Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A little mineralogy lesson

Quartz in its many varieties is a staple for jewelry makers. There are so many varieties. Here's a few examples.

Amethyst, quartz which has ferric, or iron, impurities:

Citrine, which is also quartz with ferric impurities, where most commercial citrine is actually smokey quartz or amethyst that has been heated:

Smokey quartz is quartz that has been exposed to natural radiation. A good percentage of commercial smokey quartz has been artificially irradiated:

Aventurine can be green or orangish-red, in which case it's often confused with sunstone, a feldspar variety. It has inclusions of mica, which give green or blue tones, or hematite, which give orange or red tones. Both can be dyed to give a richer hue:

Here's sunstone, and a picture of orange aventurine for contrast.

And now for the fun part. Quartz has a chemical composition of silicon dioxide. Quartz, when powdered, makes sand. Sand is melted and made into glass. So, there are some "stones" out there that are completely man made, but have exactly the same chemical composition, so can technically be referred to as a variety of quartz. There may be some occurrences of natural crystals of these colors, but the majority of beads of this variety are made from naturally occurring stones.

Here's a couple of examples - pineapple and strawberry or cherry "quartz:"

So what does this all mean?

Well, nothing really. Whether the piece is as it was found growing in the earth or whether it had a bit of help from the hand of man, it still makes for absolutely beautiful jewelry. And sometimes, if a piece seems a little more expensive than other pieces of a similar appearance, it may be that the creator spent a little bit more on stones that are actually naturally occurring, and not helped in appearance.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Archaeologist's Necklace

The Archaeologist's Necklace, Copyright © 2008, Designs by Victoria

After years of research leading to inconclusive finds, Professor Harriett Marner was sure she’d finally found “the one.” The site that would make her reputation, that would show that her “wasted years of digging through mouldy old texts” (her uncle’s words) were a worthwhile pursuit, and not the waste of time that all of her family considered her choice of career to be. It would prove that she could be a success, that she had not thrown away her chance at social status and a family for nothing when she turned down a young and rather impoverished earl’s proposal of marriage and used her inheritance, which would have been her dowry, to instead gain a university education and fund her expeditions.

As she wielded the pick herself, digging into the hillside through which the old stones of an arched lintel had become slightly exposed through the erosion of years, she and her assistants fidgeted nervously, anticipating the ancient relics that would be revealed for the first time in centuries. They uncovered a stone slab with rusted metal hinges, and broken metal banding. When they wrested the slab aside and entered the chamber, they were greeted with a bare room, carved out of the hillside, with blocks of stone for walls put in place, empty except for a few broken crates, a couple of empty barrels, and an overturned table, and one wall mostly hidden when a part of the hill had collapsed some time previously. It turns out they had uncovered an old ruin, indeed, but of a smuggler’s hideout. Hidden under the table, which she righted out of habit of neatness, she found a broken pocketwatch, left behind as the previous inhabitants had perhaps fled the law.

Disheartened, she sent her assistants back to the nearby village in which they had been staying. Perhaps they were right, she thought. This had been a waste of her time, her money, and her life, the pursuit of nothing. She sat on one of the barrels, with her lantern, staring at the ceiling, for some time before she noticed the engraving on the wall opposite her, the one mostly buried by dirt. She scrabbled and scrambled her way up the pile of loose dirt so she could examine the buried wall, and found runes etched into what appeared to be a lintel. As all her tools had left with her assistants, she proceeded to first dig with her hands, then using some of the boards from the broken crates as a shovel, clearing away more and more of the fallen dirt until she uncovered a second stone doorway, with an intact bar and seal. Stymied at last by the lack of proper tools, she practically ran back to the village, where she rousted her assistants out of the tavern, along with a couple of local strong backs, and bullied them back to the site with her tools and extra lanterns.

Within short order, the rest of the dirt was cleared, and then after stencils were properly taken, the seal was broken, and Harriett finally had the experience of which she’d dreamed for years, of being the first to enter an ancient site, undisturbed and perfectly preserved. It proved to be the tomb of a chieftain of a people who had previously never been known to have come this far north, and cataloguing the site and tracing the clan’s possible movements gained for her what her relatives had claimed she’d never achieve – renown in her chosen field.

She and her assistants each took a piece from the broken watch they had found in the first room, what they had initially thought to be the only find from the dig. Each of them did various things with their pieces. Harriett had hers strung as a necklace, which she never failed to wear to a family event for the rest of her life.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Costumer's Manifesto

I am a costumer

I make the mundane fantastic

I create extraordinary out of ordinary

My tools are my imagination and my creativity

My canvas is my body

I do so for no particular reason other than it brings
me joy

I haunt the thrift stores and yard sales, always looking
for possibilities, and stockpile them
for the day that inspiration provides a purpose

And that day comes after a night of dreaming or an
explosion of thought, and the pieces become a whole
and the whole is greater than the parts ever were

I am a costumer

My craft is transformation, changing myself through
mundane arts

I perceive the opportunities presented by the castoffs of
others, looking beyond the outward appearance and
drawing connections where there were none apparent

I strive towards the skills that will aid me in my
quest to transmute lead into gold, change water into
wine, and achieve my own personal wardrobe nirvana

I am a costumer

I am on a journey to explore all that can be made from
the found, and to meet others who share my love of the
creative process

I am on a quest, for the last item to complete the
perfect work not yet imagined except in the unplummed
depths of the subconscious

I am on a path with no end in sight, and no wish for an
end to be found, because I find endless delight
in the journey and the quest

I am a costumer

It's in the blood, in the brain, in the body, in the soul

And I would have it no other way

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Don’t sell yourself short!

Pricing your items is always a struggle. Are my prices too high? Too low? Am I taking into account my cost of materials, and how much time I spent making it? AM I going to make it as a business, or will I not be able to afford to replace my supplies when I sell my stock?

I won’t tell you individually whether or not you are pricing your items correctly, but here’s a few things to take into account when you’re deciding how much to sell your items for.

1) Cost of materials.

Do you actually track this? Do you know how much you’re spending in components for each piece? This is your first step. I found Excel to be good for this. A strand of beads for $$$, and xx beads in the strand, entered into a table to do the math for you. Wire? How much per ounce, how many feet per ounce, and how much wire goes into one necklace? Do the same for chain, tigertail, silk cord, or any of your other materials. Once you’ve totaled all this up, you want to figure in your margin. Standard is multiply the total by 2-3 times, usually. If you double cost of expenses, see item #3. If you triple, #3 is probably unnecessary.

2) Labor hours

How much are you paying yourself to make your work? You do pay yourself, don’t you? I hope so. I’m sure if this is part time for you and you have another job, and that you aren’t working for them for free! At the absolute least, you should be paying yourself minimum wage per hour for the time you put into making a piece. If it’s very physically or mentally demanding, a higher wage is warranted. It’s the same as any other job. Starting out, you begin at the bottom of the payscale, but as your experience & skills increase, so should your paycheck. This takes into account the hours of practice you’ve put in, and any classes you may have taken to further your skillset. An experienced seamstress or metalsmith can easily rate themselves at $20-30/hour, or more.

3) Incidental expenses

How much time do you spend going to the post office? Or the supply stores? How much did it cost you to get set up with all the equipment you need to function as a business, and is there more equipment you need to buy, or a class you would like to take to improve your skills or learn new techniques? How much do you have invested in your workspace, for tables, lamps, etc. How much of your home electricity bill goes into heating and lighting this workspace? And have you taken into account the wear and tear on your equipment and your vehicle, and the fact that at some point you will have to do maintenance or repair on it, or replace it when it wears out? This is what keeps you afloat as a business, allowing you to expand your stock and improve your skills and production methods.

You may think initially it’s better to start out with lower prices, and raise them as you become more successful, but if you start out underpricing yourself too much, you’ll put yourself out of business before you have a chance to become a success.

And another little wrinkle to throw at you – perception can affect people’s opinion of the quality of your wares. When I started out at a local weekly craft fair, about 10 years ago, I was getting pretty depressed after my first month, with lots of work and little to show for it. Another vendor, who’d been my neighbor the whole month, took me aside as we were breaking down one Sunday to tell me, “Your prices are too low – people won’t believe it’s real silver and pearls and stones in your jewelry because of it. Before you come back next week, mark up all your prices by $5/piece.” I was skeptical, but I gave it a go, because what I’d been doing hadn’t been working after all. And the next week, I sold six necklaces! Jewelry was only a sideline for me at that point, but that day I sold more jewelry than my main line of wares. If you underprice yourself too much, the same thing can happen to you, and you’ll be adversely affecting your chance of success.

Hopefully this gave you a few things to think about. Miss Nellie and The Skitter Kitty are wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Misplaced Truth About Handmade

There seems to be a misconception that handmade = cheap. This is, in fact, usually the reverse. Items that are hand-crafted by local artists are actually likely to be a bit more expensive than similar items found in stores or at large online retailers. I’ve worked in the manufacturing industry as a full-time job for over six years while running my business part time on the side, so that gives me a little more perspective on the ins and outs.

So here’s several reasons why a handmade item should always be a little more in cost than a store-bought item:

Firstly, items that are mass-produced are going to have a lower cost, because the manufacturer buys supplies in bulk, and so gets a price discount on these supplies. A person making a few items will be paying more for their raw materials, because they aren’t buying hundreds of yards of fabric at one shot. Of course, a lot of us are rabid bargain shoppers, but we still can’t reach the price break these large companies can achieve.

Secondly, cost of labor is going to be higher for handmade goods. Mass-produced items that are imported are going to be cheaper to produce because their employees are working for a lower wage. Even with so called “Fair Trade” items, the pay per hour is most likely going to be less than what your neighbor who makes those adorable baby booties would consider reasonable or livable.

Thirdly, looking at mass produced versus one of a kind, factory assembly lines are always going to be more efficient, so even if all the other factors (cost of goods and labor) are the same, the time to produce an item is going to be less, so labor costs will be less.

Here's another thing to consider, when trying to decide whether the lower-cost mass-produced item is the better bargain. I'm sure you're aware that there is a cost mark-up that occurs every time a component or finished goods goes through another set of hands. The makers are going to figure a profit margin into their cost of goods. An item then goes to a distributor or importer, who needs to make money on the transaction, so the cost goes up again. The retailer then buys it and marks it up again. So the amount of money for the materials and labor isn’t actually accurately reflected in the price, because of the number of additional hands it has passed through in order to reach the shelves. This means that mass-produced items are usually made with the cheapest raw materials, so it will survive the mark-ups and still hit the market at an affordable price. So even though it seems like a bargain, spending a bit more for a hand-crafted item will pay off in the long run.

You can argue about the overhead to build and maintain a large manufacturing facility, but look at the percentage produced there versus the home business, where they still have to buy the equipment they need to make their items, sewing machines, wood-working tools, paintbrushes, solder guns, paper-making presses, and all the other myriad bits we use in our daily operations. Home businesses still have to pay the electricity to light their workspaces and run their machines, and they’ll maybe have the heat turned up a bit higher than normal perhaps to keep the hands flexible while working. So there’s not much in the way of savings in this department for the independent business.

Why buy handmade, then? Why spend the time wandering a craft fair or searching a hand-made craft website when you can just go to the store and probably pay less?

Well, going to that craft fair means you’re supporting a local artist and local industry (local sometimes being keeping it in the country, but still!), getting an item that is a limited run or maybe even one of a kind, and finding a unique gift for someone instead one of a mass produced run of thousands. You have a wider variety of selection. Plus, you know that the money you spend on that item goes directly to the maker, and the cost is accurately reflected in the materials and time you spend into it, without all the additional mark-ups that a retail item gathers. That means you are probably getting a higher quality item for a slightly higher cost than the store-bought gift.

So, are these reasons enough to convince you? I, and all my fellow artists and crafters hope so. We’ll be out there, peddling our handmade wares. Come find us!
Here’s a few examples of wonderful hand-made items:

My own Cinnabar Heart & Pearl Earrings:

Hand-Embroidered Pink Giraffe Blankie, by ncleveland:

Machinist Earrings, by Insectus:

Fused Pear Branch glass votive candleholder by Susanna Price

Leaves painted on ecru silk satin scarf, by OwenArt:

Engraved Teardrop Necklace, from Art Made by Tammy:

Black taffeta skirt with velvet scallop edge appliqued details, by Murzilka:

Velvet Heels original art, by Autumn Russell:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowed in Treasury

It's been coming down for 24 hours now, and Seattle just isn't equipped to deal with this kind of accumulation, so everyone's been staying in as much as possible and we're all getting a bit stir crazy I think.

So here's one of the ways I passed time today:

You'll be able to view and comment on this treasury until 1pm on December 23rd.

And I was featured by my fellow EtsyRain teammate onawhimm.

This treasury is set to expire at 3am on the 23rd.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wire-Wrapping Tutorial

Here's a step-by step explanation with photos of how I create the majority of my jewelry pieces.

Tools needed:

Round-tipped pliers
Bent angle tip pliers
Wire cutters

Supplies needed:

Wire – half-hard, 24-gauge is my preferred (you can use any gauge you want, but get much bigger than 24 and you'll have trouble finding beads drilled wide enough to fit on the wire) I advise you to start with base metal, not precious (copper or brass or nickel instead of sterling or gold). Note - the smaller the number, the bigger the gauge, or thickness, of the wire. 20 gauge is much larger in diameter than 24 gauge.

Drilled beads


1. Grip the wire with the round-tipped pliers approximately ¼” from the end. Bend at a 90 degree angle.

2. Wrap the wire around the bottom prong of the pliers, forming a loop

3. Change the pliers’ grip to the outside of the loop instead of the inside

4. Twist the short end around the wire to form a “noose,” twisting away from the noose

5. Use the bent pliers to crimp the edge in (apologies for the lack of picture for this step, because it takes two hands to hold both pliers and I couldn't find the tripod for the camera)

6. Add bead
7. Grip the wire again with the round-tipped pliers just above the bead and bend to form another 90 degree angle.

8. Wrap the wire around the top prong of the pliers, forming another loop.

9. Change the pliers’ grip to the outside of the loop instead of the inside
10. Twist the end around the wire to form a second “noose,” twisting towards the bead.

11. Cut the wire as close as possible with the wire cutters

12. Use the bent pliers to crimp the edge in

If stringing beads together, or if combining welded chain and wrapped beads, when you start wrapping the next bead, make sure to slide the noose from the previous bead or the end of the chain into the loop before twisting it closed