Sunday, 11 December 2016

Deck the Halls

Before Decking, Clean the Halls

With 14 days to go, I have begun the holiday preparations around the home of DixSterling <>. For now, my workbench sits idle and my focus moves into the house.

Nana's Shortbread Cooling on the Counter

It would not be Christmas without a batch of my Scottish grandmother's wonderful shortbread. The secret (I'm sure she will not haunt me for telling) is to use confectioners sugar in place of the usual brown sugar. The result is a super smooth texture. Once I have baked that, I know Santa Claus will be coming to town. Other cookies, carrot pudding and hard sauce will follow. My baking schedule is posted in the  kitchen.

Nana's Crystal Chandelier Must Sparkle for Christmas

This lovely chandelier, a family heirloom, hangs above our dining room table here, as it did when we lived on the river. Before that, it graced the 10 foot front hall ceiling of our Victorian farm house in Ladner, BC. Of course I dust it regularly, but just before Christmas, I always undertake a thorough cleaning process (how-to will follow below).

My grandparents purchased this in the mid-1950s, so it is about 60 years old. It has survived three of their moves and three of ours in pretty fine shape, although a couple of the major crystals were either lost or broken at some point. I have looked in antique shops over the years but could never find replacements. Even with the advent of the internet, it has proven very hard to find the right shape for one and the right size for either. In chandelier terms, these are huge.

Each of these teardrops is almost four inches long. The one on the right is a shape I have never seen anywhere. If you know where I can find one, please let me know. The "almond" shape on the left is readily available but only at two to three inches long. This Christmas, however, I finally located one that looks to be a very good match. After browsing dozens of other sites, I actually obtained what I need from a fellow etsy seller: SharetheLoveVintage <>. So the chandelier gets a gift this Christmas!

Now, Here Is That How-to

The only way to make the whole chandelier sparkle as it should is to dismantle it ( with all those pieces, a scary thought). Here, I have already removed and dealt with the big crystals from the lower tier and am — very cautiously — taking down the crystal chain. In the kitchen, I use a plastic dishpan set in the sink. I add water as hot as is comfortable for human hands plus about a tablespoon of ammonia and a few drops of Dawn liquid (great cleaning solution for lots of things). Next to the sink, I put a soft towel to lay the washed and rinsed pieces on for drying. While the crystals are off, I give the gilded frame as good cleaning with a soft, slightly damp cloth. I also wash the light bulbs. By cleaning one section at a time (and having photos to remind me which teardrops hang where), the job becomes manageable. Once it is done, the way it glitters makes it more than worth the effort.

I Also Love the Warm Glow of Brass, But. . . 

It takes a lot of polishing to keep it glowing. I am blessed with a husband who is willing to pitch in on "polish the brass" days. This photo shows our two work stations set up for the chore.

When we were on the river, we had all the brass items we have now plus a brass stair rail (very nautical, we thought; very labour intensive, we learned). I found out about Wenol polish from the custodian of a charming North Vancouver pub which had a long brass handrail on its staircase. Great product.

Finally, A Special Piece of Christmas Past

Here, fresh from its Christmas polishing, is my most treasured heirloom: "Annie's Kettle". Annie was Annie Morgan McCaig, my GG Grandmother. I assume she got this as a wedding gift. They were poor folk in Glasgow and such a grand kettle would have been a costly item in 1859 when they were wed. To my certain knowledge, this kettle has resided in Glasgow, Winnipeg, Greater Vancouver, Washington State and Surrey, BC. It bears lots of battle scars and, according to the woman who appraised my late mother's estate, is worth about $35. Hogwash. To me, it is priceless.

So, from my home to yours; may your days be merry and bright this holiday season and throughout the year ahead.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Shipping News

Before It Leaves Me...

Someone took advantage of my sale at DixSterling on etsy this weekend so I thought I'd show you how I prepare an item for shipping. This item is a sterling silver brooch set with an oval tourmalated quartz and I will ship it tomorrow morning.

Polish, Polish

Unless the item is one I just finished, it will have been carefully stored, in a plastic bag to keep tarnish at bay, as inventory. It looks pretty shiny when I pull it out but I always give it a good final polish before I pack it up.

Here is the pin that I will ship on Monday with the two polishing cloths I use, first the red, then the yellow. They always leave a nice, bright, shine.

Protect Your Silver Jewelry

Most stones (not all) are pretty tough but sterling silver is relatively soft. If you just toss it into a jewelry box on your dresser, it will probably get scuffed and scratched. I can't make a buyer use them, but I always tuck a wee plastic storage bag and an anti-tarnish paper tab under the cotton in the box.  

It Travels Under My Name

I ship items in boxes labelled with my brand name, DixSterling, so I want everything to arrive looking like a gift: a pretty box in a pretty gauze bag shows my customers that I care. 

Happy Customers

If you want to see how my customers feel about my work, visit my shop <> and scroll down to the Reviews section.

I'd love a chance to package something pretty up for you, too.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Custom Order

Making a Stamped Pendant

Recently, someone asked if I could make a pendant that required a fairly large bail. It was to be stamped with a name. I submitted three designs and the client selected a square wire bar, topped with a tapered 6 mm diameter bail.

Supplies Received

 My local supplier did not have the heavy (4 gauge) square sterling wire I needed, so I sent to Rio Grande for it. No point in shipping one hunk of wire alone, so I picked up some more sterling sheet as well ;-).

I was waiting eagerly for this shipment.

A Very Special Piece of Wire

The photo on the right gives you an idea of the scale. Lovely bit of wire but just over twice as long as needed. I always hedge my bets — if something goes seriously awry, I want to have enough material on hand to start over.

The Plan — Plus a Super Tool

This photo shows the sketches, the piece of square wire, a marker pen and the amazing tool that helps me cut a piece of wire with a nice, clean square end. Before I bought it, a job like this involved putting the wire in a vise and cutting it freehand (trying VERY hard to keep the cut square). I almost always ended up having to file the end to square it up. This little jig makes it easy. PS - I have used a blue ink smear throughout this blog to conceal the identity of the recipient.

Right: this photo shows the wire in the jig. I have adjusted the jig for the length needed (pretty close to maximum for this jig). Near the left side of the photo, you can see the thin slot that the saw blade rides in to make the cut.

It's a really, really great tool.

The Pieces Take Shape

In this photo, you can see the square wire bar, cut to length, and the bail beginning to take shape. I cut a length of sterling sheet to the right width and length, then filed the ends to give it a taper. Next, I used those shaping pliers to begin rounding the bail. Eventually, I had to hammer it around a steel mandrel of the correct diameter until I had a circle. That was soldered to the bar.

Pattern For Stamping a Name

In this photo, I am using three pieces of painter's tape to anchor the bar to the top of my jeweler's anvil. I have also used a marker pen to help me position the letter stamps to set the name in a vertical column. Also in the photo, a piece of graph paper (I used it to set positions for the marks to align the letters), also one of the letter stamps and the brass headed hammer I use to drive the stamps.  It sounds pretty easy but getting those letters aligned — up and down plus side to side — before stamping is pretty fussy work.

Getting There— But Keeping The Secret

This is the bar for the pendant, with the name stamped into the silver. I have used a blue ink smear on my photos so there is no possibility of giving away who this will belong to some day.

Stamping letters into sterling sounds very simple: steel letter stamps, brass hammer —bingo! In truth, it's nerve wracking. Holding the letter punch straight and aligned is a challenge.  I never do it without fearing I may miss the mark (literally) and have to begin again. SO happy when it works.

The (Obscured) Final Result

Final photo: the pendant with the named stamped in (but blanked out here).

Since this photo was taken, I have done most of the polishing. Five grades of sandpaper, followed by five — even finer — grades of polishing wheels. After this photo was taken I used a chemical to blacken the letters and then re-polished the piece. Tonight, while watching television, I will use my silver polishing cloths and rub, and rub, and rub, until it totally gleams. Then, I will package it safely and send it on its way.

Custom Work Welcome

If you crave something you cannot find in a store, send me a note. Maybe I can design and create the exact thing for you.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Lapis X Two

Making Bright Blue Studs, Step By Step

I went back to lapis lazuli — one of my favorite stones — for this pair of stud earrings.

The stunning blue of lapis lazuli, prized since ancient Egypt, looks fabulous on silver. I made a pair of lapis studs for myself a few years ago and they remain one of my favorite pairs.

For this set, I decide to use my riveting hammered to texture the sterling silver, creating a series of cross hatched lines instead of the dimples a ball peen would produce. This photo shows a piece of sterling sheet after the hammering. The dimpled look can be seen around the circles I previously cut for my sunstone studs. You hammer texture before cutting a piece from the sheet to avoid distorting the edges.

Making the Parts

Bezels are the most common setting for round cabochons. They hold the stones securely and the look of a silver edge around lapis is quite elegant.

This pair of 8mm stones required a thinner strip of fine (pure) silver than I had on hand, so I used a pair of cutters to very carefully cut the wire along its length. Next, I shaped two pieces to fit around the stones and used flush cutters to trim them to the exact lengths I needed. After checking fit, I soldered the ends together to make the silver circles.

Fitting & Assembly Comes Next

Here are the parts. The bezels fit perfectly so I  am ready to move on.

Getting a Great Finish Takes Work

To end up with a mirror polish on the silver, I start with a file, smoothing the outer edges of the discs. In some cases, even the top and bottom surfaces will need filing.

There Are No Shortcuts

In total, the silver for studs like these gets treated with four grades of sandpaper (from 400 to 1000 grit) before the bezels are soldered on. That is just the first polishing/finishing stage for any piece of jewelry.

I make earring of this type quite often, varying the finish I give the silver and the stones I use. One thing I always do is set the stones near one edge and mount the ear post opposite. This is to ensure that the studs — both of them — will always sit properly on your ears, with the stones at the bottom.

Polishing — Stage Two

Once the solder work is completed (including putting ear posts on the back) final polishing begins. Those four grades of sandpaper leave a slightly rough finish. The final stage, to remove sanding marks and bring up a brilliant polish, involves five levels of these polishing discs. (And people wonder why handcrafted jewelry is more expensive than similar looking items at a big box store!)

Protecting the Stones

Final step is to cover the silver with painters' tape while using steel stone setting tools.

For the record, apart from the files, papers and polishers, this simple pair of earrings called for one anvil, two hammers, three different cutters, a soldering torch and charcoal soldering block, a couple of pairs of jewelers' pliers, a rotary tool, and a steel burnisher. Yes, I have lots of tools ;-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Sunstone Studs

Variations on a Theme

Of all the items I make, I find round silver stud earrings, set with cabochon gemstones, are the best sellers. It makes sense because you can wear them any time, anywhere — day to night, office to party. Of all the earrings I own (and that's a lot), a pair like these are my go-to favorites.

I recently sold two pairs of this style from my ArtYah shop <>. With the holiday shopping season upon us, I decided making a few more might be a good idea. Besides, I enjoy doing them. I stocked up on silver and stones and got to work.

Sunstones Are Well Named

For the first set, I chose a pair of glowing, peachy-gold sunstones. These stones shimmer and contain almost magic sparkles.

No matter what stone I am working with, I always have to start by cutting flat sterling silver discs of an appropriate diameter.

This pair of stones are rated as 8mm although my caliper is showing 7.9 — even factory cut stones can be slightly uneven. That is why I always make each of a pair of earrings separately — the adjustments can vary. In the photo, you see my length of bezel wire (pure — as opposed to sterling — silver), the calipers, the prepared discs, a special pair of piers for shaping rounds (i.e. bezels) and the sunstone cabochons.

First Stud, Waiting for The Fire

Next photo, a shot of the back plate and the bezel on a charcoal block, ready for soldering. The two nickels serve to let more heat go under the piece and silver will not stick to them (who would want a pretty earring with a dirty nickel stuck to it???)

 Looks dirty. Okay, it is dirty but without charcoal and fire, few pieces of jewelry would ever be born.

Once the bezel is solidly attached to the disc, I have to pickle the piece (give it a bath in a mild acid to remove oxides) and solder on the ear post. Sounds easy but an ear post is a thin piece of wire and all to easy to melt. I used to destroy about 1 in 4. Nowadays, my average is much  better. I only melt about 1 in 10. It is, remember, a learning process. It worked.

See these at DixSterling on etsy.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Fun of a Mismatch

A Most Unusual Pair

With the bench tidy and the solder cleaned and ready, I finally got back to my bench (boy, how I have missed working there).

Such Cool Stones

Before I hurt my back, I had a plan for stud earrings using this mismatched pair of carnelian variety agate stones I found at the B.C. Gem Show. Their translucent orange glow was irresistible and the cream inclusion on one only added to their charm.

The Plan

I wanted simple sterling silver mounts for the agates — just enough silver surround to showcase the stones. I also wanted to let light come through from the back to take advantage of the translucent glow.

Here are the stones with the sketches. By using tabs brought up from the surround, I could secure the stones while keeping the design simple.

Ready to Set

In the final photo, you can see the plan becoming reality. The silver has been annealed, the centers cut out and the tabs marked and cut. The foreground one shows the tabs bent up (I used the chain nose pliers to grip and bend them).

Anyone who sees the listing on my ArtYah shop <> will notice that the slimmer stone actually has four tabs. A check of the fit, before bending the tabs over the stones, revealed the need for one more tab. Easy fix.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Return to the Bench

A Long Story

Near the end of May, I hurt my back. Not sure if it was a struggle with a jammed window or too much garden work, but it left me in quite a bit of pain. Sadly, one thing I couldn't do was work at my bench. Instead, I spent close to five months seeing a physio and doing endless exercises. So not fun but finally pain free, I ventured back to work the other day.

Kind of a Back to Square One Deal

As you might expect, the first thingI had to do was start from scratch in a few ways. I tidied up the bench and sorted a bunch of stones and notes for projects. Next came the solder. Soldering rule 1: Solder must be clean.

Years ago, I stumbled upon the idea of using four sections of a plastic daily pill holder to store my tiny solder papillons — a term best explained on the International Gem Society's web site as follows:
Sheet solder is cut into “papillons,” which is a French word meaning little tiny pieces of metal that fly all over the place while you’re cutting them.
The container I have been using had become scratched over the years, making it hard to clean. Dirty storage = dirty papillons. So, off to the drugstore for a new pill container. This photo shows how I prepared it by cutting two days off one end and one day off the other (so it will sit level) and using a carpenter's file to smooth the cut edges. Lastly, I label each section for the different grades of solder: H for hard, M for medium, E for easy and SE for super easy.

Let the Cleaning Begin

Over the years, I have tried various ways of cleaning the sheets of solder before cutting the papillons (it is obviously impossible to clean them after cutting). The absolute best — learned from a fellow member of the Creative Jewellers Guild of BC — is a good scrub with Bar Keepers Friend and a plastic scrubby.

Yes, dear auto correct, I know you think I should spell it jewelers, but the guild is in Canada and that's the Canadian spelling.

Tuesday, Get Solder Ready; Wednesday Get Back to Work

Above: the cleaner and scrubby sit atop a dark piece of leather with the tools to make papillons. I keep each sheet in a different, labelled, plastic box. The very sharp cutters nip the tiny pieces which I catch on the leather (so I can see them). The scoop and tweezer tool lets me pick them up and drop them into the containers. All set to get back to work.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Darned Technology (or me)

Sunday afternoon experiment. I tried to post a video slideshow here but failed.

Check my Facebook page to see it:

Thursday, 13 October 2016

New Site = New Sales in October

The Handmade Life on ArtYah 

There was a time when I made pretty regular sales on etsy but, in the past year or so, it has become so overcrowded that it is very hard to get seen. As well, the focus on handmade is gone from etsy, and many etsy seller I know have been looking for other options. One, suggested by an etsy friend, is ArtYah so I set up a shop there a few weeks ago <>.

As with any new venture, it takes time but on Tuesday I made my first sale there.

Someone in California will soon be wearing these brilliant blue lapis lazui on sterling studs.

It was a thrill to make my first sale on a new site and I hurried to pack them up nice and pretty and get them on their way to their new home.

After I dropped this package off at the Post Office, I decided to try listing a very similar pair, this time set with turquoise, in my ArtYah shop.

Does Good Luck Come in Twos?

So, on Tuesday afternoon, I added the turquoise studs.

On Wednesday morning, I went for my morning walk. When I got back and checked my email, I found a message from ArtYah that the turquoise pair had sold. WOW!

So far, I'm really loving ArtYah.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Photography Experiments

I Love Online Selling, But. . .

In the years since I began selling on etsy <> I have tried many, many ways to take good jewelry photographs. It has been a source of so much frustration.

What To Put Under the Item?

A suitable background is a major problem. Below, a scattering of backgrounds I have tried — and rejected.

 Colors — Yeah or Nay?

My earliest pieces were all sterling silver (no stones) and I used various blue backgrounds for a few years. It worked well. Then I began to add stones — and stones add color. The amethyst piece above did fine on blue but I immediately discovered how it could totally kill a garnet or citrine. I gave black a go but — while many jewelers use it to good effect — I just didn't care for it. The deep, mottled grey under the earrings above was achieved using a piece of grey slip-proof plastic mat (intended for a bathtub) and positioning the earrings a couple of inches above it on a clear plastic store display piece. Not bad but still not perfect.

Best Yet

After all those experiments, I recently settled on using a piece of near white ceramic tile as a background.

Also, to solve the problem of propping pieces up for the camera, I lean them agains seashells. I like the texture and soft tones the shells add to my photos.

I think I am pretty happy with this setup. I take the photos in front of a window because, although I tried photo lights, I find the natural light works best for me. The only real problem is the shift of color temperature between July and December but I can adjust it pretty well with an editing program.

Of course, I still try a few options now and then — especially now that I have opened a second shop <> SterlingByDix on ArtYah.

The search goes on.

Friday, 16 September 2016

What a Great Invention


When we left the river and bought this landlubbers' house, there were lots of changes to be made. The vital ones — kitchen makeover, bedroom paint and carpet, gutting and rebuilding one of the bathrooms — we tackled before moving in. Then there was this wallpaper in my office that I hated but there were still more important things to tend to. Slowly, it got shoved aside but, after four years, it just got to me and I had to make it go away — now! I just couldn't face another winter with the stuff.


This photo is of the pattern that was driving me nuts. It always made me think of fishing lures, which are just great — on fishing lines.

Try to imagine a whole wall of this in a small room. Way too busy. I considered stripping it off the wall but I did that once and still remember dodging hot steam, scraping at gummy paper, and, finally, cleaning up all that mess. Because this was pretty high quality paper, I figured — with proper care — I could just paint over it. A chore, but not a horror show.


It took two coats of stain blocker/primer to cover the pattern and ensure that latex paint wouldn't penetrate the paper and cause it to part company with the walls. I was very relieved when a couple of days went by and the paper hadn't moved.

. . . Gone!

The other walls are white, so I wanted some warmth here. I opted for this medium deep bone and think it works really well.

Bonus - the artwork shows up much better on the painted wall.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Late Summer

I Love Texture

If you know my work, you know that texture is a pretty constant theme. Long ago, when I had enough space to paint in oils, old barns and aging pilings were favorite subjects. I loved trying to render all that heavily weathered wood on canvas (a section of one of my efforts below).

I also find inspiration in wave washed sand and visits to Cannon Beach Oregon always find me, at some point, kneeling in the sand to capture those patterns on film.

Say It In Silver

Below, a few examples of how texture informs my jewelry making.

Short, crisp lines done with a riveting hammer on polished sterling.

A sapphire set atop reticulated sterling silver. This one has a pebbled look. I gave the earrings below a deeply rippled texture.

When you start to look around, you can see wonderful textures everywhere.