Jewelry Making Highlights from Bead Fest: What I Saw, What I Learned, What I Bought!

The final Bead Fest for 2015 has come and gone, and it went out with a bang! Literally, if you happened to be there and walked through the jewelry classroom area where students in various metalsmithing and other jewelry making classes were making hammer music–including me! I was lucky to take a metal clay class with the wonderful Ed and Martha Biggar and a beyond-basics enameling class with Susan Lenart Kazmer.

ABOVE: Some of the courses Susan offers at Bead Fest!

You’re right, I already know metal clay and enamel, but in addition to brushing up on skills and the pure fun of taking a jewelry making class with great teachers and friends, I find that I learn so much when I take a course on one topic from more than one teacher. You know you have good teachers when you learn a bunch of great technique info and tips in a class on a topic you already know! And I learned so many good tips from Ed, Martha, and Susan–as well as from other students in the class as we shared our own knowledge and experiences. I’ll share some of those tips in coming weeks, including enameling tips. But first, let’s see what else was happenin’ at Bead Fest Philly 2015!

Bill Fretz hammers I spent the first day walking the show floor and shopping. I bought pearls (of course), but I also focused on tools and gemstones. That means a visit to Bill Fretz. I finally bought my first Fretz hammer–the HRM 14 silk texture hammer that was my favorite when working in Lexi’s studio with her years ago. (She has a whole wall of Fretz hammers, swoon!) Bill let me draw the winner of his giveaway, too, so to whoever won his gift certificate on Friday, you’re welcome! 😉

gemstones from Village SilversmithsI spent ages going through the trays at the Village Silversmiths booth (even though I had just shopped with them a month prior at a gem show in Franklin, NC–you can never have too many gems!). I ended up with a big aquamarine faceted cabochon and a huge 66-carat red rutilated quartz, which is going to make me one faaabulous ring. Plus, I couldn’t resist some of the druzy roses I keep seeing in big prong rings, too. They remind me of the beach.

Vilma Dallas Magic Blossoms glassI met the lovely Vilma Dallas of Dallas Designs when her Magic Blossoms glass flower necklace caught my eye. She told me a fun story about a customer trying to figure out how she made them–which is to say, I have no idea or hints to share with you! Each flower is a sparkling, iridescent little beauty, but altogether in a necklace, they’re breathtaking, aren’t they? Fit for a Disney princess . . . or even a real princess . . . or me when I want to feel like a princess!

I bought some other gemstones and gem beads, including a strand of crystal quartz points that are going to be wire into a tiara (hehe) and some really fine, faceted moonstone teardrop beads that, it just occurs to me, would be so divine with one of Vilma’s beautiful glass Magic Blossoms. (Note to self, there’s more shopping to do!) I bought some textured metal strips, some soldering supplies and a leather sandbag from the Metalliferous folks–I was glad to have a chance to shop with them in person, having been a longtime online fan.

Gwen Youngblood for WubbersI got to see great friends, including Wyatt White showing off Beadalon’s awesome bracelet jig, Gwen Youngblood giving demos of some of my favorite Wubbers pliers and new hammers, and Ashley and Abby manning (or woman-ning?) the Xuron booth, where I told everyone who came by about my favorite Xuron needle-nose pliers and metal scissors.

Speaking of great jewelry-making tools, you already know I’m a fan of Beadalon’s Knot-a-Bead, and I found another great knotting tool at Bead Fest when I met Reenie Oliveto and tried her Easy Knotter. It’s simple–a rectangular block with a pin in the center, on which you tie the knots–but what I find so handy are the measurements along the block. They allow you to knot beads or pearls at equal points on a cord, like tin-cup style necklaces, so each one is the same distance from the others. You can also use it to knot beads and pearls traditionally, close together.

Brenda Schweder wire jewelry jigI’m always inspired seeing the artistic wire designs in the lovely Brenda Schweder’s Now That’s A Jig! booth. She had lots of gorgeous wire pieces on display, along with her projects from being Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry magazine’s artist of the year. Brenda’s bold wire designs are the reason I got turned onto dark steel bailing wire, which you can get in a coil so big you can hardly carry it for about five bucks at the hardware store. It looks great paired with silver, colorful fibers, or alone, and her jig and jig pliers help even the least artistic among us make great wire shapes and components.

Thomas Mann jeweler's sawIt was great to see Thomas Mann and his whimsical jewelry in person again; even when I look at a piece I’ve seen before, I seem to find some new detail each time. I caught him giving a free sawing lesson to many interested onlookers.

Echo Artworks sprockets and pollymer clay from HumblebeadsI always try to branch out of my metal world and get some colorful glass or polymer clay beads when I got to shows. Before I went to Bead Fest this year, I had seen Heather Powers’ Humblebeads acorns, mushrooms, and pretty bird beads on Facebook, so those were on my shopping list. But it was serendipity when I stopped by to see Beth at Echo Artworks and found these fun vintage Swarovski “sprockets” that are going to make the most fabulous spinner ring EVER.

Julie Miller glass and Fire and Fibers glass flowerA few years ago I bought two of these glass balls with sterling silver cap bails from Julie Miller glass, but I haven’t ever used them because, you know, I only had two and had to hoard them. So I was happy to see her at Bead Fest again and to get more of those great little glass ball charms. Now maybe I can actually use some to make beachy pendants with sand and the teeniest shells you’ve ever seen–and possibly one filled with fairy dust (aka glitter). And since I have a flower ring problem (in that I put every flower bead or component I see on my hand to see how cute it would be as a ring), I had to get this pretty red glass flower from Elizabeth Girod of Fire and Fiber.

pyrite beads Dakota StonesLook at these huge pyrite beads from Dakota Stones! Eat your heart out, Wilma and Betty. These are outrageous!

I also bought a sampler pack of the 3M sanding sponges that Lexi raves about and guess what? I’ve already used them and now I see what all the buzz is about! They’re awesome. I should’ve gotten more than one pack.

Danny Wade metal stampsWhen the end of the day rolled around, I was dragging my loot back to the car (through the classroom area so I could hear more of that sweet hammer music!), and I bumped into the lovely lady solderer herself, Kate Richbourg. Such a treat to see her more than the once-a-year glimpse in Tucson, and we had a nice little visit that got even better when the sweet and talented metal and mixed-media artist Jen Cushman joined us. Yay for jewelry girl time! And then Kate made my day by gifting me these awesome handmade metal stamps and told me the story of their creator, Danny Wade.

And that’s how Friday was at Bead Fest.

On Saturday in my metal clay class, Ed and Martha introduced us to Prometheus copper and bronze clay. I originally signed up for the class because I’d heard it was a metal clay you can fire with a torch–which is true, but as it turns out, clay fired in this way doesn’t sinter completely and a kiln is still best. (Dear Santa…) But I had a great time playing with a material I rarely get to enjoy. I love the way metal clay takes a texture and trying all kinds of ways to texture it, and I love the magic that happens when my steel brush and I get down to business with metal clay pieces after they’ve been fired. It still amazes me, every single time!

metal clay test samplesWhile we were discussing all the different kinds of silver and base metal clays (there are so many now!), Martha shared the text samplers she makes to compare shrinkage and such between the different kinds of clay, because it seems like she has tried them all. This is a great idea to help you remember the ones you like or don’t like and also to see how thick they are at three, seven, or 10 cards, etc.

metal clay textured pieces I enjoyed using alphabet stamps in wet clay to make fun comic-book-style messages on rings, along with Martha’s own twig and queen Anne’s lace molds. I love stamping buttons and rubber stamps in metal clay, too, and these bronze and copper clays are so affordable, you can make big textured pieces.

Martha also introduced me to Gloves in a Bottle, a lotion that you apply before using your hands in messy work like metal clay, which helps you wash up easier when you’re done. Super bonus: When I opened my little metal clay toolbox that I haven’t used in about two years, I found a bunch of silver PMC that I forgot I had! Sweet.

liquid enamel Susan Lenart KazmerOn Sunday, I took the enameling class with Susan to try out some special enameling techniques, to work with a kiln for enameling since I always torch fire, and to be a student in a classroom with a friend I’ve known for years but never taken a class with! She’s such an energetic, creative, encouraging teacher, I can’t wait to learn with her again.

liquid enamel samplersI focused mostly on liquid enamels in Susan’s class, which I had hardly used before, and I’ve already placed my order for my own liquid enamel powders. I’m hooked! I didn’t realize how fun or valuable it would be to me to be able to paint on layer after layer of enamel. Liquid enamels allow for more design control, of course, but also for more color options, because you can mix liquid enamels to create new colors, unlike traditional 80-mesh enamels. I also enjoyed trying crackle effects and was thrilled to pull this piece (below) out of the kiln. It’s two thick layers of clear crackle enamel on bare copper followed by a layer of black on top, fired in three separate layers. Love it!

crackle enamelI also learned a fun idea in Susan’s class when I saw a talented young student use a micro torch on the edges of a piece of leather she was using to make a bail. It created a unique aged, worn feel. You can also sand leather edges for another cool aging effect.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but it’ll come to me and I’ll share eventually. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little diary of Bead Fest fun. If you were there, too, please tell me all about it in the comments below! And if any of these people, supplies, or techniques have you itching to learn something new or expand your skills, now’s the time to sign up for classes and plan your own adventure at the next Bead Fest!

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