State your case

While researching a previous post, I discovered the existence of state gemstones, and I was delighted. Some American states, it turns out, started adopting state gemstones in the late 1960s, as a marketing tool to promote stones which were an important part of their economy. Although this is a rather less romantic origin story than I’d hoped for, I’ve still enjoyed finding out which stones fit where, so here goes…

  • Alabama – The Heart of Dixie chose its gemstone in 1990…and it shows. Have you ever seen a more 90s gem than this blue star quartz? They do redeem themselves by having our old pal haematite as their ‘state mineral’, though, so we can’t judge them too harshly!
Star Blue Quartz
Source: Wikipedia
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Source: kouragallery.co.nz
  • Arizona: Turquoise – I would have thought this would be California’s vibe, but there we go…
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Available here
  • Arkansas: Nothing but the best for Arkansas, ‘the Wonder State’: their state stone is a diamond.
  • California: Unsurprisingly, the Golden State’s official mineral is, well, gold! The state gemstone is one I hadn’t heard of before: the obscure but pretty blue benitoite:
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Source: Wikicommons
  • Colorado: Aquamarine
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Available here
  • Connecticut: Connecticut doesn’t technically have a state gemstone, but its state mineral is almandine garnet, which is a nice brown colour. Very popular with the Victorians, apparently.
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Source: Wikipedia
  • Florida: Despite being full of alligators and serial killers, Florida wins this list because it has my new favourite stone as its state gem: moonstone.
  • Georgia: I guess Georgia was too busy growing peaches to hone their gemstone selection too carefully, so they just have quartz. Just all kinds of quartz, apparently!
  • Hawaii: Black coral. It’s pretty, but I’ve never felt the same about coral since I watched Blue Planet and learnt they expand by puking themselves onto other corals and absorbing them.
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Not pictured: copious amounts of vom… Image source: gemrockauctions.com
  • Idaho: The so-called Gem State is a bit disappointing with their choice of star garnet, which is basically just black garnet as far as I can tell. Shame!
  • Kentucky: Kentucky’s keeping it classy with freshwater pearls – can’t argue with that.
  • Louisiana: Finally, a hint of scandal! Louisiana’s state gemstone from 1976 to 2011 was Louisiana agate, but this was ditched in 2011 for Lapearlite, which is the shell of the Eastern Oyster. But why? Well, it seems it was an attempt to boost the fishing industry by publicising this new gemstone, and the Louisiana agate was installed as the state’s first-ever official mineral. They made this change by law – apparently they take their official gemstones seriously!
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Source: constantcontact.com
  • Maine: Maine’s keeping it varied with tourmaline, which comes in a whole host of lovely colours.
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Ooooooooh, puuuuuuurdy. Image source: Pinterest.
  • Maryland: Patuxent River Stone Agate is only found in Maryland, and its red-orange colour echoes the Maryland flag – perfect! Excellent marketing there.
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Source: Wikipedia
  • Massachusetts: Rhodonite – aka my wardrobe that awful year dressing like you were an extra in Grease was in (circa 2002).
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Source: Pinterest
  • Michigan: Chlorastrolite, another form of the greenstone/nephrite jade we saw earlier.
  • Minnesota: Lake Superior agate, a local, iron-filled agate.
  • Montana: These magpies have not one but TWO state gems: the Montana sapphire and the Montana agate. Montana sapphires are only mined within the state, and have a pale, denim blue colour and exceptional clarity.
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Found around the Yellowstone River. Source: bernadine.com
  • Nebraska: Yet more agate, blue this time.
  • Nevada: Another magpie state: black fire opal and turquoise (no surprises there – states near the current (and behind the old!) Mexican border obviously mine a lot of the stuff). Black fire opal is quite full-on, though – I’d probably have just stuck with the turquoise…
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Source: Pinterest
  • New Hampshire: Keeping it classy with a muted smoky quartz.
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Source: geology.com
  • New Mexico: Turquoise – shocker!
  • New York: Garnet. Another one of my faves; they get points for this.
  • North Carolina: Sticking with the cardinal stones, North Carolina has beautiful green emerald as their state gemstone.
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Available here
  • Ohio: Ohio flint. I’d argue this isn’t a gemstone, but Wikipedia claims otherwise…
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I mean, I guess I sort of see it…? Source: Wikipedia
  • Oregon: Oregon sunstone laboradite. I’m liking states naming their gems after themselves – nice and tidy.
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Source; Wikipedia
  • South Carolina: Amethyst – strong showing from the Carolinas!
  • South Dakota: Fairburn agate (reddish)
  • Tennessee: Tennessee river pearl – the deep south loves a classic pearl, it would seem…
  • Texas: Texas blue topaz. For bonus points, Texas also have their own stone cut: the Lone Star Cut. It’s big and over the top, so seems fitting! It looks like this:

 

  • Utah: More topaz – no colour, just general topaz.
  • Vermont: Grossular garnet. Not a grimmer version of garnet, just a type with a different structure!
  • Washington: Petrified wood. I mean, I get what they’re trying to do but c’mon, guys, it’s not a gemstone. Didn’t your namesake teach you not to lie?!
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I mean, right? It’s not even shiny! Source: Wikipedia
  • West VirginiaLithostrotionella fossil coral. Kind of gross, kind of pretty. What do you think?
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Source: Wikipedia
  • Wyoming: Wyoming’s rounding us off nicely – we’re back to nephrite jade.

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And there you have it! Not all states have stones (boo), but those who do tend to really go niche with their choices (not surprising if they’re limited to what they can grow in-state I suppose!) which made for some interesting research.

What would your state stone be if you had one? I’m torn between moonstone and haematite, although garnet is a close third…

New Year, Same Me

Let’s be honest, new year does not mean a new you, whatever WeightWatchers adverts might try and sell you. You’re the same person you were yesterday, and that’s actually fine. You don’t have to change anything, if you don’t want to, and there’s no reason you ‘have’ to do it now. I know that sounds negative, but actually, 2018 is pretty much the first year I’ve been fairly ok with being the same person on January 1 as I was on December 31, soooo…

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I also tend to find New Year’s Resolutions are a bit rigid and intimidating for people of the crazy persuasion (and mostly useless for people who aren’t, to be honest). That being said, I do do goals. It’s always good to have something to aim for, as long as you keep it realistic, and for me, the start of a new year feels like a nice tidy time as any to set them. If you do want to change things or start things or stop things, the new year is a good time to think about that.

However, it can get a bit stressful or feel pressured, so my key advice for effective start-of-year goal setting is as follows:

  • Ignore everyone else – seriously, just because Alex in the Comms team is going vegan and your friend Sam has started a punishing gym routine doesn’t mean that a) you have to or b) your goal of washing your hair every other day is any less valid.
  • If you do want to set big goals, that’s good too, just make sure you’ve got some smaller, more short-term ones to keep your morale up while you work towards the big ones.
  • If you don’t know where to start, think about how your life is now and how you’d like it to be different, then start moulding your goals around that.
  • Make a mood/dream/picture board or a list or a Trello or all those things – fun, visual goal-setting is the best kind. If, like The Goblin, you’re a biro-list-on-lined paper person, that’s great, if, like me, you’re a glittery mood board person, that’s great too. The main thing is helping yourself visualise it.

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So, what am I planning? Working a full-time day job as well as running a business and attempting to maintain some form of social life is a bit manic (sometimes literally!) so I’ve here are a few business and non-business things I’m planning to do in 2018…

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  1. Launch three new jewellery collections (duh)
  2. Complete my stone-setting course (and set at least one bloody ring, which between honeymoon and illness I’ve failed to do this term…)
  3. Reach 1000 sales on Etsy (this one may be a bit high, but I need something to aim for)
  4. Make on average one custom order per month (this one may be a little low but I want to make it achievable)
  5. Carry on learning Welsh – that’s right, dw i’n dysgu cmraeg!
  6. Practise at least one musical instrument once a week (this one shouldn’t be hard, I used to do 3 hours a night, but that was when I was at school and only thought I was busy…)
  7. Write more articles like this one for online magazines
  8. Take two baths per month with bath bombs (seriously, these days I have to schedule in my relaxation in advance)
  9. One business-free evening a week (again, easier said than done, but it would be nice to actually hang out with The Goblin some time…)

I reckon that’s plenty to be getting on with! What about you, lovely readers – do you have any goals you’re aiming at in 2018? Let me know in the comments – and good luck!

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Five Go-oooold Riiiiiings…

“On the fifth day of Christmas this great blog gave to me: five gold rings…”

Christmas itself may be over, but Tiding of Magpies has one last bit of seasonal sparkle for you. So if your stomachs are full after the festivities, feast your eyes instead on these gorgeous, gold specimens…

Lovely Lapis

My new fave stone is front and centre in this statement piece. Crafted between 1908 and 1917 in Russia, it’s meant to be a men’s ring, but I think I could pull it off… Lapis lazuli was popular with Fabergé during this period as well, because it turns out it’s mined in Siberia – I had no idea!

Go big or go home

The largest gold ring in the world, the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), was made in 2000 for a fairly reasonable $547,000 but is now worth around $3 million. Not too shabby, for an investment that might have seemed a bit pointless at the time!

The ring weighs nearly 64kg, is 21 carats, and took 55 workers 45 days to finish it. As well as the vast amount of gold, you can also see some whopping Swarovski stones adorning the ring; 5.1kg of stones were used in total, made up of 615 individual precious stones.

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Source: Ashok Varma via emirates247.com

Peas in a pod or corn on the cob?

I can’t decide what this gorgeous ring is exactly supposed to be, but it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Arts and Crafts jewellery I’ve seen. I’m a sucker for pearls being used in unexpected settings and styles, and this setting of three freshwater pearls from the Mississippi River is right up my street.

Made of 14 carat gold, this ring is unusual in the early 20th century Arts and Crafts movement, whose designers tended to favour silver.

Gorgeous Georgian

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Source: timelineauctions.com

The unusual stone choice in this Georgian ring caught my eye while I was researching this blog – the central amethyst is flanked by one white and one extremely rare blue diamond. The auction site where I found it suggests the jewellery didn’t realise the blue diamond was a diamond, and that it was perhaps passed onto them in a selection of salvage stones, since the cutting style pre-dates the ring itself.

I always love thinking about pieces that tell a story, and who knows where the stones in this ring came from originally, or why the jewellery chose them for this piece? The ring itself has a story to tell, too: it’s engraved with the ‘Ann Colinnbell Feb 1757 an. 60’ – perhaps it was once a love token? Speaking of love tokens…

Gold love-knot ring, Tiding of Magpies

Couldn’t resist… The last of my five gold rings is my own design, which has a story of its own: I originally designed this gold love-knot ring to wear at my own wedding.

Lovingly handcrafted from 0.8mm 9 carat yellow gold, it forms a delicate, infinite knot around the finger of the wearer. The love knot is an age-old symbol of everlasting love, and this ring is a modern take on that ancient tradition, which makes it the perfect love token for your favourite human.

So, those are my five, chosen-at-random, gold rings for the winding-up of the festive period. Let me know your favourites in the comments, or any you’d have liked me to include!

Sources

http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-largest-gold-ring-taiba-dubai-2011-05?IR=T

http://romanovrussia.com/antique/art-nouveau-russian-mens-ring/

https://www.timelineauctions.com/lot/georgian-gold-inscribed-ring-with-rare-blue-diamond/31538/

Bonus post: #treetour

To say thank you for making this year running Tiding of Magpies absolutely amazing, I thought I’d treat you all to a bonus mini-blog with a festive theme. The Goblin and I spent last night making our own Christmas crackers while drinking port, so I’m very much filled with Christmas cheer (and booze; we’ve just made some mulled wine…)

 

Because it’s our first Christmas as husband and wife (and because we used our annual leave up on the honeymoon and don’t have time to travel to our families!), we’re spending it quietly in our flat, which we’ve gone all-out on decorating.

From a quick scroll through Insta/Twitter/etc, it doesn’t seem like tree tours are much of  a thing, so I’ve decided to make them a thing. I absolutely adore Christmas trees; they tell you so much about the people who decorated them. Some are beautiful works of art and some, like ours, are just collections of ornaments that I flung at the tree. I love them all.

 

Lots of our ornaments are holiday souvenirs or were gifts from family and friends, so they mean a lot to us and tell the story of the last few years…

Honeymoon highlights

We picked up three new ornaments as honeymoon souvenirs, and they have pride of place on our tree:

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A traditional Kazakh hat, bought in Almaty
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A delicate glass bauble from Bukhara, Uzbekistan
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A good luck charm given to us by a lovely woman in the Khiva Museum of Musical Instruments (after she asked if I was pregnant, which I’m telling myself was just because of the empire-line wrap dress I was wearing…

Glittery gifts

Friends and family, knowing how much I love sparkly things, have also provided many trinkets for our tree over the years.

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A gift from my friend Sami, bought at the Leeds Christmas Market. The picture doesn’t do justice to its sparkliness!
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A gold glass pineapple from my grandma (who also contributed the excellent pineapple candle holders and lamp we own!)
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Probably my favourite ornament, courtesy of our wonderful friend Bella & the National Museum of Scotland gift shop
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The Christmas season is awash with puns about the second part of our name, so my best pal & bridesmaid, Beth, made it official with a bauble from Kikki K

Assorted oddities

The tree also shares several non-holiday or gift-related memories…

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A find from when I was working with the University of Birmingham and the RSC (also sort of relevant to the census bit of the nativity…maybe?)
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A plush find from the BL’s History of Magic Harry Potter exhibition

 

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A dog we’re calling a Wire Fox Terrier (the type of dog it’s our life goal to own!) from Brum’s very own Christmas Market
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The full tree ft. The Goblin’s presents, which I decorated for him.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the flat… 

 

That’s all for now, folks. Merry Christmas (or happy time-off-work if you don’t celebrate it!). I’ll leave you with this exceptionally great candle my grandma got us for Christmas this year…

 

Colours of Christmas

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Our tree has been up for 2 weeks, and last night The Goblin covered the flat in fairy lights and all of the leftover fake tea lights from the wedding. It’s safe to say we’re excited (even the usually Scrooge-like Goblin is full of Christmas cheer!), so this week’s post had to be a festive one.

Everywhere you look, it’s red and green, and my workshop is no exception, so here are the colours of Christmas in precious and semi-precious formats…

Reds

Currently my favourite red stone is garnet (which is actually the birthstone for January, so I’m a bit early, but never mind that…).

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A deeper blood red than its ruby cousin, garnet is a truly historic stone which has been popular for centuries, featuring heavily in both Roman and early-medieval English design:

Fast facts:

  • Garnet is a member of the silicate family of minerals, which is the largest and most important class of rock-forming minerals, according to Wikipedia. My GCSE Double Science doesn’t give me any more clues on what that actually means, so let’s move on to language, which I’m a bit more familiar with…
  • The word ‘garnet’ comes from the Middle English word ‘gernet’, meaning dark red, although garnets do occasionally come in other colours, including green, purple, and blue.
  • Garnet is the state mineral of Connecticut and Idaho, and the official gemstone of New York. (More on state gemstones in a later post, because I just discovered they exist and I love it… If I ruled a state, the gemstone would be haematite or moonstone, if anyone is interested.)

Other prominent red stones include:

  • Ruby – everyone knows what these are, but did you know they’re part of a group called the ‘cardinal gemstones’ which includes sapphires, diamonds, emeralds and amethysts, and which were traditionally valued above all other stones?
  • Red Topaz (topaz also comes in tons of other colours, most often blue or yellow)
  • Red Spinels (spinels also come in a range of colours, including black, and I’d never heard of them until I bought a couple to try in the design below…)
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Available here

Green

It would be a cardinal sin not to pick emeralds for my favourite stone here (geddit), but I covered them in an earlier post, so I’m going to hone in on my second-favourite: aventurine.

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Available here

It’s a type of quartz that, like lapis lazuli, has gold inclusions, which gives it extra shimmer despite being a translucent stone.

Fast facts:

  • The shimmer the gold inclusions give off is referred to as aventurescence. I aspire one day to be so shiny that my glittering has its own descriptor…
  • It was discovered by chance in the eighteenth century, which is why it’s called aventurine, after the Italian for ‘by chance’: a ventura.
  • As well as jewellery, aventurine is used in landscaping, monuments, and interior design:

Other popular green stones include:

  • Jade – historically significant and highly-prized for centuries
  • Garnet – that’s right, my favourite stone above also comes in green (huzzah!)
  • Sapphire – these usually-blue stones have other varieties, notably pink and green
  • Malachite – pure stripy gorgeousness:

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That’s all for tonight, folks – I’m off to wrap some pressies to put under the tree…

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Crafting for Crazy People

As you may or may not know, today is World Mental Health Day. It’s a day that is quite close to my heart and indeed my brain, because (as I may have mentioned once or twice) I have several mental health conditions. Or, as my husband so sweetly puts it, I’m ‘batshit cray’… He also started referring to me as a ‘bipolar bear’ after he bought me a fluffy dressing gown for Christmas. I guess I can sort of see his point:

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Anyway, since it’s the Day of Cray™, I’ve compiled 5 reasons crafting is so good for your mental health (in general and as a tool for managing mental illness). Some are backed up by science, some are my own personal experience, and obviously none of them are actual medical advice because I’m not a qualified doctor (go see your therapists, kids).

I’m also not saying any of this is a substitute for some combination of meds/talking therapy/however else you want to deal with your shit. This is not a ‘have you tried yoga?’, ‘just eat more vegetables’, ‘have you tried just thinking positively?’ scenario, don’t worry. It’s just one tiny, crazy human’s point of view, ok?

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5 reasons crafting is good for your mental health:

1) Sense of achievement

When your mental health is bad, it can feel like you’re going nowhere/doing nothing/a terrible and useless human/etc. Craft projects let you physically make something yourself – there’s no refuting that achievement, even if your brain is determined to tell you you’re a worthless turdbasket – the evidence is right there in front of you.

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A rare finished piece – embroidery map of where I grew up. Took many hours; have yet to iron/frame/do anything with it…

2) Distraction

From distracting yourself from destructive urges/habits to breaking the monotony of lying on your sofa for a solid week unable to go to work, craft projects have the potential to break through the mental mist in a fairly unique way. More interesting than household chores and requiring less mental input than reading, they provide a diversion that’s fun and (at least nominally) practical. Hard to beat, imho.

3) Doing something nice for others

I find a lot of my craft projects end up as presents for other people, because I can’t really justify making more clutter (aka The Goblin’s nemesis) for myself. Making something for somebody else gives you the double whammy of having achieved something and done something nice for someone you care about. Win-win.

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4) All the dopamine

Apparently when we’re knitting or sewing, our brains release the happy-hormone dopamine. Crafting makes us chemically happy, and those of us with mental illnesses will take all the chemical happiness we can get! Even if your brain is chemically sound, a bit of extra dopamine goes a long way, so get your needles out and give it a go.

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5) Repetition, repetition

Something almost all crafts, from cross-stitch to print-making, share is an element of repetition. It both occupies and empties the mind. A lot of people compare knitting to meditation, but I was never super good at that, so I wouldn’t know. I’ll take their word for it…

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So, I know I said it wasn’t going to be medical advice, but I never said I wasn’t going to spout general human advice… I know some (or many) people reading this are going to go ‘hurr durr that’s all very well but how do I actually use crafts as a coping tool? Crafts can’t improve mental illness you idiot’.

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I mean, see above for that whole disclaimer, but I am going to share some ways I’ve found of incorporating my crafty hobbies into my mental-illness-management regime.

1) Have lots of VARIED projects going at once

At any given time I have at least 3 projects going. Between work, the business, and the wedding, I’ve currently ended up with 7 (hover for descriptions if you’re interested!). Because people know I like to make things, I also tend to get little kits as presents from time to time, which is great because I can stockpile them so that if all else fails and I don’t want to do any of my current projects, I can just start a new one!

As you can see, I also have a range of projects – easy ones for when I just need something to do, harder ones for when I need to immerse myself in something. And they’re different types of crafts, because sometimes you just don’t feel like doing a pre-designed cross-stitch kit… *

I don’t finish them quickly, but that’s ok, and that leads us to point 2…

2) Set small goals

For the love of your sanity, do not go into a craft session expecting yourself to finish the whole thing. Some projects are short ones you can blitz in a few hours, but the majority won’t be, and expecting yourself to churn out piece after piece can cause more stress than it alleviates! I try and set smaller, numerical goals (number of rows knitted, finishing one section of a project, etc.) so I still feel I’ve achieved something when I put down my needle/pen/pliers. Of course, sometimes you’re just not in the right place to craft, so it’s important to remember you can always…

3) Allow yourself to give up and do something else if it’s not working

Sounds simple, but your craft project should not become another stick for you to beat yourself with. When you’re anxious/self-critical/low, it’s hard to get out of that mindset,  but the last thing you want is for your creative escape to become a chore or a source of stress. If it’s going badly or you’re just not feeling it, give yourself permission to do something else.

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So there we have it: reasons why crafting is good for your mental health and ways you can use crafty hobbies as a crazy-management tool. Bit of a long post today, but what can I say – I really believe in the healing power of faffing about with bits of thread!

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*By the way, I was going to tidy my projects up and make them look Pinterest-ready, but in the spirit of honesty – and laziness – I decided to show them as they usually are: tangled, chaotic, and stuffed into a too-small craft drawer!

Wear your heart on your sleeve (or neck, or finger, or ears)

I just designed another custom order, and it occurred to me that one of my favourite things about designing for a specific person is that it often allows people to physically wear their interests. The current design is music-themed (a customer after my own heart!), but I’ve recently created a few science and maths-themed pieces. These are in some ways more interesting for me because I’m an Arts girl, so it’s nothing I would ever design for myself.

The three bespoke STEM pieces I’ve made recently are:

  • A large ammonite necklace for my nature-loving grandma
  • An ammonite and amethyst lariat necklace for a Geology student’s ball
  • A set of mathematical symbol studs for a Maths student

The first piece was a commission for my grandma’s birthday. She’s a botanical artist married to a Wildlife Trust director, so she pretty much loves anything related to natural history and plant life. She also likes a statement necklace, so my grandad and I came up with this:

The smaller version of this ammonite necklace is one of the most popular in my Etsy store, so I wasn’t too surprised when I got a custom order enquiry about it, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such an interesting commission. The enquirer was a lovely Geology undergraduate called Mo who was hunting for a special piece for her graduation ball. She’d seen my ammonite necklace and was hoping for a themed necklace to go with the outfit she’d already bought.

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This was a really fun one, because I bloody love designing for specific outfits and occasions. Mo had chosen an absolute show-stopper – a dark purple, v-neck playsuit with a flowing train:

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With a dress that eye-catching, the necklace had to simultaneously match up to and not detract from the dress. An amethyst was the obvious option, and I chose a faceted stone to suggest natural minerals. Paired with the ammonite, it made an unusual, perfectly-themed choice:

The final STEM design I’ve done this season is a set of tiny, delicate, algebraic earrings and a nose stud for a Maths student. I love these, and was tempted to make some for myself, but I felt it might be a bit strange to wear symbols that have no meaning to me…

So, from my recent designing experience, it seems that students wear their interests more than graduates. I suppose this makes sense, since their whole daily lives are defined by their degree choice. ‘Theming yourself’ has another benefit though – it helps you find like-minded people. And, as a relatively-recent graduate myself, I also know how hard it is to meet adult friends once you leave university (or school, if you don’t take the uni route).

Suddenly, for the first time ever, you’re not surrounded by an immediate pool of your peers that you can fish friends out of. How are you supposed to tell if that likely-looking person in your office is actually interesting on a friend level without quizzing them like a creep? (Seriously, if anyone has the answer, let me know in the comments…)

Sometimes it’s easier to start a conversation if you already know you have an interest in common, and interest-based jewellery (or clothing, or accessories) is shorthand for similarly-inclined potential friends to read and start conversation:

Wear a quaver pendant and someone might pipe up, ‘What an unusual necklace, do you play an instrument?’

Ammonite necklace: ‘Ooh, do you like fossils?’

Mathematic symbol earrings: ‘Did you by any chance study maths?’

Boom, instant small talk and a foot in the door to talk to a potential friend (without feeling so weird). I know that probably sounds a bit forced, but there’s also possibility 2: they notice your pretty necklace, comment on how they like it, and you start a conversation about the meaning behind it and find out if you do or don’t have that topic in common. Or you’re already talking and you find something else you both like. Or you decide you hate them and can therefore avoid them. Whatever the outcome, your choice of accessory has enabled a conversation…

The best thing about Etsy is that there are so many wonderful artists you can find something to express your interests. If you can’t find exactly what you’re after, almost everyone will make a custom order if they can (as I may have mentioned before, they’re some of my own favourite design projects). This is just a tiny selection of the interest-based jewellery Etsy has to offer:

So get out there, let your stylish freak flag fly, and meet some fellow humans!

‘Changing Rooms’: Tiding of Magpies edition

I was ‘off sick’ from this blog last week, because it’s hard to be sparkling when you’re 80% snot… I’m on the mend now, but between getting well and the endless wedmin that needs doing, getting back into business has been a slow process. You know how it is; things have piled up and your desk is covered in papers and you can barely remember how to solder (or is that one just me?). I decided the best place to start was with tidying, which then morphed into workspace interior design. It turned out pretty well, I reckon:

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There have been a lot of studies on what might be the best office decor to encourage productivity (natural light and plants are popular, apparently), and I even know somebody whose office floor is carpeted in fake grass (no, she doesn’t know why either). There’s conflicting evidence on whether art on the walls makes people happy or distracted, or both, or neither, but I’m coming down hard on the side of ‘happy’, hence the new picture wall above my desk.

And, whatever office decor trends are happening this month, when it comes to the link between my workspace and my motivation, having a pretty, well-designed area to work in makes me way more likely to get shit done. The amount of time I’ve spent figuring out which pictures to frame and what kinds of trinkets to display might seem frivolous, or like time which could be better spent on Serious Business Stuff™, but this redesign of my space has made me genuinely excited to get into the office for the first time in a couple of months. I’m looking forward to using my workspace for updating my spreadsheets, for goodness’ sake!

So, this week, I thought I’d give you a tour of my office (pretty bits and not-so-pretty bits alike). The beautification of my workshop has been quite a long process (almost a year now), picking up knick-knacks and practical objects here and there, and working out how the space is best used. That last bit has been pretty essential, because it’s a relatively small space; my office is currently one corner of our spare room.

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The early days of my (unusually tidy) office

One of the big benefits of our spare room is its oodles of natural light (obviously an essential for jewellery-making), which is why my workbench is crammed into the far end of the room (past the very glamorous sofabed, filing cabinet, and general storage area).

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All the light

The tight space does make for some pretty creative storage, though, which is why I chose a vintage bureau crammed full of cubbies and shelves for my workbench:

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Then came the organisational whiteboard (you can just see the influence of my primary-school-teacher sister):

And let’s not forget my miniature storage drawers, which are absolute life-savers with so many tiny bits of metal knocking about:

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So, before today’s decoration session, this was my workspace, and it wasn’t quite working for me any more:

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The pinned-up tool rack was a bit of a stroke of genius from the early days of the desk, but over time, the rest of the space has just got more and more crowded around all of the tools. It started to feel a bit like it was all closing in on my actual workspace, and it wasn’t exactly conducive to inspired design… The question was, what to change?

In the same way that making time for important things requires finding your ‘dead time’ and using it more effectively, sorting out your space means using up dead space. So, I cleared the books off my desk and onto the windowsill, moved the boxes from the top shelf of my desk to the more hidden shelves under the desk, and got rid of all the empty butane cans (total eyesore).

In place of the piles of boxes, I put some carefully-chosen ornaments on top of the bureau. Virtually every study ever done about the effects of a workspace on productivity agrees that plants are a must-have for an effective office. Sadly, I’m a plant serial killer, so I’ve gone for some fakes (which definitely do lift my mood, so clearly there’s something in all these plant recommendations):

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Fake succulents are a must

I also added a couple of more sentimental touches, including my snowglobe collection and a light-up globe my grandma bought me years ago, all of which I picked up on a recent trip to my parents’. The Goblin (a steadfast minimalist with a particular hatred of throw pillow) was obviously delighted when he saw the boxes of trinkets I was planning to infest our flat with, but he relaxed when I promised they’d only be in my office, not in the general living spaces…

The hardest part of the redesign was the picture wall, and I’ll admit I spent several hours sorting through my postcard collection, drafting possible layouts, and actually nailing the bloody things into the wall. Once they were chosen and installed, the finishing flourish was provided by a garland of glittery butterflies (a gift from my future mother-in-law; how well she knows me!).

I’m well aware that my insistence that everything be cute before I can poooossibly get to work probably isn’t enormously normal or productive, but it works for me (pun intended). If I’m having writer’s block or the designs just aren’t coming, the amount of pretty, interesting things in my direct sightline helps to inspire. If (like now) I’m pressed for time, and the rest of life is getting in the way of my business, the desire to go and use my ‘new’ workshop is a really helpful motivator which encourages me to make time to work. And, if nothing else, this round of redesigns gave me a legit excuse to go for a stroll in Tiger (where I got all of the photo frames as well as the swan pot); that’s definitely conducive to a good mental state!

What are your workspaces like? Are you a hoarder like me or a clutter-hater like The Goblin? More importantly, is your workspace meeting those needs and tastes? If not, get cracking and make your space match and facilitate your work. Unlike a lot of the stresses and frustrations in life, your physical environment is something you can always change, even if that just means running a duster round the place and putting all your mess in a pile. And if it means sewing adorable flower hoops and sifting through postcards, so much the better!

 

 

Busman’s Holiday: Making our own wedding rings

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in three months. I mean, I never talk about it in minute detail, because it’s definitely not a huge logistical undertaking I should be allowed to put on my CV to show my organisational skills…

Since we got engaged last year, I knew I wanted to make our wedding rings. There was just one problem: I’m a silversmith, and we wanted gold rings. Silver and gold don’t behave that differently, so I did consider just giving it a go, but there’s one big problem with gold compared to silver: it’s a lot more expensive if you mess it up.

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Imagine the scene: ‘Honey, I’m home! Say, what’s that melted lump on your workbench?’ ‘Oh, that? That’s the £300 of gold that was going to be your wedding ring – oopsy-daisy!’ Not ideal. The Goblin is also the fussiest human alive, and the risk of him having hitherto-unknown very strong feelings about the particular hammer pattern I’d used once the ring was done wasn’t really worth it.

Luckily for us, the JQ struck again in the form of The Quarterworkshop, where couples can make their own rings under the supervision of a professional jeweller, Victoria Delaney. I also thought it would be cool for The Goblin to see what I do and have a go himself (and hammer his own ring to his liking – wahey).

The first thing to do was decide on colour and size for our wedding rings, as well as come up with ideas for styles. Our engagement rings are cheap (albeit much-loved) place-holders for the real thing…and it shows. They’re 9ct white gold, with mine measuring in at 3mm wide and The Goblin’s at 5mm. Because of the composition of the metal, they were seriously dinged about within the first month of wearing, so we knew we needed to go with something a bit more permanent and lasting for our wedding rings (how appropriate!).

I decided to slim my ring down to 2mm whilst The Goblin stuck with 5. We both liked the D-shaped profiles of our current rings, so those stayed, meaning that when we got to Victoria’s (adorable!) workshop, this is what was waiting for us:

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Seriously, though, how cute is this workshop space?!

After some coffee and a chat about designs, we got stuck into annealing, cutting and shaping – all just another day for me but really fun to have an experienced goldsmith directing the process and giving hints and tips.

Victoria also introduced me to a method of shaping and cutting through the seam (the bit where you make the ends of the ring line up so you can join them together) which was waaaay simpler and quicker than the one I was taught. Definitely going to be using that on my pieces in future! The Goblin had a lovely time shaping, soldering and filing his ring, and took it all very seriously. Look at this concentration:

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Then came the really fun bit: playing with hammers. The Goblin knew he wanted a subtle hammered effect, but I was torn between hammering and engraving, so we both spent a fair while whacking aluminium with the huge range of hammers in the workshop to find the right pattern.

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I decided to go with engraving in the end and am having a bramble pattern engraved on mine, so I started polishing it ready for engraving whilst The Goblin started beating his up with great glee.

After a lot of hammering (probably The Goblin’s favourite part of the day) and getting covered in polish, we admired our creations:

The rings are now off to be hallmarked with the Brum Assay Office anchor mark, which we love – wherever we move in the future, we’ll always be wearing a bit of the JQ! I can’t wait to see mine once it’s all hallmarked and engraved (I’ll post an update picture here when it arrives). We had a lush day making our rings and would definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for something a bit different for their rings. As The Goblin’s ring shows, no prior knowledge is necessary!

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All pictures are by Victoria Delaney © The Quarterworkshop, apart from the ones of our engagement rings.

Update: the rings are ready! How amazing is the engraving on mine – I would kill for that level of skill…

Let’s put a pin in politics

As I write, the UK election has led to a hung parliament and the Tories are trying to prop up a minority government with DUP support. In other words, politics is looking pretty fucking grismal*, as my mum would say (and indeed has). Now that you’ve all voted (I hope!), all there is to do is wait. You could be forgiven for feeling a bit like this right now:

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Sootmegs on Etsy. Check out her store for some adorable, therapy-themed pins.

So, The Goblin and I spent a large chunk of last night watching Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night (David Mitchell snarking about Brexit? Count us in!), and amidst all the exit poll drama, I noticed the Lib Dems’ Baroness Brinton was showing her party colours in a particularly stylish way:

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Check out that brooch. Not your common-or-garden campaign pin.

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Here it is again + bonus dog

For centuries, pins, badges and brooches have been a decorative way to wear your heart on your sleeve (or lapel). When it comes to political pins, American ‘campaign buttons’ are the best-known examples, dating back pretty much as far as the United States themselves. George Washington’s supporters used to wear his initials on their jackets – awww.

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And then it got weird.

Pins are one of the most versatile forms of jewellery; sartorial shorthand for your world view and core values (whether those are high-falutin’ political beliefs or simply your love of cats). They can also be incredibly beautiful. The emphasis here is on the can

These days, there are a lot of bog-standard, plastic circles floating about on British chests:

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I mean, if you’re going to be vile, at least be more aesthetically pleasing while you’re at it…

But that wasn’t always the case. The 50s were a golden age of stylish enamel pins for all political situations. Here are the two main parties:

Young and politically engaged? You could’ve worn these:

If you fancied a lighter pin, a few decades later the CND spawned a range of badges so niche that they remind me of that ship full of telephone sanitisers and hairdressers from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

And speaking of niche, it was the 70s that gave us this quintessentially British gem:

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But if we’re talking the one historical campaign that had pins nailed, it’s got to be the British Suffrage Movement. Those women knew their pins… The use of colour! The motifs! So lush.

Although these gorgeous vintage campaign pins go for a mint online, the impending centenary of the first legalisation of women’s suffrage in the UK** means there are a ton of pretty and economical replicas/updates knocking about:

If you don’t want to physically wear your party or campaign affiliations, there’s always the lighthearted-enamel-pin trend which exploded on Etsy in the last year or two. Why not try one of these beauties? (Special shout out to one of my fave Etsy pin stores, Veronica Dearly.)

After all, if we’re going to hell in a handcart, you might as well

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SleepyMountain on Etsy

*Grismal, (adj): a cross between grim and dismal; most commonly used to describe a situation that makes you want to sit on the sofa and groan gently to yourself for the next several hours.

**2018 is the centenary of the enfranchisement of some property-holding women over 30; it took until 1928 for all women over 21 to be able to vote, the same rules as for men at that time.