I now own another weird, random thing I’ve always wanted, for some reason: sea urchin light

sea urchin light

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What I’m obsessed with this month: Victorian mourning hair jewelry

This is something I discovered a few years ago and have been hunting for a piece to own ever since. Mourning hair jewelry was made from the hair of a deceased loved one; the idea’s been around for centuries but it was most popular during the Victorian era. Christ, those Victorians were a morbid bunch–although the argument can also be made that it’s healthier to deal with death directly, rather than sweep it under the carpet the way we try to nowadays. Anyway, they say it’s because Queen Victoria went off the deep end when Prince Albert died, that she never stopped mourning (based on how many children they produced in the time they were married, they must have REALLY been in love, know what I’m saying, all that “Close your eyes and think of England” stuff aside) and she was such a strong influence on western culture that everyone kind of  followed her over the cliff.

There are two different styles of mourning jewelry: one where necklaces, bracelets, and watch fobs are woven from the hair; and one where the hair is encased in a brooch or necklace pendant. The latter is my favored style, it can be as simple as just a lock of hair curled inside, sometimes with a portrait of the loved one. But jewelers sometimes got really elaborate with it and made intricately woven/braided patterns or curls or even actual tiny pictures with the hair (weeping willows, pansies, tombstones).

There are a couple of local antique stores with a pretty good stash of mourning jewelry, one in Lafayette and one in Breaux Bridge, but (based on my research) I’ve found it all overpriced for the condition it’s in. And when did antique dealers become so opposed to haggling? Used to be you could make them a counter-offer and if it wasn’t insulting they’d likely take it, because that item could sit gathering dust for another decade before anyone else expressed interest in it. Nowadays you offer $85 for something priced at $100, and they act like you offered to trade them a dead skunk for it.

So I took to Etsy, and last night I found the perfect, and I mean it’s EXACTLY what I’m looking for AND it’s in excellent condition, piece:

mourning hair

Those three curls are a style that was called “Prince of Wales”. The gold threads symbolized true love and the seed pearls the tears of the person who wore the piece. It’s reversible: the pin you see sticking out of the right side lifts up, the center swivels, and you put the pin back to lock it in place. The other side is currently empty, I’m guessing it held a photo that was removed by the last family member who owned the piece before the estate sale. The gold is probably only 9 or 10 k; gold wasn’t really the point of these pieces and they usually had a low content. There are initials and the date 1869 scratched into the back.

The seller was offering this at a price that is more than fair, I’ve seen less elaborate pieces in worse shape go for $100 more than what she’s selling this for. Even better, she offered layaway in the listing, so I don’t have to pay the whole price at once. We worked out a deal, I’m going to pay her $100 a week (I get paid every Friday) until it’s paid for, then she’ll ship it.

The next thing I’m going to hunt down is a lachrymatory, which was a glass vial that mourners (almost always women) used to catch their tears; when it was full they sprinkled them on the grave of the loved one. It dates back to the Romans, but again, it was the Victorians who really made it into an art form. One day I’d love to have a cabinet of curiosities, where I can have all my weird stuff in one place–although that locket is going in my jewelry box, because you better believe I’m going to wear it.

Louisiana opal

I’ve been splurging on myself a bit since I got the raise at work, but I figure I’m allowed after more than a year of being unemployed. (I like to say I was self-employed, because I was selling the occasional print or vintage camera through my Etsy shop, but who am I kidding, that wasn’t enough to live on.)

louisiana opal

This is a Louisiana opal pendant that I bought last night from an Etsy seller who lives up in Leesville. I found out about Louisiana opals a couple of years ago and have been wanting one ever since. Wire wrapping is how most of them are set; I chose this one because I like the unusual shape of the cabochon, the fact that the wires don’t cover much of the surface area of the stone, and the bottom twists that remind me of a letter S.

Louisiana opals occur when the opal matrix forms inside of quartz sandstone. They are considerably harder and less brittle than fire opals or black opals, and so can be cut in large cabochons and set without a protective backing. They are less gaudy than other kinds of opals, appearing to be merely a piece of polished beige-grey sandstone–until you turn them, and green, blue, purple, teal, gold, and aqua flashes out at you. There was only ever one commercial mine for them, the Hidden Fire Opal Mine in Vernon Parish. It was operated on land owned by Boise Cascade, which shut it down after just four years because they figured the timber was worth more than the opals.

So Louisiana opals are quite rare and most existing ones are today in the hands of private gem collectors. But because they aren’t as colorful as other kinds of opals they’re seen as not as desirable and thus are pretty affordable. This is a 24-carat opal (!!), but even set it was under $200. Because they’re so large, set opals are usually sold as necklace pendants or pins, rather than rings. I might eventually also get an unset stone and see what a local jeweler can do with it, but that will probably be expensive so for now I’m content with this one piece.

I just really love these opals. In addition to being a literal piece of the state that is both my ancestral home and the place I’ve chosen to live, I appreciate the subtlety of the stone. I like regular opals, too–I wear an opal ring that my (biological) father gave to my mother almost every day, but they show their colors without prompting. There’s something special about the hidden fire of a Louisiana opal.

I sold 2 more photos from my Etsy shop, because I am a perfessional photo-taking person.

This photo of a mausoleum in New Orleans’ Greenwood Cemetery (note the ubiquitous Mardi Gras beads):

684396-R1-12-13

And this photo of a doorway and elephant ears in the Marigny neighborhood of NOLA:

672502-R1-38-00A

Both to a woman in Austin, Texas. I need to get some more photos listed, I haven’t been replacing sold listings with new ones and I’ve fallen below 20.

I also got a boatload of mail yesterday, so whatever demands my mail carrier had in exchange for the mail I assume he was holding hostage, I must have unwittingly met them. Among other goodies, I got a 30-year-old postcard from Belarus that came in an envelope with old Soviet stamps; some Loteria cards (a new obsession of mine, I recently bought Loteria embroidery transfers from Sublime Stitching); and the oilskin patches for my SX-70, which I wasted no time applying.

sx 70 top

sx-70 bottom

sx 70 open

Apologies for the crappy cell phone photos, I wore out the batteries in my digital over the weekend. I really, really wish that sonar autofocus unit was removable, because I don’t plan to use it even if it still works, and it messes up the classic shape of the camera when it’s folded. Oh well, first world problems.

Editing photos from the trip is still going slower than molasses in winter, but here’s one I took on Highway 61 outside of Natchez:

Highway 61, Adams County, Mississippi

I am not normally a fan of the whole Instacrap filter thing, but the lighting was so dull and flat—filtered through heavily overcast skies—that a lot of the photos need *something* to make them pop a little.

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My Etsy shop. I also sell vintage cameras.

My Neighbor Totoro cross stitch #1

Totoro in hydrangeas cross stitch (with flash)

This is the first cross stitch I’ve completed in a while. I got bogged down with those Celtic crosses; I wanted to do the entire book of designs (I think there were 8 in all), but as I was about to finish the 2nd to last one I got a serious case of the eff thises and didn’t want to pick up any needlecrafts for the next several months. Which is my normal routine, I go in spurts where I’m obsessed with it and do it every waking minute, then I can’t stand the sight of an embroidery hoop for the rest of the year.

This is a small design, actually one of 2 My Neighbor Totoro designs that I bought as a digital file from an Etsy seller for a few dollars, back when I was still working on the crosses. I usually like to ease back into things with a small project. I was just going to hoop it, but it’s small enough that maybe I can use it for a clothing or a tote bag patch or something.

20 new listings in my Etsy shop

I have 20 new photos listed in my shop, and you can get free shipping now until the end of October if you use the coupon code NEW2013. (That’s only for prints, not vintage cameras.)

church door

I was in New Orleans yesterday (more on that later), and when I came back and checked Etsy I found that I’d had photos featured in 3 different treasuries. This photo was in 2 of them, and about 2 dozen people have favorited it so far. That’s great, but I wish someone would buy it.

I’m pretty frustrated with the whole feedback system of Etsy, although I understand why they have it. But people don’t like to buy from you if you don’t have a lot of feedback, and you can’t get feedback until you make sales, so it’s a catch-22. And I’ve made some sales, but only 1 person has bothered to leave feedback! If feedback is so important to how well your shop does, Etsy should make it mandatory. Like you’re not able to make more purchases until you’ve left feedback for the previous one or something.

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I fell down an Etsy rabbit hole of non-denominational prayer/meditation beads and this is the result

I couldn’t find any that I really liked, so I just made my own.

ocean meditation beads flash

I’ve got to stop photographing things on a semi-reflective surface.

Anyway, they’re ocean meditation beads. From the inside, the 3 main sections are freshwater pearls, imperial blue jasper, and abalone. The jasper was chosen mainly on the basis of color, but I figure it’s all symbolism anyway so it works. The tiny white spacer beads are mother-of-pearl, and the slightly larger blue spacer beads are also abalone. The 4 large spacer “beads” are actually a bunch of little seed pearls strung together to form a ball.

The large charm is a pewter labyrinth disc, which isn’t necessarily ocean-related but is a good all-purpose contemplative symbol. The smaller charm is a silver sea shell that’s also a locket, for storing a wish/prayer or a very small object. Next to the charms are some more spacer beads and freshwater pearls in a lighter color, just to kind of “taper” the ends.

I experimented with alternating the beads, but it looked tidier doing them in 3 different sections separated by the large spacer beads. There’s 9 in each section, because 3 is a mystical number, 9 is 3 3s, and there are 3 sections. It just seemed right.

Here’s a photo without the flash:

ocean meditation beads no flash

In somewhat related news, I just finished reading a book about New Orleans Voodoo, and apparently carrying a $2 bill around in your wallet is a Voodoo thing, it’s supposed to attract more money. (Voodoo traditionally being a religion of poor people, a lot of it has to do with money or finding work or just avoiding bad luck.) Anyway, it’s funny because Granny carried a $2 bill around with her for decades. She said it was so she always had $2 in case of emergency, but since $2 hasn’t been much use in any kind of emergency since Kennedy was assassinated, Mom and I figured it was some kind of good luck charm. Mom gave it to me when Granny died, and now it’s in my wallet. (The date on the bill is 1976! I was less than 2 when it was printed!)

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