Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's a Girl!!!

Evelyn Grace Armstrong was born Tuesday, December 7th at 8:55pm. She weighed 7lbs 3oz and measured 20" long. The labor and delivery were 'text book' (according to the nurses)--everything went just as I hoped and prayed it would. We have been blessed with a perfect, healthy little girl and words cannot express my gratitude!

Evie and I locking eyes for the first time--she is so beautiful.

She already has her daddy wrapped around her little finger. Have you ever scene such a look of love?

She ALWAYS has her little hands on her face and every now and then she gets her thumb in her mouth. It's so dang cute to watch her suck her little thumb.

Amos is so interested in her and shows very cautious interest. We've noticed his protective instincts have doubled since we've brought her home. He is already very sweet with her.

So now we're just trying to get adjusted to life with a baby here at home. So far things are going well. But the last 5 days are starting to catch up with us and we're pretty tired today. I'll continue to be in touch but it might be spotty (much like it has been the past 9 months!).

Monday, December 6, 2010

His and Hers

A friend/customer commissioned me to make her and her boyfriend a 'his and hers' necklace set for Christmas. It was such a fun and challenging project because I had never made anything for a man before. After doing some research on etsy (of course) I found there are some really awesome designs out there for men. I just might bust into that market one of these days. Enjoy the pictures (and ignore the reflections in the stones...there was no way around it!).

Hers & His

We chose to use onyx as the stone because it represents constancy, steadfastness, permanence, & courage (among many other things).

Debbie--this one is yours. It features a 25mm onyx stone set in a very feminine setting with a 18" textured chain (that matches the wire detail around the stone).

And here is Phil's. I *hope* the setting is masculine enough. This is also a 25mm stone and is on a 3mm thick natural leather cord that measures 20".

"love of my life"

Let me know what you think! I hope you love them. I'll send them with Mike Wednesday wrapped and ready to go : ) Thanks Debbie!

New Work

I finally took some pictures of recently finished projects. Enjoy!

Labradorite. One of my favorite stones, e v e r. This is a particularly beautiful stone. I put it in a very simple setting to not distract from the stone itself.

This stone has such beautiful 'flash' (aka labradoresence)...blues, grays, greens, golds. Lovely!

This necklace features a 100 year old Indian charm, called a Patri. The stones are varigated blend of green amethyst (another personal favorite) knotted on thick, brown silk. I used soft deerskin suede for the bail.

Diamonds, anyone? I used some of the raw diamond beads I bought at the last gem show in this necklace. My new trick--using silver 'drop' beads layered on a sterling hoop for a lovely rustic effect. Here's a pendant and earrings to match.

Other than that my studio time has been taken up with custom orders and some odds and ends repairs. I am feeling a huge relief having just finished up the last of my custom orders (which will appear in another entry today)--the baby can come any day it wants now! We're going to be 38 weeks this week so I am REALLY hoping the baby will decide to come soon. We shall see ; )

Friday, October 22, 2010

"'s time to slow it down."

Do you remember that from high school dances? You'd be dancing to some crazy, fast song with a group of your friends and then all of a sudden the DJ would say "'s time to slow it down..." and the lamest slow song would come on. The atmosphere in the room changed as everyone either scurried off the floor to avoid the embarrassment of not having someone to dance with or, if you were one of the lucky ones, you'd start scanning the crowd for your date. Okay--that's totally random, but that's what this post is all about!'s time to slow it down here in the Armstrong household and in Karena Bella studio. Since I started feeling less nauseous and more motivated at around 5 months I decided that I'd get as much done as possible both at work and in the studio up until the baby comes. Here we are at 31 weeks and my body just can't keep up. We've learned that I just can't handle the stress of "getting as much done as possible" anymore. So I've cut back (per doctor's suggestion). I notified the galleries that what they have is it until early spring. I've notified people at church that I'm cutting back on my responsibilities there. And well, work is work. But it's so part time that it shouldn't be much of a problem. However, we did decide that I will be done December 16th. I will then be a stay-at-home-mom and run my jewelry business on the side. We're going to take it one day at a time and just go from there. I've got to say it feels good to eliminate stress. But now I don't quite know what to do with myself. I suppose rest and enjoy these last couple months of pre-parenthood freedom.

Here's a recent family photo taken by my sister while visiting her in the Chicago area. I'll try really hard not to mention that I look like crap! Oops. We were going to be in the car all day so I didn't do much with myself. But as always, my husband and dog are adorable : )

Battle of the Bumps! I think I win this one. (I love my baby bump by the way : )

Well anyway. I suppose that's it for now. I have some new work to take pictures of...hopefully that'll happen soon. And I also hope that I'll find the motivation to play around in the studio. As much as I was looking forward to my Holiday line for the galleries, it's such a relief not having that deadline looming over head. I do plan to still work...just for fun (which is the best ever!). Catch ya later!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Loot

The gem show came and went. I've got to say that there have been better shows--not that there wasn't some gorgeous stuff! There is always that. However, being low on funds, being 7 months pregnant, tired, and bumping in to everything (people...tables...displays...people--it's always jam packed) I was hard pressed to find the energy and excitement I usually have at the show. I wouldn't have survived it if it had not been for my incredible husband who carried my heavy bag and waited in long check-out lines so I could continue to shop. He's the best!

This show I had to focus on the necessary items that aren't much fun to buy but you have to have (findings, chain, etc). I did score on some beautiful crazy lace agate cabs (pictured above), a strand of rough diamonds, and a few other fun finds.

Diamonds!!! Not your typical faceted and polished diamonds--but diamonds nonetheless. For Christmas Mike bought me 5 sets of these tiny rough diamond beads and I love them. I made myself a little something special with them but wished I had more to make stuff to sell. I found a great deal on an entire 17.5" strand in lovely silvery tones. In the middle of the diamonds is a sapphire, green zircon, and amethyst--my husbands, the baby's, and my birthstones. This was my special purchase. I am going to make a stacking mother's ring with them!

I love, love, love these silver "drop" beads. I bought some at the last show and use them all the time. They are heavy, organically shaped, and add the perfect rustic touch to my designs. I just had to get some more.

The "necessary and not so fun to buy" stuff. This is always the most expensive stuff too. Some chain, crimp ends, attach rings, and head pins. As I was putting all of this away I realized I already had 600 of the same head pins (a few years supply for me) in my silver supply stash and could have saved nearly $20 on a length of chain by buying it online. I felt really stupid. I usually have a list of what-I-don't-need-at-the-gem-show and do research beforehand to see what the things I do need are going for online. I didn't do that this time. I'll blame it on my "baby brain".

And last, but not least, a couple strands of frosted glass beads. I admit I settled for these. I wanted ancient Roman glass but it's REALLY expensive. This was the best I could find that was similar. I kinda wish I'd have not bought them. I have no idea what to do with these??? Oh well, they were cheap.

Well, that's all folks. You'd never believe it if I told you how much all of this cost. It sure doesn't look like much. The next show will be more fun. I'm starting to save for it now and I won't be pregnant (but I'll have to find a sitter!). Later--

Saturday, September 25, 2010


The gem show is tomorrow!!!!!!! I'm giddy with anticipation. I love thinking about all of the treasures I will find. Gosh--I don't think I'll sleep much tonight. I'll post pics of my loot next week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Process

In college I majored in Art with an emphasis in ceramics. I recall one day being elbow deep in muck mixing a batch of clay with a classmate. Mixing clay is both a time consuming and physically laborious process. My mixing partner, although known for her obnoxiously exuberant zest for life, was a very kind girl. She chattered on about how much she loved mixing clay; how much she loved every step of the process of ceramics. Mixing, wedging, throwing, hand-building, firing, glazing, firing again... I can't say I felt the same way. I liked the process, but I realized I lacked the passion that she and many of my other classmates had for it. I rarely felt compelled to stay in the studio later than necessary. I did the projects required and played around some, but didn't seem to 'live' there like the others. My last semester I needed an additional studio class and was able to get into metalsmithing. Within the first week I realized I could relate to my classmate--I was passionately in love with every single step of the metalsmithing process. I lived in the studio trying to create as much as I could in the short 4+ months I would have access not only to the tools but knowledge of a phenomenal professor. I knew this was what I wanted to do. I thought I'd share with you the process I love. Like ceramics, it is time consuming and physically laborious. But I find joy in every step. Click on the pictures for more detail. Enjoy!

Every piece is born out of raw material--sheets of metal and spools of wire. After selecting the stones to be set the raw material is fitted and cut for each stone.

Once everything fits perfectly (this process can take hours to complete) the pieces are put together with fire, flux, and solder. Each joint is soldered together and cleaned in a heated acid solution called "pickle". Soldering, when done correctly, is a fast process but comes with it's own challenges and problem solving.

Embellishing the setting is one of the best parts. Precision and a tight fit are the keys to a well embellished piece. I enjoy using 'fancy' silver wires and recycling scrap by melting it into little balls to embellish my pieces.

After the bezel is embellished it is made into what it's meant to be--rings, pendants, cuffs, etc. Here I have illustrated creating ring shanks-measuring and sawing the silver, annealing (heating it to make it more pliable), shaping/filing it, and soldering it together.

Once the ring is soldered together it must be reshaped using a ring stretcher to make it round. Then it must be filed and sanded to clean it up and remove all scratches in the metal. Once it's shaped to fit the ring it is carefully placed onto the bezel and soldered on.

Hours and hours (and hours and hours) after the start, construction is complete! I almost always oxidize my pieces to add depth and enhance texture. This is where the pieces are blackened (top right). Using a special cleaning pad I remove a lot of the blackness so the silver shines through (bottom right)

Next comes finishing the setting by either tumbling (my preference) or polishing by hand. I use a mix of stainless steel "shot" and a burnishing compound to tumble my pieces. This smooths and polishes for me and takes hours off the finishing process. Tumbling takes 30 min to an hour.

And now the best part of the entire process! Opening up the tumbler and pulling out the finished, super shiny settings, popping the stones into place, and setting them. "Setting" means pushing the rim of the bezel tightly over the stone using a bezel roller and burnisher (although there are other ways to set stones). If the bezels fit the stone just right this process doesn't take very long. However, if the bezels don't fit perfectly this is one of the most frustrating processes EVER! And Voila! The piece is finished and ready to enjoy.

I hope this was interesting--or at least gave you a greater appreciation for that handmade piece of jewelry you love. Peace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Finally, Finally, and Finally

Not only am I finally blogging again, but I have new work to show you too! It's crunch time. I have goals to deliver a large batch of new jewelry to each of the galleries by the end of the month. After that I'll be right back at it to have substantial deliveries for Holiday. Gotta get the galleries stocked before the baby comes in December!

I absolutely adore paisley (I'd totally name my baby Paisley if it's a girl...but Mike vetoed that one). I've had this paisley design for a couple of years now and finally made myself something with it. It has be come my go-to necklace. It's great by itself but perfect for layering as well.

Blue kyanite and organic silver. I LOVE these earrings! I have a couple pairs sitting on my work desk and I just stare at them, try them on, and stare at them some more.

I've been slowly collecting these 100 year old (at least) silver Indian "Patri" (charms) over the past several gem shows. I love the symbols, shapes, and texture on these little charms. One time I had the vendor, who goes to India to collect these treasures herself, write down what some of the symbols stand for. Unfortunately I can't read the vendor's handwriting so I can't tell you the specific names. Many of them are warriors (above) but there are several with temples and gods as well. I finally got around to using some in my designs.

A few years ago I bought a tool called The Bead Knotter. It is supposed to quicken and perfect the process of knotting pearls/stones. It's a complicated looking tool and definitely not obvious how to use it. It took me 2-1/2 years to finally take the initiative to learn how it works. Now I am addicted to knotting things. It's so fun and simple (once you get the hang of it!). I love my Bead Knotter tool.

Peruvian opal--I worship thee! I have loved the look of Peruvian opals for a looong time. I finally bought a strand at the last gem show but have been very stingy with them...more like hoarding them for myself. I'll have to look for more at this next gem show (already at the end of the month!!! Yay!) so I can share.

Here's a glimpse of what's on the bench. Among other things I have a batch of 4 turquoise and one crazy lace agate I've been working on setting. I'm still filing down and shaping the bezels but hope to have a few of these beauties all done at the end of the week.

So there you go. That's whats new in the studio. As far as life in the Armstrong household...well that's been bit crazy. We're busy, busy, busy preparing for the baby to come (we're 26 weeks this week already...oiy!). We've been working a lot as well. I have so much to look forward to--Mike's birthday and the gem show come at the end of the month. We're taking our annual trip down to Chicago to visit my sister and her family in early October. And before you know it we'll be eating some Thanksgiving Turkey, setting up our Christmas tree, and having a baby. Life is great!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


To say that my life has been turned up-side-down by this pregnancy would be an understatement! I am over-joyed to be carrying this sweet little baby and am grateful beyond expression that things are (mostly) uncomplicated. It seems to me though, that I am being prepared for that big shift in priority and responsibility. Having 6 sisters (who are all moms) and many young-mom friends I have heard over and over again how having a child changes EVERYTHING about your life. I used to get tired of hearing "just wait until you're a mom", all the time. I knew that someday I would understand if the time ever came that we would have a baby. Well, already at only 21 weeks pregnant I am starting to get what they were talking about. In so many ways you lose control--control over your body, time, energy level, and motivation. For example, the other day I strained some uterine muscles JUST by taking a walk! I've been in bed for almost 2 days trying to recover. I've not been able to go to work or work in the studio. But unless I want further complications this is what I have to do. It's really inconvenient when there is a running list of jewelry orders, a messy bedroom, and groceries to shop for.

Enough of that! Things have been wonderful! Even though I am in uncharted territory I am very happy and unbelievably excited to have this baby. We'll adjust and adapt and life will go on and be even better than before.

In my last post I promised pictures of new work. Well, there has been lots of new work. However I was in a rush to get it to the gallery and didn't leave time to take adequate pictures. The pics I took were in horridly bad lighting and really just for a frame of reference. They are not going to make it to the blog. In the next couple of days I'll be at it again and leave more time for photography. I apologize for being MIA. I have no hope of life returning to what it was 21 weeks ago. All I can ask is for patience and understanding as I adapt and adjust : )

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Big Dog = Productivity

You all know our boxer Amos. Well Amos turned 1 this past Sunday (Happy Birthday bud!) and he received a big doggy bed for his birthday (as well as a GIANT bone). When I work in the studio Amos loves to sleep on the floor next to where I am working. As sweet as this is, he is 85+ lbs and takes up my entire studio floor (it's a small studio) making it nearly impossible to go from desk to bench. His new bed has provided me with un-for-seen solutions to some problems. One being that it allows me to control where he this case the only space his bed fits is wedged in the door. Which leads me to the second solution; since he is wedged in the door it makes it very difficult for me to get out of here...meaning I'm trapped in and forced to be productive. So there you go! If you have problems being productive in the studio go get yourself a big dog and even bigger dog bed and stick him in your doorway. Dogs sleep for hours and hours, you'll be set!

Just a thought : )

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bragging Rights

My jewelry was in the Oval Office!!! After my hair appointment today my stylist whipped out this picture to show me. The woman on the far right (note her lovely hair style!) was her bff from high school. Her and her sister met Obama in May and her friend was wearing my Rustic Hoop necklace! It's kind of a silly thing to get excited about...but it made me smile : )

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Camping Highlights

Amos posing on a trail

We had a great time camping this past weekend. I am sorry to say my pictures don't go in order of event, but I've uploaded them...that's a big step for me!

Hiking Sunday--beautiful exposed root system

Hiking Sunday--I love mossy rocks!

Amos--'dog' tired after our nearly 5 mile hike Saturday

Me & Amos hiking Saturday

Mike & Amos on many of the creek crossings on our hike Saturday

Scenery from hike Saturday

Amos playing in the creek on our hike Saturday

He loved the water which surprised us since he's usually such a chicken about it

You have to drive across the creek to get to the camping area of the park

Home away from home

We had a huge & private site compared to all the others we saw

Our site--part II

LOVE campfires!

Again, we had a great time. We got to do a lot of hiking, cooking over the fire, and take in some beautiful scenery. Everything was damp, lush, and mossy which I love. The creek is spring fed and crystal clear. Amos loved running in and out of the creek, it was hilarious to watch him. He did very well for his first camping trip which made us very happy since we love to camp. It was interesting to camp while pregnant...between food aversions (still...grrrrr), constantly needing to go potty, and a (brand new) air bed that wouldn't stay inflated I was exhausted by the time we left. But it was still fun : ) And we have every intention on going again in just a few short weeks time.

Tonight I am constructing a list of daily goals to reach in the studio (i.e. 6/23--3 pairs of rustic pearl studs, one laguna agate ring, one set of stacking rings; 6/24--3 prs Rustic Victorian earrings, one Rustic Victorian pendant, one Rustic Victorian ring...and so on). My list is going to be both long and challenging. But I HAVE to start preparing for December and the arrival of our little one. So from here on out, every afternoon possible I am going to be nose-to-the-grind-stone working in the studio. I can't wait! Expect to see LOTS of new jewelry in the very near future.

Have a great night!

P.S. Did I mention that I got into another gallery in Bayfield, WI??? Well, I did! I am so excited and cannot wait to finally make the trip up there and deliver jewelry. Check it out Stones Throw Gallery