Thursday, October 10, 2013

You'd Think I Could Remember Memory Wire

But apparently not.

Pursuant to a previous post, I resolved my problem with wanting to wear multiple bracelets that I could put on AND take off. It's Memory Wire of course. One continuous springy length that looks like many bracelets but wears like one. Loops and loops of lovely beads that wrap on, wind off, don't get tangled and require no closure (for the clasp-challenged like me).

If you've not heard of memory wire, it is a wonderful thing. It's fine stainless steel wire that is cold forged into a spring. It returns to its original shape after being stretched so it is ideal for jewelry that sits close to your body - like chokers and bracelets and rings. It comes in a variety of diameters and finishes and looks sort of like a flaccid slinky. It's easy to use, just don't cut it with your fine jewelry grade wire snips! I speak from personal experience here. It's as hard as well, steel, and will nick the heck out of the cutting edges of your good tools.

Now that I am back at work and using a computer in front of an audience, the benefit of easy on/off is made evident on a daily basis. No more distracting scraping sounds of glass and metal with every keystroke and mouse movement I make.

New problem. These bracelets have become an addiction.

I started with one to wear to a wedding. Opalescent glass chips that went well with my cerulean blue Simpli dress. (Hurray for Canadian made.) There's something great about a lot of the same thing...

Then came a frosty orange number from a group of coordinating Japanese seed beads I've been hanging onto for years.

This one was made on oval memory wire. It thought it made sense that this would be the most comfortable shape to wear because our wrist and forearms are not really round, but in the end I still prefer the conventional circular wire.

Then came a group of three for my sister Hilary's birthday gift. Which I forgot to photograph, but one was similar to this turquoise concoction.

And with a nod to fall, an olive green one.

And an oceanic one featuring a gorgeous lampwork bead by Florida glass maker Joyce Horn.

And now I need to buy another bracelet rack.

Lost, but gradually finding my way back. I think.

OK, there is no easy way to say this, so I'll just spit it out:

Going back to work after being on sabbatical totally sucked.

Was it worth it? Completely. Even with the beginning and end transitions being so hard.

Did I learn stuff. Of course. Plenty of new skills and improvements in process and quality. But the most important things I learned were quantum lessons. You know, the hugely tiny things that change how you think. I can sum these up in 3 points:

1) Apparently I do exist outside my job - after 25 years I wasn't really sure.
2) Apparently the program can run without me, albeit due to the strong curriculum and a great group of part time folks who filled in for me.
3) And because of points 1 and 2, I will retire the minute I qualify for a full pension.

This last point came as a big surprise to me. I love my job (OK I didn't love it at all for the first month or so going back) and I really enjoy the teaching, the students and my colleagues. But I now know for sure that there are others things for me to do, and that there will be good people who will carry the torch. This has been strangely liberating. Tentative exit date: June 2017. Not that far away, thanks to my early start in this profession.

I decided to start easing myself back into the college environment in the last couple of weeks of August. Just an afternoon here, a morning there. A few hours with a bonus lunch date thrown in. And it was still pretty tough. I think that returning to work after a year away is difficult under the best of circumstances (think what post vacation days feel like and multiply by about 100) but I went back to a lot of change and upheaval. So nothing at all was really the same as when I left.

And this was another lesson to learn. I'm good with change - really - but only when I initiate it. When I have had time to consider the options, do the research and put all the plans in place, I'm all for it. Feels natural even. But when the change comes from outside, when it goes deeply against my values and knowledge, when there is loss, well then I am awful at change. But that's likely true for most people.

I felt very lost for a while. And so very busy that I had no time for making things. Or, if there was time I had no energy left. I wrote to my friend Richard Sewell (now retired from the college) this week, and told him this:
The halcyon days of making things in my little studio, listening to the CBC and looking out at the changing landscape seem far away now. Instead it's back to a windowless office, tons of marking and more prep than I would have liked. On the upside, the 'kids' are as lovely as always and I am working hard to make time for at least a weekly coffee with friends this semester.
So there is yet another lesson learned - that I need people! I have written before about this. If I am serious about leaving work in a few years, I need to be more proactive about gathering people. So far, a group of us have (mostly) managed a half hour together each week. And what a difference that is making. Additionally, due to scheduling, I have more overlap time with my part time faculty. All of whom seem to like to use my tiny office simultaneously. This is great - so much energy and sharing of ideas. And yes even lunch sometimes.

I'm feeling like I am (finally) finding way again. The work load is still horrific, but I've caught my breath a bit and am making some little bits of time for little pieces of me. OK, so I've only made one thing in the past 6 weeks. But it is better than nothing!

And now it is almost Thanksgiving. And I am thankful for the past year. And even thankful for the year to come too.

Now that the sabbatical is over, I suppose I should update the theme of this blog. This weekend. And I've got a couple of posts to catch up on, so stay tuned for those too. Hopefully it will not be Christmas before I have new work to share.

Monday, August 19, 2013

In Jewelry, As In Life, Pretty Isn't Always Enough

Well maybe in life looks can get you a long way. But looks alone aren't going to get these bracelets very far...

In summer I love to wear bracelets. A lot of bracelets. I'd wear them all the time actually, but they are a problem as they clatter against the desk or the surface of my MacBook Pro while I'm teaching. So I end up taking them all off in class and then I leave them all over the place and the students (kindly) chase me around the lab to give them back or leave them in a little pile by my notes.

Instead of a lot of individual bracelets, I decided to make some multi-strand bracelets. Many strings, one easy (and this is a key word) on/off step.

Oh sure, they look great.  See the subtle colours in the coordinated palettes. Wonder at the variety of shapes and sizes and the interplay of iridescent, facetted and matt finishes. Appreciate the beauty of the fit and the professional application of findings. Marvel that the beads where selected from shops in LA, Toronto, New York, Ottawa and Brampton over a number of years. Be appalled that I actually remember the origin of each of the thousands of beads in the stash... And then try, just try, to get the darn things off.

Ah usability. The heart of interaction design. It doesn't matter how attractive you make something (be it a web site, a kitchen appliance or a bracelet), if it doesn't function well for the user you have failed.

The problem here was that I didn't test drive the clasps. In action they are very easy to do up. No problem doing it one handed. But once they were on I simply could not get them off. The clasps were too stiff and the little edge you needed to grab was too small to get much purchase on. I literally had to wait for my husband to come home to get me out of them! This induced a ridiculous little bit of panic in me, sort of like reverse claustrophobia. WTF?

And it is altogether too bad 'cause they really are attractive and very well made. Yes, I could find new clasps and then re-string them, but I'm kind of feeling that this bird has flown. I've played with this particular group of beads enough for a while.

As I mentioned in a previous post about stashes, the great thing about beads is that they are fully reusable. A bead stash is pretty much self sustainable if you recycle old or failed projects. I might rework these or more likely just disassemble them for use in future projects.

Bracelets should not cause panic attacks.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Catching up and the Revised Nelson Necklace

Oh wow. I haven't posted anything here for about 8 weeks! Not that I haven't been making. And not that I haven't been thinking about posting ... the pictures were taken. But somehow it just didn't get done. Let's just blame summer time. So expect a little flurry of posts over the next while as I get caught up.

Mostly I've been making things with beads this summer. I like to be outside as much as I can vs. sitting at a sewing machine. And Mark and I are often on the road, heading out for a day or two at some fishing hole or a weekend away with friends, so beads are the most portable solution to the need to be making something all the time. I can grab a few tools and some beads from the stash, pack them in my handy little travel kit, toss it in the back of the car and head out.

Here's the thing about my extensive bead stash - sometimes (OK a lot of the time) I forget what is in there. So going looking for something often results in finding something else. That was the case for this necklace.

The lampwork focal bead was a gift from my brother-in-law Ken Predy last year*. It was made by a local glass artist in Edmonton.

It's very unusual in that this big black lentil appears to have an internal light source! No matter what lighting conditions you view it under, the red spot appears to glow. Cool. And there is triangular dichroic patch and little black bumps that bring more points of interest to the bead. This bead is about 4 cm across and the two sides are slightly different as you can see by these first two pictures.

I'd worn the bead alone as a pendant for a while, but that never seemed to fully show it off and so I'd tucked it away in the stash. Fast forward to this summer and me looking for a couple of beads to fix another piece. And there it was, glowing away all by itself. Time to turn it into something with impact.

For this piece I committed myself to only using beads from the stash - no new additions. In the design I've played with contrast and similarity.

The main part of the necklace is made from narrow oval glass beads that look like raku fired pottery. They are smooth and flat and feel like silky river stones. The raku effect mimics the dichroic glass in the focal bead and their flat finish contrasts with that bead's glossy surface.

Initially I strung just these beads with the focal, but they were too bunched together and you couldn't really appreciate their shapes. Also something was missing. So back to the stash and the discovery a precious few red Japanese Miracle Beads.

These are amazing beads that have a coloured core with a silvered coating and then many layers of lacquer on top. When light passes through the layers and is reflected they actually seem to glow. When they were first introduced years ago they were really expensive. I don't see them in the bead shops much anymore, but they are readily available online and are very affordable. They are not the same quality as these original ones however and seem to have a graininess to the inner bead.

A couple of shiny black glass disks and glass seed beads (all from the stash) round out the supplies.

Here's the finished Nelson Necklace. Impact achieved I think!

Thanks Ken!

* View from 2012 birthday breakfast by the harbour at the Prestige Lakeside Resort in Nelson BC. Hence the "Nelson Necklace". I had steel cut oats with fresh berries and maple syrup that morning.

It was a truly great trip for Mark, Hilary, Ken and me. Sometimes we forget that Canada is so beautiful.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Heading to the Mother Ship

Here I am in New York City. It's a lovely morning and I'm up early and on my way to Alt Summit NYC ( - a conference on blogging and marketing. The event is hosted by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which means that I am heading to the mother ship in a few minutes.

Not entirely sure what to expect, except that there will likely be 198 young women, maybe one man and me in the audience. And if Martha Stewart should pop by (as she did at last year's summit), for a brief moment I won't be the oldest person in the room.

I'll let you know how it goes and what I learn in a later post.