Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Silver clay get together

In early September, Michele and Judy came over for a silver clay play date.  Michele had some ArtClay from a kit she bought, and we ran out to Artist & Display to get some ArtClay for Judy.  Unfortunately, ArtClay is not my favorite, but that is all A&D sells.  It was too late in the day to go farther afield.  After Michele and Judy worked with it and saw how much longer I could work with my PMC3, they decided it wasn't their favorite, either.  We had a good time, however, and we made a number of pieces.

The following pictures will show the process I've previously discussed in other blogs:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, but each picture shows a different piece.  Yeah, I know that doesn't make sense.  But we were chatting, eating chips, passing the camera around, and trying to get Michele's torch to work.  Here's a sample of the hilarity that ensued throughout the day:

We were lucky to get any pieces done.

Here are Michele (left) and Judy (right) working with their clay:

Just to prove I was there, here's my hand rolling out some clay with my very high tech PVC pipe roller:

I set cubic zirconias and gems in some of the pieces using syringe clay.  Since the syringe clay is single use, I had to use it up.  Here is one of the pieces I made:

As I was just reminded... squiggly heart was my husband's idea.  :)  He suggested I use one of my cutters and squiggle the syringe into it so it would conform to the shape.  This was a good idea but a little difficult.  I did another one with a flower cutter which you can see in the last picture.

After the pieces dried, we filed off any rough edges.  Then it was off to the torch.  We used my fire-safe brick on top of the stove so nothing would accidentally be set aflame.  Here's Michele:

And here's a close up of the torching.  Once the piece gets to be a little "peachier" than this color, you keep torching it for about 2 and a half minutes:

Once the piece is fired, you can drop it into a glass of water to cool it quickly, using tweezers, of course.  Otherwise, you'll be running your hand under cold water for many hours.

Using a wire brush, you take all of the white residue off:

You have to be a bit careful with this step, too... those little wires like to find their way under cuticles and nails.

In Michele's kit there was a rubber block.  That got passed around as well as my camera.  It was very nice, and I may have to invest in one.  Here is one of Michele's pieces on the block.  She used a stamp I've used before - it makes a very nice impression in the silver clay.

After filing, we put some of the pieces in liver of sulfur to darken them up.  Those then got polished and burnished to brighten up the raised parts, leaving the indentations darker.  Some of the pieces we left shiny.

The last picture is of all the pieces we made.  Some haven't been completely polished yet after the livering of sulfuring, so you can see how that looks.  Judy and Michele both had small packages of ArtClay, and I had a large one of PMC3 plus a syringe, so most of the pieces you'll see are mine.

We had a lot of fun, and Judy has gone on to take an official PMC class from Irina Miech at Eclectica, and she's talking about taking the certification class in March.  I've created a monster!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thoughts on Christmas (with pictures of Christmases and jewelry)

This blog post is going to be quite different than my other ones and a lot longer, too.  I've gotten serious from time to time, but I feel the need to get a number of things out of my head and "out there".  I truly hope I don't offend or upset anyone.  These are thoughts I've had for quite some time, and I feel if I don't make sense of them I will burst.  Don't worry – I'll intersperse pictures of jewelry I've made so you'll have something nice to look at.  Here's one now:

Peyote Christmas tree bracelet (Steve's idea)

I'm not "feeling" Christmas this year, and it has bothered me tremendously.  Thinking back, I don't think I've really felt in the Christmas spirit for quite some time.  It seems surreal to me.  I would say, "All of a sudden everything changes," but it starts creeping up on you around Halloween.  First one store puts out a few Christmas decorations, then you hear "Jingle Bells" or "Winter Wonderland", then Christmas is in full bloom.

For a brief time every year we wear different jewelry and different clothes, we rearrange the d├ęcor of our houses, we listen to different music (which I'm doing right now, actually, to keep my thoughts focused and to try to get myself into the spirit), we watch different TV shows and movies, and we eat different foods.  Then all of a sudden, on December 26th, it's gone.

It begins like a season, slow and steady, but it ends like the closing of a book.  True, there are some leftovers of food and snatches of music that people hum, and you can get away with wearing wintery clothes and jewelry, like this pin:

Snowflake pin - stamped polymer clay with peyote bezel

But, this is just like when you close a book – you still have thoughts about the story after you're finished, and you may talk about it to your friends.  The after-Christmas talk is usually about presents and meals, and maybe about how pretty someone's house is.

For the moment we'll ignore the Christmas lights that stay up until March.

Like I said, it just all feels surreal to me, and I've been trying to figure out why.

Christmas is a time of giving and spending time with family and friends.  Well, that's not something that's reserved for one time of year only.  I spend time with family and friends a lot, and I know others do, too.  I give when I can, and I've been known to declare "Just ‘Cuz" days with my mom and stepfather, hiding little things in their garden for them to find.

Polymer clay stamped pendant with spiral rope

Christmas is also a time of tradition.  In my youth (oh, goodness… that sounds like I'm 80 years old!), we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my mother's family.  Sometimes we spent some time with my father's family, but not much.  Over the years the players changed somewhat.  When John married my mother, we included his parents quite a bit.  After I moved out, there was frequently a boyfriend or husband in attendance.

On Christmas Eve we would have traditional German food (right now "Kling, Glockchen" is playing, and I'm tearing up):  German potato salad (Kartoffelsalat), wieners, sauerkraut, and cucumber salad, among other things:

Christmas Eve at Mom's in 2006

Presents within the family are exchanged.  I remember in 1996 we were at my Uncle Werner's and Aunt Senta's house, and Omi, who always gave money later in her life, asked my husband at the time (Chris) to bring her the little bag full of the envelopes.  Each envelope had a name and a bow, with a card and money inside.  She stood up and called out, "Come and get it!" while holding the bag upside down over the floor.

Later in the evening my grandmother (Omi) would heat up the Spechkuchen (I don't know if that's how it's spelled) that she made earlier in the day.  It's a kind of sweet dough with bacon and onions inside, because that's what Germans love to eat – bacon and onions.  (I can still taste it in my mind whenever I cook bacon and onions together).  The kuchen are baked golden brown, and the smell is tremendous.

Christmas morning found me at my mother's for more present opening and for breakfast.  It was frequently done in pajamas, and after I moved out I'd go over there in my pajamas then go home to get ready for Christmas lunch.  We usually went out for lunch, mostly at the Country Squire, the former Sears estate, which is always beautifully decorated.  The food is outstanding, too.

Mom and me outside The Country Squire Christmas Day, 2006

Over time our traditions have dramatically changed.  Our family has dwindled.  Uncle Werner and Aunt Senta have moved up to Eagle River, Wisconsin, which is much too far to come for the day.  We've lost a number of family as well:  Oma and Opa Koffler (Aunt Senta's parents), Mom's Aunt Tillie, John's mom and stepfather, Hap (my stepgrandfather), my Omi.

 Omi and me, possibly 1975
For a few years, it was just Mom, John, and me, but now I have Steve, and it's the four of us for most holidays.  The first Christmas we lived in Milwaukee we hosted three parties:  One for Mom and John, one for Dad and Barb, and one for Steve's family who live in Illinois.  Last year Steve and I spent Christmas Eve alone and went to Mom's for Christmas Day.  We'll be doing the same this year.  Unfortunately we don't have the energy to host any parties.

Polymer clay stamped pendant with a peyote bezel (I love the peyote stitch!)

Now, I love Mom and John very much, and we spend a lot of time with them.  Maybe that's why Christmas seems odd – apart from the clothes and music and some fancy food, it's just like a normal Sunday dinner.  We cannot afford to visit Steve's parents in Florida, not to mention visiting our relatives in Germany.  Although I've only seen them less than a handful of times, I miss them terribly and wish I could get to know them better (both my in-laws and my German relatives).  E-mail and Facebook is helping with that, though, even if my cousin Olaf wants me to write in German!

Maybe it's the passage of time that's bothering me, like it does every Mother's Day I go without being a mother.  Christmas is the end of the year, and you tend to reflect on what's happened.  I have a husband, cats, and a house I love very much (Even though my feet are rather chilly from being too close to an outside wall.  Yes, Steve, I'm wearing my slippers.).  I have wonderful in-laws and parents who consistently go above and beyond.  I am by no means ungrateful for what I have.

Holly necklace using the netting stitch

Last Christmas I had a job I hated with a horrible commute.  When it snowed, my ride home took 2 hours.

This Christmas I don't have a job.  I quit in March due to the commute and a whole host of other reasons that I'm working to get over.  With the job market as it is with the skill set I have (or don't have), it's been very difficult finding anything to apply for, let alone getting an interview.  Financially we've been doing okay, due to the extreme generosity of those who know who they are, but it's starting to get tight.  Mom got sick this summer, and I've been helping by taking her to her doctors' appointments and chemotherapy treatments.  We decided to skip another of our traditions this year – giving little Advent presents.  Each year Mom and I switch off, and this was my year to give to her.  I asked what kinds of things she'd like, and she said, "Why don't we skip it this year?"  It broke my heart to do so, but she truly doesn't want anything.  She's not getting off so easy for Christmas, though – she IS getting presents!

My web design company isn't going too well, mainly due to my not having time to market properly.  I am going to expand my business to include my jewelry sales.  I had a fairly successful craft sale at the beginning of December, and I'm setting up a table at my bank on Friday with my jewelry and my web design information.  I'm hopeful that I'll soon be able to "hold my own" and take the pressure off of Steve.

My table at the St. John's craft fair in Waukegan on December 4th

A lot of people say that Christmas is for the children.  Many aspects of it are:  Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, candy canes, presents…  Every year that goes by, the more I feel the absence of a child.  It's just not possible right now.  I'm getting old (yes, 39 is getting old to consider having a baby), I need to lose weight, we need to be more secure financially, and… what kind of a mother would I be?  There are many insecurities and many non-insecurity reasons to consider.  We're comfortable how we are right now, and a baby would disrupt all of that.  Oh, but what a disruption!

And, yes, I realize there is a religious reason for Christmas.  I'm not up for discussing religion in this blog – too many people have very strong opinions, and I don't want to entice anyone into a flame war.  All of the other stuff I talked about (food, presents, decorations, etc…) doesn't really have anything to do with the religious reason anyway.

Christmasy polymer clay pendant and focal beads

So, what have I learned in the last 2 hours and over 2 pages of straight typing?  I don't like change (that's not a big shocker), but there are some changes I long for.  That's not horribly profound, is it?  After all these years, I miss my grandmother more and more.  I can hardly think of her lately without tears welling up.  Maybe that's because Mom's been so sick, and I'm afraid I'm going to lose her, too.  Her prognosis is very good, but she feels so awful sometimes that I worry.  You know, typing that out actually helped.  I think that is why I'm so upset about Omi.  I know it will happen sooner or later, but I'd rather it be later.  Much, much later.

You hope that every day, every month, every year will be better than the last, or at least not terribly worse.  Although there are a number of good things in my life (I keep using the disclaimer so you know I do not take Steve or anything for granted), I do feel that in some ways each year is worse than the one before.  I am working to make it better, but I get tired of the struggle sometimes.  I know it could get a lot worse, and I fear that if I can barely handle what's going on now, how could I handle things if they got worse?

That's what has been swirling around my head this December.  Steve has been wanting to decorate for Christmas, and I have been resisting.  It's important to him, though, and after getting all of these thoughts out, I think I'm ready.

Steve and Fe with last year's tree.  Yes, I know it's tiny, but it's cute!

At the very least, I'm on the right track to be in the Christmas spirit.  There will be tears for those we miss, hugs and kisses for those we can reach, and love and light sent to those we can't.

If I hear Feliz Navidad one more time, though… all bets are off.  :D

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Second knitting project

I have crocheted for at least 10 years and have made a number of projects from dishcloths to sweaters.  Here are a few links with posts about two of my sweaters:  New crocheted sweater and More on crocheting....  I have done more sweaters than just these two, including a sweater that ended up being far too wide and short to wear, made with some pretty stiff yarn.  That one got donated to Salvation Army after I was laughed at one time too many.  If the yarn wasn't stiff, I probably could have worn it.  I've also made a sweater for my stepfather that fits him well, but he's always warm so rarely wears sweaters.  I've also made a few cute things for my friend Sherri's daughter, Sydney.

Okay - you twisted my arm.  Here are a few pics of Syd from when she was a few months old and when she was 2 or 3:

Sherri put her IN a pumpkin wearing this.  She was less than thrilled.

This jacket turned out really cute, and I even made toggle buttons with polymer clay.

So, the upshot is:  the construction of a sweater does not scare me, nor do I find it daunting.

Emboldened by the bag I discussed a few days ago I picked a hooded jacket (the kids call them "hoodies" nowadays) from the cover of the Fall 2010 Knitscene magazine.  It looked pretty easy.  I thought it was well within my skills and could be knit with yarn that had survived my stash-purge before my move up to Milwaukee

Yeah.  Looks can be deceiving.

Okay, folks!  Hold on to your hats and buckle up...  This is going to be quite a rocky ride.

The first thing you generally work on is the back, starting from the bottom.  The first 18 rows of this sweater is worked in seed stitch, which is knit one, purl one across the row, then the next row is purl one, knit one, so you're purling on top of a knit stitch and knitting on top of a purl.  There is a lot of yarn movement (yarn behind the needle for a knit and yarn in front of the needle for a purl), and you can't easily tell what's going on until you're a few rows in.  In this regard, crochet is pretty easy - you can generally tell if you just did a single crochet or a double.

I mainly worked on this when Mom was in the hospital.  I do not recommend this unless you're very familiar with what you're doing.  I got interrupted a lot by techs, nurses, and doctors coming in, Mom needing something, my phone ringing, or whatever else you can think of.

Attempt #1:  16 rows in
I finally figured out what seed stitch is supposed to look like, and my version definitely did not look like that.  It's the band at the bottom of the sweater that fits a little tighter but will expand if necessary.  It did resemble that in spots, but there were expanses that looked like jumble.  If you don't get the stitches exactly right, it doesn't work.  I was keen to leave it as is, but my husband said, "You're going to have to rip it out.  I know my wife - you won't be happy with it like that."  I threw the ball of yarn at him.  So he could wind as I ripped it out.  That's the only reason - I promise!

Attempt #2:  3 rows in
The phone rang, and I set my knitting down without pushing the loops farther on the needles.  I dropped a stitch, and being a new knitter, I didn't know how to fix it.  (I think I got the hang of it now, though!)  The worst part about this?  It was a wrong number.

Attempt #3:  14 rows in
I was doing well.  Really, I was.  But I got confused on which row I was supposed to do - did I start with a knit or a purl?  I undid the row and tried again, but I misread my tick marks and got it wrong.  I didn't realize it for a few more rows.  Argh!

(As an aside, by now I was doing great with the seed stitch as long as I moved the yarn right after the stitch.  I still got confused but usually could straighten myself out by counting "knit, purl" or "purl, knit" on the loops of the right needle.)

Attempt #4:  about 15 rows of stockinette past the 18 of seed stitch
Everything went great.  I finished the band and was working on the rest of the body, which is worked in easy stockinette stitch (row of knit, row of purl).  I kept looking at it, though.  The pattern calls for size 7 needles, but I didn't have any.  I had size 6, though, which I purchased for something else, so I figured I'd use that and up the pattern by two sizes.  I crochet tightly, so I assumed I'd knit tightly, too.  After I showed it to Steve, he said, "That's the whole back?"  I threw the yarn at him again and tossed my needles into the bottom of my bag.

Attempt #5about 4 rows of stockinette past the 18 of seed stitch
Now for reasons I don't remember, I purchased size 9 needles instead of the recommended size 7.  On the up side, I decided to knit my own size instead of two sizes up.  Less stitches = quicker sweater.  Theoretically.  I got really far that day at the hospital, finishing at the end of a row to make sure I didn't drop any stitches.  After dinner, Steve and I watched TV, and I picked up my knitting and dug in the bottom of my bag for the other needle.  Do you see where this is going?  I didn't... for about 6 rows.  I was wondering why some rows were really tight and some were really loose.  Then I finally looked at the size 9 needle in one hand and the size 6 in my other.  Oh, crap.  Both are the really nice, smooth bamboo needles (the same color, of course), and it didn't even occur to me to check the sizes before I started.

(Now, a sane person would have thrown both sets of needles, the very tired yarn, and the magazine in the trash.  I am, obviously, not a sane person.  My darling husband is now very good at winding yarn back on the skein, and the size 6 needles were banished to another location.)

Attempt #6:  SUCCESS!!
I'm now pretty good at seed stitch.  I really ought to be at this point, ya think?  I flew through those 18 rows and have completed 18 rows of the stockinette stitch so far.  I have put it aside to work on jewelry the last few months, but after this post, I may just pick it up again.  Want to see what I have so far?

That part on the bottom is the seed stitch.  Imagine how it'd look if you get off the pattern even one stitch.  I did not take pictures of attempt #1.  I weighed the options of humor vs. humiliation, and I opted to just tell you about it.  So sorry!  (not)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

First knitting project

Since it's been months since I last posted about knitting, you may want to refresh your memory on my rocky beginning by reading my previous posts:  Stop me!!! and By Jove....

I decided that since I finally could knit I should do a project instead of just a sample, so I made a bag.  Most of it was knitted while my mother was in the hospital.  I had two yarns - Elsebeth Lavold Chunky AL in the Wet Earth color (50% Alpaca and 50% wool) and Louisa Harding Kashmir Aran in the red/purple color (55% Merino wool, 10% Cashmere, and 35% microfiber).  The Aran has a beautiful texture to it, and the two yarns look nice together.  I chose to use the Chunky AL for the body of the bag and the Aran for the sides and strap.

The pattern was very easy, and it didn't take me long to knit the bag.  I felted the body of the bag then knit the sides and strap to make sure they'd match up right.  I did not know if the Aran would felt, so I didn't want to risk messing anything up.

Michele was over when I felted the bag and took some pictures.  Unfortunately, my camera is a little tricky (the picture doesn't get taken immediately after pressing the button, so you have to keep the camera still for a few seconds afterward), and the pics are somewhat blurry.  How odd, though, that the picture she took of Steve's shaving cream is clear as can be.

Here's the bag before felting:

The curling is normal for stockinette stitch - I didn't mess it up.  I did some research online (because I thought I did mess up), and this article on TECHknitting gives a very good explanation of why it happens.  For those of you who don't want to get into the nuts and bolts....  it just does.  That answer was good enough for me, but that article was very informative!

Felting is a process of purposely shrinking wool to make a tighter fabric using hot water and working the piece to get the fibers to stick together (agitation).  There are great instructions on how to felt in a washing machine with numerous pictures in the How to Felt a Project article on  I only wanted to lightly felt the bag, and I was a bit anxious to get it done before bed so it could dry by morning, so I chose to felt it by hand in the bathroom sink.  There are two camps on felting - soap or no soap.  We had a huge, ugly chunk of soap remnants, so I thought I'd put it to good use (and get it off of the sink!).

This is me washing and working the bag (and probably saying, "I sure hope this works!").

This is my "I sure hope this works!" face:

Michele loves this look on my face.  I think she's a crazy person.  The water was HOT, and my back was starting to hurt.

Ha!  I'll use your picture taking against you, Michele...

Oh... a word about our bathroom.  I believe I've talked about how retro our house is - nice light wood throughout and original fixtures.  Well, the bathroom is more of this, but someone must have been on drugs when they chose the wallpaper.  There are two different colored (similar, but different) green tiles around the bathtub, and the floor has green and white tiles.  The bathroom counter is yet another green.  Why on earth did they choose pink wallpaper and curtains, and how do you match anything to all that?  I think the shower curtain from my other house works well with the greens, but not the pink.  I'm hoping that we'll paint the walls a nice cream color or something that will work with the stuff we can't afford to change.  The mirror is huge and has an aged look to it.  Steve doesn't like it, but along with the rotary phone in the kitchen, I think it adds character to the house.

Where was I?  Oh, I remember.

After working the bag for a while, I rolled it up in a few towels to get the water out and to further agitate the fibers:

I repeated this 4 or 5 times until it looked kinda felted to me.  Yeah, I should have used the washer.  It would have been quicker, but then you wouldn't have been able to see my lovely bathroom!

The sides and strap didn't take too long to knit, then I sewed them to the body.  Here's the finished bag:

It's a cute bag.  It's not terribly large, but it comes in handy when you have a lot of little things to carry.

As with most of my projects when I don't exactly know what I'm doing, I would have done things a little differently.  I love the look of the non-felted purple on the felted gray, but the strap is, um, a little boingy boingy.  I assure you, that's a technical term.  If I carry heavy things in the bag, or use it too much, the strap will stretch out.  That might be okay, or I might crochet the edges with a stronger yarn - the gray if I have enough of it left.  I may not.

I also would love to have a flap made out of the purple.  I definitely do not have enough for that, but I may have enough for a loop for a button.

Emboldened by this, I started working on a hooded jacket.  Yes, I know I'm crazy, but that's a tale for another day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fastest turnaround ever!

Hi!  I'm back after another hiatus - hopefully my last one.  Mom is doing much better.  She's gone through three chemo treatments and is tolerating them pretty well.  She's still weak, but we did her Christmas shopping for my stepfather yesterday.  It was brief but complete!  Now that things have calmed down some I can get back to blogging.

I have been making a number of pieces of jewelry in the last few months.  The Loose Bead Society participated in a sale called Loominosity at the end of October, and I made quite a few pieces for that sale with silver clay focal elements - earrings and necklaces.  I also made some new things using my new stitching skills for a craft sale at a church last weekend in Waukegan.  Both sales went pretty well, and they got my mind thinking about how I can get my items "out there" more.

There is another big project in the works, but I'm not ready to divulge that information yet.  Mum's the word!

The project I'm going to show you today is the most recently done.  Yeah, I know that doesn't make any sense, but it's the most handy.  In computer terms, this is called LIFO: Last In First Out.  Tomorrow I'll show you my first knitting project that I completed a few months ago.  That will get me started in a more normal chronology.  I've always preferred FIFO (First In First Out).

While my husband was looking on eBay for a new timer for our kitchen, he tried to find one that looked like a piece of sushi.  I used to call this a "sushi timer", but after some confusion about why a timer would be needed for raw fish, I had to stop using that term.  Anyway, Steve found an auction for 6 glass lampwork sushi beads at a very good price - 99 cents for the opening bid!  Steve won them for just $1.29, plus shipping.  If you search eBay for "Sushi Lampwork Beads", you'll find other lots available.  None of them is as cheap, but they look like the same ones.

The beads came in the mail yesterday.  Once Steve gave the nod that I could open the box (I didn't know if he'd withhold them until Christmas like the adorable cat jacket we found in a Fair Trade store), I had the beads out and a finished bracelet in about a half an hour!  I dithered a bit about what beads to put with them, but with Steve's suggestions, I decided to use all black, faceted beads.  They give the bracelet some class without distracting the eye from the sushi.

From left to right the sushi looks like egg, roe (fish eggs), super white tuna, California roll, tuna, and shrimp.  All very tasty, and I'm looking forward to wearing my new bracelet whenever we eat sushi!  (For those of you who don't eat sushi - not all of it is raw - there are a number of types of sushi that are cooked or fish-less that can ease you into it.  Egg is cooked, of course, as is shrimp.  A shrimp tempura roll is quite tasty!  Eel with avocado is very good, too - you don't even realize you're eating eel!)

Now I'm hungry.  Time for lunch, although unfortunately it will not be sushi.