My Last JTI Post

My jewelry has often been hit or miss.

When I've made an imperfect piece, I either gave the jewelry to friends or have worn it myself. Although I've known how to saw, drill, solder and polish, I've also relied on luck to get good pieces.

I've improved these basic skills quite a lot in the past two months, but almost more valuable, I've gained what I call a "judgement floor."  It's my base.  It's knowing how the metals act and react, perfecting layout of a pattern so multiple pieces will actually match, knowing the order in which things should be done and how each step should look.

Yesterday some fellow students were admiring two pins I did long ago.  The rivets are in exactly the right places.  I told them, "These were done on a lucky day.  I've never been able to reproduce them."  

Now, with my digital caliper and my judgement floor, I don't have to wait for a lucky day. Every day is my lucky day.

This is my last blog - the competition of JTI - but my new beginning as a jeweler.

It's All Sinking In Now ...

Ideas sit on top of your head. Sheet silver must be flat when soldering to another sheet. Yeah. Yeah. Got it. Hard solder goes on first, then medium, then easy. O.K. Look for the meniscus, or for the line of silver. 

When struggling with my brooch project (which I like and want to wear!), my soldering failed several times. Pieces fell off. I re-soldered. Others fell off. Front. Back. Front. Back. 

In all of the excitement and business of this class, knowledge is starting to penetrate to a level below the surface. Today, I calmed down. I reviewed my notes. I consulted with a fellow student. I told myself that I wasn't a bad craftsman. I just needed practice.  I did a few practice runs with copper. 

Here are my practice pieces and my brooch, still unfinished, but soldered. 

Just Do It!

I have a new policy. I'm going to try to finish each project in the allotted class time. Otherwise, I tend to overthink, worry, and delay.

At 9 a.m. this morning, Nancy told us we were going to set eight stones. My first thought was: I can't do that! By 1p.m., all my stones were set. Don’t overthink. Just do it!

 

My work 

Pavé Season?

There's no way around it: learning to handle a graver and learning star, flush and pavé setting is tough.  But, it's also beautiful, fascinating and a little hypnotic!  Handling the graver becomes comfortable with some practice. It's learning the light touch that is a difficult part for me, but it starts feeling more natural the more you do it.

Nancy told us a great story about the timeline for learning pave using our instructor Roberta Tanaka’s learning curve as an example. 

Roberta wanted to learn pavé so she decided that while her husband was watching football she would go in the workshop and practice. She practiced two hours, every Sunday for 15 weeks during football season.  Of course, Roberta says she’s still perfecting her technique but it was during that football season that she became comfortable with her skills.

I've included a few images of Roberta’s work. It looks like her practice paid off. 

It's A Marathon, Not A Sprint.

Some quotes from one of my fellow students:

Week two: “These two weeks have been the happiest of my life!”

Week three: “I'm a little stressed.”

Week five:  “I'm tired, and sore. How long until Christmas?”

And yet, in class, he is alert, curious, talented.  

That’s the thing about JTI. It is intense and you work hard. But learning is addictive. You can’t wait to see what’s next. There’s always a new tip or a new breakthrough that makes you push through how tired you are to keep learning that next skill.

My classmate, Nick

Torches

My torch set-up at home is propane/oxygen.  Although it is small – only about 30 inches high - it cost $500. It’s also so heavy when full that I can barely get it out of the car and down the stairs. 

Today, Alan showed us a variety of handheld torches, some propane, some butane.  He used one to sweat solder the front piece of an overlay brooch.  He was really excited about these torches, as they are portable, convenient, and do the job.  They were quite inexpensive, and so manageable for the beginning or intermediate jeweler! My old setup may quickly be replaced by one of these light, low-cost options!

soldering

torches!

Quick Detour

Pit stop at St. Francis Hospital today as I wasn’t feeling good! The Revere Academy staff was fantastic. They even escorted me to the hospital so I wasn’t alone. When the hospital staff was slapping the paper ID bracelet on me, one of the nurses stopped and said, "Let me see your bracelet." Yes! It was the bracelet I completed earlier in the class. I showed her my silver toggle!! (By the way, I'll be fine, thanks for asking. Back at it tomorrow!) 

 

Much better than that paper hospital bracelet!

Focused on Engraving

Engraving is a focused activity.  Holding the graver – the cutting tool – feels awkward at first.  I was worried, again, about my hand.  My first instinct was just to dig away at my piece of copper. Then, I listened to our teacher and realized that the light touch creates engraving.  It's not the wrist, or even the arm.  It's the back and shoulders.  I can do this!   All these fears about my wrist seem to be falling away as I learn the proper techniques.

It’s funny about what skills different people are drawn to in jewelry. Students in my class seem to either love or hate engraving.  Me? I love it. What seemed like it would be tedious and exacting is actually kind of magical and meditative. I could literally do it every day.

 

Alan Revere sharpening a graver before a demonstration.

A proper grip is the key.

Yes, People Still Make Jewelry

Often, when I start chatting with people on the train, at the building where I am staying or in a coffee shop, they are surprised that I am studying jewelry. This morning, a man at my brother's condo said, "You made that?  You bought the loops and put it together?"  "No," I said, "It's made out of wire. I built it. I cut the wire, made the loops, and soldered each one."

I don't know if he more surprised that jewelry can be hand built or that people are still doing it, still striving to learn the classic skills. But he seemed pretty impressed.

Here's the bracelet. I made it from a piece of wire.

What I'd Been Waiting for: Setting Faceted Stones!

Today was a big day for me. I have waited my whole life to set faceted stones.  I did it, and the method was so cool!

We set CZs in tube rivets on the Sterling ring that we cast in the first week.  My head is already spinning with ways I can incorporate this into my existing line.  Nancy went over some variations with me including making my own tubes.

This photo shows the completed but unfinished ring. 

 

Nancy Shows Us How ...

Then We Show What WE Can Do!

Knowledge Gives Me A Hand (or Wrist) Up

I have wrist pain.  After eight years as a cleaning lady (and a cleaning lady in a hurry) in my 30s and working on a keyboard in my 40s and 50s, I've wondered how long I am going to be able to make jewelry. Sometimes I have to wear a brace, and although it is ugly, it helps enormously.

I never thought there was anything I could do about my hand.  When friends ask me to make them a hammered bracelet, I just laughed.  It couldn't happen.

At Revere Academy, we made a bracelet from large jump rings. My bracelet was 40 rings - each one needing to be closed with muscle.  I wondered about my wrists.

You know what? I had NO problems! Alan recommended a posture. He plants his feet firmly on the floor, each braced against the inner legs of his bench. He holds the ring in his left hand, braced tightly against the bench pin.  The right hand does the bending, but the power comes from the legs and the back. 

The same goes for filing.  His "steel rod" method relieves the wrist of the work.  The power comes from the back, the shoulder, the upper arm. No more wrist concerns. I can work forever!

An additional tip, as detailed by our bezel teacher, Vasken Tanielian: If your movements are consistent, like a machine, you know where your tool is all the time.  Bring your metal to the file. Turn the metal instead of the saw. You'll get used to your saw being straight and you can count on it.  You can train your file work to be at the angle you need.

Alan demonstrates proper posture positioning ...

Math and Metals ...

One huge fear about coming to Revere Academy was working with measurements. At home, I call my jewelry "design by accident.”  If earrings didn’t match, I’d simply lop one off or call them asymmetrical.

On Thursday, Nancy taught us a method for determining and trimming bezel size. (See last blog.) It's based on measuring the stone with the digital calipers and doing math. After I quit laughing at the thought of my math skills, I worked my way through the equation, and it was kind of miraculous.

Today I wanted to make a pendant for my sister-in-law. I never thought I'd actually complete it in the time I had. It isn’t perfect, but I knew the stone would fit. A liberating frisson blew through me!

Stone and Bezel

 

Bezel Settings - "Rustic" No More!

Thinking back on all the times I've tried to set a stone in a bezel, I remembered calling them “rustic” due to the sloppy and scratched results. No more! Today, I was thrilled when we set our first stone with the tools we made.  The tools are smaller than mine, and the touch to set them far more delicate. We made exact measurements and adjustments before we set the stone. I left the class feeling, literally, like I wanted to do this forever.

 

Exact Measurements Before Trimming A Bezel Makes ...

A Beautifully Better Bezel

Casting, Bench Pins and the Beauty of San Francisco

Every day I ask myself, what can I do in my small shop?  Am I willing to buy some big equipment? I have bought some already.  But that huge torch?  A kiln for heating the molds? A wax injector?  One of the advantages of our Jeweler Technician Intensive (JTI) is I get a realistic view of what I need and in what order for the types of jewelry I plan to make.

 

The centrifugal casting machine was delightfully low tech!  You crank up the spring, pour the metal, and spin! Of course, I'm simplifying here. However, as the mystery cleared like a fog, I kept thinking, "This isn’t that hard! I can do this!"

Pouring my ring ...

My first casting!

In the afternoon, Alan showed us how to customize our bench pins.  The V is cut out of the center, and the right corner is sawn off at an angle to match our filing stroke.  Over time, each bench pin develops its own personality, just like jewelers.

I stayed late to practice my solder seams, and got some positive feedback from others.  It was incredible watching the sun set on the streets of San Francisco from my bench window. When I left, the cool night air was lovely. 

Leaving for the day into a gorgeous Autumn San Francisco at

dusk.

Jewelry Technician Intensive (JTI) Day 1

Twenty-three students from Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam and I (from Minnesota) assembled in a downtown San Francisco school.  We briefly described our journey to get here, and talked about our common love of metals and jewelry.  We're all nervous and excited!  Our two teachers, Revere Academy's founder, Alan Revere and Nancy Wintrup are keenly aware that most of us are in a strange town starting a new life! Like they’ve done with hundreds of student before us, they worked to set us at ease and start us on our exciting journey. And we didn’t waste any time. We jumped right in!

I've wondered often how many steps it took to make a casting mold. The answer? many!  Nancy made it seem manageable and logical.  We injected vulcanized molds with wax, and I'm so looking forward to seeing my ring!

 

The mystery of tools started becoming clearer as well, as Alan discussed them with us in detail. New items I didn't understand, such as a broach set, machinist scraper, and leather-lined pliers became familiar.

 

 

Tomorrow: casting!

Fabrication 1: The Basics

Revere Academy teaches jewelry skills from the ground up.  More than half of my class of 11 students had never made jewelry, or even done beading, and several had never made a craft project or done other hand-work.  Although I have sawn and filed for years, I found I was not that different from those who had no experience, since I made many mistakes in my techniques and was happy to have a chance to correct my methods.

At home I am lucky enough to have a teacher.  I have been making jewelry for about 8 years.  (More on that later!  Although I have worked a bit with sterling silver, most of my jewelry is made from recycled materials, including plated brass and aluminum, which cannot be soldered.)  And yet I take shortcuts when I am pressured for time or think that, since I am making a low-cost piece, my customer won't notice.

I decided to come to Revere Academy to "right this ship."  I am tired of shortcuts.  I want to expand the range of materials that I am good at.  I have never worked in gold, and any soldering I have accomplished depended more on luck than on any skills with the torch.  I recently sold a ring with a soldered ornament at an art fair, and the customer called me a week later to tell me it had fallen apart.  Any craftsperson to whom this has happened knows the feeling of that particular stomach-sickening horror.

In May 2016, I encountered a series of lucky coincidences.  I visited my brother in San Francisco and was determined to visit the Academy, then met Alan Revere, the director of the school.  I had no intention of enrolling; decades of hustling just to put food on the table wouldn't let up simply because I had artistic leanings.  Then a relative died and there was a sufficient sum of money, not only for school, but for a few months afterward to try to envision my next artistic and business steps.

My Materials Kit

Although this blog will be about jewelry design classes and metal art school, I am inserting a few paragraphs about my early attitude shift because I think a certain attitude is important, a willingness to deal in the detail and exactness needed for not only first quality work, but to be able to articulate your envisioned project.  I have, for a long time, done "design by accident".  Many people may be more interested in jewelry making and in design and technology than the story of my particular adventures and product line, so I am writing the Revere JTI blog at:  http://www.revereacademy.com/lilys-jti-blog/ under the "news" column on the website header. 

I welcome you to read my personal story and the story of my jewelry at Lily Winter Jewelry on Facebook.  You can send me question through Facebook messaging.  I love business as much as I love jewelry, so if the practical, putting-food-on-the-table discussions aren't of interest to you, just skip them.

Day 1 of Fabrication 1, taught by Karen Sprague
I looked at the collection of items that we were supposed to make in only three days, the length of the class, and I thought, "no way." Of course, they were beautiful, a pair of matching, sawn out sterling discs, a pendant with a black onyx in a bezel and several rings.  The very first task was one, in eight years of jewelry making, I had never done!  It helped to solve the problem of how to make two pieces match in shape, size, design.  OK! Mind pried open!

My classmate learning to saw.

I thought, instantly, "piece of cake," and then the struggle began.  My neighbor, Sarah (names changed to protect those who ran away from home to attend this class), broke eight blades the first day.  Our teacher, Karen, was so cheerful!  "That's why we have a dozen blades apiece!"  I only broke one blade, but I couldn't be smug, as Karen probably corrected my sawing as much as she did for the beginners.  What interested me so much was that she judged my sawing by the sound.  I laughed to myself, because in my home studio, my sawing has been so loud that I can't hear the radio.

Another place the beginners had an advantage over me is that my filing is messy, and I've never needed to do it right.  If I damaged an earring with sloppy filing, I just cut off the offending part and made shorter earrings.  If I scratched the surface, I covered it up with a brush finish.  These are exactly the kinds of things I want to "unlearn."  I want to make the choices, not my old tools or impatient nature.

Karen worked with me quite a lot on the filing over the three days.  But on the first day, we did get the pierced (sawn out) discs done.  They are imperfect (like me), but beautiful.  Later in my schooling, when I have more skills, I'll go back and perfect them.

Day 2 of Fabrication 1: Rings
On day 2, I became acutely aware that my problem was not just my impatience (born that way), but my unwillingness to learn patience.  In filing, my hand was tilted, my arm was in a position to make my edge curved, each tool gave different results.  I was so frustrated!  We made the ring from the square silver stock, and my seam was not only visible, but had curved edges.  I told Karen, this is like every seam I have ever soldered.  I showed her my copper bracelet (Project 1 in Alan's book!!), and it had the same seam,  This seam is my autobiography.  The ring is still beautiful, and I am wearing it, but I felt like walking to the Humboldt Building in the middle of the night so I could re-do that seam.

Discovering the soldering flame!

This is when my attitude, which had been a black cloud, started to change.  We started the gold ring project, and I really worked on getting the filing as perfect as I can.  Please understand that we are working under magnifying glasses and using little tiny tools.  The ring isn't perfect.  I can see the seam and it has a few tiny file marks, but I love it and it is beautiful.  I started to think that it isn't any harder to do things right than to do things sloppily, and this huge cloud started to dissipate.  I can do this.  

I went home and slept for ten hours.

Day 3: Bezels
Karen demonstrated the steps to the bezel/pendant project in a good and useful rhythm.  She encouraged us to do the steps promptly, instead of worrying about them and delaying, and I found that very useful.

The project had so many aspects that I was grateful it was simple.  But, at my level, is any bezel simple?  Just the task of sawing the backplate off and keeping the edges at 90 degrees seems the work of a master jeweler.  I did my best.  I won't be showing it to Alan.  

OK, so I guess Alan will see it here!

It's acceptable if you don't look at it with magnifiers, and that opened up another facet of jewelry design school that I didn't expect.  We wear pendants on chains of 16, 18, perhaps 20 inches, around our necks, but one of my fellow students, Rita, wore a beautiful, tiny pendant around her neck that went all the way to her waist.  It was unexpected and delightful.  I think this pendant would look great that way.  It would add just the amount of interest that the pendant would become a dot of color against whatever garment I am wearing.  Thanks, Rita!

I came to school today determined to make the filing and soldering on the bezel perfect.  It didn't happen.  I was finally cheerful and had a wonderful day, because it will happen.

Two days off before JTI
I know I should rest, but it doesn't come naturally to me.  I plan to cook and freeze some lunches so I can just grab them when I run out the door.  

I feel proud that I finished Fabrication 1, even feel proud of my certificate. Part of me wants to rest, and part of me is chomping at the bit to get back in there and light some metal on fire.

I'll miss Karen, and appreciate the way she put up with my self-doubt and incomprehensible jokes.  I told her she was our kind shepherd.

Tip of the day:
Karen says gentler sawing improves control and can prevent mistakes.  Lessen your pressure on the saw.  Let the blade do the work.