Monday, 1 October 2012

Facebook Competition

Excited to have just bought a new mannequin head for displaying & taking better photos of my tiaras.
She's so pretty I've decided she needs a name. So I'm running a competition over on my Facebook page to name her. The competition is open to fans of my page.
All you have to do to enter is visit: like my page & comment under the photo of the mannequin with your idea for her name. Simple!
I will choose the name I like best when I get back from my holiday at the end of October & the winner will receive a pair of earrings in their choice of colour, or if you don't have pierced ears, a bag charm.
Head over to my page & enter now.

Choose from any of these colours as the prize

The prize

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Dedicated Non-Follower of Fashion.

I don't usually follow the latest celebrity trends. I make whatever appeals to me at the time. I'm certainly no slave to fashion, however I do tend to keep at least one bleary eye on what's current.
However I must admit I am loving the current trend for both spiky, on edge jewellery & shamballa bracelets.
I am writing this while suffering from "bus flu", courtesy of the bus driving Partner Who Is Not My Husband, who, bless his little soul, feels the need to share EVERYTHING with me! So I will keep it brief to save the voice I am already losing.

Here are some photos of my latest range of spiky chokers & earrings:

 And here are some of my latest shamballa bracelets:

See more of my designs here:

COMING SOON: some of my items will be available through All The Cute Things ebay shop!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Always The Bridesmaid...

Been busy lately knitting baby clothes for the imminent arrival of my nephew.

But now with Summer upon us (although looking out of the window, perhaps no-one's told the weather that!), it's time to revert to my favourite pastime: making bridal jewellery.
I don't know what the attraction is for me, maybe it's all the pretty sparkly crystals, but I really do love making wedding jewellery and in particular tiaras. Anyway I've definitely got the bug again.
I like to incorporate vintage pearls in my tiaras for the "something old", but recently I came across an idea in a magazine that incorporated a vintage brooch. Needless to say that set my imagination racing, so I have made two brooch tiaras. The gold one includes a vintage brooch, the silver one includes a new brooch made for the British Heart Foundation Charity to help them raise funds, which I bought from one of their shops in aid of a worthy cause.



Although I love the traditional bridal colours, I know not everyone wants to marry in ivory or white. So I have made an alternative, more goth version in black and purple colours.


I have a head full of design ideas and I've definitely got more coming soon. Yesterday I actually bought "Asian Bride" magazine as I love the whole Bollywood thing and a quick glance at it was enough to tell me it was full of inspiration. The Partner Who Is Not My Husband thought I was nuts, but he's used to my moments of madness by now, so kept his opinions to himself. I can feel a Bollywood inspired tiara coming on though!


I guess my blog title is a little inaccurate, in truth I've only ever been a bridesmaid twice. The first time was for my Dad's sister and I was only 2! The second time was for my Mum's sister and I was 12. So not only have I never had the chance to wear a wedding dress but I've never really worn a proper bridesmaids dress either. Way back then, everything was handmade and in all honesty not very pretty or girly. Don't get me wrong, I'm really not a girly girl at all. I was a tomboy as a child, and I still live in my jeans. I only bought my first dress last year! But still there is something very appealing about a long flowing ivory dress, embellished with pearls, crystals, embroidery, lace etc.

So I make all these tiaras and chokers, necklaces and earrings and I watch the faces of the excited brides-to-be who buy them, and I muse to myself about what it must be like to wear them. Every new tiara I make I show to The Partner Who Is Not My Husband, ostensibly because I value his opinion and he is my first point of feedback for all my new designs, but secretly I am hoping that seeing me with a tiara on my head may stir some primeval urge within him! I am guessing it's not working, because although he always says how lovely they are, I am still waiting!

In the meantime I will continue to create my little beauties and muse over whether I'll ever get to wear one of my creations. Because I DO love making them! (And that folks is probably the only chance I'll have to say "I DO"!)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Creativity - Is It In The Genes?

I have often wondered where my creativity comes from. I cannot draw or paint and I am tone deaf and no amount of art or music lessons could ever teach me those skills. Yet I have always had the ability to make things. Was I born with this talent? I began to think about my childhood and my family...

Both my Grandmothers were creative, a relic of the "make do & mend" era after the war. They taught me to cook, to sew, darn, embroider, tapestry, knit and a host of other things. They made all my clothes as a child, they knitted all my dolls clothes. My paternal Grandma taught me to make pom poms and paper flowers. She sold her knitting to friends and colleagues and if it required a pom pom she let me make it. My maternal Grandma used to make tapestry kneelers for the local church, she let me help, doing sections of hers, until I eventually made a full one by myself. My maternal Grandfather, who died before I was born used to write poetry (I have had several of my own poems published).

One of my earliest memories is my 2nd Birthday. I wanted a Dolls House. They were expensive, my Dad was a Bricklayer and my Mum had just given birth to my Brother and money was tight. My Dad made me one from wood, the outer walls were covered with wallpaper with a brick pattern, the roof was wallpaper with a slate pattern. The front door opened, the roof lifted up so I could get inside, someone bought me a tiny wooden chair and table to put in it. That's the only furniture I remember, as I grew older, I made all my own furniture from junk!

As a child we used to attend all the Brisca Formula 1 stock car meetings. My Dad made scale models of the cars from Balsa wood and painted them in the drivers liveries. He taught me how to do it and by the age of 9 or so I was selling my models to his workmates!
In the 1970s pin and thread art was huge. My Mum used to make them. She taught me and again by age 10 I was making my own and selling them to her workmates. I still remember my favourite was a gold and silver lurex thread owl on a midnight blue velvet background!
Every Christmas/Birthday would bring me some sort of craft kit. I made candles, painted glass, too many things to list. I made cards and gifts for all my family's occasions as pocket money never went far in those days. I made all my own dolls clothes and furniture and houses for them.

In my last year of Junior school, aged 10, the whole class knitted a teddy. In spite of both my Grandmas best efforts, I had never really mastered the art back then. It took the rest of the class 4 weeks to complete. I drove the teacher to distraction, as every row I knitted had more or less stitches than it should have. At dropping stitches I was a master! They lent me the pattern book when I left school and 4 whole years later, they wrote to me asking for it back. I kid you not folks, it really did take me 4 years to finish the teddy that everyone else managed in 4 weeks! It was full of holes, but I could darn, so I sewed them up and embroidered his name "Fred" over the top to hide it. He was an epic failure but I kept him as a homage to the powers of perseverence! A year later, my baby sister was born and I gave her "Fred the Ted". Amazingly, he became her favourite toy, they were inseparable, she refused to sleep without him. He went astray once on a shopping trip, she was inconsolable! We had to run a mercy mission, by bus, back to the supermarket, where thankfully somebody had handed him in and they were happily reunited! She still has him to this day, I think.

At senior school I learnt Macrame. Soon every single member of my family had at least half a dozen plant holders hanging from their ceilings!

My Mums eldest sister was a freelance artist drawing fashion for magazines, her other sister made glass terrariums, leather belts and is now a watercolour artist. They are all accomplished knitters, my Mum used to knit the display models for a wool shop. Although my eldest Aunt knitted beautiful jumpers, my Brother and myself used to dread each Christmas, as the necks were always so tight they used to rip our ears off each time they were forced over our heads!

As we got older, my Brother dabbled with leather tooling, carving his favourite Kiss album cover, bas relief, onto a piece of leather and painting it before affixing it to his denim jacket. I took the typical Heavy Metal option of embroidering the names of my favourite bands on mine! I also did his and most of our friends. I added fancy indian braid to the bottoms of my jeans and frayed the hems. My Saturday job didn't pay much, so I was constantly remodelling my clothes. I did attempt to make clothes from scratch, but although I could sew, I wasn't much good at fathoming patterns, so most tended to be "freeform". I knitted an 8 foot long "Dr Who" scarf, partly because it was fashionable, but mainly because I hadn't mastered the art of casting off! It probably would've reached 20 foot, but my Grandma took pity on me and showed me for the 100th time how to do it!

When I was pregnant with Daughter #1, I decided it really was time to get my head round the knitting thing. Armed with some simple patterns and a telephone (every row, every dropped stitch, every "what do I do now?", I rang my mum!). Eventually, painstakingly, some tiny baby clothes emerged, with only a few holes and in time to fit her! By Daughter #2, I was an expert, even inventing my own patterns! I also knitted teddies in various garb, firemen, ballerinas, chefs, you name it & sold them to my family's workmates. (Fred the Ted, I thank you!)

Next I made novelty cakes for the Daughters' Christenings and Birthdays and other members of the family. I sold a couple, but the cost of the icing alone made them expensive.

See more of my cake pictures here: Tracey's Tasty Recipes

When the Daughters started school I took up Salt Dough modelling, began selling it at craft fairs up & down the country. My cross-eyed sheep were a huge hit! However it began to take over my life. We lived on salads as the oven was constantly full of dough models, the kitchen worktops were stacked with painted, half-varnished drying things. It had stopped being fun & become a chore! Enough was enough. I did some major cross-stich pieces, but I'm impatient and they took forever. I was putting in 16 hour stints, till it was more a case of cross-eyes than cross-stitch! I had also mysteriously developed arthritis in my hands.

I made cushions from jeans and clothes the Daughters had outgrown, but the fabric was far too pretty to throw away. I do have something of a tendency towards obsession though and by the time I was having to evict 30 cushions before climbing into bed, that had to stop too! 
So I got a job as a florist, which I adored! But then my constant health issues were finally diagnosed as Crohn's Disease, and having taken so many years, by then I required emergency surgery which put an immediate end to my budding career!

Now, totally depressed and virtually housebound, I made some beaded safety pin bracelets, and struggled to sell them. The Daughters' friends all loved them, but being young teenagers, they couldn't afford to buy them. That's when The Partner Who Is Not My Husband stepped in. At that time, he wasn't quite yet The Partner, he was still "The Best Friend of 20 Odd Years Standing". He insisted they would sell if I found the right venue and began looking around. As usual, he was proved right! Now he had become The Partner... and he found me a local fair and  Saddleworth Crafts Co-operative.
The rest you already know!

My baby sister is now a fully grown trained milliner! You can check out her work here, on Ebay: All The Cute Things, on Folksy: All The Cute Things, on Facebook: Cut Things Hair Accessories and Hats

Daughter #2 makes, remodels and designs her own clothes in her spare time. Check out her work here (although her website is still in its infancy): Ambers Boutique. She has also taken over the novelty cake making from me.

Daughter #1 bemoans her lack of creativity, yet she draws amazing cariacatures, has made toys from face cloths, bag charms/keyrings for her friends. Like me, she is impatient and wants quick results, I am positive that sooner or later she will find something creative to satisfy that!

I introduced my watercolour artist/knitting Aunt to Saddleworth Crafts, she is now also a member. You can view her work here: Watercolours, Corsages, Cards & Bookmarks.

My Mum still knits and sells it, my Dad has taken up Sculpture since he retired. Sadly both my Grandmas are no longer with us.

So, is creativity in the genes? I really and truly do believe it is! What do you think? Please share your own experiences and opinions with me, I would be interested to hear them.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Joys (and Woes) Of Wire-working

Last Mothers Day, Daughter #2 presented me with a book by wirework artist, Linda Jones. "I thought you might like to learn something new", she said. Before I could thank her, she added "And when you get good at it, can you make me that ring on page...?" She swore blind that wasn't the reason she bought me the book!
After she left, I showed it to The Partner Who Is Not My Husband. "She expects me to make THAT! Who does she think I am? I'll never be able to do that!" I wailed. "Of course you will, honey" he said with great conviction, "With a bit of practice you can do anything". 
He may have had cause to regret his optimism as I immediately packed him off to the hardware shop for fuse wire. He came back with the last 2 cards of fuse wire in stock, having been told that no-one uses it these days due to modern circuit breaker fuse boxes. Luckily (though not for him),The Partner Who Is Not My Husband happens to be a radio ham, so I had him find all the unused coax from his antennas and strip off all the plastic coating to leave me with the bare copper inside. Most of it was too thick, so off he went yet again to the hardware shop to buy electrical cable. After stripping 100s of feet of various cables, he was probably cursing Daughter #2 as much as me.
Finally I had several lengths of usable copper wire to play with, so I set about practising said daughters ring. Surprisingly my first attempt wasn't too bad, although the wire was probably on the thick side. I kept trying until I ran out of wire. Then The Partner Who Is Not My Husband, faced with yet another trip to the hardware store and even more stripping of the plastic coating, did something very unusual... He begged me to go on ebay and buy some proper wire! Yes, that's right, he actually gave me his blessing to venture into realms that fill his wallet with horror!
I actually got lucky first time and found a supplier who sells what I now know to be the best quality jewellery making wire on ebay. (I know this because I have since tried other suppliers and found their wire is not up to scratch. Well actually that is ALL it's up to... ouch!)
Anyway, now full of confidence that I COULD do this, I rang Daughter#2 and we agreed she would have a red aventurine and copper wire ring. As it was now almost her Birthday, she ended up with not only the ring, but also a bangle, a bracelet and some earrings to match. She showed her gratitude by asking if I could also make her a silver one with black agate! Which I duly did. Then I decided to experiment and made one with turquoise shades of swarovski crystal, which was so successful that it was immediately appropriated by Daughter #1! (Ah children make such perfect guinea pigs!). The ring in question has attracted so much attention that it has now become my brand logo (and my avatar), as so many people have recognised it and commented on it!

So I now had two happy daughters and The Partner Who Is Not My Husband was happy that he no longer had to strip wire for me and that yet again, he had been proved RIGHT! (Oh how he enjoys that!). He had told me that I could do it, and as it turns out, I could!

Next came a brooch or two, again out of the book.
This was the first attempt. I showed it to The Partner Who Is Not My Husband, who promptly dropped it... and it broke! He was suitably mortified, but after my initial horror, I realised he had actually done me a favour by highlighting its flaws, thus enabling me to tighten my quality control in future pieces:-

Then feeling brave, I decided to venture into the unknown territory of memory wire. This is a cautionary tale for budding wirework artists everywhere! Memory wire is heat treated to make it extremely hard, which is how it retains its shape. You need heavy duty tools to work it (it will ruin your ordinary side-cutters if you attempt to use them on it), which for me actually wasn't the problem, as I had them. What I didn't have was heavy duty hands! (I have arthritis in my fingers and wrists, but was still undeterred!).

The culprit!                                              The result!

It's really not as vivid in the photo, but in reality both of my fingers, inside and out, turned completely black and purple, then faded through brown and green, due to a burst vein caused by the pressure I needed to apply with my pliers. It hurt like hell and took weeks to heal! Needless to say I am much more careful with memory wire these days!

Next stop was a bridal tiara, a great way to learn wire wrapping techniques. (If not quite as good at dropping hints to The Partner Who Is Not My Husband!)

I have now become much more competent at working with wire and soon began designing my own pieces. I really enjoy its endless possibilities and its forgiving nature. I have recently invested in some professional wire working tools, such as nylon jaw pliers to smooth out any kinks, a cup burr and some needle files to smooth any rough edges. However all you really need to get started are a good set of side-cutters, and a pair of round nose and chain (snipe) nose pliers. Copper wire is easiest to practise with as it is softer, but a good quality silver-plated wire is an excellent choice after that as it is non-tarnish. Coloured wires are also available, but choose one with a copper core. Aluminium wires are for general crafts rather than jewellery making. Take care when cutting as small pieces can end up in your eyes. It is recommended that beginners wear safety goggles, but with practice, you can learn to control your cutting. Stay safe, but above all, have fun! Working with wire is very satisfying. The only limit is your imagination!

Here are some of my latest designs:

Thursday, 27 January 2011

How To Handle Being A Bike Widow

My other half, who I shall call The Partner Who Is Not My Husband (* see footnote), has been obsessed with motorbikes ever since I first met him at the age of 15. 30 years later, that obsession has not waned in the slightest. Now as for me, I am less enamoured, unless we're talking cruisers, all shiny chrome, leather tassels, saddlebags, etc: e.g. Harleys or my personal favourite: the Yamaha Virago. But of course we're not. Oh no, we're talking big beefy, roaring exhaust, lean mean speed machine! Although I have to concede that his sports bike fetish has morphed into the tourer with his latest acquisition the Honda CBR600F. It's a step in the right direction, I suppose, as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, while I am not particularly fascinated by bikes per se, there are certain bits of them that I do find rather appealing. I'm talking things like brake discs and sprockets, which are rather aesthetically pleasing to my creative eye! So while The Partner Who Is Not My Husband is tinkering away at the endless adjustments and polishing and constant admiring, I am looking at it from quite a different perspective.
As a child I was a huge fan of Blue Peter (toilet roll tubes, washing up liquid bottles, sticky backed plastic, here's one I made earlier!) and so when my Aunt bought me a book called "Something Out of Nothing" (100 projects to make from household junk), I was hooked on recycling big time! (Although I don't think the term was even invented then). I loved, and still do, being able to make something pretty or better yet, useful, out of other peoples junk.
So, fast forward a few decades and back to the bike... Hmm, those brake discs are very attractive and pleasing to look at, totally wasted on a bike, all that heat and dirt ruining their prettiness. I have a much better use for them! Now, not wanting to be a genuine bike "widow", I am not prepared to steal them from The Partner Who Is Not My Husband's pride and joy. So a quick foray into Ebay is called for and a few days later I am the proud owner of some beautiful wavy brake discs! I already have a huge collection of washers, nuts and bolts, amassed from my dawn raids on The Partners Sanctuary, from which I am banned (His Garage!). Now for some tinkering of my own! Voila: the bike brake disc clock is born! Of course by giving the prototype to The Partner Who Is Not My Husband, I escape rebuke for daring to violate the sanctity of his garage!

There was a slight difference of opinion over the pretty Baroque Style hands I chose to complement the design, he said plain hands would appeal more to blokes. I resolved this by opening it up to debate amongst my Facebook fans. I had a good response and he got a huge ego boost from most of them proving him right! Although a male fan did agree with me. Ha! It was further resolved by deciding to offer my customers their own choice of hands, so now I can please all of the people, all of the time!
So this, folks, is how I cope with being a bike widow. I get involved with all things bike related, though not neccessarily in the way The Partner Who Is Not My Husband may have hoped! And, yes, his prototype now has large plain hands, that he can see better and he is a very happy bunny!

I have since found a drilled brake disc that makes an equally attractive clock.  So above are photos of the different variations available. They will shortly be listed for sale in my Etsy shop and are currently available through my Facebook page.

(* "The Partner Who Is Not My Husband" was a phrase first coined by Rebecca Fleming, from Take A Break magazine. Her partner is now "The Husband" so I figured she wouldn't mind me borrowing the original. Especially as it is so appropriate for me).