Sunday, March 31, 2013

What I've Been Up To - March 24-30

I'm a day late! But here's an update on what I've been doing at my jewelry desk for the past week...

I finished up big bridesmaids order of knot bracelets going to a bride in the South. I hope the bride and her bridesmaids like them. I love making something that will be worn at a wedding! Then I made some sterling silver wire wrapped gemstone earrings for an order.

Biggest news... I finished the lapis lazuli pendant!

Sterling Silver and Lapis Lazuli Pendant - available in my Etsy shop

Oohh... this pendant really gets my dragon-like hoarding tendencies going. I put it in the shop, but every time I see it I just want to hide it away and keep it for myself.

But I appeased my inner Smaug and made myself a new ring. It's technically a prototype so I had something to photograph to put up a custom-made ring listing in the shop, but I love it all the same. I also learned while making it that the technical term for the special inner flash and shine that labradorite has is called "schiller" - which just tickles the heck out of me because that's my maiden name. That definition is much better than the one I always found on "what does your name mean" websites, which was squinty. (I wore coke bottle glasses as a kid, so that definition was a little too spot on.)

Anyway, enough talking, here's the ring!

Fine and Sterling Silver Labradorite Stacking Ring - custom made in your size in my Etsy shop

I also made a simple pair of kyanite earrings. The stones are so pretty, they didn't really need much ornamentation around them to distract from the flashes of gray and blue they have when you move them around.

Kyanite and Sterling Silver Earrings - in my Etsy shop

Last thing - a new filigree pendant. This one is a heart with a lab-grown ruby.

Sterling Silver Filigree Heart Pendant with Lab-Grown Ruby
I have another setting and ruby and I think I will be making another one of these to send to my mom for Mother's Day. It would also be great for Valentine's Day. I'm sure my husband appreciates that he doesn't have to buy me any jewelry for special occasions - I just make my own!

I did spend some time trying to decipher my chicken scratch beginning of year inventory. I'm still working on it, because I can only take so much boring at a time. 

I also changed up my photo setup and re-took a few pictures. I'm liking the grayish brown stone background, it gives a very natural feel to the pictures. I think it fits my jewelry much better than the typical blinding, washed out "Etsy white" backgrounds. And it was practically free - it's a leftover concrete "stone" tile from our fireplace remodel. I love reusing things around the house!

I don't have any huge plans for my jewelry making in the next week. I'll probably just fiddle around with some wire for a while and see what happens. I usually end up with something interesting when I do that. 

Until next weekend!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Buy Handmade?

Selling handmade items, you will occasionally run into people who ask you why they should buy your handmade necklace when Target sells silver jewelry (or knit scarfs, or coffee mugs, etc) for less money. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Target, but handmade and mass produced items are two entirely different kettles of fish. I have had to try to come up with a good answer to these questions, and here is what I've got:

Handmade items can be unique or one of a kind - if the item is truly handmade, the crafter/artist isn't going to be churning out hundreds of thousands of them, so you will be buying something that very few other people have or that you can't even find in a store.

Each handmade item has a story - if you ask a handmade artist about a certain piece of their work, most likely they will be able to tell you the story of how it was made. Point to one of my chainmaille bracelets and I could tell you about how I managed to drop a container of hundreds of jump rings all over my carpet when I was making it. Or a knitter could show you where she zoned out counting stitches and ended up making an entirely new pattern. Items stamped out on an assembly line don't have much of a story to tell.

Handmade items are often higher quality than mass produced - Of course there are differing levels of talent  in the handmade marketplace, but the quality of well made handmade items is frequently higher than goods made in overseas factories. Handmade artists often use better materials than you can find in big box stores and a well crafted handmade item can last you a lifetime.

Buying handmade supports small businesses and individuals - Buying a scarf from Target won't make an impact on their bottom line, but buying a handmade scarf from a one-person craft business makes a big difference to that one person. Buying handmade can also be a political statement against corporations that might not have the fairest business practices or labor standards.

When you buy a handmade item, you have the chance to deal one-on-one with a real person, not getting lost in a corporate machine.

Buying handmade often has a lower impact on the environment. Handmade and "green" often go hand-in-hand, with many crafters and artists using sustainable materials and practices. This also often means that you can find more options for organic or "green" items from handmade sellers.

Handmade artisans keep traditional production techniques alive. With so many mass produced goods made by machines in faraway factories, many people don't know exactly how some items are made. Handmade artisans frequently like to share their craft, on blogs and in person and this keeps the knowledge of traditional techniques alive for future generations to enjoy.

So check out Etsy (I'm there!) or an arts festival or a craft fair and check out the amazing handmade artists that are making unique, one of a kind items that you can't find in big box stores.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What I've been up to - March 17 - 23

Here's an update on what I've been doing at my jewelry desk for the past week...

My husband used his mad carpentry skills to make me a pliers organizer. It makes it so much easier to keep my desk clean!

I stumbled across some Youtube videos and learned to make a fold formed leaf. I really love these! I'm going to make some in sterling silver as soon as I get over my anxiety of cutting into my little expensive sheet of silver.

Copper Foldformed Leaf - in my Etsy shop

I finally finished and listed the sun pendant! I oxidized it and also decided on cotton cord instead of a viking knit chain.

Copper and Yellow Calcite Sun Pendant - in my Etsy shop

On the custom shop orders front, I made and sent off five knot bracelets to a bride on the East coast, a good handful of stacking rings to various people, and I'm working on another five knot bracelets going to a bride in the South.

Other than that, I did finally work up enough courage to cut a corner from my little sheet of sterling to make a bezel set lapis lazuli pendant. I had a lot of trouble getting the bezel soldered down with my microtorch, so I took it out to the garage and blasted it with my MAPP gas beadmaking torch. It certainly did the trick, but the flame is so huge it was a bit overkill. I need to look for an affordable propane jewelry making torch for the larger pieces that my microtorch can't handle. For the lapis pendant, all I have left to do is solder on the bail (which will also need the big torch again) and set the stone.

Next week is some boring business administration stuff and less actual jewelry making, unfortunately. I have to get my beginning of year inventory off my chicken scratched handwritten notebook pages and into an excel spreadsheet before I forget what my shorthand notes mean. And I have to order some more business cards but I'm not happy with my (non-existant) graphic design skills. Then hopefully I'll get to hammer away on some metal.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What I've Been Up To - March 10-16

Here's an update on what I've been doing at my jewelry desk for the past week...

It was a pretty slow jewelry week for me... I made an infinity ring and a pair of sleeper hoop earrings for an Etsy order. Then I messed around with my copper sun pendant after I set the stone and finalized polishing it and realized the bail wasn't securely soldered on (by accidentally twisting it off), after which I got to take out the stone and come up with a new way to attach the bail to the pendant. I'm still deciding if I want to hang a citrine or carnelian bead from the bottom, but I have a trip to the bead shop in store for tomorrow, so I'll decide when I see what they have. Then I'll polish the pendant (again!), set the stone (again!), and make a chain for it. Then I think I'll finally list it on Etsy.

I DID just get a supply order in, which included a teeny-tiny 3x3 inch square of solid sterling silver sheet in it. I have a pretty lapis lazuli cabochon that I want to set in silver, so this next week I'm planning on working on that. And someone also asked for my latest copper and pearl earrings to be made in sterling, so if I have enough of the sheet left over, I will make those as well.

Other than that, I cleaned my desk (a messy job!) and my husband is hard at work making me a pliers organizer.

Until next week!

Monday, March 11, 2013

What's next? Medieval scrunchies?

I'll preface this by saying I am a history geek and spend my free time looking at museum collection websites... I like getting inspiration for new jewelry from ancient designs. So, in any case, I was browsing the hair accessories aisle at Fred Meyer today and noticed something familiar...

Goody - Bun Spiral
And this is from the British Museum's collection. Listed as a "hair ring" from around 600 BC Italy, probably Etruscan.

British Museum - 1980,0201.23
So pretty much the Etruscans invented spin-pins?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What I did this week March 3-9

In a way to force myself to update here more often, I thought I would start a weekly post that mentions the jewelry-related things I did every week. I'll aim for Saturday or Sunday and let you know what I've been up to at my jewelry desk.

This week I made about a bazillion stacking rings for Etsy orders: fine silver, thin hammered sterling rings, infinity rings, and mixed metal stacking rings. I like making stacking rings, especially the hammered ones; they are pretty fast to make and involve whacking things with a hammer. I find making them soothing.

I made myself a pair of sterling silver stud earrings. I'm not sure if I am going to make and list another set yet. I don't know if people would want to buy them.

I have also been struggling with making a sun shaped copper bezel set pendant for the last few days. My MicroTorch is just not cutting it for making larger pieces out of copper sheet metal. It doesn't have the power to heat the metal fast enough to flow the solder before everything oxidizes. I finally cut an oval out of the backing, and that finally made it so that I could get the solder to flow. Of course, by then I had added a little too much solder and when it flowed, it flowed everywhere. I will now be spending the next week sanding all of this silver solder off...

Finally, yesterday I splurged and bought a few new tools: a dapping block set and a circle punch cutter. The circle cutter is great because I can't cut a consistently curved line with a saw to save my life - a couple whacks with a hammer and this gets me uniform circles in lots of sizes. And the dapping block set was a steal; I got it from Harbor Freight and I've seen the exact same set at Rio Grande for double the price.

Here's what I made with my new toys:

So what's on tap for next week? Hopefully some more custom orders for Etsy. Finishing the sun pendant; I still have to figure out what kind of bail I want on it and what kind of chain to hang it from (I'm leaning toward viking knit). And I want to try to make a flower out of sheet metal and attach it to a ring, but I'm still working out in my head exactly how...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Easy, Fast Solutions for Jewelry Cleaning

Jewelry is less fun when it's not at its shiny, sparkly best. I thought I would compile some ways to keep your jewelry as clean and bright as the day you got it.

Keep in mind that some sterling silver jewelry is designed to have a dark patina. I often patina my designs to bring out texture or make it look antiqued. Here are a few that I deliberately darkened.

Most of the cleaning methods I'll discuss will take off this deliberate patina and change the look of your jewelry. This is also important if you have antique jewelry. Taking of the patina might reduce the value of the item. Contact a professional jeweler or appraiser before you clean expensive antique jewelry.

Keeping sterling and copper jewelry in sealable plastic bags will help slow down tarnishing, and keep you from having to clean your jewelry as often.

For jewelry that is already tarnished, here's a inexpensive, fast way to remove tarnish from sterling silver or sturdy silver plated jewelry and other items without rubbing or scrubbing. It ingredients that are probably just sitting around in your kitchen. Here's what you need:
  • glass bowl, or other glass container - one with a flat bottom works the best
  • aluminum foil - cut to fit into the bottom of your glass container
  • baking soda - a few tablespoons, depending on how big your bowl is
  • liquid dish soap - just one or two drops
  • boiling or steaming hot water - enough to fill up your bowl
  1. Cut your aluminum foil to fit the bottom of your glass bowl
  2. Pour a few tablespoons of baking soda and a drop or two of dish soap on top of the foil
  3. Place your tarnished silver jewelry on the foil in the bowl (just a note, many gemstones are too delicate for this cleaning method. DON'T try this pearls, opals, emeralds or other soft gemstones. Also avoid anything you think might be glued together. This method works best for plain metal, or jewelry with tough stones like diamonds, CZ, or glass.)
  4. Pour the hot water on top of everything. The baking soda should fizz a little bit. The baking soda and salt are creating a mild chemical reaction that pulls the tarnish off the jewelry and deposits it on the foil. Stir and flip your jewelry with a toothpick or plastic fork every once and a while.
  5. Leave the jewelry in the water for a few minutes and then fish it out and dry it off on a soft cloth. The tarnish should be pretty much gone. 
Got copper jewelry that you want to make bright and shiny again? Here's an even easier solution - and I know all of you have done this with pennies when you were a kid - white vinegar. That's it. Soak the copper in a little white vinegar until it's bright again. But a note again... DON'T do this with pearls or soft gemstones. Really the only beads or stones that can handle this are, again, diamonds, CZ, or glass.

There are also commercial chemical cleaners that you can dip your jewelry in. This one is available at Target. All the jewelry needs is a quick dip in the jar and it comes out clean.

If you would rather step it up and go a little bit more professional with your jewelry cleaning, you can buy ultrasonic cleaners for pretty good prices. These cleaners use high pitched sound waves to agitate water and cleaning solution to shake and bubble dirt and grime off of jewelry. These work very well to clean skin cells and soap residue off jewelry, but don't really take tarnish off. Again, certain types of gemstones can't be cleaned with this method...
  • Big NO for: Amazonite, Amber, Aragonite, Emerald, Fluorite, Iolite, Kyanite, Labradorite, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Moonstone, Serpentine (marketed as "New Jade", "Olive Jade"), Opal, Pearl, Rhodochrosite, Sodalite, Sunstone, Tanzanite, Topaz, Tourmaline, and Turquoise. 
  • Risky/iffy for: Calcite, Coral, Diopside, Howlite, Peridot, Shell
  • Totally OK for: Alexandrite, Amethyst, Aquamarine, Carnelian, Citrine, CZ, Diamonds, Garnet, true genuine Jade (jadeite, nephrite - most inexpensive "Jade" you can buy is actually Serpentine, which is on the no list), Rhodonite, Ruby, Sapphire, and Spinel.
Cleaning pearls is a little trickier. Pearls actually stay more lustrous the more often they are worn; sitting in a drawer makes them dull (and lonely). However, pearls are very porous and chemicals will damage them, so keep them away from hairspray and cleaning chemicals (take off your pearl ring before doing the dishes... or make someone else do them...) Pearls smudged with fingerprints can be wiped down with a soft cloth.

But I'm sure you are wondering what the heck you can actually do with your tarnished, grimy sterling silver wire wrapped pearl bracelet since you can't dip it in chemicals or put it in a cleaner. A polish impregnated cloth - it has tiny microabrasives that rub the tarnish off metal. It will eventually damage the pearls, so concentrate your cleaning on the metal sections of the jewelry.

It takes a little bit of elbow grease, but these will polish tarnish off of copper as well. You can also buy silver polishing cloths in home goods stores - for polishing silver plated flatware - they work the same.

Hopefully these tips are helpful to keep your jewelry clean and shiny. Let me know any tips or tricks I may have missed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I have a lot of hats...

Not real hats. Metaphorical ones...

A little over a year ago, when I was still contemplating opening an Etsy shop to sell my jewelry, I had NO idea how much work it would be. I thought it would be easy to put up a few listings on the web, sit back, and rake in the money.

Then I realized how many hats a craft solo-preneur wears. (Still going with metaphorical hats, here...)

  • Jewelry designer - of course
  • Jewelry crafts-person - the nuts and bolts of putting the jewelry together
  • Photographer - Not exactly point and shoot... I had to teach myself the finer points of F-stops, shutter speed and white balance. Not to mention props, lighting, and camera angles.
  • Photo editor - Once you get the picture out of the camera, you still have to pretty it up. (See previous issues with white balance and lighting). I taught myself how to use GIMP (free Photoshop-level editing program).
  • Marketer - Starting with the copy for listing descriptions and moving swiftly into other marketing options, online and in person - pitching to bloggers, word of mouth marketing, business cards.
  • Social Media Specialist - Facebook pages and ads, Twitter, Pinterest, blogs - you name it, I do it!
  • Sales Person - I've just dipped my toe into doing craft shows and I already know this is something I'm going to have to work on. I've never been a good salesperson, I'm just not assertive enough.
  • Shipping Specialist - You have to be up with (down with?) the USPS, UPS, FedEx, international shipping regulations, what size does a package need to be to actually be considered a package?, boxes or bubble mailers?, customs forms, it costs how much to ship to Australia?!, etc.
  • Web Designer - You can pay a real web designer to create your website for you - if you have the budget... If not, it's into the wormhole of domain name registration, hosting, website design and online commerce options. I just spent the last 3 hours creating Paypal buttons for my upcoming website.
  • Accountant - How do you know if you are losing or making money if you don't track it? Luckily my last "real" job set me up to understand how to track expenses and income, create pricing formulas, and put it all on fancy spreadsheets.
  • Tax Professional - OK, so professional may be going too far. But while my business income is still small, I am preparing and filing my own state and federal taxes. Schedule C, COGS, B&O and sales tax - here I come!
  • Administrative Assistant - luckily this job is what I do for a day job, so no self-training required. But keeping up with organizing paperwork and digital files, keeping myself on a schedule, and keeping track of all the other little administrative details takes quite a bit of effort.
And I'm sure there's a toque or two in there that I've forgotten, but that's still quite a pile of hats!

Even though it's more work than I imagined when I started, it is very rewarding. I have learned more than I thought I could about business practices, taxes, the internet (and life, the universe, and everything.) And you know what? Even if I was making enough money to hire someone to delegate some of these things to, I don't think I would. I enjoy being a one man operation - my own boss, in charge of everything and learning a ton as I go.

Even with all the hats.