Imbolc is just a few days away, and it is one of my favourite days on the Wheel of the Year. This year is comes aided by a new moon and I don’t know about you, but I can already feel the rising sap, up in my bones, as I look for the first snow drops to appear, heralding a change. Above I’ve chosen a selection of pieces that remind me of this energy– clockwise from the upper left– The Snowdrop Fairy Flower Earrings, The Mother Troll Amethyst Necklace, The Griffin Milk Earrings, The Gerd– a delicate sterling silver strand with faceted chrysoprase, the silver scent locket (what would you put inside to herald spring?) and lastly the Cosmic Hug pendant of Rose Quartz.
Tomorrow I’ll be putting together my altar, and cleaning and oiling all my tools in honour of the heathen Charming of the Plough. I’ll give thanks to Brigid, who in the form of Brigantia, was the goddess of the tribal ancestors of this area– she was also the goddess of the forge, brewing and poetry; she has guided my hand in all these things and I am eternally grateful. What do you do to celebrate Imbolc and herald the first glimmerings of spring?
I’m a point and shoot kinda gal. I admire people with fancy cameras– I look at them like they are carrying tardises (tardi?) around their necks. Yeah, the idea sounds great but how would you make sense of all the buttons and dials and stuff? I’m no photographic Time Lord.
I was slow to come to smart phones (see previous Luddite posts) but once I did I realized the camera is intuitive and made for monkey photographers like myself. The first photo editing app I loved was Plastic Bullet. It hasn’t been updated since 2011, and I kind of wish they would update it; even if more sophisticated tools are available now. I loved the fruit machine/jackpot aspect– the results seemingly randomized.
I still take most of my product photography with a point and shoot camera, but increasingly I’ve started to use my iphone for certain images, to execute specific ideas or edit and post on the go.
A Beautiful Mess– A self-titled photo editing app by lifestyle bloggers, this is useful for cute overlays and suprisingly lovely filters. It offers a quick and dirty way to add text and visual interest for sale graphics, though to be honest I use it mostly for personal stuff, as I find scaling to change the size of the font very fiddly. Still, I have used it on the fly satisfyingly.
Instagram, how I love thee. I almost forgive you for being owned by Facebook. Not only is it a wonderful source of community and daily inspiration for me, it’s a nifty photo editor. Perhaps the filters a cliche but with the new, subtler ones, I still embrace them.
Afterlight is a filtering app with more subtle-to-dramatic variations available. It also has a useful framing feature with prints available that are all pretty adorable.
Snapseed– Google’s photo editing app has been updated but I am using the old version. If you are using the new one, how is it? I have not heard good things and I love it so, I’m unwilling to update it to the latest version. The grunge filter makes me nostalgic for Plastic Bullet, and has a bit of that random, luck-of-the-draw feeling. I love especially the Drama filter to set and instant mood, especially when I’m photographing landscapes, architecture or certain jewellery. The HDR scape when used sparingly, can really bring out the colour and texture of not-so-great phone photos. I’m sure if I actually invested in a DSLR and learned to use it I would be much better off but until then, Snapseed is a life saver.
Mextures is my all time favourite editing app. It’s fair to say I’m obsessed with it. Though I don’t use it for product photography often, it trumps all when it comes to creating a photograph that communicates the feeling of the place or thing you are trying to capture. It is quite a painterly app, where you layer filters and textures infinitely or minimally to create images that are either subtly enhanced or completely altered and abstracted.
What are your favourite photo editing apps? How do you use them?
Herein you will find a whimsical list of my current obsessions, design stand-bys and inspirations, tidily alphabetised.
Amulet-a protective talisman or charm which can take many wearable forms, such as my Kitchen Witch’s Pentagram Ring. Much of what I make is charged with this impulse beyond decoration, a connection to a force larger than ourselves.
Brooch– a pin used to keep clothing closed, the fibula or pennanular style is one of the oldest forms of jewellery. My popular Anglo Saxon brooch is inspired by archeological designs found in Yorkshire. I cold forge this style copper as well as bronze, in various sizes for different weights of hand-knits and hand woven textiles. This has become one of my best-loved designs.
Charivari– Bavarian hunting trophies are my current obsession. Charivari also means “rough music” in French, we’ll leave the connection here to the poets among you. Worn over the trouser section of leiderhosen, they are uncanny relics: bones, teeth and horns encased in silver. I initially saw numerous Charivari when traveling around Bavaria stopping in at antique dealers– but I had no idea what they were. The seemed to be jewels from the Brothers Grimm, the original fairy tales. For more on Charivari I encourage you to read Robert Seitz’s brilliant blog post about them.
Dog Collar— a short wide necklace worn like a choker. Though this is a term used by pearl sellers, I do remember wearing actual dog collars when I was younger, before such things were widely available in High Street shops, back when punk was completely DIY.
Eyeglass Chain–Remember the monocle? Ok, maybe you don’t, but as my eyesight begins to require more elaborate correction, I’m seeing the wisdom in the monacle. You could hold it with your eye muscles and then just tuck it into a pocket, never losing it because it would be connected to a chain. And you’d look positively spiffy, too. I thought to myself, how can I reproduce this spiffiness, but for glasses? I decided to use old skool goth style rosary chains and different accents– a kind of morbid librarian chic which is also much more practical than the monocle.
French or Fishhook Ear Wires— my most popular ear wire. I hand forge my own in my “little cobra” shape, but also use hypoallergenic niobium ear wires for those with extra sensitve ears.
Girandole— a chandelier style earring with three ornaments, from the French word for a elaborate branched candlestick or rotating display of fireworks. If only all words for jewellery were as pretty.
Hoops– The simplest and most iconic earring shape– the earring of choice for gypsies, pirates and William Shakespeare. I love to play with this form in my cold-forged designs. I’m fascinated by the way this simple halo/oroborous framing the face can completely change one’s countenance.
Inclusion-any deposit, mineral or otherwise, inside a stone. I love to work with stones that have inclusions. Though with some stones this is said to mar or devalue them, I am fascniated by tourmalated quartz and moss agate. Stones are little void-worlds that suggest miniature fairy landscapes, unearthly writings and signs.
Jet– also known as lignite or sea-coal, it is a petrified wood created by millennia of sea-water. Though often difficult for me to source, I love working with jet. Popular in Roman Britain, jet from the East coast was sent to workshops in Eboracum, or York, which is where my own workshop is based. For the Romans (as well as the Victorians) jet was a magical substance. Pliny the Elder wrote of jet: “the kindling of jet drives off snakes and relieves suffocation of the uterus. Its fumes detect attempts to stimulate a disabling illness or a state of virginity.” (Your mileage may vary.)
Knuckle Duster– Brass knuckles, knucks, knucklebusters were incorporated into pistols and knives in the early 20th century, and most recetly have had a resurgence in jewellery design. Known in Canada as “brass monkeys”, in France and Mexico as “American fist”, In Brazil they are called “English punch” and in Russia they are “head-breakers”. I often have fantasies about making a knuckle duster ring like Debra Baxter’s “Devil Horn Crystal Brass Knuckles”.
Leverback Ear Wires- a favourite ear wire for my Victorian-inspired designs, these feature a lever clasp that keeps the earring safely in place. I use high quality brass plated leverbacks for many of my designs, and some feature more modern, simplified versions of the leverback design in sterling silver.
Matinee Necklace– this is the term used for a necklace that is 20-24″ long, and this is my second most popular necklace length. (Pendant length, 18-19″ being most popular). I couldn’t find out why exactly it’s called matinee, but I like to imagine it’s a hold over from an earlier era when time-of-day and types of outings dictated outfits– meaning this “afternoon” length was perhaps more casual than a dramatic choker or opera-length chain worn with evening wear.
Nath– an elaborate nose ring with pearls on the outside, worn by Indian women for ceremonial purposes. I’m inspired by the design and structure of these nose rings, how they hang and their simple wire closures. They have informed my earring designs.
Opera Length– a term used for a long necklace length, 28-34 inches. This is the length of many of my rosary-style necklaces. (Opera attendance while wearing these necklaces is optional but recommended).
Patina– this term is used to denote a change the colour of a metal, often due to age or through different chemical processes. I love to patina my copper pieces quite heavily. I use sulphur and warm water to patina my work and seal in the patina with museum grade Renaissance Wax. The whole process is quite alchemical to me. I have come to enjoy the smell of brimstone. (Insert evil laugh).
Queen of Elphame-My number one creative influence, a favourite driving idea of my design it is imagining adornments of the Fairy Queen, called the Queen of Elphame in Northern England in Scotland. This particular moniker comes from the witch trial transcripts, adding for me a kind of bitter relevance to my Pagan-based, witchy designs. Robert Graves embraced this spelling and the Queen of Elphame appears in many folk ballads where she is the lover and teacher of Thomas the Rhymer.
Rope chain– the longest of chains, measuring 45″ or more, designed to be doubled, trebled. I haven’t made such a chain– yet! Though I do dream of making a fine rope necklace of sterling silver and garnet links. Maybe this year.
S Clasp- this is my favourite clasp style. I forge my own in sterling silver, copper, brass or bronze, depending on the design.
Toggle Clasp– A bar and hoop style clasp. It is my second favourite clasp design as it is easy to use and sturdy and can often be incorporated as a decorative element. My Briar Rose Necklace uses a blackened pewter toggle clasp as a kind of pendant bail.
Unakite— one of my favourite stones to work with, this green and pink semi-precious stone is from the Unakas Mountains. It’s such a warm, happy stone seeming to reverberate perfectly with the heart chakra.
Vulcanite— or Ebonite is an early form of hard rubber which served as substitute for ebony wood and has a carved jet or bog-wood appearance. In my many gleanings I have come across antique rosaries and beads made of a mysterious black substance– not wood, nor glass. Perhaps they are vulcanite.
Wire Wrapping— This is the use of wire, softened by the hand and then work-hardened through hammering, tumbling or other methods, to make infinite jewellery shapes. This method of using wire to make jewellery is ancient and though initially simple, doing it well is most definitely an art. I keep my wire work minimal and sturdy, or, in the case of my Tree of Life designs, elaborate and highly detailed.
Xilion– this is the fancy term used by Swarovski to denote their signature bicone cut providing optimal light refraction. As far as made up words go, it’s a good one, and as far as glass beads go, their shiny pleases the magpie in me to no end. If there are glass crystals in my designs they are almost always Swarovski.
Y-Necklace. This is a rosary style necklace with a chain drop in the centre, attached often by a bead, stone or filigree connector. This graceful and flattering design is a favourite style in my shop and also the style I most love to wear.
Zombie Gnomes— one of my very first earring designs. Isn’t it the way, to get stuck at Z? Well, these are the Z’s of strumpetry! I don’t think I have the stamina to do a zombie rewrite of the Will Huygen Gnomes coffee table book from the 1970s, but someone should. In the mean time, these earrings will have to do.
Once there was a time when we knew the trees and they knew us. They were planted in the middle of villages and were considered guardians of a place. On Old Midsummer Day, July 5th, the third Saturday in June or there abouts, these guardian trees were adorned with garlands, ribbons, flowers and flags. Appleton Thorn in Cheshire is named after such a hawthorn tree and here this tradition, called the Bawming of the Thorn, continues. The tree there is said to be an offshoot of the legendary Glastonbury thorn, a tree with its own fascinating history. Legend claims it was brought from Jerusalem to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea and was the same tree from which the crown of thorns was made. Others claim this fantastic story was a creation of the monks who wished to discourage the use of the Hawthorn in pagan rituals and yet still wished use its power to promote their Christian faith.
The hawthorn is the May Tree or White Thorn– with it’s beautiful white flowers juxtaposed against its sinister thorns. Washing in the dew gathered from the white petaled flowers was a Old Tyme beauty tip. Witches made their brooms from them– perhaps because the hawthorne is the gateway to the fairy realms, the Otherworld. Vivian imprisoned Merlin in a cage of Hawthorne branches, using his own spell against him and it was under a Hawthorne that the Queen of May captured Thomas the Rhymer. Hawthorns often stand guard over sacred wells– and in these manifestations in story and landscape do seem to suggest the Yggdrasil, a tree linking this world with other realms.
What survives of these notions fascinates me. These happy village fetes, celebrating a tree with song and dance– is this a kind of Druidic hold over? A dream writ in Ogham on our collective subconscious? In England these ancient ideas manifest with fanfare– brass bands and Morris dancing. People still gather– they say it is for the sake of tradition– that it as has always been so, but I like to think there is something else here, feeding the imagination, talking back to our ancient guardians telling them we have not forgotten them.
Yesterday was that abolished holiday, Oak Apple Day, celebrating the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Charles II, before he regained power, hid himself in an oak tree, or so the story goes. For the last 400+ years, Britain has used this as a way to worship a tree king. Ancestral memory dies hard in these parts.
Before the holiday was abolished in the mid 19th century, shops and churches, horses and railway engines were adorned with oak boughs. Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak on the day risked being pelted with eggs or scourged with nettle.
Some customs from the holiday survive in recent memory, taking on aspects of the pagan green man in their celebrations. In Castleton in Derbyshire, the Garland King procession continues. A man, mounted on a horse, is completely covered in a cone of flowers– the topmost posey is called “The Queen” and crowns him. The village follows him (along with a good number of day-trippers) from pub to pub, brass band in tow. At the end of the day’s journey, the floral cone is hoisted by a rope from the church tower, looking very much like the head of a vanquished foe on display. All across the isle, from the Burryman in Queensferry to the Jack in the Green in Hastings, the leafy king sacrifices himself so that we may have a few summer days. If you’ve lived through one wet Yorkshire summer, you know why this is worth a blood sacrifice, even by proxy!
Here is my Oak King’s Bride. It’s a design I made three years ago. It was one of the first in my shop and it has since become a best seller as well as a signature design. I make it in copper plate, brass and sterling silver plate (the Oak King’s Bride in Winter). For more Oak King inspired designs, go here.