Friday, November 27, 2015

On a Whim

I find myself wanting to do woodwork but I have almost no tools and even fewer skills and yet my confidence in my ability to figure it out keeps me going. I haven't actually made anything really fabulous, but perhaps one day I will.

As I said, my tools are limited (drill, jigsaw, slightly damaged and misused random orbital slander) and so when I saw an oscillating tool for what seemed like a good price (and everything I could read about such a beast indicated that there was virtually no job or circumstance for which it was not ideally suited, I bought one.

It's been in its box for well over a week.

Skip to the night before Thanksgiving, the night I was going to apply the first layer of cement over my existing nineties-cream formica kitchen counters in my quest for a kitchen that has at least an air of belonging to this century, if not the appliances.

Attentive (or any!) readers will recall my new cork floor which was way more work than anticipated but with which I am overall pretty satisfied (scroll down a few posts if you want to see them again). The concrete countertops were going to be a lot easier.
By the time I was done with the endless preparations like getting the tools and ingredients (and onlookers) all in one place, rereading yet another blogger's hints and the packaging instructions, I finally began to apply the first layer of cement at around seven on Wednesday night and by the time I had covered my relatively meagre kitchen countertops and found myself blessedly horizontal and under the covers, it was well after midnight. (First hint that I may have been - yet again! - overly optimistic: it takes longer than I'd anticipated).

Here's what I learned:

I'll never do this again without having someone remove the sink and the stove first because those half-inch sections behind both of them are IMPOSSIBLE.

They're right - the Ardex Feather Finish does set up pretty quickly, and more to the point, unless you are actively working every little bit of it that you are not done with, it rapidly gets too stiff to be that useful. If you try to use it anyway, you get a less than ideal finish which the optimist in you says "No problem, I'll just sand it away".
(As an aside, I wish it retained its colour when wet).

Remember the sander I mentioned above? Yeah, only sorta useful.

My original plan and schedule went something like this:

Wednesday: First layer
Thursday: Sand, apply second layer, sand, apply third layer, go out for Thanksgiving dinner (while wishing I could cancel so as to get my kitchen back), apply seal-and-cure, go to bed at a reasonable hour
Friday: Relax, bead, weave shoelaces, whatever, then apply first layer of food-safe acrylic sealer just before bed so no one can walk on it (certain individuals must be confined at night if I am to get any sleep).
Saturday: Like Friday
Sunday: Like Saturday
Monday: Put everything back in the kitchen and admire my work

So it turns out that I spent ALL DAY (or what seems like it) on Thursday sanding. The disks on the power sander just kept clogging and then burnishing which wasn't useful, plus control is iffy because you can't feel when you've done enough or too much.

I switched to a sanding block which was only marginally better in terms of the clogging factor, though quite a bit more efficacious.

Ultimately hand-sanding gave me the best results but my poor hands are less than delighted. Even apart from the stress, cement dust is much more alkaline than skin likes, and even with repeated rinses with vinegar to neutralise it (I learned that trick when I was laying ceramic tile two and a half years ago) my hands are still pretty beat up. The vinegar really does help to release the dried-on bits of cement though.

I started on the second layer, got a small fraction of the way through (used one out of five or six batches of cement), then had to shower, finish making the dessert I was bringing for dinner (no small feat when your kitchen is out-of-bounds because anything will stain or ravage the nascent unprotected countertops), and spend a few hours being gracious and wondering when it would be OK to leave and finish the rest of the second layer.
The second layer turned out much better than the first layer, in part because I can actually learn from previous experience, and also because I installed a lamp so that I could see better in the dark corners. Go figure.

Still needing some sanding though, especially in those corners.

I think the little raised edge at the back of the counters is in another dimension because I'm pretty sure there are at least half a mile more of those than the size of the countertops would indicate. And careful as I was (I thought I was being meticulous until I woke up this morning and saw them in daylight) those corners are awful and if I don't want to add a fourth layer (and I don't) then I need to be sure that the second layer doesn't set the third layer up for failure, which means sanding.

I used glasses to see better.

I stood on a little stool to get closer.

I found all the sandpaper in my house and tried everything that might be suitable.
There were bits that were intractable, and that's not even counting the Really Difficult Parts that I haven't yet started.
 Before I started sanding, I chipped out all the sticky-out little blobs and scraped away the stuff that stuck to my sink and my stove but those hard-to-reach places are very, very rough. I did an awful job there.
I was dealing with the good parts at the window and having a hard time and suddenly next weekend was looking busier than I'd planned.

And then I remembered that I buy stuff for which I don't have an immediate need and wondered if perhaps I might have had The Best Foresight Ever.

This in fact turns out to be the case. Witness my new best friend:
This thing is MAGIC!

(Cue sound of the angelic host which I could not find and cannot sing so you'll have to imagine it)

It gives me the control of hand sanding without hurting my hands and the strength of a power sander without having my nerves hum for ten minutes after I turn it off. I'm feeling much more confident about the potential quality of the finished countertops and I no longer almost wish I hadn't started.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bead and Button Classes. And Other Stuff

So I mentioned last time that I'm teaching a bunch of classes at Bead and Button next June and I'm really pleased with the selection. They're all projects I've really enjoyed working on, and most of them cause strangers to stop and reach for my chest. Umm necklace.

So in no particular order, Buttress which really requires students to be comfortable with cubic right angle weave and especially with joining cubic right angle weave. It's fun because all the bits are smallish, and parts repeat so it's not as though every single thing is something new, and if you're good with three-dimensional things it'll all be very obvious. And there's a bit of peyote stitch of relaxation if you need it.

This is a full-day class and while the law of averages dictates that not everyone will finish, I'm pretty sure some will.
 Next up, Chou-Fleur. My friend Amy said it reminded her of cauliflower but I've yet to see a head in any of these colours. Perhaps I'll work on a colour-way in shades of white and the palest of greens.

This one is a lovely large pendant, about two inches across and it comes with one of those bead hanger bar thingies with a screw-off ball at one end and a loop on the other so you can put it on a chain RIGHT AWAY (because I know how important that is).

It's much easier than you'd expect actually, mostly because there's so much repetition (twelve chatons to be captured and embellished). You build the base and then start adding florets until it's full - so basically there are only two things to learn. It does require a little dexterity because it gets quite full towards the end, but that's the extent of the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (by the way, spell-check agrees that this is a real word. Thanks, Mary Poppins!) skills you'll need.
 Lacrima is a newer project using mostly cubic right angle weave (for the bezel) and tubular herringbone (for the necklace and its clasp) with oddments of netting and whatnot thrown in for fun. What I enjoy about this one is that the crystal is an oval, but it's bezeled to look like an upside-down teardrop which I think is a fun trick.
 Pentamate are the cutest little beaded beads using three different two-hole beads - only one type per bead so your beads make a lovely varied yet related set. I think it's crazy easy if your mind naturally gravitates to pattern and structure and if you're good at reading your beading, but even if you don't roll that way, it's not extremely complicated, and I guarantee that by the second or third you'll not be bothering with the instructions.
I wore my Ribbon Necklace last year and it elicited quite a bit of interest because it's a completely new dimensional spiral: it's herringbone stitch with symmetric increases and decreases such that there appears to be an inner surface and an outer surface. There are two pattern rows that get repeated (though the ends taper) so it's one of these great zen projects - you just kinda relax into it, switching colours in and out. There's quite a bit of stitching! I like to keep the inner surface in one colour and use up odds and ends for the outer surface, and the kits all contain about six or seven colours for the outer layer.
 These Giza beaded beads work up fairly quickly and look absolutely gorgeous when strung somewhat sparingly in a necklace - I have a necklace in the metallic-y colour-way below in front and I'm delighted every time I wear it. Their holes are actually big enough for a fairly fat chain or a cord, but they can be strung on regular beading wire using beads just bigger than the holes to keep them even on the wire.
 My hotel room is booked and I'm thinking about starting the increasingly fast slide into panic leading up to Bead and Button!

Of course I also teach at my favourite local bead store, and these are the last two of the classes I'll be teaching here February through May.
 It's funny how I always think I won't have enough new classes (they're always all new) and then at the last minute (or more precisely, the week before they're due) I have a burst of creativity and somehow come up with my favourite designs.

Like Swirligig above. I saw a slightly cupped peyote square which swirled, so I massaged it into a five-sided swirling bezel for a rivoli (you can see the back on the right above) and then extended the pattern to make a broad pentagonal flange which I stiffened with a cubic right angle weave frame. As usual, when I don't think too hard about colours, I just LOVE these (though the picture makes them look a little bolder than in real life).
I like the idea of setting a round rivoli into a square bezel (which I've actually done before) but I wanted some air between the bezel and the outer frame, and this just worked out so well. It's a versatile little component that can be used in many ways which pleases me no end.

Thanksgiving weekend I have Big Plans. I'm going to refinish my junky formica kitchen counters with cement. If I plan it just right I should be able to apply a few layers (sanding between each), seal and cure them, and apply a few finishing and strengthening coats of sealer by Sunday night.

In theory.

I thought my cork floor would take one weekend: Saturday to remove the old floor and Sunday to lay the new one and I couldn't have been more wrong about that.

I have done quite a bit of research on the countertops thing (and by "research" I mean that I read a bunch of DIY blogs. Quite a lot of them) and people said it took anywhere from two days to almost a week but naturally I'm being rather optimistic, in part because my kitchen is small and there's not a whole lot of countertop to be finished.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Actual Beading

I know. 

And I'm teaching a whole bunch of classes at Bead and Button 2016! I'll post pictures later.

A bracelet which is a bracelet because I didn't feel like stitching enough of it to make a necklace, but it could be, really. 

I should make samples in all the variations but even though it stitches up quickly, the thought makes me a little queasy. And yet contemplation of a very complex necklace using cubic right angle weave which would probably take me about seventeen times as long just fills me with glee. I suppose it says something about me but honestly I'm not sure what.
 Sample for the class I taught on Saturday. I adore these Paradise Shine rhinestones and ye I'm never perfectly pleased with the colours I pick to put around them. The students seemed to like this one, but I remain unconvinced.
 This confection is a little strange but I think it works. Those marbled-looking things inside are actually two-hole bead studs and I suppose you can barely see them so some might wonder what the point is, but I enjoy the architecture of this motif AND I know I could link them together to make a bracelet or a necklace or even a very dramatic long pendant so I'm not unhappy.
No pictures but I've been doing more work in the kitchen which is only emphasising just how pathetic my woodworking skills are, though in part the blame lies in my meagre collection of tools. I have hand tools but sadly minimal hand strength, and I have less power tools than fingers on one hand, and I definitely don't have the ones that would have allowed me to watch Netflix all day rather than to over odd prices of wood.

Also to be fair, the guy at Lowes did a really bad job of making ONE CUT in a piece of wood: one end was a full quarter inch narrower than the other which combined with the lack of perfect right angles in my kitchen meant way too much shaving with my jig saw (the only power cutting tool I have) and trying to sand the nasty edge smooth.

Fortunately the wood I was cutting and joining will be filled and then covered with concrete so no one will know.

Except you of course.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

So Much

It's as if I've lived a couple of months since last I posted. I like doing things and going places but I like these events to be spread out with lots of down time between because otherwise I feel rushed and over-full.

But there's been good stuff.

There was Amy's sale at which some of the pieces I sold let to orders for other matching pieces and I filled one when I had a very small window of spare time but really, I have the usual deadlines looming so I shouldn't have and yet I did.
I spent a few days in Chicago with my very oldest friends in the world (we've known each other for so long that our earliest encounters were when we were too young to form meaningful memories) and the last time the three of us got  together was in the late nineties but none of us can remember exactly when. After so many years you can pick up and connect in minutes.

I'm teaching a bunch of classes again at Bead and Button this year and my schedule is decently efficient as I have only two days of no classes (but the days have evening classes). I'll post pictures in the sidebar later. I'm tired right now - more about that further down.

I've started working on actual samples (as opposed to fooling around beading doodles that I hope will lead to actual beading projects) for the next lot of local classes for February through May. That's a deadline on the horizon.
 This open star pendant is fun because it's really a pentagon coerced into being a star. Also it could be added to the chain below.
Apparently I'm into stars lately. That's two classes out of six or eight so far.

There's also a rivoli idea that's in the percolation phase so no pictures and not yet on the list but maybe.
 This beaded bead (the green one in the front) is the culmination of a progression. I made the one in the back a year or more ago and there must be something particular about the beads I used as I couldn't get it to work properly on subsequent tries.

Truth is there's always variation between different colours of beads; somehow the nature of different colours of glass seems to lead to slightly different proportions or sizes among beads which are nominally the same size. For example, black seed beads are often taller and more irregular than other colours, I suspect because black glass melts much softer than some of the other formulations and so black beads may be more likely to distort. This is purely conjecture on my part having fooled around with melting glass from time to time; I could well be completely wrong (but I think I'm on the right track).


The beaded bead sat around for ages until I decided to try it using differently-shaped beads and it sort of worked but wasn't quite the way I wanted it so on the last iteration I mixed bead shapes at which it did what I wanted it to.

There's also a beaded bead from a few months ago (but no picture today).

My daughter flew in for the weekend to collect her very pretty cat who even after more than a year is the cause of much dissent among the felines in the household. There's still altogether far too much hissing and growling and swatting going on, not to mention the hunks of white fur everywhere. (The diva doesn't care to be brushed).

While she was here she got a rather elaborate tattoo.
 I'd never seen tattoos in action before so it was rather educational and illuminating. Also crazy long.

We did not get to spend a couple of hours while she got inked, then go to dinner, then go to Strange Donuts and then organise the cat stuff before getting an early night so that waking early to go to the airport wouldn't be heinous.

Instead we spent an hour and a half designing the tattoo, called in our food order, made a mad dash to get the food while the tattoo artist was setting up, and then spent many excruciating (mostly for her; but my hand was squozen almost into oblivion, poor thing. I shouldn't complain. She would have stopped if the artist wasn't fully committed to the vision). We walked out of there after one in the ayem (we had arrived shortly after six), at which point she required fast sugar therapy in the form of a shake. Yeah I dunno.

And then we still had to pack up cat stuff, try to get at least three hours of sleep (barely), drug the cat (you wouldn't want her unhappily in a cat carrier at full throttle on a crowded plane), take them to the airport and hope for the best.
Last I heard they were happily ensconced in my daughter's new apartment.

Apparently the tattoo still hurts. She likes it very much though. I'm definitely not getting one.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Maybe it's just me, but I've been feeling as though I have no unstructured time anymore. 

Once I started on the floor, there was no stopping because a kitchen is a room that I need to be functional and a plywood underlayment with bits of sheet vinyl attached really doesn't make for a functional room. And it took far longer to remove the old floor than I'd anticipated - probably five times as long, so that cuts into free time.
 But I have to say that overall I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out, though I'm a little annoyed at myself in the one or two areas in which I fell short. There's a tiny gap just in front of the fridge, though in all fairness due to moving the fridge out of the way and protecting the cork tiles I'd just pt down I couldn't actually see what I was doing.

It's well-polyurethaned and feels good underfoot. It's smooth and yet the cork gives an appearance of texture. I like the slight variation between tiles - I noticed it as I was laying them but decided to just let them be placed randomly rather than attempting to impose some sort of order and I stand by my decision.

As you can tell, I still need baseboards - but that comes after painting the walls which comes after painting the cabinets which comes after doing the countertops, so I might be living with that for a while. Probably for longer than I'd like but everything remaining in the kitchen will be so much (physically) easier than the floor which quite honestly has left me in some discomfort.
And also? Turns out cork displays brightly-coloured splotch-dyed tights quite well. (That's a technical term by the way).

Next up: beading! I have deadlined looming!