Pinning Inspiration

DSC_5702 (3)The bulletin board above my work table has a multiple personality. It’s located in the tiny “dining room” of our apartment (i.e. right in our living room) – oh, how I envy those fortunate enough to have their own craft room/studio! On this board I keep a very utilitarian calendar with my work schedule and other day-to-day appointments. (You wouldn’t want to see my chicken scratch and crossed-out scribblings, so I used a nice cleaned-up version for the photos.) Because the calendar is so easily seen every time I pass by, it’s a good place to keep track of life’s busy-ness.

DSC_5742 (3)I also use my bulletin board as a temporary repository for memorabilia. It’s here that I display photos, notes from friends or family, ticket stubs, birthday cards or postcards I’ve received – or ones I’ve purchased that are just too pretty to give away – items that mark happy or significant events. When eventually they come off the board, these items will be stored in a keepsake box: an old, decorative tin that once held chocolates (another of my favourite things!). That box safeguards decades-old treasures that I can’t and won’t throw away; with all its bits and bobs, including quite a few antique postcards I’ve collected, it’s also a great source of props for my still-life photography.

My board’s third raison d’être is rather more fanciful. I’ll occasionally pin up ephemera such as tags and labels, business cards, bookmarks, poems or quotes, magazine clippings, ornaments, even jewellery – anything with a pretty or striking design, attractive colour, shape or sentiment. These serve to amuse and inspire, especially when I’m sitting at the table trying to think of what to work on next. I gaze at the board with its mish-mash of images and let the creative juices stir and flow. In a way, it’s an old-school and very personal version of Pinterest.

Here I’ve given my inspiration board a Spring facelift, choosing mostly fresh, floral and green elements from nature.

Do you have a similar board for your artwork, crafts or other creative endeavours? What kinds of things do you keep there to help inspire and motivate you?DSC_5735 (3)

Getting Inked

20161204_011021-5These are my first attempts at colouring with alcohol-based markers. I’m no artist — I’m more a copyist or a hey-that-looks-neat-I-think-I’ll-try-it-ist — so there’s a lot to learn about shading, blending and other artful concepts. Also, I don’t have a great selection of colours yet, so my palette is pretty limited. But I love the beautiful shading that’s possible, and it’s fun!

For these images, I either traced or drew freehand onto Canson XL Marker paper using a black Prismacolor Premier alcohol marker. I also have a black Pentel sign pen that I use elsewhere; it’s not alcohol-based so may not work well for this medium, but it would give me a finer outline. The colouring is done with Copic Sketch and #coloring markers, supplemented in small areas with water-based markers where I lack those colours in alcohol inks. In the window scene, I used metallic watercolour markers for the moon, stars and ornaments.

20161206_011019-5Going forward, I’m hoping to use my own images more often than not, rather than rely on colouring books or other sources. Although there are dozens of colouring books out there, I find most of their graphics far too busy; looking at some of them actually irritates me! I prefer simpler motifs. Perhaps coming up with original designs will help train my eye to see things more artistically.

I know that I can also use rubber stamps to create the images. I’m sad and kicking myself because, several years ago in a frenzied housecleaning purge, at a time when I wasn’t doing any crafts, I got rid of a rather nice collection of stamping supplies. Oh, how I wish I had them back again! I do have this one tiny pinecone stamp for use on little muslin bags I mean to sew for my shop. Achhh! So much to do, so little time!

20161206_054701-4By the way, if you follow this blog, you’ve heard me talking about Pinterest. I do haunt Pinterest quite regularly and have posted much of my work there, including some you haven’t seen here. My other boards range from Medieval Mist to the witchy and apothecary, from places in Britain I’ve visited to Portals to Taverns, Tearooms, Inns & Pubs, from still life art & photography to Lanterns, Candles & Lamplight. You are most welcome to pay me a visit there!20161206_011536-4

Seaglass Success!

My last post discussed craft projects on Pinterest that weren’t all they’re, um, cracked up to be. By rights I should have given up on such dubious DIYs, but I’m stubborn and determined to find solutions to creative conundrums. And I did promise to let you know how the “seaglass” painted jar project turned out, so I tried it yesterday.

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As if from the ocean: (clockwise from top left) Bottle Green, Turquoise, Seaglass, Robin’s Egg, Lavender

Happily, I can give a thumbs up to this one! First off, though, the pin I looked at didn’t give a lot of information, just the ingredient proportions and minimal instructions. But the method – which is simple, quick and, best of all, inexpensive – worked fine, and I had all five containers completed and dry to the touch in about an hour. Although I didn’t get the finish perfect in a few small spots, I was delighted with the results! These semi-opaque, pastel-coloured vessels can have many uses: as candleholders, vases or pretty storage jars, grouped as beachy décor or table centerpieces, and embellished with shells, twine, etc. to give as gifts.

Look for glass containers such as Mason jars, bottles or vases at thrift or dollar stores. Foam paintbrushes can be purchased in bulk at dollar stores (much cheaper than craft stores). I recently found 2 oz. plastic “shot” cups at the supermarket and have been using them for paint projects; they’re perfect for mixing colours and can be washed out and reused forever.

Here’s the basic Pinterest method, expanded with a few tips and tricks of my own:

“Seaglass” Painted Jars

Materials:

• clean, dry glass jar or bottle
• white glue (I used Elmer’s)
• water
• food colouring (I used Club House 4-pack in red, yellow, blue and green)
• small paper or plastic cup
• stir stick (popsicle stick, coffee stirrer, drinking straw, bamboo skewer)
• foam paintbrush

How-to:

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Battery-operated tealights or votives add a warm glow to these beachy pastels

1. Protect work surface with plastic, glass or something that drying glue won’t stick to. My worktable has a plastic desk protector that I got for about $5 from Ikea; it’s grippy on the underside and wipes clean with water.

2. In cup, thoroughly mix together 1 tsp glue, 1 ½ tsp water, and the food colouring (drop by drop until you get the colour you want; see below for my combinations). Use as few as 3 drops for the palest effect, up to 30 drops for more intense shades, and be careful: food colouring stains skin, fabric and other surfaces.

3. If possible, upend the glass jar over a prop such as a slim bottle so that your project is lifted off the table and can be rotated without touching as you paint – finger marks will mar the finish. (If necessary, stabilize by holding inside the rim.) If you don’t have this prop, just turn your project upside down on your non-stick work surface.

4. Brush the glue mixture onto the outside of the jar in an even layer. Try not to go over already-painted areas too much. The “paint” will look streaky at first but dries semi-opaque and smooth as, well, seaglass!

5. Any drips or glue that has pooled into nooks and crannies will dry a bit darker than the rest, but it won’t be that noticeable, so resist the urge to fiddle with these areas. The glue starts to dry pretty quickly and touch-ups are … touchy.

6. Avoid handling the project until the glue has completely dried and set.

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Dairy bottle painted in robin’s egg blue, shown with lake glass I’ve collected from local beaches

Colours:  The examples on Pinterest were pale blue, turquoise, green, pink, purple, yellow, orange, white (I presume just water and glue) and gold. (No explanation as to how they got the gold number. Do they make special food colouring in that hue?) Here are the formulas, in number of drops per colour, I used for each of my examples:

Seaglass: 5 green  •  Bottle Green: 16 green, 2 blue, 3 yellow, 1 red  •  Robin’s Egg: 3 blue, 2 green  •  Turquoise: 16 blue  •  Lavender: 4 blue, 4 red

Clean up:  This is a very forgiving, water-based project. If you mess up or don’t like the colour, simply wash off the still-wet “paint” and start again! (Although I haven’t tried this, I bet you could soak in soap and water or use a product like Goo-Gone to remove the dried finish, after which you could paint with a different colour or reuse your jar for something else.) To preserve the finish, avoid hand- or dish-washing; wipe the inside of the jar clean.

For use as candleholder:  Use battery-operated tealights or votives instead of real candles. (I don’t know what the heat generated by flame and melting wax would do to the glue finish.) Place light directly on the bottom of the container, or nestle in vase filler such as glass or stone pebbles or moss. For a beachy feel, I put sand in the jar and decorated the outside with natural jute twine and tiny shells.

For use as floral vase:  When filling with water, try not to get the outside of the painted container wet.

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Seaglass • Embellish the jar with twine, ribbon, shells, charms, wire or beads and/or fill with sand, stones or … beach glass!

For use as storage:  First of all, I haven’t tried putting on the lids the jars came with, as I’m afraid of messing up the finish – I suspect it won’t hold up to much, if any, friction. Also, I wouldn’t recommend using these jars to store food (unless it’s something like individually-wrapped candy) because of the glue.

Other uses for this technique:  Remember in my previous post how I struggled with marbleizing the inside of glass ornaments with acrylic paint? Well, I tried the glue method on a couple of clear glass balls, and it works! You don’t get quite the same wave-tumbled, matte effect because the glass is still shiny on the outside (you could, of course, paint the outside of the balls, but they won’t be as durable), but the pale, semi-transparent finish is lovely, and so quick to do. I did try using two colours for a marbled effect but they eventually ran together, which was okay, too!

Things I Wish Pinterest Had Told Me

If you’re a crafter on Pinterest looking for something new to create, no doubt you’ve seen tons of DIYs blithely telling you how to make everything from poured candles to rocks carved with Dremel tools to melted crayon art. These professional-looking, beautifully photographed posts make the process seem oh-so-breezy and incredibly easy. With a few simple materials and such straightforward, step-by-step instructions, how could a poor unsuspecting crafter go wrong? Riiiighhhttttt.

Ever an optimist and eager to try new things, I’ve saved several of these pins to a private board, intending to give them a go. I particularly want to try making sea glass-like jars and bottles by painting them with Elmer’s glue mixed with food colouring. I’ll let you know in a future post how that one turns out!

I’ve already attempted melted crayon art; the Pinterest examples look fabulous and very artsy. (No photoshopping or false claims there, ahem.) According to the instructions, you chop crayons into small pieces, scatter them on paper and use a hair dryer or heat gun to melt them into groovy abstract patterns. NOT. The instructions fail to mention that the air flow blows the crayon straight off the table and halfway across the room, never to be seen again, so you have to chop up even more and figure out a way to hold them down (I used a fork). And, although I do own one, I didn’t even consider using a heat gun; it just seems incredibly unsafe, what with the close proximity of fingers and combustible materials, etc. Having said that, with a bit of trial and error, the method did work – sort of. I tried one picture but went a little crazy colour-wise, ending up with a thick, muddy mess. Had I stuck with it and used only a few judiciously-chosen colours, I might have produced something more aesthetically pleasing. But the whole thing was just too fiddly and frustrating, and nothing like the examples shown on Pinterest. Pass.

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Making marbleized painted ornaments the Pinterest way

Next: since ’tis almost the season, I went for do-it-yourself marbleized Christmas ornaments, coating the inside of clear glass or plastic balls with acrylic craft paint. (Some claim you can do the melted crayon thing with glass balls, too.) One Pinterest method goes something like this:

Remove cap from ornament • In a paper cup, mix 1 tbsp paint with ½ tsp water until paint is the consistency of melted ice cream • Use 2 or 3 colours for each ball • Pour dime-sized amount of paint into ball, starting with lightest colour • Slowly rotate ball so paint flows in different directions • Add other colours one by one in the same way, allowing a marble pattern to develop as they mix and entire surface is covered • Position balls with openings pointed down so any leftover paint drains away • Let dry for 24 hours • Replace caps

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Verdigris • I used metallic copper, ocean breeze and avocado green to create an aged copper patina effect. I could have done with less paint here.

Sounds good, right? Well, the marbleizing looked quite pretty as I was working with the wet paint. But things started to go partridge in a pear tree-shaped near the end of the process – and, indeed, after the balls had been sitting to dry for 24 hours and much longer. In fact, some of the ornaments I started almost a week ago are still not dry! The paint didn’t stick in some places, separating and cracking in others. When I set them open end down to drain, gravity pulled at the lovely marble swirls and, in a couple of ornaments, made them disappear completely. I had to add even more paint to put some marbling back in or fill in cracks, which accounts for the interminable drying time. And – many curses – every time I fix the cracks, new ones develop elsewhere. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to get a paltry five ornaments to work out, and only two are just satisfactory! How could such a simple-sounding craft turn out so badly? Here’s what I wish Pinterest had told me:

20161123_111753-3• Wash the balls (glass or plastic) with soap and water before using, let dry, and select multi-surface acrylic paint. Some craft paint may stick to glass better than others, and any oily residue from the ornaments’ manufacturing process may interfere with adhesion. My first attempt was with a plastic ball and was a disaster. The paint “fell down” in runny rivulets as it dried, leaving unsightly cracks all the way around (see photo, right), and no amount of desperate fixes could remedy this. I did attempt to make the cracks look deliberate – a kind of crackled, raku effect – but it just looked sad. I switched to glass after that.
• Size matters. The ornaments I used were almost 4 inches in diameter. I have a feeling paint would stay put better on smaller spheres with less surface to cover. I did purchase a smaller set; if I haven’t completely lost my mind by the end of this experiment, I may try some and post about it later.
• Don’t add water if you don’t need to. You may be able to use the paint right out of the bottle if it seems to flow well. I suspect the added moisture was partly responsible for cracking the paint as the water evaporated. And you only need to add a drop or two; use an eye dropper if you have one, and mix well.
• Drip a small amount of paint into the ball at a time. Less is more here. Too much paint will spread in blobs over too much surface and reduce the marble effect, and the more paint inside the ball, the longer it will take to dry and the more likely cracks will develop. (The only one that dried properly right off the bat was the Peacock ornament, and even then it developed a few cracks which I was able to fix without destroying the marble effect.) No worries if you don’t cover all the surface at first; the paint will continue to spread and blend until it’s completely set, and you can always cover any open areas later by dabbing with a bit more paint (see more on that below).
Shake out as much excess paint as possible. No matter how much paint you think you’ve drained out, there will always be some extra pooling inside, prolonging dry time considerably. Protect your work surface with lots of newspaper. Shake. Shake hard. Keep shaking until you think you’ve got most of it out. And turn the ornament occasionally as it dries to help thin and move any remaining paint around.
• Do not set the ball to dry with open end facing down. All those lovely marble swirls will flow straight down, and you’ll get a single-coloured ball. (The Burnished ornament started off as a beautifully marbled gold, silver and copper and ended up as a neither-here-nor-there single-coloured metallic.) Set the ball on its side or with the opening facing up on a 45 degree angle. Change position occasionally.
• Be patient. The colours flow slowly inside the glass as you work. Because they continue to blend, diffuse and change for many hours, don’t try to get the perfect marble effect right away – you might overblend it. And plan on a drying time of several days if you’ve used a lot of paint, or it’s thick.

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(Clockwise from top left) Burnished, Marble and Verdigris, made days ago but still not dry! (I put the caps on for the photo.) After I shot this yesterday, more cracks have developed; I’ll wait until the paint is completely dry before trying to fix them.

• All is not as it seems. As mentioned above, the pattern you see when you set the ornament to dry will not be the final result. It took a lot of desperate manipulation to get the results shown here (I trashed the ugly plastic one), and even now they are still wet and/or developing cracks.
• Wait until paint seems dry before fixing cracks. I think this was my biggest mistake; I kept adding more paint into the still-wet balls to fill in cracks and gaps (from the outside, the paint looked dry). All that extra paint is just never going to adhere or cure properly. It was only after days of struggle that I had an a-ha! moment: test for dryness by inserting a bent cotton swab. If the paint stays in place when touched, use the swab to dab on a tiny amount of undiluted paint to cover gaps. For a longer reach, overlap the ends of two swabs and secure them with a twist tie.
• Replace the cap very carefully. The paint, although permanent, is delicate inside there. The “prongs” that hold the cap on could easily scratch your hard-won creation.

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Peacock • The only one that worked well and dried properly with minimal cracking. I must have got the amount and thickness of paint just right.

• Longevity. Only time will tell how long these ornaments will last. I suspect the paint may continue to crack as it hardens, especially in dry winter climes with central heating and little humidity. When I started this project, I was hoping to make a witch ball – you know, like those beautiful blown glass balls hung in windows as a good luck house blessing. Now I’m afraid to do this with the ones I’ve made, as the paint may not hold up to exposure to sunlight.

Have you tried any DIY projects from Pinterest or similar sources? Were they successful, so-so, or an unmitigated disaster? Please share your experiences! And if you’ve tried to make painted ornaments like these, please let me know how you got on.

The Warmth of Wood

The sub-boreal forests of southern Ontario furnish the material I use to make rustic, nature-inspired necklaces. I gather fallen branches from the wooded island in Muskoka which has been in my family for more than 100 years. Centuries before that, the lake provided rich hunting and fishing grounds and portage routes for native peoples (our family has found arrowheads and a stone pounding tool on the island), and in the late 1800s and early 1900s boasted a thriving logging and boat-building industry. We have several tree species on the island: white and red pine, white and red oak, eastern white cedar, common juniper, red maple, poplar and white birch. But although we’re surrounded by trees, it’s harder than you might think to find appropriate specimens to turn into jewellery; the wood must be seasoned, not green, and can have no signs of pests, disease or rot, and I never harvest living wood. Only a handful of branches I find on the forest floor will make the cut, so to speak!

wood-types

(Clockwise from top left) Mighty Oak and Strength – his & her pendants of red oak; common juniper Ginny necklace; Balance – red maple bead on genuine leather choker; Arbor Vitae cedar pendant on silver-plated ball chain; Beorc pendant of white birch on cotton twist cord

I prefer to use the most natural materials and tools possible (I do use an electric drill and a woodburning tool), and it takes several days to complete each necklace. I hand-saw each slice, drill a bail hole and sand with five successively finer grits until the surface is silky smooth. Some pendants I leave unadorned in order to highlight the wood grain; oak, juniper, cedar, birch and maple are particularly beautiful, each with its own character. Then I seal the piece with two coats of non-toxic linseed/beeswax wood oil. I finish by buffing on several layers of beeswax polish for further protection and a subtle, natural sheen.

pyrography

Pyrography on white pine (clockwise from top left): Fyrre; Dark Forest I, first in a mystical forest series; 12 of the Elder Futhark runes shown on the reverse side of this Runic Wheel pendant (other 12 on the front); Make a Wish pendant with ceramic bead

For other pieces, especially those made of pine, the pale wood of which makes a perfect canvas, I embellish with pyrography (woodburning). Most of the designs are my own, applied freehand without a pattern or transfer. I enjoy incorporating motifs from nature, or Celtic or Norse art and traditions; runes, Ogham and Viking sigils work particularly well. I do sell these pieces internationally, so I’m obliged to follow my government’s phytosanitary regulations. Any wood I export must be small, have no bark, and be sealed to prevent the spread of pests to the destination country. I’d love to be able to keep the bark on some of my pieces, but I can’t risk the chance of them being seized at the border – and, therefore, not delivered to my customers. So I came up with an easy way of simulating bark by using pyrography to burn on the effect around the edges.

tinted

Watercolour pencils add a tinted wash to Fantasy Butterfly and Greenman pendants

I’ve also experimented with adding colour to the designs. Watercolour pencils are perfect, rather than paint, which would introduce too much moisture to the wood. Their wash of colour lends a soft antique effect that I quite like.

shapes

(Clockwise from top left) Ancient Irish Ogham “LOVE” burned into oak; the simple beauty of red oak in this long Druid pendant; Protect – handmade white cedar bead on leather

I also like varying the shapes of the pendants. Cutting the branch in crosswise slices results in discs with lovely end grain patterns. Thinner branches of the same woods can be cut lengthwise to reveal a completely different grain effect, and any knots, sanded smooth, add even more rustic character. They can be cut longer for pendants or kept small and drilled through the centre to make beads. I like to give my customers choices for cords or chains, too. Waxed cotton, hemp, soft jute, macramé cord, ribbon and genuine leather are natural cord options, and I can add glass or ceramic beads (a good way of weighing down the lightweight wood pendants), finishing them with either adjustable sliding knots or metal findings and a clasp. I also offer chains in different metals including nickel-, silver- and copper-plate.

talismans

Red oak pocket talismans (clockwise from top left): Faerie Star, a.k.a. Elven Star; Gibu Auja, a Norse good luck bindrune; Aegishjalmr a.k.a. Viking Helm of Awe, an Icelandic sigil of protection and invincibility; Three Wishes dandelion motif

The same production techniques lend themselves to non-jewellery items, too. Oak, a durable hardwood, is suitable for keychain fobs. I’ve used oak and other woods to make toggle closures for my drawstring leather bags. And wood slices without bail holes, pyrographed with good luck and protection symbols such as the Scandinavian Aegishjalmr and Gibu Auja, are popular. They are pocket talismans or amulets intended to be carried rather than worn; I’ve been meaning to make up some unbleached muslin drawstring bags to pop them into. Time to get out the sewing machine!

Most of the items shown here have been sold. I really must get on with making more to replenish the shop. Earlier this year, my brother gave me some lilac and linden branches from storm-damaged or pruned trees. They’re still drying out and seasoning, but I’m dying to give them a go. And I’m always looking for ideas for new designs; if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

Steel Spirals and Crystal Drops

I wasn’t intending to post any more chainmaille for a while, but a conversation yesterday with fellow bloggers over at PaperPuff and samanthamurdochblog inspired me to make these earrings. (If you haven’t visited their wonderful sites yet, please do if you have a moment!)

The conversation concerned crystal drops – of the paper arts as well as beading kind. Puff informed us that her sort of crystal drops are a type of glittery jelly-like adhesive stuff. Samantha and I were thinking more along the lines of shimmering glass or acrylic beads, and, as it turned out, we both had these items already in our craft rooms. I had bought a strand of beautiful clear glass beads weeks ago, fully intending to use them with my chainmaille. Not surprisingly, I hadn’t yet got around to it.

20161113_020122-3Suitably motivated, I got out my pliers after finishing my blog rounds, and started mailling. For these earrings, I took small 20 gauge stainless steel rings and wove them using the Double Spiral pattern. Also known as the Spiral 8 in 2, Rope Weave or Serpentine, this is a classic chain often used for necklaces and bracelets. Essentially, as the name suggests, it’s a 4 in 1 Spiral with each ring doubled. Unlike that weave, however, which will untwist if you don’t anchor the ends while you work, the Double Spiral holds its shape without the need for stabilization. I added the glass beads with their slight aurora borealis iridescence, and hung the chains on stainless steel earwires. In all, they dangle about 1.75 inches from the earlobe.

Naturally, I had to call these little beauties Crystal Drops. I think they’d work beautifully any time of year, but they do remind me of frozen tears or icicles. A perfect way to usher in the coldest months of the year!

20161113_014716-3Thank you to Samantha and Puff for the inspiration as well as the lively and amusing dialogue; I truly appreciate your support. And I think Samantha owes us a photo – when the time comes – of her crystal-adorned Christmas tree!

Chainmaille Mania (Part 3)

Here are a few designs that I came up with based on popular chainmaille weaves:

lil-owlL’il Owl is based on a Byzantine link. When a Byzantine segment is viewed from the top, it reminds me of a perched owl, so I decided to modify it and incorporate different metals and glass beads to make birdlike earrings. Here I’ve used solid copper, bronze and anodized aluminum and hung them on brass earwires. Anodized aluminum has a shiny, coloured coating added by the same process used to produce cookware. Since making these, I’ve acquired more earthtone colours such as brown, yellow and orange that will probably make the owl design a bit more obvious. Chainmaille earrings, especially those made of aluminum, are a joy to wear because they’re so lightweight!

big-blue-marbleUsing the captive technique, Big Blue Marble is a keychain of Japanese weave, caging a large glass marble in heavy-gauge aluminum rings. I had no pattern or specifications to work from; I just experimented until I got the proportions right. The marble is captured securely but still rotates, so it’s fun to play with and can be used as a worry stone! The fob hangs on a sturdy 3 in 3 aluminum chain. Aluminum chainmaille is quite hardy, but I now have stainless steel rings that would work well for this type of design and make it virtually indestructible.

I modified the European 4 in 1 weave with an element of my own to make this Fire & Ice ring, using two sizes of anodized aluminum and solid bronze rings instead of just one. The wide band is lightweight and flexible, rolls onto the finger and holds its shape.fire-iceIf you missed my previous two posts on making chainmaille jewellery, see Part One and Part Two here. If you are interested in purchasing any of my work, or would like to discuss a custom or personalized order, please contact me through my Etsy shop!