Blue Sapphire Ring

1 Jul

There is so much I want to tell you.  I want to tell you all about sapphires, and I want to respond to Crystal’s comment saying that she’d like to hear more about my new blended family, and I want to tell you all about what I am doing in the studio.  But I am working like a crazy woman to get Vaka rolling again, and I am cooked.  I kinda love this working so hard I fall into bed at the end of the day thing, though, so I’m not complaining. It feels so good to be working again!

So here is a ring I finished today (are you sick of looking at jewelry yet?).  It is a lovely 5 x 7mm cornflower blue sapphire set in 18k.  And, as usual, I am fickle and so this is now my favorite piece. 

Look!  Look!  Are you looking?


I love emeralds

28 Jun

To view beautiful emeralds is to fall in love.

If someone said to me, “Katie, if you could make for yourself ANY piece of jewelry –regardless of cost– what would it be?”

Go on, ask me.

I would, my inquisitive friends,  make myself a big ole’ emerald ring.  I’d get an enormous emerald-cut stone (big enough to be truly vulgar. As big as a baby’s head.  A really big fat baby.), and I’d set it in 20k.

In the meantime, while I wait for a baby-head sized emerald to fall at my feet, I made this!


This stone is 5mm, and I don’t think I’ve ever set a 5mm stone that pops the way this does.  The 18k certainly plays up the green, but emeralds have a vibrancy and luster no other gem does.  So full of life and joy; how can anyone be sad wearing an emerald?

Today I also touched up the bezel on the granulated garnet ring from yesterday.  Take a close look, and see if you notice the difference.

And with that, my darlings, I think it’s time to get my weekend on.  I hope you all have nothing but the best of weekends!


Look at what I made!

27 Jun

Look!  I’m quite pleased.  4.18 ct pyrope-almandine garnet in a handforged, granulated 18k setting.  Sometimes a photograph spotlights tiny trouble spots better than one’s own eye can, and from this photo I see that the inner edge of the bezel needs burnishing a bit.  I’ll do that tomorrow.

Today, I ALSO made an emerald ring. I’ll shoot that and post images tomorrow.

I love working with higher karat gold, and if I weren’t so tired from making pretty things all day then I would tell you why.   


A day’s work

26 Jun

Hello, my darlings!  How was everyone’s day, today?

I had a wonderful day, because I now have air conditioning in my studio!  It was lovely and cool in my fortress of solitude, and the new air conditioner emits a slight hum which blocks the sound of the children’s voices.  I did NOT die of heat stroke, and I also did not have to listen to most of today’s heated sibling debate: who would most own the dog we are not getting.  They were arguing about a THEORETICAL dog, while our perfectly good real dog lay nearby, ignored. I really love them.

And while I was in the cool, quiet studio, I made this: 


I’ll finish up the setting and set the garnet tomorrow morning, and then I will show you the finished piece!

Fancy Shmancy Diamond Earrings

25 Jun

Earrings!  Let’s talk about these, shall we? We’re going to learn, and learning is FUN!

Diamond and 14k gold earrings, cuttlefish bone cast.

Diamond and 14k gold earrings, cuttlefish bone cast.

I cast these earrings using cuttlefish bones.

“But Katie,” you might say, “However did you get the cuttlefish to hold still and help you make these lovely earrings?”

You crazy kids, the cuttlefish were DEAD!  They had ceased to be; they were no more.  They were EX-CUTTLEFISH, so don’t be daft.

Cuttlefish are in the same family as octopi and squid. Unlike octopi and squid, the cuttlefish possess a soft, porous internal structure which helps regulate their buoyancy: a cuttlefish bone or cuttlebone.  Cuttlefish bones often wash up on beaches, and are also harvested when cuttlefish are caught for their meat.

These bones have been used as a tool by metalsmiths for thousands of years;we saw them in half, carve them to make molds, and pour molten metal into them. The cooled metal retains the texture of the cuttlefish bone, which looks a bit like wood grain.  That texture can be played up or down, and for these earrings I played it up.

And because diamonds can take the heat of molten gold, I cast these champagne diamonds in place.  Stuck them right into the cavity I had created, and doused them with gold.

TBI and hand forging don’t go well together, and so I experimented with casting while Riley was sick.  The cuttlefish bone technique is a keeper.

Hey!  Here are some pictures of Matt using cuttlefish bone to cast a piece of silver.  He forged a spoon from this piece.

Carved cuttlefish bone

Carved cuttlefish bone

Two halves have been bound together with wire, and molten silver has been poured into the cavity.  Matt is now removing the binding wire.

Two halves have been bound together with wire, and molten silver has been poured into the cavity. Matt is now removing the binding wire.

Silver ingot and burned out cuttlefish bone mold.

Silver ingot and burned out cuttlefish bone mold.

Pretty cool, huh?  I think so.

And now for some new pretties

18 Jun

But, before we get to the pretties, I suppose I need to tie up loose ends. Ready? 


OK. We good? Alright then, do you want to see the new pretties?  I’ve tried to keep things simple while I let my hands and brain remember their jobs.  I’ve also made some SILVER pieces!  I should get a sticker for being such a good sport and making a new friend of silver. 







Starting over is scary and happy and exciting.  Well, it was more scary than exciting until I sold that ruby ring within a week of listing it.  Now it is much less scary.  

I was foolish when I stopped working 2+ years ago, and shut down the Etsy site.  Sadly, I couldn’t get the name back.  You’ll find me under Vakastudio on Etsy, and these will soon be listed on my regular site:

And now I must stop uploading images and go make dinner. 

Cinderelly, Cinderelly!

Make the jewelry, Cinderelly!

Feed the children, Cinderelly!


But it’s getting better, see?

20 Jul

OK, so.  December.  

Riley is hospitalized, in so much pain that whispering hurts his head. They had the poor kid pumped full of everything in the kitchen sink, all in an attempt to get the pain under the control.

And then Jake called: he was in trouble again.  Big trouble.  He had made such bad decisions, his actions so foolish and damaging that his future was now at risk.  It took many conversations and much sending back and forth of documents for me to get to the bottom of what he had actually done, and I was shocked by the depth of his bad judgement.  There was no logic to Jake’s actions.  None.  Only someone very, very unintelligent or someone very out of touch with reality would think they could behave this way and not suffer terrible consequences.  Jake might have become someone I didn’t recognize:  dishonest, angry, unethical, arrogant, and aggressive, but he is definitely not unintelligent.  And then is when it hit me: I was seeing mania.

This mania didn’t look like the mania I’d always heard of.  It wasn’t sky-high euphoric good-time crazy.  Jake was more like a machine running too fast and hot,  churning out oily, acrid, smoky clouds of hostility, agitation, and bad judgement.  A quick internet search provided me with a precise list of every behavior I’d seen for the last eighteen months, and a name for it: dysphoric mania.

I sat in the dark hospital room with Riley sedated next to me, shocked by my realization and appalled that I had missed something so obvious.    With close family members who are bipolar, I knew to watch for this in my children, and yet I didn’t see it when it was right in front of me.  To have one of my boys end up carrying the heavy burden of bipolar disorder has always been a parental fear of mine, but now it seemed almost a relief to know there was a name and a reason for Jake’s behavior.  He wasn’t really all the things he had seemed to become,  he was just very sick, and the real Jake was still in there somewhere.

I called Jake to ask him if he would consider that he might be bipolar.  After a few moments of quiet, he said, “I think I might be,” and started to cry.  When he had returned to UNC in the fall he had begun counseling, and Jake now told me that his counselor had questioned this, as well.  Within days I pulled Jake out of Chapel Hill and brought him home.

Confirmation that we were on the right track came with Jake’s first dose of mood-stabilizer.  After the medicine knocked him out for the better part of twenty-four hours, Jake awoke and said, stunned, “My head is….quiet.”  Over the next several days Jake’s dosing schedule was changed, briefly causing the mania to return one evening. After having a short break from mania, its abrupt return sent Jake into a panic. He likened it to every radio and every television being turned on to every station at top volume in his head, all at once.

It’s been a very long six months, and cycling through medications to find the right medicine and dose has been horrific.  We’ve had manic Jake, zombie Jake, deeply depressed Jake, irrationally angry Jake.  Now have our old Jake back, and things are getting better around here.

He has agreed to live at home until he is stable for at least six months, and true stability just began about a month ago.  He has agreed that when he does return to school, it will be to a school near a family member with whom he can check in on a weekly basis. He’s running again, he’s attending support groups, he’s rolling with the unpleasant side-effects of medications,  he’s working to build habits which will allow bipolar to have as little negative effect on his life as possible.

He’s also dealing with deep shame and trying to come to terms with his behavior while manic, and all he’s lost because of that. I wish I could wash that shame away, and I ask him to please remember how it felt that evening at the beginning of his treatment when the mania came flooding back.  That, I tell him, was not a brain anyone could control.   If this was a genetic bullet you were going to take, I tell him, then it is better that you took it now before you had built a whole life to destroy.

For my part, I feel as if I should have known sooner, and thus prevented the worst of his life path-altering behavior.  I gave this genetic burden to him, and then didn’t see it when it presented.  I feel like I should have known.  For my sake–because this is killing me– Jake has allowed his Dad and I to help him untangle the mess that occurred during mania.   While Jake felt he should not have help and should take the full consequential hit for his behavior, I see it differently.  He might not get handed a Get Out Of Jail Free card, but he was a 19-20 year old kid away from home and suffering through the onset of major Bipolar I, and he deserves compassion.  Everyone involved in this untangling seems to see it the same way that I do,  and I am touched by the compassion of an institution as large as UNC Chapel Hill.

Jake has handled this with such honesty and grace, and I cannot imagine I would have found similar strength within myself to hold such a burden at the age of twenty.  I am so proud of him.

Silliness and laughter are returning to our home, in part because Jake is our Jake again.  The other reason is that Riley is getting better, and on Monday I will tell you about the road he’s traveled since December’s hospitalization.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Riley is almost healthy and headed with Matt to the beach, my oldest guy is safe to leave by himself, I’m able to start work again, and I’m headed away for the weekend with a man who has loved me through all of this.  I’m pretty lucky, and so I’m going to have a good weekend, too!  There will, hopefully, be margaritas.

Not quite back on track, but almost.

18 Jul

Hello my darlings, and thank you to all who left comments regarding my absence. It’s nice to be missed.

It has been a very difficult year and a half, and so very, very much has occurred. The boys and I are not quite the same people we were two years ago. It is only now, as we are finally making big steps forward, that I can even string together the words to describe the challenges we’ve faced.

I am so incredibly proud of my sons; so proud of us.

Let’s start with Jake.  Before I stopped working and posting, you might have noticed I was not writing about Jake all that much.  Yes, he was away at UNC and no longer a daily part of our lives, but it was more than that.  Jake was not…Jake.

The summer before he left for college (2010), I had begun to notice a change in his personality.  Irritable.  Hyper. Aggressive. He refused to get a job; refused to help. In fact, helping around the house inevitably led to damaging the house.  He just wasn’t the Jake he’d always been. He was a different Jake, and one who was kind of a jerk.

Jake had never really done the “angry teen” thing; never really rebelled, and I came to the tentative conclusion that I was just seeing what happens when an 18 year old begins to break away and become independent.

Off to school he went, and while he seemed happy (if overly social) and made a lot of friends at Chapel Hill, I was alarmed by his appearance when he came home for visits.  He was sunken-eyed, underweight, dirty, wound up. He got himself into trouble in Chapel Hill, and I helped him out of the trouble and lectured about the changes that needed to occur.

By spring I had become deeply concerned, and last summer was awful.  He was angry and defiant, irresponsible to the point of endangering himself and others, rude, still dirty, would NOT stop talking, and on my heels every waking moment.  Nothing he said rang true, and every answer contradicted the last. Sending him out with my bank card to perform simple chores resulted in huge amounts of money spent.

I asked Jake to see our family doctor, and he refused. I insisted he find a job, and he refused. I asked him–FOR THE LOVE OF GOD–to leave me alone for five minutes, and he would not.

Mike and I had fights about Jake: I could not take anymore, I told Mike, and something is very wrong with our son.  Nothing is wrong with Jake, Mike would say, except that he needs to grow up. Mike paid for Jake to return to school in the fall, and that’s when all hell broke loose.

That is also when Riley suffered a traumatic brain injury.  On October 12th, Riley took a blow to the head in the first half of his high school’s soccer game.  Instead of following protocol and taking him out, the coach asked if he was alright and put him back in the game. Unfortunately, self-awareness is the first thing to go when the brain is injured.

By the beginning of November, Riley’s test results where still similar to those of patients who had just suffered a concussion within the past 24 hours, and the doctors agreed that a minor concussion had turned major because Riley had continued to play after the blow to his head.

Treatment for brain trauma is “dark therapy;” no light, no sound, no stimulation. Pretty awful for a 14 year old boy, huh? Loss of impulse control is a symptom of concussion, and keeping Riley calm and lying down in the dark required that I never leave his side. One day while I showered, Ri got up and ended up hitting his head again.

The concussion symptoms worsened, and he lost his ability to balance.  He became giggly, loopy, and had no short term memory.  It was a lot like living with a serious stoner.

Again, Riley’s condition failed to improve, and in December he was admitted to the hospital when he started convulsing.  It was during Riley’s hospitalization that Jake hit rock bottom.

And tomorrow, I will tell you the rest.

It’s not a stroke

3 Apr

I think this is a good idea; how could it not be a good idea to educate children about the symptoms of stroke?  After all, the faster a stroke is recognized and treated, the better the chances of recovery,  and so more people in any household knowing the signs of stroke is better, right?  Right,  in theory.  In actuality it only helps if  the people educated on the symptoms of stroke are of sound mind, and I think we can all agree that middle school-aged children are not of  sound mind.

Novant Health: arming 6th graders with too much information.

Any parent could have told Novant Health that the result of educating eleven year olds on the symptoms of  stroke was going to be, well… Blogosphere, I’ve been diagnosed with stroke symptoms several times in the past few weeks.  It’s just all-stroke, all the time.  And I don’t want to make a joke of this, because what if I do have one someday?  I’ll be lying on the kitchen floor, the stroke damage becoming more permanent with every passing second, while my children navigate around me, saying “Oh, Mom’s just messing with us again.  Whatsa matter?  You paralyzed, Mom?”

And so, with every muscle spasm or foot fallen to sleep, I submit to Matt’s stroke test.

“STOP!” Matt commands. “Smile!”

I smile.

“Hold it, hold it,” he says, as he checks first one cheek and then the other, comparing them for symmetry.

We go through all the steps of the test, finishing once I’ve clearly enunciated the words  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I’m hoping that Matt will mellow once this information is no longer so novel, much as he did after going through the school’s D (drug) A (abuse) R (resistance) E (education) program last year.   After his D.A.R.E. education, and newly armed with more knowledge of illegal drug use than your average flophouse junkie,  it took a year for that program’s effects to fade.  A year before I could pour the occasional glass of chianti and not have my son react by looking at me–a haunted, crack-baby look in his eyes– and asking, “Moooom?  Are you an alcoholic?”

On the other hand, many parents are probably unaware that their children have been involved in Novant Health’s stroke awareness program.  Were they to know this, they  might appreciate a bit more concern as they are lying paralyzed on their kitchen floors, thinking: “I’m lying paralyzed on the kitchen floor and you’re asking me for more ice cream? Did you not learn F.A.S.T.? Do the T, child, the T!”

I’m just saying that perhaps the people at Novant Health, when they decided to sponsor this educational unit in the local schools, were on drugs or something. Because there are good reasons why we don’t put eleven year olds in charge of our major medical decisions.

I like liberty!

1 Apr

“Why don’t you guys come up for dinner?”  Karen asks.

“Oh, that would be great, ” I say.  Karen’s Dad is in town, and it will be nice to see him. ” What can I bring?”

“A ring.  You can bring a ring. ” says Karen.  “A solid gold ring, with the Bells of Canterbury on it.”

“Piece of cake,” I say.

“And I want the bells LIFE SIZED–“

“Oh honey, I was going to run to Canterbury to get you the ACTUAL bells, and mount them right on the ring for you.”

“Well,” says Karen, “that would be nice!”

I am thoughtful when designing my pretend, ridiculous jewelry.

“Or!” I say,  “Or!  Maybe the Liberty Bell, instead?  It’s closer.”

“Ohhh, I like liberty,” says Karen.

“OK, then.  I’ll go get the Liberty Bell, and I’ll mount it on a ring for you and bring it to dinner.  Anything else?”

“Yes,” says Karen, “I want the word ‘LIBERTY’ written on the ring.  On the outside.”

“No problem.  In big letters?”

“Yes, an inch high.  And, I’d also like the poem from The Statue Of Liberty inscribed on the inside of the ring.”

“The ‘bring us your poor, your huddled masses‘ poem?”  I ask.   I need to be clear about what poem it is that I’m inscribing.

“Yes.  That one.  The whole poem.  On the inside.”

“Sure!  I can totally do that!  Anything else?”

“I want all the ‘i ‘s’ dotted.  With diamonds.”

“OK.  So.   Gold, Liberty Bell, the word ‘LIBERTY,’ the huddled masses poem, diamonds for the dots over the ‘i ‘s’, by dinnertime tonight. Is that all?”

“Yes,” says Karen.  “And I’d like you to deliver it on a white horse.”

“Naked, a la Lady Godiva?”

“Yes.”  Says Karen.

“And your price range?  What’s your budget?”

“Five dollars.”

I think that’s fair.



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