Friday, September 9, 2016

Connemara marble was so uncool

Once upon a time, I thought Connemara marble was so uncool and old fashioned. As a twenty-one- year-old living away in Spain, this stone symbolised to me everything that was twee and kitsch about little ol' Ireland, in there with leprechauns and green pints of Guinness on Paddy's Day. 
 close up of Connemara marble pendant
close up of Connemara marble pendant available from Handmade by Amo'r
Ok, ok, I hear ya - nothing wrong with a few harmless little leprechauns. But don't anyone dare mess with my Guinness! Being a student of history and literature with a strong background in the tourism industry, I am very proud of Irish heritage, but there is often a shaky line between culture and naff. A peek into many a souvenir store the world over should prove my point. Even the best of them have to have their share of tackorama. That's not always a bad thing. My besties and I have a long-running game trying to outdo each other with the most spectacular piece of tack we can find on our travels.

Connemara marble comes in so many shades of green
My ignorant young self was, however, so wrong about Connemara marble. Working with this beautiful, ancient stone I've come to understand and appreciate its rarity, its beauty and its heritage value. The Irish green stuff is as iconic as the black stuff - and every bit as smooth. Indeed, it takes a lovely polish. The marble is our very own, 6 million-year-old natural resource that comes in a wide array of beautiful shades from a creamy white-wash to the darkest forest green. The yellower shades have a high content of the mineral, serpentine. Some pieces feature dots of shiny quartz. No matter how big or small, no two pieces are exactly the same and there are usually several tones within even the smallest of beads.

An increased number of Irish jewellery artists, homeware designers and sculptors are currently producing exciting work using Connemara marble or other traditional  materials such as Kilkenny marble, bog oak, wool, copper and wood. These materials are as relevant today as they ever were and lend themselves to interesting modern design.  I've picked out four of my favourites from Etsy.  

https://www.etsy.com/ie/listing/209707703/james-carroll-stickman-donegal-sheepskin?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=irish%20bog%20oak&ref=sr_gallery_1
Sheepskin & Irish bog oak stool, MayFly Etsy shop
Natural edge mortar & Pestle,  MBWoodturning
Copper wall clock, Guilded Hound
https://www.etsy.com/ie/listing/452428944/cotton-grass-at-the-foot-of-the?ref=shop_home_feat_1
Felt painting, Mairead Ryan Textiles. 

There is often a  nod to tradition found in my  own, contemporary  jewellery designs.   Irish    marble beads are not so easy to come by, but Galway and Mayo  have  some quality,  artisan masons     who provide me with suitable cuts. Connemara marble also matches very well with materials from abroad such as Swarovski crystal, Italian onyx and American amethyst.

Afternoon Tea, Connemara marble teapot pendant, Handmade by Amo'r
What's more Irish than a cuppa tae and a bun? This super cute pendant combines modern, whimsical design with a reference to Ireland's other traditional beverage.


Connemara marble and Swarovski crystal, Handmade by Amo'r
Classic, hand-cut Connemara marble meets modern, precision-cut Austrian crystal in an elegant pair of gala earrings.
Wild Heather, earrings. Connemara marble & amethyst

Purple amethyst complements the cooler shades of Connemara marble. While Ireland does have its own, virtually untapped, resource of amethyst seams, most famously on Achill Island, county Mayo, our gemstone industry remains underdeveloped. Beads like these have to be imported. Commonly, amethyst beads on sale in Ireland come from North America and the UK.

      
Kilkenny marble earrings    
https://www.etsy.com/ie/listing/240382921/irish-sea-glass-pendant-seafoam-copper?ref=shop_home_feat_1

Irish seaglass and copper wire pendant

Want to know more about the materials I use? Click HERE (or click the Materials button on the menu bar at the top of the page) to learn more.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Places with Faces, Caught my Eye #38



 

Some people spot licence plates, others bird watch or trainspot. I've a nerdy habit of noticing places with faces. A few years back this screaming house caught my eye in Sligo. Then there was the creepy case of the Hills have Eyes. Now I've found something even more spine-chilling...

...queue the dun dun duns please....





Yes, it's a screaming folly! This gateway with its startled eyes and gaping mouth was spotted in the parklands at Belvedere House, Mullingar this summer. Look closely, it even has a nose and dimples!!

It wasn't until I had uploaded the photos of another trip to the midlands that I noticed a, not so smiley, smiley face on the historic telescope in the grounds of Birr Castle, county Offaly.




 All that's left to say is  :-|


Caught My Eye  is a series of blog posts showing scenes I found interesting, odd, curious or beautiful. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Irish Jewellery Inspired by Nature

I've been busy getting out and about this summer to make up for a very indoorsy winter when I worked by day and studied by night. That doesn't mean I haven't been busily crafting away at some key jewellery pieces for the coming season. In fact, I've found plenty to inspire me outdoors as always.

          Emo Court, County Laois 
           Connemara marble earrings, Emerald Raindrops


Sunset, County Offaly

Sunshine-inspired citrine earrings, Golden Glow

                         

Blessington, County Wicklow

https://www.etsy.com/ie/listing/469040357/irish-connemara-marble-pendant-or?ref=listing-shop-header-1
Irish, Connemara marble pendant, Mountain Source







Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Blessington Greenway


view of one of the lakes along Blessington Greenway, own photo
Blessington Greenway walk provides an easy escape from the city with a 7k stomp through the countryside that is easily reached by public transport. The walkway, which opened as recently as 2014, is fully accessible by car or bus. The 65 goes from Dublin city centre almost to the start of the walk at the Northern tip of Blessington in Wicklow. Even if you decide to stop in Blessington town centre for refreshment first, it's only a stone's throw to AvonRi resort and adventure centre,  where the greenway begins. Access is through a gate in the back car park.

Blessington Greenway, photo by Sheila Mahon
Although the route commences so close to the town, you are instantly distanced from civilisation. The path takes you round the side of the lake and through the forest. After a while, however , you do need to leave the woods and follow the road for a few metres before resuming the track once more.  
view looking back from lake, own photo
photo by Sheila Mahon
Several kilometres on, you will need to emerge again and cross a road but at no point do you have to walk on unsafe road or on any grass verge, except at the end, when turning up a short, quiet road that leads to Russborough House. For this reason, I give this route the thumbs up for safety as well as accessibility. It is also level, with no hills to negotiate and the path is easy underfoot. At some points boardwalks help the walker cross what would be boggy or uneven terrain. I have done this walk in light rain with no bother.
Russborough House, Photo by Sheila Mahon
Russborough House is worth a tour if you have the time and interest, but at the very least the quaint tearooms serve up seriously good cake and a chance to rest. There are also a few craft studios in the beautiful grounds and a maze, which I have yet to explore. The first time trying out this walk, after a decent lunch, we braved the whole walk back to Blessington. However, 14k can be a bit much in one day, even for an avid walker like me. Revisiting with a bunch of friends on a muggy day last weekend, we left one car in Russborough and another at the start of the walk. We were so grateful for our foresight. There is a bus stop near Russborough but the route isn't all that frequent so be advised to check bus times both in advance and on Dublin Bus's real time app if possible. 

Apart from the ease and accessibility of this walk, I love it because it takes you through a variety of scenery. With cake at the end, what's not to love?






Monday, July 18, 2016

Creative Summer Dining Al Fresco

The rare burst of hot, golden sunshine in Dublin this week got me thinking creatively about summer dining al fresco. Let me share a few clever ways to add veggies to your barbecue or picnic menu, light up your garden table, and finish off your outfit with summer jewellery.
sweetcorn cakes garnished with radish and a drop of sweet chili sauce, own photo

Sweetcorn cakes are a tasty way to get extra veggies into anyone's diet but the hint of sweetness can especially appeal to kids. They won't even know they are eating vegetables! Drop a small can of sweetcorn, a short splash of lemon juice and an egg into the blender. Add a heaped teaspoon of flour, shake of salt and pepper, a pinch of paprika or chili and either a sprig of fresh coriander or parsley (dried will also do). If you'd like to give them a bit of a sharper edge, chop in some chives or a spring onion too. Blend only for a few very short seconds to break up the kernels. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and when very hot, carefully lower dessertspoonfuls of the mixture in as for drop scones. It's best not to have them too close together so four or five in a full sized pan at a time is about right. Flip them over when they begin to solidify and brown. They can be eaten hot or cold so are a novel idea for picnics.

Tomato and garlic Melba toast, own photo
This is my version of pan Catalan; perfect for bringing colour and zing to a summer barbeque or buffet. These tasty bites really complement charcoal-grilled chicken. Throw a couple of vine tomatoes (or a handful of cherry tomatoes) into the blender and add salt and pepper. Add one or two cloves of garlic according to taste and the number of tomatoes and blitz only for a couple of seconds leaving it slightly lumpy. It should not be a runny liquid. If you prefer the garlic to be fully blended in, put it in first, blitz for a second before adding the tomatoes. Serve on Melba toasts. You can top with grated emmental cheese, Parmesan shavings and/or a basil leaf.  Any left over tomato paste can be frozen and used in pasta sauces or on pizza.
miniature potato omelette, (ashamedly own photo)
Isn't this miniature Spanish omelette so cute? This is a creative idea I had for an afternoon tea party last summer. Space doesn't allow me to include instructions for Spanish potato omelette but the recipe is widely available online.  Once you have made a good, thick omelette, use an orange-juice glass or cookie cutter to make mini rounds.  Again, these are handy for picnics as they are just as tasty hot or cold, but it is a good idea to wrap in tinfoil before placing in Tupperware to keep the shape intact. You may wonder what happens to the outline scraps left over after cutting them out. While you can freeze them, the flavour and texture can deteriorate. However, they will keep in the fridge for the next day or two and make a delicious filling in a panini with mayo and rocket leaves. 

Upcycled sea glass candle holder

Now let's throw a little light on outdoor table decor. I made this decorative candle holder using sea glass pieces that were to small to fashion into my sea glass pendants. You  can find out how to put it together by clicking here

And to decorate yourself with summer styled jewellery......
Blue dangle earrings. Peacock blue. Sapphire Seas.
                                   Irish sea pottery pendant              blue dangle earrings       
      
Champagne Pink & Aqua Earrings. Summer Party Irish sea glass pendant. Seafoam & copper. Ireland's Eye

                                   Champagne pink earrings             Irish sea glass pendant in copper


Friday, July 15, 2016

How to Make Jump Rings. How to Repair Your Necklace or Chain

Has the clasp come away from your necklace or perhaps you  want  to  convert a charm into a  pendant and need a  simple  ring/bail  for  hanging it?  Whether you  are doing a bit of  DIY repair  on your  own jewellery or are a beginner in beading and wire work, learning to make jump rings is a handy skill to have. You can buy jump rings, but  if you  know how to make them yourself, you need never run short.

All you need is

*craft wire
*a round nose pliers
*a side cutter

All are available in jewellery craft stores and widely sold online.

If you are serious about wire work, a hammer and block is a recommended investment alongside a full set of pliers for jewellery making. I use a rubber tip hammer to harden jump rings, earring hooks, metal charms etc. You can also get a soldering kit to seal the rings, but a well-made, properly handled jump ring in a hard wire should stay shut with normal wear.

The wire needs to be hard enough to hold its shape. Look for the ga number or mm to find the gauge. A good, semi-hard wire for beginners is gauge 20ga (.80mm) but 18ga (1mm) is preferable and with practice, go for harder again (16ga/1.25mm). If unsure, just ask for help from your chosen supplier. If you are a novice, it's best to practice with plated wires before moving on to more expensive metals such as sterling silver. I used solid copper for these photos:



Wrap  some  wire  a few times round the base of one prong of the pliers.  The  higher  up you go,  the smaller the top jump rings will get. If you want them the same size, only make a couple at a time and wrap them on the same spot on the prong. Make a small coiled spring as shown, slide it off the pliers and cut along it at an appropriate point. 
handmade copper jump rings
I would always harden the rings using a rubber hammer and block. Click for instructions on  How to Harden Jump rings etc. Now they are ready to use for repairing your own jewellery or incorporating into your designs.  

There is a secret to opening and closing jump rings correctly so as to preserve their integrity and keep them strong and tight. Please read How to Open and Close Jump Rings...



Jump rings are the simplest way to re-attach a clasp. If you  have a soldering kit to seal them, then all the better. However, if the ring is well-made in a hard wire and opened and closed correctly, it should hold without soldering. There are other, slightly more complex ways to attach and link and I intend to post about these in future.
A jump ring serves as a bail to hang a charm or pendant
You can make a jump ring to attach to a small charm and wear it as a pendant, attach to a bracelet or perhaps to a zipper.


blue flash labradoirite pendant with ring bail

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pigeon House towers & Poolbeg lighthouse- Caught My Eye 37

Caught My Eye  is a series of blog posts showing scenes I found interesting, odd, curious or beautiful. Some curiosities that I capture inspire the Jewellery that I make. Others don't, but just getting out there and looking fires up the imagination. I am a creative observer, not  a  photographer  by any  description.  So  if  you  expect  top  quality  photography I'm afraid you will be disappointed.  Please simply enjoy a snap-shot glimpse of the world and maybe grab some inspiration for yourself.
Pigeon House chimneys, Poolbeg up close, own photo 2015

Here is a sight that's as Dublin as Guinness, the Liffey and the traders on Moore Street are. 
Dubliners have used the Pigeon House power station chimneys  in Poolbeg  as a point of  reference from afar ever since 1903.  Whether you are viewing the  unmistakable towers from another  point along Dublin bay such as Dollymount or Dun Laoghaire or from up the Dublin mountainsthey are a well known landmark in the distance that helps get your bearings. 


I only noticed this week that I can even see them from Portobello on the edges of the city centre. I have been looking at them daily on the way to work for a few years now and never even noticed. They were just there, part of the accepted skyline.



Poolbeg chimneys from Dollymount, own photo, 2013
This shot was taken from the bathing area at Dollymount strand in the north of the city. (Caught my Eye #16)




Here is the view from the south, taken at Monkstown, near Dun Laoghaire. 
Pigeon House chimneys, own photo, 2015

This is a shot from another location along the same stretch of shore. Is that Jaws lurking in our waters?
Poolbeg chimneys, Dublin, own photo 2015
The closest view is via a path running between Sandymount strand and Irishtown park which takes you behind the disused power station, around to the docks and the jetty leading  to Poolbeg lighthouse. (See it here on Map my Walk but do come back to me here!) If you've never done this walk, be forewarned that it's a rather fragrant part of the city with the waste water treatment plant right beside the towers. After a while you don't notice the...um...aroma anymore, though I cracked up when my  friend told me she was taken there on a school trip back in her school days. Now there is a teacher with a sense of humour!




Poolbeg pier, own photo, 2015
The red dot at the end of the angled pier is Poolbeg lighthouse, a part of the city that can feel strangely remote. Dublin is full of surprises and inspiration. For about two seconds I considered using the red and white chimneys of Poolbeg as inspiration for dangly earrings. Then sanity returned. They do however, remind me of candy cane ornaments. I'm off to to play around with some designs....