The Affair of the Diamond Necklace

Last week, I delved into the recent sale of Marie Antoinette’s jewellery, but I didn’t have space to go into the bizarre tale known as The Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Strap in, everyone; this one’s a wild ride!

So, how exactly did a kerfuffle over a huge diamond harness contribute to the French Revolution? Yep, it was more of a harness than a necklace:

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Reproduction necklace based on sketches.

The necklace itself was actually commissioned several years earlier, in 1772, for the previous king, Louis XV’s, favourite mistress, the infamous Madame du Barry.

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Source: Wikipedia

Not one to believe that less is more, the king designed this monstrosity for du Barry, featuring a vast amount of diamonds, including 17 huge diamond drops:

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Original sketch of the necklace design. Source: Wikipedia.

Unfortunately for the jewellers who set about collecting the necessary stones, the king died of smallpox before they were done, leaving his debt unpaid. I know this may not have gone down well with an autocratic king, but this is a prime example of why you get money for custom orders up front, my fellow artists!

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Backed into a corner, the jewellers hoped that the famously lavish Marie Antoinette might want to buy the necklace off them instead. Unfortunately for them, the new queen was not one to wear someone’s sloppy seconds, especially if they were originally designed for a woman she despised and looked down upon.

In 1781, after trying to offload the necklace outside the country, the desperate jewellers once again tried to persuade Marie Antoinette to take it off their hands, but to no avail.

Enter con artist Jeanne de La Motte, who came up with a plan to further her status in court at the cost of the people around her. As you do.

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Source: Wikipedia

Her first play was to get into bed (literally) with the Cardinal de Rohan, a man Marie Antoinette happened to loathe because he’d been gossiping about her mother, naturally. Persuading de Rohan, who was presumably not too bright (or bothered about his vow of chastity), that she was cosy with the queen, La Motte promised to get him back into favour.

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Source: reactiongifs.com

Rohan began sending notes to the queen, with La Motte bringing him replies ‘from the queen herself’, and eventually setting up a meeting between the two at the cardinal’s request. Did this phase La Motte? Not one bit! She simply brought along a local sex worker with a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette, and they all met in August 1794 in the rose garden at the Palace of Versailles.

Image source: By Kallgan - Unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=336150

After La Motte’s friend had convinced Rohan that she (‘the queen’) had forgiven him, La Motte began borrowing large sums of money off the cardinal for ‘Marie Antoinette’s charity work’. She also started boasting about her relationship with the queen, which people seemed to believe.

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The enterprising jewellers, Boehmer and Bassenge, approached La Motte to try once more to sell the necklace to the queen, and she agreed. Following an incorrectly-signed note to Rohan instructing him to buy the necklace in secret so as not to raise tensions by buying lavish jewellery in a time of starvation.

Rohan merrily went on his way, and secured the necklace, after which La Motte and an accomplice merrily split it up and sold the stones on the black market!

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Unfortunately for them, it all came apart when the jewellers became suspicious of the lack of payment and notes ‘from the queen’, and went to Marie Antoinette herself to demand payment. The queen told them she had not ordered the necklace, had not received it, and most certainly would not be paying for it.

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With a flair for the dramatic, the king and queen resolved to arrest the Cardinal at one of the biggest religious celebrations of the year (presumably to make an example of him). When Rohan was ready to officiate the Assumption of Mary, on 15 August 1785, he was promptly arrested and brought before the court, then to the Bastille. Jeanne de La Motte, however, was not arrested until three days later, in which time she destroyed her papers relating to the fraud.

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Also arrested were Nicole Le Guay, the Marie Antoinette impersonator, and Rétaux de Villette, La Motte’s lover by whom she originally entered court society. Side note: Villette is described on Wikipedia as ‘French procurer, forger, blackmailer and prostitute’, which would make a pretty great Twitter bio…

Somehow, the feckless cardinal managed to worm his way out of punishment, but La Motte was whipped, branded with a V for ‘voleuse’ (‘thief’) on both shoulders (ew), and sent to prison at the Salpêtrière. Villette got off lightly, being merely banished, but La Motte’s unlucky husband was tried in absentia and sent to be a galley slave.

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But it’s not over yet! After a year’s imprisonment, La Motte escaped dressed as a boy, and fled to London, from where she published a savage memoir blaming everything on Marie Antoinette.

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So why did the queen take the fall despite the evidence acquitting her?

This all went down in 1784-5, just 4 years before the French Revolution broke out and the monarchy came to an end. The profligate, Austrian Marie Antoinette was already wildly unpopular, the subject of a lot of vicious political cartoons (seriously, the picture below was the cleanest one I could find…), and her reputation didn’t need much of a push to hit rock bottom.

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Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately for her, public opinion sided roundly with La Motte, with some suggesting the queen had used her as a way to get some petty revenge on Rohan, or that she simply wanted some new jewels and was stealing from the public purse to get them. Following the affair, the pamphlets against her (read: political porn) began to be produced at an even greater rate, fuelling the anti-monarchy sentiment that eventually led to Marie Antoinette’s own beheading in 1793.

As I said earlier…

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If you’re interested in learning more about the scandal, the chapter on it in Aja Raden’s Stoned has a lot of great detail and is also a really fun book. And if you just can’t get enough, Jonathan Beckman has written an entire book on the subject. Enjoy!

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And there’ll be sun, sun, suuuuuun…

This year, the British summer has lasted longer than a few days in May, and we’re all pretty shocked. The vitamin D, blue skies and bright light are fab; the sweaty air, less so…

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Anyway, I’m sat in front of a fan with a cold glass of Pinot Grigio in hand and I’m ready to spread some extra sunshine in the form of sparkles (what else?!).

As long as humans have existed, the sun has been a source of fascination, an object of worship, and a muse for artwork, so it’s no wonder it features in jewellery across time and space. Here are five of my favourite pieces of sun-themed jewellery…

Medal Of The Qajar Order of Aftab, 19th Century CE

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Image: Islamic Art Museum, Malaysia

This beautiful, honorific badge is a gorgeous demonstration of how to mix materials. The central, painted enamel inlay bears the face of the female sun (aftab), which emanates platinum rays set with sparkling diamonds.

The Qajar Dynasty of Persia ruled from 1779-1924, and the Order of Aftab was introduced in 1873 by Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, the King of Persia. It had two classes, the first for female sovereigns and the spouses of reigning kings, and the second for princesses, women of high rank, or others deemed worthy of special appreciation. The Shah created the order before embarking on a trip to visit foreign dignitaries around the world, which is why Queen Victoria of England was one of the first recipients of a first class order badge.

The first class badge was fashioned in platinum and diamonds, the second uses brilliants rather than diamonds, and is only a semi-circular sun rather than the full disc. Both were worn on a pink and green sash, and all badges were made to this design until the order changed in 1939 with a change of dynasty.

Gold brooch by Castellani, Rome, c.1860

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Image: 7000 Years Of Jewellery, ed. Hugh Tait

This brooch was made around 1860 by the Castellani jewellery company, which specialised in archaeologically-inspired pieces to cater to the 19th Century CE trend for neo-classicism. It’s based on the Greek sun god, Helios, with both the rays and Helios’ hair executed using the popular but difficult ancient technique of granulation, and is approximately 3.25cm in diameter. It was inspired by a Hellenistic Greek ornament in the Campana collection.

Minoan gold brooch, 17th Century BCE

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Image: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Found in a Minoan tomb in Mallia, on the island of Crete, this brooch features the sun’s disk, covered with granulation and held up by two bees, right at the centre of the the piece. The delicate and sophisticated work, particularly for the time in which it was made, involved in the piece is one of the reasons I love this brooch so much. It’s also interesting for its symbolism, because bees were believed to be messengers between the living world and the dead, as well as being the symbol of the Minoan-Mycenaean goddess Potnia. This explains both the work put into the piece and the fact it was found in a tomb – I love it when jewellery has a clear design inspiration!

Sunburst costume pendant, D’Orlan, Mid-20th Century CE

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Image: ebth.com

This piece was made by D’Orlan, a mid-century Canadian jewellery company, and I love it for its vibrant colours and mixed stones. Although it’s costume jewellery, fashioned in gold plating and imitation gemstones, the mixture of tones within the piece give it a fun, vintage charm. It has alternating pink, purple, blue and green rhinestones, turquoise and coral-coloured cabochons, and faux pearls, all channel-set into the cast gold-plated sunburst shape.

Silver suburst necklace, Graham Watling, 1973

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Image: hashtag-silver.com

This sunburst necklace is a little more abstract than the other designs on this list, and that’s exactly why I like it. The artfully-alternating lengths of silver seem to shimmer on the chain, designed to move with the wearer and create a sunny halo round their neck. The designer, Graham Watling, was part of the ‘Renaissance of British Silversmiths’ in the 1970s, and the epitome of the phrase ‘it’s never too late to try something new’ – after a military career and 17 years teaching Arts and Crafts, he completed a BA Hons in silversmithing and began designing and selling his creations!

 

Adventures in stone-setting

As I mentioned in my New Year Goals post, a) I’m taking a stone-setting class to buff up (haha) my jewellery skills and b) my goal was to set one ring. When you say it like that it doesn’t sound that ambitious, but there are a few reasons why I may sound guilty of, well…

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First of all, it turns out that before you can set stones, you need to grind your tools into shape on a cool grinding wheel that makes sparks and everything. That bit was very exciting initially, but it was also REALLY, REALLY SLOW, because there’s one grinding wheel and…more than one person in the class. Also, you have to grind your cutting tools to fit your hand, and if you have tiny elf hands like me, that’s a whole lot of metal to grind off!

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All toolboxes look like this, right…?

Tools in hand, time to set a ring…right? Nope, because proper stone-setters do hardcore apprenticeships where they have to get used to tools, practise cutting, and learn to control to the drill before they’re even let near anything more interesting than brass plates. Luckily, it was only a few weeks of practice, but still, after one term I had not set a single ring, and I was a little disheartened. (Having missed 3 weeks for my honeymoon probably didn’t help either.)

I started this term aiming to set one whole ring and, lo and behold, I have set FOUR.

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They’re not perfect and some of them need a bit of cleaning up, but those stones aren’t moving ANYWHERE. So far I’ve fully set:

1) A simple 3mm circular stone in a rubover setting (cubic zirconia in silver):

 

2) A 9-stone eternity ring (2mm cubic zirconia; this one was HARD, hence the mess!):

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3) A four-claw oval ring (8x6mm; garnet and silver. These claws need more shaping but the stone is definitely not moving so I consider it set!):

 

4) A four-claw twisted circular ring (10mm; champagne cubic zirconia and silver. This one is NOT subtle!)

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And finally, a moment of silence for the TWO castings of the same ring I destroyed. The first time, I’d done a lovely job with the claws and in tidying them up I scored all the way across the gorgeous, dark blue CZ I’d just set.

 

The second time, keen to avoid damaging the stone during clean-up, I filed the claws too enthusiastically…down to basically nothing. At some point I will reset this stone, but I think I need some time to forget first!

 

Next up is the smaller version of my GIANT twisted ring above. The aim with this one is to be a little steadier with my drill and not create a dimple that then needs to be very carefully got rid of to avoid damaging the claw it’s gouged out of… I also have some exciting square rings to set, which is a more complex operation (hence the brass rings and very cheap CZ stone – no point throwing good stones after experimental work!)IMG_20180416_180044.jpg

 

It might not look like I’ve made a huge amount of progress in two terms, but I feel like I’ve already learnt a lot, including:

1) Stone-setting is simultaneously REALLY hard and really simple. The principles themselves are just logic and physics really, but mastering the techniques to a high standard takes years.

2) Filing is an art of its own. Before this course I was fairly adept at filing down a soldered seam, but that was about it. Watching my tutor filing a perfectly-shaped claw as smooth as silk in a matter of seconds in one of the first sessions floored me.

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3) I’m not naturally good at filing! So I guess what I have actually learnt here is to be patient…

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4) Being a bit behind and therefore towards the bottom of the class is not the worst thing in the world (much as my perfectionism likes to mutter otherwise). Everyone is going at their own pace and there’s no exam – I just need to do as much as I can.

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5) Homework doesn’t end when you finish formal education. Although we don’t have official homework, y own workshop doesn’t have a pendulum drill or grinding wheel, so the more rings I can prep between classes, the more time I have to actually set and benefit from the tutor’s expertise in class.

6) Practice absolutely does make perfect (I know, I didn’t want to hear it either!). My first claw ring took me 2 classes (5 hours) plus prep time outside class. My second was completed start to finish in one class, with a break in the middle to watch a demonstration of the next ring we’ll be attempting.

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What’s your achievement of the week? Bonus points if it’s jewellery-related!

 

New designs, new photos…and news!

I know, I know, it’s been a while since I posted, and there are a few good reasons for that, mostly:

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BUT despite that, there have been a few things in the works, namely…

1) I’ve been refreshing product photography, which is why some of my most popular designs, like my charm hoops, have been down for a little bit. Hoops will be coming back on Friday 14 April, just in time for you to treat yourself after a hard week at work…

With the help of my ever-patient friends and family as models, photographers, and all-round ‘shall-I-just-hold-this-leaf-for-you’ grafters, I’ve had fun shoots ranging from standing in the Yorkshire rain in January to gathering all the items from my sister’s sickeningly Instagrammable flat:

I hope you’ll agree that the results were worth the effort, though!

The necklace at the bottom there is a new design which will be available from next Thursday 19 April.

2) I’ve got an exciting collaboration coming up with the talented and very lovely Alia-Michelle of Makeup by Alia-Michelle, where I’ve lent some Tiding of Magpies jewellery to style the models for two beauty shoots. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to fulfilling my fantasy of styling Next Top Model photoshoots… Seriously though, I absolutely loved picking out the right pieces for the theme of each shoot, and one shoot will even feature one of two new designs which will be available to purchase from Thursday 19 April. Watch this space for the photos!

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Just a bit of Alia’s fab work…

3) My final news item is a very special one. I’m always delighted when my customers tell me the story behind the item they’ve purchased or commissioned, but last week I had a really lovely message from a customer who purchased my silver love knot ring…

She recently proposed to her partner, but while they’re waiting on a bespoke engagement ring, she ordered my little love knot ring as a stand-in to symbolise their plans to tie the knot – how ridiculously cute is that? It made my week – and a nice happy ending to this quick update post!

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Available here

Crafting For Crazy People Part II: Craftpod review*

As I’ve discussed previously on this blog, I use crafts as a tool to manage my mental health conditions, as well as for the enjoyment of creating, so imagine my delight when my mum gave me a quarterly craft subscription box for my birthday.

Luckily I didn’t have long to wait to try out my new subscription, since it came the following week. Much more cheering post than the usual round of bills, credit card spam and pizza menus (although those are always fairly welcome…)!

This particular subscription box is called Craftpod, and each box is themed around the season it’s released during. This one couldn’t have come at a better time, with January being even colder and more miserable than usual this year, and the theme is all about cosiness and comfort. Perfect!

When I opened the box, I found: a letter explaining the box, all the equipment and instructions for an embroidery project, all the equipment and instructions for a stamp-making project, a cute woodland-patterned postcard, a sheet of wintry stickers, a black chai teabag, and a bar of Vivani chocolate.

I’ll tell you more about the craft projects below, but I just want to mention the extra touches first that made opening the box so enjoyable for me. I absolutely love the tea and chocolate element in the winter box; it feels very self-care-focused, which is exactly what I look for in craft projects, particularly at this time of year. From my mum, I also knew that there would be two craft projects and tea, but I wasn’t expecting the extra stationery bits, so they were a really nice surprise. All of the collateral is gorgeous as well, which is a lovely little touch that makes the box feel that bit more special and treat-like. The instructions are also super easy to follow and written in a friendly, approachable way that makes it feel a bit like Jo is crafting along with you!

I’ve not had time to get stuck into the stamp-making yet, but I’m absolutely loving my embroidery hoop. It’s really simple but has enough detail and different stitches/parts to it to still be engaging, which is a balance I sometimes struggle to find with embroidery projects, since I’m not a particularly accomplished embroiderer… It’s also just repetitive enough with all the berries to be quite meditative (as Jo points out in the instructions as well), so very relaxing to do in front of the TV of an evening.

The stamp-making project seems like a good contrast to the embroidery, since it’s a bit more active and (for me at least!) exotic. I also love making things that are useable, not just decorative, so it’s right up my street. I’ll come back and post pics when I’ve made my stamps so you can see how they turn out!

Overall, I would seriously recommend this box for anyone who enjoys crafting, particularly as a means of self-care. As I mentioned in my previous post, I sometimes feel pressure to finish projects quickly so I can have something to show for my efforts, so the frequency of this box is perfect for me. Two projects every three months is enough to have exciting and relaxing things to do, but not so many that it feels overwhelming and just wouldn’t get used. If the box was monthly, I think I’d feel a bit stressed by the number of projects that ‘needed’ doing, and it would deplete the enjoyment a little.

This box feels like it was made for me, which was my mum’s comment when she gave me the gift, so great work, Mum! If you want to learn more about Craftpod, you can visit the website, or search the #craftpod tag on Instagram to see makes from current subscribers.

*This is not a sponsored post (if ONLY I got paid to chat about crafting!); I’ve just really enjoyed my first Craftpod and wanted to share the recommendation. If you’re interested in receiving fun, themed craft projects for every season, or gifting that experience to a crafty loved one, you can head to the Craftpod website to subscribe.

Birmingham: from backwater to boom

My dad came to stay at the weekend, and we, of course went to the city museum, as we often do with guests. At the end of the Birmingham history gallery, he asked ‘so why did Birmingham become a jewellery-making centre if it was such a minor medieval town?’. The answer to that was ‘I have no idea, but I’d like to’, so I did some snooping…

There’s a standard UK city history: a settlement is placed on an easily-defendable location (usually a hill) beside a navigable river (for transport and water supply), and grows following the introduction of a market. At 130m above sea level and with a market appearing in 1166, Birmingham hits two of these criteria, but it’s noticeably lacking on the third. So, why were settlers drawn to this essentially riverless location? And how, over the following centuries, did Birmingham become a metalworking powerhouse?

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The first cartographical representation of Birmingham on the Gough Map, c.1360 (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite its lack of a major river and out-of-the-way location, early Birmingham did have a decent water supply from the much smaller ‘rivers’ Rea, Tame and Cole, as well as Bourn Brook. Because of its height, it was also nice and dry (i.e. not marshy), and timber, iron, and coal were all easily available. Birmingham’s plentiful supply of both raw materials (base metals, timber, coal) and of other tradesmen meant the medieval jeweller could easily get hold of local pottery vessels and iron tools, as well as sheets of base metal for practice and working.The veins of gold discovered in nearby Shropshire probably didn’t hurt the city’s jewellery trade, either.

So far, so good, but how does a village with 9 houses and a value of £1 in the Domesday Book host multiple goldsmiths just three centuries later? Well, it owes a lot to the local ruling family, the de Birminghams, who held the manor in the town for 400 years from 1150. The second lord, Peter de Birmingham, was the person granted a market charter by King Henry II. By the time Peter’s son, William, sought confirmation of the charter from Richard I, just two decades later, the location had changed from the ‘manor at Birmingham’ to the ‘town of Birmingham’.

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Fourteenth century effigy of John de Birmingham at St Martin in the Bullring (Source: Wikipedia)

More importantly, the de Birminghams preferred a hands-off approach to trade regulations, just charging a toll on market traffic, and it was mainly this which attracted craftsmen to the growing market town over the next couple of centuries. By 1327, craftsmen were listed amongst taxpayers in Birmingham. In 1308, seized effects of a Knight Templar included 22 ‘Birmingham Pieces’. There’s also no specification of what exactly the ‘Birmingham Pieces’ were, but they were precious metal objects small enough to be taken into prison, and also well-known enough to need no further explanation. This was in London, meaning that gold- and silversmithing wasn’t just happening on a local level; the trade had already expanded beyond Birmingham.

Fast forward to Birmingham’s Industrial Revolution, and the real growth started as early as 1680. The population exploded shortly after, quadrupling between 1700 and 1750. It was during this time that the Jewellery Quarter rapidly developed, becoming known as its own manufacturing area by the early nineteenth century.

 

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With the creation of Birmingham’s canals (the first was opened in 1769), the large amount of iron available in the area could now be easily transported in and out of the city. Birmingham’s iron supply allowed tradesmen to diversify and specialise in their metalworking efforts, practising everything from buckle-making to locksmithing. On the other hand, although Birmingham was at the front of the canal-building trend, it actually remained relatively difficult to access, meaning that the metalworking of small, valuable objects became the obvious trade to pursue. Hello, jewellery… Perhaps most importantly of all, Birmingham’s lack of guilds meant tradesmen were much freer to change occupation or practise more than one trade here than they were in other cities, since they didn’t have to pay expensive membership rates and belong to just one guild.

Birmingham’s adaptability carried its jewellery trade through periods of depression and both world wars. Today, the Jewellery Quarter still produces 40% of all jewellery created in the UK (mine included!), and boasts both the world’s largest Assay Office and the oldest independent mint in the world. Not bad for a city which was a tiny, wooded backwater only a millenium ago…

 

And there we have it: good local supplies + lack of trade restrictions = an influx of tradespeople. Throw in the Industrial Revolution for good measure and you’ve got Birmingham as the UK centre of jewellery-making. So, Dad, now we know!

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Sources:

https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/50050/culture_arts_and_heritage/1258/origins_of_birmingham

http://visitbirmingham.com/what-to-do/heritage/the-history-of-birmingham/

https://www.triposo.com/loc/Birmingham/history/background

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol7/pp81-139

https://billdargue.jimdo.com/glossary-brief-histories/a-brief-history-of-birmingham/medieval-birmingham/

https://therivermanagementblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/the-rivers-of-birmingham/

Medieval Goldsmiths, John Cherry (2011, British Museum Press)

How to create gorgeous Instagram flatlays

Ah, the flatlay. If there’s a style of shot that sums up Instagram (aside from heavily posed bikini shots and too-good-to-eat plates of food), it’s the flatlay. It’s one of the most-searched hashtags on the site. Why do I want to do what everyone else is doing, I hear you cry. Well, there’s a reason flatlays are everywhere: they sum up the kind of pretty, curated, visual content people are on Instagram for in the first place. And why not?

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Source: Instagram (obviously…)

Flatlays are also an amazing tool for creative entrepreneurs. If your business is product-based and aesthetic, throwing a couple of pretty flatlays into your Insta feed is a must. They’re shorthand for your style and a great way to showcase your products.

With such beautiful examples already out there (the ones above were the first when I searched just now) it can feel a bit intimidating, but taking a good flatlay doesn’t need to be a chore. Once you get into it, it’s actually quite fun! It can take quite a bit of prep, though, so I often end up doing mine in batches to use later (Blue Peter eat your heart out).

So, here are 3 easy tips to help you take gorgeous (and efficient) flatlays:

1) Background

Broadly speaking, the plainer the better.

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Lots of people favour plain white (I use standard printer paper for this, but fabric and blank walls/floors also work well), but subtle patterns can work too. Marble or small geometric patterns with lots of space between each element are both popular. If you don’t have a stunningly white background to use, don’t worry. Wood (real or fake) is always a good bet. In fact, most of my flatlays are taken on my wooden workbench. It’s not a completely plain background, but I think it adds a bit of character. It’s also already there, which cuts down set-up time!

2) Props, props, props

As I mentioned in my previous tips post about product photography, I like to keep a stock of photo props about, and this is even more important for flatlays. You might have a new book/lipstick/camera that you want to make the focus of your shot, but the props around it are what make the photo complete. They also don’t have to be expensive. I know a lot of flatlays feature Macbooks and iPhones, but they can also feature Poundland tat if you arrange it nicely. One of my absolute favourite props, a ceramic swan planter, was £3 from Tiger:

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Props can be anything you like, but some of my go-tos are: pretty notebooks and pens; coffee cups; tools of the trade (so, for me, a lot of pliers!); fake flowers and plants (see last week’s post for why they have to be fake); jewellery-making materials. Obviously some of mine are specific to my work, but that’s why flatlays are great. You’re an artist? Throw some paintbrushes and paint tubes in there. Flower arranger? Well, duh. General human just taking pretty pictures? Whatever you damn well please. And that’s the point of all this; your flatlays reflect your personal tastes and interests. That’s why people scrolling through Insta never get bored of flatlays, because there’s so much potential for variation.

Here are some of my favourite props:

3) Arrangement/set-up

Whatever background and props you settle on, the way the items are laid out is what will make or break the picture. The short answer to how you get a great shot is really to just play around and see how things look – helpful, I know…

There are a few things you can try, though, if nothing is jumping out at you:

  • Envision how the image will look as a square (I often take a deliberately wide rectangular shot so it’s easier to crop down into a square for my feed)
  • Line items up at right angles to each other and the sides of the box
  • Put like items together (pens in one place, notebooks in a pile, etc)
  • Try ‘The Scatter’ (paperclips, earrings, glitter – if it’s small, scatter it across the space for instant effect)
  • Try putting all the items on one side/one corner of the square, leaving lots of blank space
  • Arrange items across the borders of the image, so some of them are just peeking into view (this gives the image depth)
  • Draw some pretty calligraphy onto your background (as long as it’s paper!). If you can’t do real calligraphy, fake it like I do: write the phrase in nice handwriting, then draw a second line on all of the downstrokes and fill in the space between:

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Now go forth and lay things flat! Tag your flatlays with #tidingofmagpies – I’d love to see them.

 

 

‘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!

 

 

On trying new things and adjusting expectations

I’ve never been good at not being good at things as soon as I start them, so it’s no wonder it took me a year to start my Etsy shop. Business is one thing – it’s serious and nerve-racking – but when you’re this much of a perfectionist, hobbies are no different…

My mum mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she was going on a one-day embroidery workshop midway between Brum and hers, and as luck would have it I had already booked the day off work. I’ve been seriously burnt out lately between the day job, business and my health, so a day hanging out with my mum staring at threads sounded ideal. I’m not the most experienced embroiderer (satin stitch and back stitch were pretty much the only things in my embroidery arsenal before the class), but I naively thought I’d just be able to whip up a hoop full of art in 6 hours. Aww, bless past me…

So we were going to be embroidering landscapes, and the first thing to do was rub a  photo transfer onto the fabric. Cool, easy, no problem – oh wait, here comes the first failure. It took me FOREVER to get the bastard thing onto the cotton. I wanted to cry, because I’m a totally proportionate and reasonable person.

Anyway, according to Lorna (the lovely instructor), it was thicker paper than usual and not my fault. Don’t know if that’s true or if she was being nice, but I’m taking it! Eventually we ended up with this:

…which I picked because it looks like where I grew up:

So far, so difficult! I wasn’t not enjoying it, by the way, I was just frustrated with myself for not instantly being top of the class…

Luckily, the first new  stitch we learnt was split stitch, which is a bit like back stitch. Tree trunks started to appear in my bluebell wood (*cough* that’s what they said…):

We also learnt fly stitch, french knots and ‘lazy daisies’:

Despite enjoying the sewing itself, I was so much slower than everyone else in the class, and it was taking me an age to pick colours and get the hang of the new stitches. Other people were learning fancy stitches left, right and centre, and it was making me jealous. It was pretty obvious I was getting frustrated, so Lorna told me not to worry about what the others were doing, and just to keep going at my own pace. She was so nice and so not-patronising, which made a massive difference for me.

Once I had ‘permission’ to just focus on my own design, I was able to readjust my expectations and appreciate the multiple new stitches I’d learnt. I didn’t get nearly as much of the design done as I wanted to at the start of the day, but what I did do was ok:

Despite my frustration with myself, I really enjoyed the class, and it reaffirmed for me something I’ve been working on for a long time: adjusting expectations of myself. I’m not advising letting yourself off the hook and making excuses to be lazy, but sometimes being relentlessly hard on yourself is less productive than just accepting you might need to lower the bar a bit (who knew?!). It’s especially important if you’re feeling tired, ill or burnt out, because you’re probably already not at your best.

Aaaaand that’s why I’m currently not beating myself up (too much) for having melted a pendant I’d spent hours on today, and have given up my jewellery efforts for now to sit on the sofa and work on my embroidery instead…

If any of you are having trouble readjusting expectations today, this is your permission to go a bit easier on yourself. If you can’t do that, here are some pictures of my parents’ dog, Olive, in the bluebell woods at home to cheer you up:

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#etsysmallbusiness contest and #marchmeetthemaker

So, I recently entered the Etsy Small Business Contest. (It closes 6th April 2017, so if you’re reading this before then, please pop along and vote for me if you haven’t already https://etsy.wishpond.com/small-business-contest-intl/entries/149579637)  I’m well aware that there are thousands of Etsy sellers with much larger followings than mine, and that when it comes to a public voting contest, my chances are pretty slim, but nothing ventured and all that…

Plus, writing the application gave me something else which is really helpful and often forgotten by creative entrepreneurs: it gave me the time to check in with my aims, goals and progress with the business so far. It’s something that’s always recommended in how-to books on starting a small business, but I’m not great at remembering to do it… If any readers are in the same boat and have any advice, drop me a message!

Days focusing on my business (when I’m not at my day job) tend to pass in a bit of a blur of metal shavings, Instagram and Post Office queues, and it’s sometimes hard to take time to pause and regroup. For the contest application, the character limit was 500 per section, which is a ridiculously low amount for someone as verbose as I am, so I decided to expand on my application text to properly figure out where my business came from and where it’s going. A lot of Etsy sellers on Instagram are also doing #marchmeetthemaker, where they talk about their businesses on a personal level, so this kind of fits in there.

Sound hokey? Fab, let’s go.

For the application, I had to write about how my business got started and what the prize money would mean to me. Well, this time last year, I was stuck in a horrible job in an incredibly toxic company, and my (already shaky) mental health took a major dive. I felt like I was losing myself and wasting my potential, and I felt completely trapped. I knew something needed to change but fuck me if I knew what. Anyone who knows me IRL can also probably guess that corporate recruitment was never going to be my bag long-term; I don’t like jargon, I’m incapable of looking neat and presentable for longer than about 90 minutes, and I find it difficult to care about things that bore me.

Aside from the soul-crushing bleakness of working somewhere where ‘feminist’ was an insult, one (slightly more shallow) thing that bugged me was having to dress ‘business formal’. I totally get why traditional businesses need their employees to look smart, but just ughhhhhhhh… One thing my jewellery aims to do is to give people who work somewhere with a strict dress code the ability to bring a little of their personality to work without breaking the rules. It might be a little thing, but having an unusual necklace to wear can make crawling into a suit at 6am every day slightly more enjoyable. Also, I know fashion generally can be seen as shallow and inconsequential, but the power of how you present yourself can’t really be underestimated; it’s why I always put on mascara, my watch and a bra when I’m working from home*, no matter how tempting it is to sink into a pyjama pit instead…

So, I was in a mentally-damaging job, and I’d moved all the way to Birmingham for it. Luckily The Goblin (my now-fiancé) had got a proper job too, meaning leaving my job to do something more fulfilling had actually become an option. But what? By chance, not knowing much about the different parts of Birmingham when we moved here, we ended up in the Jewellery Quarter. Being in this historic centre of jewellery creation was the inspiration for turning my hobby into a business, and continues to be a big source of motivation. I got a part-time gig somewhere much less corporate which suits me a lot better, and, more importantly, allows me to focus on my business two days a week. It’s been unbelievably therapeutic.

St Paul’s Square in the JQ

The difference between my brain now and my brain a year ago is ridiculous – in a good way. Making things has always been an escape for me, and my hope is that by being open and honest about my mental health issues on my blog and social media (this post being Exhibit A), others struggling might see that things can get better. Like, I’m not saying that everyone with PTSD should sack off their garbage jobs and hang out at home playing with metal, but things can change, whatever that positive change looks like for the individual person.

Okay, so, schmaltzy bit over: how would (very, very hypothetically) winning actually change my business?

I’m very new to running a small business – I opened my store in December 2016 – and what I most want to do is learn! I’m developing my skills all the time through practice, but there are certain techniques I can’t learn at home. Winning this contest would enable me to take advantage of the training opportunities available in the Jewellery Quarter, particularly the courses on stone-setting, the skill which would make the biggest difference to my jewellery. Because, let’s be real, stone-setting is hard. And expensive if you mess it up. And overall just daunting af. Being in the JQ is ridiculously good luck, though, because there are a ton of decent stone-setting courses basically on my doorstep. So near, yet so far…

The prize money would also allow me to really stretch myself in terms of creating new designs and really building up a range of pieces for my buyers, because one of the biggest things currently holding me back from reaching my design potential is the prohibitive cost of ‘experimenting’ with precious metals. My best designs have come from experimentation (my haematite pendant being a key example), but the amount of precious and semi-precious materials that get wasted in the process just isn’t sustainable at the size my business is now.

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Finally, I would gain something essential to develop my business: time. With this money, I could afford to devote more time to being creative in my jewellery and my online content, as well as working on my jewellery-making ability. For any creative entrepreneur, there basically aren’t enough hours in the day, but with the contest prize, I could afford to ‘pay’ myself for the time I spend on the business, which would make the world of difference.

For now, it’s back to planning, journalling, and sticking adorable motivational postcards to my business board…


 

*Obviously with other clothes as well, perverts.