Copper Flutes

These two copper flutes were based on D (small) and Bb (large) 6-hole English tin whistles that I bought years ago.  I played the whistles quite a bit when I was in high school, but quit in college when my asthma became too severe.  The new copper flutes have a larger bore than the tin whistles and a shorter mouthpiece, so the higher notes are easier to blow, and all the notes are quieter and sweeter than a tin whistle.  After some experimenting with hole positions on the old instruments, I added two holes, one at the top and one at the back, so these flutes are fingered like a recorder and are a bit more versatile than a tin whistle.  Unlike the rimblown flute that I posted here a year ago, these are “fipple flutes” and are easier to play (though making them was a lot more work!).  The blocks are carved from manzanita that I collected in the Santa Rita Mountains a couple of years ago.

Flute Mouthpieces

Flute Mouthpieces

The beads on the larger flute are handcarved from local pebbles.  The bluish-green copper ore is from a local abandoned mine dump, the two striped black dolomite beads are from the Empire Mountains, and the pink and grey rhyolite is from the Santa Rita Mountains.

Today I prepared some fabric for an embroidered wall hanging.  This is a sturdy hemp/cotton plainweave left over from a dress that I made several years ago.  At the top of the photo is the natural undyed fabric which is a warm white.  Below that is the same fabric dyed straw yellow with pomegranate hulls (they are rich in tannin, which provides the color; the dried hulls were crushed and the fabric immersed with them in cold water for several days).  I dyed this fabric a few years ago and have used it for a few jewelry bags etc.  At the bottom is some of the pomegranate-dyed fabric that has been “overdyed” with local clay from my yard (once used for making adobe bricks) mixed with powdered red ochre (hematite).  Of course the clay/iron oxide coating isn’t really “dye” since it doesn’t penetrate the fibers – it just sits on top of them.  But the hemp traps it pretty well and the color is quite even and does not rub off.  The fabric was scrubbed in the wet clay/ochre mixture, left to dry while still covered in it, then washed and dried again.  This process was repeated three times.  I was only working with a quarter yard, so it didn’t take long, and now I have a nice piece of warm, earthy-looking adobe-colored fabric for my project.

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Embroidered Cotton Shirt

January 25, 2012

More spiral hook and eyes, smaller than those on the vest.  The clasps on this embroidered cotton shirt are made from 16-gauge yellow brass wire.  I drafted the shirt pattern.  The collar, cuffs, front placket, and back yoke binding are made from tea-dyed muslin secured with handstitched commercial black bias tape.  Sleeves and front placket have pleats, not gathers.  I drew the embroidery motifs to echo the dotted geometric stripe design of the fabric.  I suppose you could call this “pseudo-blackwork” because it’s blackwork-inspired (and uses the same kind of thread) but is more freeform and lacks the precision of counted threadwork.  This is a “special occasion” shirt, very soft and light, with three-quarter length sleeves so I can wear a bracelet with it.  The clasps will soon tarnish to dark brownish-yellow and will look much less gaudy.

Embroidered Cotton Shirt

Embroidered Cotton Shirt

Embroidery Details

Embroidery Details

Black Steel Wire Necklace

January 14, 2012

This choker-style Black Steel Wire Necklace incorporates many of the wire design motifs that I’ve developed over the years.  I recently returned to steel wirework to regain some strength in my hands, and decided to make an elaborate project that would use up most of my remaining wire.  I’m pretty happy with this, and still have enough wire for a few chain links etc. so now I can focus on new forged iron  and other metalwork.

Black Steel Wire Necklace

Black Steel Wire Necklace

I started with a chain made of two mirror-image trios of graduated double spiral links.  I love the sinuous, flowing look of these, and they were fun to make.  They fit and drape very well, and I may make another set to add to a forged necklace.

Double Spiral Links

Double Spiral Links

Wire “Feather” Fringe:  I used straight, curled, and spiral flattened fringe styles.  I also used three twisted fringe styles:  single twist, reverse twist, and a repeating reverse twist.  These are the only part of the necklace that had to be worked hot (each piece must be carefully twisted in a propane torch flame).  Everything else was done cold.  The difference between the twisted fringe styles are subtle and probably not noticeable to most people, but they do affect the overall look, so I wanted some of each kind.

Single Twist and Flat Fringe

Single Twist and Flat Fringe

Reverse Twist Fringe

Reverse Twist Fringe

Repeated Reverse Twist with Flat Coils

Repeated Reverse Twist with Flat Coils

I connected the pieces with two types of decorative S-links to echo the shape of the double spirals.  These links can be made as short as half an inch or as long as an inch, so they are an easy, unobtrusive way to adjust the length of the necklace and the spacing of the other elements when laying out the design.  The wire is flattened before bending to give it strength and add a bit of 3-D contrast to the round wire used for the spirals.  There are two long links at the front and two short ones at the back.

This necklace has no links that are specially designed as a clasp, since there really wasn’t a good place for them in the design.  Instead, one of the largest double spiral links is slightly opened at the bottom, forming a hidden hook.  It’s just as secure as a hook clasp, and is easier to use since it’s at the front of the necklace.

How long did it take?  You know better than to ask that around here. 🙂

Smithsonite Necklace

December 14, 2011

I finally finished a necklace to hold the smithsonite beads that I carved back in August.  My Pink Bead Necklace is so comfortable that I made this one in a similar style.  Forged from high-carbon steel and black steel wire, with bronze spacer beads cut from a broken Tibetan singing bowl.  The copper beads were cut from scrap tubing, then hammered flat and polished.  The bead at the back was carved from a piece of ore that I picked up at an abandoned copper mine.

I usually like to put reverse twists on this type of forgework.  But that doesn’t work with this thin high-carbon steel stock, since it can’t be quenched in water or it will shatter.  So I just tapered, rounded, and curled the ends.  Although it’s not apparent from the photo, the iron pieces have a “vertical” curve as well as a horizontal one, so the necklace doesn’t lay flat on the ground but it drapes nicely when worn.  The bronze and copper beads will eventually tarnish and will be subtle accents for the “screaming” turquoise color of the beads.

I have one small piece of smithsonite left.  It will probably become an earring.  Sometime this winter I’m hoping to go back to the mine where I collected it.  I’d like to find more of this unusual material, since it makes such beautiful beads.

Smithsonite and Forged Iron Necklace

Smithsonite and Forged Iron Necklace

Walking Sticks

December 12, 2011

I’ve been carrying a Trekpod (camera tripod/hiking stick)  for about a year now when hiking off-trail or on rough trails and washes.  I recently decided that my everyday walks – partly on pavement and partly on dirt roads – would sometimes be easier if I had a stick.  In my neighborhood, many people carry one anyway, mostly for protection against unfriendly dogs.  A neighbor gave me a dried agave stalk that had tangled in a tree as it grew, so it had some interesting curves.  Like their cousins Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) and Yucca, agave stalks are light in weight, strong, and (usually) very long and straight.  They have sharp leaf scales and thin, papery bark that must be filed off, but the soft, long-fibered “wood” underneath can be sanded very smooth and takes a soft polish.  My stick is topped with a small deer antler that I picked up in the Empire Mountains and a hammered copper ferrule made from a piece of tubing.  The antler and stick were also drilled and fitted with a piece of steel rod to hold them together, so the handle is stronger than it looks.  I added an iron bell and antique African glass beads to decorate the forged iron loop on the antler.  Most of these things are “recycled” from other projects.  Below the ferrule was a hole that I drilled to hold a bell (this is the stick that I carried in the All Souls Procession, but it didn’t have a handle at that time).  I lined the hole with a piece of copper tubing to protect the wood, and now it can be used to hold all kinds of temporary decorations.

Agave Walking Stick

Agave Walking Stick

Here’s the agave stick with two other sticks that are a bit big for daily walks and are better suited for ritual use.

Oak, Agave, and Saguaro Sticks

Oak, Agave, and Saguaro Sticks

The straight one on the right is a saguaro rib that I’ve had since 1994.  It was a gift from a fellow Tucson artist.  The plant must have been a 200-year-old giant because this “cactus bone” is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.  It was cut from the lowest part of the trunk, just above the roots (it’s upside-down in the photo).  Although heavier and more substantial than an agave stalk, it’s still quite light in weight and easy to carry even though it’s more than six feet long.  It has a substantial presence and I have never  been sure of how to use it or had the nerve to add anything to it.  That’s about to change, since I finally found a worthy stick to balance it:

The curved stick on the left is a root of Arizona black oak (Quercus emoryi) that I recently picked up on a hike in a rocky canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains.  The root had grown along the edge of the wash and had been repeatedly exposed by scouring floods and re-buried under gravel until all the bark was polished off.  The tree itself (about 50 years old) was still alive when it fell during a summer storm and shattered among boulders in the wash.  The root was torn out of the bank and lay bare and clean on the rocks.  It’s very heavy and twisted, with alternating cupped, flattened, and ridged sections that have weathered to show the coarse “braided” fibrous texture that seems to be unique to this species of desert oak.  This stick definitely calls for some kind of ornament at the top to hide the raw cut where I sawed off the broken end.

Now I have the two sides of a Gate to walk through, or simply two signposts that help define the way:  Earth and Water opposite Air and Fire; twisted oak root from a shaded mountain canyon opposite a straight cactus rib from a sunny desert ridge.

Last night was Tucson’s annual Day of the Dead celebration.  Some of our photos (and many others) can be viewed on Flickr’s ASP group page:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/tucson_all_souls_procession/

As usual, we walked in the procession but skipped the finale.  This year’s finale was held at a new location, so the procession route was longer (2 miles one way).  We left it at Stone Ave., after it had made the high-energy traverse through the 4th Avenue underpass and had begun to unravel a bit.  This year’s crowd (walkers and spectators) was a bit more somber and most costumes and props were very traditional.  The Urn and its Guardians and other attendants are draped in different “theme” colors and costumes each year.  This year’s colors were especially beautiful appropriate – deep purple, lavender, and white.  The attendants wore angel-winged masks on top of their heads.
The Urn group is usually spectacular, with drummers, stilt-walkers, and dancers; Guardians circulate through the crowd with tiny Urns, gathering photos, notes, prayers, and other small items that will be transferred to the big Urn and burned.  This year they dispensed with most of that, leaving only the big Urn, the traditional beast-masked man who pulls it, and a small contingent of dancers riding behind it.  This left no doubt that the group who organizes the procession has decided to devote most of their attention and energy to the Finale (a performance, not a participatory event), and let the Procession take care of itsef for the most part…which it may indeed be ready to do, since creative costumes, carettas, and decorations from “ordinary people” were abundant and beautiful this year.  The ASP is an evolving event, and is so completely contrary to Tucson’s increasingly conservative, xenophobic, and confrontational culture that it’s a miracle that it happens at all.

We chose a relatively quiet place to walk, next to the big red AIDS  banner.  Curved in the shape of a memorial ribbon, it’s attached to poles and takes a large and well-coordinated group of people to carry it.  The center is an island of quiet open space, which people occasionally enter to take pictures or exchange greetings.

Since the night was chilly (an unusual early cold front brought rain the day before), I wore a heavy hemp/cotton dress and a rebozo.  The photo shows last-minute additions to the iron black cat mask:  “fangs” made from a deer antler tine and a large catfish bone; tiny pawprint milagros made from copper foil on metallic-painted stampbord, and the spangled fabric pennants that I made two years ago for the copper jaguar mask.  I carried a copper flute (a homemade hybrid instrument based on a Bb tin whistle but with two extra holes so it is tuned like a recorder) and a short walking stick made from an agave stalk, to which I attached one of my iron bells.

All Souls Procession 2011 Costume

All Souls Procession 2011 Costume

Forged Iron Cat Mask

October 19, 2011

This is the forged iron black cat mask that I made for this year’s Tucson All Souls Procession.  I won’t post a photo of me wearing it until after the procession, since I’m still deciding on the rest of my costume.  The mask is hot-forged from heavy steel sheet, and has a riveted nose and whisker spots.  The “snakeskin” pennants were stitched from an undyed Guatemalan cotton sash, ornamented with mica cutouts, copper spirals, vintage pearl buttons, snake vertebrae, and handmade yarn tassels.  This mask is sturdier than the copper masks I’ve made, but not really any heavier.  It’s six inches wide.

Forged Iron Black Cat Mask

Forged Iron Black Cat Mask

Iron Cat Mask Detail

Iron Cat Mask Detail

I also made this embroidered cotton fabric Mountain Lion Mask.  It’s quite wearable but for this event it will be pinned to my costume.  It has a black cotton backing and is stiffened with thin cotton batting (a single layer for the eye and ear portion, and several layers for the muzzle and nose).  The patterned flannel ties, the embroidered stars, and the French knots around the eyes are intended to suggest the Leonid meteor shower that occurs at the end of November.

Mountain Lion Fabric Mask

Mountain Lion Fabric Mask

These Cat Eye and Claw earrings seem appropriate for the Autumn Equinox, with their balance of brown and blue, transparency and opacity, receding earth and rising water.  I carved the “claws” some time ago and only recently made the “cat eye” cabochons to go with them.  Settings are sterling silver with fine silver bezels and frosted aquamarine beads, 2.5 inches long, not including the earwires.

LEFT:  Rose gold bead (made in my shop from recycled metals), Oregon picture jasper cabochon, Guatemalan “Olmec Blue” jade carving (jadeite; carved the same on both sides).

RIGHT:  Bronze bead (cut from a broken Tibetan singing bowl), Namibian blue tigereye cabochon (the metallic line down the center is hematite), Siberian fossil mammoth ivory (the rare blue color is from vivianite, an iron phosphate mineral).

Cat Eye and Claw Earrings

Cat Eye and Claw Earrings

We’re Back

September 15, 2011

OK, we’re back, and the computer has a new graphics card.  Meanwhile I’ve been working in the shop, drawing, staring at a “to-finish” list of too many projects, and setting priorities.  I re-did the Pink Necklace to include some forgework and more stone beads, which frees up the iron beads to use for something else.  It’s also more comfortable (and flashy!) to wear.  Hot-forged sterling silver and high-carbon steel, with the beads strung on black steel wire.  I carved two dark purple beads from fine-grained volcanic pebbles that I collected several years ago and have been using to decorate my yard.  The rock is extensively altered (mostly to hematite and clays) so it’s not as hard as the original minerals would have been, and takes a soft polish rather than a high shine.  The bright pink bead at the back of the necklace is Peruvian opal.  I carved this from some high-grade rough that a friend gave me several years ago.  This material is mostly an opaque pink chalcedony that forms in thin layers with swirling stringers of translucent pink, white, or colorless opal.  The color is a bit too bright for the front of the necklace (where I want the pink chalcedony to be the focus) but it is a nice accent for the back.

Pink Necklace II

Pink Necklace II

Now it needs some matching earrings.  I am working on a forged silver/iron set with small pink opal beads, but they will take some time.  Meanwhile, these simple wire ones will do:

Pink Earrings

Pink Earrings

I also made a forged pair of Moonlight Curly Cones, inspired by the Ironwing Tarot Ten of Bells card.  These are hot-forged sterling silver and high-carbon steel, like the necklace.  They are for sale on my website, since they ought to match anything black and white!  I have enough silver wire left for a couple more pairs of earwires (probably for me), but with silver at $44 an ounce, I won’t be buying any more for awhile.  I’m almost out of black steel wire, and once I’ve finished the necklace that is sitting nearly completed on my desk, I have chosen not to get any more, in order to focus on expanding my forgework.

Moonlight Curly Cones

Moonlight Curly Cones

The new computer has spawned a host of compatibility issues that mean that some things that used to be easy are now either impossible or too time-consuming to be worth the trouble.  So I am spending more time at the drawing table and less on the computer, and am not tackling any printing/publishing/drawing reproduction projects for awhile.

Pink and Iron Necklace

July 28, 2011

I’ve had these beads for awhile, intending them for several different projects, but they work very well together.  I’ve always liked the pink/black color combination, especially when one of them is metallic.  Today the idea of a simple necklace of earthy, comforting, and familiar materials was very appealing.  It made an easy, peaceful project for the waning moon.  This Pink Earth choker is made from antique African forged iron heishi beads, Mexican terracotta beads with a shiny pale pink glaze, two pieces of sterling silver tubing that I cut, filed, and polished, and a pink agate bead that I carved last year from a pebble that I found in the Empire Mountains.  The purplish-pink color in the agate comes from tiny flecks of dark red hematite scattered through translucent chalcedony.  This is the same type of inclusion that forms “strawberry quartz” but it is rare in agate (hematite in agate is usually finer grained and brighter red).  The clasp is 14-gauge sterling silver wire.

Pink Earth Necklace

Pink Earth Necklace