Monday 29 February 2016

And the light poured through - the story of a bracelet

A couple of weeks ago, I snagged a few bundles of lampwork glass in a sale. Who can resist a good sale? (Not me.) One of the bundles was the set pictured below Rachel aka Puffafish had created a beautiful and unusual set of beads, with raku frit (tiny pieces of crushed glass) on a black background, encased in a thick layer of crystal clear glass. The raku reacts with the heat and beautiful colours are brought out to create unique and sightly unpredictable (in a good way!) results. The set immediately leapt out at me - I'm not usually drawn to black for some reason, but these were just incredible - a combination of the colours set against the dark backdrop, and the way light moves through clear encased beads, made this set extra special. 

Rachel had entitled this set 'Fireflies' and you can see why - the flickering lights captured within perfectly mimic those tiny creatures (determined to see them in the flesh some day!). But they immediately reminded me of another beautiful form of light - the light that falls through stained glass windows, and specifically of a trip I made to Paris a few years ago, and an afternoon spent sat in L'eglise Saint Eustache

Can you see what I mean - light falling on the stony ground, dispersed and softened by centuries-old stained glass windows? 

I am lucky enough to have visited Paris a few times (although it has been far too long) and L'eglise Saint Eustache is one of my favourite places to visit. Built on as epic a scale as its more famous neighbour, Notre Dame, but not nearly as touristy - or quite frankly, as fancy - it has a quietness and a reflective, peaceful quality that I've always found incredibly moving. I'm not religious, but the solitude and peace one can find in a religious building is a remarkable thing. Last time I was there, I was by myself in the city, and I sat, taking it all in. I (discreetly!) took a bunch of pictures with my phone, and played around with instagram afterwards, trying to draw out the qualities I'd found within this huge, ancient building whilst sitting there alone. 

It's this last photo here that Rachel's beads reminded me of - I still remember sitting by myself, looking at the lights on the ground, and thinking how amazing they were, and how lucky I was to be there at that moment to take in the solemn yet playful beauty of it all.

And it's that combination of the solemn and the playful that I wanted to capture within this bracelet. I knew I wanted to use several of these beads in one piece for impact, and the same day the lampwork glass arrived, I also had a small delivery from Vintaj Brass - a small company who create nickel-free brass components for jewellers, and who are known for the beautiful, naturally developed warm bronze-brown patina which they develop on their pieces. A new component to me were these decorative bell caps - the perfect component to pair with my stained glass light beads:

Playful handwoven glass {song}beads in matte coral, and some pressed glass rounds in hyacinth and turquoise completed the band, offsetting the black backdrop of the lampwork and bringing out the glimmering raku flickers. I added a simple beaded extender and a heavy sterling silver clasp, which I oxidised to tone with the patinated brass bells. 

You can pick up And the light poured through over in my etsy shop now

Thursday 25 February 2016

A Sale!

Ahoy there! I'm having a wee sale. It's leap year, February is almost over and Spring is just around the corner - all things to celebrate in my book! 

You can take 20% off all items in my shop with coupon code LEAP20. Click here to jump straight into my shop! 

Here's a few of the pieces you could snaffle if you are quick about it, including some *new* pieces that I loaded into the shop this morning:

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Pictures, not words - some new jewellery

Oh hey there!

 It's late here, and I'm about to go to bed, but I just wanted to stop by with a quick post before slinking off to bed. I have been having a browse through my blog this evening, clicking through those links at the bottom of each post (if you like this, you'll love this post etc!), which seem to take you on a bit of blog time-travel. It's nice to remind yourself where you've come from and what you were doing and making 4 or 5 years ago. I also enjoyed the variety of types of posts which I have written over the years, and it made me think of the very lengthy ones I've been writing this year. Yes, I've been really enjoying them - but I want to mix things up with some shorter, more picture-heavy ones. So that's what this is - just sharing a few things I've made recently. Because sometimes you want to read all the words - but sometimes, you just want to look at the pictures, right? 

I NEED to make more necklaces over the next couple of weeks/months/years. I'm always behind with this task! Here's one I did manage to make, which I'm pretty pleased with...

Another thing on my to-do list FOREVER has been to reshoot pictures for my 'Home is where the heart is' necklace. A long-standing Songbead classic/favourite, it's fair to say that my previous photos were a little, well, rubbish. Pleased to say that I finally GOT THAT DONE. Tick!

I've become a little obsessed with turning Sally Soul Silver's new puffy triangle beads (swoon!) into bracelets. Here's my latest one. Retitled Nature's Bounty because, well, I just kept imagining this as a well-stocked cupboard and that didn't quite cut it somehow...

I have a long-standing love affair with pearls. Like any relationship, we have hot and cool periods, but we're definitely going through a hot one right now. Just look at the sheen on these....This necklace is one of those carefully curated yet seemingly slightly random ones creations - a bit like messy hair that's actually taken you an hour to perfect before leaving the house, the layout of this rather special necklace took me AGES, until like Goldilocks I felt I had got it just right. 

Looking back through my blog, I came across the posts from when I was visiting Paris a few years ago. My reactions were a) I want to go back to Paris, b) I need to take more photos and instagram them when I'm travelling around, and then blog them and c) I really, really want to go back to Paris. This is one of my favourite moments from that trip.

I met up with a dear friend Anna today, to whom I gifted a pair of my new handwoven glass button studs. Here she is modelling them. Pretty cute, huh? 

This earring design became one of my favourite over the summer - birds, flowers, handwoven glass {song} it any wonder I love these? I came across these beautiful but stashed away porcelain birdies last week when searching for something else entirely, and I'm glad I did.

On my work table this evening. Handmade lampwork lentil from Helen Chalmers, I used that as my jumping off point and whipped up a bunch of coordinating {song}beads. It's now a bracelet which I'll photograph tomorrow, sunshine permitting. 

Last for now but not least, a new pair of earrings in the shop. I am a little bit in love with this mixed-metal colour mix which I've created for these earrings. Copper + Silver = much gorgeousness. Find them here

Hope you've enjoyed this little photo trip! More posts like these to come, for sure. 

Saturday 20 February 2016

Songbead...2016 so far...

A quick post from me today rather than one of the lengths scrawls I've been dishing out recently! Last year I did one of these collages at the end of January, featuring what I'd made that month. This time, I decided to do one showcasing the pieces (or most of the pieces, not including made-to-order or custom work I've done) I've sent off to new homes this year. A pretty colourful bunch, each with their own story to tell.

Here's looking forward to rehoming many more Songbeads in 2016. 

Sunday 14 February 2016

Stacked Earrings Challenge - Chapter 4

Hello! It's time again for our little creative group challenge again, and my goodness, it's been a while since our last round. Hands up, it's all my fault! I had such a lot on over the summer - multiple craft fairs, working down in London for several weeks and the continuing saga of the poorly sick bunny rabbit, that it took me until DECEMBER to get my little bead selection out to everybody. When checking through to see when my last blog post was from this series, and I'm ashamed to say that I've held us up since last May. Eek! So sorry guys! 

This exchange is the brain-child of Swedish jewellery designer-maker, Malin de Koning, who invited Heidi Post, Leah Curtis and Claire Lockwood and myself to join her. Here's the lowdown in Malin's own words:

"The idea is that I give each of us the same set of beads. Beads that I believe would be nice to use in earrings. Nothing exclusive, and no art beads. Just a group of different beads that I myself believe can be used in fun and interesting ways in earrings in a stacked style.

I am longing to see how we all use the same things but in different ways. I am thinking we could all make at least one pair of earrings, but hopefully more. And that we are free to add our own extra beads and/or other components, if we at least use three (3) of the beads from my set in each design."

Since Malin began this challenge back in January 2015, we've taken it in turns to send out little curations of beads, and all turning them into our own creations. Here's what I selected for the group:

Photo curtesy of Leah Curtis - please note the super-cute bunny plate!

We're a pretty diverse bunch of designers, all working with beads and found objects, and so it's been fascinating seeing what everyone comes up with each time, from exactly the same selection of beads. I have to say, I had a great time digging through my bead boxes to make this little collection - some beads I'd totally forgotten I owned (the rubber rings on the rh side) and some which I use all the time (ceramic rondelles and pressed glass flowers). When I'd finished gathering everything together, I did feel a little like I should perhaps have included a few neutrals and darker tones in there - you might need your sun-specs for this vibrant a selection! But then again, I adore colour and so it's pretty indicative of me, this little bunch of beads. 

And so without further ado, here's what I turned this little lot into:

I did have one more pair which I started on, but I had used one of my handwoven {song}beads and didn't have enough time to whip up another before photographing these (and it was a rondelle - one of the more time-consuming styles to make), so 5 pairs will have to do. And all in all, I'm pretty pleased with these! Especially because on completion of this collection, I realised that all I'd added to my original bead selection were my own handwoven {song}beads, and findings (the metal bits and bobs!). 

Spice Trail - a true stack of beads here, Czech pressed glass, nickel-free brass, Greek ceramic discs, vintage carved acrylic, handwoven {song}beads and handmade sterling silver earwires. 
These might be my favourite from the set of five. Stacked high with an eclectic mix of beads - ceramics, pressed glass, carved acrylic and of course, some of my own handwoven {song}beads, these are long and luscious. Just look at those vintage carved acrylic rounds! I am so glad I rediscovered these when hunting out beads for this round's little collection.  

Mojito - handwoven {song}beads, Czech pressed glass, handmade sterling silver pins and earwires and vintage acrylic rounds.
This pair also contain some awesome vintage acrylic rounds, and I've paired these with some of my handwoven {song}bead rondelles, and a stack of Czech pressed glass, topped and tailed by my handmade oxidised sterling silver. These are a bit of a departure for me colour-wise - lime green or chartreuse, as we are calling it these days (yep, I know they're technically different but chartreuse sounds so much nicer than lime, doesn't it?), isn't necessarily my go-to green, but here I've paired it with dark silver and teal to tone thing down a bit and it works! (I hope!) 

Favorit - Czech pressed glass, antiqued copper, vintage acrylic rounds, handmade sterling silver earwires.

There's a bit of a story behind the title here. Long-time readers may have noticed that 'Favorit' is a name I tend to use/borrow again and again - and yes, there's a reason behind that. In my late teens/early twenties, I left Edinburgh to go and study down in England, but when I returned to Edinburgh for the holidays, my friends and I always used to meet up in a late night cafe, Favorit. Despite it serving alcohol, we always opted for teas and coffees, and the occasional humus and pitta bread, which I'll freely admit, given the option of wine was unusual for us - even if we stayed there until the wee hours. I have some of the BEST memories of nights there - being silly and daft and laughing, laughing, laughing - Favorit is no more, but I'll never forget the good times had. It has a slight 'retro dinner' feel to it, and so whenever I see my favo(u)it(e) colour-scheme of red and turquoise (pretty retro in itself), I always think back to those good old days. I think this title will keep repeating on me! 

Moon Landing - Peridot, rubber, bone, handmade sterling silver earwires.

These beads were a bit of a wildcard in the selection I sent out. I love gemstone chips, but I must admit, I don't always know what to do with them. And those tiny rubber rings - I'd completely forgotten that they were something I had in my collection, so they were almost like new to me. The craggy surface of the peridot remind me of the rugged landscape of Harris, an island in the outer hebrides which I visited a couple of years ago. My host compared the rocky, barren landscape of part of the island which we were driving through with the surface of the moon, which has really stayed with me. It's a tiny island, but so full of contrast, as so much of the Highlands and Island of Scotland are. The idea that some of the landscape of this tiny island was comparable with the moon blew my mind! So the connection here is an other-wordly one. These earrings are some of my favourites out of this little bunch - perfect for those who like really dainty earrings.

Spring Meadow - handwoven {song}beads, Czech pressed glass, Greek ceramic discs, rubber, handmade sterling silver earwires.

Last but not least, these stackers are fairly classic Songbead. Light bright Spring colours, topped off with some of my handwoven {song]beads, I feel like these earrings are guaranteed to make you smile. Step out into the countryside in a month or two and you'll see these colour popping up everywhere! These are the happiest earrings from the bunch - I'm definitely tempted to make myself a pair of these too. 

And so that's it for this round! Please hop over to my friends' blogs and check out what they've created with exactly the same materials. Looking forward to the next instalment already!

Friday 12 February 2016

Coming back to bead-weaving and my {song}beads

One of my favourite bead-woven pieces - I still have this one somewhere or other.

My journey in playing with beads and creating jewellery is almost as long as I am old. My Grandma Anderson, master-embrioderer, had me hooked on beads before I went to school. I still have her little collection of beads - old cigar tins, pill bottles, other miscellaneous jars which were presumably convenient and cheap (free!) for her at the time, but of course are now imbued with layers of nostalgia and charm. Flat backs in hard plastics and glass, sequins, seed beads which I now know to be either Czech or German in origin due to their shape and colour, and a small selection of real coral. Not a material I'd work with now, not in the form of 'new' beads, but my Grandma's treasured coral beads are one of those hand-me-down heirlooms that are too precious to be, well, precious about. I had a child's bible which my Grandma made a cover from old curtain material with, and which I then stitched some of the relatively-large-for-embroidering-with coral barrels (around 6mm) onto and was ridiculously proud of. I probably still have that somewhere too! 

Of course, it wasn't long before I was threading beads onto cord and short pieces of wire to make some, erm, *interesting* jewellery, shall we say. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of any of this but I seem to remember that some of my favourite earrings to wear circa. 1994 as a 13-year-old were some funny metal swirls which I'd embellished with some wooden black and white beads, and one of my favourite shops to hang about in the '90s was Edinburgh institution, Helios Fountain. If you've visited Edinburgh, you'll almost certainly have visited the Grassmarket - Helios Fountain is still there*, although I must admit to not having darkened its doors for several years now. I'm not even sure if its infamous table of beads is still there. Kind of like a healthy pick n' mix - healthy for your waist that is, not so much for your purse! A young teenager's pocket money doesn't go so far when they have a greedy bead appetite (let's be honest - what's changed?). 

*Update - in googling Helios Fountain to add a link, I've discovered that it shut down last Spring! I'm gutted - the end of an era, for me at least. Many, many fond memories of shopping in that wonderful place.*

Put your sunglasses on! A beaded ring of mine, based on a Laura McCabe bezel.

It wasn't long before I discovered bead-weaving - I still remember a tiny new bead shop opening in Stockbridge where I grew up; Beadnik (the punniness of which was totally lost on me), which specialised in bead-weaving materials. I discovered that not all seed beads are created equally and that Japanese glass seed beads are the way to go, not to mix my brands for weaving projects and that I   (still) just *loved* creating things with a needle a thread. I bought a small book entitled 'Why not make a beaded amulet purse' (why not indeed?), a heap of Japanese seed beads (including Miyuki Delicas - precision-cut cylinder beads which many bead-weavers swear by) and off I went. Adventures in cross-stitch followed (as far as one can have an adventure with cross-stitch - I'm not sure any of my efforts ever quite counted as that!) but it was the beads that I always came back to. Alas, Beadnik only lasted a few years, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers what a very special shop it was. 

I can totally recommend this little book for anyone wanting to have a go at bead-weaving. It is incredibly thorough and really gave me a good grounding in the stitches described within.

A Highland Wedding - designed and made by myself for a dear friend's wedding back in 2008.

When I moved onto working with wire and all the techniques associated there, about ten years after I'd discovered bead-weaving, I abandoned the needle and thread. I must admit to being thrilled at being able to use ALL the beads in the bead shop, but also, pleased that I could create finished pieces of jewellery SO much more quickly than I ever had been able with seed beads. I also relished the ability to work on my own designs and not rigidly follow a pattern. I had a few bead-woven designs of my own which I was pretty proud of, but not having an engineer's brain, I had always struggled and preferred to work to a pattern. The more and more beads and jewellery became part of my career, the more time was a precious commodity - it was hard to justify teaching a single 2.5 hour class for which I would earn £50, when I had spent a whole week+ designing and making a piece plus a different colour way or two, and then 2 days trying to write up instructions. NOT the best way to pay the bills! 

I made each of my eight(!) bridesmaids a bead woven bangle, mostly featuring a cluster of my signature bead-woven flowers.

And so seed beads really stopped being part of my repertoire, despite my (of course) hefty stash of them. I made the odd venture into seed beads - a couple of classes with Laura McCabe, a kit or two from The Bead Merchant, an entry into The British Bead Awards - but essentially, it was all about The Bigger Beads for around 7 or 8 years. 

My award-winning entry into the 2011 British Bead Awards.

And then a couple of years ago when in Belfast, I felt an unexpected urge to return to them in a more permanent fashion. One thing I'd always yearned after creating without any particularly great success was the beaded bead. I'd bought a book on the subject, poured over bead-woven high art in many different tomes, trying unsuccessfully to work out exactly how different artists, any artist, created these beautiful objects. I tried and tried but alas, my non-engineering brain really didn't want to play ball. Until that night in Belfast when I was home alone aside from 3 tiny bunnies, and decided for some reason to try my hand again. I don't know what had re-sparked my interest, but I do remember that night - I was up stitching til 3am, trying to sort out a pattern with which I was happy. Here are those first beads:

You know, they may come easily to my fingers now, but I sweated blood and tears - the former only figuratively, I admit! - over these little ones. I know now that for best results I need a) to use the same brand, even in a mix and b) it's incredibly important to have perfectly round core wooden beads, neither of which I stuck to in these first {song}beads. But you know, I remember feeling that I'd really managed something special with these. There was an AWFUL lot of trial and error over many hours that night, and these beads felt like a supreme achievement for me. 

As an aside, look what Pinterest suggest as similar to this image:

Love it! 

Since then, I have barely put down my needle and thread for a day. I've experimented with different brands and sizes of seed beads, worked my way through many different core wooden beads before settling on the brand which works best for me, played with colour and pattern within the individual {song}beads and recently branched out into surrounding different shaped wooden core beads in my favourite tiny 1mm glass seed beads - these rondelles are my newest love:

Right from the start, I called my little creations {song}beads. I sometimes worry it seems a little unnecessary - after all, although my patterns are all my own in that I have come up with them myself after many hours of hard work, I'm not claiming to have reinvented the wheel here - bead-weaving is a bit like knitting: if you understand the stitch, there are logical ways to create and build with a stitch, and with something as simple as covering a round bead, there are a limit to the ways in which it can be achieved. I'm sure there are many other handwoven, or 'beaded beads' made, all over the world, in very similar or even exactly the same ways. But every bead which I stitch seems such a part of me. They feel like a culmination of what I've described in this post - a way of marrying together my pre-professional jeweller bead-weaving activities, and my 'larger bead' activities. They feel like a true expression of me; somewhere where I am happy to have arrived at within my work,  and that's why the title {song}beads seems entirely fitting and right. 

Tuesday 9 February 2016

A return to gemstones

When I first began to work with 'bigger beads' rather than the tiny seed beads I started out with (more of that coming in a future post!), I had rather a mean idea of how much to spend on one bead - i.e. not a lot! I used non-precious materials almost exclusively - glass, wood, plated-metal etc. I remember splashing out on some Swarovski crystal for the first time and feeling rather extravagant! 

It took a while, but after about a year or so, I got my hands on some Really Good freshwater pearls. Freshwater pearls are an excellent bridge bead to my mind - you can get a strand of them at a remarkably good price and all but the very lowest grades feel luxurious and, well, just pretty! I still absolutely love pearls. 

Soon after I had dipped my toe into the world of semiprecious materials though, came my interest in gemstones. It takes a while of course, because when you're first making, you don't want to use top drawer, expensive materials. But with the advent of the pearls, I felt confident enough to push that door wide open and dive into the gems, and boy was I glad I did! 

I hold no great claims of technical knowledge about gemstones, but I adore them. The colours, the cuts, the texture - the rusticity that a hand-faceted stone can bring to a piece and the luxe precision that a machine-cut rondelle adds is simply wonderful. I live not too far from this awesome shop and it's where I have always gone to for most of my gemstones since the word go, even when I was living down in England. 

Somewhere along the way however, I slipped out of the habit of using them. It probably went along with my stopping working so much with sterling silver when the price went up incredibly about 5 or 6 years back. I stopped reaching for my stash of gemstones when designing, and instead, saved my bead budget for handmade art beads, combining them with mixed-media beads in other forms - high-end glass, acrylic, vintage lucite, wood...the odd gemstone for sure, but not many. Seeing the value in more humble materials alongside those with a higher perceived value.

And then recently, I've found myself hankering after those gemstones again. A picturesque lentil of jasper, a vibrant nugget of turquoise - a glimmering, shimmering rondelle of natural pyrite. And so, I've been digging into my gemstones once again, luxuriating in the juxtaposition of their glamour and rusticity. Here are two of my gemstone pieces from this weekend:

Sunlit Waters
Golden Rutile Quartz - one of my absolute best-loved gems. Cloudy and mysterious and hopelessly, dreamily rustic, yet cut through with straw-like strands of gold.


Hand-faceted Iolite nuggets - inky, indigo blue, fading into a paler almost lavender-blue toward the edges. 

Do you have a favourite gemstone? Or a favourite cut? I'd love to hear what colours and textures float your boat!


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