Friday 25 November 2016

Six Things I've Learned Without a To-Do List

I've just done battle with some online Christmas shopping and forgotten passwords. I still have a scribbled list of gifts to buy and anxieties over getting it wrong. So I've come here for a change of scenery and some respite.

View down a long flight of stairs - 6 Things I've Learned Without a To-Do List

It's nearly the end of November which means its nearly December which means a mass of busyness and 'hecticness' and worrying about if you've bought/made the right gifts for the right people and if they'll like or appreciate them or even remember who're they're from by the end of Christmas day.

It also means 2017 is painfully, frighteningly close.

And it also means it's a time to carefully review the detailed To-Do list you made for 2016 in your very neat virtual/real notebooks, make insightful comments about what worked well, and then dream up ideas for the coming year.

Or, perhaps more likely, it's a time to wonder where the year went and how come you never actually got around to writing down any plans for this year. And so the possibility that you could have achieved anything must be equally remote.

If you haven't already guessed, the latter is a fair description of me. My life sometimes feels like a avalanche of chaos, tempered by mere minutes of clarity and resolve, which crumble so fast under the weight of overwhelm and lack of focus.

Obviously next year will be different... But then I tell myself that every year.

I didn't make a To-Do list, or even any notes, although I meant to do so. I had plans and ideas and hopes and dreams and then, as always, the reality of living got in the way. But I've become a little fed up at berating myself yet again and so instead am trying to look at not what I didn't do, but what I did.

I've come to realise that it's the little changes that make a difference. Like, for example, if you want to improve your diet then every time you don't buy a chocolate bar it's a win, even if it only happens once a week. It's still a step down the better road.

So here a few notes I'm making now about what I've improved on and learned this year. Don't worry, they're not long...

1) Make a decision, focus on what you're doing, & finish what you start

Okay, that might be three things technically but combined they can make a plan of any kind happen. When it comes to jewellery in particular, every time I begin to make something and then finish it, it's a win. I have endless small plastic grip seal bags of even smaller works-in-progress that, mostly, stay that way. So when I take an idea, focus on it, develop it step by step (see number 4, below), make it work by overcoming any and all obstacles (again, step by step), and then finish it, that's my win. It's even a win if I get one of those works-in-progress completed too.

2) Pay attention and take a break

The Pomodoro Technique has helped me with focussing and progressing no end. It basically carves time up into 25 minute portions. You set a timer for 25 minutes, and work on whatever you're doing for that period of time. Then you have a five minute break. And then you go back for another 25 minute section of time. It seems easier to turn distractions off when you're working against the clock and the five minute refresher clears your head; apparently if we focus on something for too long we start to lose brain power, even if we don't realise it. I sometimes decrease the times involved, but the principal seems to still work as well, the idea of balancing concentration with a little distraction.

This is a handy timer that I use online, but any timer at all will do.

3) Nothing is perfect

My jewellery is hand-crafted. I don't have that many tools. And I like the little signs of 'work' that remain on it, even when it goes into the 'Finished Work' box (yes, I do have a box labelled that, something I labelled this year to help with getting things finishing). Everything I make is individual and that's the joy of handmade; if all the tiny marks of uniqueness are removed from it, then it might as well have been made by machine.

And it's better to finish something than have a pile of 'not-quite-perfects' that are never completed...

4) Small steps make a path

Every tweak I make on improving the look of my blog is another win, even if no one ever notices it (I altered the font of my main text earlier this year, which pleased my eye no end but doubtless went unnoticed (as it should) by anyone who reads my blog).

Every minute I can spend on making jewellery can be productive. I often don't have the time to make a piece of jewellery from start to finish. Sometimes I don't have time to do pomodoros. But if I take a few minutes when I can and follow the simple steps I know I have to take, then I get to the end product, eventually. I find having a plan for more complex pieces, as well as a few simple ideas, means that I'm never at a loss for something to do, even if I don't have time to set up for soldering or polishing.

5) The web is a tool, not just somewhere to waste time.

I will probably nearly always have to remind myself of correct HTML or CSS formatting when working on my blog, and I think that's okay because that's one of the things the web is for - learning (even re-learning and re-learning again).

6) Try something new but not too often.

I always want to try something new; sewing, felting, model-making, watercolour painting, silver-clay... Then I have to remind myself to focus on what I am meant to be doing. But, sometimes, if what you're meant to be doing isn't quite working, then something new can provide a different and, perhaps, better focus... well, that's my theory.

I've used this idea over the last few months, relaxing more with my jewellery making, letting myself play with creating and using more beads (and colour) and less solder, and I've enjoyed taking the (self-imposed) pressure off. Sometimes a new space, whether physical or mental, is a good thing. As long as I remember to focus and not turn to another new thing...

How about you? What have you learned this year and how has it helped you? Do share in the comments as I'm the first to admit I need all the help I can get...

Okay, back to Christmas shopping for me.

PS. if you're looking for more distractions from Christmas shopping and/or working out what you did right/wrong this last year then check out my link love post from a couple of Christmases ago.

Friday 18 November 2016

One Amber Bracelet equals One Amber Bracelet and One Amber Pendant

I get a little nervous when someone asks me to adjust an item of their jewellery. Perhaps not quite as nervous as I get if some asks me to mend some jewellery, but still nervous. You only seem to get asked for help with items that mean a lot to the owner and non-jewellery makers, understandably, don't know any of the potential horrors that came come with trying to turn one size of jewellery into another...

Amber bracelet

I was asked to adjust a bracelet that was so large that the owner, despite loving the piece, was just unable to wear it without fearing she'd lose it. I said I'd look at it but made it clear that if I didn't think I could do the adjustment safely then I wouldn't do it at all. Given the bracelet in question was set with stones, and amber ones at that (an incredibly soft stone as I mentioned in this post), I felt justified in my apprehension.

On being given the bracelet and sitting down with it, doing some thinking and doodling some ideas, I came to the conclusion that I was able to do what I was asked, and that was not only make the bracelet smaller but also make a pendant out of the stone-set link that I would be removing.
Despite my anxieties when I actually picked up my pliers and piercing saw I was surprised, and pleased, at how easy (relatively speaking) adjusting the bracelet and making the pendant turned out to be.

Audible sigh of relief.

Amber bracelet and jewellery illustration

My initial plan had been to cut through two of the connecting links, as shown in my illustration in the photo above, but on looking more closely I realised the clasp hadn't been soldered on and so I was able to prise it apart from the bracelet. I then cut through a connecting link and removed that and the stone-set link next to it. The clasp was then reattached to the bracelet which was now one silver connecting link and one amber stone-set link smaller.

When it came to making the pendant I decided against attempting to resolder the connecting link that had been cut through. A little research showed me it would probably be an error to trust to heat protecting compounds to protect amber from a soldering torch, and the general advice was that the best option in this situation is to remove the stone from its setting, perform the soldering, and then reset the stone. As I hadn't set the stone in the first place I did not want to do this, especially as, like I said earlier, amber is such a soft stone and could easily be damaged both in removing it from the setting and when putting it back in. The connecting link is made from thick, work-hardened silver and I felt confident that it would securely hold the pendant on the necklace.

Amber pendant

I also decided against removing the extra 'loop' of silver that had connected the stone-set link when it when it was within the bracelet. This was mainly so that if the new size bracelet didn't fit (which was a concern as the stone-set links were quite large so the adjustment was kind of all or nothing) then it could be put back together again and a different option sought.

Despite my initial concerns at the request, I was pleased with how the adjustment went. And the owner of the jewellery? Well, the bracelet now fits perfectly and they have a matching pendant to boot.

Friday 11 November 2016

Denim Lapis Lazuli - Casual Class

Denim Lapis Lazuli beads
Denim Lapis Lazuli beads

A few years back I bought myself a few strands of small, round gemstone beads. You might have some yourself, stretches of thread or nylon strung with gems of wonderful colours. I bought some and used some and put the rest away for later. 'Later' having arrived at last, I delved into my work-box of beads and gems and found I fell back in love, and fast, with denim lapis lazuli.

Denim Lapis Lazuli beads in close up
Like tiny planets of sea & sky...

The beads are just stunning, aren't they. Each one is so unique, and so perfect. Denim seems such a casual word for such a beautiful stone. It's interesting to discover that this particular type of lapis lazuli is essentially a marketing success story. The white (which is calcite, a relation to humble chalk) component in the stone was originally considered to make it inferior to the deep blue shades, with touches of gold-coloured pyrite, that were preferred and sought after. Turning the supposed 'flaw' into an attribute was a clever idea.

Denim Lapis Lazuli beads on silver earrings
Silver and denim lapis earrings, made by myself

Whilst wondering why I haven't used my bead stash more, and secretly being glad I haven't so I could discover it all over again, I've been adding beads to silver like a cook who has recently discovered Muscovado after only ever using white caster sugar before...

Friday 4 November 2016

Book Review - Metal Clay Jewellery by Natalia Colman

Metal Clay Jewellery by Natalia Colman
Published by Search Press 2015 - 144 pages (pb)

Metal Clay Jewellery - book review by Silvermoss Metal Clay Jewellery - book review by Silvermoss

I still have both my small stash of silver clay pendants created at a day class, and my slightly larger stash of metal clay in its sealed pouch. The reason the latter is still unopened is partly due to the complexity of working well with metal clay, at least as far as I’m concerned. A big part of this is the kiln or soldering torch to fire issue, which for me revolves around the fact that I don't have a kiln. I suspect if I had originally begun making jewellery using metal clay, rather than metal itself, then my attitude would be reversed and I’d find all the paraphernalia of silver-smithing as dense a prospect as I do the list of tools needed to make items from metal clay.

The (slight) block I have about working with metal clay (and my aforementioned stash) is probably what leads me to feast on metal clay books as if they’re Wispa bars and I’ve been on a health kick for a not inconsiderable amount of time. Metal Clay Jewellery by Natalia Colman is no exception to this. The cover is bright and colourful with clear and bold text in different colours that, I soon found out, indicate that this book covers silver, copper and bronze metal clay.

Inside the book, the clays are introduced individually and techniques for working with them are shown, all clearly and comprehensively photographed. And this is one of this book’s great strengths, the quality and amount of photographs used to illustrate each step and idea. Some books can be a little limited when it comes to showing rather than telling how a topic works or is created, but here the visual side of things is very much to the fore and this is only to the book’s credit.

The book next goes into detail about how to actually turn the clay into jewellery by using beads, findings and stringing techniques, and the tools that are needed.

As is normally the case with jewellery books, the main section consists of projects that show how to use the previously introduced techniques. Here the subjects of texture creation, bas reliefs, connections after firing, working with coils, adding colour, setting stones, and using hot connections, as well as finishing touches, are covered. The projects each include a list of materials, written instructions and those clear and copious photos I mentioned earlier. Many of the projects I found to be inspiring and exciting, showing me techniques and ideas that I’d not come across before and bringing me closer (I do so hope!) to tearing open those metal clay pouches.

At the back of the book is a handy chart which provides firing times for each project as well as different options of firing it - on a gas stove, by torch or in a kiln. Charts giving information about firing natural gemstones and cubic zirconias are also included, detailing the author’s own experiences about which gemstones are safe to fire and how firing can affect their colour. As an aside, much of the information here relates to firing in a kiln, at a variety of temperatures, rather than using a torch.

The book finishes with a page of templates for use with some of the projects and a short glossary, as well as an index.

In terms of comprehensiveness - dealing with three different metal clays - this book is a fascinating read, full of ideas and imagination. The flip side of this is that it cannot go into great detail on any one clay or technique it shows, but this does not detract from the broad base of information it does cover. As an introduction to metal clay it’s a good read, and as a way of stimulating ideas for those jewellers who are a little more experienced I think it is also worth a detailed peruse.

A nice find.

Find more jewellery book reviews here - the latest is at the top, do scroll down for more!

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.

Tuesday 1 November 2016

Jewelled Web - November 2016 - Link Love

Pink cyclamen - Jewelled Web November 2016 Silver Moss
Ivy-leaved cyclamen, growing in the garden

Can it really be November? Perhaps the cliche is true, that the years seem to move faster as we get older... Or perhaps it's just the thought of how much I meant to get done this year, and how much time I had left just a couple of months ago, or so it seemed, that's making me wonder. Now, suddenly, it's fireworks and bonfires and full-pelt leaf fall and, yes, baubles and glitter and mince pies in the shops.

Despite having started Christmas shopping already ("I will be prepared this year, I will be prepared this year") I'm going to try and enjoy the fact it is still Autumn and an awful lot of leaves still have to fall...

So, if only as a form of distraction from any thoughts of Christmas, here are some links to stay busy with this coming month.

~jewellery links~

I adore this beautiful mountain-scene necklace

A massive boulder of jade has been found in Myanmar; it weighs 175 tonnes and could be worth £140 million and looks nowhere near as pretty as you'd imagine!

In jewellery making, sometimes, accidents can be happy, as in the case of the creation of these earrings.

A tutorial on etching silver.

If you have any undrilled gemstones (and I know I do) and have been unsure what to do with them, then consider this idea for creating the sweetest little boxes.

Ever wondered how to make a spinning ring? This tutorial looks like a good place to start. It also involves Tipp-Ex!

For the person who has pretty much everything, then how about the ability to time travel wrapped up in sterling silver, gold and a few gemstones. This ring is a little cheaper and probably works just as well...

This Steampunk jewellery is so inventive and looks quite wonderful.

~non-jewellery links~

Have you heard of hygge? It's a Danish concept which, to me, roughly translates as wrapping yourself in the softest blanket possible when it's dark outside and lighting a candle or two. Oh, and you pronounce it 'hue-gah', although I like to think of it as saying 'hug' but with a bit of a Scandinavian accent...

Seriously amazing photos from around the world.

I've heard a lot about free university courses being available online but have only recently looked more closely at them. Quite a few portals exist, sites that collect the courses from the universities, and I've been using this one, Future Learn. The courses are genuinely free (I have had trouble with family members believing me on this!) although if you want a certificate to say you've done the course in question, then that costs. I've really enjoyed learning again, and love how accessible the courses are.

And speaking of online courses, I've also been looking at this bundle, consisting of eCourses and eBooks by fellow bloggers, about blogging. It's a fascinating collection although I'm not quite sure where to start! I also blogged about it here.

And speaking of education generally, how about trying this spelling test? Despite doing it twice I can still only get 14 out of 15 right...

And speaking of words in particular, the long-running mystery of who the best-selling author Elena Ferrante really is may have been solved but the story, and controversy, isn't over.

More photography, this time from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards. If you've not seen the amazing orangutan photograph that won then please do take a look - it is a truly marvellous image.

Beautiful film of whales at sea taken by a drone camera.

I know Hallowe'en is over but in the UK we still have Bonfire Night to come, and so these amazing toffee (or 'candied' as the US calls them) apples are still seasonal. I've never seen them on a cake before. One for your very own GBBO, or how about a cake that looks as wonderful as this?

~My Own Personal Book Club ~

I love to read at any time of the year but when the nights begin lengthening then it really feels the right time... This month I've been reading...

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel - I am currently reading this and am utterly engrossed in it. It's a thoughtful read, often not what you'd expect from a 'post-Apocalyptic' novel (much of it is 'pre-Apocalypse') but it's absorbing and a little hypnotic, with careful prose creating an unsettling mood. Do give it a try if you can.

Some more sci-fi here in Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey. Howey is a self-published Kindle sensation (and blogs about his yacht to prove it) and this is the second book of his I've read. With surprisingly little dialogue, especially at the start, this is quite a thoughtful read about how conflict damages people and how to end the cycle of war. It also has a large telepathic dog-like alien in it, so it's not all philosophy.

Metal Clay Jewellery by Natalia Colman, inventive designs and helpful instructions. I've really enjoyed this book and will be reviewing it here very soon.

(affiliate links included in the books listed - please check details here for more info.)


I will do my best to embrace the need for soft blankets and fleeces and bright candles and large tins of chocolates - well, I might be getting ahead of myself with the latter as it's best, if you can, to save that kind of indulgence for next month... which we mustn't even think about yet. Have a good November.