Saturday, January 11, 2014

The annual slow down

Every winter I hit this spot where it's too cold to do much ongoing work at the jewelry bench.  I can run out for short bursts to do a custom order or a bit of sanding but it quickly becomes too cold and my fingers stop following instructions.  I tend to think of it as a forced shutdown - like when a factory closes for two weeks to do routine maintenance and that's when all of the employees have to take their vacation.

I've been trying to look at what I can do in terms of planning - going back through some of my resource materials to brush up on techniques and (hopefully) get inspiration for projects I can do once the weather really starts to warm up.

Here are some of the books I've been pulling out in the last couple of weeks:

The Complete Book of Glass Beadmaking - great fundamentals of bead making.

Foldforming - basically, this is the Bible of foldforming.  And it's a lot cheaper than it used to be!

The Complete Metalsmith - The instructions and images in this book are tremendously helpful.

Jewellery Fundamentals of Metalsmithing - another Tim McCreight book with good metals instruction.

Making Metal Beads  - Great ideas and instruction for making your own beads.  I have yet to actually make any but the ideas are inspiring!

And even though it's a little bit early I think it might be time to get out the Valentine's Day projects. The "surprise" cookies are always a hit:

And it's a fun project for Ben and me to go through the art supplies and clean out the broken pieces to make little heart crayons:

Maybe by the time it warms up I will have a ton of ideas and be ready to get back to the workbench and make a bunch of new jewelry!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Gingerbread castle with invincible royal icing

Every year we make and decorate a gingerbread house during the week of Christmas.  I made a template for the house out of poster board about ten years ago and we generally use that to build the structure.

This year I thought maybe we could shake it up a little bit and make a gingerbread castle rather than the usual house.  Not the best idea.  It took a lot more gingerbread (I tripled the recipe and used almost every bit of that amount) and a lot more time to build.  It worked out in the end, but I will definitely ditch the castle for the next time around!

The royal icing I use to hold the structure together is practically invincible once it cures.  As long as I can get things lined up and connected enough to hold I know we will be able to decorate it and load it in the car for a three hour trip with no concern.  This stuff will make the walls stand together even if the lines don't quite match up completely.  Little gaps suddenly don't matter.

I put it together and let it cure overnight.

The next morning it was still standing, which was our cue to smother it in candy.  Ben was the creative director - I helped him apply the candy toward the end but he was clear about what kind went on which wall.

Yikes.  The finished castle weighed a ton.  But Ben loved how it turned out and that was really all I was going for.

Want the recipe for the invincible royal icing?

2 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 egg whites

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and beat at a low speed until blended.  Then beat on high until icing peaks form (this is when you can add food coloring if desired).

Use a decorating bag to pipe a line of the icing on each piece of gingerbread then connect and hold for several seconds.  Be sure that joint is solid before moving to the next connection.

Two important keys for success:
1. It seems like it's too long, but put the mixer on high and walk away for about seven minutes.  When you lift the beater out of the icing, it should take 10 to 15 seconds for any drips falling back into the bowl to get completely smooth again.  If the icing isn't fairly stiff, it will be too thin and will be extremely frustrating when you try to put the structure together.  If you think it might be too thin, beat on high again for another minute or two.

2. When you load the icing into decorating bags, cover any remaining icing by draping a damp paper towel over the mixing bowl to keep it from drying out.