Hmm, well that gem shopping expedition didn’t quite go as
I couldn’t face the schlep down to Chinatown on Saturday so
I went to Amarin mall where there were several stalls and shops peddling gem and
stones. I found a lovely shop where I told the man that I was learning to set
stones and wanted something cheap but pretty that I could practice with. We started
with amethysts and we moved through a host of stones whose names I’ve forgotten.
Each time he brought something out I got more and more panicked: so TINY, shiny
and perfectly cut. In my head I saw myself trying to measure and set them with
my bunches of bananas and I felt a bit sick. I knew they could look gorgeous. But probably only if someone
else made them. He showed me all sorts of stones but I’d completely lost my
confidence that I could do anything with them.
I found another stall. In a basket there were pieces of
agate. I bought this one: it’s 4 cm long. I think even my bananas can make a
reasonable job of setting them.
(Here’s the finished crown setting from the last post. I
don’t know what the disc thing is that we’ve set but it feels like resin or
even just plastic. Because it’s nicer with light behind it, I cut out a mad
pattern on the back to let the light in.)
The next stage in my jewellery making career journey
is learning to set stones. This doesn’t require much fire (phew) but it does
demand strict precision skills. Oh gawd.
Khun Gim found me an oval piece of rhodonite, a pretty pink
and black stone to begin with. You measure the circumference with wire and then
cut the metal a little bit longer than your wire. I cut it too long so I had to
saw some of the extra mm off. Yes, and then I cut too much off and had to send
it through the mangle to lengthen it again. Sigh.
Anyway, this ring is the result. Next I’m moving on to this
resin (?) disk. This is the crown setting for it. Inside the crown setting we’ll
I’ll solder a piece of wire to hold the disc at the top. Last week I asked Khun
Gim ‘how do we keep the wire in the right place while I solder?’ Apparently the
wire will hold itself because I’ll have cut it with such precision that it will
just, erm, fit.
So this is the plan: I have to buy some stones to
practice my setting skills. Bangkok is a good place to buy stones. Even though
I’ve never been in the market for them you can’t help but see the shops around (and hear of the scams.) I’ve often stopped and peered into windows to look at the rubies, graded, sized
and sitting in little see through trays. It’s another world to buy them though. Do a Google of Bangkok tourist scams, and the gem ones are right at the top. It has always struck me
that if you’re on holiday and stupid enough to spend hundreds of pounds or
dollars on rubies without the help of an independent expert, you’re kind of
asking to be ripped off. Okay, this isn’t the way things should be but, sadly, it is the way it is.
Now clearly I’m not after ‘gem’ gems. I’m after something
pretty or strikingly coloured and well, cheap. Remember, I might butcher
it.K, who does jewellery at the
same time as I do it, is a gemologist and she’s confirmed that as a foreigner
the prices will rise the second I walk into the shop but she’s given me some
advice. She’s advised me to reverse my normal approach; instead of ‘how much is
that one?’ I should ask ‘what can I get for a 500 baht?’ (£10ish)
I shall let you know how I get on.
PS: isn't this rhodonite skull just divine? I love how his stylised look makes him appear to be wearing glasses. I want... (Source)
I nearly got hit by a car and a motorcycle this morning. Not really nearly but almost nearly. It is partly the fault of lax road rules here but also my own stupidity. I recovered as our taxi drove us to the MRT (underground) station (Husband was going to work; I was going to jewellery) and then I realised that I hadn't got my partly prepped bits of jewellery with me. I had to take a taxi back home to pick them up. I considered getting back into bed and staying there just in case the day didn't improve.
Anyway, here is one of the latest pieces. This is the 'go to the back of the class and practise your handwriting soldering' design. One of the pebble shapes is copper (top left) and the rest are brass. It's quite nice, isn't it?
(*Ahem* I left the solder visible just so that you could see how beautifully I'd done it!)
I had a teacher, at my grammar school, who taught me a
lesson I’ve never forgotten. She was a graphics teacher. She frightened me. I
would have told you at the time that I didn’t like her but I can see now that I
was afraid of her. (She belonged to the Disparaging School of Teaching Methods.)
I thought she could see how stupid I was but I think she thought all the girls
were stupid. It wasn’t personal.
I didn’t do graphics because fine motor skills aren’t my
thing; I came to it by default on a rotation in the O’Level timetable. We’d
selected ‘art’ and now we had to choose between painting or graphics. I already
felt like an interloper. I was called ‘the academic one’ and my sister, ‘the
creative one.’ There was no sculpture or making on offer at my school and it
was many years before I realized that that was what I was. I still doubt my
creative ability today even though it turns out that my sister and I are both
academic and both creative.
One day, Miss Whose Name I Can’t Remember, asked us to put
up our hands if we walked from the centre of town, where the buses dropped us,
to school. All of us did. ‘So,’ she said, ‘here’s a quiz for you.’ This is the
only question I can remember. We walked past a big car showroom, Ford, I think.
She asked us if we’d seen the three cars arranged precariously on a display
stand. Of course we had; it was difficult to miss them. ‘What,’ she asked us,
‘were on the number plates?’ I had no idea. Every day I walked past them and I
never noticed the number plates. She wasn’t interested in the answers. She
wanted to illustrate how most of us go around with our eyes shut. I knew they
were there but I didn’t see them. (It
was something like ‘SEE 1’ ‘LUV 1’ and ‘BUY 1’) Every single day for the rest
of my school career I saw those number plates with a sense of shame. If I think
now of my walk to school those damn cars and sense of shame is back in an
I still fight with myself to see. It’s tied up with being
blind to the things that are there all the time and taking them for granted.
One of the things I do very deliberately, though not often enough, is to go to
new neighbourhoods so I can see again. I am forced to look.
So there’s a weakness in my recent “I am going to blog more
frequently” plan. Uhm; what to blog about. I’m not doing anything very exciting
at the moment. (I am mostly teaching myself Adobe Illustrator at the moment but I trust that won’t fascinate
I have a theory though. The only answer to a block is to
start doing it anyway: play with your materials, whether they be paint, words
or musical notes. What results might not be brilliant but it will gradually
break the paralysis. I still needed a subject though so I turned to the
internet to tell me what to write about. I googled ‘random blog topic
generator’ and lo, there are such things. I opened the first three, here, here
The temptation, indeed the instruction on one of the
generators, is to keep pressing the button until you get something you fancy
writing about but I thought that might be a bit dangerous. It might not go on
infinitely; the generator might suddenly emit a big sigh and stop producing
ideas because nothing could please me. So I decided I’d press each of the
generators once and then I’d have to choose from one of those topics.
The first one gave me: “One
of my favourites is Bagels.” One of my favourite what? And why the capital
letter? Is Bagels a place I haven’t heard of? I let out a big sigh and clicked
the next tab.
The second one was: “Aristotle’s
philosophy” Oh dear. This is somewhat shaky territory. In my dim and
distant past is a classics degree. So dim and distant that I can remember
almost nothing and Husband has been petitioning me for years to return my
degree certificate to the university. Today, though, I search around in my head
and ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ appears; my mouth goes dry and I feel a bit faint. I
go and have a look at Wikipedia. After consideration I’ve decided that I haven’t
forgotten it, I’ve actually suppressed it and for very good reason.
I move on to the third randomly generated topic: “What do
you think of your children?” Crumbs. We’re on really hazardous ground with that
subject. What I think of my children is that they know how to find my blog and
that’s all there is to say on that subject.
Yes, it’s jewellery again. Must try harder. Must conquer
fear of fire and soldering. Last week Khun Chaiwat told me that my next piece
of jewellery had to include lots of soldering. Oh joy; (I’d been planning to
design something that needed no soldering in an attempt to avoid it. Always
best to avoid all awkward things whilst maintaining British stiff upper lip.) No,
alright, that’s not the answer: must conquer fears.
The truth is it’s not the jewellery; it could be crème brûlée. (Damn it, why isn’t it crème brûlée?)
So here’s the problem: in my right hand is a raging fire. I
mean raging; as though flames aren’t scary enough, then we send gas rushing
through to make it really aggressive. The solder sits on top of the join – or
next to it – but it’s microscopic. Alright, it’s not microscopic but it might
as well be; it’s tiny. And if I cut it bigger, then it makes a mess all over
the copper or brass that I’m working on and then there’s more filing to do... I
have to point the flame at the right part of the metal but not for so long that my piece of jewellery starts to melt… And if one side gets hotter than the other, then I’m in
trouble and the solder spews all over one side of the piece, and not down the
crack at all. In my left hand is a titanium stick that I can use when the
solder falls off the join. Which it does because there’s that raging flame
blowing a kind of Hell-like gale towards a tiny piece of silver solder… When
the solder falls off the join you have to let it melt and then scoop it up on
the end of the titanium stick and push it back on the bit you’re trying to
Except my hands don’t seem to work together properly. It’s
just like learning to drive… It should be straightforward; it’s only my hands
I’m asking to cooperate with each other. Like eating, yes? I manage that all
right. NOOOOO, actually I don’t manage that very well. I have a familial
reputation for dropping stuff down my front. (That’s all invitations for social
I’ve thought and thought about what my problem is. Years
ago, I found an old school report from my piano teacher. It said ‘Jenny seems
to have problems sending messages from her brain to her fingers.’
Yesterday was Makha Bucha day, a bank holiday. The children had to go to school for a make up day following all the days lost to the flood last November. (Mwah ha ha ha.) That left Husband and I.
Husband studied the map, found a little cafe in Siam Square called Vanilla and proposed coffee. It 's rather nicely done in a retro style, reminding me of sweet shops in another world. (I don't think they were like that in the 70s - perhaps there were the last vestiges of that look in our village shops as they tried to drag themselves into the modern day.)
And it reminds me how much I love multiples. How pretty are things en masse?
(There are branches in Siam Paragon, Ekamai and The Crystal Park. I realised I'd been to the one in Siam Paragon but it hasn't nearly as much character as this tiny one.)
I’d been harbouring the details of the jewellery school for
quite some time but it took the crisis I outlined yesterday, and the total
despair I was feeling about my writing, before I plucked up the courage to
email the contact. Now, five or so weeks in, I can’t imagine what all the fuss
None of the anxiety was about the jewellery making; rather
finding the place. And would I like it? Would there be any other students? Would I
be able to make the things I wanted? Would it solve my creative crisis?
It didn’t ever occur to me that I might find it difficult.
If that sounds arrogant I do apologise. What I mean is that since I have a fine
art degree, tucked away at the back of my brain I thought ‘how hard can it be?
It’s simply a different material…’ During my degree we were expected to turn
our hands to whatever material the project needed. (For my degree show I
learned some advanced ceramics: to make my own mould, to make the negative, then the positive and to slip cast from the mould but I know none of the processes that might lead
up to that!) I am then, something of a dilettante. Oh dear. Still, I thought
‘how hard can it be?’
The answer to that, dear reader, is BLOODY HARD. Not only is
metal really, really tough but also everything you make for jewellery is TINY.
And not only do I NOT have biceps on my fingers but also my hands, it turns
out, are like bunches of fat bananas. And that isn’t even getting involved in
the delights of the old lady eyesight I’m developing. There are really scary
processes like soldering which involves flames and gas and heating things that
you’ve spent hours cutting (badly) and filing (to put your mistakes right) and
you might melt them if you do it wrong. And that's not to mentioning the potential to set the studio
So the second lesson I went to I took a cup of tea in a
flask for the stress and big bag of humility. And things got a bit better. I
stopped breaking the saw blades quite so frequently but I was still scared of
soldering or forgetting that I could only fish things out of the acid with the copper pincers.
Now, several weeks on I have begun to learn (some respect.)
I can solder with more confidence without Khun Gim standing next to me. (Update
to say: apart from today when I kept losing bits of solder. I couldn’t seem to
coordinate my two hands to hold the fire in one and rescue the microscopic piece of solder with the other!) I break fewer saw blades when I am calm and if I am
careful to cut things neatly, they require less tidying up. Attention to detail
is really important. Slap dash doesn’t do. (Slap dash is part of my
Here’s what I’ve made so far (including the dodgy stuff.)
Back in January I made the decision to stop writing. I gave
up; retired. It was a relief. Writing (or failing to get my novel what I wanted
it to be) had begun to make me really unhappy.
I thought about why I’d begun writing a novel in the first
place. It was something I’d always wanted to do but like so many people, I only
talked and thought about doing it. Then one day, I stumbled across a blog that
invited anyone writing a novel to join a race for support and camaraderie. It
wasn’t easy but it made me happier than unhappy.
I have a not-so-secret confession which people rarely
believe - I don’t have any burning desire to publish. I wanted to write the
best book I could just for the sake of it. There’s something about the process of writing (and making art or
craft, come to that) that does it for me. And having to turn my creation out
for anyone’s scrutiny (publication or exhibition) brings me out in hives.
And so I did write a novel: 107,000 words of story, a
beginning, a middle and an end. Most people spend their lives saying they want
to and never do it. I did it and I should be proud of that.
Over the five years that I’ve been writing I’ve had breaks
from it; periods of laziness or frustration and even though I’ve longed to give
up, I haven’t been able to stop; not completely anyway. There has always been
something inside that I identified as a need to write. However miserable it
made me I had to continue to do it.
Two months ago, for the first time in four or five years, I
felt as though I had a choice. I don’t know what had changed, except perhaps
that the unhappiness outweighed the pleasure and I felt as though I’d been
released from something and that I could
stop writing. It was liberating. There was some grief too but mostly there was
I began to attend jewellery-making classes instead. I feel
that making uses a totally different part of my brain from writing (although
maybe it doesn’t or shouldn’t) but when I draw or make I go to a place where
nothing intrudes. I struggled to find that place in writing… I’m going to come
back and tell you about the jewellery course tomorrow but here’s the funny
I have begun to think about my next writing project.
I moved with my family to Bangkok in July 2005. What do I do? I make hats and costumes; I’ve written articles, a novel and a non-fiction book is underway… I've held a variety of volunteer positions within the expat community.
Tea stains is where I write and illustrate the things that consume me: life in Thailand, shop windows, books, cats, making, hats, fascinators, tea and the colour orange.