Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bernie and Me

One of the signs of aging is that authority figures (police officers, teachers and the like) begin to look less like older, wiser people and more like impossibly young children.

I first noticed this during one of the Gruffalo's several lengthy hospital stays a few years ago. We were waiting in a pre-op area for The Gruffalo to be taken in for yet another procedure. Suddenly the curtain parted and a youngster appeared at the bedside. He was freckle-faced and bow-tied and pink-cheeked; we both stared at him while he spoke incomprehensible doc-speak to the nurse and fiddled with paperwork. When he left, I said "Do you suppose his mommy knows that he's wandering around the hospital playing with people's charts?"

Another sign of aging is that people you have known since they were children start to have babies. A young man, a playmate of son BeanBeanMoreBean when they were children, was married two years ago, and his first child is about to have her first birthday.

I am not versed in making jewelry for toddlers, so I returned to my first crafty skill to make a gift for this little one.

My Mom taught my sisters and me to sew as soon as we were old enough to ask to be taught. I spent a childhood and an adolescence sewing my own clothes and making gifts for friends. My fellow nerds may appreciate that I hand-sewed tribbles out of faux fur one holiday season long ago. Non-Star-Trek (TOS) fans, feel free to mock.

The first major purchase that I made as an adult was a Bernina sewing machine--Bernie--that cost $800 nearly 40 years ago, a number that still stuns me when I remember how long I had to save to buy it. It is completely manual, not a computer chip to be found in it, and it is a tank. Despite its weight and bulk, I would wrestle it into the car if the house were on fire (after The Gruffalo and the critters, of course.)

Daughter Smallest of All took a trip to Mood in Los Angeles to chose fabrics for the birthday dress. She picked a pink fabric with stripes and a green fabric with scattered dots, both in sherbet tones. From these fabrics I made this dress:

The heart on the bodice is an applique of the pink fabric with hand cross-stitching around the edges.

There is a diaper cover to match:

Ah, toddlerhood. The only time in life that a girl will wear ruffles on her butt and look cute doing it.

I also made a headband with an applique flower out of the same fabrics:

Finally, because I can't leave beads out of this completely, I made a necklace and wrap bracelet for the little one's Momma:

These pieces use bead crochet in the same colors as the dress.

Happy Birthday to this young lady, and much love to the little (growing) family.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All in the Family

All of our kids (6 of them between The Gruffalo and myself) are artists.

A word about that number: I did not give birth six times. From prior marriages we each have 3, making a total of 6 in our blended family. When The Gruffalo and I got serious about our relationship, I watched how our children handled the Brady Bunching initiated by their parents. One thing that I noticed right away was a nearly universal lack of using 'step' when introducing or talking about their new siblings. Following their lead, I refer to all six of these terrific people as 'the kids' without a modifier (except in situations where there is the possibility of creating confusion).

Two of our daughters, Kage and The Mogul, also make jewelry. All of the kids have some (or lots) of their stuff stored at our house, and The Mogul came over last week to sort through some of her boxes of belongings.

Besides getting some free space in the garage, I had a bit of a bead swap with The Mogul. She browsed through my stash for things that she needed and, in turn, gave me some beads that I normally would not have chosen on my own.

This necklace is made up of some of the beads that The Mogul gave me, along with some copper barrel-shaped beads that I was trying to figure out how to use. All of the beads are knotted on beige colored silk cord, except for the large central bead which is wire wrapped on a decorative head pin:

And a close up of the focal piece of the necklace, which is really pretty and unusual:

I am working on another necklace using The Mogul's beads, and I'll post photos when it is done. All of the beads that she gave me are heavy marble or quartz or glass...not quite sure what I'm working with here but I appreciate the chance to use something besides aquamarine seed beads (my default color and size mode).

And I appreciate the extra space in the garage.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Most Important Meal of the Day

I am writing this in the aftermath of a migraine.

It was my own silly fault. One of my triggers is low blood sugar, and I did not eat today until lunchtime. No good reason for that, I just got caught up in doing things and did not take in any calories until mid-day.

By the time I had food in front of me, I felt the first warnings of an attack brewing deep inside. Those unique sensations are not pain, they are more like an electric irritation in the blood. Once I felt those odd, unmistakable twitches I gave myself an injection of a medication that can stave off an attack. And I ate lunch.

The medication did not work with that first dose. Within an hour of lunch I had a full blown migraine.

It is not just a headache, although the pain and pressure inside the skull are so intense that I always feel it must leave scars. A migraine is a profound scrambling of all sensations. In the tiny, beset part of my brain that is not devoted to riding out the attack I imagine that every bit of my skin is coated with a thick, yellow-grey slime that poisons and distorts every bit of input that comes my way.

Light slices. Sound is too heavy. A sip of water burns. Touch is too loud. Only a very narrow range of temperature is bearable, and the parameters of that range fluctuate constantly. Any instructions sent from my brain are spitefully ignored by my muscles and nerves making my hands and arms and legs useless. Rolling over in bed becomes a prolonged negotiation between my head and the rest of my body.

A second injection did stop the attack today. When it works, the medication intensifies the pain for about five minutes and then *poof*. Migraine gone. The medication is not an opiate so there is no grogginess or hangover after the attack goes away, and I am grateful for that. Meds that were available earlier in my life were at least as debilitating as the migraine attack. Thanks to the medication I will lose a few hours to an attack instead of an entire day or two.

So this attack has cut into my long weekend for a little bit, but it could have been worse. It has been worse. There is a genetic component to this condition--my mother's father had it, my Mom has it, at least two of my kids have had attacks. But, again, the migraine today was completely preventable. A granola bar in the morning would have made all the difference.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cup Chain Bracelet

My Mom has a great talent: she can recreate anything in the kitchen after tasting it once. I wrote about her ability to deconstruct & reconstruct recipes in a prior post.

I do not share this culinary talent, however I have a similar ability with jewelry. I will see something beautiful at the accessory counter at Nordstrom and can (usually) figure out how to recreate it at home. Even when shiny things are on deep discount, I think to myself I can make that for sooooo much less...

Case in point: I have seen variations of cup chain bracelets all over the place. Here are some that I made in my studio after studying the ones at Bloomingdale's:

I made six of these in various color combinations and wore several at once on our recent vacation. With the button closures staggered it creates an interesting look--stacked bracelets are so hot right now.

The purpose of this post is two-fold; to show you new finished work and to blow my own horn. In late July I will be teaching a workshop in which I teach this technique at Artside Studio in Fullerton. Carol & Steffi of Artside have created a wonderful gallery, studio and workshop space and I'm sure they would appreciate it if you like them on Facebook. I am terribly excited about the opportunity to teach at Artside, and I am grateful to Steffi for taking this gorgeous photo of my work.

If you are in the Orange County area and would like to take this class, you can get more information on the Artside website page for the workshop.

Art is fun!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


The Gruffalo and I are at the age when the adult children of friends are starting to get married. We recently attended a lovely wedding in Portland, Oregon for our friends' daughter.

The dress that I wore to the ceremony and the reception was short and somewhat flapperish. I spent some time before we traveled out of state to make jewelry to go with the dress.

Here are the two necklaces and earrings that I made:

The 'pearls' are actually glass. They are knotted on a length of cord. On the jewelry form for this photograph I doubled the pearl strand. For the party, I wore it full length. The choker is a separate piece. I also made a bracelet that looks like the choker, but without the dangles.

Here is a closer shot:

The round elements are actually beaded beads. They are made up of several bead sizes & shapes stitched together to form an element that dimensional and identical on both sides. The components that make up the beaded beads are two-hole (twin) beads, 4 mm crystal bicones and seed beads.

I enjoy the whole roaring twenties, Great Gatsby-like look. It is fun to take elements of a period style and incorporate them into modern-day clothing. I would never dress head to toe in flapper style (unless I was going to a costume party), but this jewelry, worn with a short, drop-waist dress, made me feel very elegant.

Despite my love of the art and style of this period, I have not (and will not) see the new film adaptation of Gatsby. Sometimes a favorite novel should be left in the realm of literature. (Major exception: the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.) And I do love Fitzgerald's best-known novel in spite of the controversy over his writing methods.

Oh, and congratulations to the newly-weds. We had a lovely time and were so happy to share your big day with you. This wedding, I must say, was the first time that I have seen bridesmaid dresses that would actually work in a non-wedding setting.

Friday, June 7, 2013


When I stopped working at my day job, I was certain that I would be able to write a new blog post at least once a week. As it turns out, I have been having way too much fun doing not much of anything to keep up with that sort of schedule.

But doing nothing gets old fast for me, so I started re-arranging one of the bedrooms (the one we call The Girls' Room) into a studio. I have a way to go yet, because there are remnants from previous occupants (The Girls) that need to be stored, but I do have a good work space carved out. The last couple of weeks have been filled with jewelry making and offline writing. Time to share some of the former...

Last year I took a class from guest instructor Lisa Pavelka at my local bead shop. Lisa is an amazing artist who works in many different media--the class that I took was all about using resin to make jewelry. Lisa has developed a one-step resin that cures in a few minutes under UV light. It is a wonderful product. It spreads out evenly over flat surfaces and domes naturally as it spreads. It has high surface tension so, unless you flood the surface with resin, it will not overflow the edge of the underlying substrate. Lisa showed us how to layer thin coats of resin, curing under UV light between each coat, to create dimensional pieces.

Because Lisa and her team are entirely awesome, they provided Magic Glos (TM) along with round acrylic blanks, tiny metal components, little flowers, glitter, rub-on foil, clear transfers and other items to make our pieces. Under her guidance, this is the very first resin piece that I ever made:

This piece contains several layers of resin on top of a round acrylic blank. There are small metal pieces (a key, a flower shape and clock cogs) as well as glitter, a dried flower and black transfers incorporated into the resin. The two silver wheels on the sides are partially embedded in resin to provide a way to attach a chain or other necklace. I am not sure what sort of jewelry piece I will make using this. Perhaps I will keep it as is to remind me of how I started out with this medium. Using resin is a fun process and, because each layer cures in 3 - 5 minutes, you can create a finished piece very quickly.

(Note: As further evidence of Lisa's awesomeness, all of the students received a package from her a week or so after the class. This package contained even more items from Lisa's line to encourage us to experiment with our newly acquired resin-working skills. I sent a thank you note at the time but wanted to give a public shout-out to Ms Pavelka for her ability to merge artistic talent with graceful, generous customer service.)

Bead weaving with a single needle is still my first love when it comes to jewelry making, but I enjoy having lots of other techniques at my disposal. Resin has been my medium of choice for the past couple of weeks.

My birthstone is ruby, so I decided to make myself a ruby necklace & earrings. I started with three pieces of silver filigree from my hoard. I mixed up a tiny bit of resin with red & silver glitter. This was the first layer on my homemade gems. After curing the glitter layer, I added a few layers of resin to create domed jewels. Once everything was cured I glued red crystals onto the necklace filigree and added the findings to make this necklace:

Here is a side view which shows how the beautifully this resin domes across the top:

This doming acts as a lens so that items added in previous layers are magnified. It is really cool to watch a piece develop.

These are the earrings that go with the necklace:

This is a ring that I made out of clear and red crystals. No resin in this piece. The crystals are on wire-wrapped head pins and attached to a ring form with jump rings:

There is a lot of movement to the ring, which I like. It is also free-form as opposed to the necklace & earrings, which are more structured. When I design pieces to go together, I like to have some aspects that are not completely matchy-matchy across all of the pieces.

When this process stops resin-ating (sorry!) with me, I will move on to another technique. For the foreseeable future, though, I'm having a blast dropping little tiny shiny things into Magic Glos (TM).

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

It is the morning of Mother’s Day 2013. We have a dozen people coming over for brunch, and that tomato and cucumber salad is not going to chop itself, but I have to write this post.

The Gruffalo and I have six adult children between us, yet no grandchildren. This is a fact that I bring up now and then to Kage, BeanBeanMoreBean, Smallest of All, The Mogul, Gandhi and Matisyahu, especially after I have spent time around a baby or a toddler. I am terribly subtle about it—a quick text to all six that reads only “GRANDCHILDREN!!!” is an example of my restraint in this area.

Despite my gentle teasing, though, I do not want anyone (my kids or anyone else’s kids) to have children before they are completely ready to do so. Parenthood is unrelenting hard work, and it never, ever ends. Even when you are totally prepared, you are never, ever ready. To paraphrase Debra Winger’s character in 'Terms of Endearment': As hard as you think it’s going to be, you end up wishing it was that easy.

With that in mind, I have to salute the Moms in my life before I start preparing brunch.

First of all, here’s to women who become mothers without raising a child. Both of my sisters, Barf and KK, have become mothers to adult children (and, thence, grandmothers--grrrrr!) through two completely different sets of circumstances, and they have done so with admirable grace and total commitment. Spending time with an infant is delicious, and women who step into motherhood do not get to begin their demanding role with this joyful interval. And, as I mentioned above, parenthood never, ever ends. Just because a child has become an adult does not mean that the challenges of mothering that person come to an end. With adulthood there are new and unthinkably complex issues for grown children and their parents to navigate. I raise a mimosa to women who willingly step into mothering adult children who they had no part in raising.

And here’s to my Mom. She is, as anyone in the family will tell you, magical. When my father was intermittently unemployed during my childhood, she somehow managed always to have money set aside for the necessities and the silly little luxuries that are vital to teenagers, like the perfect shade of light blue nail polish to match a home-made middle-school graduation dress. Even more importantly, she always had the time to make the dress and the time to drive around to find said blue nail polish. (Note to anyone younger than 40: in the 1970’s, you could have any color of polish you wanted as long as it was red or pink.)

Besides her money- and time-management skills, Mom has an uncanny ear for languages. When my sisters and I learned Spanish, Mom was always able to completely understand what we were saying. She could only answer in English, but our plans to speak Spanish in order to keep secrets from her were for naught. The same phenomenon occurred when my sisters and I resorted to Double-Dutch, a made up language that thwarted all of our middle school teachers but was no match for Mom.

In the kitchen, Mom is a wizard. If she tastes a dish she is able to deconstruct it and re-create it with eerie precision. She reads cook books like I read novels and she is always coming up with something new, while retaining all of the old favorites in her repertoire. She is also able to improvise brilliantly. Two words: Cheesy potatoes. Or, going back several years, a treat that prompted a neighbor to call one Saturday morning to ask “How do you make that #@$%& melted cheese on toast?”

My sisters and I were the recipients of all of this love, attention and cheese, as were all of our friends. Mom must have fed a regiment of kids when we were growing up, again doing so on an impossibly tight budget. She baked non-stop for weeks prior to Christmas and Easter, then distributed boxes of cookies to neighbors and friends and the priests at our parish. One of her springtime specialties, butterfly cookies, always caused a small, decidedly un-Christian scuffle in the rectory when she dropped them off.

And, although this is an incredibly long and complicated story that I will save for another blog post, Mom is also one of those women who stepped into parenting an adult child. The adult child is her own first-born. This puts her in yet another category, women who give birth to a baby knowing that the child will be raised by another woman. These are certainly mothers who deserve recognition today, too; women who make motherhood possible for someone else.

This entry has gone on longer than I planned and the brunch prep must begin now, but not before I raise a Pimm’s cup to Mom, a terrific mother and one of the bravest women I know.

Feliz Dia de las Madres, Mamacita, Itheguy lutheguve yahthegoo!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lunchtime wrap

I ended my employment about a month ago, but I can't really say that I'm retired. More like redirected. The Gruffalo and I have plenty to keep us busy. The main difference now is that, once the laundry and dishes and shopping and cooking and general straightening up and pet tasks are all done, I have time for things that seemed like a luxury before, like writing and beading.

This post is a follow up to a previous post. I wrote 'It's a Wrap' about disassembling a bracelet for my yoga teacher Tiny Dancer and remaking it into something that she could wear.

Tiny Dancer and I met for lunch a couple of weeks ago. It was a lovely day and we sat outside for two reasons: to enjoy the spring weather and to accommodate Tiny Dancer's dog, a soft-coated wheaten terrier who was recovering from a procedure at the vet. The pup was too pathetic to leave alone at home so Tiny Dancer brought her along to lunch. She wondered whether I minded this. Note to anyone who might be meeting me for lunch: bringing pets and/or babies is never a problem for me. In fact, I will mind it very much if the opportunity exists and you do not bring pets and/or babies to lunch with you.

In addition to the turquoise and silver bead wrap bracelet that I made from taking apart her old bracelet, Tiny Dancer asked me to make a new wrap bracelet from silver beads on black leather cord. When we met for lunch both pieces were left unfinished so that I could wrap them on her wrist and make sure that the length was just right. After she tried on both bracelets I finished them up by clipping off the fuzzies and knotting the leather cord at the end to make a loop closure.

Here is the re imagined bracelet made from Tiny Dancer's old, clunky, too-big bracelet:

So considerate of her to wear turquoise to match the jewelry!
And this is the black and silver wrap bracelet that Tiny Dancer commissioned:
Please note the doggie's noggin in the upper left of this shot.
This bracelet uses small textured silvertone beads and slightly larger filigree-look silvertone beads stitched to black leather cord. The closure (which is not visible in this shot) is a rectangular silvertone button with a swirly pattern.
It is always satisfying to create something new, even more so when you have the pleasure of knowing that the person you made it for is really happy with it. Practicing yoga with Tiny Dancer has given me a great deal of enjoyment and it's nice to return the favor.
Time for a few Sun Salutations, slightly modified due to one or more cats leaping onto my back when I'm doing cobra position...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Isla de las Mujeres

One of the many bead supply websites that I haunt is A Grain of Sand. If you sign up for their Bead Hoard Curiosities Club, you get a box full of beading components every month. Several of the items are vintage, all of them are unusually beautiful, and one item in each box is indicated as the design component for that month. Beaders are encouraged to use the designated component in a design and to submit a photo of their design to the Facebook page for AGOS.

In the April box, the design component was this item:
It is about 2" X 2 1/2" and around 1/4" thick. It looks like someone took a skillet full of yellow plastic flowers and heated it up until the petals all melted together. It is quite light weight, so I decided to make it into a necklace focal.
I glued the contest component to a piece of batik fabric. This is a stellar suggestion from my bead embroidery teacher, Melaine Doerman; by using a printed piece of fabric for bead embroidery, you avoid potential blank canvas paralysis.
Here is the yellow component glued to a batik square backed with Lacey's Stiff Stuff, a flexible material that is often used for bead embroidery:
You can also see the beginnings of the beaded bezel that goes all the way around the yellow contest component. In the past I have only bezeled round focals, so creating a beaded border around a square(ish) piece was the biggest challenge. To help with the design I used bugle beads around the perimeter of the yellow piece.
Once the yellow component was completely encased in bugle and seed beads, I cut it away from the square of fabric and started to embellish it. My go-to design inspiration is always sea life, so I imagined that the yellow contest component was a piece of jewelry lost in a shipwreck. I added branching coral fringe and irregular bead embroidery around the edges
of the piece to make it look like it had been underwater for a while.

Once all of the decorative touches had been added, I stitched the top of the focal piece to a copper-colored chain that was also included in the April box of beading goodies. I then stitched more embellishment on the chain itself, as if the lovely, invasive sea life had begun to twine around the edges of the yellow piece and on to the chain itself.

Here is a photo of the finished piece on a jewelry display form:
I used turquoise and  moss colored seed beads in addition to lemon yellow seed beads and copper bugle beads for this piece.
Here is a side view which shows some of the surrounding bezel detail:
The first place that I ever snorkeled was off Isla de las Mujeres in the Yucatan peninsula, so this piece is named after that island. I am going to enter the online contest on A Grain of Sand's Facebook page this afternoon. Wish me luck.
May 7, 2013 ETA: I did not win. If you go to the Facebook page (linked above) you will see the entry that did win. On to the next challenge...I entered Isla de las Mujeres in a contest at my local bead shop. It is an in-person contest so my indifferent photography skills will not count against me. (Note to Smallest of All: lessons in lighting would be a nice Mother's Day gift!) Results for this new contest are not announced until July...I will update again and let you know if the judges liked my entry.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's a wrap...

...in more ways than one.

I have been studying yoga on and off since my college years. For the past five years, I have been studying with Tiny Dancer, a teacher who leads an interesting and varied practice at our synagogue.

Tiny Dancer knows that I make jewelry. After class one day she asked me to take a look at a bracelet that she had owned for several years but could not wear. The bracelet was made up of five strands of turquoise and silver beads with a clasp closure and it was far too big for Tiny Dancer's wrist. At first we talked about shortening the existing bracelet, which would have been possible but not much of a challenge. After looking at the lovely turquoise beads, I asked Tiny Dancer if I could take the bracelet apart and use the beads to make something entirely new. She gave me permission to cut apart the strands to make a wrap bracelet.

(Sorry to say that I did not think to take a photo of the 'before' stage. My only excuse is that I was just itching to unbuild that thing as soon as I got home.)

I have made wrap bracelets in the past using small round beads stitched to leather or cotton cord. Tiny Dancer's original bracelet had both small and very large beads. I wire-wrapped the larger beads and added them along the sides of the wrap bracelet. It almost gives a charm bracelet look to the piece:

I now need to measure the bracelet on Tiny Dancer's wrist to make sure that it fits perfectly, so the fuzzies and the needle are still visible in this work-in-progress view. The silvertone rectangle near the left is a button that acts as the closure. The beaded cord wraps several times around the wrist and there is a loop in the cord at the other end. The bead slips through the loop.
After the bracelet was at the stage shown above, I used some of the remaining beads to make a pair of earrings:
I played around with including a length of the brown leather cord in the earring design but even small pieces were too dramatic to play nicely with the other elements.
And there were even enough remaining beads to make a necklace:
The center of the necklace is make of knotted leather cord that is woven through wire eye pins. It somewhat mimics the feel of the wrap bracelet without being matchy-matchy.
I need to cut the chain and add a closure once I see how long Tiny Dancer wants to wear the necklace. I saved the clasp from the bracelet, which means that I was able to re-use everything from the original, unwearable item except the wire that strung it all together.
We will meet for lunch next week Tiny Dancer and I, so that she can see what her old bracelet has become. Here's hoping she likes all three pieces. Since she is expecting only a wrap bracelet the additional earrings and necklace should be a nice surprise.
The other thing that is a wrap: my day job. After seven years at the same job, I have resigned. Like most things in life this decision involved a complex web of inter-related issues that I won't delve into here. Suffice it to say that I will have a lot more free time for beading and blogging.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy (Belated) Valentine's Day to Mrs. K

Last week The Gruffalo and I were out for a romantic Valentine's evening. Halfway through the meal, he received a call on his mobile.

The call was from a dear friend who wanted to ask a favor: the friend's 90-something year old mother had just been put under the care of hospice, and the friend wanted The Gruffalo to drive out of state with him to be at his mother's bedside.

The man that I married is the one in our circle of friends who gets these sorts of calls. That's just how The Gruffalo is. After dinner we went back home so that The Gruffalo could pack a bag. He & his friend hit the road in a car fully stocked with granola bars, Beatles CDs and lots of memories.

As a result of the above, I spent the weekend alone at home with the critters. The dogs got lots of extra walkies and the cats made several suicidal attempts to dash outdoors to enjoy the sunshine (we live in coyote country, and our cats are hairless; I keep reminding the felines that our resident predators would not even have to peel them to eat them). As much as I missed the Gruffalo, I had a nice weekend.

During the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, I had gathered several red, pink & clear beads with every intention of making something special to wear out to dinner. The time got away from me and I never got beyond gathering the supplies.

With some extra time on my hands this past weekend, I started to put together this necklace, which I am naming after our friend's mother. The Gruffalo, a very proper British gentleman, never refers to this woman by her first name, so this necklace is called A Valentine for Mrs. K:

I set myself a goal to use only supplies on hand and to use no tools except scissors to create this piece. Everything is strung on waxed paper cord and knotted. No metal findings at all were used. There are two simple strands on each side with a ten strand twisted center portion. The beads that I used were glass pearls, crystals (bicones and rondels), stone chips and metal tube beads. The closure is a button:

I wanted to use a Czech glass button for the closure but all of the ones in my stash that were the right color were far too large, so I settled on a button from my sewing box.

There are some things that I like about the final result: I like the rock candy look of the stone chips. I like the length of the finished necklace (hence the first photograph on the jewelry form so you can see where it would lie across the neck). And I like the contrasts: rough (the waxed cord, the stone chips) & smooth (glass pearls), shiny (crystals) & matte (silver tube beads), rounded (knots, pearls again) & frayed (knotted part that attaches the twisted portion to one side).

While this was coming together, I was thinking about Mrs. K and about what it means to be a mother. We take all of the strands of our family's life, try to make them hold together and somehow create harmony out of elements that might not naturally go together.

Mrs. K is at the last stage, when all of the strands slowly slip out of your hands until the last one that holds you in this life is released. As of this writing, she is still alive, but her hold on that last thread is weaker every day. We wish her peace.

Edited to add: A few days after I published this post, Mrs. K released the final strand of her life and passed into the next world. Her son, our friend who asked The Gruffalo to travel to Mrs. K's bedside with him, had a birthday in early April. We gave him this necklace as a birthday present, which might seem an odd gift for a man, but there is no one else that I can imagine has a greater claim on this piece than he does.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Change is good...sometimes

The New Year has proven very busy with lots of changes and more on the horizon.

I was able to start a new beading project last week. Sometimes, when I am not feeling particularly moved to create something from scratch, I keep up my skills by following a set of published instructions in a magazine. Sometimes I follow the instructions exactly and sometimes I make changes. Usually the changes work well. This is an example of making a change that has created a challenge for the finished piece.

The design is called 'Machu Picchu Jewels' and is from a recent issue of Beadwork Magazine. The design calls for small drops at the bottom of the necklace. Because I had some larger drops that I was just dying to use, I substituted them for the suggested size of drops.

This is what the work in progress looks like:

This is such a pretty, delicate design. The drops that I swapped are the clear, iridescent ones along the lower edge of the piece. It looks fine in this configuration. But, remember, this is supposed to be a necklace. When I spread out the beadwork in the sort of arc that a necklace would assume when worn, it looks like this:

Notice that the three large drops are all bunched up together and that the prettiest part of the design, the oval pear with a fan-shaped embellishment, is covered up. The tip of the scissors is pointing towards the worst of the bunching.

Rather than undo all of this work, I will finish this piece and make it into a bracelet rather than a necklace. In bracelet form it will be able to retain the curvature that works best. When I start again on a necklace with this pattern I will be sure to use the size of drops that are called for by the designer.

Experimenting is good and it is the only way that we grow as artists. But you also have to realize when a departure from the rules is working against you. When I finish both the necklace and the bracelet I'll post photos of them side by side so you this pattern as the designer intended.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Of Course You Know He Dies in the End

Several things have happened over the last few weeks that have caused me to spend a fair amount of time reminiscing about my childhood friend, the late Proctor.

We met when we were both in middle school in the early 1970s. I was in 7th grade, Proctor was in 8th grade. Despite the single grade difference between us, he was actually 3 years older than me; his parents, both educators, had held him back twice in grade school. We did not have any classes together, but we were both members of the after school Drama Club, which is where we met.

Proctor was tall, painfully thin, gangly and (despite his precocious facial hair) very effeminate. While I have since learned that outward traits and behavior are not certain indicators of sexual preference, Proctor was, in fact, gay. He was not comfortable with this fact until after high school graduation, so during our earliest friendship he was fighting his orientation fiercely, a fact that caused me no end of confusion during my early teens. Did he ‘like’ me? Did he ‘LIKE like’ me?

For the record, he did ‘like’ me but did not ‘LIKE like’ me. Our decades-long friendship was never subjected to the possibly corrosive dimension of sexual acting-out, which is probably one of the reasons that it endured. In fact, I firmly believe that all young women should cultivate gay male friends—or at least one. It is like having an ambassador to a foreign country.

Speaking of fighting…both individually and together, Proctor and I proved to be irresistible to the bullies at our middle school. I was a deeply square, brainy girl long before it was hip (Big Bang Theory, where were you when I really needed you?) and Proctor endured constant harassment due to his dearth of manliness. Comparing notes on the various verbal and (sad to say) physical attacks that we had endured was one of the things that cemented our friendship early on.

My Mom was always welcoming to our friends when my sisters and I were growing up, so Proctor became a frequent visitor to our home. When the afternoon would grow late and Mom would ask, “Proctor, do you want to stay for dinner?” his response was invariably “What are you having?” He would then phone his mother to ask the same question and make his decision based on which meal sounded more appealing. Believe it or not, he made this process seem endearing rather than insulting.

We both loved movies and went to the new multi-plex at our local mall often with our group of fellow theater nerds. On one occasion I had a piano recital and missed a weekend matinee. Proctor phoned me that evening to tell me that I had, just HAD, to see the movie as soon as possible. It was great, he enthused, telling me about the anti-hero plot line. “Of course you know,” he inserted casually “he dies in the end”. Argh! Of course I didn’t know that! Proctor’s tendency to be a walking spoiler was, somehow, another paradoxically charming thing about him. Despite “of course you know he dies in the end” there was no malice in this revelation. He was just so carried away by the story that he couldn’t help himself.

My family and Proctor’s family belonged to the same church, so I knew his parents slightly. Proctor’s dad was unshakably convinced that his son would one day (as he put it) ‘wake up’ and decide to marry me. In the very first years of our friendship, such a suggestion made me swoon. Later, it made us both smile and shrug.

Proctor was the first of our circle of friends to get his driver’s license, which meant many trips to Disneyland and to Los Angeles for theater, museums and galleries. During one memorable summer, Proctor and I attended improv comedy shows in several tiny theaters around Hollywood. One of the comedy troupes featured a very young, pre-fame Robin Williams, who was an absolute force of nature on the small stage. Proctor joined the actors during the show at their urging to play an improv game called ‘freeze tag’ and he was so good that he got an invitation to audition for the company. When Williams appeared later that year on an episode of Happy Days, I phoned Proctor and instructed him to turn on the TV and tune to channel 2. We watched the goofy guy with suspenders with whom Proctor had very recently shared a stage and babbled excitedly to each other through the entire episode.

During high school, just a few months shy of graduation, Proctor became deeply depressed. He frequently spoke of his conflicts with his father, who seemed to be realizing that Proctor was not going to ‘wake up’. Often Proctor was his usual buoyant self, but every once in a while he would phone late at night and talk about killing himself. I compared notes with other mutual friends, and they reported similar telephone calls. I have no idea how this might of ended had not my beloved composition teacher, Mrs. G, given the class an assignment to write a persuasive paper. One of the suggestions on the list provided for the assignment was ‘Write a letter to a friend and talk him or her out of committing suicide’. A no-brainer—this was the prompt I followed for my paper.

A week later, Mrs. G asked me to stay after class. She had my paper on her desk, a passionate plea to Proctor that struck every note I could think of to convince him to stay alive. Stabbing at the paper with her index finger, Mrs. G said “This is beautifully written, and I can’t believe that it is completely invented. Who needs help?”

Proctor got help. Whether because of Mrs. G’s intervention or some other influence, he went into therapy. His black moods receded. “My therapist says that my suicidal impulses are no longer a problem,” he would say over lunch in the cafeteria, “but he does insist that I pay in advance.” The late night calls stopped being about suicide and once again started being about the movie showing on television that night. He graduated from high school and moved to San Francisco to get his college degree. I moved away to college, too, and our in-person friendship was replaced by letters and postcards and occasional telephone calls. This was, please recall, pre-Internet, pre-Skype, pre-social media. Our lives diverged and we touched base now and then, but there was none of the constant contact that is available today, and certainly none of the day-to-day communication that we had enjoyed for the five years that we had known each other through middle- and high-school.

Fast forward several years. I was married and living in the prototypical Southern California planned community with three young children, Proctor was living in a nearby city with his partner of several years. In 1991 I got a Christmas card from him that chilled me to the bone: he was suffering with repeated bouts of pneumonia and had resigned from his job because he lacked the strength to work.

I phoned him immediately. We never said ‘HIV’ or ‘AIDS’ to each other because we both knew what he was trying to tell me in his Christmas card. I wanted to visit him immediately, and he asked if everyone in my house was healthy.

Well, no, they weren’t, actually. I had three elementary school aged children and they were entering a truly unprecedented stretch of illness. I called Proctor at least twice a week to report on the latest sniffles that had seized my children. We chatted until he was too tired to continue talking on the phone, and I promised to come and see him as soon as my household was not a seething cauldron of germs.

Then, light at the end of the tunnel: No one had been sick with a cold for several days. I phoned Proctor and made plans to go and see him that coming weekend. That is, until one of the children returned home from school and blossomed into chicken pox that same evening.

One child with chicken pox turned into two, and then three. I had a trio of spotty, cranky children to tend to, and there was no way I was going to bring a new virus into Proctor’s home. We rode out the chicken pox with lots of help from my Mom and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and at last, AT LAST, everyone was well.

When I phoned Proctor’s home, I got the answering machine several times in a row. Then, the Monday after Mother’s Day, my home phone rang. I was close to an extension but did not pick up the receiver, because I knew what the call was about. Proctor’s mother left a message on my answering machine: he had died on Mother’s Day, the pneumonia finally drowning him in his hospital bed.

Despite my despair at missing the chance to visit face to face with Proctor during his last days, I took comfort in the strong bond we had formed when we were barely out of childhood. The memorial service was full of new friends who spoke of his generous nature and quirky sense of humor. I listened to them and, though I was sorry that I had not spent more time with the adult Proctor, he sounded an awful lot like the tall, gawky, awkward kid I had met decades before in Drama Club.

When I went to hug Proctor’s mother and offer her my condolences after the memorial service, she thanked me for being Proctor’s friend at a time in his life when friends were scarce. I told her that he had been the same for me. She told me that her son had tried to comfort her as his life slipped away by singing to her.

What has reminded me so strongly of my old friend recently? An intense conversation with one of my daughters about the singer/songwriter Elliott Smith, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Proctor and who also battled depression. An invitation from my Bunco buddy, Misty, to watch her young daughter in a community theater production of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which was the last play that I ever watched Proctor perform in. A box of old photos that my Mom gave me that contains some snapshots of Proctor and me at Disneyland, both of us wearing the absurd fashions of the 1970s and grinning like loons. The news that one of the Gruffalo’s childhood friends died yesterday on the other side of the world.

Of course you know he dies in the end. But he doesn’t, really. The friends that we make when we are young and vulnerable stay with us, no matter what.

It isn’t always about beads, everyone. And I hope you don’t mind.

8/11/14: ETA RIP Robin Williams

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Green Goddess dressing

This is a bracelet that I made for the TACA show last December. It did not sell at that show, however I did sell it afterwards as a Christmas gift for a friend's wife.

The bracelet is made from tile beads in two colors of green, one opaque and one translucent. There are also bronze tile beads sprinkled in, small green seed beads in the border on upper side and bronze drop beads in the border on the opposite (lower) side. The width makes it a dramatic item, just perfect for the woman who received it as a holiday gift.

The purpose of this post (besides showing off a finished project that I really think is pretty) is to pass along a few bits of advice about making jewelry when you do not know who the final owner will be.

When I make a piece like this to sell (as opposed to a gift for a specific person), I always make it a little shorter than I think it needs to be. It is always easier to add rows to a needle woven piece that is too short than to unweave (is that even a word?) rows when something is too long.

Most bead weaving instructions will tell you to start a new length of thread when you are adding edging or a border, but they never say why. It is very tempting to keep using the working thread to add edging to a piece. To switch gears and add in new thread takes time and stops the creative work in its tracks, but it makes for better longevity for your jewelry. If something is going to catch on a button or a door handle or the edge of a desk, it is the border. While I use very strong fishing line for my bead weaving, it is not indestructible. If part of the border rips away and it was added with a new length of thread, repairs are much easier; you are only repairing the border. If the working thread is continued into the border edging and you need to make a repair, the architecture of the main body of the piece is threatened and the repair work will almost certainly take longer.

When adding a clasp or other closure, it is also advisable to work in a new length of thread for that step. The Green Goddess bracelet pictured above was just a tiny bit too tight for my friend's wife. I only needed to add two rows of tile beads, about 1/2 inch of extra length, to make it perfect for her. Since I had added the clasp with a separate piece of thread, I did not have to worry about the main body of the bracelet coming apart when I snipped the thread to remove one piece of the clasp. After I added two rows, this bracelet was just right for the woman who will certainly turn heads when she wears it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Clay-m to Fame

Most jewelry makers start out with one technique. For me it was single needle bead weaving. I learned as many stitches as I could; peyote, herringbone, the dreaded right angle weave (RAW to beaders) and brick stitch were all added to my repertoire via basic classes at my local bead store.

And most jewelry makers will learn new techniques, often because what they see in their imagination does not exist (yet) in the real world.

For example, I have heard the following from my fellow jewelry making students in one class or another:

“I'm taking a class in Art Clay silver because I couldn’t find clasps that I liked and I decided to learn how to make my own.”

“I studied polymer clay because I couldn’t find marbled beads in the color combination I wanted.”

“I’m going to take a class in knotting so I can update my Grandmother’s pearl necklace with crystals.”

The point of departure from my beloved seed beads arrived over the long New Year’s weekend. I searched the internet and local retail sources for a bead or a focal piece with a primitive-looking roadrunner image to add to my Tila tile necklace called, well, Roadrunner.

This necklace has lots of shine:

So I wanted a focal piece with a flat or matte finish. I could not find anything anywhere that matched the idea I had for this embellishment.

On New Year’s Day I searched through my supply closet and uncovered a package of epoxy clay that I had purchased a while ago and never opened. The product comes in two parts (A & B) which are mixed together in equal parts to make moldable clay that remains flexible for about 90 minutes. Finished items air-dry and cure in 12 -24 hours with no baking required, which is a plus because I do not own a kiln (yet – heh!). I chose the copper color clay to work with for my experiment in making my own focal for the Roadrunner piece.

Here are the packages prior to mixing:

Once the two parts were mixed I rolled out the clay and made a flat oval shape that would fit in the center of the Roadrunner necklace. The smooth sides were roughed up with the round side of an awl. I used this same tool to make two holes through the top of the focal so that I could string it after it was cured.

Then came the really challenging and time-consuming part. I have very little training in drawing, so I made several sketches of a stylized roadrunner that were spectacularly unsuccessful. At first I was making the sketches the same size as the oval bead. After lots of tiny squiggles that looked nothing like any bird known to man, I hit upon the idea of using technology. I made some full-page sketches and used a printer/copier to reduce the size of the best image so it would fit on my clay blank.

I placed the small printed image over the clay blank and used a sewing pin to pierce through the paper into the clay all around the outline of the roadrunner image. After I peeled off the paper I made sure that the holes were all of uniform depth. I added some cross-hatching in the background with the side of the same sewing pin and embedded a small crystal in the clay for the roadrunner’s eye.

This is the focal before it dried completely:


Once the clay was completely dry and cured, I mixed up a wash of light orange acrylic paint and brushed it over the focal. I wiped off most of the wash so that there was more paint in the depressions than on the surface. This is the final result:


For a first-time effort with clay, I am happy. I imagine this would have been much easier if I had actual clay tools but it was also fun to improvise with the items I had available. After I have stitched this oval focal piece to the Roadrunner necklace, I will show you how it looks when it is all put together.