Crafty Time: Playing With Fire

I’ve always enjoyed hobbies that involved some kind of creative activity.  The urge to make things has continued, and when I was getting close to retirement, I started buying things for making jewelry, for playing with precious metal clay, and looked forward to having more time for that.

I worked some with the jewelry — basically making simple earrings and wire-wrapping pendants and beads.  It was wonderful therapy for nights when I needed some kind of outlet, when I couldn’t grade (or didn’t need to), when I couldn’t sleep.  After I moved in with Dad (while I was still teaching and then after I retired), I had short periods of time when I could make some earrings, or wrap a stone or two.  I even took a watercolor collage class for a few nights with a friend.

But it was all hit and miss.  I learned by watching videos, some on YouTube, some on DVDs.  Of course, I also did what every academic does:  I bought books and studied them.  But there were no classes.

My crafting/creative urge has been there most of my life.  As a child, I spent time with both of my grandmothers.  Grandmother Ware had me help her when she sewed — I used my hands to peddle the sewing machine.  When I was old enough, she put a threaded needle in my hand and gave me some fabric.  I “sewed” when she did.  If she was in the kitchen baking, then I got some dough to work with (and to work to death), along with my own tiny wine bottle sample to use as a rolling pin.  Since she was a teetotaler, I have no idea where she got that.  Dad even remembered what kind it was — a Kupenheimer wine bottle, I think.  I was very proud of what I made — and of course my biscuits, or rolls, or whatever, were usually as hard as rocks.

My other grandmother, Grandmother Adair (I called her Mom.  That’s another story) taught me how to embroider.  She also taught me how to dance.  And when I was old enough, she taught me how to make a grapefruit highball.  She loved to read, and with her I could feel comfortable just curling up in bed to read sometimes when I stayed with her.

My actual real sewing started when I was maybe 9.  When I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school, I was in 4-H.  I made a lot of things — still have a small mosaic ashtray from 1964 or so (I use it to hold a sponge near the sink). Though I entered many contests at the yearly 4-H day in our parish, the staple project usually was something I’d sewn.  That instruction came from our neighbor, Audie Watson.  Audie taught me how to use a sewing machine.  From her, I had many lessons in making things.  I learned to lay out a pattern, to cut it out, and to sew it.  I also learned that if it weren’t made just right, to Audie’s satisfaction, I’d hear the words that I always told her needed to be on her headstone:  “Rip it out.”  To this day, when I buy clothing in a store, I turn it so that I can see the hems, the stitching, and judge how well it’s made.  When I ignore the little voice that’s now in my head and let something not-quite-perfect go, I always feel guilty.  In addition to every math and science course our high school offered, I also took Home Ec.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew what I wanted for my high school graduation present from my parents:  a sewing machine.

Fabrics continue to fascinate me.  Browsing bolts of fabrics at a fabric store can take hours.  When I was younger, I’d look through the scraps and remnants, buying luscious velvets and satins and silks.  These I made into fashionable clothing for my Barbie (yes, I had a Barbie.  I won her; I did not buy her.) and then later for my sister Kay’s Barbies.

I look for fabric stores.  I seek out exotic fabrics and weaves and designs if I can find them.  And I have more fabrics than I have used.  They are carefully folded and stored in my mother’s 1940s alligator-patterned leather suitcases.  At an India night, I bought saris.  I won’t wear them, but might use the fabrics for some things I have in mind for my house.  Or maybe for purses.  I’ve got some material to recover a rocking-chair seat (the rocker was my Granddad Ware’s).  Recently, I found some different small pieces of turquoise and aqua leather (thanks, eBay).  Not sure what I’ll make with those, but I’ll think of something.  I’ve even used nice cloth placemats to make evening bags, or clutches.  Sheets?  For years that’s what I made curtains out of.  Easy to find, easy to make.  Lots of choices in patterns and colors.

In college, if I wanted new clothes, I’d make them.  It wasn’t unusual for me to make a new dress or top for a date.  Now I spend almost no time making clothing.  Instead, I’m more likely to run up something for a tablecloth, or for curtains.  Something for the house.  Maybe five years ago, my Singer machine finally died.  That Christmas, I picked out a new one for my present from Dad.  It’s smaller and lighter than my old one, and it does some really neat things.

When I graduated with my MA, I spent some months (8 months, to be exact) with my parents and relatives before my first teaching job started.  At one point, Dad simply gave me a gas credit card and told me to hit the road, spend some time with relatives.  I stayed with my Aunt Jean for a while, and she taught me how to crochet.  Specifically, she taught me how to make a granny square.  I made a small granny-square throw that I still have somewhere.  Needless to say, I have lots of yard around the house.  My attraction to yard is almost as bad as my attraction to fabric.  I’ve got so many kinds, so many colors.  Mostly I try to stick to cottons and wools, but I have some polyester yarns as well.  Oh, and I’ve moved beyond granny squares.  I can makes scarves too.  And table placemats.  I’m trying to make purses.

Not being able to afford expensive furniture, I relied on hand-me-downs and on flea markets and garage sales.  From a $10 bedside table, I could use sandpaper and paint to re-purpose that old, battered piece into something lively and colorful.  Even the 1950s blonde furniture that was so popular can be transformed without much trouble.  With some reading and practice, I learned to paint faux-marble tops on furniture.  It’s surprising what you can do with a little effort.  Even inexpensive folding TV tray tables can be interesting with some attention and creativity.  If you try something and it doesn’t work out, you can always sand it and start over.

As I grew up, I also came to love jewelry.  Pierced ears meant that I wore all sorts of earrings.  Multiple piercings in my ears also meant that I could wear several different pairs of earrings simultaneously.  That’s fun.

By the time I was nearing retirement, I started watching Jewelry Television (JTV) and got interested in gemstones.  I ordered some, loving the various colors and cuts.  It has been fun also to educate myself about the properties of different gemstones.  I started trying to identify real gemstones with a jeweler’s loupe, and then with other tools and instruments.  I even have a microscope, but am not very good at using it or some of the other tools.  One day, if possible, I’d like to take classes in gemology.  In the meantime, I collect different types when I can.  I also have mixed batches ready to try to identify using the tools and various charts about properties and characteristics to look for.

At the same time, I started working with sterling silver wire and gemstones.  I still do, but want to improve and expand my knowledge.  There’s so much that still intrigues me.  I’ve stuck with different styles of earrings — small stud earrings, with snap-tite settings in sterling silver (I order them) and gemstones (also ordered).  I put them together.  That’s really not hard, and it’s fun to assemble them.  I also make dangly earrings, with gemstones and silver beads and sterling silver wire — and some with wire-wrapping around the beads.

There are so many other things to try out, though — bracelets and necklaces.  More involved wire-wrapping, of course.

And tonight I attended a workshop for precious metal clay.  Actually, I already have some materials and tools, even a small tabletop kiln, and books for this.  I just hadn’t used them.  Tonight, though, I used 9 grams of precious metal clay (PMC 3) — silver — and made a pendant and two sets of earrings.  I rolled out the PMC3, textured it, and used a template to cut the different pieces out.  The class flew by.  The teacher demonstrated everything, talked to us all the time.  As we worked and had questions, she’d answer.  She’d walk around and help.  We used a dehydrator to dry our pieces leather-hard.  Then we watched as she used a creme brûlée torch to fire the demonstration piece.  After that, we each had to torch one of our pieces.  It was so much fun to watch the piece turn salmon color.  Once it was done, we immediately immersed the piece in water, and it was cool enough to work with immediately.  A brass wire brush was the next thing we used on that piece.  This is when the magic happened, and we watched as our pendant pieces emerged from the brushing as beautiful silver.  Absolutely fascinating.

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She took the rest of our pieces and fired them in the kiln.  When they were done, we polished them in the same way.

I left with a pendant and two sets of matching earrings.

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These aren’t perfect.  But what fun!  I am planning to work with my PMC3 clay on Saturday (day after tomorrow), and have no qualms now about using the torch.

And next weekend on Saturday,  I’ll be in the second PMC3 class — for 8 hours.  More advanced.  I’m already hoping that there will be a ring class.  And other classes.  It’s just addicting.

What a productive evening!

Before I’d left, I’d already posted photos on Facebook of my creations.  I’d already set a time to meet with my friend Myra, who is my jewelry buddy (we play together at least once a week and make jewelry) — we’re going to work with the PMC3 clay on Saturday, and then spend Saturday afternoon on wire and bead jewelry.

I knew that one day I’d get to spend more time with different crafts.  I just didn’t know what kinds.  There are more arts and crafts projects on my list than I ever imagined I’d want to do.  Stepping stones for my yard here and at the beach.  Slipcovers for chairs.  Recovering seat cushions on dining room chairs.  Tiling a backsplash.  Learning to knit (I now know how to make one kind of scarf).  Crocheting more.

Even when I was quite young, I loved to make things.  Visualizing a result was never my problem.  Imagination apparently came fully charged when I was born.  Maybe too much so, my parents might have said.

But having hobbies is a good thing for us.  If we work outside the home — whether in the classroom or an office or a store or whatever — it’s healthy for us to do other things.  Cooking, sewing, crafting, woodworking — you name it.  What a treat — you can immerse yourself in learning something, and use some spare time to create, to produce.

And depending on the craft, I often connect it with the person who taught me.  There are memories and histories as I work now.  And I’ve tried to pass on my knowledge — I taught my niece how to crochet.  We’ve done different crafts together — made mosaic-tiled coffeetables and end tables, tiled a backspash together.  It’s fun, and it’s our special time together.  She’s a graphic-arts major in college, and we don’t get to spend as much time together now.  But we have much in common.

Reading, of course, has always been my go-to passtime.  Playing the piano is something I do at times.  But beyond that — exploring different crafts and hobbies has been a passion of mine that I couldn’t always indulge.  Being able to, in whatever time frame, though, was beneficial — it balanced out the academic head work that has been my life.  Creativity in one area, I’ve found, sparks creativity in others.

When I took clay classes at McNeese and learned to throw on a wheel, to hand build, and to glaze and then watch what emerged, I found that my stress level dropped.  I didn’t have time to spend worrying or thinking — I had to be in the moment of throwing, of paying attention.  The clay wouldn’t center.  The pot or bowl or whatever just wouldn’t emerge.

I’d like to do more wheel work, to actually learn about glazes and how to run the kiln.  That’s on my list.

For now, I’m working on things at home.  My front bedroom has become my office.  My computer is here, angled off of my beautiful writing desk (thanks, Adam!).  I write here.

But behind me is the desk my brother Phil made me from a hollow-core door (that was what I used as a desk when I wrote my dissertation).  Phil took the door and put turned legs on it and trimmed it and then stained it.  My dissertation-door-desk is my jewelry crafting area.  On another wall is a bench with shelves.  This is for the small kiln — and for supplies connected with it.  Here is where I’ll do the precious metal clay work this weekend.  It’s where I can work with polymer clay.  There’s a small craft oven stored on a shelf — for polymer clay.  There are molds and texture sheets and other tools and supplies.  Most are neatly labeled now.

On another wall is a shelving unit that Dad made for me in high school.  It now holds all sorts of things — boxes for maps, for blank CDs, for some boxes.  And near it is a bookcase.  This is where the jewelry supplies go.  I have different boxes for glass beads, for gemstone beads, for pendant beads, for pendant cabochons, for gemstones (not beads), for findings.  One box is for base metal wire.  One holds different kinds of ribbon and necklace material.  A ring-binder notebook turned out to be a perfect way to organize my sterling silver wire and gold-filled wire.

This room is my new playroom.  It’s becoming itself — slowly, perhaps, but it’s emerging.  Organization is ongoing as I discover what I need where, and what works for me.

What works for me now?  This computer area.  And on Saturday?  The area for PMC3 — I’ll clear off the top tomorrow and get it ready for Saturday.  I’ll put out the supplies.  Get the butane and the torch ready, along with the brick to work on.

So far I’ve only worked with words and pens and computers, with materials and tools that twisted wire and closed it.

Now I get to play with fire too.  Watch out, world!

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