Welcome from Crafty Chicita

A big welcome to old friends and new. Follow my crafting adventures as I take you on a journey through the daily life of a creative crafter. Experience the successes and disappointments that are all part of my working day, but most of all, enjoy the ride.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Gardeners' Delight

All of you gardeners will share in my appreciation of an approaching new season. With spring most definitely in the air, I'm getting ready to make the first seed sowings of the year. This is the time I look forward to, as it indicates that a new growing season is approaching. I always plant 3 or 4 different varieties of tomato seeds and as many sweet peas as I have space for in early February. They have to be my favourite flower and their fragrance fill the house when I pick them in mid summer. By March, my indoor windowsills and heated propagators are crammed full of little seedlings, waiting to be potted up and all straining for the light.

I have been making and using these wonderful traditional clay plant labels for years. They are based on those that were used by all serious gardeners in bygone days, before those ugly white plastic labels were available. These are so attractive strewn around the garden or in patio pots or even next to house plants that live in pots. I have left my plant labels out in the frosts throughout several winters and they have all withstood the cold. The great thing about them is that you can write all your details and wash them clean, ready for reuse the following season.


Saturday, 30 January 2010

Cold Hands, Warm Heart (Unless You Are A Vampire)


The Twilight movies and books have proved so popular. Even the knitwear worn by Bella the vampire fan is much sought after. I can't believe how quickly these handknitted Twilight Mittens have disappeared from my shop, so I have relisted them today with new improved photos that really do them justice. With 10% wool and 20% alpaca, they are soft and toasty, and the cuffs go right up the forearms for extra warmth.

There was a heavy frost here in Manchester this morning and February is expected to be just as cold. My daughter has been waiting patiently for weeks for her own pair of mittens to be knitted, but each time I finish an order, another customer wants a pair. Not that I'm complaining. I love knitting, and always have at least two projects on the go at once. I have even been known to knit gloves and socks while sitting by a swimming pool in Greece in wonderful temperatures of 35C!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Spots Before The Eyes

I'm so pleased with the spotty ceramic heart shaped ring and matching earrings that I've just finished and listed in the Folksy shop. I thought I'd share them with you and give you a taste of things to come. I have also made some amazing sage, black and white earrings, rings and brooches, but these are still in the finishing off stages and I'm hoping that they'll make it into a friend's new jewellery shop in Afflecks Palace. I'd welcome any comments, constructive, good or bad from you guys, and any suggestions (keep it polite) will be gratefully accepted.

As a postscript to yesterday's blog about my unexpected ride on Sid the Sod, star and old scrote of the horse field, I'm glad to say that not a thing aches in my body today!!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Back in the Saddle

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!! I can not believe I'm saying this, but I just got on my horse this morning and rode him for the first time since my awful fall in August. I was not planning to do this, or indeed to ever get on any horse ever again after what happened, but my friend rode him a few yards today and I just went for it, in the wind and the rain and totally unprepared. I was wearing jeans and wellies, but did have the hat and body protector on. It was amazing, and way better than chocolate! Needless to say, my camera was sitting on a shelf at home, so there are no photos for you to see.

Let me fill you in on some of the details. On August 5th, a beautiful sunny day, my friend and I decided to canter our horses across an open field, except something spooked Sid the Sod (my horse) and he bolted, my feet came out of the stirrups, I lost my grip on the reins and was bouncing about for a quarter of a mile as he accelerated into a fast gallop. Eventually I landed, taking all the impact in one spot, a lumber vertebra, which of course fractured. I spent a week in the hospital from hell, the first 4 days of which I was not allowed to move a muscle, and eventually discharged myself from that horrible place, wearing a back brace with metal rod up the front. This back brace was worn for 4 months. I'm told that it will take another few months for me to be as healed as I'm going to be. I remember crying my eyes out as I lay unattended for the first 2 hours after arriving in hospital, not because of the pain which was unbelievable, but because I knew I would never get on a horse again. And even this morning, I told myself that even if I was tempted, I was not going to even sit on him.

I feel as though I have achieved so much by doing this small thing, and I expect that tomorrow morning I will have a struggle to get out of bed, but it was soooo worth it!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Glazed and Fired Bird Cafe

A few days ago I showed you a photo of a bisque fired bird feeder that a friend has commissioned me to make. Well, it has now been glazed and fired, and here is the finished item. Michele left me to choose the colour scheme so I went for tones that would blend in with her garden but would also be noticed.

This photo shows the bird cafe glazed but unfired. I just love the colours of glazes before firing - so mellow and without a hint of how they will look when they come out of the kiln. Needless to say, I had to take a quick peak inside the kiln while my ceramic pieces were still cooling!

I also fired some pieces that have been made into earrings, rings and brooches, but that is for another day. Keep checking back!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

I am featured in IndieSmiles article

I'm having a busy day today, considering it's Sunday. I've been trying to find some cotton yarn to knit up the lovely Twilight mittens for a Folksy crafter who is allergic to wool.

The big news that I want to share with you is that I am featured along with three other jewellery designers from Folksy.com in the latest article in IndieSmiles. We were each interviewed about our design influences and inspirations, how we got into jewellery making and how we source our supplies. Wonderful Tracy of Cinnamonjewellery,who makes amazing jewellery herself, wrote the article and did a damn fine job. Check it out for yourselves.


Friday, 22 January 2010

Knitted Wire Tutorial Continued

Following on from my last blog where I described how to knit a wire and pearl bracelet, I want to share with you some improvements that I have made today as I knitted another bracelet with matching earrings. Here are the knitting instructions.

Thread 24 beads onto fine jewellery wire. With 3mm needles cast on 36 sts.
Row 1: K6, K bead, repeat to end of row.
Row 2: K3, P bead, repeat to end of row.
Row 3: Repeat row 1.
Cast off loosely, working in any remaining beads. Weave loose ends into work.
Attach a jump rings to both ends of a 2-piece decorative fastening clasp and then to each end of the bracelet.

Thread 8 beads onto fine jewellery wire. With 3mm needles cast on 10 sts.
Row 1: K1, K bead, K5, K bead, K to end.
Row 2: K4, Purl bead, K1, Purl bead, K to end.
Row 3: Repeat row 1.
Cast off loosely working in the remaining beads equally spaced. Weave loose ends into work. Attach jump rings to knitted piece and onto earring hook wires.

Now flaunt them!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Volcanic Lava and Knitted Wire

It's amazing how resourceful you can be when you have to utilise the stock you have rather than ordering the stuff you need. I'm facing a huge car repair bill tomorrow and so I'm seriously counting the pennies, and that means no more cruising the online supplies shops for a while. To satisfy my urge to make some jewellery with a difference I dug out some beads that I was not sure about and some very fine jewellery wire that was lying about in my bead stash.

This is what I made today. The black beads in this super chunky necklace are made from lightweight volcanic lava and have a fabulous grainy matt texture. The gorgeous red pendant is pressed sponge coral, a semi-precious stone that holds some natural patterns within it. I think the two colours go so well together and the silver spacer beads accentuate the intensity all the more. This piece can be found in my Folksy shop.

To create this lacy wire bracelet I threaded a mixture of 24 genuine freshwater rice pearls and rose quartz beads onto a long piece of wire and used knitting needles that are as thin as tooth picks. I brought a bead up to the top of the needles whenever I wanted to knit it into position and knitted 4 rows in all before loosely casting off. Despite having knitted constantly throughout my life, this has to be the most difficult piece of knitting that I have ever done! Not only that but the wire scratches the metal needles to bits.

Finally, and as light relief, I combine a few freshwater rice pearls and aurora borrealis beads to create a simple but very elegant and understated pair of earrings. The amber coloured beads catch the light with a deep blue hue.These can also be found in my Folksy shop.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Bright as a Button

Yeahay! I'm a featured artist on Cuteable today (http://cuteable.com). Lovely Linsey from http://www.swirlyarts.folksy.com has included my huge ceramic buttons in her button feature, so I thought I'd let you know how I got into making ceramic buttons in the first place.

Weeeeell .... I have been a mad keen handknitter since I was around 6 years old, and have always got at least two knitting projects on the go. After working for several weeks on a complicated jacket or cropped cardigan pattern, the last thing I want to finish it off with is a set of boring acrylic buttons. So I started making ceramic buttons with the bits of left over from slab rolled clay after making some pots, bowls or mugs and voila, the handmade button obsession began. For ceramicists, small items like buttons are great as kiln fillers, for using up all those small gaps between larger items, and as it is quite costly to fire up an underfilled kiln it is very satisfying to use up those gaps without having to make small but complicated pieces. Once I had built up a good collection of glazes and underglazes I found that I could really create some amazing effects with layering, dripping, flicking and slip trailing techniques. So there you have it. I rarely get to use these buttons on my handknits as they don't stick around long enough, but one of these days I will remember to duplicate some of these designs to keep for personal use.

See my selection of funky and original ceramic buttons:

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Still Hot and Straight Out of the Kiln

A close friend sent me a photo of a ceramic bird feeder that she had spotted while in Bruges one morning, in the hope that I could make one for her. By the afternoon I had sent her a photo of my version - The Bird Cafe. So, here it is, straight out of the kiln this morning and still warm. I'm going to glaze it in sage, turquoise and white drips and will show you the finished item in a few days. If you would like to commission one for yourself, leave me a message under this article (£20 plus shipping).

So, guess who's birthday it was yesterday? Well, I may be another year older but...I told I'm only look 40, and I feel like I'm 30, think I'm 20 and have tantrums like I'm 10. So I've got the 5 ages of woman sorted!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

First Pieces Using Bronzclay

At last my first pieces of jewellery made from Bronzclay are fired, photographed and ready to list in my Folksy shop. Let me tell you how I made them.

The amount of Bronzclay I bought was smaller than I'd expected, so I decided to slab roll it as thinly as possible using a kitchen rolling pin. I found the clay very sticky and was advised to cover my hands, work surfaces and equipment with olive oil, which worked well at stopping any sticking from occuring. Once rolled to the thickness I needed, I set about handcutting the bases of each piece as well as the smaller pieces to be used for decoration. The advantage of having the pieces covered in olive oil is that they are easy to move into the right position. I scored the bases and small pieces as well as moistening both surfaces with water ( using slip is recommended as with normal clay but I usually end up spitting on it instead!)and pressed them together to form a good join. Once leather hard, I smoothed the edges, this being made more difficult by the thinness of the clay which now felt fragile. After drying for several days I placed them on a layer of charcoal beads with another 1" layer to cover them, inside an aluminium container with lid. The pieces were then fired in an electric kiln to 850C for a total of 5 hours, ramping up the heat by 33% each hour, followed by a soak of 2 hours. Once cooled I used a soft wire brush to remove the filth and buffed with a soft cloth, then superglued the jewellery findings (brooch backs and stud pins) and they were done.

The difference between this medium before and after firing is incredible. The colour is beautiful and rather similar to the tone of antique gold, and enhanced by the charcoal, giving the bronze a slightly aged look.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

One Thing After Another

The gorgeous ceramic Sea Ring is now listed in my Folksy shop, and I just love the ocean hues.Take a look via this link:

There I was, smuggly thinking what a good little, but old, car I have, starting first go after sitting outside in all that snow for days. When I drive to the horse field to feed Sid the Sod I have to travel half a mile along a dirt track with huge pot holes, and more often than not I am pushed for time and tend to drive like a boy racer. So consequently today my car raised objections by making a very unpleasant noise. I managed to drive the 7 miles back home at 10 mph and receiving various gesticulations from irate drivers, and I'm sure they weren't waving because they wanted to make friends! So I now have to face the car mechanics, their sharp intake of breath and ridiculous bill with a suspected exhaust problem. I knew I shouldn't have bought that new camera!

Yesterday was a very constructive crafting day, as I finished off a few clay jewellery pieces which will become earrings, rings and brooches after being glazed. It is so satisfying when I see lumps of clay become pretty items that will eventually be decorating the fingers and ears of happy customers. I also polished the now fired bronzclay pieces and was amazed at the fabulous colour they took on once they were buffed up - rather like antique gold. I also replaced a few of my blurred photos in my Folksy shop with new pics taken with the groovy new camera, but as the daylight was so poor I may have to persevere for perfection!

Finally, I was delighted to feature in fellow Folksy person NiftyKnits blog yesterday. She is the clever woman that creates the cute and humorous knitted meerkat characters. Check out her blog and her Folksy shop with these links.



Saturday, 9 January 2010

Continuing Tale of the Poor Dead Cat

A truly sad start to the freezing day as a lady knocked on my door asking about her cat. I had to break the news that the little thing had been run over a couple of days ago. So we both stood in the kitchen crying. I learnt a bit about her cat's history - she had hand reared her with a bottle, her name was Lily and she had travelled across town for Christmas dinner. Apparently she was on heat and could have been pursued by a tom, hence the accident. It was a very moving experience to share in this lady's grief, but she was ultimately relieved that her cat was not lost in the snow or trapped in someone's shed. One of my cats, Norman, died only a month ago. He had late stage lymphoma and it was not a happy ending to his life, so I could empathise over this stranger's loss.

I have spent 8 hours - yes, 8 hours, finding Facebook fans and making friends all over the world. I have learnt that it is snowing in Tennessee and had an email of sympathy for my moggy loss from a lovely cat lady in the states. My Facebook fan page link is over on the right, if you would like to join the growing throng.

I've at long last fired my first bronze pieces in the kiln, and have to suffer the long wait until tomorrow when it is cool enough to open up. I'm feeling a combination of angst and excitement, but will know soon enough if I'm any good at this new craft.

Finally, I had to resort to digging out the old hand appliqued bed cover that I bartered for, 11 years ago on my first visit to Luxor. I still paid the earth, despite reducing the price by 75% but it is absolutely beautiful and incredibly warm.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Critters And Their Daily Demands

As predicted, the demise of the poor moggy yesterday (see previous blog) kept me awake most of last night, and so I have lost the will to do any crafting this afternoon, despite the extensive 'to do' list that I eagerly drew up during breakfastthis morning. I'm feeling guilty about this but as Scarlet O'Hara was fond of saying, "Tomorrow is another day".

As I can safely say that hens are the thickest pets I've ever had, cats are the most sensible. My two cats, Zebra and her one remaining son, Dolphin, have not left the house today, even for a pee. I on the other hand, being a human, have had the responsibility of tending to all my animals' needs. Sid the Sod, my lovely 15 year old bay Welsh cob, resides in sheer idleness in a huge field, 7 miles from here towards the Pennines, and remains outdoors with his home boys all year round. I usually put an all-weather coat on him by mid-December but decided not to bother this winter, as I'd heard many reports that his type are better off unrugged. He has amazingly thick fur at this time of year and only suffers the cold when it has rained and he is too wet to dry out over night. Today, however, I gave in as the forecast here is for more snow overnight, and he is now cozy-bozy in his glam pink duvet, with all the other horses pointing and laughing at his lack of dress sense. Needless to say, I left the camera in the car, which I had to park one mile away as the lumpy country lane is now impassable, so cannot show you how fab he looks, but you can see from this photo, taken a couple of days ago, the thickness of his natural coat and how well equipped he is for this cold weather.

I've been replacing the hens' water bottles several times throughout the day as they are freezing up within half an hour. I fill one up with hot water for them to use and keep another in the house to thaw out, this little routine occuring 8 or 9 times in all. The wild birds positively leapt on the fat balls and trashy white bread that I left for them this morning. They must be having a ball at the moment with everyone sticking food out for them. I spotted a very fat robin, 2 thrushes, a blackbird, blue tits, longtailed tits and many dunnocks and sparrows around the bird feeder within half an hour of their food delivery. I also saw an amazing V formation of about 60 geese flying over the house, all screeching joyfully in the glorious sun. Ain't nature wonderful!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Temperature In Manchester Today was -13C

I don't remember ever experiencing weather as cold as this. De-icing the car today was sheer hell as the lock froze over within seconds, there was ice inside the car and my hand actually stuck to the door handle. The draught excluder (Moo Moo the cow snake - don't ask, but he's rather gorgeous)was stuck by ice to the inside of the front door all day, despite the central heating roaring away. This evening my shoes were frozen onto the concrete outside my back door.

I keep hens in the back garden - four gorgeous Pembrokeshire Blacks, bred for cold conditions luckily. Named Beryl, Onyx, Jet and Doris (my mother's name) they have soft oily feathers that insulate them against freezing temperatures. Lately they have stopped bickering between themselves and adopted an attitude of sisterly love, which I know from experience won't last, and have taken to huddling together at night inside their straw lined house, inside the cat basket that has become the egg production room. They look hilarious squeezed into such a small space together, but what a sensible bunch, considering hens are incredibly stupid on the whole.

There was a feline fatality outside my garden gate this morning. I found a dear, sweet young black cat's still warm body lying there, presumably knocked down by the delivery van that I saw cruising round the corner, and try as I might I could not find anyone who recognised the poor moggy. I will not go into the details, but needless to say it will haunt me for a few days. God knows how a van travelling at about 5 mph could possibly do this, but I'm assuming that the cat or van skidded and didn't quite put the brakes on in time. RIP little cat.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Iceman Cometh

This is what I saw when I opened the curtains this morning. I scampered outside, clad in three jumpers, ski gloves, silly bobble hat and riding boots to take some photos and capture the unspoilt beauty of the garden before the cats, birds and postman left their mark. Manchester had 6 inches of snow overnight with more falling all day, and much more to come. So, if you haven't had your share of the snow yet, it's heading your way and this is what you are in for.

Most schools around here were closed and so my daughter and I made a magnificent 6 foot snowman which could well be transformed into a snow goddess if I get my way and add a pair of boobs. Daughter is not impressed with this idea, so I may have to sneak out when she goes to bed and add to our ice sculpture.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Kilns Have Their Uses

I have now begun listing some of my ceramic creations in my Folksy online shop - www.folksy.com/shops/chicita. This pair of pretty bowls is the first of many items to be included, and as I'm planning to load the kiln and fire it up tomorrow I got to thinking of the additional advantages of having one in the house. Mine is located in the workshop (aka spare bedroom) where I do all my making, drying, firing and glazing, as well as the ironing. When the kiln has reached 1000C the workshop is so warm that you could almost imagine being on holiday in the Med.

I take advantage of the temperature by putting my homemade bread dough in the room to rise. Believe me, it doesn't take long. Even though I have the window open to let out any fumes the heat radiates from the kiln for at least 12 hours after it has switched off. All potters will now the eagerness and anticipation that is felt while waiting for the kiln to cool down enough to allow you to open up and see how the pottery has turned out. You should not really open up for at least 20 hours after switch off has occured but I usually can't resist a quick peak after 15 hours. There are always plenty of oohs and aahs as well as an occasional aaagh once the lid is lifted. Glazes rarely turn out the way I had expected, but there are often some real improvements when they do their own thing and decide to come out purple instead of green and there is no accounting for the fact that glazes like to run rather than staying put. This means that when something amazing happens to a piece, I usually cannot reproduce the same effect, try as I might. Still, that ensures that items remain original and unique, and that's what crafting is all about.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Day, New Year, New Decade and Almost Aliens

I can't believe a whole decade has gone by since I became a mum. It's just flown and I now have a keen fellow crafter for a daughter. We share our love of beads, ceramics and even writing. Last night we were both watching the fireworks at midnight from the bedroom window when these UFO type objects started silently floating over the house, all heading towards the south (London?) and increasing in numbers over the next half hour. Well, I tried to think of a rational explanation but it was getting late and my brain had switched off for the night, so I calmly assumed that this probably happened every night and that nobody was usually looking skyward to notice the alien invasion! I even waved to them like the pillock that I am - if they were aliens I decided that it would be a good idea to be friendly. After chatting to some sensible people on the Folksy forum, I discovered that they were only Chinese Lanterns. Imagine my disappointment - I was rather hoping that they may stop off and whisk my noisy revelling neighbours away for a prolonged probe, but alas it was not meant to be.

Meanwhile, I have finished a commission for a Folksy jeweller for a pair of toasty mittens as seen on the hands of the vampire fan, Bella, in the Twilight movie, and am receiving orders already. Follow this link for more details.