Busman’s Holiday: Making our own wedding rings

You may not know this, but I’m getting married in three months. I mean, I never talk about it in minute detail, because it’s definitely not a huge logistical undertaking I should be allowed to put on my CV to show my organisational skills…

Since we got engaged last year, I knew I wanted to make our wedding rings. There was just one problem: I’m a silversmith, and we wanted gold rings. Silver and gold don’t behave that differently, so I did consider just giving it a go, but there’s one big problem with gold compared to silver: it’s a lot more expensive if you mess it up.

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Imagine the scene: ‘Honey, I’m home! Say, what’s that melted lump on your workbench?’ ‘Oh, that? That’s the £300 of gold that was going to be your wedding ring – oopsy-daisy!’ Not ideal. The Goblin is also the fussiest human alive, and the risk of him having hitherto-unknown very strong feelings about the particular hammer pattern I’d used once the ring was done wasn’t really worth it.

Luckily for us, the JQ struck again in the form of The Quarterworkshop, where couples can make their own rings under the supervision of a professional jeweller, Victoria Delaney. I also thought it would be cool for The Goblin to see what I do and have a go himself (and hammer his own ring to his liking – wahey).

 

The first thing to do was decide on colour and size for our wedding rings, as well as come up with ideas for styles. Our engagement rings are cheap (albeit much-loved) place-holders for the real thing…and it shows. They’re 9ct white gold, with mine measuring in at 3mm wide and The Goblin’s at 5mm. Because of the composition of the metal, they were seriously dinged about within the first month of wearing, so we knew we needed to go with something a bit more permanent and lasting for our wedding rings (how appropriate!).

 

I decided to slim my ring down to 2mm whilst The Goblin stuck with 5. We both liked the D-shaped profiles of our current rings, so those stayed, meaning that when we got to Victoria’s (adorable!) workshop, this is what was waiting for us:

 

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Seriously, though, how cute is this workshop space?!

After some coffee and a chat about designs, we got stuck into annealing, cutting and shaping – all just another day for me but really fun to have an experienced goldsmith directing the process and giving hints and tips.

 

Victoria also introduced me to a method of shaping and cutting through the seam (the bit where you make the ends of the ring line up so you can join them together) which was waaaay simpler and quicker than the one I was taught. Definitely going to be using that on my pieces in future! The Goblin had a lovely time shaping, soldering and filing his ring, and took it all very seriously. Look at this concentration:

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Then came the really fun bit: playing with hammers. The Goblin knew he wanted a subtle hammered effect, but I was torn between hammering and engraving, so we both spent a fair while whacking aluminium with the huge range of hammers in the workshop to find the right pattern.

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I decided to go with engraving in the end and am having a bramble pattern engraved on mine, so I started polishing it ready for engraving whilst The Goblin started beating his up with great glee.

 

After a lot of hammering (probably The Goblin’s favourite part of the day) and getting covered in polish, we admired our creations:

 

The rings are now off to be hallmarked with the Brum Assay Office anchor mark, which we love – wherever we move in the future, we’ll always be wearing a bit of the JQ! I can’t wait to see mine once it’s all hallmarked and engraved (I’ll post an update picture here when it arrives). We had a lush day making our rings and would definitely recommend it to anyone else looking for something a bit different for their rings. As The Goblin’s ring shows, no prior knowledge is necessary!

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All pictures are by Victoria Delaney © The Quarterworkshop, apart from the ones of our engagement rings.

Let’s put a pin in politics

As I write, the UK election has led to a hung parliament and the Tories are trying to prop up a minority government with DUP support. In other words, politics is looking pretty fucking grismal*, as my mum would say (and indeed has). Now that you’ve all voted (I hope!), all there is to do is wait. You could be forgiven for feeling a bit like this right now:

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Sootmegs on Etsy. Check out her store for some adorable, therapy-themed pins.

So, The Goblin and I spent a large chunk of last night watching Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night (David Mitchell snarking about Brexit? Count us in!), and amidst all the exit poll drama, I noticed the Lib Dems’ Baroness Brinton was showing her party colours in a particularly stylish way:

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Check out that brooch. Not your common-or-garden campaign pin.

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Here it is again + bonus dog

For centuries, pins, badges and brooches have been a decorative way to wear your heart on your sleeve (or lapel). When it comes to political pins, American ‘campaign buttons’ are the best-known examples, dating back pretty much as far as the United States themselves. George Washington’s supporters used to wear his initials on their jackets – awww.

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And then it got weird.

Pins are one of the most versatile forms of jewellery; sartorial shorthand for your world view and core values (whether those are high-falutin’ political beliefs or simply your love of cats). They can also be incredibly beautiful. The emphasis here is on the can

These days, there are a lot of bog-standard, plastic circles floating about on British chests:

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I mean, if you’re going to be vile, at least be more aesthetically pleasing while you’re at it…

But that wasn’t always the case. The 50s were a golden age of stylish enamel pins for all political situations. Here are the two main parties:

 

Young and politically engaged? You could’ve worn these:

 

If you fancied a lighter pin, a few decades later the CND spawned a range of badges so niche that they remind me of that ship full of telephone sanitisers and hairdressers from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

 

And speaking of niche, it was the 70s that gave us this quintessentially British gem:Only-Rotters-Hunt-Otters-Pin-Badge-see-pics

But if we’re talking the one historical campaign that had pins nailed, it’s got to be the British Suffrage Movement. Those women knew their pins… The use of colour! The motifs! So lush.

 

Although these gorgeous vintage campaign pins go for a mint online, the impending centenary of the first legalisation of women’s suffrage in the UK** means there are a ton of pretty and economical replicas/updates knocking about:

 

If you don’t want to physically wear your party or campaign affiliations, there’s always the lighthearted-enamel-pin trend which exploded on Etsy in the last year or two. Why not try one of these beauties? (Special shout out to one of my fave Etsy pin stores, Veronica Dearly.)

 

After all, if we’re going to hell in a handcart, you might as well

 

*Grismal, (adj): a cross between grim and dismal; most commonly used to describe a situation that makes you want to sit on the sofa and groan gently to yourself for the next several hours.

**2018 is the centenary of the enfranchisement of some property-holding women over 30; it took until 1928 for all women over 21 to be able to vote, the same rules as for men at that time.

On trying new things and adjusting expectations

I’ve never been good at not being good at things as soon as I start them, so it’s no wonder it took me a year to start my Etsy shop. Business is one thing – it’s serious and nerve-racking – but when you’re this much of a perfectionist, hobbies are no different…

My mum mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she was going on a one-day embroidery workshop midway between Brum and hers, and as luck would have it I had already booked the day off work. I’ve been seriously burnt out lately between the day job, business and my health, so a day hanging out with my mum staring at threads sounded ideal. I’m not the most experienced embroiderer (satin stitch and back stitch were pretty much the only things in my embroidery arsenal before the class), but I naively thought I’d just be able to whip up a hoop full of art in 6 hours. Aww, bless past me…

So we were going to be embroidering landscapes, and the first thing to do was rub a  photo transfer onto the fabric. Cool, easy, no problem – oh wait, here comes the first failure. It took me FOREVER to get the bastard thing onto the cotton. I wanted to cry, because I’m a totally proportionate and reasonable person.

Anyway, according to Lorna (the lovely instructor), it was thicker paper than usual and not my fault. Don’t know if that’s true or if she was being nice, but I’m taking it! Eventually we ended up with this:

…which I picked because it looks like where I grew up:

So far, so difficult! I wasn’t not enjoying it, by the way, I was just frustrated with myself for not instantly being top of the class…

Luckily, the first new  stitch we learnt was split stitch, which is a bit like back stitch. Tree trunks started to appear in my bluebell wood (*cough* that’s what they said…):

We also learnt fly stitch, french knots and ‘lazy daisies’:

Despite enjoying the sewing itself, I was so much slower than everyone else in the class, and it was taking me an age to pick colours and get the hang of the new stitches. Other people were learning fancy stitches left, right and centre, and it was making me jealous. It was pretty obvious I was getting frustrated, so Lorna told me not to worry about what the others were doing, and just to keep going at my own pace. She was so nice and so not-patronising, which made a massive difference for me.

Once I had ‘permission’ to just focus on my own design, I was able to readjust my expectations and appreciate the multiple new stitches I’d learnt. I didn’t get nearly as much of the design done as I wanted to at the start of the day, but what I did do was ok:

Despite my frustration with myself, I really enjoyed the class, and it reaffirmed for me something I’ve been working on for a long time: adjusting expectations of myself. I’m not advising letting yourself off the hook and making excuses to be lazy, but sometimes being relentlessly hard on yourself is less productive than just accepting you might need to lower the bar a bit (who knew?!). It’s especially important if you’re feeling tired, ill or burnt out, because you’re probably already not at your best.

Aaaaand that’s why I’m currently not beating myself up (too much) for having melted a pendant I’d spent hours on today, and have given up my jewellery efforts for now to sit on the sofa and work on my embroidery instead…

If any of you are having trouble readjusting expectations today, this is your permission to go a bit easier on yourself. If you can’t do that, here are some pictures of my parents’ dog, Olive, in the bluebell woods at home to cheer you up:

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Stoned by Aja Raden: a review

Anyone who follows me on Instagram might have noticed me posting a few pictures of Aja Raden’s ridiculously photogenic book, Stoned, over the past month. It’s taken me a bit longer and got me a few more weird looks on the train than I expected (without the dust jacket it just looks like a book about weed), but I loved it.

First things first, I really loved the format of the book; you can’t really go wrong with chapters focused on one object/story that fits into the wider theme. I just feel like it’s such a strong way to zoom in and out on a topic.

It’s hard to pick out one of the chapters as the best, but the one on emeralds was a winning combination of medieval exploration, science  and witty anecdotes. It was also probably the most interesting for me personally in terms of new knowledgefor example, did you know that emeralds are formed by the crashing together of continental plates?!

Another thing I seriously enjoyed was the amount of fun Raden had with the footnotes (special shout out to the giggly footnote on page 36 about ballsacks). It reminded me a bit of one of my all-time faves, The Princess Bride. Stoned was also scattered with puns, which I obviously adore. The only downside to the irreverent tone was that it sometimes strayed into sounding a little forced, but the multiple times I laughed aloud more than outweighed that.

Stoned was a really interesting blend of science, geopolitics, history and art, probably because Raden has a degree in Physics and Ancient History and is a jeweller herself. Obviously I read it because it was about jewellery, but I think it’s one of those books where you can pick out your interests and follow the threads throughout. I particularly enjoyed the historical commentary and healthy dose of gender politics (although I’d argue that the description of Catherine Howard as ‘empty-headed’, ‘moronic’ and a ‘young tart’ was a bit jarring and harsh, as well as an oversimplification of the historic context in which her marriage took place).

Overall, I thought Stoned was a fab balance of detail and broad pictures, and Raden had obviously done a ton of research. Her knowledge of jewellery design also made for some really fascinating descriptions and explanations of key pieces. I’d definitely recommend it, particularly to anyone who, like me, is busy and therefore has unpredictable amounts of time to read, because it’s pretty easy to dip in and out of without losing interest or focus.

Favourite quote: Hands down the point where Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain were described as ‘putting the ick in Catholic’ with their religious intolerance, although a close second was the description of ‘the United States spreading across the North American continent like a bloodstain’ during the 19th century.

Favourite new fact:  Engagement rings for both men and women were made mandatory for Catholics by Pope Innocent III in 1215 (mostly because of all the crusade-based shagging that was occurring), so fiancé and I aren’t being the hipster arseholes we thought we were, but are in fact being medievally Catholic…huh.

Clent Hill I see you again?

Juggling work and life admin and relationships and health and everything else is always a tricky one, and recently I’ve been feeling a little burnt out. One of the best things about running a one-woman operation is the (relative) freedom to work to your own timetable, but being your own boss can make it difficult to stop working.

I love Birmingham, I love the Jewellery Quarter, and I love being 30 seconds away from gin cocktails at all times, but…I’m less fond of being near crowds and away from nature for long periods of time. I also love that we’re smack in the middle of the country so friends and family are always visiting us so we can show off the city, but The Goblin (my lovely fiancé) and I do try to have one weekend a month with no visitors. Last weekend was our March weekend to ourselves and spring has finally sprung (sort of), so how better to unwind than to get out of the city?

Despite being a massive urban sprawl, it turns out Brum is actually pretty near a fair amount of lovely countryside. Exhbit A: the Clent Hills –

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A wild goblin appears

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Yes, the bench was too tall for my tiny legs.

It was so beautiful and so quiet and so green and so full of dogs and so only-25-minutes-drive-from-the-flat. Pretty much perfect.

Our excursion was going so well that we also stopped by Hanbury Hall – you can take the heritage nerds out of the National Trust, but…*

Definitely getting some design inspiration from these wallpapers and from the formal gardens…

There was only one downside – nice as a bimble at the NT always is, we definitely underestimated how many people a smallish property could attract on a Saturday afternoon. So many children. So very loud. So incredibly high-pitched and annoying, in fact, that The Goblin (usually one of the broodiest men alive) begged me to sterilise him…and so we finished up with the gardens and came back home for some quiet snacks in front of Psych.

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And have I stayed relaxed? Well, I’m writing this at 7.15pm on a Tuesday night, so that probably answers the question…maybe I’ll have better luck next time! Any suggestions for where in the West Midlands to try next?

*We both used to work at National Trust properties in Shropshire.