Monday, January 31, 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name

It's been a log time coming, but I have finally put the finishing touches on my latest project, and just in time for Valentine's Day. Silk rose quill pens!

This past Christmas season, I had a part time job working at my favorite craft store. As I was working the register, a customer came through with some silk flowers (they sell a lot of silk flowers there). Only, for some reason, these particular flowers struck me as the perfect size and shape to be used as finials on top of a quill pen. I don't know what it was about them, but seeing them just made it click in my head. And so I thought to myself, I don't think I've ever seen a flower used on a quill pen before. Lots of feathers, yes, but never a flower. So I bought one to try it out. First I bought a black rose bud that was left over from the Halloween stock. You know, for the goth girls.

That seemed to work out pretty well, so I went back and bought a couple more. Then I thought, why just make pens for the goth girls? Regular girls can write bad poetry too. Why not make flower pens that appeal to everyone? So I went back and raided the silk flower isle looking for anything that I thought would look good as a pen. Admittedly, I kept my eye mostly on the roses. But I did buy one other kind of flower.

I had a girlfriend back in the day who loved calla lilies. When I saw this one, I immediately thought of her (not that I needed an excuse). It was the right size and shape, so I tried it. I think it turned out rather well. I have considered sending it to her as a gift but, after all these years, that might just create more unease than happiness, and that's not what I want.

While I was shopping for flowers, I sauntered down the wedding supplies isle and found some cute charms that I could add to the pens. I knew that I would probably be wrapping the joint where the stem meets the pen shaft with some kind of ribbon or something, and I thought a little charm hanging from the ribbon would be a nice accent piece.

As for the grip, some of those I wrapped with ribbon,

 and some of them I wrapped with metal wire.

I haven't yet used any of the metal tubes that I plated with copper using my galvanic plating/etching rig, but some of these are made with the same metal tubing that has been lacquered. In general, the long ones with lots of stem and leaves, like this one...

...are the ones that have the metal tubing for shafts. They average about 13 inches in length and some of the original artificial flower stem has been preserved, making them look pretty much just like flowers when they are in their bud vase holders.

Which brings me to the bud vase holders. I can't believe I hadn't thought of using a bud vase as a pen holder sooner than I did. I actually spent several days trying to think of something to use as a holder so that I could package them as sets. When it finally dawned on me I felt really stupid for not thinking of it immediately. I went to several different stores and picked out quite a few different designs and sizes of vase to try out. I have managed to make use of most of them. I'm glad I didn't just get one kind of vase for all of them. Some of them really work better with one style vase or another. As the project went on, I started doing a little bit of decorating of the vases too. As you can see, silver hearts were not the only little metal charms that I bought for decorations.

The shorter pens (averaging about 9.5" in overall length), like the one above, have wooden shafts. The wooden shafts have two advantages. One, is that they are cheap. I can get 24 pen shafts out of a $1 pack of a dozen 12" hardwood dowels. Compare that to the 11 slightly shorter shafts I can get out of one 60" metal tube, that costs about $7. The other advantage to the wooden shafts is that they can easily be drilled. I have to drill two small pilot holes into the shaft when I do the wire wrapping, so that I can tuck in and hide the ends of the wire. I can not easily do that with the metal shafts (if at all).

The metal shafts (like the one pictured above) have one big advantage. They paint very quickly and easily. All I have to do is cut them, quickly buff them with fine sand paper, string them on a bamboo skewer for painting, do a quick light spray from the paint can to prime them, let it dry just a few seconds, then give it a heavy covering coat and once that is dry it's ready for clear top coat sealer. The prep and painting  process probably takes no more than two or three minutes per pen. I get a really nice even finish with basically one coat of paint. If you scratch them, however, the paint will chip off easier than with the wooden shafts. I usually give them a double coat of clear acrylic sealer to help prevent them from getting scratched by the metal charms or the rim of the vase. I may look for a metal primer to use on them before painting to see if that helps too.

In contrast, the wooden shafts (like the one pictured above) take a lot of work to prep and paint. First, I have to sand them with medium sand paper, then fine sand paper. Then, in order to eliminate tiny crevices caused from the wood grain, I have to rub them down with a piece of air-dry clay to fill all the tiny cracks and imperfections that will show up when it is painted. I used air-dry clay because I didn't have any wood filler putty at the time I implemented this step to solve the tiny crevice problem. Later I get some wood filler, but I honestly like the air-dry clay better. Then after the clay is dry, I have to sand it again with medium, then fine sand paper. Then I have to cut them to length and drill tiny pilot holes and insert T pins in the ends to hold them while they are painted and drying. Then a coat of primer. Then another sanding. Then paint. Then wet sanding. Then more paint. Then more wet sanding. Then more paint. I have to sand and paint at least three times to get a nice finish. After I do the wire wrap, I usually have to mask them off and give them one more quick touch up coat, because I can hardly do the wrapping without marring the finish a little. Then, finally, clear acrylic sealer. With drying time, this process takes about two to three days.

I think the wire wrapping around the grip looks and feels better than the satin ribbon. But it is much more work and I can only do three or four of them a day because it makes my hands hurt. First you have to drill a tiny hold in the shaft on the back side at the tip. Then you stick the end of the wire in the hole and start wrapping. You have to keep the wire very taught and wrap very carefully in order to get a nice kink and gap free wrap. Then, while keeping the wire taught, because at this point it is like a spring, you have to drill another tiny hole at the top of the wrapping on the back of the shaft, making sure to get it as close to the top winding as possible, and without marring either the top winding or the shaft. It needs to be very discreet. Then, still keeping tension on the wire windings so they don't go SPROING and unwind, you have to cut the wire in just the right spot, and bend a 90 degree tab in just the right spot, so that you can fit the tab into the hole to anchor it. This hides the end of the wire, and prevents future sproing. You have to use needle nose pliers to get the tab into the hole and you have to do it without marring either the wire or the shaft with the pliers, and while holding the tension on the wire. You only have one shot to get it perfect. Multiple attempts invariably led to imperfections. In short, it sucks. But I love the way it looks when it comes out right.

For my first batch of flower pens I made 19 different sets, each with its own bud vase holder. I did, red roses, black roses, white roses, light pink roses, a yellow rose, and one calla lily. These pics are obviously not all of them, but this post is already getting kind of long and these pictures are HUGE, so I think I'll hold off on posting the rest until I trim them down a bit. I have all 19 currently up for sale on my ebay store, with lots more pics of each one. You can view them here. They would make a great Valentine's Day present for a loved one, especially one that likes to write poetry (like most girls do) or who likes quill pens. They range from $25 to $35 for each set, which I think is a fair price, given all the labor that went into them and given that ostrich feather and macaw feather pens are selling on ebay anywere from $20 to $100 each. The heavy glass bud vases do make them a little expensive to ship, but I will ship them all Express Mail to ensure you get them by Valentine's Day.

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