Making French Hook earwires…

I did go back to the Craft table today, made it a bit more habitable (i.e. wiped off the dust and put some things away), and started on a French Hook earwire model. It doesn’t seem like this should be a big deal. Thing is, even minor wirework requires getting out the tools, which seems like a momentous occasion — at least, when you haven’t done it in a while.

In my case, this episode of the tools was made of flush cutters, multiple sets of pliers (needle-nose, round-nose, bail-making and nylon-jaw pliers), needle files (or one needle file, that is), carbide paper in multiple grades (300-, 400-, and 600-grit — which I had already torn into little strips, so I didn’t have to get the entire set of sandpapers out), my Beadalon rotary tool with an appropriately-sized cup bur attachment (which I had to adjust several times until the cup bur stopped wobbling), and head-mounted magnification.

It does kind of tick me off how much stuff goes into making something so simple. On top of it, I’m thinking of masking off vulnerable areas in the future with tape, so that I don’t even have a risk of marring the wire while I’m filing or sanding. It should save me some stress…until it comes time to take the tape off, and risk bending the piece. The wire I was using for my models did feel half-hard (a level between dead-soft and full-hard; basically, “somewhat hard”), but then, it’s a hardware-store copper wire, and I had cut away most of the packaging to save space in the toolbox. So…it’s wire. Let’s just say that, for starters.

I did use copper for this. I didn’t see much benefit in jumping to precious metal on my first try in weeks, and had realized that the copper had more working commonalities with the precious metal wires, than the latter did with my Red Brass (which I would have turned to, had I less experience). There’s the fact that Red Brass can be difficult to tell apart from gold — until it tarnishes. Then, the stuff I have also appears a bit dull…likely due to lack of polishing, especially where it has been bent. Red Brass is softer and runs relatively thick in gauge, for the little spools I’ve got (I think they’re 1/4 lb. spools, back from when I could get 1/4 lb. spools) than what the final pieces would be made from: sterling wire and 14k gold-filled wire.

I can see this being logical for the gold-filled wire, because maybe the gold is layered over a base of copper for strength. I really don’t know what exactly sterling gets its working properties from, but I do know there is a significant amount of copper in it. I’m not sure if it’s that or other added metals (or the mixture of all of them within the alloy) which harden it. Fine silver (99.9% pure silver), by itself, is very soft, and so it wouldn’t really be a thing to use for earwires, which are vulnerable to being deformed if the earring catches on clothing or hair (which is common).

In any case, I decided to use the copper, which worked out fine. I even found some little 2.5mm x 3mm copper beads that I could use as decoration with them, so I wouldn’t have to waste a more expensive bead (or deal with the…kind of sad appearance of my brass 3mm rounds from my teen years — which, amazingly [!] have not tarnished). I put in a log of what I did today in my work journal. Unfortunately, I was only able to get to one pair: by the time I had finished with them, I had to do other things.

There are a number of things that I can say, having done this…though most significantly to myself, I should note that these earwires with the beads right above the loop, need a significant bend above them, to keep the bead from just sliding off of the earwire. I might want to send a note with these things if it continues to be a problem with the precious-metal earwires; I’m not sure it will, for the fact that many of my precious metal beads have smaller holes than my base-metal beads. That affects how easily they can rotate around the bend above them, and ultimately escape. If the beads weren’t hollow (as small metal rounds tend to be), it would be significantly harder for them to move…which I should remember for the future. Maybe I want to use a different type of bead, that is (stone? glass is relatively fragile) — or, not use a bead at all.

I actually have found that earwires of this type are not being provided ready-made anymore by one of my main sources; from my own work, I believe that this may be because those little beads can and do escape. The alternative they’re offering is wire coils as decoration…which are easy, but also…wire coils?

Other than that…I’m still having issues with my cup bur biting into the sides of my earwires, but it only happened on one of them, this time. I’ll have to be more careful (like I was when I polished/deburred the second). I’ve noted which notches I have to use on my bail-making pliers in order to size things consistently…and I need less than two inches of wire to make one of these things. In reality, I’m using close to 1.75″ of wire for each French Hook, and 0.75″ of that is the tail that hangs down below the back of the ear.

When we finally switch to Metric, I may be in trouble, but that’s how it looks right now.

What’s interesting is the difference in look between my earwires, and the earwires I’ve bought from other vendors. I have much more of a curve at the top of the ones I produce…I am not sure if that has to do with just my personal aesthetic, or what. Not only that, but I can only get the curve in the tail I like by using my thumb to press in on the wire. Anything else seems to distort it.

I’ve also had quite a time with distortion today…my nylon-jaw pliers and I made good friends. It’s necessary to harden all of that curve after forming the earwire, that is, or it’s very easy to pull it apart. There’s also the possibility of work-hardening the metal by hammering it after it’s formed (say on an anvil or nylon block, with a nylon or rawhide mallet)…though that risks damaging the earwire’s decorative components. I haven’t really wanted to flatten the wire, which is a large reason I haven’t taken the hammers to these things before.

I have more to say, but I’ll put it into a different post.

Hobby or Business?

During the last 48 hours — or, starting in the middle of the night two nights ago, I’ve been driven to reassess my business model…considering becoming a hobbyist who incidentally sells, rather than a microbusiness. I really am not sure about this, as it seems I can only earn $400 before I need to pay self-employment tax, and possibly need to register as a Business…but it’s a small step forward. It’s also a thought I hadn’t had before, which is reason enough to pay attention to it.

As well: I need to renew my Seller’s Permit, and if I do plan on becoming an official business, I’ll need to register with my City, get a P.O. Box, and follow the rules to obtain a DBA. That’s…not much, but it is progress. It depends entirely on what I intend to do with my project — and how much I am intending to recoup — which route I go down.

It also depends on how long I intend to stay in this area. There are actual plans on moving out of here — particularly because of the ongoing drought and newly lengthened and severe fire seasons. It may not be worth it to establish a business in this locality, if we’re going to move relatively soon.

What I realized last night is that I need to decide whether the beadwork is a business, or a hobby. If we move, I may need to make it a Small Business, at least in the short term. The thing is…what does that look like in five years? In 10? I know that my heart is in design, not manufacturing, and I wouldn’t consider myself a salesperson. There do seem to be ways I can tweak my Business model so that I’m doing what I love to do the most…the thing is, it requires hiring on extra help, doing quality control, supervision, and making sure that other people are happy (or at least satisfied) — and paid and otherwise compensated for their time and labor. If we’re going to also be putting out designs and want them to only be ours, that also requires time (and funds) spent protecting intellectual property — which at this point requires legal help.

I mean, it very much seems the reason why government gives so many incentives to small businesses, is that they want economic growth — meaning, that I need to envision what this could become if it weren’t just me and my family; if I did hire on other people to take down that potential 80-hour work week. I have, though, no direct experience in managing other people (which is why people hire Middle Managers, I guess).

This is…a very different vision than I had at first. At first, I was thinking it would be myself and my family, and I could purchase the raw materials, turn them into jewelry, and turn that around and gain a modest income from selling the finished jewelry. Creating a company — which may be what this becomes if I’m full-time and successful (never bet on failure) — sounds far different. The bare fact appears to be that being an entrepreneur is a job title within itself.

The question is, if I want that. It’s a lot of responsibility, especially if I remain a sole proprietor and don’t incorporate as an LLC (though the risk I bear is minimal, before other people and their livelihoods and responsibilities come into the picture — or until sales actually climb and the company becomes significant, at which point I’ll need legal counsel, if not legal protection). There’s also a lot of learning to be done on the way from hobbyist to one-person sole proprietor to someone with employees to incorporation. A lot. Though I shouldn’t forget, there would be a lot of working with other people and seeing what skills they can contribute that I don’t personally have.

Can I envision this? It’s hard to create what we can’t imagine (unless, that is, what we’re creating is failure: chaos is easy to generate without a guide).

I know I started this post writing about envisioning a future as a hobbyist who sells. That seems as though it’s probably going to be true of this year, at least: I’ve taken a lot of losses since deciding to do this for money (beginning last October), and have not yet recouped anything (although online visibility is moderately OK; this blog is one of the things I’ve been paying attention to). I’d also be doing this, even if I weren’t being paid for it. Those are two of the main markers of a hobbyist.

The thing is: if beadwork is my hobby, then maybe I should treat it as a hobby and focus on gaining a main mode of income (although I’ve sunk a lot of time and effort into making this work, and can’t say I’d prefer a different job: though what I’ve been doing…is learning a lot, both about myself and about the environment my situation is emplaced within). If it’s a business, that’s an entirely different thing. Up to this point, I’ve been treating it as a business — at least, a potential business.

I can operate this blog just fine, as a hobbyist — possibly even better than I could as a businessperson, because I wouldn’t have to think about which information I give out (say, sources for beads) could come back to bite me later.

But there’s something to be said about not giving away all one’s secrets. Even if I wanted to.

I suppose the thing to work on next is to fill in those missing sections of my Business Plan…


Ohh, man. Yesterday I did get back to work at the Craft table. It wasn’t anywhere near as scary as it seemed when I was away from it. And, as usual, I didn’t really want to go, once I got started. 🙂 I did have to cut apart and re-weave two earrings, but I got a new design and a new set of earrings out of it. I also timed myself: I’m getting faster. I worked up a set of earrings without the use of ready-made jump rings (they arrived today) in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, after cutting out the time I spent searching for tools and materials and making design decisions.

Now how that will translate to other beads in other colors, I’m not entirely sure at the moment (as I’m also not sure how my initial pink trial actually worked out, when I wasn’t able to reproduce it — though, of course, I was altering those attempts, wasn’t I).

After I had made that set yesterday, though…I figured that was, “enough for today,” (baby steps — though I need to remind myself, baby steps only work when I’m consistent) and got to work on consolidating bead storage. It’s, seriously, less intimidating. What I had been doing is buying beads by the bag or tube and then reshuffling them into small vials so that I could have a visible palette.

I’ve learned, at this point, not to do that unless I actually need to (say, if they’re in a bag: plastic zip bags over years simply decompose and tend to spill seed beads from barely-visible razor-like splits, when they do. Spilled seed beads, lost in carpet, are extremely annoying; and they’re possible cut-glass hazards on a hard floor with shoes or wheels). It’s a waste of time, otherwise: especially when there are beads that need that space more (e.g. cut Czech strands; lots of 10 grams each, of two-hole beads). Kind of like how it felt it was a waste of time to re-consolidate them, yesterday.

I had duplicated storage by having many beads in two places…which, in turn, made it difficult to see everything I had at a glance. My original goal was to have at least one of everything in plain view: the thing is, then you have to restock those little vials, and you have to keep purchasing more little vials, the more individual colors you get. The little vials are not cheap. They also get beaten up.

In many cases, the tubes these beads tend to come in are just fine (though the printing may rub off on one’s nails)…though the condition of some of them (particularly from one vendor) really does make me want to move them into prettier storage.

I sometimes order beads no one has wanted. They may have been bumping around in tubes for years, getting scratched up and dirty on the outside. That makes it even less likely that anyone will ever buy or use them. There is a term for it — though I forget right now, what it is: like “Ugly Tube Syndrome (UTS),” or something.

Anyhow: I had about 20 fresh empty tubes and about 50 things to put into them. Some of them are still in the screw-top vials, but stored with the rest of the tubes, now. This is refreshing, when the cases for the vials keep cracking. I also have a lot of really old and beat-up tubes with old, difficult-to-remove stickers on them…which I chose not to use, even though they were taller. UTS. Of course, this meant having to split some of what I’d previously split, into multiple smaller tubes…now I have some full little tubes, and some little tubes of the same colors with barely enough beads in them to merit even having a tube.

Yeah, it’s not ideal; especially since I really have little idea of what brand any of those older beads are. (I can use digital calipers to differentiate Toho and Miyuki, but as for other brands, like Matsuno, which I’ve never consciously purchased in 11/0 — and which I may mistake for something I know? Or any off-brand beads the store decided to put into vials and sell as, simply, “Japanese”?) As such — I am not entirely sure how these older beads will work up into (my) established patterns.

My major concern in this is being able to evacuate quickly with my tools and a significant amount of materials — fire season is starting early. My secondary concern is ease of design: being able to see and understand what I have to work with.

I’m also having a little bit of an issue with paranoia as regards showing my in-progress designs, when I am not entirely…secure in, and ready to, sell online yet. The vast majority of works I’ve seen online have not been work-in-progress design snapshots, and I’ve gotta say, I’m not even that comfortable with the camera, at this point. I keep getting photobombed by other pieces of jewelry I’ve made, let’s say, and don’t have a good photo staging area yet.

To give you some background as to why I’m a bit anxious: there have been some issues (not with me) on one of my Social Media outlets, and I basically don’t want to have to deal with Intellectual Property Law before I’m entirely certain that I know where I stand in regard to the law in place. I believe that if I can prove that I independently developed my own designs, I’ll be safe against any accusations. (Of course, where I have bothered to draw out and date what I’m doing, that’s probably a huge plus in my favor.)

I have been doing legal research, and it seems I kind of get the gist of what’s going on and what is an indefensible or irrelevant argument. There is, in this case, an amicus curiae which is very relevant to jewelry design — and over 50 pages long. I tried printing it, but it looks like a paper file from the early 1950’s which was later (poorly) scanned. It wasn’t designed for computers or for printouts. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was printed using a printing press (I found an “e” which was lower than the rest of the line of type), and I inadvertently cut off the bottoms of all the pages when I printed it, because it’s tall and narrow and the numbers are at the tops of the pages. I’ll just have to read my backup copy and deal with blurred vision — or, possibly, reprint the article with a huge amount of wasted space, plus small font size.

Yeah, maybe I should have been a Graphic Designer (I do have experience in CSS), but that’s not what I went for.

Most of my digging has been at the U.S. Copyright Office, though it’s probably easier to search that site using Google as an indexing tool (for starters), than it is to actually go there and start digging around. The site is, essentially, huge; and the information needed is contained in printed files. Efficient searching also requires following hyperlinks embedded in the information they do give. I have here a bunch of printouts of relevant passages that I haven’t yet filed…though it would make sense to do so, if only to get them off my desk.

Of course, I also have a bunch of invoices I have yet to enter into my spreadsheets, which is the reason I even came back to this computer today. You can see how far I got on that… 🙂

Switching chairs

Yeah. That’s what it feels like. Switching chairs, and switching modes: between writer and designer.

There is a small area we’ve allocated to be my beadwork, “studio.” In essence it is the corner of the room, albeit a corner of the room with excellent lighting. What would make me feel better? A white sheet or Vellux throw blanket under the chair and on top of the carpet so I don’t drop beads and lose them forever in the carpet. Or until I look down there and find a random one…or three. It wouldn’t be so bad, except that with past vacuum cleaners, those beads have turned into broken-glass BBs and shot through the vacuum bags, sending dust everywhere.

I’m not sure if that is going to happen so much, anymore (those were old-school vacuum cleaners).

I just realized I have a lot of fabric I can use as drop cloths (I even have some lightweight unbleached muslin, which sounds perfect)…but there are problems with this idea I can see already. Like how to prevent beads from rolling under the wheels of the chair and getting crushed.

Anyhow. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll sew a drop cloth…

I did go back to the beading table after about half a week of being away and looking over at it nervously, using one of the design questions which had arisen in my work, for impetus. In the process, I’ve found another design variant…which is fairly cute! The thing is…depending on the configuration of the beads in the outer rounds of my design, I can go from a lozenge shape, to a round, to a puffed square. I did not really expect that last one! Nor did I expect to be able to weave it as quickly as I did (or to need to adjust what I had to)…but, experience.

I can also utilize these as links in larger pieces…though those are going to be some expensive larger pieces!

I should probably actually draw out what I’m doing in my work journal. It will be tedious, but it will prevent me from having to start from scratch if I try and restart doing this in 7 months, after no practice. Right now, it’s fresh in my mind.

What I can see being an issue in the future manufacture of this pattern is the fact that bead sizes…really do not seem to be all that consistent. So a pattern or variation of a pattern which works with one set of beads, may not work with others — even if the beads say they’re the same size.

I might be able to use one variation of the pattern with one set of colors, that is, and need to switch to another pattern variation for a different set of colors. I think this does depend to an extent on the brand of bead I’m using (in my case, Toho vs. Miyuki — the Miyuki 11/0s I used, at least appear to be smaller than the Toho 11/0s I used in my previous trials), but size variation has been noted…in a lot of places. I can’t find the links right now, but it’s also known that even within a brand, one can’t expect every color and finish of bead to be the same size (for example, if one is looking at a matte bead [which may be smaller] as versus a Duracoat Galvanized one [which may be larger]). Just looking at my own stash, I can see this.

And, having a relatively significant stash of beads from a bead store no longer in existence which did not mark the brand(s) of seed bead they were selling…means that a good number of at least my size 11/0s are to be used as-they-are. (I didn’t know any better, as a youth.)

Within a bead’s own brand and lot, at least, they seem pretty consistent. But as I have said before…bead sizes may be more of a nice ideal than a reality. Kind of like Capri Gold or Sliperit or California Gold Rush. These finishes all apparently wear (off) very easily (though I only have personal experience with the last two, to memory). They’re beautiful ideas that don’t work out well in reality (though the manufacturers say they can be stabilized…really, who wants to spray varnish [which is usually hazardous] or paint Mod Podge on a bunch of beads?). I really can’t remember if or when I ever tried the Capri (Gold) finish: I just know I’ve been avoiding it for as long as I can remember, and may have been warned about it early on.

EDIT, 5/8/21: I just realized that my terminology here may be confusing. Capri Gold finish — a metallic coating — is an entirely different thing than Capri Blue (as a color name) in glass or crystal, which is a blue-green hue typically distributed throughout the bead. To the best of my knowledge, Capri Blue is relatively permanent. I had referred to Capri Gold as just, “Capri,” until I remembered Capri Blue.

Also…something I wanted to note. Doing things differently, just because it’s possible to do them differently, really gives me a deeper understanding of my work, and ensures I come away knowing more than I did when I sat down. There’s no reason, that is, to be afraid of failure: the most I lose is time and a little bit of thread (and a little bit of organization).

Ah — I remember what I intended to write…that when using very fine threads, a coarse needle will be apt to slide off. Recently, I purchased some C-Lon Beading Thread in size AA (fine), which is about equivalent to a Nymo O (fine)…and, well, it works best on a size #13 or so needle (very fine). With the Nymo B (midweight), I had been trying to avoid ultrafine needles so as not to break beads by trying to force the needles through a packed space. With the C-Lon AA, I don’t have to worry about that space, so much.

Nymo, which at least at one time (25 years ago) was industry-standard, is a multifilament untwisted thread which comes in four sizes: D, B, O, OO. D is the heaviest; B is midweight, O is fine, OO is extra-fine. I haven’t needed to use OO in a very long time, though I have some. The drawback to the size is that it’s hard to find it in colors other than black and white. C-Lon Beading Threads (both Size D and Size AA) are multifilament, untwisted threads, finer than C-Lon Micro Cord (the latter is great for teeny tiny micro-macramé, but it is a twisted, round cord, not flossy like the thread. C-Lon Cords are available in weights up to almost 1mm thick: don’t get the beading thread and the cords confused). I’m using size AA, which is finer. I have some D, just to try it out; if my memory’s correct, it’s a bit heavier than any of my Nymo threads…but I can’t be sure at the moment, and don’t remember where I put my comparison bundles. In any case, it’s possible to look up thread diameter comparison charts, online.

To make things more confusing, it’s possible that Nymo adjusted their sizes years ago between the time when I bought 20 of their bobbins in multiple colors in size B; and the present, where the new size D may compete with the old size B. I think that something happened, but I don’t know what.

A regular “beading needle” without a given size (the ones I have may be around a #10 or #11…though they’ve been outside of their packs so long I really don’t know which, other than by feel) will easily drop off of C-Lon AA of its own weight, if the needle slips from my fingers. I’ve had to use ultrastrong magnets to find these things, at times. You don’t want them getting caught in your carpet, especially with the end sticking up. (I should let you know that I’m conditioning my thread using a cake of Thread Heaven which is so old that I can’t remember when I got it…it makes the thread more slippery, which helps eliminate tangles. And…yeah, oddly enough, it still seems to work.) C-Lon AA also feels more slippery than my old Nymo B, from the start.

Who knew, right. The C-Lon also…is prone to shredding at the tip while one is trying to thread said needle (I haven’t yet tried pointing it with my mouth [kinda questionable in this day and age] or with beeswax [which might be the nice way to do it]). However…it’s smaller than the Nymo B I have (which is also prone to shredding, but over long periods of heavy use) and much smaller than K.O. Beading Thread. This is because K.O. is twisted and feels like it has a round cross-section, which makes it bulkier when passing through a bead piercing. Both Nymo and C-Lon Beading Thread are flatter. More like DMC embroidery floss than perle cotton, if you know what I mean — though they don’t have the relatively clean separability of DMC floss.

And yes, I did just realize that the, “perle,” in, “perle cotton,” may refer to, “bead,” in French! Huh! I have seen beaded lace (I’d use perle cotton for lace; not so sure if I’d use it with beads)…

Anyway, since I’m making earrings at this point, I figure that shreddability is probably a factor I don’t have to worry about, so much. 🙂 Now…if I did what has presented itself to me and produced bracelets? I don’t know, though I suspect I might want to use FireLine for that.

Hmm. Should I make myself a bracelet and then wear it until it falls apart and call it research? 😉

Those of you who have been in the circuit a while will know that FireLine is a gel-spun polyethylene thread, originally used as fishing line. It’s very strong and abrasion-resistant, and can come in very fine diameters. Problem is, knots have a tendency to slip out of it, especially as compared to other beading threads. Working with this thread requires at least some degree of a friction anchor — or, weaving back and forth until the thread is secure, even without a knot.

I suppose it is nice to have two separate workspaces: one as an office, where I work with information and data; one as a bench, where I work with my hands and some as-yet-undefined parts of my mind. (It’s really a table, but I like to call it a bench.) 😉 Between the 2nd and the 7th…I believe I had been working on blogging. Plus Business stuff, and math. Yesterday was particularly horrific, as I remembered a blog post I had written which proposed a break-even point which, well, I can see why I wrote it — but it really undercut me and my business. (It wasn’t a break-even point, so much as a going-out-of-business point.) I faced the option of taking it down entirely and/or revising and responding to it like a sane person. In the end, I did both. I’m not sure if I’m going to be putting it back up again: I’m also learning that it may not be in my own best interest to divulge too much about pricing and pricing strategies, and what’s acceptable. I don’t yet have enough information on these points to be able to reliably know what I’m talking about, here.

The spaces also help keep me aware of my time balance: I can’t sell handmade goods if I never make anything to sell. At least, I can’t sell handmade goods, that I make, if I never make anything to sell. Having the split tables/desks tells me when I haven’t been working enough at one of them. It’s also difficult to write about beading if I’m not beading and thus have nothing to write about.

The option has come up of monetizing this site somehow and working with research online to be of benefit to my community. I have discovered, that is, that there is a depth of information online in regard to beadwork that I’ve just begun to tap. I’ve been doing things like looking for famous beading authors, and then seeing what other searches are related to that search — people I don’t know. It’s kind of a rabbit hole, and feels way more nuanced than it was 20 years ago.

I am trying to work out the time split I want to have: whether I’m primarily a writer who beads, or a beader who writes. They’re both really engaging occupations for me (though I may have to kick myself to get started with the beads — I think it’s a, “fear of the unknown,” thing), but then I also need to figure out what I’m going to do to support myself — using one, the other, and/or a third route of work. I could easily research beading all day, and do some beadwork on the side, and then write about my research in the hours I don’t have because I’ve been researching. 😉 Would that be enough, though? I mean, how do you actually find a job in relation to beads? It’s a relatively niche category…which actually could be good for me, in that I would likely stand out.

I suppose my levels of tolerance for handwork will become clear, if and when I do really get into serious hours — trial or not. My primary concern is my vision (as in it’s bad, and will likely only get worse); my secondary concerns are tremors (not a major problem yet). It is possible for me to graduate into a freelance writing career, once I can no longer work with seed beads. And I would likely enjoy it.

Hm. Maybe it actually will be worth it to post some writing samples.

I’ve been wondering whether it’s actually healthy for me to spend so much time at the computer…but if I’m researching and learning new things, it probably won’t be that bad. I mean, if I’m taking in nothing new, that’s one thing; but chronicling growth, meeting new people, that’s another…

Tracking progress

I started writing this last night. I didn’t want to write it then, I kind of don’t want to write it now; but I need to log (somewhere) what I’ve been doing since my last entry on May 1. I have been lax in keeping up my Bullet Journal records over those same days, but my computer records (last save dates) are intact.

Most of my work has been circling around pricing, meaning it’s most usefully done on the computer (where I have records and spreadsheets), and at my desk (where I am surrounded by more records, trial models, etc.) — even as much as I may not want to be right here, in this chair, in this room, again. As well: I have the ability to integrate media into my postings online — though that will most likely be images, not .mp4 files. The same data is considerably more irritating to integrate into a paper journal, and it wouldn’t be as easy to recover, later. If WordPress is using a LOCKSS framework in addition to cloud storage, as well — the data is safer than on one piece of paper stored somewhere in my house, which is vulnerable to being lost.

Although it makes the most sense to post this on the computer (though maybe not publicly on the computer), there are some things that I really should not say — much of it relating to private machinations in figuring out pricing. I have never really liked having to set prices. There are also some potential legal barriers to talking about pricing in public, though I’m not sure how much they would apply to me in specific as a tiny manufacturer/designer and not an established huge business. (I’ll try and keep my discussion general, here.)

The things I’m not supposed to say have been keeping me away, recently. I mean, I like to do quality work with quality materials…but pricing it so that it’s both accessible to other people, and sustainable for me, is a different matter. It would also be a different matter, should I gain a day job: I’m still looking, not so much applying right now. I’m still waiting for my vaccination so that I’m prepared to go to job interviews. I’m also not entirely certain what kind of job, out of all the jobs I’m qualified for (or smart enough for), I want to do.

Right now I’m lucky enough not to have to earn a salary, but that still sets a rational limit on what I can (or should) do, particularly because I’m not selling at this time.

At a certain target price I’ve set which is lower than suggested markup, it would mean that to earn a living wage for a single person in my current location with my highest profit-margin (but still labor-intensive) products would take 37 hours of work a week, just making things to sell, without photography or image optimization or listing or mailing or blogging or Social Media presence or newsletters or record-keeping or tax preparation or ordering new materials or design — and I’d have to sell all of it, which is around 4 items/day. This is very likely the path of a new businessperson in general…that is, putting in much more than 40 hours/week. Just how much more, I’m not certain — I haven’t even tried to estimate it, yet. It would take timing all the stuff I do related to the business which is relatively unrelated to physical manufacturing…which in turn, takes categorizing all of that stuff, so that I know when I’m doing it.

If I follow the markup I’ve seen suggested, it would take 30 hours of work a week, just making things to sell…but the cost to the retail customer is higher than I’d wish, and it would likely lead to decreased sales. Now…am I comfortable with that?

The problem with lowering my retail price is that it also lowers my wholesale price…and the wholesale price needs to be something I can live with, especially if I want to work with boutiques or galleries (I know that’s out there, but if we’re dreaming, why not dream big). I’ve found a potential workaround for this…to set a higher price and run sales regularly. It’s something I’ve seen a lot of businesses do; particularly the ones which do quality work, geared towards special audiences. (Which…am I? I guess I…am…?)

And then…there’s the fact that just because I’m familiar with all these materials…the wider public almost certainly, is not. Neither do they necessarily know anything about beadweaving, wirework, how to use the tools or techniques involved, the intricacies of thread tension and thread elasticity and durability, lifetimes of different bead finishes, etc. And nor do they necessarily want to know. I suppose I need to ask myself whether my target audience contains beaders, or not. It has not been a question that has ever come up, particularly because I don’t know many beaders in person. The vast majority of people I’ve sold to would rather buy from me than make this stuff, themselves; I get the feeling they don’t know how to. Even Jewelers don’t necessarily know how to make these things.

There’s also the fact that I haven’t figured in the cost or price of items to sell which make up for lower profit margins on higher-investment products (meaning, in this case, things which take a lot more time to make)…or whether to use more higher-cost materials (crystal, stone, pearls) to help justify a higher end price. I did estimate the breakdown of my costs…for the model I was working, around 2/3 of my materials costs were in metals, which sounds about right.

I’m trying not to work in gold-plate if I can avoid it: using gold-fill drives the cost up (even though gold-fill often looks less “bright” than gold-plate, despite having more gold). Solid gold is so much more expensive than gold-fill that it’s not worth it to think of using it. Then there’s silver…which I do love, and is much less expensive.

I’ve been playing around with numbers over the past four days, I’m sure you can see. This is why I wanted to do this work on the computer: my numbers are right here.

I’ll also likely get faster at production, the more I work. I did complete a couple of trials of the Bee earrings…both of which are in my trial, “Library,” (it’s now a box for index cards with notes and samples) not for sale. The good news is that they took me far less than an hour and a half each to make this time; the better news is that I found a way to improve the design. I still have a couple of questions to work out with them (what does it look like if I use three 11/0s instead of two? or a Czech 13/0 instead of a Japanese 15/0?)…but they’re looking pretty good, about now.

Routine Log #1

Things seem to be improving, here. For one thing, I can actually think about taking a job again in the short-term…though I believe my preference would still angle toward Remote work. Commuting is just not attractive for someone in my current position, especially if I can’t use Mass Transit. I’ve also signed up for a number of classes for Fall Semester, in Accounting and Business. This may have a secondary effect of enabling me to work in Acquisitions in Technical Services, but that’s not why I’m taking the courses.

I don’t mind Data Entry, and I may find that I don’t mind Accounting. If I liked it, I could be a Bookkeeper or Accountant as a day job, which would keep me away from the general public, and contribute to my Business knowledge at the same time.

As well: if I’m going to start up a Small Business, I want to do it right, even though learning how to do so will take up a huge chunk of time for about four months. I want to get as much information as I can with as little direct exposure to other people as possible. We project that Fall classes will still be presented online. Spring Semester’s classes haven’t been announced, yet. However…by Winter, I will have essentially accumulated enough training to be above the waterline where it comes to running a Small Business (even if I don’t have the degree: I really don’t need an introduction to MS Office).

Probably, this is something I should have done back in 2016, but I didn’t have the focus or experience to know what I’d be doing, even if I weren’t being paid for it. And what I might not want to handle, even if I were. Those are two very good things to know. It’s also good to be able to acknowledge capability as versus willingness.

I’ve got the basic outline of a Business Plan down, now, minus the cash flow analysis and introduction…though there is another book I should also consult, which gives additional sections of the Business Plan to fulfill.

I can tell that I’ll need to tweak my initial ideas around how much I’ll be able to (and want to) produce, and setting a profit margin over my, “salary.” Right now…with my trial numbers and using piecework wages, I’m at approximately 19 hours/week, making a little less than I did at top rank at my first job (which had about the same hours), considering taxes. That’s not great, considering that my first job could in no way functionally support even the full living expenses of one adult person. These are just trial numbers, however…and if I were working on my own, doing something I love, there’s no reason I wouldn’t be able to increase my output — I (presently) have the time; I presume I would have the cash flow. (The question is whether I would continue to love doing it.)

There’s also the point that I haven’t factored in designs which take much less time and effort to produce, than my more unique creations. And the point of whether I would be willing to lower my standard of living, to work at this full-time. Or whether I could make things more quickly than I expect to be able to…which seems reasonable, given that I’ve been designing a lot of this on my own, and design is an iterative process that incorporates time spent learning.

The next step is really to try and remake some of my more successful trials, and see how long it takes me to produce them, when I already know what I’m doing. For example, with the Bee earrings — it took about 2.5 to 3 hours to produce a pair when I was still working out the pattern. However, now I know the pattern, and I know what slows me down. I can work my design out to be more efficient, while also possibly being more durable.

As for other things to do…I still have one really long invoice to enter into my spreadsheets. It’s…not going to be fun. When it’s small and manageable, that’s different; but these items are primarily identified by SKUs (Stock Keeping Units), and so it’s kind of hard to read the printout. Not to mention, it’s kind of hard to tell if you actually got everything you ordered (which I did not). Identifying the SKU may be necessary to make sure I actually get the correct part when reordering, as well (there are very subtle differences, say in size or cut, between different SKUs): so…yeah, not fun.

It is actually within my grasp to be able to take up some of the tasks which people in general find tedious…I’m thinking here of Bookkeeping and Accounting. I do have the attention to detail necessary, and the attraction to basic applied Math.

Anyhow — I’m told not to make any plans before having taken the classes.

I also…maybe should experiment and see how much I’ll need to do to make a living wage…I mean, just plug in the numbers and work backwards. Of course, cost of living differs tremendously depending on what part of the country one is in. It’s not necessary for me to live here and do this work, that is…but there are very real considerations I have to take as regards local culture and politics, which may translate in reality to livability.

Right now, I should probably either go and exercise, or go and clean off the Craft Table so I can do some work. Then I can get to work on either the band I started a couple of days ago, or the Bee earrings — while timing myself.

Looking back at my Bullet Journal, I can see what I had planned to do before getting thrown off-track… about two weeks ago. Seems as good a place as any to start up, again.

The financial stuff is more complex than I thought

Yesterday I started the deep dive: writing out a business plan. It wasn’t too difficult at that point, because I was getting into who I was, what the brand was, which people were members of my target market, evidence of need. Up next is the more complicated stuff, and that is, well, financial. Luckily, I have the ability to learn, and the resources to do so. It also looks like it’s not really difficult math…and there are other resources I’ve accessed to refresh my knowledge of how to work problems that I at one time knew how to do.

Yeah…it’s not so scary when someone helps you work through it, even if that, “someone,” simply wrote a book. I did realize that I had grossly overestimated and oversimplified the work I would need to get to my break-even point in my last entry…it’s really not that high. My fixed costs — i.e. my “overhead” — isn’t high at all; and if I’m smarter about spending (instead of focusing on acquiring a designer’s stash of materials to experiment with), I can get away with lower pricing.

If I actually work in some things like using pre-made chains, for example…I can cut my materials costs and labor time down drastically and still produce some pretty nice necklaces by making pendants and selling them as a set. It also makes sense to me now why so many artists (for example, on Etsy) sell materials as well as finished pieces: it’s a quick way to make money that doesn’t require the time that finished pieces do.

I didn’t realize until breaking into the last chapter I read that I was getting to the point where I had to work out pricing and think about whether this was profitable, and if so, by how much. That breaks down into prices, taxes, deductions, credit, and expenses — from what I can tell (I just thought that up on the fly, please no one take it as gospel).

Right now I’m trying to figure out how much I want to invest in this; how serious I am about making and selling jewelry as a mode of income. Do I want to do it part-time? Can I even think about surviving off of it full-time? (Do I want to do it full time?) What about the crazy stupid high cost of living where I am now? Will I need to relocate if I want to work for myself and make jewelry full-time? If so, to where? Would I be able to tolerate (or appreciate) the culture I’d be putting myself into?

Or do I want to do this on the side, and have a stable day job in LIS? Would I want to augment my pay with being a Freelance Content Writer or Freelance Copy Editor, in addition to having a “hobby” or small business as a Beader and/or (eventually) Jeweler? (“Jeweler” typically means Silversmith or Goldsmith, and requires a different setup…but I could easily see myself as an Art Jeweler; it’s where I was going with my Smithing classes.)

These questions are all valid, and together they determine what I do with my resources. The flat truth is, though, that I don’t have enough information to work all of them out, at the moment. As we say in LIS, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Finding out what I don’t know, and what I need to know, should make things clearer. As well: with finding a stable job, or even a Contract job, some of this falls down to attentiveness and luck and fit and persistence.

Then, there are also some things — in the Business plan — still to work out, like local and State taxes. I know I’ll need to renew my Resale license, but from what I can tell, I’m not officially “In Business” unless I aim to make a profit, and do make a substantial profit in three out of five consecutive years. Until then, I might just be a hobbyist that earns money on the side — at least, where I live now.

Sweet spot: I think that if I have a Resale license, I can buy materials Wholesale, which should be about half the cost of retail; meaning I can slash my prices while earning, possibly, a more decent salary. The drawback is just having to submit quarterly payments to cover tax on “projected earnings” — or, what you think you will sell, before you actually do sell. If you’re categorized as a Business, you can also write off the cost of materials from your Federal taxes, apparently. (?! You can’t do that as a Hobbyist.)

Again…my question is, do I really want to do this, and if I really want to do this, to what degree do I want to do this? At the same time as I’m working on this Business Plan, I’m not really producing any more jewelry — I can’t write and read and study and work at the same time as I’m caring for myself, with the hours I have right now. I’m adjusting. I am learning a lot, however, and it will be useful knowledge down the road.

If I intend to be a Freelance Writer/Content Producer and/or Freelance Copyeditor and/or Beadworker, I’ll need to know how to manage my own finances. Having been in the Library Science program, and having worked in Public Libraries; and with the other Business classes I’ve taken, I also have some knowledge of Customer Service and Marketing. Over the years, I’ve also gleaned some knowledge as to how to make engaging blog posts (which I don’t always do, but it’s not always my goal to increase views…this is a blog, and serves a purpose for myself, as well as for my readers and my community).

Coming up…I have a couple of classes lined up for Summer Session, and I am not really sure how much that will take out of me. It’s a total of nine units (over a little more than a month — ha!), but they’re Undergrad/Lower Division, and I’ve attempted similar (with success) when I actually was in Undergrad. I figure that I can deal with several weeks of intense effort put into something other than beading, and it might expand my horizons as to what I want to do (and what I can do).

I’ve found that I don’t hate Data Entry (my own records have intensively helped me — particularly when it comes to avoiding duplicate purchases [I guess I have recognizable taste] and knowing what I don’t already have), and maybe I wouldn’t hate Accounting, either. Both Data Entry and Accounting may be ways of earning a steady income without subjecting me to public contact. The same may go for Metadata Librarian/Metadata Analyst, Cataloger, Taxonomist. (And yes, I may have to hire a Sales representative…eventually.)

I decided that it would be a relative waste of my time to re-take Career and Life Planning (I have a fairly clear idea of what I want to do, what I can do but might not want to, and what I absolutely don’t want to do). I’m doing one Computer Science class (I want to learn how hardware works) and one Business class (a variant of Accounting). I’ve wanted to take both classes in the past, and in fact I began Accounting, but I got the flu and would have infected a bunch of people if I had tried to stay. My instructor didn’t want us to miss any sessions…but I was super sick, running a fever, and it was just gross. I then couldn’t make up that session…and dude was teaching live. I didn’t want to ask him to repeat three hours of teaching as personal tutoring, so I Withdrew with the idea of coming back to it, later.

Little did I know that making jewelry would still be a viable option for me later in life. When I was in the Business program the first time, we had an economic downturn (oh, surprise), and I didn’t think I could (or should) bet on selling things no one really needed. Jewelry is a luxury item, and the economy was tanking.

I also hadn’t really come into my own as regards my knowing why I even wore jewelry…because it had nothing to do with attracting men (or women). It took a while to realize that I was wearing jewelry for myself, because I liked it, because it made me feel good. And I had the choice and the desire to mold myself in my own image. It’s not for other people. It’s not to be, “feminine.” It has to do with me and how I want to live and present.

I don’t think that’s a message that one sees strongly coming out of fashion design, but it’s my own angle. I didn’t hit upon it until a few years ago, however. I guess that’s what maturity will get you: I don’t know if I’d call it self-knowledge, or self-understanding. The latter goes farther…

It seems the most absorbing projects

…are the ones I design, myself. (To me, at least.)

I wasn’t going to go public with another little earring design I’d made until I had finalized it (it’s not totally worked out yet), but right now I can see the potential benefit of going live within a short period of time, even just to show my work. And even just to record this so that I can see it, in the future.

Eight trials for a Fan earring model.
Eight earring design trials.

I recall writing at one time, on a blog which hasn’t been on the ‘net for a while now, that, “there are only so many ways beads can fit together.” What I meant is that it’s very possible for two (or more) different designers to spontaneously design things that are similar in concept, through no fault to anyone involved.

Just quickly, I have seen that there are two examples of jewelry on Pinterest and one example on Instagram, that use similar or almost identical concepts to what I came up with. These three are from different sources, however. They don’t all use the same method of construction, and none of them exactly mirror what I’ve been doing.

The earrings with the triangular transition between the fan portion of the drop and the connector are the ones I made and then did not in any way record how I made them…then went back to them some months later and could not recall how I made them. I mentioned these a while back; drawing out instructions to myself is not my favorite thing to do, but some form of recording is necessary.

Going back now and puzzling out how I did them, may not be as difficult a task as I’ve feared, however. As I’ve mentioned here, there are only a few moves that are possible and rational to make at each juncture, and my preferences are somewhat predictable. The thing is, the earrings have a strong tendency to warp, as I first made them; they come out three-dimensional, not flat. I’m thinking that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it was unexpected.

Pinterest and Instagram, however, are showing me that this commonality between designs — which to some extent is to be expected, given similar skill sets and similar materials — looks like it’s true more often, the simpler the design is. The base of this earring is Daisy Chain, which is often one of the first stitches anyone learns when starting off with beadwork; or, at least it was, in my case. Concomitantly…when starting out designing, it’s easier to start with something you know relatively well; something you figured out, early on.

Anyway, before anyone else posts something online that looks like my stuff, I might as well do it, myself. 🙂

There has been a lot of stuff going on for me within the last week…though I very much doubt I would remember it all, without help. I’ve altered my Bullet Journal to reflect both what I intended to do, and what I actually did: in addition to, or instead of, those things. I’m pretty sure that this will keep me feeling better about my productivity. Most of what I’ve been doing relates to domestic stuff: learning to cook, and maintaining spaces, and hygiene and exercise. All of that is necessary. I’ve also started to get back into reading…for information, yeah, but it’s something.

The latter part of today was taken up with technology issues which I in no way wanted to deal with, though on the bright side, it makes the photography prettier.

I’ve also been trying to get back into making face coverings, in addition to my beading, though I think I’ve been away from actually working with the beads for so long, that I’ve lost momentum. Not all of it — but a sizable amount. This actually coincides with some self-doubt (although I’ve been working, I haven’t made a great many salable items. I’ve been focusing on design and learning — and I’m coming off of a sensitive time [I know what I’m talking about, here, but it is not of use to disclose]), and realizing that when I do go back to work as a day job, if I want a salary or even a contract, I’m going to want to pivot to a different field.

I’m thinking, Writing — and writing about beadwork, at that. There’s also the possibility of writing about social issues, particularly where it comes to minority perspective/insight; it’s just that, for one thing, having a business and disclosing opinions on social realities kind of seem not to go together (?) but I have the skills for both. If I wanted a less-controversial and possibly more stable and well-paying job, I could try Cataloging Librarianship.

Of course, all of this requires cobbling together different income streams. I’ve realized recently that I don’t necessarily need advanced math skills like Calculus, or to get into Computer Science…I need to be exercising just basic, fundamental math skills with an end goal in sight.

Essentially — with the beadwork — I have an idea of what kind of expenditures are going out on a monthly basis, thanks to my spreadsheets. So I have an idea of what I’d need to take in, even though I expect to operate at a loss, for a while. (The thing is, when you’re using 12 tiny seed beads of one color for every earring, the cost-per-bead is kind of hard to calculate…though measuring by weight is my friend, here.) I need to work backwards from my expenditures to find how many pieces of jewelry I’d need to sell at what price over what time period to break even (again, over what time period); and then, how much time to allot daily to making those pieces of jewelry I’d need to sell, to do so. That should give me a minimum timeframe of how much I’d need to be working specifically on pieces to sell, assuming I sell them all (without profit or self-payment worked in, or time spent in design).

I feel like I’m missing something, but the previous paragraph was a big enough jump. This should give me the bare-bones, absolute minimum amount of work I need to be doing to break even — not to make a profit, not to pay for living expenses (yet). Just to pay for itself in the short-term.

After I do that, I can compare what I’m doing to that pricing formula: (materials + time) x 2.2 = wholesale price. (That price) x 2.2 = retail price. This should give me the variable for the value of the jewelry, which in turn should show me how many pieces I’ll need to sell at bare minimum, which (along with timing myself) will show me the minimum time I need to be working (subject to how much I’m paying myself). That should allow me to build in structure to my days, with time at which I can say I’m on the clock. That should help me get to bed at a time which works, and wake knowing I need to do things. I can ease myself into selling with that — even if it’s just a dry run — and see if I can keep up with it.

So I’m working on stuff like this, right now. I’m sure M would be angry that I didn’t just keep my head down and keep blindly making stuff and stop overthinking and reading the Small Business books. But I think ahead. I plan. I see issues. It’s what I do.

And that stuff just above is (mostly) me trying to figure this stuff out for myself. With the exception of the pricing formula, which I’ve seen elsewhere, but with a 2x multiplier instead of 2.2x.

Aside from that…the government here is hoping to open up the economy in about two months (we’ll see), and people are still going to need facial coverings…moreso than jewelry. I’ve been working on the sewing, just to do anything and try and unfreeze myself: face coverings are pretty straightforward. And they’re needed. They require precision and focus, but they’re quick and easy to turn out, once you know what you’re doing.

At the same time, I don’t want to stall my work with the beads, because then I forget what I’m learning. It becomes harder to build off of daily small gains in experience, and easier to get intimidated at the thought of going back to the work. I find that I’m spending a lot of time in front of screens…which is not what I want to be doing, but it is what all those years of schooling conditioned me to do.

Moving on: macrame lessons and new stitches

It’s been a few days. In the interim, I’ve had a couple of tries at doing micro-macramé; once, without reviewing or following directions; the second time, paying close attention to my cord orientation and the instructions for double half-hitches given in Joan Babcock’s book, Micro-Macramé Jewelry: Tips and Techniques for Knotting with Beads (2nd Edition). I still had to figure some stuff out for myself, but overall, my success rate was much higher when I decided to allow myself to learn.

This is a point at which I strongly differ from certain people (one person in this case, actually) who claim to be professionals and discourage any competition from younger creators by telling them that in effect, they should have completed learning before they start making money off their craft. That’s unrealistic, and also a guarantee of failure before beginning. Learning is a lifelong journey, not something a person completes in four years (for a grade, at that — which discourages experimentation and failure; failure may lead to more growth than outright success) and then never has to do again. One of my Graphic Arts instructors — as an excerpt from his communication with other Digital Artists — mentioned always pushing one’s own boundaries, so one was always doing something that challenged them. For some reason, I carried that along with me.

Of course, the first person I mentioned may have learned as an Apprentice, not a Student…but I also find the term “Master” to be a bit…vainglorious as a goal.

I did discover, last night, that what I’m doing is in essence, entering manufacturing as versus service…which I didn’t expect to find, in my life — ever. (Kind of like I never expected to realistically be this close to being in business for myself.) But if I’m looking at Jeweling as a craft (i.e. silversmithing or goldsmithing), beadwork is not different in kind. It’s different in process — very different — but the things one makes, the products, are not so much. Of course, there is a large difference in aesthetic…beadwork inherently allows much more colorwork than silversmithing, at least unless one is heavily using colored stones, enamel, patina, or reactive metals. (I almost forgot to mention: works made in brass, bronze, and copper, also fall under the heading of “silversmithing”; these are also a way out of black, grey and white.)

There are different drives and underlying aesthetics between the paths. Silver, as a precious metal, is more monetarily valuable in itself than most glass beads. (Note: most. I’ve seen some awesome lampwork glass online which I’m pretty sure commands a fair price.) Silversmithing forces one to focus much more on form, structure, and process…not to say that these are absent in beadwork — they are wholly there — but at least with beads, one can let the materials guide one, to an extent.

In my experience, metalwork requires more energy put into design, and into thinking ahead through the process so that you don’t, for example, create a bezel before functional joins, and that bezel decides to suddenly liquefy because its melting point is below the temperature needed to melt the grade of solder you’re using to construct the bare bones of the piece. In the thinking-ahead department, I’m relatively well-equipped. Maybe I was so well-equipped that I decided the class was too hazardous, at the time. This was mostly due to the other students (reminding me of Chemistry class in High School), but some (most) of the danger was inherent, and only magnified by irresponsible behavior.

As a contrast, when attempting to remember how to re-create a recent pattern I made (which I neither wrote down nor drew out — haa, fun) I did discover that in assembling the drop, there weren’t a lot of, “side alleys.” I could probably make those diversions if I wanted to: but the pattern was straightforward, clean, rational. If I tried to reduce the number of steps down further…it would take a lot more work to derive what might become a more elegant solution.

There is also substantial overlap between beadwork and silversmithing, if one chooses to allow oneself to span boundaries in one’s work. Making another earring mockup, I did surprise myself by noting how quickly I had to shift from beadweaving over to wirework. It requires a completely different set of tools; it is a medium which behaves differently than beads and thread. But still: the component was done, and it was assembly time.

Of course…I ended up altering this workflow, at least in theory: instead of tackling assembly at the end, tackling it at the beginning, before any weaving happens. I still have to test-run that process. The difficult thing about this for me is taking those slow, deliberate steps forward that I know I need to take.

I suppose I can keep that in mind for the future, say, if I ever make this more than a microbusiness.

It does take a different set of skills to work with metal than to work with needle and thread. Of course, right here we’re talking about wirework, not forging or other methods of complex fabrication (like the hinges I decided I was OK with not knowing how to produce)…and I was only in smithing courses for two semesters (I could have done five without being a Teacher’s Assistant, tops), so I’m not really an authority.

Anyhow…last night I did a review of horizontal half-hitches, vertical half-hitches, and diagonal half-hitches. The last of these is actually much easier to work than it seems; as I was doing it, it was just a tilted horizontal half-hitch, meaning there’s a more-or-less horizontal anchor cord which the vertical cords tie themselves over. And I could see that trying to do it without instructions was seriously, doing it the hard way.

I seem to have reached, more or less, an organic stopping-point with Flat Spiral stitch. There is more I could think of to try — particularly, using 6mm or larger beads for my core, and 4mm beads as the outer embellishment, just scaling the whole thing up — but I think I’m done, for now. At this point, I’ve begun looking at color placements rather than form (the overall outer volume of the piece) or structure (the way the beads and components are physically joined together). This tells me that I probably need to move on to find other ways to join beads together, so that I have more options to choose from where it comes to color placement.

What I seem to be organically moving into is St. Petersburg Chain, which I was also working on prior to deciding to go back to known techniques.

Okay. I know I intended to move from easiest to hardest in terms of my tour of techniques.

St. Petersburg Chain isn’t anywhere near being a beginner’s stitch. It’s overtly hard to grasp, as there’s a lot of turning back on oneself and roundabouts. I had to consult three different sources to get straight on what was actually happening (one of which was a YouTube video, the other two were books). I am thinking of trying this one, however, particularly because 1) it’s challenging, and 2) I have the outline of a design that I just may be able to produce if I use a specialized component: in this case, a chaton with a four-way opening. I’ve also just found one of my earlier posts where I have recorded myself wanting to use it.

I can also see an easy modification I might want to try.

Given that the evidence shows that I’ve wanted to attempt this for at least a year and a half, I’m more inclined to give myself a chance at it, this time. Especially if I’m feeling confident enough to do so; and there’s nothing like trying the easiest thing you can find, to give you enough confidence to attempt something difficult.

Paired with the St. Petersburg Chain, I’d hope to use a stone I was attempting to bezel in beadweaving a while ago. I have half a mind to cut the bezel away on this piece and try again (I should photograph it, before I do); the only reason not to, is if I did not record the trip-ups I encountered the first time (note to self: journal this stuff)…or if I were totally satisfied with what I did the first time (which I’m not). I do have a couple of duplicates of the stone I was bezeling (it’s a pink Swarovski pear-shaped embellishment from the time at which I was concerned Swarovski was going to shut down their supply to the craft community; at this point, the shutdown looks more like a reorganization)…but realistically, even if I did scratch the foil backing on the first one, it would be better to practice on a practice stone. A stone that I won’t be concerned about if I screw it up. Basically, that one is a sacrifice to the beading goddesses at this point.

This does make me think of another apparently cheaper crystal I also have access to, in the same pear shape but shallower depth…but I’ll give the Swarovski a second try, before going there. After all, I’m already familiar with it, and it’s probably already scratched.

Working with wire: cup-bur escapades

Just very recently, I’ve gotten back to my earring designs (there are two of them, now, though the second probably won’t go live for a little while) — and that in itself has necessitated my getting back into wirework. What I can say about wirework is that what it takes to work with metal was something that had slipped my mind, until I had to do it again. A couple of days ago (I missed yesterday because of pushing myself too hard the day before) I was filing, sanding, and using a rotary tool with a cup bur attachment, which is all too familiar to me.

Working with metal allows me more elasticity with my findings (metal parts). They’re customizable. I don’t have to deal with the limitations of what is being sold, or with workarounds I have to take because of those limitations. What I found out was relatively…well, I wouldn’t quite call it “enlightening,” but it reminded me why I wouldn’t necessarily want to make patterns, because materials aren’t always interchangeable.

Out of curiosity, I used a digital caliper to measure the diameter of two different pieces of wire I was looking at for earwire models. One was supposedly 22 gauge red brass; the other was supposedly 22 gauge gold fill. This was an attempt at modeling a 22g French Hook; I’ve done it before, just not recently.

I’m not claiming that my measurements were totally accurate, here (in particular, I could have twisted a wire without knowing it), but I measured the gold-fill wire as a full 1/10 of a millimeter finer than the brass (0.5mm in diameter, as versus 0.6mm). In turn, these were both finer than what we found as the intended gauge diameter online…where 0.5mm runs closer to 24 gauge.

This explains why there was not an option to purchase 24 gauge wire as jump rings (in addition to the fact that 24-gauge wire is likely not all that sturdy without hard soldering, and I’ve been taught not to solder wire with coatings [e.g. colored craft store wire], at all, due to toxic vapors: gold-fill and silver-fill I consider to fall into that category, but I could be wrong). The only reason I caught this is that I was attempting to thread a size 8/0 seed bead onto a 22-gauge loop I’d made in a brass-wire model of my intended product, and it had a hard time moving — to the point that I predicted the bead would break rather than shift position. (Note to self: test this before making a bunch of earwires, next time!) I then tried threading it onto a 22-gauge jump ring made of sterling wire, and: guess what, it could move.

As full disclosure, I should mention that any slight deviation from circular would also cause that phenomenon of the bead sticking, as well — and I caught this happening to one of my earwires (I accidentally pinched it with my pliers), though I can’t tell which very easily, at this time. I restored it roughly to a round shape, but beads don’t care about “roughly;” they care about “perfect,” in this case. So one earwire might have a microscopically different diameter than the other, or might be out of shape just a little, which could both throw off the bead’s ability to move.

On looking at the two wires, I could tell that the sterling was finer; probably also stronger…though I haven’t tried work-hardening the brass (which just takes a quick squeeze between nylon-jaw pliers, or alternately, minor smithing on an anvil with a soft mallet such as nylon or rawhide. I’m not responsible for where that ring ends up, though [or for your fingers]. You might want to cover your anvil before going at it). Other than curiosity, I don’t really have any reason to even try to work-harden the brass, at this point. Now, where it comes to gold-filled wire, that’s a different story, as it’s being used as a final product…

And yes, note that I did make a trial version out of cheap wire, before jumping to the expensive stuff, this time! Although, it does turn up some differences that are possibly irrelevant to the finished pieces (but good to know). The main thing: a thicker wire will take up more space inside a seed bead than a thinner one, even with the same diameter loop. This affects how many thread passes (and what size needle, I presume) you’ll be able to put in there, without that bead (and/or needle) breaking.

Which reminds me: I made a note to reserve size #13 beading needles, specifically for finishing: that is, to expressly not use them when I don’t have to. That gives me some extra space when my bead holes are filling up, and I’ve been using a size #11 or #12 needle. I also then know that the number of moves I have left, is limited. (I’ve been using Nymo B for earrings, as I know they aren’t heavy-wear pieces. Nymo shreds after years under heavy use [for example, bracelets that are worn all the time], but works well with non-sharp beads [e.g. seed beads] which don’t get a lot of wear and tear…and Nymo B is functionally smaller than, for example, K.O. thread — the latter of which, I can recall using…unfortunately, I don’t recall for what!!)

I’ve also found that I may need — in the case of the Bee earrings — to thread in my metal components before assembling the woven portion, to avoid having to try and force a wire into that little space between two beads and out the other side. That probably doesn’t make sense in English: I’m sorry. What I mean is that due to the frustration of inserting a jump ring or a head pin into an 8/0 bead that I’m using as a link — not just a bead — after the construction of the component is finished, it might well be worth it to thread those metal parts in before weaving in those 8/0 beads, and just try and not catch the metal with the needle, when finally weaving everything together.

I haven’t tried it yet, though. Maybe I should try, tomorrow?

I also am aware that I have an ongoing problem with using tension that’s too high when beadweaving, which causes the gaps between beads to close up, and close firmly.

Of course, we do have to take into account the fact that seed beads themselves are not necessarily all that, well, interchangeable. Even within a size (say, 8/0 or 11/0 in particular), there are beads which are wider (from hole to hole) and those which are thinner. This is more pronounced in Czech seed beads than in Japanese seed beads, in my experience, but the phenomenon is still present in both. It’s to the point where I’m thinking that bead sizes are more of a nice ideal than a reality. For example, I’ve recently purchased a hank of orange seed beads (Czech) which were supposedly 6/0, and had to wonder if they were really 7/0, and just mislabeled (they were noticeably smaller than my other 6/0s, but I can’t tell if that’s a visual error due to color. I haven’t yet tried the calipers on them: I don’t know that there is a standard size for 6/0 beads, after all…which I just realized, I can look up. Go, me).

Then there are the beads which are sold as 2mm, which vary between 2.5mm and below 2mm (I don’t have the energy to get up and measure these at the moment, apologies…though maybe I should put this into some sort of reference).

I’ve also found some of my bead suppliers to give descriptive information which I’m certain is inaccurate (i.e. claiming a bead to be a Miyuki 6/0 when it is a different size and shape from the rest of my Miyuki 6/0 beads, and the color comes off with short-term daily wear even as the rest of my Miyuki 6/0s [even the dyed ones] don’t wear). That’s on top of the fact that trade names for certain beads seem to be unregulated…so you can get beads which look similar online which are sold under different names, and upon arrival you find that they seem to be, in fact, the same bead (e.g. “Crystal Orange Rainbow” as vs. “Two-Tone Clear AB and Apricot Medium”). Are they? Can we ever be sure? (They certainly look very similar next to each other…)

Speaking of Miyuki, they’re the company that I find comes closest to really regimented bead size — but I wouldn’t have caught onto this without their Tila series (full Tila, 1/2 Tila, 1/4 Tila), which seem precisely machined to fit together; granted that I haven’t used them yet (they’re very Art Deco). Toho is approaching this with their Treasure and Aiko lines (both cylinder beads), which are meant to rival Miyuki Delicas (also cylinder beads). Aikos are apparently supposed to be even more regular than Treasures, particularly where it comes to the angle of the cut edge; but I wouldn’t really know, having never purchased them. I’m not really a big cylinder-bead person, except when it comes to needing to bezel something, or having a weaving path that necessitates a lot of passes — or having to finish something off and needing something small that won’t de-value my piece.

Of course, there’s also the fact that Delicas (along with other Miyuki beads) come in a mind-boggling array of colors, which — along with their uniformity — is likely their largest draw. Miyukis can also be very expensive, however. Generally, when I’m working, I’m using rocailles, which is an industry term for basic “round”, uncut seed beads. I use air quotes because the beads aren’t actually round; they range from cylindrical with softened edges, to donut-shaped, depending on country and company of manufacture. Czech beads, being donut-shaped, also tend to run smaller and have smaller bead holes relative to their size, than Japanese beads. But they’re rounder where beads may meet at an angle (as in Right-Angle Weave, among other stitches), which makes them more useful for a more organic feel.

Toho beads also have a significant and beautiful array of bead colors and finishes. The thing is, because of the large variety of these…and the fact that names may be irrelevant, sometimes the best way to find an exact color and finish match is the color code…which you’ll only find on some web sites selling beads. Some, because once you know the color code, you can efficiently search for the exact same bead type and brand from a number of different vendors — some of which may have better quantities and prices for your needs (say, if they’re being sold in lots of 7 grams each and you need more like 30 grams at a time).

Of course, you’ll also want to take into account what other things the vendors are selling, so as to minimize shipping charges. Sometimes the more expensive outlets also have a more sophisticated selection than your basic wholesale stores. As always, though, with the Internet and digital photography, what you get may differ from what you thought you would get. It might be best to get a small quantity first to see what the material actually looks like, before buying a mass quantity. I found this out the hard way, recently…

Anyhow, though, I meant to get back — at least briefly — to the experience of working with this metal: red brass/Jeweler’s Brass, and gold-filled wire. I had purchased a Beadalon bead reamer a while back, which has a small rotary motor. I hoped to be able to use it in order to help round off the ends of my earwires, using one of their cup-bur attachments. Cup burs basically are meant to round off wire tips: for earwires, for prong settings, etc. Basically, for any application where a wire end may snag, tear, or catch on things like clothing or skin. (For clarity, with the Beadalon motor, I’ve only seen additional bead reamer and additional cup-bur attachments [in three sizes] for sale; I’m hoping they’re going to expand their range.)

I should qualify this by saying that I have never been able to get a wire properly rounded, just by using a cup-bur attachment. Neither this time, nor when I had the opportunity to work with a pendant motor in my metalwork class.

This was a Foredom motor with a rotary handpiece, which is — in effect — an awesomely powerful, quiet, just beautiful tool (not without its hazards); it happens, however, to need to dangle, which (aside from price) is its biggest drawback for the new jeweler. It assumes either the presence of an available bench to mount a hanger onto (and Jeweler’s benches are not cheap), or an improvised stand. The motor hangs at about head level, maybe slightly lower (to the best of my recollection), while the seated user holds the handpiece that is connected to the motor by a sheathed cable. The motor torques the cable which torques the handpiece — which has a collet that can take the shanks of different rotary tools, cup burs included.

The most evident competitor to this in the United States is the Dremel, which — if I’m remembering correctly — is relatively loud. I haven’t had much inclination to use it before now (I think I might have access to one, but I’m not clear on where it is or if it still works), but there is a model which is able to work on top of a surface, as versus being handheld like a drill (which, due to size, is relatively unwieldy for jewelry work).

I tried a number of different cup burs, back when I had access to a Foredom — and to a real-life community of jewelers. What I learned then and recently remembered is that cup burs are often…ineffective in rounding off the end of a wire, alone.

To do this and have a relatively quick result, it’s best to first cut the wire, then file off the corners of the wire (using a small needle file meant for jewelers — a flat, relatively fine one worked for me just recently): remember, these files cut on the push stroke, not on the pull. Then sand them down further with at least three different grits of sandpaper (I used 300-, 400-, and 600-grit wet/dry silicon carbide paper) to go over the area until it feels smooth, and then go in with the cup bur, to smooth everything further.

The problem is that if you go on too straight with the bur, it can just flatten off the end of the wire again. The bur needs to be rotated around the end of the wire so that the remaining burs can be removed. In addition, this needs to be done either with a lubricant such as Bur-Life, or with the tip of the bur wet, or your metal and your bur will get very hot — likely, too hot to hold onto. I would assume for safety that high temperatures would cause the bur to dull more quickly, but I can’t be sure about that.

Then, there is the problem of overrotation, which I’ve experienced all the times I’ve done this recently — where the edge of the cup bur itself bites into the length of the wire, causing indentations in the side of the post. There is also the problem of other remaining sharp points on the tip of the wire, where maybe something wasn’t sanded down properly. The easiest way I’ve found to take care of this — after feeling for any sharp bits and then looking more closely at it with magnification — is a few swipes on 600-grit carbide paper targeting the area, then moving back to the cup bur to polish down that new area. (And maybe, “polishing” is the right term for what a cup bur really does best.)

What you’re looking for is anything which feels sharp, which catches, which is not round. If it feels sharp to a fingertip, it will probably also feel sharp to a piercing. I have been able to get the tips of wires very smooth — the problem is the nicks generated on the stem of the earwire, from over-rotating the bur. I have not been able yet to deal with how to take down these nicks (which do not irritate my piercings, but I still see them as not-great) on a gold-filled wire. My gut tells me that if I try to do so, I’ll expose the core of the wire, which kind of negates the reason for using gold-fill in the first place.

I also don’t know if I can put a high polish on most metal I might file or sand down. With wire ends, I have the cup burs; with round wire, I’d need buffs, more than one type of polishing compound, and a rotary tool, like a Dremel — but it would be best if that tool were much smaller. If I could focus in on the area I’m fixing, which in this case would be a zone less than 2mm cubed…it would be different. Because of this, I can see the use of the Beadalon tool (which runs on two AA batteries) for light duty. The problem is that it seems to be that we go from very inexpensive tools for beadwork, to somewhat expensive but not-quite-made-for-this, to capital expenditure.

I did just now, get the insight to cover the stem of the wire with Painter’s Tape before trying to file or sand or round off anything, and that is an easy fix.