When I catch the creative bug for something, I'm all in. I need to know, right then, how it's done and can't wait to try it myself. That happened to me over Christmas with...crochet.

A friend introduced me to crochet years ago and I made a scarf on my own, without a pattern and without someone there to help me correct my mistakes. It seemingly took me 10 years to finish it, and it turned out terriblyI wore it once or twice because of the work I put into it, but it soon disappeared into the back of my closet. Just in case, I held onto the unused yarn and crochet hook I used.

This time, I wanted to actually learn about various crochet stitches and make something I'd enjoy wearing. So I spent a day with a good book, practicing stitches with that old yarn. When I felt confident enough, I downloaded a pattern for a cute slouchy hat, and headed out to buy some new yarn.

It had to be purple.

Red Purple Yarn with Crochet Hook

The contrast between metal and yarn is extreme, something I noticed immediately as I held the cold, hard crochet hook in my hand and tried to get a feel for the soft, billowy yarn. I was all thumbs at first, but the more I stitched, the more familiar it became. And my handmade crochet hat turned out *way* better than that poor old scarf. It's going to get good use this winter.

Finished Slouchy Hat

At this point I thought I'd have the bug out of my system.

I was wrong.

As much as I like the hat, I kept thinking about its knobby texture, typical of crochet, and wondered what it was like to create a knitted fabric, full of soft, interlocking V's and swirling cable stitches. After all, I own knitted hats, sweaters and gloves that I love to wear when it's cold.

Then I downloaded a book that introduced the basics of knitting, the various types of yarn and the needles used. And I was off again to find the basic necessities, including a fun, neutral-colored yarn and bamboo knitting needles. (I really like the way bamboo feels against the yarn!)

Knitting Needles

Knitting is vastly different from crochet especially since two needles are required vs. a single hook, and there is in fact, no hook at all on knitting needles. It took many attempts and the help of YouTube to learn how to cast on, knit stitch, purl stitch, and cast off, but I'm getting the hang of it, slowly but surely.

This piece was just for practice, but those interlocking V's are oh-so-pretty. Soon I'm going to make my first finished piece, probably a cup cozy or another hat, something small that will only take me 5 years instead of 10. ;)

Knitting Stitches Practice

Once again I've found another medium where the creative possibilities are endless. Why this sudden obsession with yarn I'm not sure, but I'm going to go with it for as long as it lasts.

If you're looking for me at the end of the day and can't find me, just follow the trail of yarn.

I've spent a lot of time lately preparing for shows, handling the work that comes after, and getting ready for the Christmas season. All of this has meant not being able to "play" at the bench as much, but I'm finally learning to handle the ebb and flow with the maturity of an experienced business owner (it only took a few years!). I've also spent time digging into the details of my website and Etsy shop, taking a good look at the things that help grow my online audience, and making subtle changes as needed.

While Etsy is still the number one generator of traffic for my work, it's gratifying to see my new website working for me as well. For example, if you google "brushed silver ball stud earrings" (here's a link that does it for you), as of right now, you'll find my Etsy listing for my brushed silver studs right near the top, as well as the one on my .com further down the page. It also appears in the first space on Google Images! This is excellent for an online business: getting found in searches.

Well, it hasn't been *all* work and no play. Here are a few of my latest jewelry pieces from the past month. I especially remember looking at the finished bracelets and thinking "that's so cool!". I never tire of this.

Sterling silver studs in a concave cup shape with accent granule

Sterling silver studs in a cup shape with accent granule

Hammered brass hoops on sterling silver ear wires. These were a custom request at the Johns Creek show and I liked them so much I made a couple extra pairs. One of those found a new home at the Lanier Tech show. :)

Hammered brass hoops on sterling silver ear wires. These were a custom request at the Johns Creek show and I liked them so much I made a couple extra pairs. One of those found a new home at the Lanier Tech show. :)

A hammered copper and sterling silver twist bracelet. It was originally going to be a ring but morphed into a bracelet at the bench.

A hammered copper and sterling silver twist bracelet. It was originally going to be a ring but morphed into a bracelet at the bench.

Naturally the bracelet above led to this all-silver one. It's sturdy and full of texture. I love, love this one.

Naturally the bracelet above led to this all-silver one. It's sturdy and full of texture.

All four of these designs are available in the Etsy shop.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends! I am sincerely thankful for each and every one of you.

~ Christina

Three weeks ago I boarded a flight in Atlanta with 15 other team members on a globalX short term mission trip to El Salvador. Today and back home, I'm a different person.

Our purpose in El Salvador was to serve alongside La Casa de mi Padre, a children's home whose vision is to heal hearts, restore families and bring hope. We met the children under their care, saw firsthand the healthy home environments they provide, and experienced the love poured out onto these children and into their community. Though La Casa's work is ongoing, from my perspective, their vision is reality.

Our team spent several days working at La Finca (the future home for La Casa) on a house that will be the transition home for their young adult men: boys who have aged out of the children's home. We painted the interior and exterior walls and hung ceiling fans and lighting. We also sealed a fence containing a horse-riding area, used as a form of therapy for the children who need it. It was great to see how much work can be accomplished with many helping hands and willing hearts.

La Finca transition home - before

La Finca transition home - before

House Getting Base Coat

Applying the base coat

New textured, orange Colonial finish

New textured, orange Colonial finish

La Finca transition home - after

La Finca transition home - after

The children of La Casa were in school during the week days, but we were still able to have some quality time with them during our stay. Just like any other kids, they were full of energy and liked to have fun! We had an afternoon of crafts with the girls, making colorful, duct tape handbags and beaded ribbon barrettes, while the boys played fútbol/soccer. Even faces were painted.

Ribbon and tape choices for crafts with the girls

Colorful ribbons, barrettes and tape

Receiving a demonstration. I needed it, too!

Receiving a demonstration. I needed it, too!

A happy, painted face

Happily painted

We spent another afternoon at the park with the kids, playing kickball and basketball, braiding hair and painting nails. Afterward the boys retreated to play a game, while the girls held a dance party! There were a lot of smiles and laughs that day.

Dina gave me the most beautiful, artistic manicure.

Dina (and Aby - not shown) gave me the most beautiful, artistic manicure. I rarely paint my fingernails, so I felt pampered.

Probably one of the most profound experiences occurred while we delivered food to families surrounding La Finca. La Casa makes it a practice to meet their neighbors face to face, and provide their most basic needs such as rice and beans for cooking, to show them they are valued.

Bags of food carried out into the community

Bags of food prepared for us to carry out into the community

Literally in the jungle, we hiked up and down mountainous terrain to find the humblest of homes tucked away among the trees. Not expecting our visit, each person we met greeted us with both surprise and gratitude.

View while delivering food

View while delivering food

Most of us required a translator (thank you Carlos!) in order to communicate with our Spanish-speaking neighbors. We spent a little time at each house, talking with the families, praying with them and hearing their stories. One woman in particular captured my heart as she invited us into her home. As we were getting ready to say goodbye, I wanted to tell this woman that we loved her. I watched her outward demeanor soften as she heard those words in her language and her eyes filled with tears. In that moment, I knew that was why we traveled all those miles to El Salvador...

...to partner with La Casa in sharing God's love.

Something happens inside of us when we catch a glimpse of God at work, when we see people through His lens instead of our own. Suddenly the little things that distract us fade away. The things and people that matter to God, matter to us. We find ourselves the recipients of unconditional love and therefore receive the capacity to give it. We are changed.

I am changed.

It feels like the beginning of something new...and it's entirely beautiful.

The view from the back of the house. Their chapel is seen on the middle left.

The view from the back of the house. Their chapel is seen on the middle left. We spent a few minutes there hearing about the future plans for La Casa de mi Padre and sang Amazing Grace. No instruments, just our voices lifted up in worship to God. Beautiful.

I felt inspired to make a cross again. Maybe because Christmas is approaching. Maybe because Jesus has been at the front of my mind as I get ready to serve in El Salvador. Maybe because these days, I'm highly aware of the sacrifice He made on my behalf, even though I can't fully comprehend it.

On paper it begin as a simple, hammered cross. But that alone didn't convey the message wanting, needing, to spill out from my fingertips. Jesus gave His life so that we can be in a right relationship with God. No strings attached. No prerequisites requiring us to change who we are. No way to pay Him back. Just immeasurable love and the promise that He is with us.

Let that sink in, my friends. Once you do, you can face this life with peace, confidence and joy, regardless of your circumstances. You are free to love, because you are loved.

And so I finished the cross...with a heart.

Hammered Silver Cross Pendant w Heart 4
Hammered Silver Cross Pendant w Heart 2

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." John 15:13

~ Christina

It finally happened: I applied for a fine arts show and was...rejected. You see, I can count on both hands the number of shows I've applied for. Each time I've been accepted I've been thrilled. But ten isn't very many, and I knew that one day I'd be reading a "regrets" email instead of a "congrats" one, and wondered how that would make me feel.

Now I know.

It stinks. In those initial moments I wondered if my work wasn't good enough. I wondered if I could have done things differently. Self doubt. Self criticism.

And then...

I took a constructive look at my own actions and knew I *could* have done things differently. Like not waiting until the last minute to apply (yes, there's that). And submitting better photos (there's that, too). I needed to take some responsibility for the outcome.

And later...

I saw the silver lining. My focus from the beginning has been to share and sell my work online. Managing an online presence is full-time work in itself. I'll be participating in 2 shows this Fall and adding a third during the busiest season of the year would have made that more difficult. I think that's one reason I waited so long to apply for the show. And now, I'm actually feeling a little relieved. It's funny how things work out sometimes.

And so I'm moving forward with that experience in my back pocket, and the wisdom that I can always improve. And persevere. Good can always be found in the bad.

And the good I've been experiencing in recent days: design ideas flowing again. :) Here is a sample of what I've been working on.

A newly redesigned "Rockstar" ring in sterling silver.

Silver Rockstar Ring

Organic, hammered brass leaf earrings on sterling silver ear wires.

Brass Leaf Earrings

Faceted garnet and coral on sterling silver circle earrings.

Silver circle garnet coral earrings

Each of these is now available in my Etsy shop.

And more are on the way.

~ Christina

I'm finding my way back to the jewelry studio. It felt great to finish a few pieces yesterday, just because I could. But I'm a little rusty. What you don't see here is the other bangle on which I melted a "pebble" and soldered one on the wrong side, and some ear wires I managed to bend out of shape. But who's keeping track.

Butterfly Drop Earrings Pebble Bangle

I'm looking forward to more of this.

~ Christina

Website-Announcement
Words can't express how I feel about completing my new website. I took the plunge in building it myself, and after several good starts with little follow-through, I finally made it my mission to finish what I started. That meant limited studio time and many hours at my computer. And it worked.

The new website can be found at www.christinasteward.com. (If that sounds familiar, it's because it is! I've been using this URL from the beginning but simply redirected it to my Etsy shop.) And, my blog has officially moved to www.christinasteward.com/blog. If you received this blog post via email or in your WordPress reader, you have officially moved with me.

The website will evolve over time. Right now I've only included a subset of my art and jewelry in the online shop, but that will grow. The absolute best part of completing the website is now I can get back to what I enjoy most: creating.

So, go ahead, take a look at the new site and let me know what you think!

~ Christina

I like to end on a positive note, so let's talk about the good, bad and ugly of my Wordpress website development in reverse order.

The Ugly

Sometimes I wonder why I decided to use Wordpress and didn't go with a builder like Shopify or Squarespace for my ecommerce website.  The other options could potentially save time since I could leave the technology work at their feet.  It's one of the things I love about Etsy. I can just drop in my content and not worry about the rest.  But I know the answer: I'm a control freak when it comes to certain things.  I want to have full control over every single thing the website shows and does.  Wordpress gives me that option.  It's also an excellent blogging platform, another reason for choosing Wordpress.  For today, it's the right choice, even if it means a steeper learning curve.

What this means:  I have to buckle down if I'm going to get it done.  I've set a personal deadline, dedicating the month of July to finish what I started and get the website up and running.

The Bad

I'm using a Premium Wordpress theme to start from.  It's robust right out of the box, but there are still plenty of little tweaks required to make it more my own.  This requires research on my part to figure out how to make them.  While I dedicate my time to development, some things have to wait

What this means:  New jewelry designs will be on hold.  However, I'll of course process orders for existing designs as they come in.

The (Very) Good

Through this process I've learned more about Wordpress, CSS, HTML, SEO, and other acronyms, than I ever imagined.

What this means:  My technology skill set has grown (and I never thought that would happen again!).  When I'm done, I'll have a piece of the web that I'm proud to call my own...a place to share with you, that gives a better idea of who I am and the work I contribute.

I'd love to show an entire screenshot, but we have to leave some element of surprise, right?  Here's a snippet from my new Customer Service page.  I've even drawn little graphics to use like the clock icon shown here (full control). ;)

Clock Icon

Looking forward to sharing the finished website with you.

~ Christina

Psalm 19:1

I've thought on this verse many times, looking up at the tops of the trees and puffy clouds gracefully gliding across the sky.

Even if we (humans) say nothing at all, the rest of God's creation speaks on His behalf.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

Sky

I feel like I'm entering yet another season of creativity.  As I look ahead in my calendar, there are many pages not yet filled with ink.  My thoughts are turning again to working on my website, trying new metalsmith techniques, introducing new jewelry designs...all while I have the freedom to do so.  Life experience has shown me that there will be sharp turns and bumps along the way that dramatically slow the progress toward my goals.  But I'm determined to face them when they come, experiencing the pain and discomfort, and then persevering, never losing sight of my calling in this world.

Speaking of website, I picked it up again this week.  Truthfully, I wanted to scrap it at first.  After several months of neglect, it took me a few hours just to ramp up and remember where I left off.  I felt the familiar frustration of software development.  But when things started to click again, I took a step back and thought "Hey, that's not so bad!".  I've made real progress on it.  I'm determined to see it finished.

Another small achievement involves product photography and discovering a couple of new ways to shoot my jewelry.  I knew I needed a change when I learned a few pieces receive a lot of compliments in person, but yet didn't generate the same excitement within my online shop.  Such was the case with the silver and brass "Jackie" earrings (renamed - in case you noticed!).  After more experimentation with staging and lighting, this photo was captured.  I like the way the sparkle is highlighted on the hammered brass...how the earrings have a sense of hanging in space, how the contrast between the metals is amplified.  I also added a couple of small rings to the top of the earrings to give them more swing.

"Jackie" EarringsYou may recognize these "River" earrings, too.  They're back in the shop, this time in a brushed silver finish.

Silver River Earrings

Did you know I use a light box for many of my product photos?  Well, both of these photos were taken using natural light from a window.  I think in many cases, that's the way to go.

These may sound like minor changes, and I suppose they are, but accomplishing even baby steps means I'm moving forward.