Saturday, 30 May 2009
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
This is a brief post especially for Miss Peevish who, when I stated that I used to have hair like my dandelion picture at the top during the 1980s, demanded photographic proof.
So, after crawling under desks on my hands and knees to retrieve some dust-encrusted ancient photograph albums, I give you pictures of my impression of Snoopy's little friend, Woodstock!
The 'arty' black and white photos were taken in 1982 for the preposterously-named Andre Bernard Hair International salon in Tunsgate, Guildford - I used to do hair modelling, mainly because I loved showing-off ("you don't say?" I hear you cry in stunned disbelief - but, yes, I'm afraid so, people...) and I was willing to sit there, literally for hours, while my scalp was burnt into blisters in order to slake my desire for snow-white hair, and the hairdressers loved it so they'd get me to be their model at hairdressing competitions in that London. Plus being a singer in a band at the time meant I had a 'stage' wardrobe and the competitions gave me another excuse to wear diamante and stilettos. And elbow length gloves. And silver Victorian belts. And black corseted prom dresses with purple spots. You know, the usual sort of 80s attire.
This all worked well until, one night at the Grosvenor House Hotel, in the midst of the competiton, my hairdresser got nervous and knicked with his scissors a mole I used to have on the back of my head (I've had it removed now), and it bled. And bled. And bled. And, of course, having whiter-than-white hair, it showed up as pink streaks. Poor Martin managed to stop panicking enough to get some cotton wool and a bowl of water to wash the blood out. He obviously did a good job because we won! Look how ecstatic we are in the winner's photograph:
In everyday life, though, I looked more like this:
There's the very faintest tint of pink left at the edges - the very tips were originally scarlet red but had faded by the time the picture was taken.
I loved having bleached white hair but the upkeep was horrendous - even so, since then, I've grown it out and redone it from scratch at least 4 times. Now, of course, I'm currently purple-ish (although it's more "Eastern European Hooker" than I would like) but am so grey that I'm considering letting all the colour grow out so I can see what I actually look like - and then run screaming for the dye bottle again!
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
I managed to save a little life today - something hit my sitting room window (which is on the first floor) and plummeted down to the patio. I saw Damian (the cat who lives both with us and his 'real' mum 3 doors down) suddenly shoot off to investigate. I leapt to my feet to see what it was and it was a Blue Tit fledgling that was now sitting on one of my large pots. Unfortunately Damian got to it before I did and was off down the side alleyway with it in his mouth. I raced after him and, extremely fortunately, managed to get him to drop it. Poor thing was completely stunned, lying on its back, breathing rapidly - I didn't hold out much hope for it. I carried it back into the house, cradling it in my hands while it started to come round.
The Husband and I didn't really know what to do with it but he suggested putting it on one of our suspended bird feeder tables to see if it would fly off. So I did, by now it was the right way round but still a bit dazed. I kept popping out every 5 minutes or so because I was so concerned. It still had the fluff and big yellow mouth of a young fledgling and I wasn't at all sure that it would have a good outcome. In the end I decided I would have to take it to a wildlife rescue centre. We used to have one near us at Hydestile, Godalming but it closed a few years ago. The nearest one now is Wildlife Aid at Leatherhead which you may have seen on the TV programme 'Wildlife SOS'. I rang them, told them what happened and they said to pop it in a box and bring it over (they're about 30 mins drive from me). I found a suitable box, lined it with paper from the shredder, made some holes and went to fetch it. I could see that the suspended bird feeder it had been sitting in was now full of pigeons and collared doves, so was very worried that the little Blue Tit would be squashed. I shooed them off but it wasn't there! I heard 'peep, peep' by my feet and saw that it was now in a bush on the ground - whether it had flown there or been pushed out I don't know, but Damian was suddenly very interested so there was no time to lose. It had got itself tangled in the branches so I had to very carefully extricate it & put it gently in the box. I then persuaded The Husband to drive us all over to Leatherhead.
All the way there I could feel the Blue Tit moving around in the box and peeping away so I knew it wasn't in too bad a condition. When we got there, they had just taken in a parakeet that had been found at the side of a main road and a pigeon that had flown into a conservatory. We opened the box and the little thing was sitting there, bright as ninepence, obviously none the worse for its spectacularly traumatic day. They said they'd check it over but it looked like it was fine and it would be released. These people do such a wonderful job and it's all funded by contributions from the public (yes, I left them a donation). Sorry there's no pictures but speed was of the essence and taking photos was the last thing on my mind. I hope the little thing realises how lucky it was.....!
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
The Hubble Telescope is currently being fixed - five spacewalks have occurred over the last 11 days by crew from the space shuttle. There are people floating around, only attached to the shuttle by a mechanical arm, solving everyday ordinary engineering problems, IN SPACE!
In 1968, communication devices where you could actually see the person you were talking to were astonishing, unbelievable - now we use them everyday via webcams and mobile phones without giving them a second thought.
And what about digital cameras? - no more need for bulky films, instant pictures! It's the future!
And MP3 players - I got an iPod like everyone else and not just for convenience. I think this was the first gizmo to make me realise I was living in the future. I don't pretend to understand how a small thin metal box can store thousands and thousands of hours of music, but it reminded me of how the music of the Krells was stored in 'Forbidden Planet', it was science-fictiony and, damn, I wanted one.
We take all this stuff for granted. Because it's here, now, and we use it all the time, familiarity has definitely bred contempt. We've forgotten how far we've come in the last 100 years. One day I will ask The Husband's father what has impressed him the most about the last century - he was born in 1914 when there were few cars, little electricity and a handful of planes. He's seen it all - both World Wars, the atomic bomb, space travel. He himself uses the internet.
But I can't help wondering will I - by the time I get to his age - have got my flying car yet?
(Retropolis pictures from here - the future that never was)
Monday, 18 May 2009
Sunday, 17 May 2009
So, first of all, you'll need a kiln. Hah - that'll stop many of you from stealing my business RIGHT THERE. But for those of you still interested, there are a lot of different kinds of kiln on the market, from great big ones that you can also use for pottery (and which generally cost four figures) down to the so-called 'hobbyist' ones which are much more affordable. You can even get ones that fit in a microwave oven these days and cost under 100 quid. I myself use a Paragon SC2 kiln which was bought for me as a Christmas present a few years ago by The Lovely Husband. It's still pretty expensive but if you shop around you might find a secondhand one on eBay. Please note the small fire extinguisher in the bottom right hand corner. Always good to have one handy, just in case, you know?
Next - glass. I get all my supplies from two places - Warm Glass UK and Creative Glass Guild. In fact you can get everything you need to make glass from these two companies. The important thing to remember about fusing glass is that the two (or more) pieces you want to fuse have to have the same 'Coefficient of Expansion', or COE for short. This is a bit technical but basically is to do with how quickly glass expands when heated. Some glass does it at a different rate to other glass. If you try to fuse two pieces of glass with different COEs then they can suffer thermal shock and shatter. However it's all made very easy by the glass being labelled with a COE number, so you just ensure you use only glass with the same number - simple. I use COE90 glass.
Dichroic Glass - I'll just post the Wikipedia entry here for you: "Multiple ultra-thin layers of different metal oxides (gold, silver, titanium, chromium, aluminium, zirconium, magnesium, silicon) are vaporised by an electron beam in a vacuum chamber. The vapour then condenses on the surface of the glass in the form of a crystal structure. This is sometimes followed by a protective layer of quartz crystal. The finished glass can have as many as 30 to 50 layers of these materials yet the thickness of the total coating is approximately 30 to 35 millionths of an inch (about 760 to 890 nm). The coating that is created is very similar to a gemstone and, by careful control of thickness, different colours are obtained." It was also said to have been invented by NASA for use in the gold-coloured visors of astronauts' helmets, which is a neat selling point when talking to customers. Dichroic glass has the unique property of showing different colours depending on whether the light is reflected or refracted. Think oil on water, bubbles, butterfly and beetle wings. In one light it's gold, turn it slightly and it's green. Or purple. Or pink. You can get sheets of dichroic glass in all one colour, or with a rainbow mixture, or with patterns or textures, on a black background or clear. It is, however, expensive to buy, so I only buy small 10cm x 10cm sheets as a rule.
Tools - You don't really need that many tools. I use a self-sealing cutting board, red plastic running pliers, a metal ruler and an oil-filled glass cutter. I've found through trial and error that the oil-filled cutters are the best. It's also recommended that you get some eye protection - those plastic goggle things will do but I wear glasses anyway so don't bother. You'll also need to do something with the inevitable little flakes and splinters of glass. I actually just sweep them with a paintbrush into an old plastic coleslaw pot after every cutting, otherwise they get stuck into the edges of the palms of your hands, which is NOT GOOD. I also have some grozing pliers which you use for nibbling edges but we won't be needing them for this tutorial. You'll also need some glue which we'll discuss later.
Right - let's get started, shall we?
We're going to make bog-standard, smallish round cabochons from one colour of dichroic glass with a clear layer on top.
1. Onto your cutting mat, put the glass you want to cut. In this instance I'm using a glass that will end up sparkly purple at the end.
2. I've lined the long edge of the glass up with the 3-8 black line on the cutting board - this will help keep everything straight. I've decided to cut the glass two squares deep (according to the cutting board, you can, of course, cut it to whatever size you damn well like). Lay the metal ruler along the line you want to score along.
3. The oil filled glass cutter has a little wheel at the tip - see? Leaning firmly and with even pressure on the metal ruler, run the little wheel on the cutter along the edge of the ruler. The 'rules' say you're meant to cut away from the body but, hey, we don't need no stinkin' rules here, amigos! I naturally find it easier to cut towards me and have never had any problems, but try it both ways to see what suits. These pictures are a little alarming because it seems I have somehow got my mother's hands at the end of my arms (except she has better nails than me), which I don't recall happening...
You need to press hard enough with the cutter so that you hear a noise a little like ripping silk. It's hard to describe but very distinctive. This indicates that the glass has been successfully scored.
You can see where the oil from the cutter has left a little line on the glass.
4. You can, if you like, now turn the glass over and tap along the back of the score line and hope the glass will break, but I prefer to use the plastic running pliers. It's best to get a pair that have a white line marked on one side. This is because you line up the white line with the oil line on the piece of glass and, very gently, squeeze the handles together. The glass will split (hopefully) along the line.
5. You now have a thinner strip of dichroic glass. This now needs to be cut into smaller pieces that you're going to fuse. So you do the same thing again - take the metal ruler and use the oil-filled glass cutter to score along the lines that you're going to use the plastic running pliers to break. Again, these pieces are roughly two squares of the cutting mat in size.
6. You now have a batch of small evenly sized (hopefully) pieces of dichroic glass to form the base layer. You will now need to give each piece a bit of a clean. As you can see from the picture, there is a distinctive thumbprint on the piece just above the one that has the flash flare on it (you might have to click on the picture to make it bigger to see this). This needs to be removed - fingerprints will show up in the finished piece if you don't and you'll be cross, so clean it now and all will be well. I actually just use a piece of kitchen paper. Be careful - the pieces may be small but the edges are still cut glass and therefore sharp.
7. That's the base layer dealt with. You now need to make the top clear layer. Basically, you just repeat everything above but with a sheet of clear glass. I use 1mm thick clear glass but you can also get 2mm and 3mm thicknesses. You can also get tinted clear glass which will alter the colour of the dichroic underneath it, but that's for experimenting with later. For this tutorial we'll just focus on your bog-standard clear glass top layer. You'll need to cut the little glass squares a bit bigger than the base layer. If the base layer thickness is 1mm, then you need to have at least 1mm overhang on the top layer on all sides to ensure proper coverage all round. However you can get interesting effects if you make the top layer a bit smaller as the base layer comes up around the edges of the top instead of the other way round (if you see what I mean, which you probably don't until you have a go yourself). I did take a load of pictures of scoring and cutting the clear glass but, basically, they're the same as the ones above and I'm sure you're all intelligent enough to understand that concept, so I'll just post the one here where I'm breaking the glass.
Let me introduce you here to the fabulousness that is the Las Vegas Tin Tray. I bought this in, well, Vegas actually, back in 1996 when The Husband and I got married and I never really knew what to do with it until I discovered it was the perfect size for transporting my little piles of glued glass down from my workshop to the garage where the kiln is located, and I use it all the time now. If you can see, amongst the gaudiness, I've put the nine little squares of dichroic glass onto the tray.
8. Onto each of the base layer squares, put a drop of glue. I use Glastac but there are other kinds you can use such as Elmer's Fusing Glue which is white and thicker than Glastac but both burn away in the kiln. You can, of course, use nothing at all and just balance the glass but that can be precarious, especially when you have several layers. Glue each layer separately for peace of mind and lack of swearing.
9. Onto this you then pop a square of clear glass. The glue holds the two pieces together making it easier for you to move the finished piles around without them toppling over.
10. Now you leave it all to dry for a bit. You can cut more glass in the meantime or leave it overnight, or do what I did for this blog which is to go and take photographs of honeysuckle clambering over my bridge
11. You now need to fire these babies. The inside of the Paragon SC2 kiln is not really terribly large. The white walls inside are very thick because that's where the heating element sits. The black dot thing on the back wall is the thermocoupling device (basically the thermometer/ thermostat thing that tells you how hot the inside space is) and you musn't put anything up against it. The little tubular column things are stands that you can get from kiln suppliers. Like the average kitchen cooker, a kiln has temperature variation within the space. In my kiln's case, it's hotter in the middle and nearer the back wall. Also the outside ambient temperature (i.e., if it's winter or summer) can also affect firing - you may have guessed there's a lot you can't actually control when firing glass, which makes it all rather exciting and mysterious.
12. I have some little kiln shelves that are designed to fit into my particular kiln. Whatever you do, DON'T put the glass directly on to the shelf and fire it because it will fuse to the shelf and you won't be able to get it off. There has to be some kind of protection between the shelf and the glass. This is the same as in firing ceramics and, traditionally, something called 'kiln/batt wash' or 'shelf primer' is used (in fact you would still use this if you were using moulds to heat slump glass sheets into to make bowls, etc., but we're not doing that here). But I use Bullseye Thinfire Shelf Paper instead. This is, as the name suggests, paper that you can get pre-cut to fit Paragon shelves or a bigger roll (which is cheaper) that you cut to fit yourself. I put a piece of the kiln paper onto the shelf and then put the piles of glass onto that. Normally I would cover the entire shelf with cabs to be fired but I'm just doing a few for this blog. If you click on the picture you may be able to make out the letter 'S' that I've written onto the paper in pencil. This is because the paper is fractionally smoother on one side than the other, and I want the smoother side against what will become the back of the cab, for a smoother finish (can I stop saying 'smoother' now? It's a weird word to keep looking at...) You can also only use each piece once.
13. Firing - this is the seriously technical bit and where the most experimentation will come in. Basically you have to get the glass to a temperature where it starts to melt and hold it there (known as 'soaking' so that everything heats up to the same temperature), before cooling it down. But you can't heat it up or cool it down too quickly or else Bad Things Happen, like shattering and bubbles. You'll really need to consult the instruction booklet for your particular kiln for this. The beauty of the Paragon SC2 kiln is that, once you've discovered the settings that work for you and produce the effect you want, you can preprogramme 4 different programmes into it so you can use them in future. My full fuse programme is saved as programme 2 (programme 1 on my kiln does what's known as a 'tack fuse' where the glass remains 'lumpy' rather than smooth, and I have programme 3 for firing precious metal clay). I was describing the process recently to a friend and she understood it through the analogy of making toffee - it seems you have to anneal both glass and toffee in order for it to form properly. I understand 'annealing' to mean cooling slowly to relieve internal stresses after forming, i.e., less likely to shatter.
My programme for a full fuse in a Paragon SC2 kiln is this:
oC1 540 (this means I want it to stop when the temp reaches 540 degrees centigrade at the rate of 550 degrees cent. per hour, i.e., it will take just under an hour to get there)
HLd1 0.00 (this means I want it to hold/soak at that temperature for 0 time at all)
rA2 Full (this means that I then want the kiln to ramp up the temperature as fast as it will go...)
oC2 850 (...until it reaches a temperature of 850 degrees centigrade which is when the glass will start to melt)
HLd2 20 (then I want the kiln to hold/soak it at 850 deg C for 20 minutes)
rA3 Full (I then want the kiln to cool down as fast as it can...)
oC3 516 (...to a temperature of 516 deg C...)
HLd3 15 (...and hold it at that temperature for 15 minutes - this is the annealing section)
END (then the kiln switches off)
You can fiddle around and adjust all the ramp speeds, the temperatures and the holding times until you get something you like. This can either be deeply frustrating or excitingly experimental.
The whole firing process for my particular programme 2 takes 2 hours 11 minutes from switching the kiln on to when it automatically switches itself off again. Choosing different temperatures, ramping speeds and holding times will affect the length of the programme, but this one works well for me.
Obviously it takes a while after that for the shelves to cool enough for you to take them out and I would suggest leaving the kiln door shut until the red LED temperature readout gets to about 300-350 degree C and then you can open the door a bit to let the inside cool down quicker.
The 'red' picture above was taken through the window of the kiln while it was doing the second hold at 850 degrees, and you can see the edges are started to soften and round. Interestingly, glass wants to be a quarter of an inch thick and round so you don't need to shape the cabs at all, they automatically make themselves round.
14. Final product - and this is what you end up with. Neat, round cabochons that you can then do what you like with. A good option is to stick them to sterling silver earring flat pads/stud bases with a good clear 2-part epoxy resin to make a pair of stud earrings. You can get a reasonable idea of the colour change from this picture - there's a mix of dark blue, purple and pink in these particular cabochons. A final word, the shelf paper has to be washed off the back of the cabs but pick them off and wash them individually and put the rest of the used kiln shelf paper in the bin. DO NOT INHALE THE DUST as it is very irritating to the lungs and will make you cough like a bastard. Wear a mask if you can be bothered or do what I do and hold your breath while brushing off the shelf. DO NOT WASH DOWN THE SINK OTHER THAN THE LITTLE BITS OFF THE BACK OF THE CABS - it's weird stuff and will clog up the pipes.
Well, that's it, it's taken me all day to write this so don't say I never do anything for you people. I'm happy to answer any questions now, class....
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Rather excitingly, Carolyn agreed to take both my jewellery and mum's decoupaged pots and bits and pieces, and that we should bring them along on 6 May (the shop's due to open on 16 May). So that's where we went this morning.
I'm not terribly familiar with Midhurst as it's a place I've only ever driven through on the way to Chichester but I've always thought it terribly pretty and quaint, with its castle ruins and black and white buildings.
The shop is located at 8 West Street and is called 'Black Sheep' (as in "...have you any wool?"). The street is quite picturesque with an old pub opposite and beamed buildings down the end.
The shop is double-fronted with double doors in the middle so I imagine will be very light and airy once the blinds are up (it's obviously all closed to public view at the moment). It's spacious and modern inside with wooden floors, stylish shelving and spot lighting. The shelves on the left as you go in are going to be full of gorgeously coloured and textured balls of wool, and there are some fabby ceramics sitting on the top (you can click on all the pictures to make them bigger).
Rolled up on the floor currently (until they find their 'proper' home) are some salivatingly desirable thick woollen wallhangings/rugs which, unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of but there were two already hanging on the back wall so you can see just how yummy they are. I was particularly taken with the blue and orange one, so took a closeup.
Carolyn also took delivery today of some very nice (I'm running out of superlatives here...) turned wooden items and chunky organic lamp bases made from local reclaimed wood but, sadly, I have no pictures of those either.
I took along a selection of necklaces made from unusual semi-precious stones (such as Dalmatian Jasper, Muscovite, Dendrite Agate, etc.) and pearls, together with dangle and stud earrings and bracelets made from beautiful dichroic glass, and the picture below shows Mum and Carolyn (on the right) unpacking our stock.
And this is the view from the back of the shop looking towards the street:
I have to admire Carolyn's fortitude in opening a shop during the current financial meltdown when so many other shops are closing down but maybe that will be to her advantage somehow. There's no doubt that, from what I've seen so far, the shop will be very classy indeed and selling some seriously desirable stuff, plus she's providing a valuable service in supporting local craftspeople by giving them an outlet; in some cases, mine for instance, this is the first outlet I've had and I'm unreasonably excited by it!
I really do wish her all the very best and not just because my jewellery's in there - I don't know if she's going to have a website that will offer mail order, but even if she does, I recommend you all pop along for a visit, especially if you're in the south coast area, take advantage of Midhurst's (almost unique) free car parking and BUY EVERYTHING SHE HAS!!!
Friday, 1 May 2009
I was pegging out the washing this morning (it's the only domestic chore I like doing) and checking on the vegetable seedlings in the plastic-house, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my back, birds singing away when I suddenly heard a familiar (and much-missed) sound - 'squee squee' - that can mean only one thing: the swifts have returned. Gazing up into the achingly blue sky I spotted them, two dark, thin crescent shapes, weaving around each other. As I watched, another joined them, then another until there were six in all. I like to think they must have arrived overnight, finally completing the 5,500 mile journey from South Africa that they endure every year, and they're gathering together to have a quick gossip before getting on with the important business of finding a mate and somewhere to nest. The sadness is that they're only here for12 weeks to raise their young, and then they're off again and the skies are just that much quieter.
Every year I watch out for the return of the swifts - summer can't begin without them. Last year they arrived on 3 May so they're 2 days earlier this year. They always give the impression of having so much fun - they're the fastest flying birds on the planet and I just adore that 'whoosh' you get when they swoop low overhead, squealing as they go. I would choose a Swift as my daemon.