The helpful craft community

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It has been a while since I blogged, but the idea for this article has been with me for a little while, particularly after my encounters with some of the handcrafting and handmade forums through Instagram and Twitter over the past couple of months. Since venturing into turning a hobby into a small business, the generous support I have received from these organisations, completely gratis, has humbled and touched me. Their passion for handmade and the individual, independent maker has been heartwarming.

The Local Crew: I have major support from and am part of the E17 Designers in Walthamstow, East London. Carolyn, the organiser, goes above and beyond what is required to support individual makers, working to achieve affordable table prices for us makers at very prestigious venues. I have been lucky enough to show my creations at such venerable locations as the William Morris Gallery and more regular slots at places such as Waltham Forest Community Hub in the heart of Walthamstow Village, the Walthamstow Garden Party and Mirth Marvel & Maud. The same goes for Rosie, the organiser of the Local Makers Market events. I regularly attend the Wanstead fairs, where she is juggling around 50 stalls, and attempting to satisfy each maker’s needs (mine recently was a buggy space and she arranged a lovely corner stall where we had super amounts of room for our baby to come along for some of the day!).

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The Social Media Crew: Social media is next on my “nice” list (I appreciate I am a little late to be Christmas themed!). I am utterly touched by the support from forums on Instagram such as @crafty features, @handmadeintheuk_hmuk, @shophandmadeuk, @britishmakers, @britishcraftershq who have promoted and featured me over the last couple of months. There are also many others like this who provide free features for artists and makers, alongside the wonderful campaign of Just a Card and promotions such as Small Business Sunday with Theo Paphitis. I am involved in many small business and handmade shout-outs regularly put out on Twitter. I am truly moved by the time people seem to give over to the plight of the crafter.

My maker friends: My blog would not be complete without giving a mention to the other wonderful makers I have met through the above forums, craft fairs and events. Even if a market is particularly slow, there are always those happy, cheery faces to encourage you and raise a smile. We are all in this together, after all. And the @craftyfeatures online Instagram markets (follow them to get notified as to when these happen) have been full of support, encouragement and assistance from the other vendors and the organisers - overwhelmingly so. Of course, a small business is nothing without its customers. So, here’s also a big THANK YOU to all of you who have purchased a lovingly handcrafted, one-of-a-kind piece of jewellery from me in the last year. I am looking forward to meeting many others this year who #supporthandmade.

You are all amazing! x

10 Things I Hate About...Being a Jewellery Maker

After a particularly challenging afternoon - having lost a tiny 3mm opal somewhere in my studio, which had pinged off on an adventure of its own - and after searching for the best part of an hour and having friends and family also searching (everyone wanted to be the successful finder of this tiny wandering gemstone) - my husband asked me to name my top ten jewellery maker pet hates. I think he was intrigued as to how many I could name, doing something I love, whilst often being very frustrated about something or other! I admit it is something of a love/hate relationship, now that I have had time to think about it.... 

10. Laughing gemstones

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Losing tiny gemstones obviously features in my top ten; it having been the prompt to making such a list! Those little gems (anything less than 5mm really) do seem to have a mind of their own. On this occasion, it was a beautiful faceted Ethiopian opal. The funny thing was, after searching for ages on the floor, on the bench, in my apron, in the wicker of the chair - just about everywhere it could have snuck - it turned up underneath my stone tumbler which sits on my work bench! It is raised just a few millimetres off the desk and is the only place I didn't check... If gemstones could laugh, I am sure that little opal would have gaffawed.

9. If you can't take the heat, get out of the studio!

I have a small jeweller's torch (I like the control it gives me and I am not so fond of the bigger torches) but this can prove a tricky obstacle when it comes to heating larger pieces. I often find myself in "two-torch territory" to get that darn piece of metal hot enough to melt the solder between the two joins. The solder joins that just zip are the best ones. They really make my day.

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8. Cracking up

It happens to the best of us. You will be on the last part of the piece - the setting of a stone - it looks amazing and is zing-zing-zinging and you are revelling in your own skills when - pow! - you hear that tiny sound. A little crack - in that beautiful gemstone where you pressed a little too hard with your bezel pusher trying overzealously to get that stone as tight as possible. Those pesky non-durable stones are to blame. If only all those different colour gems weren't so pretty, we would just use the hardest substance on earth - diamonds!* 

*Having Googled this, apparently diamonds have lost their title of the hardest substance on earth to wurtzite boron nitride and mineral lonsdaleite! Who knew! For all you geeks out there, here's a link to the New Scientist's 2009 article about it.

7. Splitting hairs

I make a lot of spinner rings and those things get through a lot of hammering. If you don't soften the metal enough during this process (called annealing for you non-jewellers), the silver can split under the pressure when you curve it. It has only happened a couple of times - but that is enough. I really hate to re-solder a join. It must be the perfectionist in me....

6. Excitable

I can get quite excitable about various pieces and I tend to have lots on the go at once! This can be a good thing (there are so many processes in jewellery making so having a few pieces in the making means you always have something to do whilst something is either being pickled or cooling), but it can also be quite frustrating having lots of unfinished pieces lying around. I often have a blitz and finish many pieces at the same time! 

5. Running out of gas

The blowtorch really is the jeweller's best friend. But it seems to love timing running out of gas whilst you are mid-piece, and usually a challenging piece! The metal starts to glow and the torch starts to give a different hiss as it slows down. Will it make it, will it make it, will it....nope it didn't. Fill that torch up and start the process again.

4. People asking for the one stone you don't have

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I sell at craft fairs and although this is one of my favourite non-jewellery elements of jewellery making, it has its frustrations.  Every fair brings different people and it is always tough to judge what gemstones those people may be after. People can be particular about gemstones (me included - I love iolites!), not least because they can have special meanings or sentimentality but also people have colour preferences or colours which work well on their skin tones. And so it follows - I will have every gemstone or colour I could have thought possible, except perhaps that one colour I had sold out of - but that is all that they want! That's why you need to stock up and have lots of pieces in all different gemstones and colours. I have quite a few stones I am desperate to work with which I have had in my gemstone box for a while (see pic!).

3. Ring sizes at fairs

This is a bit like number 4 above - not all rings suit an adjustable band or else a design just doesn't look quite as effective with one. So it is inevitable that having made lots of rings in lots of different sizes when you go to market, on that particular day, no rings fit anyone who comes a-trying. They really want that ring, but you just don't have it available. The beauty of one-offs I guess....

2. Looking for things in the tumbler

I think the tumbler is my favourite piece of equipment (if I think too hard about it, I start to consider other super tools and equipment) and I often leave it to run for a good few hours to get pieces looking beautifully buff and burnished on their final polish. Of course, this means I can forget about it and always seem to remember just before I go to bed. It is at these times that the pieces seem to do their best to hide among the ball bearings. Especially those little pesky handmade ear wires or studs. I had made a silver name bracelet for my son the other day which had stuck to the top of the lid. I didn't find this until I had emptied out the whole tumbler trying to find it!

1. Marketing, marketing, marketing

This is the necessary evil.... I love connecting with customers and other makers on the likes of Instagram and Twitter. The part I dislike the most is all of the taking of the photos and all the putting of each piece into my online shops. It is a very long process, to get all of the detail right and it takes me away from doing what I love - the making and crafting! I have to really focus during this process and not daydream about my studio where my next piece is waiting to be made!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading this, whether you are a fellow jeweller, crafter or just happened across my blog! Tell me what you think - tell me what your own pet hates are! Tell me what you love about making. The best part of being a maker has to be sharing things with other people, and talking about what we love to do. I really never get bored of that.

You can find me at my next craft fair - the Local Makers Market in Wanstead on 8 September (see my Events page).

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Creative instinct...and babies

I have been taking a bit of a break from jewellery making to have my first child, Jesse. Before he was born and feeling pretty exhausted in my pregnancy, I felt I needed quite a bit of time off from making to focus on him and motherhood. In the run up to Jesse's birth, I had not felt up to doing some of the more heavy duty silversmithing activities like hammering and sawing, particularly with a big bump in the way! Aside from that and with my mind elsewhere, my creativity had also done a runner.  I wondered when my mojo would come back... 

Jesse was born in April and a few weeks in, I am pleased to say I was hankering to get back in the studio to have a potter about, particularly when Jesse was sleeping and I was at a loose end. The trouble was, I was in desperate need of sleep after being up most of the night (it seemed) so any free time was being used to snooze or catch up on chores (or endless washing!).

A few months in and I am pleased to say it is a different story. I am managing to get some time in the studio as Jesse has longer sleeps in the evenings. I think having a bit of a break before he was born (and after) has rejuvenated my creativity. I purchased many gemstones before Jesse was born and I have been excited to start setting them in various pieces.  You will see that I have been very enthused about making lots of rings (tap on the photo below for slideshow). So... watch this space for additions to the website shop over the coming months. This, of course, will depend on Jesse!

Jewellery Making Techniques: Water Casting

My foray into experimental jewellery making techniques took a wonderful turn this February at a water casting class with Deba McDonald at the Redbridge Institute.

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Armed with lots of scrap silver I had acquired over the years whilst silversmithing, a steel mixing bowl and my apron, I entered the classroom very excited... and with a little trepidation. Read on.

You'd think nothing would faze a bunch of experienced jewellery makers when it came to heating stuff up and certainly melting metal (we had done it enough unintentionally). But when we saw the heating of the silver into molten liquid using a crucible and the way it needed to be thrown into a bowl of water, with all its fizzing and drama, we were a little scared. Like anything, though, once we got going, many 'oooh's' and 'aaah's' followed and soon we were in experimental mode throwing the molten silver into old food tins filled with a plethora of bizarre dried objects to create different shapes; chick peas, mung beans, spaghetti. All brought amazingly different outcomes, swirls, waves, loops and coral-like shapes (or just became blobs or fragmented silver like my first attempts).

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See the photographs of my efforts - there are some fairly ugly and twisted lumps of silver, which require polishing and turning into beautiful wearable pieces. Do you think I have a  bit of a task ahead of me? Mine were nothing compared to some of the other makers' work which were amazing organic silver structures brought to life by this process. Please look up water casting and you will see some of the fantastic surprises people have made into lovely jewellery. If anyone ever asks you how mung beans and jewellery go together, you now know!

Check out the very interesting and rewarding jewellery making classes available with Deba McDonald at Redbridge Institute by clicking here