All posts by Jen

119: Leather Twist Earrings Tutorial

Cutting leather was one of the first projects we did on the laser, way back in Week 3: Leather Cuffs.  While there really isn’t much new to say about the cutting and processing of the leather, I thought it would be fun to use some of the properties of leather (flexibility!) to make unique, laser cut earrings.  And, to make sure this post has something I’ve never done before, you’ll be getting a step by step tutorial!

Supplies Needed:

  • Leather, about 1mm thick or less.  One color, or 2 colors, whatever floats your boat.  (Pacific Leather has a great description of use by thickness of leather)
  • Leather cutting apparatus (we obviously used a laser, but Cricut machines can do it, and you could also use a simple blade or rotary cutter)
  • Ear wires
  • Jump rings (7mm or larger suggested, depending on your thickness of leather)
  • Two pairs of pliers, preferably smooth needle nose so you don’t damage the findings (ear wire and jump rings)

Step 1: Templates

Freehand paper template

For me, I actually had to make a hand cut paper version of this, just to understand the mechanics of it, and then transfer it to the computer.  I was having a little trouble envisioning the 3D-ness of the twist.  Luckily for you, I’ve done all the hard designing work for you, and you can print out this paper template.  Use it if you want to see how the mechanics of the twist works before cutting the real thing on your machine of choice, or as a guide if you are cutting by hand.

Get your earring template here!

This template is just for ONE earring.  If you want a pair, think about how you want the second earring to look.  If you’d like it to look the same, print out a second copy.  If you’d like your final earring to be mirrored (as I do), flip the template!

Step 2: Cut!

Cut your leather!  Refer back to Week 3: Leather Cuffs for specifics in laser cutting leather, and remember, it’s a sooty job.

Step 3: Twist!

What I did was make sure the holed lined up, and then gently wrapped the leather around each other. You can’t really twist like when you make paper twist – you still want the final product to lay flat.  So, a two dimensional twist, I guess.

Make sure you have two pieces where the zig zags are opposite each other
Lay one strip on top of the other.
Hold the base and gently start to wrap the pieces around each other.
Keep on twisting!
Fully twisted, holes neatly lined up on the ends.

Step 4: Fold in half!

I wanted to make the back look as nice as the front and create a little visual interest with a loop.  You can make your fold as sharp as you’d like it, or as sharp as the leather will let you.  Make sure the holes line up.

The length of twisted leather folded in half, so the ends, and all 4 holes, line up.

Step 5: Assemble!

Home made ear wire on the left, commercially made on the right, 7mm jump ring below.

Assembly can be  a touch tricky, as more commercially available ear wires have tiny loops, and will not accommodate 4 slices of leather.  I did try them on my homemade ear wires with a bigger loop, and while they did fit, they did not swing as well.  My final solution was to use a 7mm jump ring to thread through the holes on the ends of the leather strips.  This holds the dangle part together.

If you are new to jewelry making, here is a great Instructable on how to open jump rings properly.

Leather strung on the 7mm jump ring.  Ignore the fact I used a toothy pair of pliers.

To attach the ear wire and keep the earring’s orientation (aka – show the twist from the front not the loop) you have two options.  1 – put a second jump ring on to connect the ear wire to the jump ring you already have holding to leather together or 2 (my choice) – twist the loop on the ear wire so the hole is perpendicular to the hook.

Quick visual on how to twist the ear wire:

Hold the ear wire with two pairs of pliers. Make sure the pliers have a good grip on the whole loop, and the neck of the ear wire so you don’t distort the metal.
Twist the pliers in opposite directions so they are perpendicular
Wide loop is on the left, ear wire as manufactured on the right

Then open the loop like you did the jump ring and hook the jump ring on the dangle on.  Close the loop, enjoy your earring!

Step 6: Do it all again to make a pair!

How to make the alternate design on the right:

Alternate design – don’t twist! Just fold the stacked leather strips, continue on from there.
When the leather is not twisted, the strips don’t sit quite as nicely, and you can see by the bowing inside the loop. A dab of glue will fix affix it.

I hope you have fun trying this out!  You can also shake it up by only using the curvy strips, or the zig zag strips.  The design and tutorial is by Jennifer Putzier of Isette, copyright 2017, and is shared for personal use only, please!

118: Crackers

Full disclosure, guys – I did not expect this week’s experiment to work.  I figured in the worst case, it would satisfy a curiosity, and I’d get to eat hand cut homemade crackers with dip.  Ryan, on the other hand, didn’t know why I was questioning it, and thought cutting cracker dough with a laser would be a low power, simple task.  The answer was somewhere in between.

Simple ingredients, simple recipe!
Food blogging, here I come!

I’ve never made crackers before, but I had everything on hand in my bare cupboard for this recipe from The Kitchn.  As suggested, I mixed up the dough, then split it in half before rolling it out.  I took advantage of the two batches to come up with two different designs (which Ryan graciously vectorized for me.  I admittedly started this project a bit late in the evening and need help.)

Rolling it as thin as possible – the dough is springy, so you can’t work it too fast. It needs to “rest”
I layered the dough on parchment paper, and on wood.

My goal for rolling out the rough was to keep it under 3mm, 1.5 ideally.  The thinner the dough, the crispier the cracker.  I rolled it out on parchment paper – food safe, and bad things wouldn’t happen to it in the laser, just a little singeing.  I then put it on some plywood for stability, and to prevent the laser from reflecting back after it hits the honeycomb bed, which might not be the cleanest.

Pro tip: I learned when rolling out the second batch of dough that it was actually easier to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper when it got thin.  It was easier to flip, it seemed to spring back less, and it stayed moister while I worked with it.  I did remove the top later of parchment when I put the dough in the laser.

Test cuts – third time is the charm!  Interesting thing about cutting the dough – it was a little “sparky.”  Naturally dough isn’t homogeneous, but instead a mixture of ingredients.  The laser reacts differently to this ingredients, which created tiny little light flares.


Less than 3mm thick, I’m thrilled!

So, I didn’t think the laser would cut the dough at all, Ryan was thinking it would be a breeze – maybe akin to paper.  It took a few tries to get though the dough, and the right answer was some there in between – we cut at 100% power, and a slow 8% speed.  I didn’t roll it perfectly evenly, so the dough was thicker in some parts, but it still all cut.  And my test measurements were all under 3mm thick!

Heart shaped vent holes – totally a pain in the butt.

The first design was this funky hexagon shape, with little 1mm hearts cut in for venting, so the crackers wouldn’t puff.  Officially, the design is too complicated.  The outer shape is fine, but the hearts took too long to cut, and didn’t come out easily.  I actually baked the hearts in place, and then Ryan popped them out after.  And the length of time tried out the dough quite a bit since we had to have the exhaust on.  with set up, test and cutting, it was in our windy laser for about 45 minutes.  The edges of the crackers were trying to curl up!

Triangles!  Classy appearance by my phone.

Second batch we went a little more simple – a nice rounded triangle with asterisks cut for venting.  They ended up delightfully mod looking, and in were in and out of the laser in under 15.

Light toasted!

Baking is pretty straight forward, but the crackers are easy to burn as you can see.  The first batch were a little extra crisp, but edible.  The second back felt under done while they were still hot, but after they cooled they were perfectly crispy.  So, watch them closely, and make sure you let them cool, unless you are going to a crispy-chewy combo.

Midnight snack.  Homemade crackers, but I totally bought the artichoke jalapeno parmesan dip, the leftovers of which had disappeared by morning.

Verdict – The recipe was tasty but be forewarned, the crackers themselves were not airy or flaky.  They were dense, and reminded me of pita chips actually.  I may have over kneaded them.  This is a fun example of too much tool for the job – a knife easily cuts the dough.  But this would be a fun recipe to perfect for fancy dinner parties, potlucks you want to impress at, or those times you want a crunchy snack and don’t want to leave the house.

114: Enamel Stencils

img_20161023_144721598I’ve always been curious about enameling, but I wasn’t ready to buy lots of equipment for something I wasn’t sure I’d do regularly.  I understood the basics of enameling – powdered glass is fired to its melting point, and it adheres to the metal beneath.  Designs can be drawn on (well, the powder can be moved around at least), or most easily, stenciled.  This was my in; my justification for taking the class. I could use the laser to make my own stencils!  Satisfy my curiosity AND get a blog post!

I’m a fan of Water Street Studios on Facebook, so I am continually tempted by their class offerings.  I signed up for their last “Introduction to torch fired enameling” class of the year, taught by Lisa Dienst-Thomas of Lisa’s Pieces.  Water Street Studios was a real treat – it’s only about 20 minutes away from me, but I’d never checked it out  They offer classes, have artists studios (both 2D and 3D), host lectures and have gallery space.  Creativity is steeped into the place.

Lisa was a great instructor and I had the pleasure of being the only student in class (which means I got to ask a lot of questions!)  She provided all the materials and had everything neatly laid out.

Starting tools, from left to right: Spatula, plastic container (just to keep spatula level), tweezers, fine tipped brush, awl, small sifter, large sifter, toothbrush, foam backed sanding block
Starting tools, from left to right: Spatula, plastic container (just to keep spatula level), tweezers, fine tipped brush, awl, small sifter, large sifter, toothbrush, foam backed sanding block, and old magazine pages in the upper right

The Tools:

Spatula – you use this transport your piece flat from the table to firing stand.  This is important because the enamel is a dry powder sitting on top.  Tip it and it the powder will fall off.  And you can’t touch the top with your fingers, lest you deposit oils on the surface and cause the enamel not to stick.

Little container – that’s just to hold the spatula level – the bent handle causes it to tip.

Tweezers – so you can move your fired piece without touching the top, saving it from the dreaded finger oils

Brush – moves and sweeps away grains of enamel that aren’t exactly where you want them

Awl – a nice sharp point is great for drawing in the powdered enamel

Small sifter – sifts powder over a smaller area, great if you only want to hit part of your piece

Large sifter – covers a larger area

Toothbrush – for cleaning the surface of your piece.  We used pumice-type cleanser, Bon Ami

Sanding block – to clean off the back for the discoloration from firing

Magazine pages – a slick disposable surface so you can save as much of the enamel power as possible, without mixing the colors.  If the colors mix in the jar, there is no separating that.

Not pictured: The enamels.  We were using Thompson brand enamels, Medium Temperature and Medium Expansion.  Also not pictured is the firing stand, mesh and torch.

Piece #1

Stencil 1 - I was kind of going for the Japanese fan motif, abstractly. I wasn't sure if the points would come though well becuase I wasn't sure the amount of detail I'd get with dry powder
Stencil 1 – I was kind of going for the Japanese fan motif, abstractly. I wasn’t sure if the points would come though well because I wasn’t sure the amount of detail I’d get with dry powder

For my first stencil, I created a basic repeating stencil with Japanese fans in mind.  I wasn’t sure how much fine detail would translate with dry sifting, so I was taking a little risk with the small points at the narrow end of the fan.  But that’s what experimentation is about, right?

I made the stencils out of the same material we used for the Pyramid Holograms for Week 100 – 1/32″ think acrylic.  Lisa pointed out some potential difficulties in using thicker stencils – you can inadvertently put too much enamel powder because the spaces are so much deeper.  Also, it might be more difficult to grasp when you are trying to lift it up smoothly.  Lisa likes using manila folders – lightweight, easily obtainable, and you can fold up the edge if you need a spot to grab and lift.

Base layer of enamel - we did two light layers of the same color, to make sure it was fully and evenly covered
Base layer of enamel – we did two light layers of the same color, to make sure it was fully and evenly covered.  You can see how important the magazine page is to not waste enamel!

After cleaning the piece thoroughly with Bon Ami, I sifted a layer of cream colored enamel on the copper base, which made the first of two base coats.  One coat might be a little uneven, a second evens things out.  Tip from Lisa: start be sifting around the edges, then work your way to the center.  Of course, the pieces I was working on were pretty darned small, so it was easy to get full coverage.  Between each layer, we melted the enamel powder with a MAP torch.  You heat the piece from below, which is why you can see my piece is on a 9″ tall firing ring.  It was neat watching it go though sugar stage, orange peel stage to fully fused glass, and it didn’t take as long as I thought it would

Just a little glimpse of the Water Street Studio's jewelry maker space. Note on my shirt: I was a little surprised to look in my closet and only have ONE long sleeved cotton shirt. Since I knew I was working with fire, I didn't want and potential issues for man made materials.
Just a little glimpse of the Water Street Studio’s jewelry maker space and the torch set up. Note on my shirt: I was a little surprised to look in my closet and only have ONE long sleeved cotton shirt. Since I knew I was working with fire, I didn’t want any potential issues for man made materials.  Photo by Lisa Dienst-Thomas.
Tapping the cute little sifter allows for even application of the powder on the stencil.
Tapping the cute little sifter allows for even application of the powder on the stencil.
Powered stencil pattern, before firing
Powered stencil pattern, before firing

After the piece was cooled and cleaned, it was time for the third layer. I lined up my stencil and sifted a very light layer of enamel on it.  There were some errant grains that I used the fine brush to get rid of.  One more firing, some clean up to the back and sides with sandpaper and add a bail, we’ve got a finished piece!  Easy, right? 🙂


Piece #2

Lining up the stencil
Lining up the stencil
Powdered stencil
Powdered stencil
The stencil came off surprisingly cleanly - I didn't have any clean up work! I thought I was homefree!
The stencil came off surprisingly cleanly – I didn’t have any clean up work! I thought I was home free!

My second piece pointed out my hubris.  I followed the same process  – two base coats, a layer for the blue bunting and this one included a fourth layer of Orchid pink.  There was very minimal overlap with the blue bunting strand, so I didn’t think the 4th level would be a problem.  I was wrong.  Things this piece taught me:

  1. Light colors should go on first, dark after. I intended the pink to be the top layer, but where it over lapped, the blue still comes through.
  2. Really, there should be only 3 layers on powder on the piece.  There is a little wiggle room based on the thickness of the powder you lay on, but as a beginner, I was a little heavy handed.  The more layers, the harder it is to heat and fully fuse.
  3. Enameling is really just glass on metal.  If it is improperly cooled, not fully fused or even dropped on a hard surface, the colors can crack and flake off.  I didn’t apply enough heat where the colors overlapped, and there was a huge crack.
  4. You can reheat pieces, in the hopes to fully fuse them.  We did that….and then had did it again because the second final torch firing didn’t take care of the crack fully.  It took three tries to fully fuse this piece!  Between chatting and refiring, I kept Lisa 2 hours late!  Thankfully, she was as committed to getting it right as I was.
  5. Reds and pinks are temperamental souls.  The orchid pink enamel DID NOT enjoy being reheated, twice.  It separated interestingly, and allowed the base coat to come through.  So instead of two solid bunting lines, I have a love blue on and a lovely pink crackly / shabby chic one.
    If you look closely where the bunting crosses, there is a crack. THis means that the glass didn't fully fuse to the copper beneath - which meant it will pop off eventually.
    After the first final firing.  If you look closely where the bunting crosses, there is a crack. This means that the glass didn’t fully fuse to the copper beneath – which meant it will pop off eventually.  The pink looks pretty good at this stage!

    The final piece. The crackling is actually interesting to look at, but I think it would work better with a more abstract piece.
    The final piece. The crackling is actually interesting to look at, but I think it would work better with a more abstract piece.  Sadly, I didn’t use the cute arrow I designed.

In total: Enameling was a lot of fun.  The tools are actually relatively minimal – I actually have nearly everything from my jewelry making forays except the actual enamels and the firing stand.  I know I’ve only scratched the surface on techniques, but I love that I can use the laser to make a more unique look that using store bought punches for templates.  Maybe Lisa will teach Enameling II in the future 🙂

Finished pieces. Do the crackles on the bunting make it shabby chic? :)

113: Mother of Pearl Veneer

The inspiration for this week’s post is Carry A. Nation, the famous barroom smasher.   Carry believed that alcohol was the root of all society’s evils, and she  took hatchet to things she didn’t like (namely bars, whisky bottles and paintings of scantily clad ladies).  Though some called her mad, her barroom appearances had the strange effect of *increasing* business for tavern owners, so much so they often invited her to smash up the joint.  Carry didn’t mind, as her message was still being heard.  She was also a shrewd marketer, and sold merchandise to support her cause.  She lived comfortably and even ran a home for women and children whose lives had been effected by alcohol.

Given that I’m actually enjoying a Not Your Father’s Root Beer while writing this post, you can assume I will not be taking up the cause of temperance.  The museum I work for is doing a fabulous fundraiser set in a 1910s saloon, which will feature none other than Carry Nation, as portrayed by my mentor Ellie Carlson of Ellie Presents.   (Happily, our event is sold out, otherwise I’d be selling you tickets too.)  Ellie owns an original Carry Nation hatchet pin, and was commenting that she couldn’t get anything like it to sell in character.  Cue the laser.

Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson
Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson

Ellie’s pin is a brass hatchet that features a mother of pearl head, which cleverly stops just short of the edge of the brass to make it look like it has a wicked sharp blade.  Brushed gold make a nice substitute for the brass, and I finally got to experiment with mother of pearl veneer.

We first played around with mother of pearl in the laser when we tested engraving on different bead materials back in Week 32.  The beads turned out beautifully (if a little sooty.  But that just made the engraving stand out better.)

Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right
Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right from Week 32

dsc01005Because our event was coming up in short order, I ordered a “pressure sensitive” (aka peel and stick) sheet of mother of pearl veneer off Amazon.  at $25 for a 9×6 inch sheet, it’s not cheap, and I should ave read the reviews better.  The reviews were poor for this seller, and upon opening the package, I found my sheet had the same issues.  Oops.  The iridescence, created by the nacre on the inside of the shell, was inconsistent.  The package was flimsy, just a soft box and a sheet of styrofoam, so the surface was a spider web of cracks.  Lesson learned – find a reputable seller.  Timing and budget didn’t allow for a second sheet to be purchased.

Cutting was a breeze
Cutting was a breeze

The hatchets were small enough, I figured I could find a good spot on the sheet to cut them out.  I went with a full hatchet head design rather than the one with the short back, like Ellie’s pin, mostly for ease in aligning the mother of pearl to the base.  Carry Nation herself had a lot of different styles of pins, so I figured I could take the liberties.  For laser settings, we gave it a little more power than card stock.  It sliced through quickly and easily, though the edges were a little sooty, like the beads.  Not unexpected for organic materials.  (I later learned that when cutting mother of pearl with a knife you should cut from back to front.  It’s a very brittle material – I’m not sure if it would have made a difference on the laser, though.)

The backing came off surprisingly easy
The backing came off surprisingly easy.  I was expecting it to be a little difficult, especially with the cracking on the veneer, the but the sheets held together surprisingly well.
Incredibly translucent
Incredibly translucent

After I peeled the backing off the cut veneer, I had another disappointment.  I didn’t expect the mother of pearl to be so sheer!  I could read through it.  I expected more body, so it would standout from the brushed gold acrylic.  Honestly, it was difficult to even see it was there at a glace.    As a test, I cut out a silver version of the ax.  The veneer stood out slightly better on it, but not enough to make a difference.

This photo was taken at the perfect angle to catch the iridescence. It looks better in photos.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.

In the end, Ellie and I decided it was better to do the pins without the mother of pearl.  This of course, isn’t a radical departure from Carry Nation herself – she sold a cheaper version of the pin without the mother of pearl as well.   I want to try using the mother of pearl again, perhaps on earrings or accents, where the perfection of the sheet doesn’t matter as much.  But I’m not sure it’s something I would order again.

Because I couldn't resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser's half toning capabilities made transferring the image of Mrs Nation's face a breeze!
Because I couldn’t resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser’s half toning capabilities (more visible on the left) made transferring the image of Mrs Nation’s face a breeze!