Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Eclipse on the Solstice

On the solstice, December 20, we were treated to a spectacular show, a total lunar eclipse at midnight here on the Pacific Coast. We are in the midst of winter storms with lots of rain coming in succession from Hawaii or from the Gulf of Alaska. So our weather vacillates between warm and cool storms. That evening by some amazing coincidence the clouds parted to give us a glorious show. We were able to see the full moon with stars and the Orion constellation, and then through various cloud veils and at times complete clearings, we could see the moon as it eclipsed. At total eclipse the moon was in a clearing and as a bonus we saw an orange shooting star and it crossed right in front of Orion. I still can't believe it.

In anticipation of the eclipse, my husband, Nicolai set up his art supplies outside on a table under the clouds. The clouds parted from time to time to reveal the moon in the penumbral shadow. The drawings below are his recording of the event.

This is the first lunar eclipse to fall on the winter solstice since 1638. The next solstice eclipse will be in 2094. In the meantime there will be lunar eclipses at other times during the year.

To see more of Nicolai's work go to his website:
www.nicolailarsen.com or Facebook/Nicolai Larsen

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tips: Best Ways of Loading Beads onto Cords

I get several emails a week asking me for the best way to load beads onto nylon bonded cord such as the C-Lon Cords or Nylon #18.

Here are some suggestions:
  • Big eye needles
  • Tapestry Needles or Beading Needles preferably with blunt ends such as bead Embroidery Needles - Size depending on the cord and beads sizes
  • Collapsible needles such as a Griffin needles
  • Threaders such as fine cord to pull your cord through. For example using C-Lon Micro Cord to pull through C-Lon Bead Cord. You can also use a needle attached to the threader or make a self needle with the threader.
  • Self needles using Fray Check by dipping or rubbing some Fray Check onto the end of the cord. Let dry overnight or at least for a few hours. Cut the cord at an angle and use it as a needle. Re-cut at needed.
  • Self needles with beeswax. Shred the cord with the blade of a scissor or a razor blade. Wax it. Shred it again and wax it until you get a nice point. Cut the end at an angle. Roll it with you fingers into a nice point.
The first 4 methods let you insert the beads with an actual needle, so they can be a bit faster than self needles. But since you also have to get the folded cord through the bead, it is sometimes too bulky for finer beads or thicker cords.

Loading beads with a self needle is best for beads with fine holes such as pearls, or when you wish to insert more than one cord into a bead.

Beeswax has several advantages over the Fray Check method. The beeswax does not require waiting for drying time. Fray Check tends to thicken the cord, whereas the beeswax self needle with a little practice gets the cord into a fine point that can get through finer beads than any of the other methods described above.

Note: Not all beeswaxes are equal. Some are sticky as they have too much residue left inside. My beekeeper tells me that the beeswax quality also depend on the bees diet. His thrive on a varied diet from the hills of the California coastal range from South San Francisco to the Santa Cruz Mountains, making his beeswax nice and hard. I leave mine close to a light so it soften a bit with heat, and applies more easily to the cord. Then it can harden right onto the cord making a sturdy self needle.

Of course in the end it is best to try all the different methods, find your personal preferences and your favorite way for specific projects!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Playing with Kumihimo Braids

I first encountered the name 'kumihimo' in 1978 at a show when the Kliots, textile specialists from Berkeley exclaimed in front of my exhibit that I was doing kumihimo. I had learned my braiding techniques from a sailor's book on knots. Upon their recommendation, I got their booklet, the first publication in English on kumihimo and a marudai.  I tried the marudai but I preferred braiding by hand. I have since played with the disk, mostly for fun...

In July at Convergence in Albuquerque I picked up some hand dyed ribbon with gold metallic to play with. I incorporated this ribbon, C-Lon Bead Cord and 4mm Miyuki Matagamas beads and finished the ends with sterling silver end clasps. The way the Magatamas beads stick out of the braid is fun, but of course you can do this type of braids with regular seed beads.

Materials: Rayon Ribbon, C-Lon Bead Cord, C-Lon Micro Cord, 4mm Miyuki Magatama Beads, 5.8mm inside diameter Kumihimo Sterling Silver End Clasp

Tools: 1 Kumihimo Disk, 8 Small E-Z Bobs, 1 Big Eye Needle, 1 Mini-Clamp, Scissors, Gardening Shears or Heavy Duty Scissors, Poly Zap Super Glue.

Here are the basic steps:

1. Lay 7-strand of ribbon and 1 strand of C-Lon Bead Cord loaded with beads.
For the first braid shown in the foreground, I used 7 strands of ribbon
following the dye variations of the ribbon fairly closely so the ribbon strand would shift color at about the same time and 1 strand of C-Lon Bead Cord Medium Purple on which I inserted Magatama beads. I used a mix of two colors: Matte Black AB and of Metallic Dark Blue Iris from Caravan Beads (10 g. tube each). I loaded them at raandom, half of the beads onto the cord with a big eye needle and half way through the braid when I run out, I added the rest.

2. With a piece of C-Lon Micro Cord, tie all the strand together and wrap the end with a tight cork screw type of wrap, finished by a few half-hitches. This end is now ready for the end clasp. Clip the end with a mini-clamp.

3. Lay the 8 strands (7 ribbon strands, 1 C-Lon Bead Cord with the inserted beads) onto the Kumihimo Disk and insert them into the slots.

4. Wrap all the strand individually onto the small E-Z Bobs. For the C-Lon Bead Cord strand with beads have most of the beads inside the E-Z Bob with a few left on the outside ready to pop into the braid.

4. Braid using the very basic 8-strand round braid. After the first half inch, slide a bead in every time when braiding with the C-Lon Bead Cord and 'catch' the bead right behind the last strand.

5. Continue until desired length is achieved, leaving the last half inch without beads. Tie with a piece of C-Lon Micro Cord with a few half-hitches.

6. Remove from disk and make a tight cork screw wrap with the C-Lon Micro Cord, finished with a few half-hitches.

7. Glue the ends with Poly Zap Superglue after making sure the ends diameter fits into your end clasps.

8. Cut the ends with shears right into the glued area.

8. Glue into the end clasps.

Variations with 2 Strands of C-Lon Bead Cord with Beads:

The center braid was done with 6 strands of variegated rayon ribbon with gold metallic accent, 2 strands of C-Lon Bead Cord and 4mm Miyuki Matagama beads.
I chose Indigo C-Lon Bead Cord with Matte Light Topaz Magatamas and Celadon C-Lon Bead Cord with Matte Sea Glass Green Magatamas interspersed at random with occasional Matte Black AB Magatamas to add a bit of interest. I laid the C-Lon Bead Cord originally on two adjacent quadrants next to each other on the right of #32 and the left of #8.

Note about the basic round braid: The basic round braid is made by setting up your strands on the two slots on each side of #32, #8, #16 and #24. Then facing #32, move the bottom left strand up on the left of #31, the right strand down to the right of #15. Then turn the disk counterclockwise a quarter turn (90º) and repeat the same movement: bottom left up, top right down without crossing the center line... and turn the disk counterclockwise... and repeat... bottom left up and top right down... turn counterclockwise...

With this braid once you get started, you do not need to pay attention to the numbers. The strands will actually turn around the disk.

If you stop, either leave 3 strands up to find quickly where to continue or just look at the center to see which 2 strands were the last ones to cross over and continue with the opposite group.

You can make this braid without the beads. One of my customer sent me a picture of a braid made without the beads with a central focal beads made by a local lampwork artist. I lost it in my inbox. As soon as I find it I will post it!

A limited number of Hand Dyed Rayon and Metallic Ribbon, C-Lon Bead Cord & Bead Kumihimo Kits are now available > New Kumihimo Ribbon & Bead Kits

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nylon for Jewelry... Bonded or Waxed?

And more about bond than you probably want to know...

Nylon #18, a cord made originally for upholstery, used to be available waxed or bonded in the U.S., but sometimes in the late 70's the waxed variety became discontinued most likely due to the demand. The bonded kind must have surpassed the waxed one.

Nylon was originally invented in 1935 by Wallace Hume Carothers at DuPont as an alternative to silk for stockings. Nylon is a continuous fiber like filament silk making nylon thread and cord very strong. Whereas polyester is a spun fiber mimicking cotton with shorter fibers spun into thread. Spun thread or cord is usually less strong, has more stetch and breaks more easily when pulled. This makes cotton or polyester good choice for sewing as they are less slippery, but not as good for jewelry as they are not as strong as filament fibers such as filament silk and nylon.

For making jewelry, waxed cord is a bit easier to knot, but bonded nylon once you get past the learning curve, is a better choice.

Bonded nylon versus waxed nylon
  • Better abrasion resistance
  • Easier to undo knots
  • Bond outlast wax
  • Wax is allergenic
Bond? What is it and all about it...

What is bond? Bond is a coating applied the cord after it has been plied. It hold all the nylon filament together and adds durability. It adds a tough, smooth protective coating. This increases its abrasion resistance. The bond is essential for working with beads and for jewelry making, but of course how much bond is desired is a real complex question... too much bond creates a thread that is stiffer... too little may be too soft... and...

Occasionally bond issue or a change in the bond quality occurs, such as the changes happening right now with the Conso Nylon #18. The newer supply has completely different bond quality than the older supply and the newer dye lots do not match previous ones.

Another problem encountered sometimes is called 'bond whitening'. This problem seems to occur when the cord has been exposed to too much temperature difference. It always seems to occur in the middle of the summer or winter... and may be due to extreme temperatures in delivery truck.  Occasionally it appears over time or when the manipulation of the thread creates a lot of abrasion. Here is the explanation and solution from one of the C-Lon factory expert. I tried it and it works.

To make bobbins stick together and hold their shape, bond and tack is applied to the thread. This coating is critical in keeping the plies together and the thread consistently wound in a finished bobbin. When the bond or tack experiences friction or abrasion, it will go from its transparent form to more of a white/grey color....think of cooled wax. When you break a colored candle, at the crack or breaking point you see white in the color. This whitening is going to happen with all colors but shows up more in the dark colors and is almost impossible to completely avoid. It can be worse when the bond level is on the heavy side.

One way to correct the whitening or dulling of the color after the thread has seen friction or abrasion is to rub a bit of alcohol across it. The alcohol activates the bond back to it's translucent form. This whitening is more noticeable in the darker colors and the heavier sizes.

Some waxed nylon is still available but mostly in just black and white. I ordered some samples a while ago, but only black was available. A waxed polyester named Linhasita is available in South America and some bead stores in Mexico but it is difficult to find in the U.S.. It is made for sewing leather and shoes. Occasionally I get a request for this thread, and I got some from the factory in Brazil, but it does not ages well over time, plus I am allergic to its wax.

I have been making jewelry with bonded nylon and silk all my professional life. Some of my pieces in my personal collection were made many years ago and have been worn extensively. Other than a slight fading and an occasional washing, they are in remarkable shapes.

In 2005 after a disruption of bonded nylon supply, I started an online supply store specializing in thread & cord for my students. It features bonded nylons & silks. - Marion

Thinking about Macrame on Columbus Day...

Today during my son's music rehearsal with the Peninsula Youth Orchestra, I got a chance to walk along the Redwood Shore Bay Trail. It is part of The Bay Trail Project, a walking and biking trail that goes all around the Bay. While walking I watched the human development along the way, like the Oracle Buildings, and the wild life like the Belmont Slough, a jack rabbit, many birds and the crescent moon in the western sky.

Since today is Columbus Day, I also had a chance to ponder on the court of Isabella of Spain which sent Columbus to discover the Americas, the impact this court has had on world history and the development of the American continent, including the human development I was gazing at while walking. It reminded me also closer to home on how this court was responsible for the first 'Macrame Craze' way back in the 15th and 16th century.

Macrame work done in the 16th Century

Parts of Spain had been under Moorish rule for almost 800 years. The Moor civilization was artistic, scientific and commercial, but also incredibly tolerant of other races and cultures. During part of its rein, Muslim, Christian and Jewish culture were able to flourish together in relative peace. Ferdinand and Isabella recaptured Spain with the fall of Granada in 1492, but some Moors remained and continued to have an impact on Spain's culture. Later on Isabella also started the Spanish Inquisition after having a vision... Talk about bad juju... But back to my main topic...

Macrame is one of the cross cultural exchange from this period. The word macrame comes from Arabic and means either towel or fringe and would have then described the knotted fringes on tablecloth or shawls fashioned with knots. Macrame spread from Queen Isabella's court to the other courts of Europe, France and Italy. Macrame had a revival with Macrame Lace during the Victorian Era in England in the 19th century, along side with also the golden age of nautical knotting and fancy rope work. Sailors, mostly on whaling ships, would fashion work during quiet times to sell at port of calls for extra income.

Later in the beginning of the 20th century Cavandoli became the name for a specialty or branch of macrame started by Valentina Cavandoli, a teacher in Italy (See my earlier blog on Valentina Cavandoli).

Much of the knotting and macrame work done in the past was outstanding and is still a source of inspiration to this day.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tubular Bead Crochet Ropes, the Easy Way!

After I opened my online store for nylon cord, originally meant for my students, I encountered many questions about bead crochet and decided to learn about it in my spare time. First I educated myself with a few books, then took a class making a necklace with single chain crochet - See my earlier blog entry. I also tried to teach myself tubular bead crochet ropes with mixed result as I could never get the first inch to look like it should, so I gave it up and planned to try again at some future time.

The solution arrived when I met a Bay Area jewelry designer and teacher who got so frustrated trying to teach tubular bead crochet to her students that she found a better way. She created a small tool to support the beginning of the crochet tube and came up with a foolproof method. Her small tool, a jig, help stabilize the first few inches of the crochet rope and it make all the difference. She has a patent pending on her jig and method. In the meantime, she gave me a jig and tutorial to try. The tutorial has over 60 closeup color photos and clear instructions.

On my first try, the sample rope was perfect. When I moved on to make a full bangle, a few times I had to undo and redo a row as I had not placed a bead in the right place. If you get careless as I did, you will see it right away as the bead does not move to the right place when working the next row. Here is my first completed bracelet!

It is best to start with 6/0 seed beads and C-Lon Bead Cord (the standard size). The 6/0s are about 4mm in diameter. I started with Miyuki beads from Caravan Beads and mixed different finishes. I worked with 5 color groups of beads, with 80 beads in each group, but had to remove some of the beads as the bracelet was too long. I recommend sizing your bangle before the final stitching of the cord and adding or removing rows if necessary. Mine still ended up a bit large for my wrist. I will size the next one better. One of the color I used is a mix, another two colors used at random to add a bit of spice. Using 5 distinct colors on the first few bracelet is best as it help keep track the crochet stitches. I used one of the new C-Lon Bead Cord color Argentum. One spool has enough yardage to make over 8 bracelets. My focal bead is a piece of coral and the bead ropes are finished with antiqued brass bead caps I got from B'Sue Boutiques.

The crochet starter jig and the tutorial on the CD teaches not only tubular bead crochet but also how to make the bangle bracelet shown above from start to finish. The pdf document on the CD can be downloaded and looked on screen with a pdf reader or it can be printed of course. You will need seed beads size 6 in 5 colors, 2 12mm end caps, a focal bead, 30 feet of 0.5mm bonded nylon cord such as C-Lon Bead Cord, Bonded Nylon #18 or Tuff bead Cord Size 5 to make the bracelet. As to tools you will need a steel crochet hook, a big eye needle to load the bead unto the thread, a mini-clip to hold the loop when taking a break or removing the crochet tube from the jig, a tapestry needle to finish the piece.

The tutorial has in addition information on measurements, optional designs such as an endless ropes, adding findings and suggestions for design changes.

Of course as soon as you master the ropes with 6/0s beads, you can move to smaller seed beads or to random patterns. Here is sample made with seed beads size 8. I used the new C-Lon Fine Weight Bead Cord Tex 135 for easy loading of the beads, and of course smaller crochet hooks. I also found out that the ropes made with Miyuki size 8 seed beads fit perfectly included in one of the silver clasp I carry. It is a 9mm sterling silver kumihimo clasp. Yes, because it is made out of solid silver, it is a bit expensive, but it would be great for a special neckpiece. I will try as soon as I have some spare time to do additional samples and will come back here to post the results. In the meantime, I will return to my usual field of expertise, knotting, micro macrame, Cavandoli knotting, braiding and cord making interspersed by a few other fiber and jewelry techniques to keep me on my toes.

The jig and tutorial is still not widely available, but Randi at StudioDax has agreed to let me offer them for sale. So get one and be on your way to learn this wonderful method to make tubular bead crochet rope, the easy way!

Order the Bead Crochet Rope Starter Jig and Tutorial at www.store.jewelsinfiber/crochet.html

Additional note: I do not usually work with seed beads or haven't really since I was a teenager. I played then with recycled French beads recovered from beaded flowers at cemetery after the wire decayed from exposure to the elements. At the time I made bangle bracelets using an Afghan method or I embroidered seed beads on my jeans, but of course just for fun. I have always admired the work done by beaders with seed beads and the incredible patience it requires! - Marion

Sunday, February 7, 2010

C-Lon versus S-Lon

I get many questions about Superlon or S-Lon and the difference between this product and C-Lon.C-Lon first produced the C-Lon Bead Thread in Size D in December 2002. In March 2005 the Super-Lon Beading Thread, a 'new product', was announced by another company.

C-Lon started producing C-Lon Bead Cord in 24 colors, then 32, now 88 and soon 104. Superlon or S-Lon is now producing S-Lon Bead Cord in 65 colors. Some of the color names are different, but the actual colors and quality of the thread seem to match C-Lon exactly. The spools sizes and yardage are different. C-Lon Bead Cord used to have 86 yards per spool, new production has 92 yards. S-Lon Bead Cord 77 yards.

In 2007 C-Lon added the C-Lon Micro Cord, now available in 32 colors. S-Lon in late 2009 announced a new cord called Superlon or S-Lon Micro Cord available in 8 colors. The spool size is different and yardage 10% lower than C-Lon, 287 yards versus 320 yards.

When the S-Lon Bead Cord was announced, I remember questioning the name and wondering if it would the same product as C-Lon, but some of the color names were different so I hoped it would be new colors... When I received my order I was so disappointed as it was the same exact cord in the same exact colors a C-Lon, most likely made in the same exact factory, so a knock-off product... Of course all perfectly legal... just as Starbucks moving next to local espresso bars, large box stores putting smaller stores out of business, and then raising their prices... all part of the great game of competition... but we can choose whom we support.

When I opened the online store in 2006, many of my students could not find bonded nylon in their local bead stores. Only coated wire for stringing beads was easily available. I started the store with C-Lon and then expanded to all the nylons I use in my own work. I do not carry S-Lon nor plan on using it. Should you?

Photo: The spools on the left are the C-Lon Bead Cord. The shorter, plumper spools on the right are the S-Lon Bead Cord. Shorter yardage on S-Lon by 10-12%.

May 18, 2015 Update

C-Lon developed the Tex 400 size starting in 2008 with 24 colors. They have since added new colors in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015. The last 8 new colors of C-Lon Tex 400 arrived in February this year, bringing the collection up to 108 colors.

This month, I received a notice that S-lon has added new colors of Tex 400 bringing their collection to 100 colors. I am not even going to check on their colors as most likely they are the same with some name changes to keep everyone confused. 

Here is what's available at this time - May 2015

108 Colors of C-Lon Tex 400 Bead Cord - Heavyweight Tex 400 ~ Ø 0.9 mm - 39 yd/36 m
S-Lon has now caught up with 100 colors - 35 yards per spool

108 Colors of C-Lon Bead Cord  - Standard #18 Size Tex 210 ~ Ø 0.5 mm - 92 yd/84 m
S-Lon - 100 colors - 77 yards per spool

44 Colors of C-Lon Fine Weight Bead Cord - Tex 135 ~ Ø 0.4 mm - 136 yd/124 m
S-Lon - 27 colors - 118 yards per spool

32 Colors of C-Lon Micro Bead Cord - Tex 70  ~ Ø 0.115 mm
S-Lon - 17 colors - 287 yards per spool

39 Colors of C-Lon Bead Thread - Size D - Tex 45 ~ Ø 0.11 mm - 80 yd/73 m
S-Lon - 36 colors - 75 yards per spool

36 Colors of C-Lon Bead Thread - Size AA - Tex 35 ~ Ø 0.09 mm - 75 yd/69 m
S-Lon - 36 colors - 75 yards per spool

Friday, January 29, 2010

Workshop and Presentation in Bemidji?

Occasionally a workshop get initiated under unusual circumstances. I came in contact with Dawn, the creator of intricate knotted creations a few years ago, when she was looking for mentor in the art of Cavandoli knotting. Then again when she was looking for thread. We have corresponded by email since. I included some of her beautiful creations in the presentation on 'Cords, Thread and Fiber Jewelry'.

This visual presentation premiered last August to the Bead Society of Northern California. It was received positively and described as a feast for the eyes, or pure 'eye candy'. See August 18, 2009 entry. Initially this presentation was supposed to be all about cord and thread, but when I requested digital images from friends, designers and customers to show the wide span of work being currently created with cord and thread, I got such a wonderful array of images that the presentation was transformed to an incredible array of artwork done in various fiber techniques. I thank everyone who contributed work to the visual presentation and it will be a pleasure to present it again in Fresno, California on March 20, and in Bemidji, Minnesota on March 26. Cord and thread, and the work done with it is a subject I am passionate about!

Last October, somehow in our emails, the subject of teaching came up, and I told Dawn that I would teach anywhere as long as I am invited. Dawn became the local coordinator, organizing the partial funding from the local arts council, Region 2 Arts Council, making this weekend workshop and presentation possible.
At the time she told me she was in Minnesota, but I did not think beyond that. We worked on the actual program to create a weekend program during which students would learn a wide range of techniques that would be of interest to fiber artists, jewelers, and bead artists alike.

We set a date, March 26 for the visual presentation and a small trunk show, and March 27 and 28 for the 2-day workshop and we narrowed the program to...

... Cord making, 2-ply and 3-ply cords. 2-ply is easy and very useful for beading and micro macrame as one of the end is folded with no ends of thread sticking out. 3-ply cords can be made with a variety of colors and are fun to make and perfect as finished cords.

... Four-strand kumihimo braiding maru dai-free and disk-free. I taught myself this form of braiding from old nautical books before I had ever heard of kumihimo braiding in the late 70's. I remember meeting Kaethe and Jules Kliot in 1978 at the American Craft Council in San Francisco and when they saw my braids they told me I was doing kumihimo... I bought Jules' book, Kumi Himo (1977, Some Place Publication, Berkeley, Ca). It was my first introduction to traditional Japanese braiding techniques. My second book was Braids by Rodrick Owen -
See an earlier bog entry on his presentation. The method I will be teaching is done entirely by hand. Although a bit more challenging to learn than the basic kumihimo braids done with the disk or maru dai, once learned, it is very fast and it creates a beautiful spiral braid.

... The 'Corkscrew Style Whipping' named by one of my student (thank you!), a form of whipping very useful for construction. Often concealed later either by either an end clasp or an ornamental covering made with several fiber technique. This corkscrew whipping is extremely useful when ends of thread need to be hidden and cut.

... Techniques for ending (and beginning) cords and braids, and how to incorporate clasps seamlessly.

... Button and toggles made with beads; loops made with larkshead knots.

... Method for covering over ends and the corkscrew whipping such as a clean whipping, a wrap, square knot sennit and open fender hitching (aka single detached buttonhole hitching) and finally the turk head knots with the introduction to the five-strand turk head knot.

It is an ambitious program, with a lot of techniques to learn. Not all will be aquired and mastered on first exposure, but this program offers many techniques that will be easy to learn for a beginner and many that will be of interest to the experienced artist.

Funding got approved, so now all I need is a flight from San Franciso to Bemidji that fits within the budget or a ride from Fargo or Minneapolis. Who would have believed that soon, I will be on my way to meet Dawn in Bemidji - Wait, where is Bemidji, with a name like this, it should be on a tropical island, but no,
I had to google Bemidji, and I found out that it means 'a lake with crossing waters' as the Mississipi River passes through the lake and it is indeed in the Lake area in Northern Minnesota. Oh, yes, now I remember references about Bemidji in John Sanford's books featuring Virgil Flowers! - Marion

The top left picture is one of Dawn's pieces. To see more of her work, go to> Dawn's Creations on Etsy
For more information on the worshop and presentation, go to> Workshop