I Lost My Creativity To An Autoimmune Condition. And Then I Got It Back.

Hashimoto’s Disease Made Me Tired, Depressed, Sore, Foggy Headed, And Worst Of All, Unable To Find Joy In My Art

Disclosure: Some of the links to products below are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. It helps me create content like this for you, and I thank you for your support.
thyroid-awareness-month-banner

micromaille by Rebeca MojicaFor artists, “being creative” is central to our identity. Losing that creativity can feel devastating; it really is an identity crisis. In my case, it wasn’t until I became ill, and then started to heal, that I realized my symptoms had stealthily hijacked my creativity.

January is National Thyroid Awareness Month and I want to take this opportunity to share my story with you. When researching Hashimoto’s, I found so many articles about body shape and energy levels and diet and hormones and many, many other topics. But I had difficulty finding personal stories about how it affects a creative person. I wrestled for a long time with posting my story before finally concluding that if my experience could help even just one person, it would be worth it.

I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not offering medical advice or solutions. (Frankly, I don’t have even half of everything figured out myself!) I’m simply sharing my story with the hopes that it can be insightful or inspirational to other creatives. Feel free to reach out via email or leave a comment below if you have any questions or just want to connect and say, “Hey, me too!”

If there’s interest, I’ll consider interviewing other artists/makers with chronic illnesses who are willing to share their experiences and how they keep their creative juices flowing. Especially with autoimmune conditions on the rise, I think more awareness, community and normalization could be beneficial to all.

In The Beginning

It’s hard to pinpoint when I realized that something was “wrong.” I think it’s like that analogy of the frog in a pot of water that slowly begins to boil: it happens so gradually the little guy doesn’t realize the water is getting hotter and hotter and then all of a sudden, he’s an item on a French menu.

I remember I needed naps almost on a daily basis. At the time, I’d written it off as my body being tired due to pushing myself so hard at the gym. Similarly, I’d often wake up with a very ache-y body, and I attributed it to powerlifting soreness. I bore my muscle aches with a sense of pride, as proof of my dedication to my athletic activities.

Sometimes the aches reminded me of how I’d feel just before I got the flu: my body felt weak and tender and it required great effort and concentration to lift things and move myself around. Occasionally, my mind would feel exhausted too; it was almost as if I was out of my body and just watching myself go about my tasks, moving slowly, as if through water. (I’ve since learned this is called “brain fog.” Makes sense!) Whenever I’d have days like this, I’d assume I was fighting off a cold or the flu, so I’d rest and do all sorts of preventative measures … and lo and behold, the cold or flu wouldn’t ever come to be! I’d be so proud, thinking my body had fought off a nasty bug!

Over the span of several months, I’d purposely gained weight in order to put on muscle, but when I went to lose the fat, I just couldn’t. I’d done this cycle of “bulking and cutting” several times, so it seemed odd that what worked for me before, wasn’t doing anything now. I didn’t understand how I could be eating in a caloric deficit and not losing weight, but I wrote it off as, “Oh, I guess now that I’m in my 40s, my metabolism has slowed down!”

But what I couldn’t just write off was the fact that I’d lost passion for my craft. I’ve been making chainmaille jewelry since 2002 and always thought it would be part of my life. But now, even though part of me wanted to make chainmaille, I was utterly de-motivated to do so. I remember telling my sweetie, “You know, I think I might be depressed,” not because I felt sad, but because I felt apathy, which I know can indicate depression. I wondered if I was still feeling weighed down from closing down my business in Chicago, and the stressful years that preceded it. Was I still burnt out, a year and a half later?

It wasn’t just that I wasn’t interested in chainmaille, I wasn’t interested in any creative endeavors. I found myself not wanting to dance, nor create music, nor write, nor make artall things which I thoroughly enjoyed doing for my entire life. For my job, I was working on a kid’s craft project and maintaining my crafts supplies business, but it was a real struggle to do anything creative on either front. And beyond my jobs, I had zero creative mojo.

Before this time period, I was used to having SO many ideas, even if I wrote half of them down, I still would have far more projects in my queue than I’d ever have time to tackle. I’d see weaves and patterns when I closed my eyes to go to sleep. My brain would involuntarily see chainmaille structures underlying nearly every object around me, and a voice in my head would constantly ask, “Oooo, what if I made THAT out of chainmaille?” But now, the voice was eerily silent. I’d lost my spark and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d never make beautiful jewelry again.

I’ve always identified as a “creative” person, and now that I wasn’t being or feeling creative, it was as though I’d lost a core part of my identity. It felt very foreign and surreal and I wondered how to go about re-defining who I was.

The Diagnosis

Early in 2018, while trying to pinpoint the cause of unrelated chronic pain that plagued me for years, a blood test reveled that I have an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis). With all autoimmune conditions, the body attacks itself. Different autoimmune disorders are defined based on which body parts are being attacked.

thyroid-gland

Thyroid illustration by Don Bliss. Courtesy of National Cancer Institute.

In the case of Hashimoto’s, the body produces antibodies to attack its own thyroid. Over time, usually many years, those attacks cause the thyroid function to decrease. This leads to a condition called hypothyroidism, which means that the thyroid gland can’t make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally. In the US, Hashimoto’s is the leading cause of hypothyroidism (but note that not everyone who has Hashimoto’s develops hypothyroidism). There is no cure for Hashimoto’s, however, symptoms can usually be managed quite successfully. Medicine boosts your levels of thyroid hormones, allowing your body to operate as though your thyroid were functioning well. Diet, stress-reduction and other lifestyle changes can improve the autoimmune response, reducing inflammation and the production of antibodies so your body isn’t constantly trying to destroy itself.

Interesting fact: More than 120 million prescriptions were written in the USA for hypothyroidism medication in 2017 (making it the second-most prescribed medication in the country). Needless to say, if you aren’t taking thyroid medication yourself, there’s a very good chance you know multiple people who are.

So what’s the big deal with the thyroid? Well, thyroid hormones affect every cell and all the organs of the body. The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of your neck, releases hormones into the bloodstream so the hormones can reach the body’s cells. These hormones control metabolism—the way your body uses energy. When thyroid hormone levels are too low, the body’s cells can’t get enough thyroid hormone and the body’s processes start slowing down. Common symptoms include: unexplained weight gain, feeling cold, fatigue, dry skin, constipation, forgetfulness/brain fog, and depression.

Signs_and_symptoms_of_hypothyroidismAll of a sudden a LOT of things made sense to me: All those naps I needed? The body aches? The inability for me to lose weight? These are all quite common for Hashi’s and hypothyroidism. My bloodwork indicated that my thyroid function was ever-so-slightly below normal, my inflammation markers were above normal, and I was producing both types of thyroid antibodies. Luckily, this was caught in the very early stages, before serious damage was done, and I could begin the healing process.

Interestingly, even though I started looking back at the past 6-24 months and realizing how many things I could attribute to Hashi’s, I still hadn’t made a connection between my condition and my lack of creative energy just yet.

Getting My Spark Back

Two days after getting diagnosed, I immediately went cold turkey into a new lifestyle based around getting better. This primarily involved changes in diet and self-care. (I didn’t start medication until 3 months later, after another round of blood work.)

I was immediately sold on a diet change. For several years, I’d watched as a close friend managed Multiple Sclerosis through a regimen of diet, medication, exercise and meditation. The successful results she had, along with the scientific research she cited, convinced me that diet can be crucial to managing illness.

I’m not going to include too many details about my diet, because every person is different and what worked for me may not work for you. (And again, I’m not a medical expert!) Here’s the thing: the foods I had been eating weren’t necessarily unhealthy in and of themselves. But when I took a food sensitivity test, I discovered that I was sensitive to many of the foods I was regularly consuming in large quantities. Even though the foods weren’t bad, they were possibly bad for me, and could be exacerbating my body’s inflammation. I decided to eliminate everything I’d tested sensitive to. (Even though food sensitivity testing isn’t 100% accurate, I felt it would be a good place to start … and also, I’ll be real, there were some items I knew I was sensitive to years ago, but I just kept eating them anyway. Because: CHEESE!) I read that 50-80% of Hashi’s patients feel better by eliminating gluten, and both my doctor and my naturopath mentioned a gluten-free diet. Liking those odds, I decided to go gluten-free, even though I hadn’t tested sensitive to gluten. I cleared my fridge and pantry of all the verboten foods and stocked up with new veggies and proteins.

I was already exercising 4-6 days per week, mostly heavy weightlifting. I decided to keep my routine, but promised myself I’d pay better attention to how I was feeling and wouldn’t push myself on days when I felt too tired. It’s hard for someone with an athlete’s mentality to cut back, but I knew I needed to be careful. I started noting which workouts left me overly exhausted versus which ones gave me energy.

Finally, I started incorporating meditation back into my life. I’d gone through phases of meditating before, but had stopped meditating sometime after I moved out to California. I think I felt much less stress, and I probably assumed meditation was something I no longer needed. When in fact, the meditation was likely helping me keep my stress levels low!

Within several weeks, I had noticeably higher energy levels. I no longer needed to nap every day! I stopped having “brain fog” days. I was eating the same number of calories, but with my new foods that weren’t contributing to inflammation, I slowly started to lose the excess weight. My extremities often still felt cold, but well, I’ve been cold my whole life, so maybe that’s just here to stay. 😉

N-VT-1068-largebib-hanging-webImportantly, though, I had the urge to create again! Slowly but surely, my brain felt like it was “firing” again and within a few months, my brain was flooded with the familiar sensation of nonstop ideas. I wanted to sit at my craft table and weave for hours. It was electrifying.

It was now, finally, that I looked back and realized how slowly and subtly this condition had taken over my life. It wasn’t some acute injury that is obvious. Instead, it happened so gradually that I kept writing off the symptoms, convincing myself it wasn’t really anything. It is not surprising to me that so many Hashi’s patients are misdiagnosed with depression. (Well, let me clarify: depression can be a symptom of Hashi’s/hypothyroidism, but it is not the root cause. Simply treating depression in this case doesn’t solve the problem.)

What comes Next

So, what’s next now that I have my energy and passion back? Well, first off, self-care is now my number one priority. Autoimmune conditions often travel in packs, and it is quite common for patients to have multiple disorders. So I am taking care of my body and trying to fuel it with proper nutrition, medicine, exercise, and pampering in order to feel as well as I can now and to put myself in the best possible position to manage anything that may come up. Sometimes life happens and I don’t adhere to my diet for a few days, and I wind up having a flare-up (body aches, brain fog, exhaustion). I forgive myself, thank my body for everything it is doing for me, and get right back into my routine.

I’m still keeping up the Blue Buddha Boutique Etsy shop, but I have decided to focus my energies on developing my own jewelry line. Ever since the early days of my business, my jewelry took a back seat to my other endeavorsrunning the chainmaille supplies business, writing a book, teaching, developing a line of craft kits for kids. Other than a few years back in 2003-2007, I wasn’t focused on promoting my jewelry and I’d always lamented the fact I kept putting my designs on the back burner.

NECK-warrior-metallic-flatHaving lost my creativity made me realize how special and valuable it is to me. This is my chance to give it my all. In the past half year, I finally put together a wholesale catalog and was accepted to vend on Faire. I created an Instagram page for Rebeca Mojica Jewelry and relaunched my jewelry website. I started working on new designs and challenged myself to weave a quilt square in 7 days. I participated in my first art fair in years, and am looking forward to applying to more shows in 2019.

I’m grateful to have a wonderful support system of friends, doctors and fellow crafters throughout this journey. Let’s just say I “took the scenic route” the last few yearsand I’m sure I’ll find myself meandering down the scenic route again! This scenic route reminded me that many, many people deal with invisible illnesses, and it’s always good to treat all people with compassion, especially strangers. This journey has also caused me to finally embrace self-care in a profoundly deep way, and to feel good, not guilty, when I set boundaries and make time for myself.

It’s amazing to feel like me again, and I am excited about what the future holds!

Resources

Due to my other chronic pain issues, I had already started reading ChronicBabe 101: How to Craft an Incredible Life Beyond Illness by Jenni Grover before I was even diagnosed with Hashi’s. Jenni is a friend who created the Chronic Babe community back in 2005 to help sick chicks all over the world “ROCK their lives.” Her book was immensely helpful to me as I struggled with undiagnosed pain (sidenote: the pain has since been diagnosed and treated!) and the book was even more helpful after I learned I had an autoimmune condition. I can’t recommend this book and her educational resources enough. She’s my #1 Chronic Babe!

The American Thyroid Association has a wealth of information on hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s and other thyroid disorders.

ThyroidAwareness.com is another website with a ton of information about thyroid issues.

The National Academy of Hypothyroidism has an informational page to help spread awareness of hypothyroidism, along with many other resources on their website.

Find out more about the thyroid gland on EndocrineWeb.

How I Set Up My Phone To Play a Cash Register Sound Whenever Someone Buys Something On My Website

Because, Let’s Face It, The “Cha-Ching!” Sound You Get For Making Sales on Etsy Is Pretty Awesome

Disclosure: Some of the links to products below are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. It helps me create content like this for you, and I thank you for your support.

 

UPDATE April 1 2019: Sadly, this procedure no longer works as Gmail is essentially no longer compatible with IFTTT. (No joke! 😢 Read more.)

dollar-sign-jump-ringFor Etsy sellers, there is one sound in particular that floods us with an intense wave of excitement and anticipation: the cheerful “Cha-Ching” notification sound that signifies a new order. The sound is an auditory confirmation that our hard work has paid off: there’s a real human beingusually a strangerspending their money on our product. Needless to say, this sound is deeply gratifying and many sellers, myself included, become quite attached to it. When there’s a technological glitch and the notification doesn’t work, melancholy vendors flock to Etsy groups to lament the loss of their favorite sound. We feel as though we’re being robbed of one of the highlights of our days!

After I revived my own website to supplement my jewelry shop on Etsy, and the orders started trickling in, I realized I missed hearing cha-chings. So what is one to do if one wants to hear this beautiful sound yet doesn’t sell on Etsy?

For my jewelry website I use the platform Indiemade. I’m sent an email when I receive an order, however I don’t receive a text notification, nor does Indiemade have its own app for orders. I also don’t have my phone set up to give me notifications for new emails. (If I did, it would go off, like, every 2 minutes and would drive me bonkers!) Because of this, I only saw website orders when I specifically went to check my email. That led to me checking my work email more often than I wanted to, because hey, it’s been 5 minutes, and you never know, maybe an order came in! It was killing my productivity. So I turned to the very handy If This Then That app.

ifttt-banner If you’re not familiar with IFTTT, it’s a great tool to connect and automate countless tasks in your life. (Check out their How Does it Work? article for more information.)

In my case, I used it to get my phone to serve up a similar and equally gratifying cha-ching sound when I receive a new order on my website. Not gonna lie, the first time it worked, it was sweet, sweet music to my ears! The notification doesn’t give me information about the order itself – which is fine by me. It’s just gratifying for me to hear the cha-ching, and then I go to my email to get the details of the order.

I’ve had a few other sellers ask how I did this, so I created this blog post to walk you through the process.

Fair warning – there are a LOT of steps. However, they can be grouped into 3 main stages, and you might already meet the Stage 1 conditions. Keep reading for step-by-step photos and details for each stage.

Stage 1 – Email Setup: In Gmail (or any another email program accepted by IFTTT), create a label for all email notifications of website sales

Stage 2 – Applet Creation: Use IFTTT to create a new applet that calls your phone when you get an email for a new order

Stage 3 – Ringtone Assignment: Find a free “cha-ching” sound that you like, and assign it as a ringtone for contact IFTTT in your phone

That’s it! Each of the above stages is made of a ton of little steps and things can get a little convoluted, so I’m going to break it down as best I can. You will have to make adjustments along to way to account for your own particular circumstances.

Stage 1 – Email Setup

This step assumes you use Gmail and receive email notifications from your website when you get a new order.  If you do not use Gmail, you’ll have to check out the IFTTT app to see what other email services IFTTT is compatible with. (Or you could go through the extra trouble of creating a new gmail account and automatically forwarding your emails, or at least new order emails, to that dedicated gmail account.)

You’ll need to create a “label” and assign it to all order notification emails. If you aren’t familiar with how to add labels and filters, here’s a step-by-step walk-through. I’m using Firefox on a Mac for these screenshots.

Click on the gear icon in the upper right of your Gmail and then click Settings.

screenshot gmail desktop gear icon settings

 

Navigate to the Labels tab, scroll down until you reach the Labels section, and click create new label.

screenshot gmail desktop labels tab create new label

 

In the popup window, type the label name you want to use for new orders on your website. (Feel free to nest the label in a larger category – for instance, you may have an overall “Orders” category with separate labels for order notifications from Etsy and/or other shops.) Click the Create button when you’re done.

screenshot gmail desktop create new label

 

Next, we need to have Gmail automatically add this label to your order notification emails as they arrive. I’ve already set up this filter as you can see with the green circle below; I’ll walk you through how I did that.

Make sure you’re still in the Settings gear icon and navigate to Filters and Blocked Addresses. Scroll down and click create a new filter.

screenshot gmail desktop settings gear icon create new filter

 

When the window pops up, fill in whatever fields are necessary for Gmail to identify a new order email. If the subject line is the same for all orders, you can use that (see my example below). You could also add a “to” address (as I did below) if you only use that email address to receive order payments and it is not used for any other correspondence.

If all your order notification emails originate from an email address that is only used for order notifications, feel free to add it in the “from” field. (However, if you want to test your filter after creating it, then don’t add a “from” address just yet.) Click Continue when you’re done.

You could also add a phrase to “has the words” if there’s a particular sentence that always appears in order notifications but is unlikely to ever appear in any other email you may receive.

screenshot gmail desktop create filter

 

Put a checkmark next to Apply the label: and select the label you just created a few steps ago. Click Update filter.

screenshot gmail desktop apply label

 

Ta-da! Your filter has been created. When you receive a new order, the label will automatically show up in your Gmail inbox:

screenshot gmail desktop label

 

NOTE: If you want to test to make sure the filter works, simply send a test message to yourself that meets all the filter criteria (subject, to, etc). If you receive the email but the label doesn’t show up, go back and check to make sure the criteria is correct.

 


 

Stage 2 – Applet Creation

If you haven’t already installed If This Then That, go do that now.

Depending on how tech-fluent you are, there will be a small or medium size learning curve with this app. It’s pretty fantastic once you get the hang of it. You might want to try playing with a few simple, pre-made IFTTT applets just to get the general idea of how it works first.

When you’re ready to create your applet for new order notifications, tap the plus sign.

screenshot IFTTT create new applet

 

You’ll see this screen. Tap +this to continue.

IFTTT-02-If-THIS-then-that-screenshot

 

The app now prompts you to select the trigger for your applet. In the Search services field, type Gmail.

screenshot IFTTT new applet select trigger service

 

Tap the Gmail icon.

IFTTT-03-select-gmail-as-trigger

 

NOTE: If you haven’t connected your Gmail account to IFTTT, you’ll be prompted to “Connect to Gmail to turn on Applets” and will need to follow those prompts before proceeding.

Select new email in inbox labeled.

IFTTT screenshot select gmail trigger

 

You’re now prompted to enter your label.

IFTTT screenshot create trigger

 

Be sure to type your label EXACTLY as it appears in Gmail including any special characters and spaces. The label is case-sensitive. Tap Create trigger when you’re done.

IFTTT screenshot complete trigger

 

Now we need to tell the applet what to do when you receive an email with that label. Tap +that to proceed.

IFTTT screenshot if Gmail then that

 

Type call in the search field, and click the Phone Call icon.

IFTTT screenshot new applet select action service

 

There’s only one option here, so go ahead and tap Call my phone.

IFTTT screenshot select action call my phone

 

A default message appears, as shown below. This is the message the robo voice will deliver when IFTTT calls your phone.

IFTTT screenshot create action call my phone

 

That’s kind of a boring message, so I changed my message as shown below. Go ahead and type whatever you want, no matter how absurd—It’s fun to make robots say silly things!—and tap Create action when you’re done.

IFTTT screenshot create action call my phone

 

You’ll see a preview of your applet. If everything looks good, tap Finish.

IFTTT screenshot applet preview

 

Be sure to toggle the applet “On” before you leave IFTTT and go on to the final stage.

IFTTT screenshot - applet by aerobeca

 

To make sure the applet is working properly, send yourself a test email as described at the end of stage 1. It may take a few minutes for the applet to run and your phone to ring. It’s important to do this test, not only to make sure the applet works but also so you can grab the IFTTT phone number from your incoming calls log and add them as a contact in Stage 3.

You’re almost done!

 


 

Stage 3 – Ringtone Assignment

To finish, you’ll need to find a cha-ching sound that you can upload to your phone. There are lots of free cha-chings on the internet, for instance here and here. Most cha-ching sounds are quite short, which means that your phone will likely play the sound on a loop until you pick up or it goes to voicemail. (This means: multiple cha-chings! While multiple cha-chings are pretty exciting, they also allow you to immediately distinguish incoming Etsy orders (cha-ching!) from website orders (cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!)

I have Dropbox connected to my phone, so I saved my cha-ching sound to Dropbox and grabbed it from there. If you don’t have a cloud service you may need to email the sound to yourself and download it to your phone.

If you tested the applet at the end of Stage 2, you should have an incoming number for IFTTT in your call log. Add the number to your contacts and edit the entry with your custom ring tone.

samsung-contact-IFTTT-ringtoneNOTE: If you set up other applets to have IFTTT call your phone, you will hear the cha-ching for all of those phone calls. That would be confusing. So keep this as the only applet that uses Call My Phone for an action. (You can have other applets text you, and those would come through with a text notification sound, instead of the cha-ching.)

Ta-da! Pat yourself on the back, you’re done! Sit back and wait for the “cha-chings” to come in!

Questions about this? Did you try it? Leave your comments below!

If you don’t sell on Etsy but would like to, get started today with 40 free listings and await your very own “cha-ching!”

My two Etsy shops:
RebecaMojicaJewelry
BlueBuddhaBoutique


 

It’s Not About The Money: This Artisan Has Spent Twenty Years Making And Giving Away His Creations

An Enduring Story Of Generosity And Passion Sprung From One Man’s Obsession With Chainmaille

 

heart-shaped-boxThis month, Blue Buddha Boutique is sitting down to chat with Stephen Hoffman of Long Island, NY. 

A long-time contributor to the chainmaille community, Stephen is known for his prolific portfolio of shirts, bags and anodized titanium pieces as well as for warmly welcoming folks new to the craft and for his unforgettable sense of humor.

One thing that struck me during our interview—in addition to wondering if my blog could handle so many footnotes!—is how much genuine, unbridled love and passion Stephen has for his craft and the community. He’s not the first person I’ve met with such passion, but I think he’s the first person who has spent countless, endless hours making things without ever trying to earn a dollar. Instead, he purposely makes hundreds of items to give them away. I know he wants no accolades for gifting. And that’s one of the reasons I feel it is important to share his story—because folks like Stephen tend to hover under the radar. So, I invite you to take a moment to breathe, smile and simply revel in the generosity of this humble East Coast guy.

Enjoy getting to know Stephen in this edition of Blue Buddha’s Meet the Artist series:

Stephen_hoffman_chainmaille

You’ve been doing this a long time! How did you get started making maille?

About twenty years ago, I was gaming with some friends. As we did so, one of them pulled out a few spring-like coils of wire, a set of end-snippers, and a couple pairs of pliers. I watched, fascinated, as he began to add rings to a small patch of chain on the shoulder of his leather jacket.

After a couple hours of watching and asking occasional questions, it got locked in my head. I think I was in a hardware store hunting tools and wire less than 48 hours later. Once I got past the blistered palms from my first hours of inexpertly hand-coiling wire, I was hooked.

snakeskin

Your portfolio is very diverse. How would you describe your style, and how has it evolved over the years?

Diverse, but not tremendously original, perhaps. I am often inspired by works I see around me and tend to just turn the volume on things up “one louder” by enhancing or exaggerating one attribute.  For example, I wasn’t content to make a European 4-in-1 shirt as my first; I had to go 6-in-1. Similarly, many of my other works are simply expansions on what I’ve seen before, just slightly pushing into new territory for the art.

Sometimes, the borders I push outwards are ones I set earlier myself. The “World’s Tiniest Chainmaille Pouch” project is a silly example of that, taken to an extreme. I keep making approximately the same pouch, but with smaller and smaller rings each time.

Worldstiniestchainmaillepouch

How did you get started using titanium?

About the time I started my second shirt I think. I was, as always, playing “turn it up one louder”. I wanted to make a shirt with a cool inlay, and wanted to use some exotic materials. About the same time, an amazing artist by the name of Master Knuut sent me about nine pounds of four-inch-long leftover ends of welding rods as a gift. He didn’t have an efficient use for all of it, and I was more than happy to spend hours hand-winding 4-5 ring coils out of them. I staggered out of that adventure with enough rings to form part of a fleur-de-lis inlay, but also a desire to give gifts myself.

Those that are around me may now see that my random and excessive gifting of titanium may be a tiny bit of me playing “one louder” again.

treble

What inspires you?

Creativity, curiosity, and generosity. There have been so many ‘maillers willing to help me out with concepts, materials, and techniques over the yearseach one has built my own resolve to reflect the same attitudes in my own life. I can’t say that I’m more talented than many of the other voices I hear, but I try to do what I can with what I’ve got… reckless enthusiasm and a strange sense of humor.

When I run into something that I think is cool or awesome or amazing, I’m out there waving and pointing at it. There are hundreds of artists out there that I admire and look up to, it’s really hard to list a couple specific ones.


I couldn’t agree more with how generous many folks in the chainmaille community are. It’s so amazing and humbling to be part of such a cool group of creatives!

Maille isn’t your profession, but it seems like more than a hobby: do you have a specific term you prefer to describe your relationship with maille?

*tries to come up with a bad pun involving philanthropy and snakes, fails*

 

Ha, ha! Hobby it is. Many people stick with a hobby for a few months or years and then move on to something else. Why do you think your relationship with chainmaille has endured?

Quite possibly my biggest connection to maille might be the massive number of metal splinters in my fingers and hands. Do we all get those?

But seriously? I dunno. It isn’t my full-time gig, for sure. I don’t sell or take commissions. It never provided financial sustenance, probably more the opposite, it’s not a cheap hobby with the tools and materials and such I tend to play with.

It does supply emotional sustenance though. I find it tremendously satisfying to put things in order, line them up, reduce entropy a tiny bit. Going from a giant pile of disordered rings to an elegant and finished item is pretty satisfying. And there’s the runner’s high, too. Grinding for hours on anything produces physical stress that causes our body to dump endorphins in response. Associating that endorphin dump with the audible sound of a good ring closure happening, and the fall of metal across my hands… well, I’ve kinda built a bit of a Pavlovian response to it. Even watching other people make stuff, or seeing their completed works also kicks the endorphin button in my head now.

What are your favorite piece (or pieces) of chainmaille that you’ve created?

Of course, there’s the aforementioned “World’s Tiniest Chainmaille Pouch” project, that started as a joke, but the idea of making actual functional maille out of the tiniest rings I can perceive has been incredibly fun and challenging. Right now, the smallest uses rings that are 28g (0.012 inch) 3/64 stainless steel, but I’ve got some 0.008 inch titanium staring at me from across the room, so I don’t know how long it’ll hold the title …

… and there’s “snek”Ϛ, the ridiculous result of one of the Twitch streams that ran a bit too long. He’s pretty much my unofficial/official mascot on my Twitch channel, people seem to love his slightly-off-kilter snoot…

Ϛ = OOOOoooo, it’s a snek!
snek

… but my absolute favorite?  It’s not a single piece, actually. It’s the 250+ Aura pendants I did to give away to people as registration tokens at a local SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) event. The design is one of Corvus’s, so not original to me, but making hundreds of them in slight variations for people to walk off with, that was crazy fun. People apparently really liked them and every time I go to an event anywhere, I spot a few people still wearing them. The things that I give away, like these, are the ones I value most. Be it a bunch of tiny things or a single large one, the value of the thing is in the joy of the recipient(s).

 

Besides those pieces, what else are particularly proud of accomplishing?

Well, I’ve stumbled across a few weaves here and there, but I think the thing I’m most proud of is enabling ‘maillers. I mean, I could (and will) talk about the things I’ve done all day, but it’s the other folks out there that I directly or indirectly contribute to that make me proudest. Whether it’s sending someone rings or tools or a sample of a weave, or a kit… those moments where I take what I’ve got and share are extremely motivational. The process of giving gifts is pretty cool.

sporkOne of the things I’ve given away with greater and greater frequency is titanium.  It started half as a joke about a year ago, I was anodizing rings for the crazy isotropic shirt while streaming online, and towards the end, I brought out a titanium spork, rainbow’ed it real quick, and then gifted it to one of the people watching. The pseudo-joke was that when people run out of spoons, I wanted them to have an really awesome Spork in reserve.

Well, people liked that. A LOT. So I did it again. And again. And then started adding other things, like pill containers, chopsticks, whole cutlery sets, even titanium chainmaille pouches.  Nowadays I’m anodizing JUST stuff to give away more often than I do rings or ball bearings or whatever. It’s almost self-sustaining, despite the fact that I’ve never sold anything, because people keep donating and sending me things to anodize, it’s been really fun to be a conduit for all that random cool stuff that ends up in, at this point, probably hundreds of people’s hands. As long as I have the free time to spend 6-8 hours afterwards packing things up, I’ll keep doing it.

 

Since you mentioned that crazy isotropic shirt, let’s talk about it!

isotropicI put the rough hours expended at over 600, over a three year period, including time to make the rings, anodize them, weaving, taking parts of it apart, weaving, taking parts apart AGAIN (the collar!!! SIX TIMES!!!). The shirt is slightly over 112,000 rings, with exactly 1000 90-ring diamonds of steel held together with approximately 22,000 blue titanium rings. Oh, and there are three half-diamonds hiding in the collar area. The hardest part, easily, was sticking with it. The tailoring was tough, but I felt once I had finally assembled enough diamonds of maille, it was still just accelerating downhill. In the midst of it, I did discover some pretty cool things, like how to actually seam things together in a new way where the odd angles met up, or that I could cheat a bit and make five- and seven-pointed elements for expansion and contraction, but again, the hardest part was just the grind.  For about two years, I’d rip out a few diamonds of maille between projects, but I barely did 10% of the work in that first linear time period. What really kicked me off into high gear was the whole Twitch streaming thing. I saw other people streaming art and such online, remembered I had a couple webcams sitting around, and then took a swing at it. I needed SOMETHING to do, so I just started grinding out diamonds of maille, over and over.

…and people showed up to WATCH that. It kinda blew my mind, really. Here I was, doing the same exact thing night after night, and this crazy creative community adopted me, hung out, even threw donations at me for better equipment and upgrades. I was (and still am) somewhat baffled that people are keen on watching me work, but once they started, I was committed to actually showing them something interesting, or educational, or fun. I now alternate between half a dozen different projects a month, pushing myself to stretch the boundaries of art and show people every step, including the failures. ESPECIALLY the failures. The community suffered with me as I ripped that collar apart and rebuilt it half a dozen times and the celebration amongst them when I finally finished was pretty (NAUGHTY WORD) awesome.

Right now, it sits atop a bookshelf on a mannequin in my dining room, along with half a dozen other shirts amidst the clutter of a ton of tabletop gaming gear. It’s sorta on display for the indeterminate future. Eventually I expect I’ll give it away, maybe to my son, maybe to someone that needs an awesome shirt, who knows.  I won’t be selling it unless a) I get a ridiculously crazy offer or b) something has gone terribly wrong and I need money. Never say never, but I haven’t sold anything YET in twenty years, it could happen, but I doubt it.

where's the shirtAlso, staring at that picture, it reminds me that I stuck an ounce of niobium wire on the neck of that mannequin about six months ago. I should get around to coiling, cutting, and anodizing that for something…

 

You do quite a bit of anodizing. How did you get into that? Care to share any tips?

Heh, it didn’t start particularly crazy, but the kit has expanded a bit beyond what I originally picked up from TheRingLord.com. I’ve added in an assortment of other gear since then, but let me lay the groundwork first.

Several years back (and still now), I had a ton of titanium in my garage that I had accumulated.  I wanted to make a titanium shirt at some point out of some of it, but didn’t have a specific target/goal/inspiration for a long time.  What finally kicked me over was one of my friends, Kevin.  He’s an awesome guy, and he had an SCA event he was going to run with a Japanese theme in the coming year.  I decided to make the shirt for him.2

I took inventory, decided I’d use a bunch of 12g and 16 titanium, and I wanted to do it in colors matching the heraldry of his SCA persona, green and silver. To do that, I needed an anodizer. So after a few experiments with 9v batteries3 to get the basic understanding of how it worked, I bought one.  Around twenty hours of making and hundreds of hours of tumbling later, I started anodizing the 12g rings green.

green is hardDid I mention green is just an illusion of sorts? There’s no dye in titanium anodizing, it’s just an oxidation process that adds a layer of clear prism-like titanium oxides to the surface of the metal. Those prisms over the surface of the metal create interference patterns where multiple sets of… (*watches eyes glaze over*)… uh… thickness of layer makes different pretty colors? Green is very thick.4

So. Green thick. Takes a high voltage to accumulate. 1 amp anodizer not very powerful. I had to do each ring individually, one at a time, over the period of about 10-15 seconds, watching VERY carefully through the solution to make sure I got the right color. It was a bit of a nightmare, but I learned a heck of a lot in that first run. I learned that I really needed better safety materials… nowadays I wear at least one ASTM-certified massively protective glove to prevent a potentially deadly arc of electricty across my chest through my arms. I probably should wear both, though. Uh. Distraction factory. I’m trying to answer these questions and suddenly I’m picking out rings for another shirt. How did that happen?

Back on track. Japanese shirt. I finished it, had one of the “villagers” present him with a chest with the shirt hidden inside, complete surprise, much happy.

And then I needed to make another (at least partially) titanium shirt. And another. And another.  Popping online to do the ones for the isotropic one and the sporks and foons(🥄) and other randomness has had me expand the kit to include anodic brushes for “painting”, tape and stencils for masking out designs and abstract patterns, sponges, yarn, a potato5

For more detail, it’s probably easier just to stop in and ask me online, there’s a LOT of options, and I anodize stuff quite frequently. I’ll be doing it at least twice during my winter break.-4⅜

2 I didn’t tell him I was making a shirt.  I actually cheated and kept hugging him a lot and remembered where I grabbed my own arms to get measurements.
3 = CRAY CRAY
4 = for a more detailed explanation of the science behind the apparent colors, you can read up here : http://mrtitanium.com/interference.html
5 = Yes, I used a potato.  Once.
= Ok, technically, it was two potatoes.
-4⅜ = Next Anodizing Stream:  Dec 21st, 4PM EST. Giveaways! Gifts! Sporks! Foons! Chopsticks! TITANIUM!  … AND TWO titanium Flasks!  … AND a titanium micromaille pouch!
anodizing stuffs

You are an active member of the chain maille community. What groups/forums are you a part of, and what do you like about being a part of this community?

Mostly nowadays I hang out on Facebook’s various maille groups, and on Twitch.tv, but I do random drivethrus on Reddit’s r/maille forum, mailleartisans, instagram, deviantart, TRL’s forums, and occasionally even meet people in person. Speaking of which: hey, are you going to the Chain Link Up 2019 thing, Rebeca?

Asking the interviewer a question? Yep, that seems like you. 😂  I’m hoping to make it out there; it’s going to depend on my spring show schedule and also if I can get a good price on a flight. (Now is one of the rare times I miss living in the Midwest!)

Flipping things back to you: what is one tool that you cannot live without?

freezerhands

Ha!

What is your current goal?

Not getting arrested for having a bunch of severed hands* in my freezer.

But seriously? I’m making another 250 pendants, assorted random designs, to leave laying around abandoned with a card on them that says something like “Yes, Take me!” at a huge, 12,000-person event called Pennsic I’ll probably put contact info on the card so people can find me there. Maybe I’ll make a few new friends. Probably.  I’ll report back after it happens.

* = yes, they’re fake.  I assume you figured that out.

 

Two very specific question from the audience:

1 – How many shirts have you made? How many dice bags?

Um. About a dozen shirts that I can remember, and a few halves floating around in various stages of completion. As for pouches, I’ve really lost track. Dozens in about fliftybillion designs. Or six or seven unique designs. Something like that. Did I mention the first thing I made was a pouchŗ?

ŗ = I probably did, I tend to repeat things.
ŗ = I probably did, I tend to repeat things.
ŗ = I probably did, I tend to repeat things.
lots of pouches

2 – How exactly does Stephen feel about mannequins? 😂

It’s just the one. It’s terrifying.

 

OK, Onto the quick questions that I ask all participating artists:

kevin likes his shirtDo you listen to music/podcasts/tv/etc while mailling? If so, what are your favorites?

Yes. I listen to a wide variety of music, and when I’m not on camera myself, I’m usually watching someone else make something while I work. I’m watching a Twitch.tv stream😜 right now, as a matter of fact!

😜 = HI PHARE!!!

What are your favorite artists (chainmaille or otherwise)?

Aside from the one or two random callouts inline of active ‘maillers, it’s tough to just list a few, so I’ll just mention Escher. I’m a huge Escher fan.

What do you do when you’re not making chainmaille?

Have delightful panic attacks because I’m not making chainmaille. Uh. Gaming. D&D, sometimes online with my friends.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself.

What would your superpower be and why?

Wait, I get to pick?

What’s one thing Blue Buddha readers might be surprised to know about you?

My initials are SMH. For years, I wondered why people kept using my initials in things they were saying until someone explained it to me.

chopsticks

Anything else you want to add?

(🥄) = A spork is a forkspoon on one end. A foon is a spoon on one end, and a fork on the other.  Nobody else uses the term Foon, everyone else calls both of them Sporks.

Before we let you go, please tell us where we can find your work!

Twitch: http://www.twitch.tv/cinnibar
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cinnibar
Cinnibar on M.A.I.L. – http://www.mailleartisans.org/members/memberdisplay.php?key=58
(two digit member id FTW)
Isotropic Shirt – https://imgur.com/gallery/tW4F1

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Stephen! I think you almost broke my blog’s ability to handle footnotes. 😂

Also, thank you so much for my spork!

rebeca-mojica-and-titanium-spork

 

And thank you, readers and fans of this series. While you’re here, be sure to check out the previous “Meet an Artist” posts: http://www.bluebuddhaboutique.com/blog/category/ask-an-artist-series/ and let me know if there’s anyone you want to see interviewed and any questions you have for them. ‘Til next time, happy crafting!

Woo-hoo! 90,000 Orders Shipped!

Thanks To All The Wonderful Blue Buddha Customers For Helping Reach This Milestone!

Disclosure: Some of the links to products below are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. It helps me create content like this for you, and I thank you for your support.

UPDATE Dec 19: List of winners added at bottom of post.

90000th-orderYesterday we shipped our 90,000th order! Wow, thank you so much!

The lucky customer who placed this order has received their entire order for free. (Coincidentally his order came exactly seven years after he first received my book CHAINED, how cool is that?)

Of course we want everyone to be a part of the celebration! So….

For the next 90 hours* save 10% off your entire order with coupon code 90KORDERS. You can use this code on the Blue Buddha Etsy Shop, the Rebeca Mojica Jewelry website and the Rebeca Mojica Jewelry shop on Etsy.

All customers who use the coupon code will automatically receive a chance to win a grand prize $90-off coupon code valid for any of the B3/RMJ shops. (Note: Multiple orders from the same person do not yield additional chances; each person receives 1 chance total no matter how many orders placed during this time).

No purchase necessary: Leave a comment on this blog post for 1 chance to win! (Multiple comments will not be counted as additional entries.)

If you don’t win the grand prize, you might be one of 9 lucky runner-ups to receive a $10-off coupon code.

Good luck! 

* Contest ends and coupon code expires Saturday, December 15 at 9:43 am PT. Winners will be selected and notified within 72 hours.

A Look Back

b3-crew

Blue Buddha Boutique hits our 80,000 order in September 2015.

It’s amazing and bittersweet to think how much has changed since hitting the 80,000-order mark three years ago. Later that same year, we made the tough decision to close the shop. 😢

Eventually I resurrected many tutorials to sell on Etsy and took some time to help develop award-winning chainmaille craft kits for kids. Slowly, the B3 Etsy shop has grown and now features kits, tools and jump rings, including kits from other vendors so you can get your chainmaille craft on all in one place!

Obviously Blue Buddha Boutique wouldn’t have made it to 90,000 orders without all the amazing employees, guest designers, and instructors—and a select few who were all of the above!—who worked tirelessly for this company. You may be here no longer, but I think of you and am grateful every single day. And thank you to all the advisors and mentors I’ve had throughout the years.

I want to offer a very special thanks to the customers who’ve cheered B3 on and supported us through the ups and downs, especially those who continue to purchase from Blue Buddha to this day. You rock.

hugrings

UPDATED December 19:
Congrats to the winners!
Grand Prize $90 off coupon code – Kendall Rydell
Runners up $10 off coupon code – Susan Burkhart, Kimberly Frank, Lei Kaniumoe, Amy Meador, Jim Pettit, Frann Ramales, Diane Smith, Ann Stolzman, Sue Vogen

 


Official Sweepstakes Rules

  • 1 – No purchase necessary. A comment on this blog post counts as an official entry. Multiple posts from the same person do not count as additional entries. Alternatively, participants may enter by using the coupon code 90000 to make a purchase on the Blue Buddha Boutique (B3) Etsy shop or on the Rebeca Mojica Jewelry website or Rebeca Mojica Jewelry Etsy shop. Multiple purchases do not count as multiple entries.
  • 2 – Eligible to persons 18+ worldwide.
  • 3 – Sweepstakes begins Monday, December 10 and ends Saturday, December 15 at 9:43 a.m. PT.
  • 4 – One (1) Grand prize: $90-off coupon code valid for Blue Buddha Boutique or Rebeca Mojica Jewelry. Nine (9) runner up prizes: $10-off coupon code valid for Blue Buddha Boutique or Rebeca Mojica Jewelry. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received.
  • 5 – Winners will be randomly selected from all eligible entries by using an online random number generator, with each number corresponding to one entry.
  • 6 – Sponsored by Blue Buddha Boutique, 8149 Santa Monica Blvd #268, West Hollywood CA 90046
  • 7 – All prizes will be awarded. All winners will be notified by email within 72 hours of sweepstakes end. Winners have 5 business days to respond and claim their prize. If winner has not responded within that timeframe, winner forfeits the prize and a new winner will be selected. The email will come from [email protected]
  • 8 – List of winners will be posted on the B3 blog and can also be obtained by emailing [email protected] after December 31 2018.

Crafts Product Review: Brightech Magnifier Lamp Lightview XL 2-in-1

This Lamp Converts From Floor-Standing To A Table Lamp And Is Perfect For Jewelry-Making, Crafts, Circuit Board Work and Other Hobbies

Disclosure: I received a free product in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. It helps me create content like this for you, and I thank you for your support.

rebeca mojica smiling with her new brightech crafting lampIf you’ve seen my videos or blog posts about protecting and strengthening your eyes, you know how serious I am about this subject. In addition to eye exercises, good lighting is my top recommendation for preserving your eyesight if you do detailed handiwork like jewelry-making or crafts.

Therefore, I jumped at the chance to test out the LightView XL 2-in-1 magnifier lamp by Brightech.

Assembly is very intuitive. Without glancing at the instructions (because I’m stubborn like that), I put the lamp together in under 2 minutes. The base is substantially weighty – it’s about 11.5 lbs. This is to be expected as it needs to act as a counter balance when the upper arm is fully extended.

LightView XL Magnifying Glass Light: 2in1 Floor Standing to Table Lamp
One of the nifty things about this lamp is that it converts from a floor to a table lamp. I wanted to test the table function first, so I assembled it without the long rod (shown at the right of the base in the photo above left).

I decided to do a little bit of chainmaille work at the main table—aka dining room table, aka shipping station aka every-surface-in-my-home-is-a-crafting-area. 😉

rebeca mojica making chainmaille using table craft lamp by brightech Immediately I noticed that the light was much brighter than my old craft lamp. No surprise, as there are many miniature LED lights in this lamp:

led lights on brightech magnifier lampAccording to the manufacturer, the Lightview XL 2-in-1 is energy saving and draws on just 9 watts to generate 900 lumens, equal to a 65W incandescent bulb. The lights are made to last up to 100,000 hours.

*does quick calculations*

OK, given my average weekly weaving time, this lamp should last, oh, until I’m more than 130 years old … all good!

One of my favorite things about working under this lamp is that the lights don’t get hot. During the long Southern California summers, it can get uncomfortable working under a traditional task lamp-even ones that generate just a bit of heat. My hands usually get sweaty, making it difficult to weave efficiently. With this lamp, I noticed no heat at all while working. (If I put my hands directly on the underside of the lamp, it felt warm … but obviously I do my work a few inches below the lamp, where there’s no noticeable difference in air temperature with this lamp.)

over the shoulder view of micromaille jump rings and pliers through magnifier lampI am fortunate enough to have excellent vision and I don’t often work with tiny jump rings, so I likely won’t have a need for the magnifier portion very often. However, I did have to do a repair on my micromaille cuff, so I decided to test out the magnifier.

I had a different magnifier lamp many years ago, and didn’t care for it because the magnifier portion was a teeny circle, surrounded by a much wider circle that housed a fluorescent light. I often felt as though the field of view was too small and the light itself was bulky. This certainly is not the case with the Brightech magnifier. The 6″ wide by 4.5″ long viewing area is billed as the “widest viewer of any magnifier lamp on the market” yet the surrounding border is small, so it didn’t feel like there was something “in the way” as I worked. The view was clear as can be. (The photo below shows me working with 1/16″ inner diameter jump rings.)

magnifier view of micromaille and pliersIn all honesty, though, I probably won’t often use the magnifier. I’ve always found it a bit disorienting to transition back to “normal viewing mode” after having peered through a magnifier for an extended period of time. I’ll just take advantage of my good vision for as long as I can, and then when I really do need the magnifier, it’ll be there for me.

Another feature I was excited about was the ability to use this as a floor lamp. Chainmaillers can often be found weaving in front of the TV, so I had to try setting up in the living room.

crafter sitting on sofa making jewelry using brightech floor lampIt was quite easy to loosen and release the arm of the lamp, add the floor pole and then reattach the arm. There are thin floor pads at the base of the lamp, but if you are going to use this on a sensitive floor, I’d recommend adding additional furniture pads. (I tend to go overboard on protecting my floors after having lived in a place with floors that seemed to get scratched if you just breathed too hard!)

over the shoulder view of rebeca mojica making micromaille using brightech magnifier lampIt surprised me how easy the arm was to control. It extends with ease and somehow locks into place wherever you place it. There’s a knob just below the light which allows you to angle the light and magnifier how you wish.

The cord is 5 feet long, fairly standard for a crafting lamp. Note that the plug connects to the lamp at the bottom of the arm, NOT at the base. This means that if you’re using the floor lamp configuration, the cord plugs in near the middle of the lamp, making its reach essentially 2 feet shorter. This isn’t an issue at my normal work table below, but for working in the living room I needed to use an extension cord to reach an outlet.

jewelry maker using craft light with magnifierI’ve decided to keep the Brightech lamp in the floor configuration for use at my worktable. By clearing away my old task lamp, I have more surface on my worktable….and what crafter doesn’t want more space? 😂 If you do want to use the table lamp configuration, the base measures about 7″ x 11″, so know that it takes up a good chunk of space.

Brightech also makes a clamping lamp version of this same lamp, but I prefer the 2-in-1 model that I tested because I can quickly and easily move the lamp if needed.

I’ll still use my old craft lamp for travel (it’s small and very portable). But for every day use, the Brightech LightView XL 2-in-1 is my new lamp of choice. Highly recommended!

Oh. I should add that there might be competition in my household for this lamp. During my testing week when I was moving the lamp all around the house, I caught my sweetie, who makes scale model and customs, using it to paint some of his work!

view through magnifier lamp showing small brush painting model hand

I have a feeling I’ll be getting him a lamp of his own this holiday season!

If you’re in the market to upgrade your current lighting situation, or if you know a crafter who could use a lamp, check out the wide selection at Brightech today. Orders $50+ ship free within the US, and this lamp comes with a 5-year warranty, showing that they stand behind their product.

Anything else you’d like to know about my experiences with the lamp? Leave a comment below.

Happy crafting!

shop-now3
brightview lamp