Friday, July 22, 2011

Jury Anxiety

Last Monday the 18th I submitted three groups of work to be submitted for the Textile Center's Holiday Sale. It's a juried show, which means that a group of people sit down and look at your work to see if it meets their criteria for show worthiness. Normally, as I submit something, I feel pretty confident. But as I wait, during the days the jury is looking at the work and afterward waiting for the official notice (which will be mailed August 10th), I start feeling increasingly anxious.

I learned about the sale from the MNArtists Newsletter the week before and immediately started drawing out designs and making components for the July 16th (yup, the both dates in this paragraph are correct) deadline.

Other people may be more efficient than I am, but when I conceptualize or sketch designs that feature lampwork beads, I have to add at least three extra days to the production cycle beyond the time I need to plan and put the designs together. That's one day to make the beads, annealing during the night, then cleaning the next day. If those don't work out there's that second evening to recreate the beads, annealing again through the night, and cleaning the new beads on day three. That's assuming I have a clear idea of the beads I'll need and how I'm going to make them. Fortunately in this case I knew exactly what I wanted (borosilicate glass bobbins) and how to make them (I've been practicing disks a lot lately, so creating a smooth tube with disk ends was no problem). So, with six total days my schedule was really tight, but if nothing else got on the schedule (like work or family), I'd be okay.

Being the Textile Center, they were particularly interested in work that, "Honors textile traditions and promotes excellence and innovation in fiber art." Fantastic! I have several designs that (I hope) promote excellence and innovation in fiber art.

Three pieces from my I-Cord Jewelry collection. Notice that they do not match.

The sticky wicket in this case was that knitting up cuffs to felt or knitting I-cord takes time and I wanted to make new, matching, I-cord cables, and several cuffs to go with my new line of lampworked buttons. Did I mention I was on a tight schedule to meet the deadline? Plus, family and work are always on the agenda. Saturday came and I wasn't close to done, so I set the projects aside, making a mental note to work on them more for next year, and started working on other things with upcoming deadlines (like the Lampwork etc. silver glass murrini challenge that I needed to send out Saturday, too). I thought that was the end of the story.

Those of you who know me know that I think voicemail is pretty much the stupidest thing on earth. If you need to get a hold of me, phone is never the best method and voicemail ... you should just know you ought not hold your breath to hear back from me becase chances are it'll get deleted from the system before I check it. So Monday I was at work and Adrianne called for her morning check-in and asked if I got her voicemail Saturday.

Now that you're done laughing, let me just clarify that the answer was "um, no." More background information: The store where I work, Knits & Pearls is a bead and yarn store. As might be expected in a world that is becoming more interconnected every day, one of our fabulous regular customers, Terrie, is very closely acquainted with the manager of the Textile Store. Being that the Holiday Sale at the Textile Center was both beading and knitting related, I had mentioned to the group of ladies that comes to the store for the Wednesday Knitting Clinic that I was working on putting work together for the jury process. When Terrie saw her friend on Saturday (the day of the deadline), she asked if I had submitted my work. I hadn't. However, the Textile Center friend told Terrie that she would extend the deadline to Monday for me. Terrie called Adrianne, Adrianne called me, and if I had seen that she called and checked my messages I'd have had plenty of time. Something else to chalk up as a life lesson.

When someone extends a deadline just for me, I do my best not to totally blow it. Thus, Monday was chaotic. When I told Adrianne on the phone that I didn't have the pieces complete she said, hoping that if I become better known in the community the store will also, I should focus on getting my pieces ready to take in. While I was and am very thankful for that opportunity, doubt was born as I was scurrying to gather old samples and make new ones that would fufill the requirement that we have up to three categories of distinctly different items with a maximum of three examples of each. The I-cord pieces were very close to what I had in mind to submit. The two wire sweater and shawl pins weren't what I had thought I should submit, but it is a good supplement to the theme of fiber products. The wire jewelry wasn't, in the least, what I had invisioned submitting. On top of that, because I was hurrying, I didn't feel like I was producing my very best work. While the already-made pieces I gathered were fine, I had been hoping to have new, matching pieces to submit.

Jurying is based on the following criteria:
• General appeal
• Workmanship
• Price
• Relationship to Textile Center mission (Honoring textile traditions and promoting excellence and innovation in fiber art.)

I feel that, on general appeal and price, that I'm fine. On workmanship and relationship to the Textile Center mission, I'd have to honestly admit that I'm not confident that my work was able to stand up to the kind of scrutiny I'd expect it to and I'm very disappointed in myself for that. Granted, at some point you have to submit what you have and try, and let the competition do its work. But, in the end, I'd like to think I'm capable of achieving goals that are higher than settling for good enough. Is it wrong to hope the jurors thought I accomplished that?

Three pieces from my Wire & Lampwork collection

Friday, July 8, 2011

Please, please do NOT finish your ends like this!

As the jewelry instructor at Knits & Pearls, where I also work as a sales assistant, I do all of the jewelry repairs, redesign, and restringing projects that come in. One of our customers brought in a pretty garnet and sterling necklace today, made by a local Twin Cities designer, to be split into a two strand necklace.

If you're familiar with my blog you know I have a serious, serious beef with designers selling jewelry that looks like they just got out of their first jewelry making class at the big box craft store. Let me show you a picture of the necklace and explain what I mean.

Please, please do NOT finish your ends like this!
No, I'm not going to let you see who it is. That's just not nice.

Crimp beadsmashed flat with pliers not the crimping variety.Arrrrgh! It looks bad, it leaves four corners to scratch you, and it doesn't capture the beading cable as efficiently as possible. Crimping pliers are specially designed (like the much-larger pliers designed for the industrially used ferrule) to minimize work hardening and stress on the metal, which in turn helps prevent breakage. Additionally, the crimping pliers bends the crimp tube in a way that creates redundancy in the way it captures the stringing cable, better ensuring that the crimp bead holds the cable without being prone to breakage.
Crimp coverNoneWhy should you use a crimp cover? Besides covering the crimp bead to create a more polished aesthetic, it creates a buffer around the crimp bead by absorbing and diverting a lot of the stress caused by movement of the bracelet and clasp, helping prevent accidental breakage.
Wire Guardian or French WireNoneLike with the crimp cover, this finishing component offers both an aesthetic and practical purpose. Most beading cable, unless you purchase the sterling silver cable, doesn't look particularly pretty, so it's nice to cover it up. In order to hide the cable many designers just pull the cable tight, tight against the jump ring (bad) or clasp loop (double bad), putting an enormous stress on the crimp tube, which often causes the crimp tube to fail. Third, it prevents abrasion of the stringing cable by the movement of the clasp, again preventing damage to the cable and increasing the strength and integrity of the bracelet. In this case the designer did not pull the loop particularly tight, but it is still less-than-attractive and susceptible to abrasion.
Beading CableLooks like SoftFlex 0.018That's a good brand of beading cable with a really durable coating and in a heavy enough gauge to help prevent the natural gemstones, with their often-rough beadholes, from abraiding through the cable. However, look at the way the ends were cut - out in the open right next to the crimp tube. This is a problem, first, because those ends can rub against the skin and cause irritation; second, because cutting the ends so close to the crimp bead can put stress on the crimp tube if cut too close and doesn't give the wearer any insurance against losing the beads should the crimp tube fail. Whenever possible, you need to weave the beading cable back through several beads before cutting.
Jump RingPresentHooray! It's there. It's small enough to be unobtrusive, yet large enough to easily accommodate the clasp and allow movement, which prevents stress of the clasp and crimp bead. It's also of a heavy enough gauge to minimize accidental deformation or opening. While some artists would claim it's much more secure to attach the clasp directly to the bracelet without a jump ring, I'd counter that a properly-chosen jump ring is just as secure, serves to absorb and divert stresses caused by the movement of the clasp and bracelet away from the crimp bead, making the bracelet much more secure, and makes alterations of the clasp and bracelet much easier to perform.

Why do I care? It's primarily self-interest. As a designer, I want buyers to feel confident when they look at a handmade piece of jewelry. I don't want those consumers to become jaded from buying my work because they've purchased other handmade jewelry in the past that has broken. It's the designer's responsibility to be aware of all the tools and findings at their disposal to make their work more beautifully finished and durable. While there are certainly very saavy buyers out there, they shouldn't need to do metallurgy research before going out to purchase a bracelet. Making jewelry to give away to your friends is one thing, but being a professional jewelry designer involves much more than being able to pick out pretty beads and assorting them in manner pretty enough for others to notice; it's about being able to give your honest, informed appraisal that the work you are selling will never physically irritate the wearer, snag hair or clothing, nor break from expected wear and tear.

Did I include everything a designer needs to know about jewelry design here? No. There are additional concerns involved with the mechanics of putting a bracelet together, such as making sure the distribution of weight around the piece keeps it in the orientation in which it's meant to be worn. I haven't even touched upon the principles and elements of art and design: rules that should be understood well before they're broken. Any design choice should be a result of careful reflection, not because you didn't know a different or better way to do it.