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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

May 16, 2011: The First Appointment

My first doctor's appointment was on the 16th of May at the Illinois Eye Institute.  I started the day as usual.  Mother and I had discussed how I would handle work and my appointment schedule and we both agreed that coming in to work and then going to the appointment would allow me to maximize my hours (I only work an hourly temp position) and get me to my appointment on time.  Even though we'd discussed the details the weekend before, the morning of the 16th reminded me of my very first overnight field trip in grade school.  It was filled with questions.

Do you have your journal?
Is it up to date?
Do you have enough bus fare?
Do you have your directions to the eye clinic?
Are you sure you don't need me to come with you?
Do you need me to come pick you up?
Did you remember to get a book to read while you're in the waiting room?
Are they going to dialate your eyes?
Do you have sunglasses?

So many questions that I had to remind my Mother, the Principal of Punctuality (Read: The person who lives by the mantra"You're late if you get there 20 minutes early" ) that we were going to be late.  We rushed to the car and onto the packed expressway (We were late, afterall) and she started the questions again.  It was both endearing and frustrating. 
I knew that she was going to be like this until my problem was resolved, she probably wouldn't sleep, her blood pressure was going to go up, she was going to have migraines all the time, and her constant questioning was going to drive me up a tree.  She's like that about everything serious.  If it's not right, she'll poke and prod and pick at it until it is or, at least, until she completely understands the problem, COMPLETELY.  It's one of those character differences that causes more frustration between the two of us than anything.  I'll say and accept, "The sky is blue, but I wish it were a little more purple.  I'll draw a picture with a purple sky."  She'll question "Why is it blue and how can we turn it the right shade of purple NOW, get to work on time, cook dinner, sew a glamorous evening gown, and photograph it all by 10 p.m. without killing ourselves?"  It doesn't fail to whip me up into a frenzy of hysterics right along with her.

Work proceeded as normal, well as normal as possible.  My mother was still emailing me periodically with questions. 

I skipped lunch and boarded the CTA, following their RTA trip planner's directions to the Illinois Eye Institute and...promptly got lost.  Not only was the route unnecessarily convoluted, but it placed me in an area where the buses only travel one way, which meant, there was no hope of me getting back to where I started.  I ended up calling the IEI to tell them what had happened.  The very nice lady answering phones was helpful and gave me step by step directions that would lead me to the clinic.  I had no problems.  She then wrote out directions and drew a little map to help me find my way home, in a non-judgemental, grandmotherly way.  After getting lost in downtown Chicago (I have no idea why the RTA directions even included that part.  I pass the IEI on my way home.  Downtown is in the complete opposite direction.), having to walk fifty-eleven miles in 100 degree weather and sweating my hair out, I was fit to be tied... and I was pretty sure I smelled like a hog.  So, while I waited for the doctor to finish with his other patient- who took my spot since I was late, I freshened up, worked on some jewelry.
The doctor that was handling my case- We'll call him Dr. Bright- was a nice, friendly guy in his late twenties, with a huge smile and an eagerness to help that's unheard of.  He performed all the standard checks to my eyes before I interrupted him with my little journal of my symptoms.  He was astounded by how meticulously documented it was, made photocopies and swore to forward them to a colleague who knew more about this stuff than he did. 

Then, he performed more tests, all of which came up normal.  No glaucoma, no macular degeneration, no Fuch's dystrophy.  Then, he started looking in the backs of my eyes.  He was like one of the main protagonists of an anime, "We're going to get to the bottom of this and save the universe!"  It touched my heart and I knew that I was in good hands. ..Until he made a strange 'Oh...uhmm.' noise.
Suddenly, I became aware of how long he was studying each eye, the curious noises he was making and the subtlest twitches of his eyebrows (the only things I could really see with a big hulking back-of-your-eye-ball-seeing device strapped to my head).  Having a doctor who's eyebrows are doing the samba while they're examining you is not usually a good sign.  It's definitely not a good sign when he tells you, "Well, you wanna follow me to room XYZ for some more tests?  Don't worry!  It's nothing serious.  Just a vision field test."

May 9-15, 2011: And Then I Got Angry

Betrayal or the feeling of being left out often becomes hurt.  Hurt often becomes outrage.  Outrage turns into plain... rage.  It usually takes a lot to make me truly angry, but when it happens, it has happened.  Very little can be done to make it unhappen.  Like an infection, it creeps in and taints my mood, the way I process information, and the way I conduct myself.  It festers.  It is a nasty, disgusting feeling.
After my mother dismissed my crisis.  I was hurt, for the entire day.  It was my fault, really.  I'm always slow in the mornings, but still, rationality had gone to hibernate by that point.  I felt listless, but I at least tried to mirror my old self.  I made a few dry jokes, smiled where appropriate, forced myself to remember that it was Mother's Day and I that I ought to be respectful.  The following day, however, was an entirely different story.  Monday morning, I woke up blind and angry.  At my mother. 
For once, my furrowed brow was not an expression of confusion, frustration or concentration.  Just this once, my frown was actually me thinking in my head, "You mean old lady, you!"  Don't laugh.  I habitually call people exactly what feel that they are when I'm angry.  I don't make up fancy names for them or use the common expletives like "A-hole", "B***", or whatever this means "@&%@)$*@&!*"  No.

As a child, the very first time I was angry enough to want to call someone a mean name, I decided that the common mean names just didn't work and swearing was a filthy habit for people who didn't read the dictionary often enough to realize that the most hurtful words are the ones with 4 or more syllables that tell an actual truth.  The truth is the most important part.  It can't be truly insulting or truly vent your frustration if it's not true. Mean (read: irritable and/or insensitive) Old (read: older than me) Lady is the absolute meanest thing I could ever bring myself to call my mother. 

It's hard for me to stay angry for long.  I tend to get sad instead.  I tried to be more understanding of her angle in this whole thing.  I had endangered the timeliness of our arrival at church and she didn't really know what was going on.  Still, it upset me because I had tried to tell her and she didn't believe me.

It isn't the first time it's happened.  I decided that it was safer for my peace of mind and my health to just...accept that my mother doesn't always understand me when I try to tell her I have a problem.  This incident was something that I would have to take care of on my own, all on my own.  I could, ask her for advice on where to go to get help.  I could ask her for help and support once the problem had been diagnosed or resolved, but it was largely up to me. 
When you are small, it's hard to convey the seriousness of 'mommy I hurt here'.  You don't know how to communicate that something's broken in your body.  You just know that it hurts.  Kissing boo-boos, lecturing your kids about too much TV, and telling them they're faking has never helped anyone's medical conditions. (Some people actually do that.  There have been articles about child abuse cases where the parents just gave their screaming, bleeding child a bath and a tylenol.  Thankfully, this has nothing to do with anything that extreme)  Those are easy outs.  Those things don't actually fix ANYTHING.

At this point, I realized that I was well and truly an adult.  I didn't have a real job, but I was still an adult.  I was no longer dependent on my mother believing me when I said that I was sick.  No one could tell me what was wrong in my body but me.  So, I said nothing else to my mother about it.  If she didn't believe me enough to try to help me, it was up to me to find a way to help myself.  I started a journal, documenting my symptoms.  After a while, I worked up my courage and asked her what eye clinic had the best, most state of the art equipment and doctors available.  It surprised her, but she gave the information willingly.

It surprised her again when her nosiness lead her to leaf through my desk planner and she saw the notation stating that I had an appointment on the 16th at 3:00pm. 
A strange hush came over her.  She spoke to me with a wide-eyed, still somewhat disbelieving tone.  "You were serious?" When I told her yes, she said she didn't know that I was serious.  It sparked an argument which, now that I think about it, was more me yelling at her, screaming all of the frustrations that had bothered me since the morning blindness first occurred.  And this time, she listened. 

That made me happier than anything.  She listened and we resolved that I would attend my appointments and when I needed my mother to come with me, I would ask her to.  We both worked out that the whole blow-by-blow of what was happening would likely drive my mother out of her mind.  She was like that shortly before and after she was diagnosed with hypertension, so it was likely to happen again.  A certain level of disengagement would allow me to be an adult and minimize her stress levels.   That was our little plan. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

April 30-May8, 2011: It'll Get Better Soon.

For the next few days, I'd suspended my fears about my condition and waited for it to clear up on its own.  It was stress.  Nothing serious.  I had final papers due for my recreational classes.  Even though the classes themselves were recreational, the grades were not. Grades are serious, you know. 

I thought that this thing, this strange 'AM only' blindness would go away after I turned in my final papers.  There wouldn't be any reason to panic or be afraid.  Still, I started researching possible causes and planned to schedule an appointment at the eye doctor's anyway, just in case
Some of the possible causes were downright scary.  Fuch's Dystrophy, a condition that causes the cornea to thicken until you're completely blind.  Glaucoma, high eye pressure kills your optic nerve.  Macular degeneration, your retina tears off the back of your eye, or eats holes in itself, leaving you completely blind and without much hope. 
But, the majority of the conditions I just listed only happen to older people, or people who have a history of problems that I don't have, like high blood pressure.  I was doubtful that it was anything that serious.  I could be wrong, but it was highly unlikely.  If it cleared up after life cooled down, I could just cancel my appointment and be done with the whole thing.  No harm done.  Just stress.
But... it didn't get any better.  Nothing changed, not even after all the papers were turned in and graduation actually happened.  I woke up on Mother's day and my vision was worse than ever.  It wasn't clearing at all.

All the other days, it cleared up after I got up and started moving around.  But, it wasn't clearing up that day.  I love my mother to pieces, but I'll be honest.  That day, that Mother's Day, when she started rushing me to get ready for church, I snapped at her.  She incorrectly guessed that I was mad because I couldn't find my shoes.  Shoes. 
I think that just made me even more upset because that wasn't the real problem.  That was just one thing that I happened to rant about that morning.  I realized that I was being unfair by being unnecessarily hostile over the wrong things, so I actually tried to tell her what was wrong. 

I couldn't see in one eye.  I was bumping into things because I couldn't judge distance as well.  I was frustrated because it wasn't getting better.  I was angry that it seemed like my life was getting worse instead of becoming this fabulous world of adventure that I had envisioned it would be.  I was angry because I'd worked very hard to get through college, struggled, stressed and worried over money and grades for years.  Only to come out of the whole ordeal and go BLIND.  It wasn't fair!  I didn't want to be blind.  I didn't have health insurance, so whatever it was, I couldn't afford to get it fixed.  Sure, I got money for graduation, but all of the illnesses that sounded remotely like mine required tens of thousands of dollars to treat and screen for.  I was terrified and I felt like I'd been cheated out of my entire life.  My future was braille, if I could learn it.  But, everything I've used to define myself involved crafts, color, and beauty.  Now, my future was a formless world of unending WHITE.  No crafting, no coloring, no reading, no NOTHING.  My future was nothing.   

But, I was only able to tell her that I couldn't see out of my left eye.  She insisted that I hurry up and get ready for church.  Quick, forceful and to the point, like always.  I really needed her to listen, not be the resolute Iron Woman that I've admired my whole life... but it was a done deal.  My habitual morning slowness had cut me off from reaching her when I needed to.

I was heart broken. 

I went back into my room and got ready for church. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

April 27, 2011: 10 days before Graduation

Less than two weeks before graduation, life threw me an undeserved, hellishly ass-blistering curve ball (Sorry mom.  I know you're reading this, but I can't think of any non-expletive language strong enough for how it made me feel).  I woke up one day and found I was blind in my left eye.

Let that sink in.  Keep in mind that I was less than 10 days from graduation, already dealing with enough stress to make an elephant have a coronary, and looking forward to the freedom and independence that graduation day would give me.  I mean, I was going to be a real, live adult, able to confidently apply for real jobs with real benefits, maybe help mom get a house, maybe...maybe start my own business.  I was the future.  The WORLD was mine.  All mine.  I just had to open my eyes and see the opportunity, to reach out and grab what was right in front of my face.  At least that's how I felt, until I opened my eyes, eager for that new day and found half of that world obscured by a field of pure white.

Any sane person would have been completely hysterical.  But, I don't operate like that.  I don't panic first.  I analyze my situation, thoroughly.  I research the problem.  I locate the solution and I take a fist full of analysis to whatever 'expert' I need to see to get the problem fixed.  After the business is taken care of, the problem, fixed, and there's nothing left to do, then I panic.  My freak-out moment occurs in the moments after, when everyone's out of the knife fight without a scratch, sitting at home, watching television and in fresh pajamas.  I guess that's how long it takes for my brain to stop analyzing things in the third person and realize that it could have very easily taken its last think.

So, in a way that was totally natural for me, I sat on my bed, bewildered and staring at what should have been my room.  I recognized that it didn't look like my room, but only because half of it was obscured with fog.  I closed my 'bad eye', looked through my 'good eye'.  Switched.  Repeated the process.  It was certainly my left eye.  My left eye was malfunctioning.  The entire thing was seeing white.  I decided that it must be dirty.  I wiped it.  The world was still white.

I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror to see if I'd somehow acquired cataracts in my sleep.  My eye looked normal.  Was it glaucoma?  It runs in my family.  I blinked and watched my pupils contract and expand.  It was the same test the eye doctor did every time I had an exam.  I know, because I asked them why they kept shining that blasted light in my face.  My left eye was the same, clear, milk chocolate brown as my right and its pupil contracted and expanded when light hit it, like normal.  I washed it out with eye drops.  Nothing changed.   I performed my morning ablutions as usual because my mother was yelling 'AREN'T YOU GOING TO WORK TODAY!?' in the background. 

I stumbled back to my room, a little disoriented, more disoriented than I realized.  I sat on my bed in complete shock for a full 25 minutes, just blinking.  I decided that it must be stress.  Stress could do anything to the human body.  By the time I got dressed, I could see as well as I did the day before.  See?  Stress.

Graduation Update

I haven't updated in forever.  No, this time there's no excuse.  There is no happy-ending sort of 'life is busy' explanation as to why I've been absent.  The truth is, I'm tired.

I'm tired, and I'm sad, and disgusted with the way my life is progressing.  I haven't even bothered thinking about my blog because it represents the things I plan to accomplish in life.  Recent developments in my life have caused me to wonder if I've over-estimated my potential.  I like to be progressive, to see that I'm actually going somewhere and making a difference somehow.  Every tiny setback is a personal insult.  To be dramatic, each setback, real or imagined is a scourge on my pride and my mission to be the absolute best Lauren, daughter of the Mahogany Stylist ever. 

None of what I'm posting now makes any sense, but it will after a few more blog posts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


So, it's now the middle of May and I am officially graduated.  That's right.  Graduated.

I feel like I should have something inspiring to say, but to be honest, there are a whole lot of people who are 50 times more excited by this whole thing than I am.  I should be happy, but I'm not.  I should feel relieved and accomplished, but I don't.  I don't LIKE this being graduated thing at all.  I'm not ungrateful and I appreciate my education, but let's face it people.  I NEED A JOB. 

For over a year now, I've been applying to jobs online and in person.  The results have been dismal.  Not only is the search for a job that you're qualified for insane, but pickings are terribly slim.  Because things are so lean, if you get called in for an interview, something silly like whether or not you have a car will determine if you get the job.  It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.  To be hired for a 20K per year job with minimal benefits, they want you to have a laundry list of qualifications, including a college degree and 4 years of work experience.  For 20 grand per year.  That won't even begin to make a dent in most people's student loans. 

I actually had an interviewer ask, "So, how do you plan on getting to the training?" and when I responded, "I'll take the metra or CTA," the interviewer responded, "Well, we really prefer our employees to have a car.  To hire someone without a car would reflect poorly on the company." 

So, not only do they want to hire a skilled person for something less than a living wage, but they also want you to have a car.  The job market is tough, but i need a job.

Do any of you guys have any suggestions?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Haute Couture Fashion Show 2011

I'm a terrible person.  No, really, I am.  I didn't tell you what I'd be doing this weekend and I should have.  It was kind of a big thing.  I'm telling you now.  Doesn't that count for something?

Last weekend, the Haute Couture Club of Chicago had their annual fashion show and I appeared in it, had a table, and had some of my pieces featured in the show.  That was pretty awesome.  Anyway, talk to you guys later.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Biznizzy Bizniz Business

I have always had a passion for visual arts.  I draw, I write, and I make jewelry.  If that doesn't scream "PASSION FOR ART!"  I don't know what does.  But anyway, I digress.  Since noticably developing my skills in my crafts, I've heard a lot of commentary.  I mean, A LOT of commentary.  And for each bit of unnecessary dialogue, I have my very own mental response.

 For Drawing:
1.  Why don't you get a JOB doing this?
There's a several good reason for that.  For one, I'd have to find a job doing that.  Secondly, I'd have to be really, really good, which I'm not yet.  Third, if I got a job doing my hobby, suddenly it wouldn't be a hobby and therefore, less fun.
2.  Why don't you draw like you're Black?
Um...WHAT?!?  How do you 'draw like you're Black'?  How do Black people draw? If you mean those super stylized paintings with the faceless black people dancing around, that's not drawing like you're black.  That's the STYLE of that particular artist.  I already 'draw like I'm black' because I am considered black already.
3.  Why do you only draw an-ee-may?
I don't draw anime.  I don't.  In order to draw anime, you have to have a contract with an animation studio.  I don't have one of those.  While I used to try to mimick the anime STYLE, I moved away from that in favor of drawing characters with different faces.  It's all experimentation.
4.  Why don't you write a comic book?
Writing comic books is HARD.  First you have to write the story, then you have to figure out the storyboards and thumbnails.  Then you have to- you know what.  We'll leave it at 'It's a lot harder than it looks'.
5.  Why won't you take my commission for Sailor Moon in catgirl form getting gang-raped by Mario, Luigi, Sailor Mercury and a tentacle monster?
No.  Just...NO.

For Writing:
1.  Why don't you get it published??
Publishing is HARD.  It's all smiling and butt-kissing and royalties and contracts.  Besides, to get something published it has to be an original work, an attractive read for the publishing company, a potential moneymaker, and it has to be finished.  DUH.  If I've only finished two of the stories I've ever written, and they're CRAP, there's no way I'll get Published.  Although, looking at Stephanie Meyer's stuff...I'm starting to think I might be able to...
2.  Will you write me a story?
No.  Write your own.  I am not going to write something for someone and have every little thing getting poked and prodded at UNLESS...You pay me. 
3.  Why don't you write fanfiction for this *insert show/movie/book*?
Fanfiction is about writing about what you enjoy.  If I don't like your fandom, I probably don't enjoy it, have never heard of it, or don't like it enough to invest a lot of time in writing a whole fanwork for it. 
4.  Are you going to be an author?
Technically, I already am.  I AM authoring this blog aren't I?  Hur hur hur.

For Jewelry Making:
1.  Can you make me something like *insert designer item*?
Sometimes, yes.  Most times, no.  See, the thing with designers is that they have copyrights.  On top of their copyrights, they have access to resources, tools, skills and a workforce that I don't have access to.  Maybe the reason I refuse to make that item is because I CAN'T.
2.  Why don't you make things like what they have in *insert catalogue*?
I don't like copying other people's stuff.  Why would I copy their stuff?  Also, See the above answer.
3.  Why don't you make that in *insert color*?
Sometimes you can only get materials in one color.  Sometimes you can get it in two.  Most times, if it comes in more than one color, I don't get it in more than one color because I'm NOT GAINFULLY EMPLOYED.  I can't afford to just go buying materials in every color just because I feel like it.  Also, I don't like every color all the time.  My muse is fickle like that.
4.  Are you going to be a designer?
I don't think so.  Design jobs are notoriously hard to get, hard to keep, and revolve around building relationships within a certain field.  Since I don't know anyone in fashion, not really, I can't expect becoming a designer to be easy.
5.  Why can't I get something like that thing you made for so-and-so?
Usually no.  Why?  Because I use things that are somewhat uncommon.  Most of my really eyecatching materials are either the by-product of an art or sculpture student's projects, or pieces of really old, broken jewelry.  Most times, you can't find duplicates of those things.
6.  Why would you make that??  No one's going to wear it!
I don't get this one a lot, actually, but it has happened on occasion.  The person in question can never see a use for what I've made until I get fed up with not being able to sell it and take to wearing it myself.  Suddenly, they want one just like it.  This statement is something I really hate.  "Why would you make that?" ...The same reason I make anything..  It makes ME feel good.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Broaching Topics 2: I've Been Busy

I promised that I would post when I'd made more brooches, but I failed to do so.  I'm so bad.  Honestly, I haven't had an output anywhere near what I had during Holiday Bootcamp.  I've been reading and doing all sorts of non-jewelry-related activities.  Since, I've ventured away from hardcore jewelry making for the moment, I've acquired some new favorite books, the Hollows series by Kim Harrison.  I love it.  Not just because the main characters (An often clueless witch, a foul-mouthed pixy, and an angsty vampire) are well-developed and convincing as they go about their insane messed up lives, but because they inspired me.  I suppose it is because of their personalities.  I mean, it's amazing when you can grasp a person's personality so clearly that colors and shapes immediately spring to mind. 
Before I do some more reading, I'll update you on my progress with brooch-making.

Like most, I tend to start small and grow adventurous as I grasp the concepts clearly. 

Mrs. Daisy:  Not the first I've made, but among the simplest.  The wreath and rhinestone on top are off center on purpose though.  Experimenting with Asymmetrical Designs
 In the early stages, I'm mostly using things I've seen before as an example to run with, taking abstract shapes and putting them together to see how they strike me.  Gradually I build on what I've learned and combine them with a few ideas floating in my head to create a unique aesthetic.

Rubicante: Traditional brooch shape, but composition inspired by a Final Fantasy Boss

Usually, I'll start tossing in a few strange or unconventional elements that are not so abstract, just to have fun, play and see how it makes me feel. 
Flapper Princess: Fun and Flippant. 
Then, after a while, I say to myself, I want to try something REALLY different.  Then I start in on something that was supposed to be small that rapidly spirals out of control as my design muse looms over my shoulder growling, "IT'S NO GOOD!!!  IT NEEDS MOOOOOOORE!!! MOOOOOOOORE!!!!!"

A Real Cougar:  Brought to you by the letter L, a strange sense of humor and, "MOOOOORE!"
You can check out more pictures of these brooches and MOOOOORE on my deviantart page.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Get Yourself Cuffed: The Aftermath

I think that I've been cuffed enough.  
Been buried a week in my craft stuff
Sitting around, I've gained some fluff
And now I'm in quite the huff.  
My patience is thin; don't call my bluff
Else I'll make sure YOU'RE cuffed enough

Moving on!  I'm not actually tired of making cuffs.  In fact, I just prepped some more aluminum bands, pleather, and fabric scraps for the next crop of the adorable little things.  BUT, I do need a break.  I'd just like to stop smelling E-6000 in my dreams.  Before I know it, I'll turn into an E-6000 glue mutant, hell-bent on covering the world with sparkles and rhinestones.  So, for the next couple of weeks, I'll stay away from the industrial strength adhesives as much as possible.

Before I commit to that, I have something to tell you.  I've got commissions and Requests!  Several of them!  There are a few for members of the Haute Couture Club of Chicago.  These gals want some custom pieces to go down the runway with their designs in this year's fashion show.  There are a couple for some members of my church (Already finished), and 1 logo design commission from one of my mom's followers here on Blogspot. 

After I finish my commissions- some of them include cuffs- I'll swear off the E-6000.  I swear it.  But, right now, I'm just excited.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Get Yourself Cuffed

Fashion is evolving!  You've got to be BOLD!  Make a statement!  Get yourself CUFFED! 

YES!!  Wait...No.  Not like that!  You're doin' it wrong!
As promised, my lovelies, a tutorial, a collection of knowledge based on my trial and error and expensive wasted art supplies, immortalized for your sakes, upon the internet.  Cue mad-scientist cackle.  I must warn you, however, that the process can be a bit messy and that most of the time you'll spend on this project shall be spent preparing your materials.  Shall we begin?

1 Unfinished Aluminum cuff blank
1 Nail File or some sandpaper (any grade)
1 Toothbrush
1 Surgical/contractor's mask
1 Pair of Goggles (high school science class type)
1 Damp Towel
E-6000 Glue
1 Pair of Latex gloves
Proper Ventilation (Fan + Open Window)
Additional Embellishments (optional)

1. Safety:  Make sure you have your goggles and mask fitted snugly on your face.  Open the window and turn on your fan.  Make sure the fan blows towards your work, but away from you. This is important.  Filing causes little metal flakes to become airborne.  They can get into your lungs, slice tiny microscopic holes in them and cause a lot of internal damage.  You also don't want them getting into your eyes.  Your skin will be fine though.

2.  Filing:  Begin filing your cuff blank with the sandpaper or file.  Use firm, even strokes.  I recommend a circular motion to get the most texture to your cuff without making your fingers cramp. File/Sand the inside outside, and edges of the cuff.

3.  Brush: I used a toothbrush, but a horsehair brush or a terry cloth rag will work as well.  You'll want to clean off the metal dust clinging to your newly textured cuff so that it's clean and smooth for when you work with the glue.

4.  Cut:  Measure your cuff blank.  Cut your fabric to about 1 inch + the length of the cuff and 1/2 inch + the 2 x width of your cuff.  for example, I used the 1.5 inch wide cuff bands, so I measured fabric 8 inches long and 3.5 inches wide.  This sounds unimportant or silly, but there's a reason for it. 

5.  Glue: Gluing takes place in 3 steps.  I say three steps because you'll need to pause to give the glue some time to set a little before moving on to the next one.  If you don't wait, the fabric will slide around as you try to cover the cuff.  Also, use your damp towel to clean your fingers and the cuff off in case you get glue where you don't want it to go.  This is a must.  Gluey fingerprints can RUIN a bracelet.
  1. Take your E6000 glue and make a horizontal line down the center of the back of the cuff (aka: the part that will be against your wrist when wearing).  Draw another line of glue across the top edge of the back of the cuff.  Attach the fabric to the cuff, lining up the bottom edge against the center glue line.  Smooth the fabric down evenly.  Allow the cuff to rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Draw a line of glue horizontally across the center and ALL of the edges visible at the front of the cuff.  Smooth the fabric over.  Allow the cuff to rest 30 minutes.
  3. Draw a line of glue on the bare edges on the back of the cuff.  Draw another horizontal line down the center of the cuff.  Lay the remaining fabric over the back of the bracelet and smooth it down securely against the center glue line. 
6. Finishing the Edges:  This is the part I had the most trouble with.  I tried sewing, gluing it down, and even just cutting it off.  All methods proved disastrous.  Then, I talked to someone who works with leather jewelry on deviantart.  They finish the edges of the leather with rubber sealant.  This is what you'll be doing but you'll use E-6000 glue.  Place a couple dabs of glue inside the little pocket formed by the fabric on each end of the cuff.  Try to get it as close to the actual end of the cuff blank as possible.  Fold the fabric back over.  Use your fingertips to squeeze the glue blobs like a toothpaste tube, working it towards the opening in the fabric pocket.   

7.  Allow the cuff to dry overnight, trim the excess fabric.  Embellish as you see fit.  Allow the cuff a couple more days to fully set.

8.  Wear it.

Now, Check out some Cuff bracelets that I made!

Wild Side: The very FIRST cuff I made.  Leatherette is a great starter fabric.  It's easy to work with, stays where you put it, and looks neat no matter how sloppy you were with putting it together.

Prowl: Made with tafetta ribbon, mesh, leatherette and chain.  I was feeling adventurous.

Dark Magic Cuff.  It's made with Satin, which is a beast to work with.  I had to give this one time to dry COMPLETELY before I could work with it any more.  Satin is a very temperamental fabric.

Lion Tamer: One of the best cuffs I made.  I was trying to get something more regal and classic.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Cuff Bracelet Phenomenon

Once upon a time, it was cool to wear large afros and day-glo bell-bottoms.  Not so chic today...  Today fashion translates to 'whatever makes you happy'.  Beribboned, beruffled, and bejeweled accessories for all!
All of a sudden, I see opposing subcultures trading beauty secrets like teen girls at a sleepover.  And, they've gotten creating stellar statement pieces down to a science.  Of all that I've seen so far, my favorite is the cuff.  A cuff is a solid band formed into a bracelet.  Typically it's one or more inches wide and decorated with stamped designs, wood, filigree, or inlays.  It's versatile and timeless.
A Cuff by Beth Church. 

Every lady I've ever seen as 'classy' has at least 2 cuffs.  Since the cuff movement made a resurgence, younger women sport the thick bracelets in a variety of styles and materials.   I decided 'I gotta get me some o' that!'  For creative purposes only.  I swear.  Stop looking at me with that accusing expression!

I looked in department stores, but...  It's silly to go to a department store and pay $20+ for a poorly made cuff that isn't to your taste.  It's even more ridiculous to pay $50+ for a higher quality one.  Any self-respecting DIY addict wouldn't stand for it.  I went to my old pal the internet and queried for cuff bracelet blanks and/or tutorials.  Most of the tutorials showed you how to make a fabric cuffs that weren't polished and would disintegrate.  I'm sorry, but when I decide to put a lot of work into something, especially when it involves hand-stitching, I'd like it to be worth my while.  More wear, less tear and preferably something that can be weaponized.  A girl's got to have her priorities straight.

I kept searching.  What I wanted was aluminum (It's lightweight AND flexible) cuff blanks that I could cover with fabric, rhinestones or whatever else I wanted.  I found nothing.  At one point, I nearly lost hope.  The only aluminum bracelets that anyone had available were the finished, stamped and highly-polished ones and, of course, raw sheet metal, but I don't have metal working tools more sophisticated than a pair of pliers!  What could I do with sheet metal?
With proper tools and training, I could do this.
But to do that, I'd need all this...and a blowtorch.

Eventually, I stumbled on a little shop on Etsy that carried pre-cut, pre-bent, and virtually unmolested cuff blanks.  What's more, they had several sizes, ranging from 1/2'' wide to 3 inches wide (That's HUGE!).  My search had ended.  All that was left to do was to acquire the cuffs and ask the shop owner if they knew about covering cuffs with fabric.  Guess what!? ...They didn't.  They'd only ever used the cuffs for stamping and other metal-working...things, things I can't do without the above toolkit..and training...and better safety goggles.  Suddenly buying the cuffs wasn't such a great idea.  I mean, there was a chance that I'd be stuck with product that was only good for a type of jewelry-crafting for which i was ill-equipped.  Maybe I should give up, right?
Right.  Just pretend your brain squirrels went into crazy spontaneous mode.  What would THEY do?  I bet they still didn't do what mine did.  That's cause my squirrels are crazier than yours.  I bought the blasted cuffs anyway, thanked the shop owner and began experimenting.  You would not believe how many rhinestones, yards of fabric, and tubes of glue I went through before I got it right and I made beautiful little babies.  I love my little darlings!  I'll even show them to you tomorrow...BUT FIRST! 


This week's feature is the little shop where my cuff blanks were found, Gotta Get A Deal.  GGAD, features a wide range of raw aluinum products for making ornaments, dog-tags, bracelets and regular stamping supplies.  They even have colorized aluminum and solid aluminum blocks.  I've no clue where they get it, but I consider them a 'friend' because they are the only shop I've seen so far with this kind of product line.  I recommend you visit their shop if you use the tutorial I will post tomorrow.  You'll find the product selection very useful.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Designer Jewelry Rip-off

Everyone's had an experience like this.  You've gone into a store, seen something sparkling and beautiful (be it clothing, shoes, or jewelry) and knew in the very depths of your soul that you and it were meant to be!  ...Well, I get like this with jewelry designs.  I see a component, no matter what it may be and I feel in the very depths of my SOUL that I must CREATE the vision that's dancing in my head. 
It is this vision, this ex cathedra specter of the perfect application of your skills and materials that becomes a juggernaut of activity.  It moves and breathes from your mind to your heart, and finally to the very tips of your fingers.  The power of creation that God gave you blooms fully and completely until...until it spins itself, beautiful and whole out of your sliced and bleeding fingers, leaves you with the joyful emptiness and fatigue-stricken body of a mother after childbirth.  And see someone wearing a department store knock off of your vision, a twisted and abhorrent doppleganger of your talent smashed together by soulless machines, it's uniqueness and beauty whored out for the masses at 3 times the price.  Your labor of love has been stolen, drugged and pimped out till it's not special any more.

It's a sad thing, but it happens more often than many artisans realize.  Just this weekend passed, I visited a few relatives of mine and found that one of them had bought, for $20+ a bracelet that I could have made for 5 dollars, or less.  I had all the materials in my bead box, working fingers and more than enough time to complete it for her.  Yet, it must have seemed more convenient for her to buy it while she was out shopping.  I didn't dwell on it for long, but it did hurt me. 
I vowed that instead of allowing myself to get depressed over it, I would do some scouting at these high end department stores that everyone raves about.  It was partly to make myself feel better and partly for product forecasting research.  It was my plan, actually, to rip off their designs and sell them for half the price.  I'd even planned to use it as a means of advertising.  Hey!  I made the same crap as NORDSTROM but I'll let you have it for $10 instead of $50. 
I visited their websites, looked at all they had to offer and realized that my stuff was far less expensive and... THE SAME or better than theirs.  It jarred me.  In a good way.  Instead of continuing to be sad because they had product that was beyond my scope, I was heartened.  The song 'anything you can do I can do better' played through my head and I posted some more things on my Etsy.  Suck it Nordstrom.  You and your 25 dollar bow and pearl earrings.

Nordstrom's Pearl Drops for $25
My Bow Dangles Earrings for $12
Dare to compare.  I mean it.  Visit my Deviantart and Nordstrom's gallery and REALLY compare it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Broaching topics

The Tyrants Brooch Trio: Bathory, Vlad, Ivan

What can I say about brooches, broaches, and pins?  They are the blouse fasteners, hat pins, purse clasps and conversation pieces of the world.  But what does that have to do with me?  I make necklaces, bracelets, hair clips and earrings!  ...Well, now I do brooches too.

At first, like with many things, I was afraid of making brooches.  There was always some internal monologue holding me back from even trying.  One day, around Christmas, my friend C-note (that's what i call her because...that's what I call her), asked me to make a brooch for her to give to one of her college friends for Santa Day.  I told her 'I dunno C-note.  I've never made brooches before'.  She looked so disappointed at the news that I had to try.  You see, C-note doesn't ask for much, but she gives A LOT.  I told her that I'd do some research and call her if I could figure it out. 
I've repaired brooches, but only to the extent of getting jeweler's glue and resetting stones.  But that didn't mean I could MAKE a brooch.  I needed research.  I decided, 'What the heck!  I wanna make me some history and help out a friend while I'm at it!' and started reading about how brooches are constructed in the modern world. 
Elegante Brooch (commission)

Since I don't know how to work with leather, sewing machines, or do molten metal, I had  to go for the more mundane method of construction.  Glue.  Not that cute white glue from grade-school.  Nah.  I needed extra strength, industrial style glue.  At first I tried krazy glue.  That turned out to be a mistake.  You see, they tell you how great krazy glue is at sticking to stuff, but they don't tell you how good it is at NOT sticking to stuff.

While giving the simple brooch I made first a test drive, the whole darn thing fell apart.  Piece by piece it broke off until there was nothing but a pin back.  It was all because krazy glue dries brittle.  Something as vigorous as dropping a krazy glued jewelry item can cause the glue bonds to break. 
So, I went for my tried and true E-6000 glue!!!  It held beautifully.  Why?  Because it's literally liquid rubber.  First of all, it's sticky.  Secondly, it seeps into the pores of things contracts around them as it dries.  Thirdly, it's stretchy.  So, wiggling will not dislodge it once it has fully set. The only thing that will remove it is a knife and pliers, but ...only after an atomic explosion to loosen it up. 

Once I had got it in my head that making a brooch with the E-6000 glue isn't different from making a pendant the same way, I finished C-note's request so fast, that I made mistakes.  I had to tear it apart...and in doing so, destroyed the brooch completely.  Actually, the glue did that because it wouldn't let go.  Still, I finished the brooch.  Once it was finished, I was so excited to show her that I forgot to photograph it.  Ha! 

No worries though.  Of all the jewelry items I've learned to make, brooches are by far the easiest ones to make once you've got the design all drawn up. I'll be churning out more as I gather more materials and create new designs. 
Rosemary Brooch: Gift to Mother

Monday, January 10, 2011

Holiday Bootcamp Aftermath

After a long break for the holidays (I'm so sorry about that!  No, really I am.) I am back.  I sort of got caught up in the whole Christmas spirit and the delight that I was actually able to BUY gifts for everyone this year, rather than making them all like I've done in years passed.  Holiday bootcamp made the difference. 

Now before you protest and say something silly like 'but Agent Ren, your creations are fabulous!  Why would you have reservations about giving them as gifts?'.  The reason is simple.  Making things is what I do all the time.  That kind of takes away from the wow factor when you present someone with a piece of handmade jewelry and they already know that handmade is your thing.  The gift becomes something akin to 'the dreaded knitted sweater from grandma'. 
It's not valuable anymore.  Even if you put hours and hours into making it, it's just another lump of beads that you're forcing them to take.  Why hurt your fingers, spend scarce cash and time to just get one of those tight, uncomfortable 'I don't really want this' smiles?  I didn't break my fingers or my bank account trying to make something special this year.  I didn't agonize about not having time to make things or scraping together enough cash to get nice precious metal findings to make each item extra cool.  I hunted bargains like my life depended on it, squirreled away coupons like I was hiding seeds for winter, tracked every dollar spent with a methodical accuracy that a serial killer would envy, and had everything assembled and half-wrapped in my closet a month before Christmas. 
What's this got to do with Holiday Bootcamp?  Plenty.  I'll tell you the truth.  For all the Holiday bootcamp prep I did for a big holiday sale, I didn't sell that much, barely two c-notes worth.  I spent carefully and some would say abundantly to feed my high rate of production.  I was like a machine, grinding through eyepins, beads and time like a wood chipper and wearing out the blades on my tools twice as fast. 

I was hoping for a big breakthrough as far as sales and ended up only barely covering costs of materials.  What I did sell was stuff that people custom ordered, brooches mostly and other things that I never make en masse.  Despite this, I learned a great deal.  Here are the things that Bootcamp taught me.

1.  Run, Rest, Run:
Run, Rest, Run is the philosophy that when you do something, you go at it full tilt.  You don't burn yourself out, though, because then it'd be Run, Die and end there.  The idea is that you work like a Juggernaut until you get tired, and when you rest, you meditate ways to make your next full-tilt stint go better.  This way, when you start up, you're never starting from zero.  You're starting up from 5 because you're rested AND focused.

2.  There is always a better bargain
The problem with people is that they have a tendency to go with what they know and take the best of they see right in front of them.  You have to teach yourself not to be like any animal and make the logical choice in front of you.  You have to teach yourself to go onward.  I ran into this time and again with tried and true connectors that I have scores of.  After a while seeing the same exact elements in piece after piece makes those elements rather 'meh'.  So, I'd half-finish a set and move on to the next while I waited to find something better to finish the first.  It turned out to be a good plan.

3.  Substitutions shouldn't diminish quality
To go with the previous comment, when you're selecting new options, don't just grab any old cheapo substitute that kinda fits the description!  Go on and pay some money for the good stuff.  It's often worth it.  Otherwise, you'll be stuck with a bunch of brass fan charms thinner than tissue paper and twice as pliable... Like me. 

I don't know what I'm going to do with these things, but I haven't the heart to throw them away.

4.  Buy in bulk
If you can, buy in bulk.  Always.  I guarantee you that there will come a time when you're making something and you'll wish for some beads or findings that you've already used up.  Maybe they'll be for another necklace.  Maybe they'll be for decorating a trinket box.

5.  Keep your tools in good shape
After a lot of heavy use, it becomes obvious when your nipping pliers get dull. Things just don't cut.  They just bend and you end up with a nasty looking chewed up piece of wire, bit of a finding or something equally horrible and bad for design.

6.  If you're tired, stop working
You can't 'keep working through the pain'.  You'll end up messing up and leaving your genetic material on the thing you're working on in a way you didn't want to.

7.  No one has any originality any more.
You won't find any clients in this unstable economy that possess a lot of originality.  There is no one who will come to you with a commission knowing exactly what they want.  It's frustrating, but it's up to you to guess what they want and what they need.  You have to be ready to address the want FIRST and then, when it leads them to disaster, address the need.  Hundreds of people may look at your displays and decide that your stuff's 'not for them'.  BUT, the moment they see an item they snubbed looking great on someone else, they will want that exact item, believing that it will look the same on them.  I've no idea what dictates that logic, actually. 
However, I did have a young woman with a very short, thick neck who wanted a 3-inch wide choker made 'just like the one you wore to the Emily Autumn concert, the one posted on your deviantart', despite my attempts to lead her to a thinner 1 and a half inch wide choker band.  This same young woman was distraught when the choker folded in and got lost under her chin.  I was unsurprised, and therefore had a solution on hand.

8.  Don't waste time
This ties in to #2.  In waiting for proper items to pop up to finish a piece you've already started, don't just sit on your hands waiting for magic.  Get inspired and keep working.

9.  Double Check your work
With a a magnifying glass and tweezers.  Maybe an physicist too.

10.  Everything is Material
I used a quarter to balance out a brooch this passed weekend.  It was cheaper than buying a cabochon frame, just as effective, and twice as eye popping.  What'd you do with your quarters?  Huh?  You put them in the soda machine didn't you?

The result of applying these learnings to Christmas shopping were readily noticeable.  I didn't go into debt trying to get something I felt was 'worthy of giving'.  I also was able to get a better quality of whatever it was I gave by clipping coupons and working hard.  I played the 'How long can you keep 20 dollars' game like a pro.  Instead of squeezing those 20 dollars till they screamed, died and came back as moaning zombies, I put them to work and made them grow with careful and wise spending.  What's more, I got more laughs, screams and wails at the gifts I gave.  I even gave small gifts to clients.  Squeals of "OMFG!  THIS IS AWESOME!" rang from as far as California.  I made girls feel pretty, made moms jealous of their daughters, made muscle guys break their diets, and got to laugh at my dad because he mistakenly ate soaps that looked and smelled like oreos.  Apparently, they tasted like oreos until they started to foam up in his mouth.  Love you Dad