Well, that’s novel…

As the nights have drawn in, the rain’s got more frequent, and the temperature has dropped, the Goblin and I have spent a lot of time in a sofa nest, reading and drinking mulled wine. It’s great. I am truly living my best adult life.

Source: gfycat.com

After finishing our History degrees, we’d been firmly stuck on non-fiction books for the last few years, but clearly 2018 required some escapism, and recently we’ve been all about the fiction!

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Because I can never quite switch off work mode, I started thinking about the three best novels I’ve read featuring jewellery or gemstones as a key plot point… Here are my recommendations for your own sofa nest reading material:

1. The Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman

Although this book is technically aimed at a young adult audience, it’s one of the few books from my childhood that has lived up to my memory on rereading, which is saying something, because ya girl had some questionable literary taste! (One word: Twilight…)

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(c) Scholastic

Set in Victorian-era London, The Ruby in the Smoke tells the story of Sally Lockhart, a young women who gets drawn into the dangerous mystery of a stolen ruby following her father’s death. It’s tightly-plotted, well-written, and features a ton of opium – what’s not to like?

2. Mademoiselle de Scudéri – E.T.A. Hoffman

My final choice is technically a novella, but that just means it’s a quick read! As well as featuring a German Miss-Marple-style detective, the elderly poet known as Mme de Scudéri, this book also has a jeweller at its centre. René Cardillac is a renowned goldsmith whose pieces are so highly prized they’re being stolen, and who is also famous for liking his own creations so much he often refuses to part with them – I think all jewellers have been there after finishing something we’re particularly proud of!

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(c) Fantasy & Horror Classics

The story moves at quite a pace, and also sets the scene beautifully in 17th century Paris. I know a lot of people have to read this one for school, which could ruin it a bit for some, but since I’ve only read the English translation for fun, I’m recommending it!

3. The Roses of Picardie – Simon Raven

The Roses of Picardie is the only book on this list that actually features a piece of jewellery as opposed to a gemstone, because I’ve found from experience that most of the novels featuring jewellery as a main plot point are romance-based (no shade; just very much not my thing). Raven’s horror-mystery novel, on the other hand, is a deliciously dark tale featuring his staple horrible characters, cursed rubies, and a journey across Europe. Fun fact: a holiday I took around France in the summer of 2010 was directly inspired by this book, so it works as a travel guide, too!

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Simon Raven was a famously nasty person, who once replied to his wife’s telegraphed request for money to stop her and their child starving with the curt ‘No money; suggest eat baby.’ His unpleasantness and the unflinching awfulness of his characters are, to be honest, part of his appeal. However, the downside to The Roses of Picardie is that this goes further than in some of his other works (e.g. Alms For Oblivion), and there’s a vein of anti-Semitism and some liberal use of the ‘n’ word throughout. Obviously, it’s up to the individual whether that element outweighs enjoyment of the story or not for them personally. It’s definitely one of my problematic faves!

Even more jewellery-related books…

I also have quite a long jewellery-related TBR, which is mostly non-fiction and goes something like this…

  • The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins (I know, I know, I’ve just never got round to it…)
  • Jewels: A Secret History – Victoria Finlay
  • Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box – Madeleine Albright
  • Victorian Jewelry, Identity, and the Novel: Prisms of Culture – Jean Arnold
  • The Emperor’s Pearl – Robert van Gulik
  • Jewel: A Celebration of Earth’s Treasures – DK/Judith Miller

If you have any recommendations for novels featuring jewellery or jewels, please let me know in the comments! New ones are surprisingly difficult to find on Goodreads for some reason…

Source: rebloggy.com

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

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.

 

 

Product Photography 101 (no experience needed)

Anyone who’s ever shopped online, let alone sold online, knows that having good photography can make or break a sale. You can make the most beautiful earrings imaginable, but if they’re presented in a poorly lit and uninspiring photo, they’re probably not going to get chosen out of the millions of pairs available online.

When you’re just starting out selling online, it can be difficult to know how to set up and execute good product photography, which is why I enlisted the help of my more camera-savvy friend, @imlfox, for my first round of pictures. (Her Instagram is great by the way, you should all go follow her now. I’ll wait here…)

Bella shoots with a Nikon D5000, which is excellent for making tiny adjustments, but my little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot works great too. You don’t need fancy equipment unless you’re taking product photos every day, and chances are that at this stage you don’t have that many products to photograph! I would advise against using a phone camera, though, purely because I find the pictures don’t tend to blow up as well on different screen sizes.

So, to get to the point, I have 4 key tips for product photography: lighting, theming/composition, variety, and patience.

1) Lighting

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it makes all the difference in the world. Natural light is best, as much as you can get. I’m lucky my flat has tall windows, but I still need to shoot right next to them to get the best results.

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Exhibit A: Photoshoot on the windowsill with me on a stool to get the best light and angle. The glamour of a small business!

I’m including flash on/flash off in this category as well. If you’ve got shaky hands like me, the balance between the darkening effects of flash and the blurry-but-light results of no flash is pretty delicate. Macro mode and patience are really your only options, unfortunately. They’re worth it for images like this, though:

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2) Theming/composition

This is the fun bit. To start with, you’ll need a rough idea of the sort of aesthetic you’re going for. This will inform the sorts of props you might use and what composition might suit your pictures best. Going for a clean, modern, minimalist look? Think plain white walls, lots of greenery, and maybe a copper candle holder or two, all shot from above. Feeling a more hippy, gap-yah vibe? Break out whatever trinkets you’ve picked up on your travels, find some warm-coloured wood as a base/background, and you’re good to go.

I was going for a vintage-meets-modern sort of thing, since my pieces are generally a mix of old and new inspirations and techniques, so books, sheet music and house plants all worked for me. In fact, I may have got a bit carried away with the themed props…

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Having someone to bounce things off is also really helpful. Don’t be afraid to try things – if they look stupid, you don’t have to ever use the photos. My lovely hand model and bridesmaid, Beth, and I tried many Valentine’s-themed prosecco photos in last weekend’s session. They were all awful, but at least we got to drink the fizz afterwards…

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And this was right next to the window!

3) Variety

I don’t know about other platforms, but Etsy will let you have 5 photos of each item, so you really have to make sure you’re showing every angle/use of the product. This means taking a ton of different shots and whittling them down to the most attractive/useful ones. Of the 40-odd photos we took of Beth wearing my S-shaped hammered ring, these 5 made the cut for the following reasons:

  1. Romantic theming (Valentine’s Day approaching); fingers slightly bent
  2. Different background (tube lines echoing lines of the ring); hand flat
  3. Close up of the texture of the ring when worn
  4. Ring alone to show its shape
  5. Ring alone from a different angle

4) Patience

So, I sort of mentioned this above, but it bears repeating (a lot, like taking pictures. See what I did there?).

My mum likes to terrorise us on holiday and at home with endless snaps (she’s a scrapbooker, it’s an occupational hazard), and always assures us it’s for our own good. We’re always a bit dubious about this, but she explains it’s because the more pictures she takes, the more likely it is that there will be a few nice ones. Despite our family being composed entirely of stumpy little goblins, she does manage to get decent pictures of us all, so it seems she has a point.

It’s definitely the case with product photography, too. Even though trawling through hundreds of photos can seem like a chore, those few shots you (and your potential customers) love will be worth it. Besides, you can always sift while you’re watching TV, and I guarantee you a good proportion will be blurry instant deletions, which speeds things up…

After the 183 pictures I took last weekend (of 5 products!), I ended up with this gem. Love knot midi ring on a hand holding a flower, posed on top of the piano music for ‘Your Song’ – Valentine’s theming at its finest.

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Check it out here

If you’ve got any particularly good product pictures you want to share, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll retweet/regram them!

About this blog

My name is Florence, and I’m a jewellery designer and maker working out of Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter.

How did Tiding of Magpies come about? Well, at the risk of sounding like a university personal statement, I’ve always been a passionate maker…no, really. I grew up learning and practising sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, painting, jewellery-making – pretty much anything I could make by hand. A History degree, a shift into marketing, and a move to Brum later, I’m pursuing my love of creating and of all things shiny.

I create eye-catching designs from sterling and fine silver and semi-precious stones, using a mixture of traditional and modern silversmithing techniques. I take inspiration from historical designs, found objects and 21st century minimalism, focusing on the possibilities of shape and texture within delicate jewellery pieces. Each piece I create is a reflection of both past and present; a vintage button could inspire a modern pendant, whilst techniques with precious metal clay might prompt the creation of a replica Tudor coin charm.

This blog is a mixture of my inspirations, historical titbits and a peek at my design process. Get in touch or leave me a comment – I’m always keen to chat to other creatives!