Category Archives: Techniques I Use

Methods, tools and materials that I use regularly or have tried and may be of use to someone else.

Making a better mouse

I’m going to be at a craft fair on 5th September 2013 (, which is also a book launch for the next installment of Tales from Beauty Bank.  They are stories about a wonderful family of mice and their exciting adventures in and around the English county of Cheshire.

Well, when I heard that there was to be a new book, I so wanted to make a jewellery version of one of the little mice.  I contacted the author, Michael R. Beddard for his permission, and after checking with the artist, Rebecca Yoxall, I got the go ahead and this is what happened.

I was sent an image of Carlos, a mouse not yet seen in the books, for reference.  He looked so sweet and I decided that he’d make a wonderful brooch.  There had been clues about gems being of some importance in the new story, so I decided to make him holding a sparkling gem in his little paws.

I decided to draw his outline on paper and looked to see if there would be any weaknesses in the design.  To help strengthen the finished piece, I gave him a curl to his tail and took it up and over his body.  To give an extra dimension to the mouse, his tail would be added on in round wire, but to give strength, I would also cut out it’s shape in the silver sheet.

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Above, you can see the silver sheet pierced (using a Knew Concepts hand saw, which is an amazing piece of kit) and with it’s protective film still on.  I’ve left the area for the gem quite large for the moment, just in case I change my mind about the gem or the exact placement.Image

This is Carlos with his tail and bezel soldered on.  He’s had a first filing to smooth any rough edges and to check all the surfaces are joined well. He’ll go in the pickle after I solder the brooch pin on the back.  His tail was slightly flattened at one end and the tip was filed to taper down to a blunt point.  As I was using round wire (1mm diameter), I filed the base down slightly to give a flat edge which would connect well with the main body and give a good connection when soldered.

Just a note on the brooch pin itself.  If it gets heated then it will loose it’s hardness and become annealed (soft for working with).  Also, air-cooling rather than quenching in water will help too.  I work-harden it back to usability by hitting it with my rawhide hammer until it becomes strong enough not to bend easily.

The bezel is made from fancy bezel wire (it just means shaped and not plain strip) which has been soldered into a circle (5mm inside diameter) and a jump ring has been slightly flattened and soldered inside as the bezel shelf.  I checked the gem in the mount, and as the gem was faceted, I filed the seat of the bezel to fit.

On the main body of the piece, I worked out where exactly the bezel would sit, and took out a circle of about 3mm across for both reasons of weight and ease of keeping the stone clean.  The bezel was then sweat-soldered (solder was melted onto one surface only and then gently re-melted with the bezel sitting on top) to the piece.

After pickling, filing and polishing, It was time to give this little boy some colour.  I decided to use Liver of Sulphur with a brush and try to re-create the feel of the original watercolour.  I layered on the liquid LoS and then washed it off in cold water (it stops the chemical reaction, but unfortunately not the rotten egg smell).  I did this quite a few times, as the colours changed from gold to brown to blue and then purple.  I used a fine silicon polishing stick in my Dremel to rub away the patina to give lovely highlights and show off his lovely white tummy.  And here he is …Image

The gem is real garnet and I think he looks splendid with it!

Well, I thought I was finished but I sat thinking about how to protect the finish. Normally, I would use Renaissance Wax but I was really worried about the patina scratching, even through the wax,  This time I decided to seal the colour with a glossy doming resin that is cured by UV rays.  I use a toothpick to drop the resin onto the piece, starting round the edges and curing that before going on to fill in the center (this is because the resin has a tendency to pull in, leaving the edges exposed).

Here is little Carlos with his new protective coat:

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UPDATE:

The author liked my version of Carlos so much, he commissioned me to make a similar one for his mum.  She loves opals and so I sourced a special translucent opal (solid, not a doublet or triplet) with beautiful flashes of colour.  I decided that this mouse would be Rachel, who is in the books!

The differences are the eyelashes and her more finely shaped head. She has a pink nose and pink cheeks, which were done using watercolour & gouache paint after the LoS patina was applied.  The first photo below is before the resin top coat and the second one, after the top coat was applied.ImageT

I can’t wait to see how these two little mice are received at their own little coming out party to celebrate the book launch.  I hope Michael’s mum and whoever has Carlos, will love them as much as I do.Image

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“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 30: The Final Piece

Today is the last day of my “one-a-day” challenge.  I can’t actually believe it’s been 31 jewellery making days since I started this – time really has gone quickly and I’m feeling sad that I’m at the end.

Well, you’d think that I’d choose something nice and easy for my last day, something I couldn’t muck up and turn into another disaster!  Sorry, but you couldn’t be more wrong if you tried!

Today, I wanted to do a piece that was special to me and I have a beautiful silver ankh earring (again, I had lost one of the pair) which needed to be made into something really beautiful.  For those of you that know Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, The Endless each have a gallery of symbols that they use to call each other – and Death’s symbol is an ankh.

The design is of a ankh in a frame, as if it is from one of the galleries of The Endless.  The background is of cogs and watch pieces and the frame is to be made out of lots of small pieces (like an old ironwork frame that has rusted into twisted shapes) as I also identify the character of Death with the concepts of time (as in time running out, and the end of time, etc.) and entropy.

The main part of the brooch was made in PMC3 – the cogs and watch pieces were made using a unique stamp I had made previously, and I added thin strips of PMC3 to the edges to make them level.  I cut off the loop at the top of the silver ankh earring (to make it look better) and, as it seemed to be silver all the way through, embedded it into the middle of the brooch.  After drying in the little electric oven, I added the brooch findings to the back (made by hand – I will do a proper tutorial on this soon) and my name stamp.  Another 20 minutes in the electric oven and it was time to torch-fire the brooch.

When I torch-fire things that are larger than normal, I place small pieces of fire-brick around the piece (almost like a mini-kiln) and it keeps the heat around the piece better than if I just fired it on a flat board.  It worked really well and the piece fired perfectly – or so I thought.  When I turned the brooch over (I had fired it face-down because of the brooch findings on the back) the ankh had deformed and turned a really funny grey, not like the normal fire-scale I was expecting.

I filed the face lightly and the ankh shone silver underneath the patina, so I thought it was just a reaction with the PMC3 but, oh no, it turns out that the earrings were base-metal with a foil of silver folded around it.  I found that out because the foil just lifted off the base-metal when I investigated further.  I had a moment of panic as I tried to remove it from the brooch but, I am so glad that the ankh came away pretty cleanly after prising the central base-metal away and then grinding off the foil with the rotary tool.  I was left with an ankh-shaped indent rather than the raised shape I had originally wanted. Oh well, I would have to wait and see how it all ended up before I passed judgement – sometimes, something wonderful comes out of disaster (but also, sometimes it just ends up in the scrap bin!).

The frame was made from lots of tiny scrap pieces of 0.4mm sterling sheet.  I drew the outline of my brooch onto the firing board as a guideline and then placed my fluxed pieces down and soldered them all together with easy solder.  (Sounds simple, but getting them all to stay where I wanted and then for everything to solder at the same time was really tricky.)  Both pieces were placed in the pickle pot and then washed before going into the tumbler.

A piece of 0.8mm wire was made into a coil with two straight ends, the longer one to be the brooch pin and the shorter one to be part of the spring.  This too was thrown into the tumbler, to work harden and polish.

After tumbling, the face of the brooch was given a patina and sealed with Renaissance Wax.  Then the frame had a hole drilled into each corner and four corresponding holes were drilled into the brooch.  The frame was attached to the brooch with “rivets” ((this was the first time I’ve ever done rivets in jewellery) which were short pieces of 1mm sterling wire threaded through both pieces and the ends hammered so that they splayed slightly, holding the pieces in place.

The brooch pin was added and the piece was finished.  Okay, it didn’t look quite how I had imagined; but as a final piece it was apt.  I had used leftover pieces and tried some new things. I had learned some lessons the hard way and had to get myself out of a fix with some unorthodox Macgyver-ing.  I’m sorry that it wasn’t the amazing piece of jewellery I had wished to make – but I learned a lot making it and that’s something I can be proud of.

Today is not the end to the making or the posting, or even the making from left-overs!  Just the challenge of making something every single day.  Please remember that my normal working hours are only on a Friday (when my little one is a Nursery) and any other time that I can snatch from my full-on schedule as a full-time mum (and cat-nurse).  This really has been a challenge but one that I would encourage anyone to try.  Thank you for being on the journey with me.

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 30: Leaves of Gold

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew…”  so starts Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I know the leaves in my earrings are actually based on those of the rose and not from trees, as in the song; but to me they do look like they belong in Tolkien’s world.  I can imagine them being worn by an Elven maiden, or a hobbit wife or daughter.  They are so light and delicate, beautiful in their simplicity and evocative of nature (so maybe good for a garden fairy too?).

My whole household are Tolkien fans (my hall even has the door to Moria painted in silver on the under-stairs doors and the White Tree of Gondor half-way up the stairs on the half-landing wall) and I have a feeling that these earrings are only the beginning of the Tolkien/LOTR films inspired jewellery.

The recycling part of these earrings is mostly in the form of the pure silver PMC which the leaves themselves were made from.  When PMC dries out, it can still be re-used but the dried ‘clay’ needs to be ground up really fine (I use an electric coffee grinder) and then all impurities sifted out (I use a fine mesh bag which originally I bought to put jewellery in when sold, but it works really well for this too).  The powder is then mixed with a few drops of water till it reforms into a ‘clay’ ball and then I roll it out, between sheets of greaseproof paper, again and again until it becomes more like the ‘clay’ that comes out of the original packet.

Well, I find that this recycled PMC3 ‘clay’ is really good for using with my moulds and today I used one, originally for cake decorating, to make my little leaves.

The gold on the leaves is pure 24k gold that has been purchased as a powder and then made into a thin paste with glycerine and water.  I used a silicone ‘brush’ tool to paste a layer onto the freshly fired pure silver and then after it dried, I torch-fired the pieces to bond the gold into the silver.  It’s not like plating as the gold is actually bonded into the silver rather than just coating it.

I had wanted the gold to give the impression of texture on the leaves, like those turning gold in Autumn, so the layer of gold paste was applied in patches rather than all over.  The veins of the leaves were also left silver, which gave some definition.  The gold has been only applied to the front of the leaves, as in nature rarely are both sides of a leaf the same shade/colour, and it also seemed overkill to cover the whole leaf in gold.

The beads are gold-filled (also known as rolled-gold, a thicker layer of gold than ordinary gold-plating and also more durable) with a ridged texture and the golden crystals are Fire-polished Czech crystal rhondelles the colour of light golden honey.

The ear-wires and wires that hold the beads, are all sterling silver, but I suppose they could be rolled-gold if need be (the only thing is that rolled-gold or gold-filled wire has a metal core which shows when it is cut and so looks odd when used for ear-wires or anywhere where you can see the cut end).

Elven leaf earringsBy the by, the picture was taken in my kitchen – which is all Alice in Wonderland themed.  That’s a hand-painted picture of the Cheshire cat which is just above one of my shelves, just about where his head would be if he was sitting there.  I’ve got lots more hand-painted images on the walls,  I’ll have to do an Alice inspired piece of jewellery so I can post more pictures of my pretty kitchen!

 

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 28: Love Hearts

Once again I am apologising for not getting this post written and uploaded the same day I made the jewellery.  I have a good excuse though (honest!) – one giant, monster of a headache which arrived on Sunday afternoon. .  This made working with the computer just impossible, and it’s still pretty painful to look at the screen tonight (yes, it’s still here; and boy, do my eyes hurt).

Sunday was also my wedding anniversary (13 years!) and so I decided to make something romantic.

Deciding again not to solder or torch PMC (the fumes hurt my head); I trawled through my PMC fine silver pieces that had already been fired, to see what I had lurking about.  I found a pretty heart with an embossed texture and a slightly defective bezel, as well as a more modern and much smaller heart which I had started to gold-leaf but hadn’t got very far with it.  I wanted a third heart (it’s not often you get to say that!), but didn’t have a silver one that was just right, so a Swarovski® crystal 10mm heart in Moonlight Crystal seemed a good choice.

Today, I’ve been inspired with those “topsy-turvy” cakes with each layer at a different angle and looking like the whole thing is about to fall over.  For this look, the three hearts were first placed flat on my micro-fibre mat (very soft, so no scratching of silver or crystal, and nothing rolls about) so that they looked “topsy-turvy”; and then to make sure the holes were drilled in the right place, a straight piece of wire was laid down the centre of the design (a ruler, strip of paper or any other straight item to hand would have done, but I prefer wire as it’s light and doesn’t hide any of the design so you get a good idea of what it will look like) and then the right places were marked with a permanent marker.

Before drilling, indents were made by hammering a sharpened nail where I had marked – this would help the drill bit stay in the right place and not “chatter”, which is where it skips across the surface.  I find it essential as I mostly use a tiny pin vice and do the drilling by hand.

The largest heart had a plain-walled bezel which I had previously set a gem into but the gem was slightly too small and had to be removed as it didn’t fit the setting tight enough.  To make the bezel usable again, the walls were straightened from the inside using a metal burnisher to push the silver outwards; and then the base (which the gem would sit on) was drilled a bit deeper and smoothed out.

I have some beautiful cabochon moonstones and I found one which was the right diameter and which the bezel would fit round tightly.  This was then set with a pusher and burnisher.

The two PMC fine silver hearts were given a bit of a patina with black gilder’s wax.  I wanted the effect to be aged rather than uniform and, although the black didn’t come out on the photo as dark as it is in real life, I think it worked pretty well.  The highest points were re-polished to a mirror-shine, and a coating of Renaissance Wax was applied to seal and protect.

The silver hearts were connected with a jump-ring, and the crystal heart used a round head pin as a bail to attach it to the smaller silver heart.  The pin was threaded through the hole at the top of the heart, with the ball-end at the front.  The wire was gently (the crystal is more delicate than it looks, especially when using metal tools) curled around from the back and then bent so that the wire went straight upwards.  A loop was formed at the top and this was threaded through the lower hole in the smaller heart, so the crystal heart would hang nicely with some movement.

PMC fine silver hearts with swarovski crystal heart

I didn’t want a traditional bail for the necklace, so I formed a loop in a middle of some silver wire and threaded it through the top hole in the largest heart.  Then, taking a thin jump-ring former, the wire was coiled either side and the excess wire trimmed off from the back.

I think the unusual angles of the hearts give it interest and movement.  I may just have to go make a pair of earrings to match!

Oh, just to say, Day 29 will have to be written up with Day 30 – as it’s after midnight and now I’m going to see if I can go sleep this headache away.

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 27: Birthday Present

Wow, Day 27 already?  Where has the time gone?

Talking of time – apologies for the lateness of this post (it’s already half past midnight) but it’s been a busy day with both creating jewellery and going with my little girl to a birthday party at the local play-barn.

Today I wondered that when I talk or write about making things from scrap or recycled materials (even if they are precious metals), do those phrases bring to mind rubbish or even that the end product is sub-standard in some way?  It’s so hard to get beyond those concepts when recycling is part of the discussion; as if something that is reused or recycled has to be flawed in some way or that it’s previous life has to be hidden to value the new item in any way.

I suppose this came to mind more today because I was making a birthday present for a little girl and I wanted to include it in this challenge.  I didn’t need to – I could have made her something from new silver sheet or wire, but I really believe in not wasting precious resources and all my silver is the same (well, either pure or sterling, anyway), even if it has been made into something else before.

The elements that I wanted to re-use were some pure silver PMC3* pieces, which were either testers or were reclaimed from other jewellery I had previously made (and then taken apart again – artist’s prerogative).  Luckily, I had made a tester of the right initial for the little girl’s name and it was sitting, waiting, in my box of misc. fired PMC pieces.  Looking through the box, I also found some stars of different sizes and took two – one big and one small.

I really dislike the phrase “on-trend” – it’s overused everywhere these days.  Well, something that seems on-trend (*winces*) in jewellery at the moment is chain necklaces with a drop of chain at the front with charms hanging from it – very bohemian, but with a chic style that could go well with a little black dress or a smart work suit.  It also seemed a fun and light necklace for a little girl’s jewellery box – something special but not too grown up (children should be children, in my book) that she could grow into.

Checking my box of chains (wow, that doesn’t sound *quite* as it should!), by now you’ll have realised that I keep all my materials grouped by colour or type in compartmented boxes , I found a small section of good quality silver belcher chain and some jump-rings of different sizes (although I don’t know why they were in there, my putting away must have been off that day!).  Looking at all the pieces, a design was sketched out and then off to the bench to put it all together.

I added all the pieces together with the jump-rings, which were then soldered closed carefully so as not to solder the jump-ring to anything else except itself – easier said than done!  A pair of locking tweezers, holding the jump-ring about mid-way, were very helpful in acting as a heat sink and stopping the solder travelling past the join and onto anything else.  A larger jump-ring (in a wider gauge wire) was attached to the top of the chain to act as a bail, and was also soldered closed.

As chain is notoriously hard (and dangerous) to polish with a rotary motor – the chain went into the tumbler, alongside the head-pin which I would use for the last dangle off the chain.  This would work-harden the silver, making it more hard-wearing, as well as giving it a mirror-shine.

After tumbling, I added the last dangle – a single freshwater pearl.  I believe that the pearl is the oldest known gem and was originally seen as the most valuable.  The story I like best about pearls, is that they are formed by angels travelling through the clouds of heaven.  A perfect gem for a little girl, I think.

(Sorry for how the pearl looks in the photo – I don’t seem to be able to take a good photo of pearls – it’s another thing for me still to learn)

Oh, see how time flies when posting?  It’s now 1:20 am and I think I’d better show you the necklace now before I go and collapse after this tiring day.  Well, here it is – and don’t tell me that it doesn’t look perfectly beautiful, even more so because I re-used and recycled.

 

 

 

 

*Precious Metal Clay is pure silver, which has itself been recycled, in an organic clay binder which can be moulded or worked like clay but when fired at the right temperature, will turn back into pure silver with the binder burning away totally

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 23: Boo!

Halloween is nearly here and I felt like getting into the spooky spirit (excuse the pun) with today’s design.

I doodled some ghost designs, you know the ones that look like a draped sheet with big eyes.  I first thought about making earrings – just cutting the design out of sheet silver and adding red crystals for eyes; but,as well as not being inspired by the idea, I don’t actually have enough scrap silver sheet to do it.

This then forced the idea to evolve into a wire project.  I decided to make the outline in 0.8mm round silver wire and solder two ovals for eyes.  Looking at the design made me think that something was missing – it also looked a bit unsupported (the wire form would not be rigid enough to withstand wear and tear).  Thinking about ghosts, and the ghost stereotype in particular,  I decided my ghost would be the type to jump out and shout “Boo!”, so why not add the word to the design?

Well, down to the actual making of the project.  First, I shaped wire into the individual letters of the word “Boo”.  The “B” was actually made up of two separate pieces of wire instead of trying to get the shape right using only one; and two tiny jump-rings were perfect for each “o”.  These I soldered together with medium solder (If I haven’t said before, solders are graded according to how much heat it takes to melt them – hard solder takes a lot of heat and then next is medium solder, then easy solder and lastly extra easy, which will melt and solder at the lowest temperature.  It makes soldering lots of pieces in different stages very easy by taking the temperature down each time you don’t re-melt the previous solder joints) and put aside for later.

The main shape of the ghost was based on my original pattern but, as I worked the wire using the round-nosed pliers, I changed some of the bends slightly if I thought they looked better.  As I was using scrap wire which was in short lengths, I actually had to make the main shape in two pieces and solder them together (again using medium solder).  The eyes were wire, soldered into large circles and then squeezed gently into ovals with my fingers.  The eyes came out different sizes but I liked the effect and decided not to re-do them.

Putting all the pieces together flat on the soldering board, I saw that I needed to squeeze the main body in slightly so that there would be good contact between that, the eyes, and the word “Boo” – I wanted everything that touched to be soldered well together.  I added a jump-ring to the top (after filing a concave curve in it so it would fit well to the top of the ghost) and then fluxed and soldered all the joins at the same time with easy solder.

Looking at the ghost, I remembered I had wanted to give him red eyes.  I soldered one half loop to each eye and then hung a red (Siam) Swarovski® crystal from each loop.  They now swing in a very sparkly but somehow disturbing fashion – they remind me of those googly-eye glasses that you used to get from joke shops or advertised in the back of comics (am I showing my age now?).  I just also thought I should say that the head-pins for the crystals were hand-made as normal ball-ended head-pins but I held them in a pair of pliers and hammered the “ball” at the end very flat.

A bail was added, which was made from a coil of silver wire soldered together.  Very simple but effective, especially when silver sheet is not available to make bails.

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned pickling in this post.  The silver that was used for this project is called “reflections” silver and is a silver allow with less copper but increased tin, zinc and germanium, which means it has amazing resistance to tarnish and fire-scale.  It is still 925 purity and can be hallmarked Sterling Silver or “925”.  It’s also much easier than traditional sterling to work with.

Well, lastly I gave the piece a preliminary file and polish before a very quick half-an-hour in the tumbler to boost the shine and work-harden the piece (to make it more durable to everyday wear and tear).

Here he is (don’t get frightened now… he might cry!):

Silver GhostA little after-thought: I wish that I could have thought of a way to do his eyes that meant they were a little bit clearer as to what they are!  I think that the loops detract from the design but I couldn’t think of another way to get the colour in there (apart from using coloured resin, but I didn’t want to do that; or flat ovals of red glass, which would have been perfect but I don’t have any – so I couldn’t do it that way).

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 22: A Present from the Goblin King

I’ve had that David Bowie song from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, in my head all day; you know, the one from the Ballroom scene.  I’ve loved that film since I first saw it and I’ve always wished I looked like Jennifer Connelly’s character when she dances with the Goblin King.  I can’t turn back time to my twenties, so second best is to have the jewellery as it’s so beautiful and perfectly fairytale – and that is what I decided to make today.

I thought I would just make the earrings today, as I only had some of the afternoon and a bit of the evening to sit at my jewellery bench.  First of all, I decided to get the blu-ray out and have a look at the Ballroom scene in Hi-def (it was really hard not to just sit there and watch the whole film, but I found some self-restraint somewhere and limited myself to the one scene!).  I sketched out the general design of the earrings and thought about how I was going to go about this.  I would have thought that the original earrings were cast and then had diamanté set into the metal.  This wasn’t an option for me today and so I decided to get my silver sheet out and make the basic elements with this.

As it is a recycling challenge as well as making “one-a-day”, I decided to use as much off-cuts and scrap as I could; but I still had to use a new piece of 0.4mm silver sheet because the main piece to each earring was so big to be made from scrap (I can’t imagine ever having “scrap” silver that big!)

To give the earrings movement, I split the design up into three (for each earring) silver shapes and would attach these to each other with tiny jump-rings.  To cut out two identical sets, after I had drawn my designs on the silver, I taped them together with clear tape (I usually use masking tape but clear tape stopped the design getting smudged as I worked and kept the two layers of silver together nicely) and then set about sawing the pieces out with my hand saw.

Two jump rings (cut in half) were soldered to each side of the biggest piece (so that the dangles would hang properly) and the earring posts were sweat-soldered onto the back of the top piece; after which they had a turn in the pickle pot.

Holes were drilled by hand and edges filed smooth before I gave everything a hammered finish (so that light would bounce off the silver and give the impression of lots of tiny gems).  Two of the pieces (for each earring) had a shape like a lily and I decided to define them (so as they were more like the original) by hammering the lines (repoussé technique) so they would be seen better and that the pieces would have some shape. All the silver pieces were then attached with the jump-rings.

I decided to use Swarovski® Aurora Borealis crystals (ABx2) in 4mm for the sparkle and some discontinued Swarovski® crystal drops in the same finish for the end of the dangles (I know they’re not exactly like the original but I didn’t want to buy anything new for this – just use elements that I already had).

Here are the finished earrings (another difficult photo – but my fault for finishing after midnight, I suppose), I hope you like them.

My version of Jennifer Connelly's earrings from Jim Henson's Labyrinth