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.