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Category Archives: How To Make Jewellery

Wrapping Beach Glass in Clay!

I live on an island. For the past six years, a significant chunk of my income has come from wire-wrapping beach glass and selling it to tourists, or folks from here who have family away and want to send them a piece of home. It’s been great, and my parents have been my largest supplier of beach glass, picking it up on their weekly beach walks.

But recently, at least three other wrappers have popped up and I felt the market was inundated, so I stopped – but my work was still being requested. I ruminated for a while, and decided that polymer clay was the answer.

First, I did a bit of sketching. That’s my new thing, with the Think and Design series behind me and a gorgeous new Galaxy Note 8 Tablet (with the pressure sensitive s-pen!!!).

Beach glass July 22 2013_01(1) Beach glass July 22 2013_04 Beach glass July 22 2013_05

I may have gotten a little carried away drawing shellfish.

Anyway, yesterday was the first day I was actually able to work on this idea. I grabbed a couple of light, slightly uncommon soft greens and got to work. At first, I wanted to just make sure I could actually capture the stone without using a back, so I didn’t get into any fancy sculpture, just some waves and dots.

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I sort of liked them – the blue one has great lines – but neither one of them was really pushing my buttons. I couldn’t figure out why, so I went straight to my wonderful fan base on Facebook and asked their opinions! And oh boy did they have opinions :) Most people agreed with me that they weren’t quite right but it wasn’t until I started pushing for answers that it came up to the surface: they looked like icing, like cartoons, like kid’s jewellery. Which totally resonated with me, and now looking at them I can identify that the solid colours and thick lines are not sophisticated enough. I needed texture, depth, interest.

So OK, back to the drawing board. Except this time I didn’t do any drawing. Whoops?

Anyway, I thought of trying a somewhat traditional bezel setting. I rolled out some clay, textured it with this gorgeous zentangle stamp, cut out a geometric shape using my clay blade, used an x-acto knife to cut out a hole behind the stone to allow the light through, and then used a piece of textured clay to create a bezel to trap the stone.



I went back to facebook with the new prototypes and received much more enthusiastic reviews. I was really excited, so I made more!






I had a lot of fun picking out and blending the Pearl Ex Powder colours on the surface of the clay to set off the colour of each piece of glass.

This technique lets me play with pearlex powders and textures while still keeping the natural beach glass which I actually do still love a lot, and I think it’s just groovy.

I can see a few places to improve and grow on this technique but so far, I’m loving it and I just had to share!

EDIT: Ok wow, my friend suggested that aluminum foil behind the glass would help with the luminosity, and BOY HOWDY does it ever! The difference was so staggeringly awesome that I re-baked all of these with foil trapped in a new layer of clay. Check it out, before and after, similar lighting conditions:

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It’s like there’s a flashlight behind them when it’s now solid clay! Yum :)

And new ones!

User comments

Think & Design #3: The Cluster

Yep, I skipped #2 but that’s only because my sketches for those are upstairs – they were made while I was still doing the exercises physically, on paper with pen.

But then I bought this tablet, mostly because touching it in the store gave me a completely visceral reaction, and I started doing my sketching there. It’s nearly as good as paper, sensually, and ten times better because I always have it with me (but carrying around my notepad and a bunch of pens was getting tedious). I’ve been using it to capture all kinds of ideas – including a super secret project that I hope to be able to reveal soon! And then it’s easy to export sketches to a file for sharing.

So here are a few of my sketches from the third lesson. I’ll get back to #2 soon :)

First, a few sketches from the middle of the lesson and the beginnings of some designs:






And then a concept for a necklace that occurred to me – to sew leather to a wire frame, and sew button clusters to the leather, and then cluster the frames: Sketch7019467


Good times, right? I’ve been having a ton of new ideas lately. Now if only I could get the time to do them! Oh hey wait – I’m on vacation – so here goes nothin’!

PS this Cluster lesson is available for sale.

Idea Overload!

Two weeks ago I had some vacation time, and my younger brother and I headed out across our wee island in search of rusty crap. It was a gorgeous summer day, warm but not so hot we needed the A/C so all the windows were down and everything smelled like heaven – pine and hot sand and salt air and just… fresh and wonderful. If I could bottle all of those summer smells for you, I would! As it was, I was too enthralled to even take a single photo the whole day. Remember what it was like to live your life instead of recording it? It was delightful and I’m happy I have the memories even without being able to show you.

But I CAN show you what I found on our little treasure hunt!

Apparently, most of the antique places in Cape Breton are clustered around the middle, so we plotted a course and headed out. First stop, Baddeck. I got a few fun little pen nibs, some random metal bits, and some old keys, really big delightful ones that my locksmith dad was super impressed by – he says they were probably for great big doors.


Next stop, the Garage Loft. An antiques shop above a literal auto shop in the middle of a gorgeous wood off a rural road, you get in by walking up a hill behind the shop and then across a few planks over a gap between the building and the hill, and then you’re in the loft! The first thing I see? This delightful wall of tools. I bought some calipers which I can see as the basis for a fantastic necklace.

Calipers and... I dunno?

And a great little metal measuring tape, which I took apart, cut off the inside-most ten feet, and put back together so it’s still usable.

A great old chunk of tape measure

I spoke to the owner and he dug out the inside of an old clock, plus the beat-up clock face. My husband is going to have fun tearing this apart!

The whole inside of a clock. It still moves!

The front of a rusty old clock

Then I came across a lovely, unsorted (my fave) box of old horse tackle. The wheels are turning with these suckers!

Horse buckles and such!

Moving along, we found a house that’s been converted into “antiques and art”, with an artist in residence upstairs and so many old typographer’s cases – some with the metal type still inside – that I was almost weeping at being too broke for any of them. My brother bought some local fiddle CDs and the guy at the desk said hey, there’s another building up back – just follow the path.

So, we traipsed up the garden path, past someone’s front door, to a garage – with a blue door – full of more tools and delights. First thing I see? A box full of more keys (the small ones are in the photo above). Next thing? A BOX OF CLOCK GEARS. A whole box. So. Many. Gears. And not little ones, either, these are 2, 3 inches across. It was like I’d won the lottery. But… I was running out of cash! It was 3:30pm on a Saturday! I was in the middle of nowhere! I was counting out as many as I could afford and finally just took the whole box back down the garden path and made an offer – which he accepted!

A BUNCH of clock parts! These are HUGE.

Last place on our list was up in Margaree, further than we’d planned to go but the day was so gorgeous there was no way we were stopping now. And I’m so glad we went! At first I wasn’t sure there was anything for me, but I found a pile of leatherworking tools I thought would be great for clayshaping.

Leatherworking tools

As it turned out, they were part of a set of other leather tools and whatnots which, since I’d bought a pile of leather belts the week before (yet another project I haven’t had time yet to start), I thought what the hell, and bought the lot!

More leatherworking tools

Then we had some delicious meatball subs in Inverness (ok my brother had a lobster one, but: ew), waded through the water at the beach, and tiredly made our way back home.

But I’m not even done! My lovely friend was going through some inherited jewellery, and gave me a box of things she didn’t want/think were useful.

Jewellery castoffs from a friend!

The patina on that silver belt alone is swoon-worthy.

I’d also ordered a few things on Etsy, and they showed up too:

Bottle caps!

Gnarly pen nibs - some used

Random rusty bits


So with all of this new material, plus all the sketching I’ve been doing (more on that later), and a rainy vacation with my husband out of town, you’d think I’d be showing you a bunch of finished jewellery next, right?

Well, now we come to the title of this post: idea overload. With the hot mess my studio was in and the sheer number of thoughts running through my head, I was the most ADD I’ve ever been: start this project no wait clean this section no I can’t do that now I’ve got to put these away oh but look at the project I can do with these oh but I need to make earrings for the shop but I can’t do work I have to clean but these things need to go away but I don’t know where they go aaaaaaaaaaa… and I just actually walked away.


I’ve since got the mess somewhat under control, and some production work, including a wholesale order, sort of where it should be. I’m hoping by my next vacation – two weeks! – I’ll be able to actually show you something delicious.

Cross your fingers for me!

Think and Design: #1 – The Flower

As promised, I’ve begun the drawing exercises on my journey towards a new style. Above is the first exercise in the Think and Design Jewelry Series, which is to, essentially, draw a flower. I drew a bunch because it was so much fun to remember that hey, I used to know how to draw!


Part of the exercise is to come up with a bunch of loose concepts for types of designs based on the flower. I was somewhat distracted while working on the first batch but my second pass yielded a few ideas I think I might even put into production – including, perhaps, clay button starfish rings!

So far, I’m excited to see where this journey takes me.


Adventures in Ring Design

Back when I first started making jewellery, there were no tutorials online – no pinterest, no craftsy, no So when I wanted to make a ring, I had to sort of figure it out myself. And what I came up with was pretty neat – a base with beads “sewn” on top:

I’ve sold hundreds, even thousands of these little suckers. But that tiny wire used to sew those beads on? Yeah, grabbing that is actually kind of painful on my hands. And they’re not very fast. And Arts North opens in about a week so I need to have rings made. So last week I thought, there must be some other way, and I looked up a few different tutorials online and gave ’em a go.

First, I tried the Basic Bead Ring pattern by Patricia Capotosto. This is the ring that everyone makes and I thought well, if I’m going to be quick, this looks like the best place to start. But maybe I can give it spin by using my lampwork orphan beads from Amy Hall:

Can you spot the non-artisan bead?

Well aren’t they delicious like candy?! But quite tall off the hand…


Which is fine – I know some folks like that! – but only a limited number of people are the audience for this particular design. I’m starting to feel comfortable with the heavier gauge wire and the simpler ring base, but I need something else.

OK. So what next? The clock is ticking! My eyes light upon my button box, and away I go!

Button rings: Yes or no? (I know they're not original but that's OK, right?)

Oh yes, these are fun! Some vintage buttons and some new buttons combined to make a great little cocktail ring. I flew the idea across my Facebook page however, and the comments were basically that they didn’t look like Gayle Bird Designs. Fair enough! I tried adding some swirlies across the top though, and it didn’t quite work out.

With time running out on this long weekend, I thought well, I’m just going to have to do something boring. I found beads similar to the lampworked ones but much smaller, and when you use the smaller donut beads, the result is kind of a solitaire style, which I actually like quite a bit!

Solitaire Style

Well, what happens if I put more than one bead on there? As it turns out, it begins to look channel-set… and it starts to look a little more like something I would do.

Channel set style

Finally, before I got out of bed yesterday morning I thought, there’s GOT to be a way to make Gayle-swirls on these rings without taking forever! I came up with an idea and after some experimentation, I think I’ve finally hit on a good compromise of time, style, and originality: the Rosette Ring:

Rosette style


I am VERY pleased with this new design! It’s using my favourite two-toned firepolished Czech glass beads, there’s an element of swirl in there (they’re hand-swirled, no tools involved) and after a few tries I was able to make a LOT.

Now I just need to figure out how to steampunk some rings and I’ll be all set. … Hm… if anyone needs me, I’ll be in the studio….

Concepts & Clay

I purchased a small fistful of these tiny watch parts one time because I couldn’t help but think they’d make perfect bird heads. Today the muse hit to give it a go!

I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted it to go, but first, I traced the watch part – doesn’t it look just like a head with a beak and an eye?! – and tried a couple of sizes and angles of body before I found one I was satisfied with. Next, I textured some clay and started cutting it out!

birds and eyes

After placing the heads and wings, adding a few more genuine watch parts, and doing a bit more texturing, I came up with two separate colourways and did half the birds in each using pearlex powders and a teeny weeny brush. One set is sorta peacock-ish and one is rather rustic and cosy:

birds and eyes

Loving it so far! I wasn’t sure what to do next, though – I had only thought through as far as the bird shape itself! Now what? Well, I knew I wanted some matching beads in there so I found a few that worked and, using some heavy gauge wire I built these bail-type things:

birds and eyes

But there’s an inherent flaw here! Can you see it? Well, basically, the big hole at the top is facing out but a chain would have to go side to side. D’oh! what to do, what to do…. I could turn the big loop but I liked the hammered look – plus, a single loop isn’t very stable for a bail. I dug around the studio to see what I could find and came up with a couple of ideas:

birds and eyes

Nope. Not working. That black cord with the lark’s head knot is almost right but the cord itself is too slippery and won’t stay. Doing the same thing with a chain just looks messy. Finally I realized I can CUT the chain and use jump rings to attach – then we get a Y-shape with a fun drop pendant, and everything lies nice and flat! After that I was able to quickly finish up my workday and get back to Deep Space Nine :D

birds and eyes

Another weekend, another project. And aren’t those colours to die for?!

Antiquing Copper!

Today I’ve been having fun with copper and oxidation. First, I created some earrings out of non-non-tarnish wire (bare copper!).

Next, I prepared a solution of Liver of Sulfur and dumped all my shiny pretty earrings into it. They instantly turned black! But that’s OK, that’s the point:

Next, I gathered some supplies – my dremel with the flex shaft (invaluable), some earplugs, a  face mask to avoid getting little bits of black dust up my nose, some safety glasses, and a few abrasive pads for the dremel:

Then… I just started buffing! It’s almost magical to watch the black come off and leave behind this gorgeous, soft finish to the metal, with dark crevices to show off the wire work.

The process is so amazing, I had to show you a video!!

How cool is that?! And here are some finished pairs of earrings:





Still making birds!

I’m still working in the studio to get ready for the Home to Roost exhibition… at first I wasn’t digging the fact that I only had time to work on birds, and only birds… but this week I started to get really into it! Check out these wire tributes to the peacock feather: Peacock Pendants Meanwhile, polymer clay has been a side interest for many, many years. For instance, check out my little dragon-guy from a million years ago: I haven’t always incorporated into jewellery though, and it’s been sort of on the back burner for a long, long time. But one day I realized that the best way to use all the miniscule watch parts leftover from my steampunk work – the bits that are too small to wire wrap – was to shove them into some clay. And so, my clay steampunk shells, discs, and hearts were born (the hearts, with a little help from a tutorial by Christi Friessen): Steampunk Valentines I used to make canes all the time, and I still have a batman logo cane and some fiery leaf-feather things; but I haven’t gotten into anything so complicated for years. Until yesterday. Yesterday, I woke up wondering what kind of bird-y thing I could make today… and while I snuggled in for an extra 15 minutes of our awesome bed, the idea for a peacock feather polymer clay cane started slowly forming. And slow it was! I don’t have a clay machine for making sheets of clay, so I was using a hand-roller (ow) – and some of my clay is old and crumbly, and I didn’t have the colours I wanted, so I was mixing over and over (through half a season of Buffy!). But then, I had what I wanted – a reasonable facsimile of a peacock feather! Sort of! Polymer Clay Peacock I squished and reduced the thing – too quickly, as it turns out – but managed to get quite a few perfect little feather slices out of it. And here’s what I made with them! A series of various-sized slices for earrings and pendants. I used my new pearl-ex powders for this and I am AMAZED at the beautiful shimmer they give: Polymer Clay Peacock And what I think might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done, a whole peacock in a pendant: Polymer Clay Peacock Polymer Clay Peacock I’m always happy with my work but this was the hardest (did I mention ow?) and most satisfying thing I’ve done in a very, very long time. Oh and hey, while I have you here, take a look at my first attempts at 3D wire sculpture, also bird-like: DSCF3223 I think I’m going to dig up my old box of canes and see what leafy things I have that might turn successfully into feathers. Something not peacock-y. I’ve also got to get those single peacock slices into earring and pendant form. Away I go!

Components, Not Jewellery

New Steampunk Components

I hit the flea market & value village a couple of weeks ago. What a jackpot! Got a pile of watches for Laird to pull apart for me, some vintage and new earrings and chain, some metal bracelets I’ll use as the base for some steampunk pendants, and a little surprise….

New Steampunk Components

New Steampunk Components

New Steampunk Components

… Belt Buckles! Not sure if it’s going to work but I plan to wire some clock parts and vintage bits to these and see if we can make some nifty jewellery!

Polymer Clay


I’ve been itching to get back into polymer clay for quite some time, and this past week I finally pulled it out and had the most fun with it! I had all these teeny tiny watch parts from when Laird tore apart a bunch of watches for me and there were just so many that I really couldn’t use… they’re so small they either can’t be attached or they get lost within the design. So I’ve been collecting them in little watchmaker’s cases for a while now.

However, they’re perfect for pushing into clay! I wasn’t sure what kind of shape to make – I knew I wanted to create some kind of animal look like it had been made out of metal in Victorian times but it took a while to hit on the nautilus/snail shape. They were super fun to work on.

I made a bunch and then tried some hearts, which worked out OK but Laird pointed out that they were taking me forever to make, so I thought for a few minutes and figured out that the watchmaker’s cases made perfect circular cutters, so I made a bunch of those quickly to try and even out the time I’d spent on the more sculptural pieces :)


I varnished them after baking and will wrap them after. So there’s more to come!

Beach Glass

I had a beautiful time on the beach with my love on Saturday. We only got a smidge burned, we had a ridiculous amount of fun, and I found my first, one and only, true piece of RED BEACH GLASS! Holy smokes! They say for every 5000 pieces of glass, only one is red. And there it was! Jewellery-sized and staring me in the face!

I also found three marbles including a black one and a yellow on e, two real live yellow pieces (also extremely rare) (one may or may not be pottery or plastic), a piece of lavendar/pink which is really old, and a whole pile of blue and aqua. Squee!

Check it out:

beach glass find

The tiny raspberry-looking piece was in my bag from our aborted trip to Kennington Cove. It’s not genuine beach glass as I found it on the road – so it could be called dirt glass, I suppose. It’s still rounded and pretty.

Also, I now have enough colours to do one of these!

beach glass colour wheel

AND I just got some jewellery glue and used it to attach the itty bitty teeeeeeeny weeny blue pieces that I’ve been finding to larger white pieces, and they’re turning out quite well (no photos until the finished pieces are ready).

I’m also on a continual hunt for the perfect lighting conditions for photos. For this I was using Laird’s stupid ultra cool camera. I didn’t put it in the light box because I was just playing around, and I figured it was bright enough from the window. I laid everything out first on a new gray fabric I just got for trying this sort of thing, and then on a super-bright white piece of bristol board. Surprisingly (sort of), the gray is much better.

The white throws off the camera’s white balance or levels or something. Quite annoying! I’ll have to re-line the inside of my photo box. Or something. The quest continues!