Archive for the ‘Tips & Techniques’ Category

How You Can Tell If It’s Real Amber

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

Baltic amber beadsAmber –  fabulous or faux?

I have always been a fan of amber, since I was a little girl. Its golden color, the way it captures the light, the feel of it. Some moms even swear it soothes their babies’ teething troubles when worn.

Over the years I have accumulated a bunch of different kinds and types of amber. While staring at a piece that was gifted to me with a spider in it, I had to question, just how authentic, really, is that bug trapped in there forever? How would I be able to tell? With a lot of research and testing, I would like to share with you the knowledge I now possess that can help you identify if your amber is the real deal or not.

Amber is not actually a tree sap; it is from the resin of a tree. Tree resin is beneath the bark, used by the tree for protection from insects, animals, or breakage. Resin smells sweet and pine-like and is like syrup in consistency. That smell is actually a chemical called terpenes. Over millions of years, the terpenes chemical breaks down and is completely released from the resin, resulting in amber.  Copal – immature amber – is resin that has not fully released the terpenes chemical.

The word amber is casually tossed around, and stores or dealers could sell you fake specimens, perhaps not even knowing it. A lot of amber is becoming rare, which makes it more expensive. Please be careful and considerate when purchasing! A reputable dealer should be able to tell you why their amber is authentic.

The Taste Test

You can tell if your amber is plastic or resin instead of the real deal just by tasting it. Clean your piece with a mild soap and water and rinse off. Authentic amber will not really have a taste; it should be subtle, and maybe have a little tingly-from-the-touch sensation. Imitation amber will taste nasty or bitter.

The Chemical Test

Real amber will not break down in solvent, unlike resin or copal. If you drip acetone nail polish onto your sample piece and it turns the liquid the color of the amber or it gets gooey at all, it’s fake. Authentic amber will not be harmed whatsoever.

The Burn Test

If you heat up the tip of a safety pin or needle and placed it on your amber or copal, it will smell sweet. Resin will have a nasty chemical smell.

The Saltwater Test

Real amber floats in saltwater. Mix one part salt to two parts water and add your specimen. Fake amber will sink.

The Bubble Test

I have never seen any authentic amber contain bubbles. Over the millions of years that amber has to transform from resin to amber, air and water had the time to exit the resin, only leaving behind solid matter. Hold up the specimen and carefully examine it. If you see any bubbles, you better be cautious.

The Bug Test

Many people have been inserting bugs or fossils into resin or copal and calling it amber. Be cautious! It is quite rare to find bugs in amber, and if you do, make sure they are not any current species that would have not existed in the same form millions of years ago. Look for bubbles near the bugs. If you see bubbles, it’s a fake.

by Megan

Summer Care for Silk Thread & Beads

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

summer jewelry no-nosIt’s summer and the sunshine means lots of sunscreen – not a good mix with silk thread. Silk thread doesn’t mix well with perfume, makeup, hairspray, hair gels and treatments. Even water is hard on silk thread, so be sure to remove your jewelry when you shower or swim. Remove it when you’re having your hair done. A good rule of thumb I heard is, “Put your jewelry on last and take it off first.”

I know we ladies don’t sweat – we “glow.” Well, that glow is acidic, so keep an eye on your jewelry and clean it regularly. Wipe real pearls with a damp cloth, and glass pearls with a dry cloth. Don’t use any harsh soaps or cleaners on any type of pearl, because you might ruin the nacre or equivalent faux finish. If you aren’t sure if your pearls are real, only clean with a dry soft cloth to be safe.

Swarovski crystal beads and pendants are durable. If they are strung on wire instead of silk, it’s okay to wash them with water and a soft cloth or a soft toothbrush. If they are on thread, string or soft cable – just use a soft dry cloth and no water.

Another popular summer bead is the color-changing mirage bead – also known as the mood bead. According to the manufacturers, mirage beads shouldn’t be immersed in water. So wear and clean mood beads with the same care as you would your glass pearl or silk strung necklaces.

by Beverly

How Do You Organize Other Types of Beads?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

This post is in response to Kristy’s comments on my Organize Your Beads post.

Kristy asked, “How do you organize other types of beads, i.e., glass, crystal, gems, metal, etc.? They come in all shapes and sizes, so they need different size containers, etc. I have so much invested in containers, trying to keep mine somewhat organized, but it still seems to be a struggle for me. Maybe I should quit buying more beads…, I don’t think that’s the answer! Also, chain.”

Big beads and large amounts of beads can be awkward. That’s when I go to inserts for my trays. They are sized to fit the standard jewelry trays I use and have internal dividers. Here are some pictures, so you can see how they work. I also rely on baggies. These don’t last for more than a few years, so they should not be used for long-term storage – but they are handy for temporary storage until you find the right container.

tray inserts for bead organization

I used to have the beads in tackle boxes, but my collection outgrew even the big ones early on. Most of all, be creative and keep your eyes open for a method that works for your beads.

Thank you for your comments, Kristy. I hope this helps.

by Beverly

When to Use Stretch Magic Cord

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Sample bracelets strung with Stretch MagicUse Stretch Magic cord for stringing bracelets and anklets when you want to avoid adding a clasp. You can use it to make rings, too.

This stretchy cord is so simple to use. You don’t need a needle or pliers. You string beads on the cord and finish your jewelry piece by tying a neat and tidy square knot – right over left, and left over right – then dabbing a little glue or clear nail polish to secure the knot. Let the glue/nail polish dry and snip off the extra cord with scissors – the only tool you’ll need besides your own hands.

Your finished piece will slip on and off like a breeze. If and when your stretchy jewelry breaks, you can restring it in minutes – and Stretch Magic is super affordable.

The drying time for the glue/nail polish is the only part that requires time, but the bracelets are otherwise completed in minutes.

I never worked with stretchy cord before, because stretch bracelets weren’t my style. I recently picked up a spool of this stringing material for my mom’s sake. She casually mentioned one day that she couldn’t wear many of her favorite bracelets anymore. She reminded me that she’s now 81 years old with arthritis in her hands, and she simply can’t work those small clasps anymore.

I restrung one bracelet on Stretch Magic cord. As is my habit, I had to restring it a second time with extra spacers, because I miscalculated the length the first time. Argh! I think I shaved a couple minutes off during my second attempt. I immediately felt like a stretchy-bracelet expert.

I’ve strung quite a few stretch bracelets now, including one for myself with double-drilled beads I’d had lying around for a few years. Every time, I’m delighted with the result. I’ll try not to get too dependent on the stretchy stuff.

Stretch Magic Bead & Jewelry Cord is a strong yet light-weight stretchy cord used for making bracelets, anklets and rings – a great choice for easy jewelry and beaded craft projects. This is the preferred stretch cord used by beaders, because it is non-fading, resilient, non-cracking and is available in different thicknesses for small or large beads. Not only is Stretch Magic easy to work and knot, it’s so comfortable to wear.

All of the bracelet kits pictured can be found in Harlequin’s jewelry-design-ideas section, along with illustrations and instructions on how to make each piece.

by Margit

Organize Your Beads

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

“Where are my Miyuki 310 black matte beads?!!”

It was 4 AM on a Sunday morning, and I’d been beading all night. Now, I was looking for some matte black delicas to finish a project. Where were they?!! I couldn’t find them anywhere. They had to be there somewhere!

Well, I turned the house upside down, and when my husband John came home from a field exercise, he found me in tears with little bags of beads all over the living room. He had been in the desert for two weeks and came home filthy and exhausted. That great man was so calm and understanding. All he did was wrap me in his arms and start to laugh.

Here we were. We could face instantaneous deployments, long overseas separations, change-of-station orders telling us we had to move with a week’s notice – all faced with a calm demeanor – yet here I was crying because I couldn’t find the beads I wanted. We held on to one another till I couldn’t cry anymore and had to start laughing, too.

That was the day the spreadsheets began. (more…)

Beginning Beading Video – Classic Knotted Silk Pearl Necklace

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

If you’ve never made a classic knotted silk pearl necklace, you’re in luck. We have a how-to video you can watch anytime that is like a Beading 101 class. It’s short and sweet, and you can watch it as many times as you need to complete your first masterpiece.

You’ll need: (more…)

A Cup of Thread

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

I work primarily with seed beads and go through a lot of thread. Now I get thread on big spools, but for a while I had trouble with the thread getting tangled every time I pulled a length of thread. Then one day a friend said I should put the spool upside down in a coffee cup and draw the thread from the bottom of the spool. What?!! That sounds crazy! I tried it, and it works really well.

Cup of Thread beading tip

Drop your thread down through the spool with a bit to spare. Place the spool upside down in a cup and draw the thread out through the base of the spool. The weight of the spool will keep the thread from unraveling. I also like to keep a pair of scissors in the cup, so it’s always ready to use. These pink scissors were a garage sale find long ago and are my favorites.

by Beverly

Bead Inventory: “Oops, I Already Have These Beads!”

Monday, June 4th, 2012

We who love to bead often have jars, tubes, strings, hanks and packets of beads tucked hither and yon to have on hand when inspiration strikes. But how do we keep track of so many different beads?

Organize Seed Beads in DrawersToo often I used to come home from the bead store, excited by my new purchases, only to find that I’d bought beads I already had stashed in some forgotten nook.

So I bought a number of good-sized plastic drawers and filled each one with a different color of seed bead. This has helped tremendously. Now all of my seed beads are in some sort of order. If I need olive green size 15/0 beads, I can rifle through the “Green” drawer until I find what I need. If it’s not there, then I am fairly certain I can go out and buy it without duplicating what I already have. I store all of my seed beads in tubes of all different sizes – many of them recycled. I know some beaders like to keep their bead stash in more uniform receptacles of the same size and shape.

I store Czech glass beads in divided plastic boxes – flowers and leaves in one box, other shapes in another. I don’t bother dividing these by color, since they are fairly easy to keep separated in their little compartments. Since I use Czech glass flowers and leaves in much of my free-form bead embroidery, I like to keep a small plastic bag of them along with a few charms in my bead kit. I take my kit with me to Harlequin’s Bead Circle and my booth at the Eugene Saturday Market, so I always have a ready project to work on. (more…)

Sheila Can See the Itty-bittiest Beads

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

We’ve all been reminded at one time or another that having the proper tools for any task will save us time and frustration. This is especially sound advice for beaders. The less we have to strain, the more we can enjoy the pure pleasure of our craft. Seed beaders, are you with me?

Sheila and her Head Loupe visor with magnifying lenses

Meet Sheila from Harlequin’s Beading Circle, a group of local beaders who gather on Tuesday afternoons to work on their latest beading projects. The regulars share good conversation, helpful insights and tasty treats with each other. It’s free, and anyone is welcome to attend. Sheila joined the fun about three years ago.

I dropped in on the Beading Circle for the first time yesterday, and (more…)

Scissors Substitute for Airplane Travel

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Another useful tool in your travel kit that is airline approved is a cuticle trimmer. This scissors substitute has a recessed blade on one end, making this makeshift tool just right for cutting thread. When you are looking for a specific bead in your pile, the cuticle pusher on the other end works well for sorting through beads.

by Beverly