Melanie Abrantes Introduces Us to the Magic of Cork
From tree to tabletop, guys.
Your eyes aren’t fooling you: After the bark is harvested, the trunks really are that rusty hue.
Quarter-Portuguese product designer Melanie Abrantes is a huge—ginormous!—fan of cork. “It’s antibacterial, water-proof, washable—it’s practically indestructible!” she raves. It’s something that has been part of Melanie’s annual summer vacays with her grandfather all her life, but now she’s taken things to the next level, producing killer vases and planters from the stuff. How, exactly, do you turn bark into a bowl? Girl’s got the scoop. —genevieve ang
“There are all these valleys and fields full of trees that look naked in South Portugal. It’s one of those things you have to see to believe—it’s a pretty funny sight. Cork is basically the bark of cork oak trees. They get harvested around 12 times in their lifetime, every nine years or so starting from when they’re 25.”
“The cork I buy comes in these huge blocks. Basically what happens is that they cut out all the wine corks from the original cork bark that they harvest. They then grind up all the holey cork board, mold it into giant blocks, and bake them. That’s what I purchase!”
“After I buy my cork in these huge blocks, I use a lathing tool to shape it. It’s a little harder to sand to get the correct finish, so I do everything on a lathe. I went to a wood shop to purchase a lathe, and they kept talking to my dad because no one thought that a woman would be buying one.”
“I then finish each item with beeswax, which gives it a more finished look and protects the cork. Beeswax is food-based, so it’s okay to use for food containers and for kids to put in their mouths.”
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Watch Katie Diamond’s Cooler-than-Cool Bracelet Come Together
It’s made of malachite, which is definitely as cool as it sounds
“Making jewelry is one of the first things that felt really natural and easy for me,” says Katie Diamond. But for those of us who don’t have the skills to conjure up turquoise-and-diamond rings or lapis hoop earrings in their DNA? Katie’s here to show us the way. See how her designed-in-Jersey, handmade-in-India bangles came together. –olivia seely
"First, I do a detailed sketch with precise measurements. I keep several sketchbooks that I doodle new designs in constantly. Every so often, I go through my sketches and decide which pieces I’ll actually make. This one is the Cree Bangle. For most of the pieces I design, I tend to also design custom stone cuts."
“For this bangle, we chose a malachite stone. I absolutely love its color variation and the natural banded pattern. These stones are all custom-cut in Jaipur, India. I love the cone shape, which is a signature shape for me. I like to cut it as small as possible to balance its edginess. Here you can see our settings—they are cast in brass and then pre-polished.”
"We then shape the wire into an open bangle using a mandrel."
"Then we solder the settings to each open end of the wire bangle."
"The stones are set, the piece is polished and plated, and it’s sent off to Of a Kind!"
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Carolyn A’Hearn Recycles Metal Like Magic
It’s the circle of (jewelry) life.
Carolyn A’Hearn never throws anything away—at least when it comes to jewelry-making. That scrap metal? It’s not garbage but rather raw material just itching to be made into a fly new cuff or a chic pair of earrings. It takes a bit of patience, a lot of heat, and, uh, a chopstick—see how Carolyn makes the most of her leftovers. —jane-claire quigley
“Often in the studio, I melt and recycle metal to create new models and pieces. Because I work with precious metal, it’s important to let nothing go to waste. I even collect the dust from my bench—when I have enough, I will send it to a refiner to be recycled. This is a mix of 10 karat yellow gold from old castings, metal scraps, and bits of leftover wire. It gets mixed with a little boric acid and placed inside a carved charcoal brick for melting.”
“Boric acid and a chopstick are a few of the tools I use to protect and manipulate the metal as it melts. The chopstick can be used to push stray pieces of melting metal back into the mold.”
“As the metal melts, it forms into a ball and starts to move like mercury.“
“Different metals and karats of gold look more or less yellow depending on the purity. The resulting lump of metal is called an ingot, which must be cooled and cleaned before being passed through the rolling mill.”
“I use different channels in the rolling mill to slowly stretch the metal into wire. Often this is a process done over many hours. Ten karat gold can be especially hard, so I anneal, or gently heat, often and let the piece air cool as I work.”
“The metal is annealed to maintain workability as it is rolled into shape. As the metal is rolled through the mill, it becomes work-hardened, and annealing prevents the metal from developing cracks or breaking.”
“After the metal is rolled to the desired thickness, it can be made into something brand new!”
Photos by Ash Barhamand.
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Let’s Make Sandals With The Palatines, Shall We?
It takes a whole lotta work to create something this polished.
You know what’s tougher than making a shoe look cool with buckles and studs and fancy detailing? Creating a pair that stands out without all those bells and whistles. After trolling L.A. for a factory that could get the job done, Jessica Taft Langdon launched The Palatines—kicks that, as she puts it, have a “minimalist-modern inflection.” Here’s how her sicker-than-sick Of a Kind slides attain their enviable sleekness. —olivia seely
“The base of the shoe is made up of three basic components: the outsole, the midsole, and the insole. The midsole is wrapped in the same leather as the top of the shoe. The insole is inscribed with a P, and the outsole is what hits the street.”
“This is an image of the uppers of the shoes before they get assembled. The thong part is that long tail. These sandals are made of cow leather. The piece of leather is about 50 square feet in its raw shape. We make a pattern for each different shoe size and then cut each shape by hand.”
“This shows what is called the last of the shoe—it’s the form that the shoes are made on. Here we have the insole marked with a hole for the thong.”
“Next we line up the upper with the insole and thread the thong into the hole that’s stamped into the insole. We apply glue to the bottom of the insole and take the excess leather around the last, gluing it to the bottom. The glue is a contact cement. It acts just like a rubber cement you used in high-school art class.”
“This is a machine we call the grinder. We’re buffering away the excess leather that’s been wrapped around the insole. We do this so when you attach the insole to the midsole, there aren’t any lumps.”
“After the excess leather has been removed and the outsole has been buffed, we glue the outsole to the rest of the shoe, sandwiching it all together.”
“Now we stick the shoe into this machine called the presser, which makes sure that there’s an even amount of pressure all the way across the sole of the shoe. You definitely don’t want to get your fingers anywhere close to the pressing side of this!”
“After a few more finishing touches, you get this—the final product!”
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Throw a Bowl with Workaday Handmade
Say “hey” to some clay.
You know what’s magical about hand-thrown clay wares? It’s impossible to make pieces that are exactly the same. Just ask Forrest Lewinger of Workaday Handmade: He looks at each one of the 200 tumblers he created for Of a Kind as an individual, saying, “It’s interesting to look back and see how different they all are. They each have their own personality.” Get a peek into his process as he turns a blob into a bowl. —jackie varriano
“First you need to wedge your clay to get all the air bubbles out. Wedging is a lot like kneading dough.”
“Then you want to shape it into a ball, like so!”
“Next, when the wheel is still, you want to slam your clay down on to the wheel so it’s stuck and won’t slide off the wheel head. This is where throwing gets its name.”
“Now the trickiest part: centering. In order to have control over your ball of clay, you need to compress it so that it is spinning smoothly on the wheel’s axis. This is the one that takes the most practice. Once you get centering, everything else gets a lot easier.”
“Throwing is a combination of applying firmness and strength and being guided by the movement of the clay. Once it’s centered, with your elbows anchored on your hips, push your thumbs into the middle of the centered clay, and try to keep it from wobbling.”
“For bowls, you want to widen the hole in the clay you just made with you thumbs by slowly pulling it outward.”
“Now for the fun! By compressing the clay between your left and right hands, slowly guide the clay upward. You want to keep one arm anchored into your body to keep everything steady.”
“Once you’ve gotten a shape you like, you need to let it dry for the trimming process.”
“Once the bowl is dry enough to hold its own shape, you put it back on the wheel to trim. Trimming is about finessing the shape. I’ve been liking clean, simple shapes lately.”
“Trimming is also about making a foot. And making your mark.”
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Watch Steven Shein Make a Diamond Ring Look All Fresh and Cool
Say sayonara to the solitaire.
How do you turn a diamond ring—a piece of jewelry about as classic as they come—into something exciting? Steven Shein, the totally badass L.A.-based designer, has an answer. “What’s cool about the process is that we’re using cutting-edge, modern technology—3D printing and modeling—and age-old techniques—specifically, lost wax casting,” he explains. Here, dive into everything it took to create his brand-spankin’-new, seriously slick black diamond ring. —alisha prakash
“I wanted to riff on the classic diamond ring. I thought about how I could make something by reducing it as much as possible to its most functional state—no decoration, no ornamentation—and from that reduction, maximize it. I imagined these thin, tubular posts coming off of a circular form with the same tubular profile, and I wanted to set the diamonds into their tips, like some beautiful bulbs in tiny flashlights.”
“This is an image of the 3D model, which I created using Rhino, a 3D modeling program. The model is then exported as an STL file, which is a type of file that a 3D printer can read.”
“This is the piece that was printed by the 3D printer. Basically, it’s an object that the printer builds up layer by layer in a process known as additive manufacturing. I believe this is some kind of plastic wax composite, which is designed to be directly cast to create the master.”
“This image shows the master. The master is a metal object created from the 3D-printed object using the lost wax casting technique.”
“Here is an image of the freshly cut open mold with the master still sitting in it. The mold is created by heating a specialized rubber around the master. Once cooled, the master is removed.”
“This image shows a wax model that was cast using the rubber mold. It is made when the jeweler shoots liquid wax into the rubber mold, which will cool into a solid object that will then be used to create our metal casts using the lost wax casting technique. The rubber is flexible so the wax can be removed from the mold relatively easily. Using the rubber mold, the jeweler will produce as many waxes as required. They’ll attach these to what is known as a “tree” (or little pole). It will then be encased in a flask that plaster is poured into. This will go into an oven and be heated up so the plaster hardens and the waxes melt out, leaving negative spaces—or volumes—into which liquefied metal is poured to create the final casts.”
“This is the finished piece. To achieve this, the metal piece from the mold is cleaned and polished. The stones are set; the ring is polished again to a high shine, and cleaned by an ultrasonic cleaner to remove any debris or polishing wax. The piece is then electroplated with a clear-coat, which will protect the metal against tarnishing—so it will retain its color and shine.”
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Watch the K/LLER Gals Craft Their (Diamond!) Of a Kind Edition
Don’t worry: It still has plenty of fierceness.
“We have been asked for awhile if we would ever use diamonds in the collection, and we’ve always been hesitant since neither of us are blingy girls,” says Katie deGuzman, half of the team behind the rad line K/LLER, which just entered the fine-jewelry fold. The solution? Taking a graphic, minimalist approach that doesn’t feel too glitzy. “You still get the tough K/LLER aesthetic with a bit of sparkle—the dark clashing with the sweet,” notes Michael Miller. “Just the way we like it.” And then there’s the name of their first fancified collection: K/LLER Stoned—further proof they aren’t getting too lofty. Here, see how one of their newest pieces—their Of a Kind edition!—came to be. —alisha prakash
“This is a pile of the raw castings of the sterling silver pave earrings before we clean them.”
“First we saw off the sprues, which is an excess piece of metal from the casting process.”
“We use a variety of different grinding wheels, burs, and polishing wheels to clean the surface of the casting.”
“The next step is to solder a post to the back of the earring.”
“Once we have all the castings cleaned and ready to go, they are now prepared for the diamonds!”
“We work with a wonderful jeweler, Ara, who sets our stones.”
“We use three different sizes of cognac diamonds in this earring. Each stone is carefully selected and placed in a setting.”
“A setting bur is then used to push the metal around the stone to secure each one.”
“Once all the diamonds have been set, the earrings are passed over with a lapping wheel, which removes the marks created during the stone setting process.”
“They are then polished to a high shine.”
“Finally, they get a little steam clean to get rid of the polishing compound, and we send them off to get plated in rose gold.”
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See How Annabel Inganni Makes Color and Pattern Magic
It’s curveball central over here.
“I feel a bit like a mad scientist—I never know exactly how something will turn out,” says Annabel Inganni, who dreams up totally fly color combos and geometric motifs for her home line Wolfum. The pillows, coasters, glassware, and trays are always a little surprising, spicing up any space as a result. Check out the process involved in turning up her consistently unpredictable results. —alisha prakash
“There is nothing more inspiring then a beautiful book. I collect any and all on fashion, photography, architecture, graphic design, and, of course, pattern and textile history. It’s always important to reference the origins of printing and textiles while simultaneously looking forward at technology and new techniques.”
“I love looking through magazines. I find the simple pleasure of ripping pages out and making collages satisfying. I can find inspiration for color, a new product or graphic, or just an overall concept. I put it into a book so I can revisit it at any time. I create a story in each few pages and suddenly a concept is defined, a mood articulated.”
“Lists, lists, lists—I love them. I like the physical action of writing them and then crossing things off. I thrive on organization—and am pretty hyperactive—thus I multitask all the time. I have a bunch of notebooks where I keep my concepts and ideas, in some sort of nonsense order.”
Color and Pattern Concepting
“I always start with Pantone chips—picking way too many and then narrowing down to a group…and then within that, even smaller groups that I know will be unexpected yet look wonderful together. The colors always look so different on fabric than on the wood once they are processed, so it is imperative to test each color individually so that I can create the right combinations. It becomes a little game of mix-and-match.”
“I don’t have a true work space, so I often take my laptop to the library or just to the couch, to draw. Working on the computer allows me to easily change up colors or scale. I do all my sketching in Illustrator. I am a control freak and like the organization and discipline of working on the computer. I start with a concept, whether I am playing with a shape or brush stroke. Once I find an element I like, I play with scale and manipulate it a million different ways until I see what it is meant to be. Sometimes this is a quick process and other times it takes weeks to perfect the print.”
“These are my fabric color test swatches. I have a hard time deciding what colorway or scale to use in the collection, so it helps to print them out. This way I can arrange and re-arrange to find a perfect balance.”
“My napkins reflect the breadth of my graphic work. I love seeing them all stacked together. It reminds me to revisit my past designs and look for fresh elements in my older work.”
“Since I design each graphic specifically for the item, it’s always a bit of a surprise how the print will come out. With the coasters, each one within the set has an element of the larger image, so when they are put together, they end up being somewhat of an art puzzle for your tabletop. Since I pre-test all my colors on scraps of wood, I design into the colorways I think are most striking and then run several samples. As soon as I see The One, I know it and can build from there.”
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Watch A Question of Eagles Turn a Block of Clay into a Vase
Get down with the glaze.
If it takes two to make a thing go right, husband-and-wife collaborators Jonathan Ballak and Melissa Tolar of A Question of Eagles are getting it so right. And the vase they made for Of a Kind has a certain two-become-one quality of its own. Here, Jonathan breaks down the process of how the magic was made. —jane gauger
“Making our edition starts with raw clay, which we push through a die to form the basic shapes that we will assemble into the bent top vase. For this piece we will be using two different size circular dies.”
“Here is a group photo of freshly shaped components of our vases. It looks like a nice class-reunion photo. Very handsome.”
“We then start to create each vase. We cut each to the right length, attach a bottom, marry the two cylinder pieces, and begin the finishing and cleaning of the edges. It then goes into the kiln for the first firing.”
“After the first firing, we are ready to glaze. We’re using a variety of glazing methods on this piece. When it is applied, the cobalt glaze looks pink, but during the final firing, the heat and elements react and transform into blue.”
“Last step: Firing to over 2300 degrees!”
“After the final firing, the piece is done and ready to be used.”
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Watch Meg Farrell’s So-Fly Of a Kind Edition Come Together
Calling all leather-lovers…
Meg Farrell crafts every single high-functioning bag in her line Farrell & Co. by hand from her studio in Rockland, Maine. And get this: Each one takes her about five hours to make. Here, see just how she whipped up her Of a Kind edition—a mini backpack! There’s so much TLC that you can almost taste it. —genevieve ang
“I start off with premium-grade leather from Wicket & Craig, a 120-year-old tannery. The leather is kind of crazy because I buy the entire side—it is a full side of a cow and kind of still looks like an animal.”
“I cut the pattern out and bevel the edges slightly so it has more of a finished look. I then dye the front and back of the leather.”
“I fold the leather, rivet the folds together, and attach the hardware pieces, including D-rings for where I attach the straps.”
“The straps are made separately—that involves using a strap cutter, which is a measuring gauge with a razor blade on it. It can cut leather all the same width. It is tricky to use, but you get the hang of it after a while.”
“I then measure the straps out, edge and dye them, and punch the holes into the leather. I use snap hooks to attach the straps to the bag.”
“The front closure is a little screw-in button. I measure where the center of the bag is and make a hole to attach the screw.”
“Before it goes off into the world, I treat the bag with Obenauf’s, which is a natural oil to protect and restore the leather.”
“The final product!”