Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day

Memorial Day began after the Civil War to honor the dead soldiers. Originally it was named Decoration Day because to honor the dead soldiers, people decorated their graves with flags, red poppies, and other memorabilia. Today, more people look at Memorial Day as the beginning of summer and head to the beach or have backyard barbecues.

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

For me, Memorial Day is the day to specifically remember those who did not survive World War II. My father was a fighter pilot in World War II and participated in the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Belgium. He and my Uncle Bob were the only two original members of their unit to survive. Many of their comrades in arms passed right next to them in the air. Both my father and Uncle Bob could never answer the question of why they survived and others did not. My father died in 2001 and my Uncle Bob died in 2013.

This Monday, I will remember the sacrifices made by my father and Uncle Bob and the rest of their unit. I will not have a barbecue nor will I play at the beach. These men fought to keep Europe and the rest of the world free from Hitler and the death camps. The least we can do now is remember them.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

JETS Lend a Helping Hand

Making jewelry is not just about making beautiful things for other people to wear. Making jewelry is also for a cause. Several of the JET team (Jewelry on Etsy) members have gathered together and listed certain jewelry items in support of the disaster experienced by the Philippino people last fall. If you search "jetteam Philippines" those pieces of jewelry will appear. The proceeds from these pieces of jewelry will be sent to Lutheran Disaster Relief, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and WorldVision for Philippines Disaster Relief.

Here is a sampling of that jewelry:

JETs also assist people closer to home. The US ecomony is improving but many people are having difficulties. Those people are your friends.

Do you hear what they are saying? Your friends aren't going to come right out and say that they are hungry but after hearing they have eaten pasta 8 nights in a row that is a clue.Reach out and buy some groceries for your friend.

Is your friend cold - get her a space heater or pay her heating bill for a month. There are many ways to help your literal next door neighbor. Be thankful you are not in that position for there but by the grace of God go I. Lend a helping hand either anonymously or in person. The method doesn't matter, the aid is what matters.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Holidays are Approaching

The holidays are approaching and what does that mean to you? A frenzy of shopping, cooking, and trips to visit family. Is it like your own version of Home for the Holidays? Or is it about family traditions?

I'm one of those people who shops all year and basically has my shopping finished by Thanksgiving. I make my own Christmas cards. Yes, I send actual paper cards to people I know. The holidays mean to me a time to spend with family, give thanks, and cook. I miss not being able to go to church; but, I cannot attend church because of the noise during the service and my migraines. Family traditions matter to me.

One such tradition is making cookies. I made cookies with my mother from the time I was a toddler. For years, as an adult, I made Christmas cookies. Not just a couple of dozen, but cookies on the scale of a bakery. I would send these cookies to my husband's office where they would be consumed within a matter of hours. To make the sugar cookies I would use the same cookie cutters I used as a child. They are my mother's cookie cutters from the 1960s. To me they are the best cookie cutters ever. They are red plastic with design details imprinted in the cutters instead of mere outlines of shapes.

Through the years some of the cookie cutters were lost or broken; but, I maintained a collection of ten cookie cutters. I treasured them and remembered fondly the ones that used to be. Recently I was surfing the Internet when low and behold I found the same cookie cutters. I found the ones I was missing plus one to replace the package with a broken handle. It turns out these magical cookie cutters are HRM red plastic cookie cutters.

These cookie cutters were originally made in the US in the 1940s by Loma in Ft. Worth, TX. In 1961 Loma sold its molds to HRM. At that point the cookie cutters were made in the US and then in Hong Kong. HRM still makes its cookie cutters today but focuses on cookie cutters for companies and famous characters as opposed to the generic Christmas cookie cutters I own.

After cutting out my cookies, I spend hours painting the detail lines of the cookies with frosting made from confectioners' sugar and creating my own masterpieces. They are almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. One day I will pass my cookie cutters on to one of my nieces and she will remember how I taught her to paint the cookies when she was little. A tradition passed on.

Val Swanson
Designed by Val

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Kumihimo is an ancient Japanese form of braiding. Traditionally it uses a maraudi to create the braids. The braids date back to the age of the Samurai, 8000 BC, and were used to embellish the Samurai's clothing.

What is not commonly know is that about the same time in history a similar form of braiding was developed in Peru. In Peru the braids were used for practical means such as water carriers and to attach packs to animals.

I do not use a maraudi to make my kumihimo braids. I use a foam disk which I can carry around with me. I also use beads instead of just fibers. I use just round seed beads as seen in this bracelet:

I have also used a variety of shaped seed beads as seen in this necklace:

What I am most excited about though, is my new series of kumihimo necklaces using Czech glass. The different shapes of Czech glass give completely different looks to the necklace. Even the same shapes give totally different looks to a necklace. For example these two necklaces use Czech drops but the lavender necklace is totally different from the burgundy and teal necklace.

My favorite, however, is this leaf kumihimo necklace:

Visit my shop to see more kumihimo designs and look for more new Czech glass kumihimo necklaces to be added in the near future.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


My husband and I do not have children. One reason this did not bother us is we had four nieces that lived within 10 minutes of us. The oldest has graduated from college, started a new job, and has an apartment in a big city. The youngest just started high school.

As I talked to the oldest tonight, wishing her well on her new apartment and new job, I could hear the little girl in her voice. The little girl who helped me make dinner every night when I lived with grandma. The little girl who followed me around wherever I went. The baby who fell out of her mother's arms and into mine when we ran into them at the mall. This precious child is an even more precious adult.

She is intelligent, beautiful, and gifted. Within three months of graduation she found herself a job in a new city and state. Within a week she found an apartment and moved in.She is self-supporting and self-sufficient. I am very proud of her to say the least.

My youngest niece just started high school. She is a serious student far more interested in her grades than boys. I'm waiting for that to change at any moment. She is a straight A student who is also athletic - an excellent swimmer. She is also creative - she beads with her aunt. She is growing into a precious adult too.

Never fear, I shall write about my other two nieces at another time. These two extremes just strike me. The one just stepping out into adulthood and the other just stepping out into high school. Two very important beginnings in life happening at the same time to two very important women in my life. It is a privilege to watch it unfold.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How do I create?

After the first blog entry comes the pressure of the second. What to write about that hopefully somebody will find interesting. Everybody likes to talk about the "creative process"; that phrase makes me laugh because I'm still not comfortable calling myself an artist or a creative person. Perhaps its the complex I developed as a child believing my brother was the only creative one.

But let's get down to the question at hand, how do I create? I'm not a planner. I don't sketch out a design or plan on making a necklace that looks like THIS. Usually I open the drawers of my gems, beads, and glass and just look over my collection until something catches my eye. Then I pull it out of my drawer. Fondling of the beads is involved. The beads have to talk to me. If they don't talk loud enough back into the drawer they go. This process goes on until something finally speaks to me. Then I start pulling out combinations until I feel content. After that the creation just appears and I keep working until I am satisfied. Sometimes I am never satisfied and back into the drawer it all goes and I start all over again.

Other times images flash to me of a creation. This usually happens in the shower or yes, in the middle of typing this blog entry. It will be interesting to see if I can create the seed bead bib necklace that came to me while typing this blog posting. It will have to wait though until I finish other pending projects.

Next posting will be about some new kumihimo projects I am working on with unique Czech glass. I am very excited about them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who is Val behind Designed by Val?

I want to introduce myself. I am Val Swanson, the owner and designer of Designed by Val. I am 44 years old and have been married for 20 years, almost 21. We do not have children but we have 4 wonderful nieces and 2 fabulous nephews who live in the same area as us.We have thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow up. The oldest now has her first job after college and the youngest has started high school.

I worked for fifteen years as a litigation paralegal and enjoyed it. I had to stop due to a chronic illness. I have chronic migraine headaches which means I have a migraine headache all day and all night, all of the time. My goal with this blog is to write three times a week; however, due to my migraines I may miss some days so bear with me.

I started making jewelry about eight years ago. My best friend Ann took me to a bead shop. I thought it was going to be a complete disaster. I had never done anything creative in my life. All the creative work in my family was done by my younger brother. He is a graphic designer now. He was a nightmare younger brother, creatively speaking. When we would color together, the grass in his coloring book would be three shades of green while I was fighting to stay in the lines! I developed quite the complex; hence, why I thought the bead store would be a disaster.

To my surprise I enjoyed myself immensely at the bead store. I made two necklaces. I quickly decided it was too expensive to make jewelry in a bead store as often as I wanted so I started buying my own supplies online. After giving family members and friends jewelry often enough that they started running away, it was suggested to me to start a shop on Etsy. I did and I haven't looked back since. In my shop are semi precious gemstone jewelry, seed bead jewelry, and kumihimo jewelry. Take a look and let me know what you think.