Monday, June 30, 2014

Family get together and American flag keys

If you missed yesterday's guest post by Jill, please click here to read it.  She has a few great projects to show you!

I've mentioned a few times that we were having a family get together yesterday.  My cousin Uwe, his wife Monika, and their daughter Nathalie are on vacation here from Germany.  They're splitting their time between New York, Texas (where Nathalie was an exchange student a few years ago), and Chicago.  We had a lovely afternoon with them at my mother's house, including lots of eating:

(Before this there were appetizers, and after this there was watermelon and pound cake!)

and a visit to the cemetery to visit our grandmother's grave:

There was also a lot of talking (mostly in German, so I only caught a fraction of it - poor Steve and John were utterly lost!) and looking at - and taking - pictures.

On my mother's side, here in America we have a very small family.  I was the only child.  In Germany, the family is huge.  My aunt, Inge, had seven children, and at this point they have had 13 children.  Add spouses in there, and every gathering is enormous!  I've only seen members of my German family a few times, but I miss them all very much.  Facebook has made it a lot easier for us to keep in touch with them, but it's not the same as being able to touch them and sit in the same room with them.  Goodness!  I'm starting to tear up about it.

I turned 16 in Germany, and during my trip, Monika was on vacation and took me sightseeing to a number of different places including the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen and Schloss Marienburg, a gorgeous castle.  She didn't have to do that, but I really appreciated it.  We became quite close, and during our visit yesterday, Monika hugged me so tight and called me her little sister.  I was glad to be able to hug her back and tell her how much I loved our time together in Germany.  Oh, here come the tears again.

I thought it might be nice to give Monika and Nathalie (who wasn't even born yet when I was last in Germany!) some of my jewelry.  I thought American flag key necklaces would be great souvenirs of their visit:

They both put them on right away and gave me lots of hugs.  Later I caught them sitting together playing with their necklaces and asked them what they were doing.  They were turning the tube around and around, trying to find the beginning.  I told them it started on the left side of the "star" section.

I'm glad I could send a piece of home back with them.  They had presents for Mom and me, too - cross-stitched and embroidered table accents from my aunt.  I'll post those another day once I have better pictures of them.  (Hey, Mom... can you send me a few pictures of yours, please?  Thanks!)

I'll finish up with a few more pictures.  Here's Mom with Uwe:

with Monika:

and with Nathalie:

Here I am with my "big sister":

And, finally, here's a group picture:

Nathalie, Uwe, Traci, Steve, Monika, Annelie, and John

I hope it's not another 27 years before I get to see them again!  Maybe next time we'll be the ones to visit.

If you'd like to send your foreign visitors home with an American flag key, please check out my shop's key page.  The flag tube on its own could also make a neat accent in a necklace or bracelet, and it's quick to stitch, so you could have it done before the 4th of July this Friday!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Guest post - Jill and her sewing and carpentry exploits

Frequent readers of my blog will know all about the Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper giveaway I'm hosting.  If you're new, hi!  Welcome to my blog!  I hope you like it and will stick around.  For information on the giveaway, click here.  The deadline is 6/30 at 5p Central time, so send in your entry immediately!

Jill is the wife of one of Steve's coworkers.  Her new baby is the recipient of the sweater I've been talking about.  I'm not going to post the link here because I don't want her to see it before it's done.  :)  The problem with the sweater is that the baby was born just a short time ago, and I'm knitting a 0-3 month size.  That was a poor choice on my part.  It will be far too warm to wear a sweater, even though some nights have been a bit chilly.  I've talked with Jill, and I'm going to make a larger size so he can wear it at a more appropriate temperature.

Jill writes the Braver Homes and Gardens blog and makes all sorts of things, including her beautiful wedding dress with polka dot accents!  Click here for her blog post about this adorable dress and  button bouquet.

She sent in three projects for today's blog: pillowcases, a dress that's nearly finished, and a grill tool cabinet.

The pillowcases were made in an attempt to weed out her fabric stash.  In her blog post on the subject, she writes:
I came across this piece of fabric and immediately thought "this would've made good pillowcases" and threw it on the giveaway pile.  Then I thought, "Well why give this away when pillowcases are so easy?"

Good thought!  Here are the finished pillowcases on the bed:

and up close:

Unsurprisingly, I find the fabric very pretty.  :)

Here's the dress she's almost done with:

I sure hope her husband takes her out for a night on the town when this is done!

And for Father's Day, the boys (well, actually, it was Jill - they're too little for this kind of project) made their father a grill tool cabinet:

Functional and cute!

I believe Jill plans on writing blog posts about these projects, so keep an eye on Braver Homes and Gardens!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Snap clasps and why I like them

Originally I had planned a guest post (as a part of the Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper giveaway I'm holding - there's still time!) for today.  However, I got my dates mixed up, and our family get together is tomorrow, not today.  So Jill's post will be tomorrow.  Sorry, Jill!

I got a message from a reader today asking about the clasp I used in the Purple riveted bracelet I posted about a few days ago.  I thought I'd answer her here and give a bit more of a response than, "It's a snap clasp."  :)

What are they?

They're most commonly referred to as snap clasps (because the two halves snap together), but I've also seen them called ball and hitch, trailer hitch, ball and socket, and button.  Really, couldn't we decide on one name so people can find them?  All the hitch/sockets names make sense to me, but "button" does not.

They come in a number of different colors: bright silver, dull silver, gunmetal, antique copper, copper, antique gold, and gold.  There may be others.  They also come in different sizes.  The ones in the above picture are about 16mm loop to loop.  That is the most common one I've seen.  Another size I have is about 14mm loop to loop.  We'll see that one a bit later.

Let's take a look at those two clasps from the side:

At this angle it's easy to see how the two halves fit together.  The ball fits into the ring (or socket or whatever) from underneath.  It doesn't look like it would stay closed, but it does.  There's some sort of spring mechanism inside the ring to help the ball pass while opening and closing.

When opening the clasp, you press down on the ball while pressing up a bit on the ring from underneath.  To close, you position the ball under the ring and press up while pressing down a bit on the ring from the top.  That sounds way more complicated than it is in practice.  It can be easily done with one hand.

The "official" snap clasps have patent information on both halves.  Sometimes I'll get a clasp that's closed like this:

I consider the "PAT.2007" to be the bottom, so I flip that ring over before stitching onto my project.  Someone once told me that she thought that was part of the design, so if you like it, keep it face up.  It won't affect how the clasp works.

The clasps with patent information will be a bit more expensive than the ones without.  There's a good reason for that - the quality is higher.  I don't think I've ever had a problem with patented clasps, but I've had knock-offs that are too tough to open or are too loose.  Yes, the stiff ones will loosen up a tiny bit after you open and close them a few times, but some are even tighter than that.

While I prefer the patented ones, sometimes I can only find the colors I want in the off-brand clasps and don't feel like waiting until the "good ones" are restocked, or sometimes I flat out want to pay a lower price for whatever reason.  In that case, if I have the option of choosing my own clasps, I'll stand there and open and close clasps and reject those that seem off.  Ordering off-brand clasps online is a crap shoot.

Why do I like them?

I really like that I can open and close them one-handed.  I can do that with toggle clasps, but not as easily.  Also, snap clasps tend to be smaller than toggles, making them less obtrusive and giving you more space for your design.

They can be attached using jump rings or split rings like in the Purple riveted bracelet above or stitched on like in the Twisted Finster bracelet below.

I really like using snap clasps when I have a flat stitched piece, as with my Cobblestone Path:

Finally, here's an example of the smaller button clasp on a bracelet next to what I think is the standard size snap clasp:

It's surprising that there's only a 2mm difference between them, but that's all it is.  I measured.  This design is my It's Got Legs, which is a thinner version of Cobblestone Path.

Where can you find them?

Check your local bead store first, of course.  Sometimes there are little baskets or bowls with them near the checkout or in other areas of the store.  I've also seen them in baggies on a rack or loose behind the counter.  Ask if you can't find them.

For online suppliers, my first recommendation is Knot Just Beads (that's my local bead shop where I get most of my snap clasps).  You can get "button clasps" from Fire Mountain Gems, but the quality isn't as high as the ones from Knot Just Beads.  You can also do a web search for any of the terms to see what's out there.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tool Review - Xuron bent nose tweezers

I mentioned in my Bead&Button Show Aftermath post a few weeks ago that I came home with a new Xuron tool - the 450BN bent nose tweezers.  As with the other tools Xuron has been kind enough to give me samples of, I'm posting a review so you can see how neat they are.

Here's a full-length shot of them:

The most important part of tweezers is how well they "tweeze" - how tightly they close.  I've had some really crappy tweezers that wouldn't hold pony bead, so I was excited to see the Xuron tweezers closed:

Yup.  There's no daylight showing at the tips.  That's a good sign.  Each tip is under 1mm wide from this angle.  Maybe a half a millimeter.  It's hard to tell with the rulers I have.

Let's take a look at them from the side:

The jaws are a little more than 1mm wide from this view.

I really like the bent nose on these tweezers.  A few years ago I bought two new pairs of pliers - a chain nose and a bent nose.  For some reason I find it so much easier to work with the bent nose pliers, and I reach for them 95% of the time.  Perhaps it's because I can see things better while I work and seem to have more control.  The other 5% I use the chain nose pliers to justify my having bought them.  :)

Since I brought these tweezers home, I've been using them in place of the bent nose pliers to see if they'd measure up.  I've primarily been using them to open and close loops of earring wires.  I've been a little nervous on the ones with harder wires, but it's been just fine.  The black earring wires I used with the Loosey-Goosey stick spiral fringe earrings and the Faux-Mobius loop spiral earrings are more malleable, so the tweezers worked perfectly, especially when I closed one of the loops too much.  I inserted the tweezer tip into the loop and pulled it back out a little.

The best thing tweezers are for is placing tiny and/or hard-to-control objects like flat-back crystals.  I showed you them in use in yesterday's purple riveted bracelet.  Here's another look at the tweezers in action:

Since then I've played around with the tweezers and some much smaller crystals.

I got a really good grip on the crystal and took pictures of it from a number of different angles:

That sucker didn't slip once, even though I was fumbling with my camera taking pictures one-handed and rotating the tweezers.  I'm really confident that they'd be good for placing crystals in crystal clay projects.  Yes, you'd still have to be careful to not nick the clay with the tips, but that's the case with any tweezer.

As tweezers go, these are top notch.  True, tweezers aren't the most exciting tool in the world, but if you have a crappy pair, they can be very frustrating.  If you do a lot of crystal clay work or need to place tiny, tiny things in precise places, give the Xuron bent nose tweezers a try.  You can find them online, or you can e-mail me at, and I'll see if I can hook you up.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Purple riveted bracelet

During the Make 'n Take event at the Art Glass and Bead Show in Madison this past March, I asked participants for ideas for next year.  Stitching can be a bit difficult for some people, so I'm always looking for alternatives.  Two people in two separate groups suggested riveting, and there were murmurs of approval and nods around the table.

At the show the next day, Steve bought me supplies to make my own riveted bracelet to see if I liked it enough to do it for the Make 'n Take.  When we realized I didn't have an appropriate punch, he bought me one of those at the Bead&Button Show.  Both the tool and all the riveting supplies came from Funky Hannah's.

Steve and I sat down tonight to make the bracelet.  Since Amanda from Funky Hannah's had told Steve how everything worked, he took the lead and placed the first rivet for the end piece that the clasp attaches to.

First he punched a hole:

Then he put the first part of the rivet in the bottom of the leather with the post sticking up:

He placed the component on top and snapped the other half of the rivet on:

Even though it snaps on, it's not secure until you tap on it with a hammer.  Here it is all finished:

Looks great!

Then it was my turn.  I put the clasp on using a snap clasp and split rings so I didn't have to worry about it falling off.  Yes, I used the Xuron split ring pliers!  We figured out how long the bracelet should be and trimmed the leather.  I had a really hard time punching the hole for the next rivet.  The tool is enormous, and I'm not very strong.  I was able to get the hole partially punched, but it took a few tries for me to get it all the way punched.  Steve ended up doing most of the rest of the punching.

Here I am about to tap the rivet in place for the other end component:

That's a special tool that goes on top of the rivet, and you tap on the other end with the hammer.

After the end pieces and clasp were in, we planned where the rest of the components would go:

I'm glad he bought me components with Celtic knots.  I've always loved them, but since I strongly identify with being German and may not have a drop of Irish blood in me, I always shied away from overtly Celtic things.  :)

We put the rest of the rivets in and glued flat-back crystals in place:

Those are my new Xuron bent nose tweezers.  Check back here tomorrow for my review!

Here's the final bracelet:

I think it turned out well!  Once we were comfortable with the process, the bracelet went quickly.  I think the whole thing took less than an hour, including planning, digging for a silver snap clasp, and swearing about my camera not focusing on the thing that's obviously in the middle of the frame.  (I really made a poor choice with this camera.)  I don't think I'm going to replace my stitching with riveting, but I already have a few ideas for incorporating the two.

Even before making the bracelet, I pretty much decided to not do this project for the Make 'n Take.  I'd have to buy a bunch of tools and supplies, and it wouldn't be cost effective for me to do it.  Also, none of my designs revolve around riveting, so it wouldn't bring people to my table during the show.  I've talked to someone else who might do it, though.  I now need to come up with something else, but I have plenty of time.

Have you done anything with riveting?  What do you think about it?  Send me a few pictures and a description of your project (riveting or anything) by 6/30/2014, and you'll be entered in my Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper tool giveaway.

Tune in tomorrow for the Xuron tweezers review and on Saturday for a guest post by Jill!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Faux-Mobius loop" spiral earrings

In yesterday's Loosey-Goosey Stick Spiral Fringe earrings post I mentioned that I had another spiral earring to show you.  I made this sample in black and pink:

It looks a little like a Mobius strip, so I'm going to call this design "Faux-Mobius Loop Earrings".  This is a great way to use just two Rizos.  I'm sure daggers or other shaped beads could also be used with only a slight modification.

I found it challenging to spiral "the other way".  I always hold my spirals to the right, but to get it to twist the other way on the second earring I had to hold my spirals to the left.  The other challenging part was to work with both threads when closing up the loop.

If the core (light pink) beads look a little odd to you, there's a good reason for that.  I used Toho Reflections from the sample card I received at the Bead&Button Show.  According to the card, they are "Night Reflective Beads" for "Safety, Fun and Fashion".  They're like those reflective strips you see on streets.  I don't know how well the beads would help someone not get run over, but they were interesting to work with, since they glowed under my task light.

Here's how one of the earrings looks without a direct light shining on it:

You can see the pink a little more in this picture, but it's still a bit light.

Have you done anything with the Reflections beads?  I'd love to see it and to know what you think about it.  Send me a picture with your thoughts to, and I'll post it here.  Side benefit:  if you send it to me before 6/30/2014, you'll be entered into my Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper tool giveaway!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Loosey-Goosey Stick Spiral Fringe earrings

When I finished the black and white "fringe" bracelet that I posted about yesterday, I had twelve Rizos left in the vial.  Frequent readers of mine know how much I love using up beads, so I decided to try my hand at making a pair of earrings to match the bracelet.

I tried a few different methods, and both were cute.  Today I'm going to show you my "Loosey-Goosey Stick Spiral Fringe" earrings:

It practically takes longer to type the name than it took to stitch the earrings.  :)  I don't expect that the Rizo "fringe" will stay where it is.  I think pieces with a bit of movement like this are fun.

Tomorrow's earrings are very un-loosey-goosey spiral loops.  They will have to be with different Rizos, as I've used all of this color up.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Ever-Evolving Spiral" - Black and white fringe bracelet

On Saturday I showed you my Ever-Evolving Spiral necklace, which had some "fringe" in the form of Rizos in the center.  I mentioned that a bracelet full of Rizos might be neat, so today I stitched one using crystal beads for the core, black Super Duos and seed beads for the spirals, and matte crystal AB Rizos for the fringe.  I don't really know if "fringe" is the right word, but that sounds better than "pokey-out bits" does.

Here's the bracelet:

Not too bad, considering what materials I had in my stash.  I think I'd like it better if the core was the same color as the Rizos.  I have some of that color but not enough for a full bracelet.  Also, the Super Duos don't stand out very much.  That might be okay, but I'm curious how it would look if I had white (or the same white as the Rizos) on either side of the Super Duos.  I don't have any 11/0s of that color, or I would have tried that.

I think it's really cute.  What do you think?

There's just one more week left in my giveaway.  Don't know about it?  Click here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Feldspar dangle earrings

I decided to do a quick project today using both of the One Step Looper tools (the original and the "Big").  In my stash I found some pretty gray Feldspar and put each of them on a separate pin.  I used the original One Step Looper for the loops joining the pieces and the One Step Big Looper for the top loop.  Here's how that looks:

These headpins are a little thicker than the ones I used in my review.  The loops closed better with the original tool but were still pretty open with the big one.  It doesn't take much to close them, so I'm still really happy with my purchase.

After making these earrings, I'm reconsidering my decision to get rid of the smaller looper.  I'll have to give it some more thought.

Have you given any more thought to sending me a project of yours for the blog?  Click here for the details on what I'm looking for.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Ever-Evolving Spiral" using Super Duos #2 - necklace edition

If you missed yesterday's review of the One Step Big Looper, please check that out.  I posted pretty late last night.

Before I forget, my business e-mail is up and running again, so you have no excuse for not sending me pictures of a recent project for my Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper giveaway!  All I ask is for a few good pictures and a description of your project to be posted on the blog.  Click here for all the details.

Do you remember my spiky triangle bracelet, now called SDN15 - Dino-spine?  The class calendar for July and August at Knot Just Beads has been released, and I'm teaching that bracelet on July 12 from 10:30-1:30.  Please click here for the class list and look for "SDN15 - Dino Spine".  Call 414-771-8360 to register!

On Thursday I posted about a bracelet using a new spiral technique I've been developing.  If you missed it, that post can be found here.

I have since stitched a matching necklace with another variation:

That middle section is thicker than the first two sections, and there are Rizos for a focal with some movement.

Here's another view of the necklace:

Like with the bracelet, the change in thickness in the different sections is pretty subtle.  Now that I see it stitched out, I do wish the thinner section was a bit longer and the medium section was a little shorter.  Also, the Rizo section in the middle could be longer than its current 3.5".  Ah, well.  I can make adjustments for the next one.

This technique is so versatile.  It can be stitched like I've done, with gradations of thicknesses, with or without the Rizos, or any of the thicknesses can be stitched on their own.  I think a bracelet with Rizos for the full length would be neat.  I can't wait to experiment!

And just like that, I have two new tutorials to write - this one and Twisted Finster.  After the frantic writing sessions right before the Bead&Button Show, I was all set to take a break.  No such luck, I guess!

If you'd like me to spend less time blogging and more time writing tutorials because you just can't wait to get your hands on my two new designs, you could send me some pictures and a description of a recent project.  I'll post it here for you, and you can share it with all of your friends and family.  You get some exposure (great for small businesses!), and I get to spend more time catching up on my new designs.  An added bonus is that you'll be entered into my giveaway to win a Xuron 4 in 1 Crimper tool!  All details can be found here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tool Review - One Step Big Looper

One of my most popular posts (at over 1300 hits!) is my review of the One Step Looper, a tool that makes consistently-sized loops and cuts the wire at the same time.  I'm excited that so many people have read my review, and I hope that I've helped them make wise purchasing decisions.

As soon as I saw the ad for the One Step Big Looper, I knew I needed to write a follow-up review.  I picked up the tool at the Bead&Button Show and used it within a few days of the show to start my evaluation of it (you can see the earrings I made with it here).

This post is going to reference my previous review, so if you haven't read that, you may want to.  Click here for all the original One Step Looper goodness.  I'm also going to assume you know how the tool works.  If not, check out this video on BeadSmith's website.  It shows making loops with the original One Step Looper, but the same techniques are used for the One Step Big Looper.

Let's take a look at both tools together:

The one with black handles is the original, and the one with green handles is the new one.  I guess I understand why the tools are so wide, but it's hard for me and my stubby little hands to use:

I find it very difficult to hold the pin while I start squeezing the tool.  I need to either rest part of the tool against my body or use both hands.  I know my hands are smaller than most women's, so maybe this would only affect a small percentage of users.

Here's a close-up view of the "business" ends of the tools:

The original is on the left, and the new tool is on the right.  You can tell the difference - the peg is twice the size, and the loop and cutting mechanism are bigger.

One problem I referenced in my previous review was the loop not closing all the way.  In scrutinizing the new tool, I could see that could be a problem here, too:

Perhaps that's due to the wide range of wire gauges the tool works with - 18-24 gauge.

When I was at the Bead&Button Show, I asked a BeadSmith representative to show me how he uses the tool.  Perhaps I wasn't doing something right to have it not close all the way on me.  I don't know what gauge wire he was using - I didn't think to ask until right now, of course - but his loop was pretty much closed all the way.  Michelle (the same Michelle as referenced in the previous review) said it looked like he was squeezing the crap out of the tool.  I'm not sure if those were the exact words she used, but that's close enough.  I tried doing that with mine, and I couldn't get it to close any further.

All of the examples today are using 24 gauge headpins.  I don't seem to have anything thicker.

Without beads, I inserted my headpin into the tool and started squeezing:

I'm getting better at taking pictures one-handed.  :)

The instructions say to bend the wire back a bit to center the loop on the wire:

Here's what that loop looks like once removed from the tool:

The loop isn't closed all the way, and the pin is a bit bent.  I'll show you more of that in a little bit.  I used some pliers to bend things in place, and I have a beautiful loop:

Let's compare loops on new headpins with both tools.  Here they are fresh out of being One Step Looped:

Here's a different angle:

Can you see how things are bent?  It's more pronounced in the big loop, but it's there in the little one, too.  It doesn't take much to bend things in place and to close the loop.  Here's how they look all prettied up and in the right order (little to big):

The small loop is 1.5mm, and the larger one is 3mm.  I prefer the larger loop.

I grabbed a few new headpins and added a bead to each.  I tried holding everything up close to the tool while squeezing, but with this size bead I couldn't get up too close.  I heard grinding on the original, so I backed off just a hair on the new tool.

With smaller beads, there may not be as much of a gap, but you do need to be careful to not crush your beads in the tool.  I noticed in their video that they didn't try to get the loop right on top of the beads.

I don't know what I did differently with the big loop, but I got quite a bend on this pin:

Also, the loop has quite a gap:

That's rare, though.  Usually the loops are much more closed.

I got curious if a larger hand would have better luck at getting non-bent, closed loops.  I asked my husband to try it, and here is the loop he got:

It's better, but there's still a bend to the wire.

To summarize:  Even with the shortcomings, I love this tool.  I do wish that when they increased the size of the loop that they would have made other modifications to shorten the gap between the loop and beads or to close the loop better, but the process is still a whole lot quicker and more consistent than the "old school" way of making loops.  I will not go back to the old way again if I can help it.  I did that recently for a tutorial I was writing, and I hated it.  I looked longingly over at my One Step Looper and said, "Never again!"

I don't know if I want to keep both of the tools.  I could see where different projects would need different sized loops, but for my uses the big loops will be just fine. 

You can find the One Step Big Looper in a number of online vendors, but you might want to check if your local bead store has it in stock before ordering it online.

What do you think of the One Step Big Looper?  Leave a comment here with your impressions and tips.