Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Diary of a Rookie Silversmith: Part 3

This is going to be a short one.

I'd got as far as succesfully soldering my 'tree' onto the base disc of my pendant, and choosing a stone in Part 2, and then things stalled a bit.

In two further sessions, I've made a stone setting and soldered it to the pendant. Which doesn't sound like a lot, and isn't, really. I'm discovering that a lot of the time is taken up by waiting to ask a question (I'm not the only person there, and everyone else had questions too!), waiting to use various bits of kit (I do try to organise myself so I can get on with something else, but that's not always possible) or getting to grips with a technique.

For example...

I made the double-skinned tube setting for the stone;

Cut the sheet metal...

Cut one portion slighter narrower than the other and
file them both even (thin one for the inside)

Solder the two sheets together, form a ring, and solder again...

But - it stood really high on the pendant, so I knew it needed to be filed down. I started with rough sandpaper. Took an age. Lex saw me, and introduced me to a small vice which I could clamp the setting into, and a metal file. Lovely - potential to file a lot quicker. Except the setting kept jumping out of the vice (I was filing it in the wrong direction!) and I didn't seem to be making much headway in reducing the depth of the tube. Cue Lex again - she asked if I wanted some help. After about half an hour's filing with no real impact, I said yes please... I could see straightaway that she was removing a lot more silver than I'd managed, with just one swipe of the file - what was her secret?

It turned out to be strength - she showed me how much force she was using by pressing against my hand; it was a lot! I admit that Lex ended up filing the tube down to the right amount in the end...but I didn't mind. I was still learning by watching her, and to be honest, my frustration at my own lack of progress was beginning to impact on what I was achieving.

So I am learning as I go along - learning lots! - but it does mean that everything takes so much more time than I thought it would, and I'm having to rein in my expectations of what I can achieve in the time available to me.

I did manage to get the reduced depth stone setting soldered onto the base disc (and Lex tells me my soldering is improving - hooray!), so next week's tasks are filing the top edge of the setting so it can be bent over the stone, soldering a bale onto the back, actually setting the stone, and polishing. I might actually get it finished...?

All set to solder - spot the little blue squares inside the setting?

Friday, 2 February 2018

Dairy of a Rookie Silversmith: Part 2

This really ought to be titled 'Part 2, almost' because I haven't got as far as I'd have liked to by week 4 of my course, thanks to an inability to solder. 

You might remember I'm on a silversmithing course, and in Part 1, I described my first project: a pinky ring. 

I'd collected images of things I'd like to try for my second project, so I talked a few over with Lex (the tutor) to see which she thought would be best to tackle as a rookie. Have to say, Lex is willing to give anything a go, so I settled on making a pendant, and went home at the end of week 2 to produce a life sized template of my design. 

I'd already begun to play with the original abstract design I'd found, turning it into a recognisable 'tree', I was able in the back end of week 2 to assemble and prep my materials. I chose a 'pebble' textured rolled silver sheet for the base disc, and cut lengths of different thickness wires to use for the 'branches' and 'trunk'. 

The raw materials of a tree pendant

I needed to cut the base disc, so I had a practise on a little bit of copper first, because a curve is rather hard to achieve smoothly. I was very pleased with the end result of my practise though, and got the knack of turning sharp corners - even though there shouldn't be any on my disc!

Practising on copper

Then it was onto the silver - and boy, was it hard work. You just have to keep on sawing, because it's hard to take the saw blade away from your work. I think it took me about 15 minutes to end up with this;

My base disc
And these!!

Fingers covered in silver dust after my epic sawing session!

At home, I played around with my designs for the 'tree' and settled on one. I added colour to indicate stones, but as that's one of the last things to attach, it didn't have to be (no pun intended) set in stone at this point. 

Week 3 saw me preparing everything I'd need to make my tree. The trunk was a 2mm wire, flattened along it's length to a variety of widths. I learnt that depending on how you place your wire, you'll either get an increase in width or in length. I got a bit of both! And it gets to a point where the metal starts to 'ting' when you hit it instead of making a 'thud' - which is an indicator that you need to anneal the metal to soften it up again. It's also easier to put any curve into wires before you flatten them, as it's too hard to do it afterwards. The branches, cut to length from 1.8mm wire were also slightly flattened at one end, which I filed flat so they'd sit snugly in line with the trunk...

Playing with designs and bits of 'branch'

The end result - looks a pretty good match

Even better when placed on the base disc

The base disc was annealed, flattened, and then it was on to soldering.

I am terrible at soldering! Three times, I tried to solder just the trunk to the disc, and three times it didn't work properly. Lex had to help me in the end, and there were still gaps. It might be because the base is quite thick, so heating up the silver to soldering point is difficult to get right, and it might also be because I've not really soldered anything other than one joint in my pinky ring, and I simply need to improve.

Whatever the reason, I began week 4 by revisiting the soldering of the trunk and adding the branches. After the first attempt, two branches fell off. 

All set up on the blocks, ready to heat from underneath

The frustrating thing is that whenever you solder, you have to pickle your piece again before resoldering, which takes time. Anyway...between me and Lex (mainly Lex!) and with extra pallions, we finally got the branches on securely and the whole thing pickled.

The finally-soldered, pickled piece
(which is why it looks white)
Now I could really crack on. Next step - doming. I had to use a small wooden peg (not metal, as it would've flattened my blood-sweat-and-tears soldered bits!) to bash my pendant until it took on the shape of the dome mould. You can see in the second pic that it has a lovely shallow curve to it.

Ready to hit...

The finished dome

There wasn't much time to do any more metalwork (you might have spotted that my trunk's a bit long, and needs to be sawn or filed down, for eg) but there was time to choose stones.

Now my original design had three, dotted around the branches. But in light of my poor soldering skill, I decided to cut it down to one. Lex allowed me to look through her stone box, and I made the mistake first of picking cabochons, not faceted stones. But eventually I found these two beauties; I just couldn't decide which to go for.


...or clear?

In the end, I went for the clear stone, because I wear a lot of colour and would not want to limit myself to what I can wear with my finished pendant! 

So that's where I am at the moment. Next week, I'll be making a setting for the stone, soldering it into the base (eeek!) and also soldering a bale on the back before polishing it up. I hope so, anyway...

And meanwhile, I'm beginning to think about my third project. I want to make myself a silver ring with a clear stone in it, to wear on my wedding finger permanently to mark my silver wedding anniversary. Not too much soldering in that one, thank goodness!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Back on the Wagon

For the first time in weeks - maybe months! - I'm writing again. Still working on the oldie, but beginning to get a feel for the voice of the MC, now that I know who she is.

It's been a while, and I admit to having procrastinated left, right, and centre while I've tried to work out the HUMUNGOUS plot problems I discovered re the MC's motivation.

I have procrastinated with quilting. With knitting. With facebook. With looking up vicar job descriptions (No - not me! Ours is leaving after nearly 20 years with us and as I shall be standing for one of the churchwarden posts later this year, I could be involved in the process of finding a new one). With jewellery making (Part 2 of Diary of a Rookie Silversmith will come soon - but it's taking me a LOT longer to complete the pendant I'm working on than I expected, thanks to my inability to solder properly.) I have written a short story. And I have read.

All of that's fine, but it took me away from the WIP in terms of writing time. Did it help any? Don't know really. I have had time to think about the story and the new MC, so perhaps the break did me good. But the sense of frustration in knowing that I'm NOT writing and I ought to be has been difficult to overcome. A 'can't see the woods for trees' kind of moment, where you know you need to crack on, but don't quite know where to start.

Hopefully, now I'm back on the wagon, I'll stay on it.

Thursday, 18 January 2018


For almost twenty years, I was a guider, working with Guides (as opposed to Brownies or Rainbows or Senior Section) in what is now Girlguiding UK. Guiding was a big part of my life - until I made the decision to give it up in 2006 for a variety of reasons.

One role I held during that time was that of Association Trainer. Between 1996 and 2004, (at a guess) I ran sessions which helped grass roots guiders run an effective programme for the girls in their units, as well as sessions about aspects of training for trainers-in-training.

It was all a long time ago - but for some reason, I'd kept the folder containing all my session plans and post-session notes and the evidence I'd had to produce when trialling the NVQ Level 3 in Training and Development (I think that's what it was called) to see if it equated to the Association's own requirements for a Training License.

Why on earth had I kept the folder? Because it had been so important to me? Because I'm a closet hoarder? Probably a bit of both, but whatever the reason, today I bit the bullet.

I took that file, and I read through it. Read everything...

There were lots of good memories in there - feedback from trainees which indicated that I had made a difference to their own Guiding experience or that I had encouraged and motivated them (which is a good job, because GirlGuiding relies on these women to give girls and young women the experiences they do), and there were details in post-session notes I'd written detailing some personal achievements too. (Presentation to over 400 women, anyone?!).

There were, of course, some not-so-good memories stirred by the reading (not least the circumstances that led me to step down from the role, which I won't go into) like getting lost on the way to a training and arriving with one minute to set up, dealing with difficult trainees, activities going wrong...

After reading it all, I realised; there really was no reason to keep it all.

So I put the lot in the recycling bin.

I don't need to hoard the paperwork, because I have memories. I have skills. I have the certificate! And what I learned then, I'm still putting to use today, albeit in a different setting. My training in training means I can put together a comprehensive creative writing session for adults or children. I can speak confidently to strangers. I am aware of the different ways people learn. And I'm sure there are lots of other things, too.

The paperwork may end up as toilet paper, but that training experience remains inside me, where it really counts. In recognising that, I am able to close the book on that time and let it go.

And today, that feels really good.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Diary of a Rookie Silversmith: Part 1

Tail end of last year, I saw a jewellery workshop advertised in a shop in town that I thought only did picture framing. (Gallery 18 if you're interested - also sell lots of lovely cards and gifts as well as hosting the workshop.)

I thought it looked interesting and picked up a flyer, thinking yeah, I'll get round to doing that. One day.

My Christmas present from Mr Squidge was - the course! Ten weeks, learning how to make jewellery with an experienced silversmith, Alexandra Watt. I was understandably somewhat chuffed, and as this year Mr Squidge and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary (25 years - blimey!) I started to think of all the lovely things I'd make that were silver.

The workshop is teeny - probably half the size of my kitchen - and has six workstations. They may be compact, but everything you need is close at hand. There are separate stations which have polishers and blowtorches and where you can bash metal flat.

Everything you need - including a cuppa and a notebook

I was made to feel very welcome by Lex and the two other ladies on the course. They have both had some experience already, so they just got on with things, which meant that Lex gave me pretty much one-to-one tuition in how to make a plain band ring.

I had not realised how technical working with silver is, but I did my best to take notes as we went along. By the end of the first session, most people will have completed their ring, but I didn't. The main reason was, I think, that I chose to make a pinky-ring, and selected a 2mm square wire to make it from.

Now, my hands are not very big (would look a bit strange if they were, considering I'm only five feet tall!) so it was going to be a very small thing to make. In hindsight, I should've chosen a thinner wire to work with. Or a bigger finger! Thumb ring, maybe? But that's OK, because with Lex's help, I still managed it, and learnt lots of different essential techniques along the way.

So...let me take you through the process to make my first ring. I took a few pics, but as one process naturally moved into another, I didn't always have time to take them for every stage.

1. Size your ring - Mine was 15mm internal diameter. 

2. Work out what length of wire you need (ugh - maths! Internal diameter x Pi + metal thickness and a bit of wastage. = 51mm. Told you my fingers were small!)

3. Cut the wire to the required length, making sure to file the end if you need to, to make it flat, and then saw through at the right point. (Apparently I was a natural at sawing...though not at filing. I forgot to do it!)

4. Using a ring mandrel and a rawhide mallet, bash your wire, turning it all the while until it's pretty much circular. (Mine...wasn't. It stayed horseshoe shaped for quite a while.)

5. Anneal the metal - heat with a blowtorch until orange-red, then quench in water. (Hitting metal makes it harder, so it needs annealing to make it pliable again ready for the next stage.) Dry the ring.

6. Pickle it. Not, not like chutney! It's dropped into an acid mix kept at temperature, until it goes white. Rinse and dry.

7. Close the ring - you push the ends together, but end up with a V-shaped gap. You have to make several passes with a saw (I had to do three) to remove this V and enable the ends of the ring to really butt up across the whole end face. Need to point out here that my ring was twisted - so there was an extra stage of flattening involved! Much banging followed, along with a warning so the rest of the folks could put their ear-plugs in... Tension the ring to make sure the ends really do sit tight together.

Decidedly unround...and unflat!

8. Seal the join with flux. This was a very complicated stage, but if you've ever soldered a join before, it's exactly the same, except I used small snips of hard solder rather than a wire.

9. Anneal the ring again, before working it into a perfect circle on the ring mandrel.

Rounder - and flatter!

10. Sand flat faces (the sides of the ring) - work up the grades of sandpaper to flatten the surface and work out any imperfections. I had to use a figure-of-eight motion on a flat surface and it took FOREVER, because although Lex had helped me flatten the ring as much as possible, it still wasn't perfect. When you think it's really, really flat through sanding, you switch to a straight sanding movement, move to the next finest grade of sandpaper, and repeat the figure-of-eight move until all those straight scratches have disappeared. Then you repeat the straight sand on the finer grade and move to a slightly finer paper again... Repeat for finer grades of sandpaper until the ring is smooth and satiny!

This was the most time-consuming and labour intensive phase - I did some at home and found myself redoing it because I could still see deep scratches I'd left in my hurry to get on with it! I think patience is definitely the word to be applied to this stage.

11. Sand the outside and inside faces - at this stage, the outside edges of my square wire ring were champfered with an emery stick to take the sharp edge off, and a sandpaper-wrapped dowelling used at a 45-degree angle to take off the inside edge.

12. Add texture if required. The other ladies were showing me rings they'd made with textured finishes, and I quite liked them, so I went for a ball hammer and started banging again...

Texture on three faces

13. Polish with a fluffy mop. Nothing to do with kitchen floors, but a small rotating head with a very soft brush which you dip in wax to lubricate and use at high speed on the ring until it shines... (Not too much though, or you can polish out the texture you've just added.)

And voila! After three hours (over two weeks) I had a finished pinky-ring. My first item of handmade silver jewellery - hooray!

My next project is a pendant design. Look out for Part 2 in a couple of weeks time, or whenever I manage to finish it!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

NIBS - 'First'

We had a full house for NIBS this week, our first meeting of 2018! So it seemed only appropriate to have a theme of 'First' for the evening.

We kicked off with a short warm-up, of three words. The words could be taken as three nouns, or two nouns and a verb, as one could've been used for either.

Some great hilarity ensued, as folks produced either multiple sentences for different selections of words, or produced a short section of text based on just one.

My own offering is what follows, based on 'Ghost, Wheelbarrow, Watch.'

The ghost of the first gardener kept watch over the wheelbarrow. That's what they told me.

I didn't believe it of course, not until the day I ran it into the potting shed wall and put a great dint in it. The wheelbarrow I mean, not the wall. 

Course, I left it. Was only a wheelbarrow after all.  

Nothing went right the rest of that day. There was compost spoiled, pots broken, and stems snapped.

"You've got to knock the dent out," Seb told me. "The First Gardener (and yes, he gave it capital letters) won't let you get on until you do."

"Rubbish," I muttered, and ignored the dent. Up until I cut my finger for the umpteenth time taking apple cuttings. I threw down the knife. "Right, have it your way." I stomped over to the wheelbarrow and did what I could. It wasn't perfect, not by a long shot, but I gave the wheel a drop of oil to make up for it.

"Will that do you?" I asked no-one in particular. "Will you let me work in peace tomorrow?" 

If I believed in ghosts, I'd have said that someone breathed 'that'll do' in my ear.

But I don't. And they didn't.

I've never run the wheelbarrow into any walls since, though.

The only problem with having a full house of eight members meant that the feedback took a bit longer than normal, so we launched ourselves into the second task as quickly as we could, whilst still allowing enough time to share whatever we were going to write.

I'd found out and scanned a selection of first pages from novels at home, trying to cover as many different approaches to openings as I could. I asked the NIBSers to choose one, read it, and at a point of their choosing, continue writing the story... One sentence was the minimum requirement.

Unfortunately, I'd given the group far too much choice of potential text to use; I tend to be quite impulsive in my own choices when doing these types of activity, and can make a decision quickly. But others within the group had a much harder job deciding because I'd overwhelmed them with too much choice. Eventually, everyone picked something, and silence descended as we scribbled. (As a result, our February meeting theme will be 'One' - a single picture to provide inspiration AND cut out choice completely!)

The results from these continued first pages were amazing. Some remained in the idea stage, because of course we have planners as well as pantsers among our merry little band, and although the planners knew what they wanted to achieve, they hadn't written anything 'finished' to read back. Those who are pantsers produced some fabulous work, very emotive in some cases and full of laughter in others. I would have to say that the quality of several of the pieces were worthy of submission to competitions, and I told their authors so!

If we'd had more time, we'd have tried to work on another short piece, based around first prize, first glance, first love, first person or first encounter. But we didn't, so I offered it as homework to anyone who wanted to scribble a bit more between meetings.

Anyway, here's what I wrote, based on the opening sentence in my friend Jody-Klaire's book, The Empath.

'My problem is that I know too much.' That's why they're after me, sir. I tried not to see, tried not to listen, but when you need to light the fires, you have to go into the bedrooms while they're sleeping.

If they didn't want anyone to find out, they should've been more careful. She should've woken him early, pushed him out from under the bedclothes to get dressed in his night-chilled shirt while she stayed warm in the love nest they'd created.

I promised not to tell, I did. And I wouldn't, cos I've seen with my own eyes what they do the ordinary folk caught up in a lovemeet. Effra knows what they'd do to those as important as the Chairman of Elders and the White Woman.

No, I wouldn't tell. But they woke, and seemed to think I might, so they gave me a headstart. Until the sun rises, that's all the time they gave me before they started after me. When they catch me, they'll silence me.

So excuse me sir, but I have to run... 

I feel quite fired up about writing at the moment - long may my enthusiasm continue! And these two bits of flash feel like a good start to the new writing year.

Stories for Homes - the auction!

Stories for Homes, Volume 2, was launched in December, and there are still events coming this month to support the book.

The latest one is an online auction - click here for details - featuring the original painting which became the cover art for SfH vol 2, along with a variety of signed books, an original Viz comic strip, a meal, music and hair styling... Why not pop over and take a look? All proceeds will be going to Shelter

There's a signed copy of Kingstone up for grabs...