems to me to be the most successful section by reason of these extra images; although the projects are more advanced the photographed steps are also easier to follow and understand.

At the End

The book finishes with a glossary and index and a very nice page or two on resources, with details of mainly UK suppliers, and also some web site addresses for learning resources.

In Summary

Covering a wide range of different techniques and styles of jewellery making this book is a good introduction and I particularly enjoyed learning more about fabric jewellery, as well as the advanced techniques section. The techniques displayed at the start of each section were helpful and often included handy hints, which are often a good source of more specific information.

However the lack of photographs to go with the instructions for each project left me feeling that the book could have been far better than it was, just by their inclusion. This absence of photos would dissuade me from recommending the book to a beginner beader jeweller. If you're a little more experienced then you might gain a lot more from its pages.

How to Make Jewellery - Easy Techniques and over 25 Great Projects by Mary Helt


For another jewellery book review, check out my thoughts and feelings on Practical Jewellery-Making Techniques: Problem Solving by Stephen O'Keeffe


Please note, this post contains affiliate links, which cost you nothing if you click through but may make me a few coppers if the stars are right that day... For more info check out my about page.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Jewelled Web - September 2017 - Link Love

September is still summer. No, really, it is. It is summer until October. That's how it works with me. And if you say 'Well, the weather's not so good now, so summer is over...' then my reply is 'Well, the weather hasn't been good for much of summer anyway. What's the difference? None.' Sorted.

But I can't deny that the seasons do seem to be shifting a little around the edges - a few leaves have fallen already (mostly green, but falling all the same), the flowers are showing up less, and spiders are (nearly) everywhere!

Links below are guaranteed spider-free...

~jewellery links~

I love this challenge! Jeweller Kim Thomson is recycling one piece of silver for 100 days and making it into something new every single day... see the items she's making on Instagram.

Speaking of recycling silver, here's some handy hints on what to do with your offcuts.

Being a professional jewellery designer - an interview with Josephine Tournebize.

A couple of years back I followed this tutorial to make a wire prong setting for a faceted gemstone. My own attempt involved an unfortunate incidence of silver melting where it shouldn't, but this is still a detailed guide for an effective setting. I shall return one day...

I've been watching some You Tube jewellery videos lately - I've come to these quite late as I've always preferred being able to see all the steps, and images of each step, before I decide to commit the time to following something through. And, as you probably know, some You Tube videos are very long because much of the information you want is hidden away after a long and frustrating preamble. But this three minute clip is extremely useful and to the point and if you want to know how to set corners on a gemstone bezel - as I did - then I highly recommend it.

A handy page of downloadable conversion charts covering such topics as saw blade sizes and cleaning gemstones to the ever-useful wire gauge sizes chart...

I adore looking at other jeweller's workspaces. Mine is, at present, an old kitchen table that is too small and in a very awkward position. It's also often shared, which isn't ideal. But when I see other workspaces then I get to dreaming of what might be some day... so here is Tracy from Cinnamon Jewellery's wonderful workspace.

~non-jewellery links~

An excellent Etsy interview with Carol from Kabinshop who makes beautiful ceramics (and a little jewellery too).

A whale playing with dolphins, video taken by a drone.

Different photo file formats and when you should use them.

You may have seen Jodi from One Million Lovely Letters in the media recently, if you're in the UK. Her project, which basically is sending love and support by way of hand-written letters (remember those?) is really quite wonderful.

Flying in the high winds - no wings required.

We may not have had the kind of total solar eclipse experience the USA has had last month but these space travel posters are still quite wonderful wherever you are.

The robots that are changing the world - or may do, anyway (video).

A binman in Bogota collects books thrown out as rubbish, has set up a library in his own home, and loans the books to children.

~latest reads~

Moving on from binge-watching box sets, I've discovered binge-reading and have just finished the second book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series, Hollow City. The first, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, was great fun. Library of Souls (book three) is next... If you know nothing about them, the books are full of (genuinely) old photographs of slightly peculiar people and are as fascinating as the text.

The Rings Book by Jinks McGrath has proved very useful to me of late and is an excellent resource.


Here's hoping that September really is still summer...but have a good one whatever the clouds are doing.


Sand dunes, grass and sea photo taken by me - it was warmer than it looks!


If you're looking for more links, jewellery or otherwise, then take a look at my Jewelled Web from October 2015.

(this post includes a few affiliate links (in the 'latest reads' section)  - please check details here for more info.)

Friday, 25 August 2017

Photos & Photobucket & Unwelcome Changes

A few years ago I made a decision for my blog which now turns out to have been an almighty error and will take me many hours to fix. Of course, I didn't know it was an error at the time and thought it was the right thing to do. I'd read it on a blog, you see, on more than one blog, so obviously it was a good decision. What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, I now discover.

What did I do?

I decided to move the hosting for images on my blog to another platform, which would then relay the images to my blog. I'm sure part of my reasoning for doing this was the battles I often seemed to have with Blogger (my blogging platform) and a feeling that a different way of managing visual content on my blog might be a fix.

And it was until now. I developed a system of editing my photos, shrinking the size, and then uploading them to the web and linking them to the blog post in question. Sorted and relatively simple.

The platform I chose to host my images was/is Photobucket, one that was often mentioned and recommended by those helpful blogs I read. Photobucket have recently, and abruptly, changed their terms and conditions, and the service of hosting images on other sites has gone up from free to $399.99 per year. Pretty much overnight. And retrospectively, meaning that all the images I've previously uploaded using their service will most likely disappear at some point to be replaced by an image like one of these.

In fact, you may well have seen this image on other blog, auction sites, craft sites, and chat forums, as I was not alone in using Photobucket for image hosting and am also not alone in finding the new cost prohibitive and the rapid introduction of it, with no warning, a little lacking in courtesy.

I'm going to slowly move my images away from Photobucket and have decided to let Blogger handle them again and see whether a few years break has given me a bit more experience and/or allowed Blogger to iron out any of those glithes I used to experience.

So if you visit one of my older posts (all posts after this one should be fine and dandy) and discover the images are looking a little typographical, shall we say, then the reason will be that I've not got around to fixing those ones yet. But I will.

A lot of people have been very angry at Photobucket for both the introduction of the change with no warning or preamble, and the price of it - from what I've read this seems to be quite a high price for this type of service. I'm frustrated and disappointed but some of the reading I've done on the topic has been interesting - a frequently held view is that we've come to expect the web to be free (I'm talking about the content here - I'm well aware  that line rental, broadband access, and the devices used to actually get online are all rather expensive and a long way from free and get slightly annoyed when some people don't appreciate those costs are not insignificant - but I digress) and yet much of it isn't and that much of it is used to generate income, jobs and wages. The theory is that advertising, which was meant to help keep things online free, isn't covering the costs companies and business need it to and that other avenues are being explored.

I can't really argue with someone wanting to be paid for a service, and if I find the cost too high, as I do here, then I can choose to walk away, which is what I'm doing. Yes, it's annoying. The rules have been changed, and fast. And yes, it is going to take me a lot of time and effort to ensure my images will display correctly. But it seems the web is perhaps a more fickle place than I previously thought and so I will bear that in mind in my future interactions with it...

This also shows how important it is for all of us who use images online to back them up and remember that they're our responsibility to look after. This also goes the same for blog posts and probably nearly anything at all you put online - it's wiser not to trust that it will always be accessible to you, with terms and conditions that don't alter and systems that don't change. If it matters to you then keep a copy (or ideally two).

If you've also been directly affected by this, then you have my sincere sympathy. Unfortunately I know of only two options - either pay the subscription or do what I'm doing and slowly and painfully move your images. After a little searching I have found a detailed post from blogger Lauren Wayne about how she's trying to deal with the problems created, which is worth a read.

In the meantime, thanks for reading this and please bear with me while I update those photos.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Jeweller Interview with Becky Pearce Designs

Becky Pearce Designs jewellery photo - SilverMoss blog
It's fair to say that for a long time now I've admired the jewellery of Becky Pearce Designs, mainly for the sweet-shop-hued gems and the artful simplicity of the silver settings that brings out the best of those rich colours.

The clever use of birthstones to make beautiful jewellery and, in particular, the wonderful stacking rings that Becky specialises in creating show both her flair for design and wonderful consistency in finding a very good idea and then sticking with it.

I do hope you enjoy this insightful interview - do check out Becky's Instagram page for more of her photographs and for excellent work-in-progress images and find links for her shop and other online sites at the end of the feature.

How long ago did you begin making jewellery and what prompted you to start? Are you self-taught or have you attended classes?

I started making jewellery back in 2009. I took an hour long earring-making class at a bead shop in Kingston, and immediately caught the bug. The great thing about jewellery making is that you can start with something relatively simple like threading beads and making loops with wire, but there are so many different skills you can learn as you develop. You can never get bored. I've attended a few classes along the way, but I'm mainly self taught.

Where do find ideas for your designs and how do you develop them into the finished piece of jewellery?

I tend to let the materials lead the way. My designs don't tend to be particularly intricate or detailed, and for new designs I pretty much just make it up as I go along. I do have a sketchbook where I note down new ideas, but they are not fixed in my mind, they're usually just a starting point to remind me of an idea, and I'll adapt and adjust as I go. I think I need to see things in front of me to judge whether I like it or not - I haven't got the brain power to do that from a sketch.

What is your workspace like? I've seen images of your studio (and am suitably jealous!) - is it set up exactly the way you want or still a work in progress?

A few years ago we turned our garage into living space, part of which is my studio and I absolutely love it in there. It was great to be able to get a worktop, sink, and extractor fan all built in. It's not perfect, it always feels a bit messy (I'm currently eyeing up tool boards which I'm hoping will help with that!) and it faces North- East so it doesn't get a huge amount of natural light, but it is my happy place. I am so very grateful to have a specific room for my work after years of having to work on the kitchen table.

becky pearce designs jewellery photo - SilverMoss blog

You talk on your site about listening to audiobooks and podcasts while you work - which ones do you recommend and which are your favourites?

Yes I have an audible account, so I get a couple of audiobooks each month - I go for the longest ones I can find to keep me going - it was the only way I was ever going to "read" War and Peace. In between the books I subscribe to loads of podcasts; I have things like TedTalk audio, Stuff You Should Know and In Our Time for when I'm feeling like being educated, Dirty Mother Pukka, My Dad Wrote a Porno and the BBC comedy podcast for when I want a giggle and The Small and Mighty Podcast, and Hashtag Authentic when I want to be business focussed. And then there are all the general interesting things like This American Life, S Town... honestly the list goes on. I'm always looking for new ones to add in too if anyone has any suggestions.

One of your key design themes is birthstone jewellery - when did you decide to focus on this? Which are your favourite gemstones, both to work with and in terms of colour?

Jewellery is such an amazing thing if you think about it. It can be traced back to the very earliest ancient civilisations and throughout it's history it's held a special meaning for the wearer. Even today in our modern world although we're not necessarily wearing carved gemstone amulets, jewellery does tend to be something we buy for a specific reason. We might treat ourselves to celebrate a special birthday, or to finish off an outfit for a particular occasion. We might spend time choosing something for a loved one; it all has that meaning, a story behind it.

For me birthstones just add to that layer of meaning. My birthstone stacking rings are my favourite things to make, as there is always a story behind them, and they are so special to the wearer as they represent their loved ones. It's such an honour to be a part of that.

My favourite gemstone tends to be what I'm working with at the time. I am so fickle! But I love those stones with a flash of colour like labradorite and moonstone.

What jewellery making tools could you just not do without, and what is still on your wish list?

I absolutely could not do without my pendant motor. My wish list isn't that long at the moment, I keep toying with the idea of getting an engraving machine so I can engrave names, dates, or phrases on the insides of the rings instead of hand stamping them on, but my customers seem to quite like the not so perfect, hand stamped look so I haven't gone for it yet.

becky pearce designs jewellery photo - SilverMoss blog becky pearce designs jewellery photo - SilverMoss blog

What is your favourite part of making jewellery?

I love batch making ring charms to go on my ring charm bangles. It's just so satisfying to get lots of things made all in one go. Oh, and that moment when after all the preparation, and careful setting up the solder flows perfectly and joins the piece together. It's like magic.

Your photographs are wonderful and your Instagram feed is quite beautiful - do you take your own jewellery photos and, if so, do you have any photography hints?

Oh thank you! Yes I take all of my own photos. For the jewellery shots I have set up a little corner of a table near the window to be my photography area. It's set up all the time, so I can literally just take a quick snap of a piece of jewellery when it is made which gets me taking more photos. I have both a daylight lamp, and a studio light there to make it a bit brighter on those overcast days.

Sometimes I get a little bored with the way product photos look, but I remind myself how important it is to have a consistent look. And at the end of the day it's the jewellery I want to highlight, not some fancy new background. I would love to get some more pictures of my jewellery being worn, but I'm finding that a real struggle to get looking right.

When did you start your website and blog and how much input have you had in their design? How do you look after them?

I started both my blog and website back in 2010. And I've just been working on a little revamp. The new website will be launched in mid August and I can't wait to share it with the world. I do all of the design and updating myself. It's part of what I like about having my own business... the fact that you get involved in all aspects of it. I even quite enjoy doing my tax return in a strange kind of way.

becky pearce designs jewellery photo - SilverMoss blog

Like many people now you're on several social media platforms; which one is your favourite and how do you use it for your jewellery?

I have two favourite social media places - Instagram and Facebook. Instagram is great as I love the sense of community on there, as well as all the photo inspiration. It's a place where I really feel a part of the handmade/ small business world; I used to get that sense of community from from Facebook too, but that has changed in the last year or so. Facebook to me is now primarily a way for me to connect with my customers, as opposed to other handmade businesses. I pop lots of work in progress pictures on there, so people can see their jewellery being made and my customers seem to really like that.

How do you find the balance between making your jewellery and marketing and selling it?

I do find that hard. It used to be that I would do the making in the daytime and do the marketing/ listing etc.. in the evening when I got a chance. But recently I realised that the marketing and admin is vital, and should be incorporated into my working day rather than being an add on in the evening, when my energy and enthusiasm is not necessarily at it's highest level. I'm still trying to figure out the best way to structure my day - as I feel guilty doing computer based tasks when there are orders waiting, even if they don't need to be made immediately.

How do you see your jewellery evolving over time? Do you feel happy with what you're creating or do you hanker after new styles or materials to experiment with?

I hanker after more time to develop new designs. I have a little sketchbook with ideas in, but orders keep my busy day to day. I am trying to carve out a little time each week just to play, and develop new pieces, but it does feel like less of a priority than keeping up with the current orders so I don't do this as often as I would like.

What is the best tip or advice you've been given, in jewellery making or life in general?

Just to get started. Don't wait for things to be perfect, or the time to be just right. Stop waiting and just go for it.

becky pearce designs jewellery photo - SilverMoss blog

All photographs in this post ©Becky Pearce Designs

Thank you for that wonderful interview, Becky, I really enjoyed reading it and I'm looking forward to exploring some of those podcasts you listen to!

To see more of Becky's jewellery then do take a look through the links below:

Website - Becky Pearce Designs
Shop - On Folksy and Ethical Market
Facebook - Becky Pearce Designs
Twitter - Becky Pearce Designs
Instgram - Becky Pearce Designs