Friday, 26 December 2014

Year End

2014 Wrap Up 

Well, where did that year go? I feel as if we hopped straight from our amazing long summer into Christmas. Maybe all that sunshine addled my brain?

As we come to the end of another year, I notice that I only finished one of my two most recent projects. I will blame it on a ton of holiday baking — and on the need to shut off heat to my shop so it would get cold enough to store Christmas pudding and Gingered Truffles. I do not work well at 40°F.

Here is what I've been up to (when not in the kitchen).

A Pretty Pair of Stones

I purchased these stones some time ago (probably when on a mission to my supplier to get something I actually needed) but I never got around to setting them. The one on the left is a Plume Agate and is really stunning. I have sketched up many ideas for how to use it but none seemed quite right. The second stone is Polish Flint. If you follow my work, you likely know my weakness for these beautifully striated stones.

Early in December, I set about designing settings for these two. It took a bit of doodling because I wanted both stones to really shine.

Settings Begun

The Polish Flint will (the god or goddess of artisan jewelers willing) become a lapel pin in an angular shape to contrast with the smooth oval of the stone.

For the Plume Agate, I finally decided to make a pendant from reticulated sterling. As you can see, the stone is nearly free of inclusions at one end and heavily mottled at the other. I persuaded the reticulation to echo that by working the molten metal heavily at what will be the bottom of the pendant and only lightly at the top.

See It Taking Shape

I wanted to keep the setting simple because I feel it would be sad to detract from the beauty of this stone. Once the reticulation was done to my satisfaction, I opened up the area under the stone and cut five tabs to become claws that hold the agate. The open area serves to allow light to shine through the stone and show off the fascinating mineral inclusions that give it it's character.  I also added a very simple square wire loop bail.

Finished Pendant 

Here is the finished project. I am pretty happy with it. I plan on taking a short break until after New Years, then I will wait for a day with good enough light to take photos for my etsy shop listing. I just hope someone will see this and love that stone as much as I do.

Looks like the Polish Flint will have to wait its turn ;-)

Hope to see you all in 2015 

— Dix

Friday, 5 December 2014

From the Wax

Comes the Silver

I promised a followup on the lost wax casting. When last seen (Nov. 24), my three wax models were all on sprues, ready to invest.

I didn't take any photos of the invested metal flask because there really is nothing to see — just a length of pipe filled to the brim with plaster. That investment material needs time to set. As little as a couple of hours will do but for the class, we left them for a week.

Fire It Up

On November 30, things got more interesting — way more interesting.

Here, one of the class is melting silver pieces in a crucible. This is being done for a hand pour into a bucket of water. If done just right, it can produce some quite interesting small silver blobs. A few resembled elf hats and lots were like miniature bowls. I'm afraid I poured mine too fast and the blobs were, well, just blobs.

While our flasks finished the wax burn out in the kilns, we undertook this exercise for practice in melting silver (and probably to remind us how intensely hot things get during this process)!

To see the real drama of casting, with a flask and crucible whirling in the centrifugal casting arm, visit the Creative Jewellers Guild Instagram site:

Fishing for Silver

Once the silver has been flung into the cavity left from the wax burn out, the flask is removed (with tongs and great caution) from the casting arm and plunged into a bucket of water. It bubbles and hisses — duh — for a few moments as the hot investment starts to dissolve and fall out of the flask. Pretty soon, the water is warm and very muddy. Somewhere in that mess — hopefully — you will find your silver castings. Fish for them, take a toothbrush, remove the last of the investment and admire your work.


Okay, things do not always go as per plan. The bottom of my ring shank blew out during the cast. This is not a total disaster because the part that would be hard to fabricate is that pair of arms to hold my silver bead. I can cut away some of the damaged shank and manufacture a ring to mount it on.


The other bits fared better.

Above is the wee tiki I carved. As you can see, there is a lot of polishing to be done but the item is there.


All shiny and sitting on my Kindle reader.

I'm pretty happy wit this little guy. It was fun and I plan to find a way to do more casting in the near future. Certainly the only way I could have made this item.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Holiday Blog Hop

Have Yourself a Handmade Holiday

Big box stores? Bah, humbug! Why not buy handmade and give unique, one-of-a-kind gifts made with love by a real person?

I'm about to show you just a few possibilities from members of The Handmade Forum  <

Let's start with a source of gifts for the guys and gals on your list. Visit Deb Flaherty's etsy shop <> and pick up some of this great shaving soap for that hard-to-shop-for fella. 

Give the Gift of Natural Beauty

To learn about Deb's products and how she makes them, visit her blog here:

While you are in Deb's shop, grab some of her fabulous lip balm for your best girlfriend (and add one for yourself, too).

I have the one below and love it but Deb has lots to choose from. A fist full would be perfect stocking stuffers, wouldn't they?

  • Materials: Made with lots of time patience and love, Organic beeswax and Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Mango Butter Sweet Almond Rice Bran Oil, Shea and Illipe Butter with Apricot Kernel, Jojoba and handmade Vanilla infused Grapeseed, Certified Organic Essential Oils of, Geranium Lavender Lemon Sweet Orange, Vitamin E and Rose petal and Rosemary, Antioxidant Extracts, Each batch is made fresh and lovingly, hand poured and may be ordered, gift wrapped and shipped for you

Deck the Halls

If you would like to give someone an ornament to deck their tree, this year and every year, here is an idea from another talented etsy shop owner.
This handcrafted polymer clay ornament comes from a shop with the delightful name of Paisley Lizard <> Owner Tammy Adams also makes an array of wonderful jewelry items any woman would love. To see great jewelry, visit her shop and, for fun reading, be sure to follow her blog at <>

Feel Rushed? Nothing Beats a Nice Cup of Tea 

Kei-Hawk Rose is the real person behind DesertSageNatural — a shop specializing in organic teas. <>.  

This is one of a line she dubs Sereniteas, "Our SereniTeas are a group for dealing with the mind and emotions. "
To learn more about these carefully blended, all natural products, visit the shop or the website <>

Gift for Best Friend?

Jenn Surprenant handcrafts wonderful friendship bracelets and a matched pair, for you and your best friend would be a great idea this Christmas.
You can learn a lot about her creations on her I Love Crafting blog < at her etsy shop. 
This is just one of Jenn's many designs. She also creates awareness bracelets for specific causes or she will weave bracelets in your own choice of colors.

Lots of Bling

Okay, it's the holiday season and all those parties mean it's time to bring out the blingHere are a couple of makers of brilliant bling you might want to visit.

First, Suzanne of StellaZiganti jewelry. I think all her work is beautiful but I am especially taken with her earrings. This is just one lovely pair.

Can't you picture the way these Hessonite Garnets will sparkle and gleam on your ears?

Suzanne is a color wizard, so do wander through her shop and see what colors grab you this holiday season. Start browsing here <> or visit her blog <>

And Bling Your Home, Too

Meet Kathryn Fritz of Lorraineinspired <>  or visit her etsy shop to see fun ways to dress up the house <>.  Fridge magnets are so handy. I use them to keep a recipe handy (and off the sticky counter) or to put a phone number where I'm sure I won't lose it. 

Kathryn adds fun and glitter to both magnets and push pins. How perfect.

If you've had some fun here today, or you are a handmade maker or shopper, you can keep going with any of these links:

The Handmade Forum's Etsy page -

The Handmade Forum on Facebook -

The Handmade Forum on Twitter -

The Handmade Forum's Pinterest Boards -

The Handmade Forum on Tumblr (which is a blog!) -

Read more:

Happy Handmade Holiday to All

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Monday, 24 November 2014

Waxing Poetic

Lost Wax Casting 

Creating jewelry is done by three primary methods: stringing (beads or pearls - can be simple or very complex), fabricating (cutting, soldering, hammering, etc.) and casting with cuttlefish or lost wax. Today, I'm going to talk a bit about lost wax because I'm enrolled in a lost wax casting class with the Creative Jewellers Guild. See more here: <>

The process is fascinating but requires some special equipment (kiln and centrifugal or vacuum caster) that most artisan jewelers (including me) either can't afford or do not have space for.

Carving 101

Wax actually comes in several forms and can be carved, built up, extruded or molded. One of the easiest ways to create a piece of three-dimensional jewelry starts with carving the you want shape from wax.

This photo shows the very early stage of a ring I plan to cast. I started from a green wax ring blank which was a lot heftier than it is in the photo.

At this stage, I have used a saw to trim the shank down to a wearable thickness, then used a file to begin shaping the top and opening out the center for the ring size I want.

The material is very easy to carve — in fact, you have to be careful to avoid removing too much material or letting a tool slip, creating accidental "embellishments". If you do make mistakes, you can use heat to soften and melt wax to repair the damage — but it's a lot of extra work. This ring is going to end up with a pair of uprights to clasp a rotating silver ball I made years ago but never used (mostly because I wanted this design but couldn't think of a good way to fabricate it).

Next Stage, Refining the Shapes

After a number of hours spent filing and scraping with a series of knives and carving tools (one is in the photo), the ring is taking shape. As you can see, the opening for the rotating ball is now wide enough to accept the silver ball.

One of the most difficult parts of preparing the wax models is to get the finish you want on the relatively soft material. It only takes one casting experience to make you understand a simple truth: whatever is on the wax will be there on the silver. It's a whole lot easier to remove lumps and bumps from the wax then it is to file them off the silver! It takes lots of time (and several methods) to get a smooth, clean finish on the wax. One method involves passing the item through heat (flame, hair dryer) — very carefully. It gives a very smooth finish but it is totally possible to melt your lovely model into a useless blob.

Because you can cast several items (depending on size) in one flask, I also came up with a small tiki-inspired pendant. It is a mini version of one I made in a casting class several years ago.

My First Tiki

A friend bought the large tiki some time ago but I did keep a photograph of it. This is more than twice as large as the blue wax carving above but it shows how different textures — created on the surface of the wax model — will be perfectly recreated on the silver.

Casting Class, Week One

On Sunday, we met in the Lapidary/Silversmithing Studio at the Richmond Cultural Centre for the first class with instructor and Guild member, Walter Pinder. Week one involves final finishing of the waxes, attaching sprues, and capturing the waxes in investment (like Plaster of Paris, but very fine textured so it will capture all the details in the waxes).

My Waxes, All Sprued Up

Yes, sprued, not spruced!

Looks pretty ugly but, if I've done everything right, I will end up with the ring, the tiki and a simple, loosely shaped triangle — another pendant.

Here, the waxes are on sprues (the blue wax rods) that will conduct molten silver into the models after the waxes have been fully melted and burned out, leaving the negative of the shapes in the hardened investment. The spues are buried in red wax that will provide the pouring point. All are in a rubber base that fits very tightly onto a metal flask (open at both ends). The flask is a bit taller than the highest point on the assembled waxes. After I took this photo, I mixed a batch of the investment material with water. We used a vacuum machine to suck the tiny air bubbles out of the liquid investment, then set the flasks carefully into a cupboard to wait for next week when we will remove the rubber bases, melt the silver, do the pours and, hopefully, have new jewelry items. Alchemy.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


It Took Two Years But...

When we decided to buy this wee house, we knew we didn't much love the front yard. The big, ugly, decaying wood planter had to go. So did the rocks and cement stepping stones (steps to nowhere). While I didn't hate the osier dogwood, it sure wanted taming and the spreading plants under it were just messy. Truth is, I'm not good with messy.

This is Before

I took this photo before we even closed the deal (note the realtor's sign in front window). Exterior paint was in rough shape so we did that summer 2012. At that point, I began to see some advantages to a one-story home on land over a two-story one on the water!

We spent most of 2012 working inside the place. Tore out old flooring and replaced with laminate and, for bedroom and living/dining, new carpeting. Refinished all the kitchen cabinets and painted kitchen walls. We also stripped smaller bathroom to the studs, installed step-in shower, tiled the walls and replaced toilet and sink/cabinet.

Yard Work Next

It took until spring-summer of 2014 to really come to grips with the front yard.

This summer, despite demands of the vegetable garden and the new patio project, I got busy with the pruners out front. Next, we ditched the stepping stones. By happy chance, our daughter's yard actually needed some!

Late in the summer, we got a crew to remove all those rocks, then brought in top soil and seeded it. As you can see, it took so well that I'm hoping for a few more of these dry fall days so we can mow it!

More Jewelry, Too

Just finished polishing this open, garnet-set heart pendant. With the low winter light, I had to race to get the photos for my etsy site before the sun went behind the tall trees to the west. Any time after about 2:30 pm it's too dark even on a sunny day.

Friday, 7 November 2014

First Friday Art Walk

Cyber-walk With Me

First Friday Art Walks are common in communities around Canada and the USA but, if you can't get to some local galleries to admire the output of your artists and artisans, here are a few selections from the AWEteam — all can be found, and purchased, on etsy.

I really love this watercolor by DawnDermanArt. It reminds me of living on the Fraser River, where sometimes I would see one stalking by on the boom logs in front of our floating home.

This beautiful centerpiece is from the brilliantly-named shop, CrackledUp. Adore the center that looks like summer sky reflected in a still pond.

Want to browse more? Below is a treasury of other artistic things you can find in shops on

Enjoy your walk.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Shop Shots

November Projects

Harvest done.  Grass too soggy to cut. Rainy season upon us. The good news: I get more shop time!

Big Guy's Ring

My beloved lost his pinky ring many months ago and I planned to make him replacement, set with a ruby, for his birthday in July. I got the stone long ago but summer was overrun with yard work, so he got something else for his birthday. A few days ago, I finally got serious about the task.

Ready, Set, Set

Here are the parts: one ring and one ruby waiting to be set. I keep a small blob of Fun Tack on my bench. It's a very quick and easy way to hold something – in this case, it is keeping the ring upright so I can position the ruby. I also use a tiny blob of it on the end of a wooden cuticle pusher to hold stones. I know the experts use a dop stick – usually made by melting flake shellac onto the end of a dowel but I've yet to get the hang of it. Maybe, if I ever get brave enough to set diamonds, I'll have to master that!

Here is the final product; ring polished, stone set. All ready to wear.
This bench photo doesn't do the stone justice. The color is accurate but I didn't catch the sparkle.

Happily, he likes it ;-)

Two Pair in Hand

With the ring finished, I went to work on earrings. They do well in my shop and with holiday shopping starting, I wanted to stock up. Today, while the drizzle fell outside, I went to work on two pairs.
If my pendants lately seem to have a faint Oriental tone, my earring ideas seem straight from geometry class. One pair – ready for polishing in the photo  – consist of slices of square wire mounted on squares of 18-gauge sterling. I will give the back pieces a frosted silver finish (by polishing with a brass brush dipped in soap), then bring the tops of the cubes to a high polish. Nice contrast.

The second pair – yet to be assembled here – are long, slim triangles suspended under fatter triangle studs. I will  probably give the studs a brushed finish, too and do a scratched and polished effect on the dangles.

It's Not All Fun and Games

Some aspects of jewelry making are great fun but there are "housekeeping" chores, too.

Solder is essential for assembling jewelry. It is a rare piece that doesn't have at least one solder joint. You can buy silver solder in four standard grades, with different melting temperatures, to facilitate making several joins on one item. You can also buy either wire or sheet solder. Having learned with sheet, I tend to stay with it, although many people I know swear by wire.

Sheet solder has to be prepared for use by cleaning (hence the scrubbie) and cutting into tiny bits (hence the cutters and the small scoop for picking the bits off that piece of dark leather). I keep the sheets in plastic cases from dental cleaning products and store the snippets in four sections of a weekly pill dispenser. High tech! Because the solder will not flow if it is oxidized, I only clean and cut small amounts at a time – just enough for a day or two. It is amazing, however, that I seem to always need a piece or two more than I have on hand. It is annoying to find you have to stop being creative and clip solder but I guess painters have to stop to mix more paint and sculptors have to stop to sharpen a chisel now and then!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Handmade Sale

Mark November 8 on Your Calendar

As I mentioned in my last post, many members of The Handmade Forum are participating in a 24-hour (E.S.T.) sale on Saturday. It's a great chance to do some Christmas shopping, score some savings, and give gifts that nobody else is giving.

To whet your appetite, here are some samples. First up, Flaherty Naturals Coconut Mango Lip Balm.

All Natural & Yummy

Deb Flaherty, creator of this line of bath and beauty products is offering 15%OFF with Checkout Coupon Code: SALE2014 

Full disclosure: I have this product and I really love it. Feels great and goes on with a lick-your-lips flavor.

Super Pampering - for You or Someone Special

Trouble sleeping? Just want to catch a daytime nap? Here is another product to make your life better.

Black Raven Creations makes these wonderful eye masks. Other great products from this shop include bags (I crave one of the Japanese Knot Bags) and fabulous accessories for your pampered pooch.

Karen is offering 20% OFF with Coupon Code: SALE2014

For the Geek or Gamer in Your Life

The etsy shop of Puffy the Slayer is full of charming, amusing, one-of-a-kind, pixel-bead personal accessories, home decor (really cute Christmas ornaments) and great geekery like this smart phone charm.

There are dozens of shops featuring tons of handcrafted gift ideas. To browse them, download the free catalogue here:

Only 51 days until you-know-what!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Handmade Sale Coming

Sale on November 8th

I will be joining other members of The Handmade Forum in our first annual cyber-sale for holiday shoppers on November 8. The link below (if I did this right) will take you to a downloadable flyer so you can browse the shops in advance. You can also look for information on the Forum page <>

The coupon code for all shops is SALE2014.

Here are handmade items from three of our shops. Truly something for everyone.

Friday, 24 October 2014

October 24

Moonstone Pendant

I love it when the bench is a cooperative environment. Some days solder joins do not join and polishers fail to polish. Today, however, was charmed. I went back to the moonstone pendant I started planning out a few days ago. I think I am still feeling the pull of the orient ;-) Here is the rough assembly.

All the Parts

The photo doesn't really catch it but there is a slight taper so the bottom of the backplate is a bit wider than the top.

The backplate is of reticulated sterling silver and I chose to top it, pagoda style, with a highly polished sterling bar. The bail is in two pieces. I captured a partial ring of round wire between the backplate and the bar. Once all the other parts were soldered together, I threaded a slightly teardrop loop of square wire through and soldered it shut.

Setting the Stone — Carefully

I took this photo just as I was about to set the 8 mm moonstone cabochon. The green painters tape is these to protect the silver from the setting tools. At the top of the photo, you can see the working surface of my bezel pusher. I rock that rounded surface against the bezel to force it against the stone. That step is not too risky but the final detail, polishing the bezel with a steel burnisher, can create small scratches on the silver.

Fuzzy Photo of Completed Piece

Here is the finished pendant on my desk. Terrible photo but there will be much better ones in my etsy shop as soon as there is enough light. Hope that will be tomorrow.

As I was making this, I realized that I made a very similar pendant, with earrings, for our daughter years ago!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Mission Accomplished

Earrings and Pendant Done

The projects I had just started in my last post finally crossed the finish line this afternoon.

Adding Shine 

At this point, I have finished soldering, pickling and polishing the earrings and the pendant.

That tool is a steel burnisher. Its highly-polished surface brings out a brilliant shine on sterling silver. It is hard to use it effectively on flat surfaces (I prefer jewelers' rouge on a buffing wheel for that) but it is superb for burnishing the edges of items. In this case, it will make the rims of those earrings flash. Party time!

The Final Touch

This photo shows the pieces with the turquoise cabochon set on the pendant. I'm pretty happy with it and am certain the I prefer it with the hidden bail.

I sure hope there will be a bunch of light tomorrow so I can take the listing photos. It is possible to set up lights but it is a lot harder to get the look I want that way. Bright daylight plus a small LED light as fill seems to work better.

Tomorrow, I have plans to get started on a moonstone pendant. :-)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

October 18

Random Shots From My Bench

With the onset of fall weather, garden chores are nearly over. Household chores go on, and on, of course, but there is more time to get to the bench and follow up on ideas that took shape over the summer.

Start on Swinging Earrings 

Here are the cut components for a pair of earrings (Step 1). I have made several along these lines. I sold some and I have a pair I wear frequently. I am going to drift a hammered pattern across the lower parts of these to add some sparkle (Step 2). I will use wire and fine tube to create hinges on the back of these so the lower portion swings freely (Step 3). The final step will be to solder ear posts onto the back of the circles.

Turquoise Pendant - Ugly Duckling Right Now!

I designed this pendant a few months ago to hold a pretty turquoise cabochon. I'm using a piece of sterling silver I reticulated earlier. I like the almost fabric-like bunching at the bottom of the silver.

Here, I have trimmed the backplate and soldered on the top bar and stone bezel. Looks pretty gross, doesn't it?

I considered that loop as a bail but have decided I prefer the clean line of that top bar, so  I will put a hidden bail on the back instead.

I still have to add that bail and do a lot of polishing before I can set the stone. The weekend is not looking too busy, so I may get it done before I have to head out to the Creative Jewellers Guild <> AGM on Sunday afternoon.

A Change of Pace

I don't usually work with beads but I was looking for a project that I could do in the house: one to just pick up and put down when I had a few moments to spare. This necklace is the result.

There are two kinds of blue beads here: opalescent and crystal. Each bead is on a sterling silver ring. I linked them all, then added a ring and lobster clasp fastener. Bingo — it's a necklace. I still have some rings and beads so I may weave a pair of chandelier earrings to match. Party jewelry for the holiday season.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

It is Thanksgiving

But Only in Canada

That's right, folks, we here north of the 49th celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.

Let's get this out of the way first; we get that we did not invent Thanksgiving. As we all know, that honor (honour up here) goes to the Pilgrim Fathers. Basically, it was such a great idea that we stole it. We set the October date to make it clear this is a Canadian holiday. I think, however, we benefit from that longer break between turkey dinners.

Although the holiday is Monday, my family usually celebrates on the Sunday to let the worker bees recover with a nice, light salad and an early-to-bed night before going off to work on Tuesday. As we have no Pilgrim Fathers watching, I think we are safe to bend the rule on that.

So, to my friends around the world, welcome to my Thanksgiving.

The turkey is headed to the oven at our daughter's house (well, I fervently hope it is). Our kitchen is busy with other preparations.

Guess We Stole This, Too, Huh?

Maybe so, but the pumpkin filling recipe was my mother's and it is so identifiable that my brother once told his wife, over a Thanksgiving meal at our home, "Now that is what pumpkin pie should be". My ex sister-in-law is, by the way, a stupendous cook. And my brother sure would have failed as a diplomat!

Is Something a Bit Odd Here?

I really have been making these pies forever but this is the first time one came out of the oven looking like Grumpy Cat.

I cannot believe it is the fault of the oven in my magnificent new stove. It's too new to be haunted. Actually this is the result of the way I smoothed the filling and inserted a knife to test if cooked. I do think it will produce gales of laughter when we serve dessert tonight.

It Ain't Turkey Without. . .

. . . the cranberry sauce. I make mine with some orange peel.

I think if more people knew how easy it is to make cranberry sauce, Ocean Spray would be very worried. The canned product is perfectly okay but homemade is so easy and so good.

A Lighter Vegetable Dish

For decades, the turkey was accompanied by mashed potatoes and a mashed turnip and carrot dish. With all the food, we were all delighted when I found a recipe for citrus glazed carrots. Much lighter than the mash and I'm pretty sure Mom and Nana do not object. Well, unless they put that grumpy face on the pie.

Oh, don't be silly, Dix.

I hope you enjoyed your visit to my kitchen ;-)

Saturday Was Polishing Day

Yesterday, I got out to the shop and polished the tourmalated quartz brooch. I really like how it turned out. I tried blackening the depths of the hammer marks but decided that was overkill so I polished it out. I will wait for Tuesday to list this as etsy is pretty much the dead zone on a long weekend.