Sunday, 26 February 2017

Book review - Creative Leather Jewelry by Christina Anton

Discover the secrets to working with leather to create "stylish projects that make a statement" with this latest book from Lark Jewelery.

Last time I visited my local scrap store, I picked up a big bag of leather scraps in all sorts of colours. When I received this book by Christina Anton, I knew it would have lots of ideas for using up these small pieces to make some striking designs.

If you've thought about leather jewellery before, you've probably imagined the traditional leathercraft that uses stamps and punches to create cuffs and key rings and maybe even bags. This book challenges the traditional approach to leather, using bright colours, bold shapes and contemporary motifs in projects that are achievable with minimal skills, materials or tools.

Starting with a chapter on the basics, you will learn all about the tools and techniques required to complete all 21 projects in the book. Then, each project is clearly photographed with an easy list of materials and tools. Christina takes you through, step by step and using images where required, to a finished piece. All the templates you need are in a section at the back of the book.

I have to say that if you aren't a fan of bold, statement pieces then the designs in this book are probably not for you. However, there are still lots of useful tips and techniques that you could easily apply to your own projects that are on a smaller scale or in less striking colours. This being said, I have some neon leather scraps in my stash that I am definitely going to turn into tassels for key rings.

As you all know, I always like to test drive a project from each book I review. This time, I chose a layered fringe earring project but adapted it to be a pendant. I picked some toning brown leathers and added a little owl bead on a headpin but the basic design is the same.

If you fancy having a go at your own leather project, we have a copy of Christina's book to give away to one lucky follower. Just leave a comment on this post and we will pick a winner on Friday 10th March after midday.

Creative Leather Jewelry by Christina Anton is available from GMC Publications priced at £24.99
ISBN: 978-1-4547-0950-3

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Book review: Bead pendants and necklaces by Susan Beal

Happy New Year!

We took a well-deserved break from the beads over Christmas at The Beading Library and I have to admit that I struggled this new year to find my creativity. I think focusing on decorating the house and other craft projects in the lead up to Christmas gave my beading mojo a bit of a knock. 

If you sometimes find it hard to get started on something new, it's often a good idea to turn to your beading book library. Look for a nice simple project where you have all the beads and findings you need and that will give you a quick finished piece. The process of making will kickstart your creativity but without the stress of having to come up with a design yourself.

This pamphlet (rather than book) from Susan Beal is a new publication of selected designs from her previous book 'Bead Simple: Essential Techniques for Making Jewelry Just the Way You Want it'. It includes 20 quick and easy projects from Susan and a few other designers, all for necklaces and pendants. Whilst accomplished jewellery makers will find the tutorials rather straightforward, those new to the hobby will appreciate the simplicity and clarity of the projects. Materials are all easily sourced or substituted for something similar and the main photographs of the pieces are beautifully clear (you could almost make most pieces from the image alone!).

Aside from the wide variety of styles in the projects, there is also a comprehensive section at the back with all the techniques and skills you will need to complete the pieces. These are all clearly written with nice illustrated steps. 

As you know, I always like to try out a project from the books I review. This time, I was pleased to be able to pick something really easy and quick to make. It felt good to finish my first piece of the year! I chose the 'Smooth and Jagged Necklace' but gave the design a colour boost with some Sea Bamboo and Magnesite to complement the neutral Jasper.

I was tickled to also spot that the colours were a good match to the Pantone Colors of Flame, Island Sky and Hazlenut!

Bead Pendants and Necklaces 20 Beautiful Jewelry Designs is available from GMC Publications, priced £5.99

We have a copy to give away. Leave a comment on this blog post to be in the draw. Winner will be picked at random after midday (GMT) 31st January 2017.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Product review - ECO Resin Gift Pack from CHEMSET

You all know how much I love resin. Since my introductory course with Resin8 whilst I was still Editor of the much missed Beads & Beyond magazine, I have become more than a little bit obsessed with this versatile medium.
When CHEMSET got in touch about their new ECO Resin products, I was keen to try them and to include one of their comprehensive gift packs in our Facebook 1000 fan giveaway.

Some of you may already be familiar with CHEMSET resin products. They manufacture a wide range of cold enamelling supplies including several types of clear resin and hardener as well as colour pastes and coloured resins (check out their metallic, sparkle and glow in the dark versions!). 

Their latest product offering is this ECO resin which the manufacturers describe as being a "lightly fragranced, solvent-free, non-toxic, easy to use, versatile epoxy resin". It's called 'ECO' because of it's reduced carbon footprint and reduced environmental impact (compared to other products). I have to say that, whilst you should always use resin products in a well ventilated room, this product certainly does take the whiff out of working with these type of chemicals. I use a perfume-free barrier cream on my hands and I don't get a lot of resin on my hands these days (compared to when I first started) so I was quite surprised to discover that my fingers actually had a pleasant scent after using the products. No nasty solventy smell at all. How refreshing!

The ECO Resin Gift Pack comes all neatly packaged in a box containing Resin (50g), Hardener (25g with pipette), three mixing pots, three stirrers and a small acrylic block. There is a handy reference for mixing stuck on the inside of the lid which explains that the mixing ratio is 2:1 (resin to hardener) by weight.

To put the new resin through it's paces, I decided to try it with two different mini-projects. I have had a silicone mould from WOW! Embossing Powders for a while and I knew it would be perfect for resin. The heart shapes have a flat back that would be ideal for a papercraft project.

I mixed up 4.5g of finished resin following the manufacturer instructions. That required 3g of resin and 1.5g of hardener. I stirred to combine the chemicals but not so vigorously that I mixed in air bubbles!

I had a rummage in my box of flower beads and discovered some aluminium rose beads that I bought from Beads Unlimited a long long time ago. I think I've used these more on cards than I have in jewellery! They still sell some similar ones but I think these are a little bit bigger.

I added a little layer of resin into the bottom of the largest heart shape. Remembering that I needed to put the flowers in upside down (!) I added in the roses and arranged them a little with a cocktail stick. I added the remainder of the resin, filling the mould to the top. I left this to cure in a dust-free place. 

The instructions state that items will cure in around 16 hours but I left mine for 24 hours as my bead room isn't the warmest room in the house. After this time, the heart popped straight out of the mould.

I added the heart to a gift tag shaped card, tied with ribbon and stuck onto a plain white card blank. A quick 'with love' stamp, embossed with WOW's red embossing powder and my Mum's birthday card was finished.

My second project was one that appealed to my geeky side. I bought a random bag of resistors once when my husband was taking an age in Screwfix because I liked all the different colours. I had no idea what I'd do with them but I knew I could make something ir-resistor-able (sorry!).

I chose one of these 2x1 inch pendant blanks from BronzeMetal on Etsy and arranged the resistors in a pleasing pattern. I seemed to have more blue ones than anything else so it's a good job that's my favourite colour currently!

I designed a fake circuit board pattern in Powerpoint which I printed out and trimmed down to fit the pendant tray.  I glued it in place with Mod Podge and brushed over with more sealant. I left to try and then brushed on another layer of Mod Podge to ensure the paper was well and truly sealed.

Once dry, I trimmed down the wires on my resistors and glued them in place.Once the glue had dried completely, I put the pendant tray onto the acrylic block to ensure it was completely flat and so that I could transport the filled item easily. I mixed up 6g of resin (4g of resin to 2g of hardener) and added it carefully to the pendant tray to create a nice domed finish. There were a few little bubbles that rose to the surface which I got rid of by passing over the surface carefully with a naked flame.

I left to cure for 24 hours and then added a silver plated chain and clasp. I work once a month in a electronics design company so I can't wait to show them what I've made!

Overall, I've been impressed with ECO Resin. It's nice to work with resin that doesn't smell bad and the results on the two projects I have tried so far have been the same high quality that I have come to expect from CHEMSET resins.

CHEMSET ECO Resin products can be purchased from their listed stockists.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Book review - Button Lover's Jewelry from Leisure Arts

I have bought and reviewed many of the Leisure Arts booklets over the years and when I found this one, I was keen to get my hands on it!

This publisher specialises in craft techniques and you can choose from a variety of titles covering everything from crochet to quilting. Many contain projects written by a single designer whilst others (like this one) are a collection of tutorials from several designers.

This is classed as a booklet rather than a book as at 32 pages, it is quite thin! However, packed into the pages are 16 different projects to make from rings to earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

The first page is a visual reference to the tutorials (as is usual in these booklets) and is a quick indication of the variety of designs and styles you can choose from.

One of the first projects to catch my eye was a denim cuff that uses buttons to both fasten and embellish. I love to find designs that allow me to combine different crafting mediums and also opportunities to recycle and re-use materials. I am not accomplished at sewing but I do like to incorporate fabric into jewellery as it is a wonderful source of texture and is so comfortable to wear.  
There are several projects in this booklet that require a small amount of sewing or that add ribbon to the mix.

Looking through the designs included in this collection, I started to think about how easy the projects are (and how inexpensive to make!). I think this book would make a lovely gift for a novice jewellery maker (I know my thirteen year old niece would love it!), especially if you included a bag of beautiful buttons to get them started.

Just look how easy this sparkly button bracelet is!

By the time I reached the last pages of the booklet, I was already planning my own button bracelet. I knew I had some of the pewter coloured buttons used in this design that also uses leather thong for a rustic look. 

When I looked in my stash, I found a range of metallic buttons that I remember buying from Totally Beads at the Hobbycrafts show a few years ago. However, I also found some rather lovely vintage beads that I'd forgotten all about. I bought them in a charity shop (always check the button basket in your local thrift stores!) a long time ago just because they were so pretty. Teamed with some brown toned simple buttons, I love how my design turned out!

Button Lover's Jewelry is published by LeisureArts and is priced at just £5.99 (that's less than 40p a project!). It's available to buy from GMC Publications.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Kit review - Boneyard Bauble

If you have children in the house, All Hallow's Eve is never allowed to pass you by. I now have quite a collection of spooky decorations that come out every year as well as a range of scary costumes, so when I saw this new bauble kit from Spellbound Bead Co, I knew I had to give it a try. 

This kit is rated 8/10 for difficulty so I probably wouldn't attempt is as a first bauble project. However, the instructions are very clear and because you build up the design in stages, you shouldn't be put off by this relatively high 'trickiness'.

In the pack, you will find a black bauble, all the beads you need plus black thread, a needle and of course a comprehensive set of instructions. The bead packs are all labelled which makes identification really easy. It is recommended that you use white thread for some parts of the project (using white beads) and this is not included in the pack.

Despite the temptation to jump ahead to the skeleton figure, I started from the beginning, making the skull and crossbones motifs using the white thread. The first one was a little tricky but I got better and better at making them!

Next was the netting component and there was no need to adjust the bead count for the bauble included in the kit in this instance There are two types of dangles attached to the foundation frame for this design - six with the skull and crossbones motifs and six with a bone element.

Following this, you will need to bead a tombstone shape that attaches to the loop on the bauble itself. This is quite a quick section to complete and then it's time to make the skeleton to adorn the top of your bauble.

I am always a little amazed how threading on different sized and shaped beads and stitching rows together results in something that is instantly recognisable. Sometimes, it's hard to see how the sequence you are working to will end up with a finished shape. This is where the designers at Spellbound really excel. They have done all the hard work of working out the order of the beads and the tricky construction so all you have to do is follow the instructions (written and graphical) to succeed.

The most difficult part of the skeleton is the skull which takes a while to build up. My skull ended up looking a little pointy around the nose but hopefully the next one I make (I have plans to make a few more skeletons this Halloween!) will come out more rounded.

Once you've beaded the skeleton, it's time to attach it to the bauble. This is quite a tricky process as there are lots of thread ends to deal with. Take your time and don't worry if your skeleton isn't posed in exactly the same position as the picture!

The Boneyard Bauble kit is £14.95 and is available to order from the Spellbound website.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Book review - Spellbound Floral Beaded Jewellery by Julie Ashford

All small bead enthusiasts will have been eagerly awaiting the latest book from expert designer, Julie Ashford. 
‘Floral Beaded Jewellery’, published by Spellbound Bead Co, is 112 pages of beautiful, nature-inspired jewellery designs for beginner beaders through to experienced beadworkers.

Open the front cover and the first thing you will find is a very useful loose page that lists all the available bead packs to accompany the projects in the book. Each pack is priced and the different colour options are referenced to pages in the book which is a really helpful detail.

Turn the page and you’ll see that the book is divided up into two sections, the first covering basic information and techniques (including a double page spread on the supplies you will use) and the second (divided into chapters) presenting the projects themselves.

Getting started

Stitches, thread tips and basic motifs
The introduction explains the difficulty levels assigned to the projects — two rosebuds indicates a design where you will get to practise a technique with a repeating motif, whilst a four rosebud project will involve several stages building to a finished piece. There is a good balance of easier and more difficult projects in the book.

The tips and techniques chapter covers basic stitches and has some good ideas for making following the instructions easier. Creating a bookmark as a quick reference for beads and their codes is definitely a simple idea that I will be using! And if you want to practise on something small before diving into one of the projects, you can create a finished item in relatively quick time using the instructions in the simple motifs section.

'Inspiration' designs based on the main project

The projects

A good project to begin with is the two rosebud rated ‘Carmen’ which teaches you a star-shaped flower motif that is then repeated to create a necklace or bracelet. The main project is shown in the olive/purple colourway but the other available colourways are also pictured in the project pages. In addition to the main project, there are more designs inspired by the original design including one which adds texture and depth to the flower motif you learnt for Carmen.
Two-rosebud project - Eloise

There are two more two-rosebud level projects (Daffodil and Eloise). You’ll learn to create foliage as well as flowers and add some sparkle with faceted beads. The inspiration projects will have you adding beaded tassels.

Stepping up a level, you’ll find some brightly coloured project choices in the ‘Papillon’ and ‘Sunflower’ chapters. I particularly like the sweet honey bee earrings included in the sunflower collection and the additional projects in the butterfly themed chapter could actually be a great place to start if you want to create a finished piece quickly.

A beehive box!
Also in the three rosebud category are the ‘Bluebell’ and ‘Honeycomb’ collection of designs.  The white variation on the bluebell necklace would make a stunning bridal piece whilst the honeycomb chapter even includes a unique beaded beehive box!  (I have the Honeycomb bracelet bead pack and will let you know how I get on with it in a later blog post!).

Serene Senensis
There are two four-rosebud rated projects to have a go at. If you are a confident beadstitcher already I am sure you could jump straight into the rather delicate and beautiful ‘Kyoto’ necklace. This design is one of the pieces on the front cover and includes herringbone rope sections as well as the buds and blossoms. The other cover star is the ‘Sinensis’ necklace and this project is another example where simply changing the colours of the beads used could transform the motif from flower to catkin! (Don’t be afraid to play with the colours in any of Julie’s designs to get equally beautiful results!).

The verdict

If you loved the previous titles from Julie Ashford (Spellbinding Bead Jewellery, Beaded Tassels, Festive Beading 1 and 2), you will certainly not be disappointed with this latest book.  If you are new to Julie’s designs then you will find her instructions clear and easy to follow with plenty of diagrams and helpful hints to ensure you get great results. The book is full of photographs of the finished pieces in virtually every colourway and with ready-made bead packs available for many of the designs, it couldn’t be easier to get started.

‘Spellbound Floral Beaded Jewellery’ is £14.95 and can be ordered via the Spellbound Bead Co website.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Display Inspiration Series:4: Marvellous miniatures

In the fourth in our series of posts on creating unique jewellery displays, I'll show you how an eclectic mix of frames can be transformed into a beautiful collection of earring stands.

I have been collecting miniature frames in charity shops and junk shops for a while now. Some are quality vintage frames in brass with intricate casting (with and without glass). Others are contemporary frames in shiny silver, machine moulded with just perspex rather than glass. This collection ranges in size from a couple of inches high to around 4 inches.

At this time of year, I am already starting to think about my jewellery ranges for Christmas and the party season. My designs are glamorous and classic and I wanted a display to suit the style.The contemporary frames looked cheap and nasty to be quite honest so I decided to give them a vintage makeover.

I've used Gilders Paste for various projects in the past as it is so versatile. You can apply to wood, resin, metal amongst other materials which makes it extremely useful in jewellery making. The paste is a little like boot polish and can become cracked and powdery over time but can easily be rejuvenated it by adding a few drops of White Spirit and mixing in. The paste comes in a huge variety of colours to give every kind of finish you can think of. For this project I used Black and German Silver. The paste works best on a matte surface so my first task was to spray all the shiny silver frames with a matte varnish.

Once dry, I used a soft cloth to apply the first layer of German Silver paste to the silver frames. It's a soft gold colour and quickly tones down the horrid modern silver colour. Leave the first layer of paste to dry a little then you can gently buff ready for the next layer.

Black Gilders paste is great for adding age to metal components and for bringing out the detail in any relief work. Applied with a soft cloth, it brought out the flower design on my little frames. The frames still looked silver though to I applied another layer of German Silver and another of Black. I left them to dry then buffed to a soft shine.

While I was using the German Silver paste, I also applied a light rub to the two vintage brass frames. It really brought the casting to life and helped to bring the whole frame collection together.

With the frames done, I turned to the mounts. I used some fabric textured wallpaper (a sample from a local DIY store) to create a background for each frame. A bead reamer was the perfect tool to make a couple of holes through the frame backs and then I used 0.8mm brass wire to make the hanging loops. Cut 10cm of wire, turn a wrapped loop at one end and trim.Pass the wire through the hole you made in the backing and turn another loop of the back of the frame to secure.

Loaded with glamorous earrings and displayed with my collection of larger frames, I love the luxurious and expensive look I've achieved. Who would think that most of the frames cost as little as 50p each and none was more than £1?!

Why not check out the range of Gilders Paste at Metal Clay Ltd. I think I might pick up a tin of Antique Gold and add a touch of metallic gold to my frames. What do you think?

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Kit review - Jessie necklace from Spellbound Bead Co

We tried out this kit to make a flowery bead-stitched necklace perfect for an Indian summer.

The Jessie necklace kit has a difficulty rating of 6 out of 10 so it's a great project for a beginner to intermediate beader. The pack contains all the beads required including some bright and colourful small dagger beads and some interesting 'Candy' beads from Preciosa which are domed on one side and flatter on the other.

Also included are clearly stepped instructions and diagrams to keep your beading on track as well as a needle and beading thread. Just add a bead mat, some clear nail polish/glue and a pair of sharp scissors and you are good to go.

The flowers in the necklace are constructed separately to the beaded strands so it's a nice easy progression into the more complicated parts of the project. I love the colours in this kit but I am already thinking that I'd like to try this design again using traditional daisy colours. Spellbound stock the white dagger beads I'd need as well as the yellow candy beads. I probably still have enough of the green seed beads left from this project!

Once the flowers are complete, you link them up in a double chain of green seed beads. I have to admit that I got myself into quite a tangle to start with (the petals are quite spiky and seem to catch the thread very easily). I found the best approach was to keep the bracelet flat on the mat and to keep checking the path of my thread to ensure it didn't get caught. This becomes even more important when you do the second row of linking chain!

Here's the finished necklace with an easy bead tag clasp. It's really delicate and pretty. I just hope we get some late season sun so I can get to wear it and show it off!

The Jessie necklace kit is £11.50 and available from the Spellbound website.