Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall Collection & New Lampworking Video

Saturday's art show went pretty well all things considered. There was 15-20mph wind all day with a couple torrential downpours. At first I was going to be outside under a tent, but when the wind blew over a display, breaking one of my hollow beads against a lamppost I elected to move indoors. Fortunately they were able to make space for me.

The focus of my display was the jewelry I created as part of my Fall 2013 collection, featuring lots of leather and enameled copper components. I've actually shown you just about everything, and what I'm about to show you now is what's left after Saturday's art show, but these leather wrap bracelets with enameled copper buckle clasps were one of the two things I kept under wraps:

Fall Collection 2013

Fall Collection 2013

The only other thing that I didn't show you were my hollow lampwork Beach Ball Treasure Pendants.

Beach Ball Treasure Bead

Fall Collection 2013

The first one of these I ever made was filled with sand from my son's sandbox just as a token. As I thought more deeply about why I loved that pendant so much I realized that it was a perfect synthesis of the philosophy behind Autochthonous Evolved. On the tags I wrote:


A simple reminder that we are beautiful naturally.

Sometimes we enhance that beauty with shiny things, but those adornments only describe us, not define us.

The treasure in this glass beach ball is the reminder of the beauty we’ve seen in places that we love.

The earrings I made turned out SO great. I was stumped for a long time about what kind of finding I was going to use, but once I remembered that earwires weren't the only option, everything else clicked. These were really popular!

Fall Collection 2013

Here is the whole thing put together. After the disaster of the crashing display, I had to change it a little to fit inside the coffeehouse, but this is the way it was designed to work:

Fall Collection 2013

Part of my lampwork bead display, which I made for my March bead show at the Mall of America, includes a slot for my tablet so I can show video of the lampworking process for any customers who aren't familiar with it. To that end, I made my own video so I could show myself at work:

The main difference between my video and other basic lampworking videos is that I make my beads at the side of the flame rather than in back. I get the same amount of control that I see in other artists, if not more since I'm working a little closer to my body, but I can see what I'm doing better. So, even if you're an experienced lampworker, if you're ever frustrated with some of the limitations of working behind the flame, watching the way I work at the side of the flame is worth a look.

I'll be putting out another already-completed video as part of the 2013 Art Charm Swap reveal on November 15th. That video will talk more about how I control my stringer placement when I draw scrolls, shapes, and words on beads. So, stay tuned!

I'll also have one more art show at GINKGO coffeehouse on December 7th and another the following weekend at the Northrup King Building in Minneapolis. I'll blog more details once I have them nailed down!

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Are You Kidding Me? Drat you, Rain!

When you live in a state like Minnesota you keep an eye on the weather. I don't remember the last time I saw a forecast with a 100% prediction of rain but I saw one today.

For tomorrow.

Tomorrow, during my one-day art show.

Photo by Bradley Cross, 60, of Ann Arbor, taken during one of the storms that blew through the Ann Arbor Art Fairs

The first and last time I did an outdoor art show, another one-day show when I was first starting out, it rained. There's a reason I haven't done one since. The tent I purchased for that show has long since retired, canvas torn, its decorative corner posts now standing guard over the edges of my garden. Remembering how little I made at that show I find myself balking at purchasing another for fear of not recouping the cost. I've sent desperate e-mails to people that have a canopy I might be able to borrow. But, as I type I can't quite silence the voice in my head murmuring, "I can't believe this is happening again!"


Now, don't get me wrong. I'm thankful for the opportunity to show my work. I don't intend to skip the show, particularly since I've been promoting it. And I don't go into these things assuming that I'm going to sell a lot. But, I'd like to sell something. It can be hard to fight the negativity when I've already worked myself so hard trying to get ready for this. So, chin up. Stay positive. I'll keep telling myself that ... but I wish I didn't have to. Hopefully, it will be dry ... at least for long enough to take a picture to show you all. I'm excited for you all to see what I've been making! And, when it's not dry, I'll enjoy the smells and sights, the quiet respite, and the company of fellow rain-lovers. Hopefully they'll also love jewelry!

Anyone else have Art Show anxieties or frustrations to share?

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Art Show: The Final Push

So, here it is. The final push to get as much inventory done as possible for Saturday's Art Show. Tomorrow Sawyer will be home after his three hours of school, so by necessity I need to be done fabricating jewelry by then. I'm also building a new display, but I need my inventory mostly done to get the best sense of the size I'll need. Tonight for that. It's a pretty simple design.

Art Show: Final Push

Tomorrow, then, I'll focus on getting everything tagged. I tried to be smart this time by offering a limited number of design options, but with lots of color choices, so tags and pricing shouldn't be much of a hassle.

Saturday morning I set up. Besides the jewelry I've been working on, I'll also be bringing my lampwork inventory from the March bead show. I can make quick pendants for any shoppers and there might be some other jewelry artists there who might be interested. We'll see.

Maybe I shouldn't have spent as much time on my Art Charm Swap beads. I already had to make lampwork beads for the show ... what was a few more beads? ;)

Sunday I'll be teaching a Personalized Stamped Jewelry class at the Studio at Rush Creek if any of you local denizens are interested. It's from 1-3:30 with details on the Rush Creek website for any interested parties.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Sanity Service Announcement

Having just dropped off Sawyer at preschool, I came home to make myself a cup of delicious, soothing coffee before settling in to work.

What stopped me, as you'll see below, struck me as part of the hard battle we're all fighting. At least I hope we are; I'll be mad if I'm the only one. So, I created this graphic is for you in the hopes that you get to skip this particular experience. Though if there are boys, or anyone under 25 in your house you might not be so lucky. This might take a minute to load ...

To the offenders: I'd like to document this image for the record: it's A THING! It turns out that the reason we ask you to clean up after yourself isn't because we're bored. That disgusting web of mold feeding off of whatever you couldn't be bothered to rinse out in the two seconds it would have taken - it's ALIVE, growing, and repulsive. The same goes for that wet towel you left crumpled on the bathroom floor after you used it to dry off. Oh, cleaning that up was MY job? Oh, I'm sorry. Here, let me make it up to you by making up a bed for you in the tent outside. I don't care if you envelop yourself in a cocoon of micotoxins out there. But seriously, it's not my job and, for the love of your family, stop it immediately! It's so gross.

Do you get to enjoy surprises like that, too? Now I just need to stomach going back into the kitchen to make that coffee.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fall Art & Craft Show

Part of the reason I've been so delinquent in posting the rest of my soldering series is because I've been madly putting my Fall collection together for the art show this coming weekend. If you're in the Twin Cities (Minnesota), come on by! It's to help raise money for the Hamline Midway Library, which is an important cause.

I put a post card together today with all of the information you'll need. If you print it out you can use the coupon, too!

Fall Art & Craft Show 2013

Fall Art & Craft Show 2013

So, what do you think? Did this non-graphic-designer do okay?

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why Soldering?

I need to take a quick breather before attacking a long post on soldering tools, another on preparing your projects, one on heat application and control, and pickling and cleaning before setting you guys loose on the tutorial.

There is one question I wanted to answer before embarking on the rest:

why soldering?

I get students in my classes that tell me they only took my soldering class because there wasn't one on fusing. There are others in my cold-connections classes that tell me that soldering makes them too nervous or looks too hard. So, let me tell you what made me want to solder, what made me actually jump in, and why I think it's (more) important to learn than fine silver fusing.

A project from 2007-ish. I fabricated the bezel for each cabochon
as well as the cabochon-set box clasp that closes the bracelet.

I wanted to learn to solder because it opened up the world of fabrication to me. As I've said before, I like to cultivate long, clean lines in my work and I didn't think that cold connections would facilitate my vision as well as soldering. But, mostly, I just wanted to be able to make whatever I wanted out of metal. The ability to make permanent changes to a permanent substance really calls to me.

I will admit that there was a gap between my wanting to learn to solder and actually jumping in. I was desperately searching for a class somewhere, but short of signing up for an expensive university class (after having already graduated with an expensive non-art degree), there just weren't any around at the time I wanted to learn.

It was about eight years ago and I had been teaching lampworking classes and the store owner told me that many of her customers also wanted to learn to solder. I understood the strength of my own desire, as well as the strength of my hesitation and I decided that I just needed to give it a try. I knew that it would have been helpful to me to have someone with any amount of experience inspire me to get started, and while I didn't find it, I thought that I could be that for someone else. So, for about six months I read everything I could and practiced.

soldered and forged ring bracelet closeup
The project I developed for my first soldering classes.

While I will admit that it was sort of a sad case of the blind leading the blind (I was clear with everyone about what my experience level was), with some basic projects under my belt I had learned enough to help others start on their own path of discovery. Looking back, I'm a bit embarrassed by what I didn't yet know when I started teaching soldering but sometimes all people are looking for is someone to say, "try!" and "look what I can do!" That embarrassment was also a strong motivator for me to commit myself to continue improving my soldering knowledge and technique.

colorful - view 2
This is one in a series of fused link bracelets that I made.
I just don't want anyone to feel compelled to say,
"she just hates it because she sucks."
I hope it is apparent neither is true.

There are artists out there that believe strongly that fusing (fine silver to itself) is the way to go. I am not going to make the argument that a soldered piece is better than a fused piece. I think fused work is beautiful and, when well done, is extremely strong. However, I do believe that learning the technique of soldering is more important than learning the technique of fusing. Fusing is sexy because it doesn't require flux, solder, or pickling. The fine silver used in fusing doesn't have any copper, so there's no oxidation, so if you get the joint to melt the metal will flow together and join itself. Here is my list of pros and cons for both soldering and fusing. I've highlighted what are, for me, the two most critical points:

Soldering is the only* way to join sterling silver, which is a common alloy in jewelry. *Fine silver can be either fused or soldered. To fuse fine silver you have to bring the temperature of the joint to the melting temperature without melting the whole thing, which takes a lot of practice.
Fusing doesn't need solder, flux, or pickle Soldering requires a lot of materials that fusing doesn't.
Soldering happens at temperatures lower than the melting point of the metal Soldered work needs to be pickled and cleaned.

Let me know if you think I missed anything critical in that list. I will also add that fine silver is softer than sterling. Fine silver can be soldered like sterling silver. PMC produces fine silver and can be both fused and soldered. Depending on your style of work, those points could be either pros or cons.

I do tend to have increasing amounts of fine silver on hand because they do make superior headpins since you can ball up the ends in a second with your torch and they look perfect and shiny afterward. But, if I were making a link and I had fine silver and not sterling, I'd only fuse it if I were content with an organic-looking piece. If I needed perfect, clean lines (which i like), I'd solder the fine silver. I know there are artists out there that could fuse that perfect link consistently, but it takes enormously consistent heat control, recognition of temperature by color, and patience than I have developed thus far.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Soldering: Selecting Your Solder

We've now come to the eponymous part of soldering: solder. When you walk into your local jewelry supply store and you say you'd like to buy some solder they'll say to you, "what kind?"


Okay, so maybe you're more enlightened than I was the first time I went shopping for soldering supplies - I do like to jump in and give things a try - but I was a little taken aback by that question.

"Um ... soldering solder?"

If ever a look was given implying I belonged somewhere else - I got it then. So, let me share the knowledge I've gained in the many years since that embarrassing moment.

Let me clarify first, for anyone jumping in to this series, that I'm talking about soldering with a micro torch or jeweler's torch, also called brazing or hard soldering. So, when I say soldering solder, I'm not talking about the tin/lead solders used by stained glass artists and applied with a hot soldering iron, which only creates a superficial bond with the underlying material, not a deep molecular bond.

Solder Density

Solder is usually an alloy of sterling silver and zinc. Sometimes they throw some cadmium in there for the easy or extra easy solder, but fewer and fewer vendors are carrying products with heavy metals and, if you don't have good ventilation in your studio, it should definitely be avoided. The zinc (and cadmium) lower the melting point of the solder. Solder is available with different melting/flow temperatures, called solder density because it depends on the percentage of silver in the alloy, because designers may need to construct a component in several steps and don't want previous joints/seams to unsolder when heat is applied to the new joint.

I will add that it is possible to do several successive joints/seams with the same solder density because as the previous seam heats up some of the zinc melts effectively increasing the flow temperature of the solder in that seam. You need to be aware, however, because the solder begins to pit as the zinc melts, potentially weakening the bond at the seam.

It is also worth saying that the more silver that's in your solder the stronger the bond it will make at the joint/seam. So, start with the highest melting-temperature solder that's practical with your project.

Solder Density   Melting Temp   Flow Temp   silver content   Notes:
extra-hard   1,370°F (743°C)   1,490°F (810°C)   80%  also called I.T. (intense temperature); used in enameling
hard   1,365°F (741°C)   1,450°F (788°C)   75%  Highest melting temperature solder used in standard sterling silver soldering
medium   1,275°F (691°C)   1,360°F (738°C)   70% 
easy   1,240°F (671°C)   1,325°F (718°C)   65% 
extra easy   1,145°F* (618°C)   1,205°F (652°C)   56%  has a yellowish color from the zinc; used for repairs
*Temperatures given are based on the sterling silver solders available at Rio Grande.

Let me skip ahead quickly so explain why you can't just heat one joint or seam and avoid any previous ones. First, sterling is a heat conductor, so the heat from the flame flows away from where the torch flame is heating the metal. So, if you were applying heat to a seam, it immediately starts going everywhere else. You may get enough heat at the seam to melt the solder, but it also starts melting out the zinc (increasing solder's melting and flow temperature) and oxidizing the flux and sterling's 7.5% copper. So, to solder a joint/seam, the heat needs to start anywhere else but the joint/seam in question, making all of the others more vulnerable to coming undone. More about heat control in two posts.

Solder Type


Remember here, as I present even more forms of solder, that the choices here give you the power to tailor make the soldering process to suit the special needs of your projects or working style. To that end solder is available in sheet, chips, wire, solder-filled wire, and paste.

Sheet is normally the least expensive and a 1"x2" section cut into 1-2mm square pallions should get your through many, many projects. Chips are just pre-cut pallions. What you should remember about sheet and chips is that solder needs to be clean (like the metal you're using, and the hands you use to touch and move everything) and chips or pre-cut pallions are not fun to clean, so I'd recommend buying sheet and cleaning and cutting it as you go. Buying sheet rather than chips also allows you to cut the precise size of chip you need, which is often smaller than the standard chip size in my experience. A little solder really does go a long way. You can apply chips and pallions next to the joint/seam you are soldering, or you can melt it to the tip of a tungsten pick and, once your piece is to temperature, apply it directly to the joint/seam. This is the more efficient method for production soldering and prevents overheating the solder and melting out the zinc as you heat up the metal of your project. To make this work well, however, you'll need to work on your ability to read temperature and time your placement, so it takes practice.

Solder wire can be used round on the coil or flattened and cut. Some artists like to use solder on the coil in place of a soldering pick, but I'd classify this as an advanced technique requiring a strong ability to judge heat and timing. It's a really easy way to apply way too much solder to a joint/seam. Care needs to be taken not to confuse wire solder with your sterling silver wire. You can also buy sterling silver wire with solder inside to simplify the process of making jump rings and links; for better or worse I will say, based on my experience, that this is very soft wire.

Finally there's solder paste which is a mix of solder and flux and can be applied with a syringe (when you buy it in a syringe) or brush (when you buy it in a jar). Syringe paste solder is my solder of choice. I love that the flux is part of the paste because the process of heating and drying the flux doesn't move the solder like with pallions. I love that the syringe allows you to place the paste precisely where you need in the amount you need. I find that I am much more efficient in my solder application because I end up using less solder than with pallions and it stays where I put it, including underneath a raised joints/seams, which allows me to place my project in a way that maximizes the heat distribution rather than forcing me to place my project in a way that keeps the solder pallions in place (or where I can reach the joint with a tungsten soldering pick).

But, of course, read about what methods other artists use and why they like them and try different kinds of solder and see what works for you.

For those of you getting anxious for more I'll leave you with some links to more Ganoksin articles:
Basic principles of construction and soldering
Some soldering hints and tricks
Why soldering will never be as easy as brewing a pot of coffee
To help you be mindful of potential challenges so you can overcome them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Soldering: Flux

Yesterday we talked about how soldering works on a molecular level to help us get ready for the soldered and wirework earring tutorial I'll be posting soon. Today we'll be talking about flux. As I mentioned yesterday, it's the compound that prevents the oxidation of copper at high temperatures so that the solder can flow into the molecular lattice of the silver you'll be soldering (remembering, of course, that sterling silver is 7.5% copper).

soldering flux

Flux absorbs oxygen through a chemical reaction. It begins to melt as the metal absorbs the heat from the flame; at soldering temperatures it then turns into a kind of glass. That's one reason that flux works well as a flow agent in enameling and ceramic glazes, as well as in soldering. There are, of course, different kinds of flux: different fluxes for ceramics, enameling, and soldering. Among soldering fluxes alone there are different brands and each brand or chemical formulation serves one of two different purposes: flow flux or barrier flux.

Part of what can make soldering seem so complicated is that there are so many steps: filing and cleaning, fluxing, choosing solder and applying it, the heating of the project to soldering temperature, quenching, pickling, and finally cleaning and polishing. So, when any individual step has a lot of different options, it can feel overwhelming. I hear you! But what I've learned is that having those options means that you have more opportunities to make your piece perfect by tailoring the process to suit your specific needs. I think it's important to remember that and use it as a goal for continuing to learn and perfect every component of your craft. It's also important to know that it is absolutely possible to approach soldering in a streamlined way, using the same products and process on a wide variety of projects resulting in good bonds and aesthetic results right off the bat.

For a long time I only used a flow flux in my soldering and was content to pickle, sand, and polish the firescale off of my work. That works. But, to cut down cleaning time, and to maximize the strength of your work (and not filing layers away from your piece), it's good to know that barrier fluxes are available.

To expand upon what I touched on yesterday, flow fluxes are the fluxes that prevent oxidation at the seam or joint that you want to solder. Barrier fluxes prevent oxidation on the rest of the piece. While there will be those that argue with me, it's really only essential to have a flow flux. That being said, you also need to know that every second the metal is exposed to heat the copper is oxidizing, so you want to use the largest flame appropriate for the job to complete the soldering as quickly as possible in order to minimize the firescale. That's the part that takes practice - knowing how much heat the piece needs and your margin of error between developing unrecoverable firescale and melting your work to kingdom come. Know that there is a workable margin there, but also know what you're trying to avoid. Fear not. I'll talk more about the application of heat in another post.

So, which fluxes are which?

Flow Flux   Barrier Flux
My-T-Flux Pripp's Flux/boric acid and denatured alcohol
Batterns Cupronil
Handy Flux Stop Ox
Grifflux Firescoff

I think that understanding that there are two different kinds of flux is the most important think to know about flux - that you can't just use any flux for any job. Personally, I've used Pripp's Flux, boric acid and denatured alcohol, and cupronil for barrier fluxes. I like the Pripp's/boric acid fluxes well. For me, the cupronil has tended to leave a copper colored coating where I didn't want it. For flow fluxes I'll be honest off the bat and say that I worship at the altar of paste solder, which has flux in the paste. Hooray! I've also used and liked My-T-Flux and Handy Flux, and liked both well. As always, though, read reviews for yourself and check it out on your own. But, for a buying recommendation, I'd say start with either My-T-Flux or Handy Flux and Pripp's for a barrier flux, depending on what's more easily available to you.

Here is a video from YouTube that I love showing the soldering process using barrier flux and flow flux on a gold ring:

Just in case I didn't nerd-it-up enough for you here, a great article to read for a more thorough understanding of flux is at Ganoksin.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Soldering Overview and Tutorial Preview

I've been working on a blog post tutorial for this pair of soldered and wirework earrings.

Etched, Soldered, and Wirework Earring

As I wrote it I realized that I wanted to have a video to demonstrate how to solder the cabochon bezel cup in the design and didn't want to delve too deeply into all the technical aspects in the video. But, to do soldering successfully, it's important information to understand - particularly for the delicate soldering used for the earrings. So, in preparation for that tutorial, I'm going to start breaking it down. Today I'm going to talk about what's going on at a molecular level. Tomorrow we'll talk more about flux.

For the non-jewelry makers that have made it this far - stick around. I know this may not be information you'll ever use, but if you think you're ever going to purchase artisan jewelry that's been soldered, it may be helpful to you to know this so you can ask questions of the artist and better judge the quality of the product before you buy.

soldering: molecules

Soldering is possible because metals are made of molecules in a crystal structure, allowing the molecules of a lower-temperature solder to flow within the molecular structure of the piece you want to join. This is called an interstitial bond. I work primarily with sterling silver, which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.

soldering: interstitial bonding

The sterling's copper molecules hate being alone and, if you don't use flux, they can bond with oxygen molecules from the air at temperatures lower than the melting point of solder. This creates what is known as firescale.

soldering: troublesome oxygen

soldering: oxygen bonds

Once the copper binds to the oxygen little to no room for the solder molecules. Even if a bond is formed, it is going to be weak. So, allowing a strong bond to be formed at the joint is flux's most important role, but it is also used to prevent firescale from developing on the rest of the piece that's being soldered. More about that tomorrow!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hooray For School!

I've been reading the comments from parents on Facebook this week looking at the adorable pictures of kids heading off to a new school year. Today was Sawyer's first day back to his second year of preschool - five days a week this year! Call me un-maternal, but dropping him off with a hug, kiss, I-love-you-with-a-heart, and a wave goodbye was a time for sweet celebration. Finally! Some time alone, with peace and quiet, to focus and create.

Having so looked forward to this day, I was well prepared for three hours of productivity. I made a slew of enameled charms on Saturday and began incorporating them into my Fall 2013 collection. And now, before I have to rush out to pick Sawyer back up, here is a sneak peek of what's to come. The collection features lots of enameled copper (by me), antiqued copper, and leather. I'll have a wide range of products from affordable basic necklaces and earrings to one-of-a-kind statement pieces and shawl and sweater pins. And, since I do still consider myself primarily a lampworker, I'll also be making hollow clear transparent beads that I'll fill with desert sand, cap, rivet, and hang from a long leather cord to round out what is developing into a southwestern themed collection.

Fall Collection 2013 Teaser

Fall Collection 2013 Teaser

The collection will officially debut September 28th at an art fair hosted by GINGKO coffeehouse (on Snelling and Minnehaha in St. Paul, MN), which will benefit the Hamline library. So, stay tuned for more details!

I'll bet you thought I disappeared, didn't you?! ;)