21 July 2009

Morsel Monday: Issue 5

A Jewelry Journey

I had my Monday Morsel's post all planned out for you.
But after yesterday's class, I set my idea aside in favor of this.

The tiny bout with teaching got me reminiscing about learning.
I decided I would make a timeline of sorts . . .
a path of pieces,
the more interesting bits of jewelry I've constructed over the past six years.

Some of it is kind of lovely.
Some is terribly made.
Some is just disgusting.
But it all got me to where I am now . . .

So here we go:

* * * * *

My very first assignment in design school was to make 5 rings.
No specifics, no description as to what type of ring.
Some made big circles, circus rings.
Others made hula hoops.
I went the the welding shop and made these:

(solid steel, stock, hardware)

I loved how fierce and floral this one looked.
It's even lovelier now with the rust that it has acquired since it's construction in 2003.
Not the most comfortable thing in the world to wear, though.

I had made a few pieces in steel before.
I loved it, but wanted to learn silver.

Lace necklace. Steel wire handmade into rings, vintage glass beads.

Though I was in design school at NC State, the curriculum didn't offer classes in metalsmithing.
So I enrolled in one class at the all girl's college down the street.

Beginning Metals.

I learned to pierce (though crudely)
and I made my first embellished bezel.
Here it is set with a small knit thingy I made years later.
I had take the original stone out.
(Long story, we'll leave that alone.)
Oh, and just so you know . . .
fabric doesn't "set" so well.
Oh no-no.

I made a little silver box with a tray lid that when removed, doubled as a brooch.

I was learning hollow forming, texturizing, soldering, and basic construction skills.
It was insanely lovely.
(My craftsmanship . . . not so much.)

Today, I use the tray brooch to hold solder chips on my bench.

My professors at NC State were aware of my jewelry fixation.
While we didn't have the jewelry or metals classes,
they did allow me to incorporate my interests into my studio work.

I took a weaving class.
Others wove yarn and ribbon, even wire and paper.
I wove vintage jewelry together with vintage lace.

These were actually a lot of fun.
If I could remember how to weave,
I would love doing large scale pieces like these and hang them around the house.

Then I started to bring the metal into the fiber, using it as a base to secure my weavings.
This is a long since tattered cuff I made, I believe some time in 2004.

You can see I was already in love with juxtaposition.
And the vintage style.

All tarnished and scratched . . . and bearing my maiden name.

The cuff had vintage portrait pins woven into the fabric strips.
It was a more modern take on the old war jewelry men and women would wear
during spells away from one another during WWI.

Later, I discovered the silk worm cocoon.
It was my next step in the integration of metal and fiber.
Since the cocoons are pure raw silk, they qualified as acceptable media for my textiles classes.
I just had to figure out how to use them to make jewelry.

People forget or don't realize
that the silk industry is an industry just like that of cattle or chicken.
There are farms dedicated to raising the worms,
harvesting the cocoons.
Which are of course then spun off into thread, woven into fabric,
dyed and sold.

Silk appealed to me because of it's strength.
A strand of silk is equal in strength to a strand of steel of the same thickness.

I started by setting a single cocoon in a simple fabricated ring.

The cocoons can be purchased raw by the kilo online.
I bought bags of them.

I began playing with their structures,
researching the worms and how these vessels were made.
I dyed them, sliced and spiraled them.
(Yes, I had to remove the worms . . . not my favorite part of the process.)
They became the most wild, unruly, fabulous and fantastical creations.

I made a series of cuffs.
Modern and funky corsages, they seemed.

Raw silk cocoons, fabricated brass cuff.

At the urging of my professor,
I decided to risk it,
and made jewelry that showcased the worms as well as the cocoons.
These little creatures are not so attractive to look at,
but they are responsible for the amazing silk structures,
and the entire world's silk supply.

Keep in mind that I was in design school,
and this was "art."
More like miniature sculpture than personal adornments.
Not necessarily meant to be worn.

I used tiny recyled jars and fabricated ring shank bases as well as toppers for them.
The jars could be emptied out and filled with whatever the wearer wanted to place in them.
Mine used the silk and the worms, but they were meant to hold any kind of heirloom or treasure that would fit.

A wee world for a wee worm.
Glass, silver, silk cocoon, silkworm, willow, and some sort of vegetation.

Preserved worms and cocoons.
I told you some of it was gross!

Interesting and educational, yes.
Something I loved making?
Absolutely not.

I went back to dying and slicing, and made huge collars.
Each cocoon is comprised of roughly one mile of silk thread.
These collars contained over 200 miles of thread, and over 100 hours of labor.

I loved how the dye took to the raw silk.
The colors were amazing.
I even sold a few of these to a ballroom dancer.
She needed large scale accessories that were very lightweight.
These were nothing more than silk and air.

But I missed metal.
And brought it back again.
My craftsmanship was still less than admirable,
but I loved working with it and missed the juxtaposing elements of soft and hard.
I made a butterfly clasp for this one.

I used silk ribbons and tassels and set them into deep fabricated bezels.
Like little finger firecrackers.

And so it went. One crazy experiment, one over the top project after another.
I was taught to take things too far, then fall back into where you were most happy and passionate.

School ended.
I had made a lot of "jewelry."
Not much that was wearable, though, at least not in day-to -day life.
And with only one metals class behind me, I wanted to know more.

I enrolled in summer workshops in Brasstown and Penland,
and spent months away in the mountains, in slight seclusion, furthering my education.
I tried, failed, tried again, learned something, tried again, and executed an intention.
And I found a bit of myself as well.

I remember one project where we had to illustrate the "state of our hearts."
How were we feeling?

We had to make a brooch depicting this that contained
no soldering and no mechanism to attach it to our clothing.

So I learned to tab and rivet.

And I created a piece that the wearer had to press into their clothing,
so that one's shirt became one with the metal.
Still crude, but new.
Another step.

I dabbled in casting. Carving and creating my own molds from wax.
These were leftovers I never got to finishing.
Still covered with investment and attached to the sprues.
I think there is something lovely about their rawness.
I use some as paperweighst and jewelry displays here on my desk.

In doing these, I went back to pay an homage to my first steel rings.
There is a lot of fictional hardware here.

I wrapped up the summer and fall by making these.

(Are you asleep yet?)

Since then it has been marriage and motherhood and life,
all taken in and wrapped around this thing that I love doing.
This creating thing.

My work, as you can tell, has continued to evolve over the past three years
as I've purchased books, taught myself, and taken local classes.
I'm still not where I want to be.

I never want to settle for the skill set that I have.
I want the work to keep evolving and developing.

And I want to hang onto that "new love" feeling I had when I first began years ago.

I hope you seek out and find something so worth loving.

* * * * *

Corn Bread Salad

  • 1 recipe of cornbread (When in a hurry, I love Martha White's bagged sweet yellow CB mix.)
  • 1 envelope ranch dressing mix
  • 1 cup (8 oz) sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cans (16 oz each) pinto beans
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 10 slices bacon, fried very crispy, and crumbled
  • 2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1/2 cup each of chopped red bell pepper, green bell pepper, green onions and several chopped tomatoes


Make up the cornbread, cool. Stir together salad dressing mix, sour cream and mayonnaise until blended; set aside. Combine tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. Toss gently. Crumble 1/2 of the cornbread into a large bowl. Top with half each of beans, tomato mixture, cheese, bacon, corn and dressing mixture. Repeat layers. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours. When ready to serve, stir the whole mess together!

This is just wonderful!! I make extra cornbread as this salad is very moist, and it's great the next day to have fresh cornbread to mix with leftover salad.

This is also great without ranch dressing package mix.
Plus, you may add any veggies you want.

recipe courtesy of southernfood.com


  1. Wow, what a tale...very interesting JJ! All the way from the first rings to those in your Etsy shop...well done!

  2. I love this post!! My favorite pieces you made were the little silver box (I LOVE tiny boxes) and the cuff with the antique photo pins embedded. I've always has a thing for antique photos. Actually, everything you've done has been wonderful. Thanks for posting this!

  3. What a fascinating look at the development of your art! Thank you for sharing.

    And thanks for the recipe! I've made your gingerale recipe you shared a few weeks back - now I'm addicted :)


  4. that's some very cool stuff!!! those silk worm rings were the coolest! :)