Category Archives: Things I have tried that I may not try again!

Read about my disasters, to help you avoid making the same mistakes!

“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 25: Problems with Pumpkins

How I hate having ideas but not being able to bring them to life (How apt – I feel a bit like Dr Frankenstein today; although my monster didn’t even make it off the slab).

I wanted to make a copper pumpkin, built up in layers with the top layer having the face cut out and so I could then give the whole thing a patina but polish it away in the cut-outs so that they would glow with the polished ‘raw’ copper.  I thought  it would look good that way, and so went about designing it.

Well, it turns out that soldering two pieces of copper together (in the freezing cold – I could see my breath as I was working!) wasn’t too bad; but then trying to solder that to another piece was nigh on impossible!  I don’t think my blow-torch could get the metal hot enough for the solder to flow smoothly.  The cold probably didn’t help either.  After a few tries and some time in the pickle in-between (to take any old flux and fire-scale off before trying again), I was ready to throw the piece out the window (without opening the window first!).

The model of restraint that I am (*cough*), I decided instead to sit down and rethink the design.  I liked the shape and the copper, but how to get the face of the pumpkin right?  Well, it turned out to be as simple as cutting the shapes out of silver and soldering them on the basic shape of the pumpkin (single layer of copper).  The silver solder leaked out slightly around the pieces of silver sheet and instead of sanding it away, I decided to keep it as it gave the pumpkin a sort of silvery glow around it’s features – very spooky!

To get the 3D feel without the layers, which proved so tricky in my first attempt, I used a hammer with a small flat-head screwdriver and did a very (deliberately) rough repoussé  technique where the pumpkin’s curves would be.

The pumpkin polished up well with the silicon wheels and then I heated the whole thing very gently to give the bright copper a more orange patina.  In fact, the colours were a very beautiful pink and orange but after the Renaissance Wax was applied, the colours dulled to a more all-over pumpkin orange.

So here is my pretty pumpkin, all ready to be a pendant or a fob on a key chain. He’s so light-weight – just don’t tell him how simple he is too.

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 20: Sometimes Nothing Goes Right For a Bit

This post is a day late – but, I did make the piece of jewellery yesterday (honest!)

This weekend has been a lovely one for me.  My cousin, Adelene and her husband came over to stay on Saturday and we had a great afternoon & evening.  Still, I am committed (so apt!) to this challenge and disappeared into my workspace (which was freezing at 9pm) to hopefully create something pretty.

Well, we’d opened a bottle of wine at dinner and even though I’d only had one or two (small) glasses, I didn’t want to be soldering or near chemicals after having alcohol.  That didn’t leave me much to start with (also because I was feeling rather tired and worn out, I was having trouble thinking of what to do).  Everything I picked up and tried to work with was a disaster (things broke or bent in the wrong place or just looked awful) – and I was getting really cold now. Deciding not to freeze by being at my bench for too long, I picked up a silver hoop earring that I’ve had since I was in my twenties.  When I had the pair, I used to wear them out clubbing – until I decided that hoops really weren’t the right look for me, especially ones which are about 5cm across (about 2 inches, I think).

I had an idea to make this lone earring back to being useful again, and decided to make it into a brooch.  The earring is made up of silver tubing and has a curved pin at the top.  One side, the pin was hinged and the other side had the pin going into the open end of the tubing and holding in place with friction only.  This wouldn’t do for a brooch, as it comes under more stress and strain than an earring – so I cut a notch in one side of the tubing at the top (that went right through one side of the tubing) and bent the end of the pin slightly so that when it went into the tubing, it would catch there.  I also had to sharpen the pin so that it would go through clothing smoothly.

I had an idea to use some dangles (something that hangs from the piece and normally swings freely) and have fine chain looping down between them.  This was good in theory, but when I made my dangles (head-pins with black & white crystals and a loop at the top to attach to the earring) they all bunched together at the bottom – not the effect I was going for.  This meant that I would need to make sure that the loops round the earring would stay where I wanted them – I could have soldered jump rings round the bottom of the earring and hung the dangles from them, but I wasn’t soldering and so I needed to come up with another solution.

The easiest solution was to drill holes along the bottom of the earring and hook the dangles through.  In the end, I went with a combination of most dangles being through drilled holes and a couple just with their top loops round the earring itself.

I added the chain to each dangle as I made it – it would have fiddly and unnecessary work to add it on afterwards.  After I had added all the dangles, I put a couple of crystal drops hanging off the chain (which pulled the chain down nicely in a couple of places as well as elongating the design) and I was finished.

Okay, it’s not my most inspiring piece of jewellery; but it was good to do some problem solving and also not being able to fall back on the “I’ll just solder it” solution.

brooch shown being worn

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 18: My Own Cheshire Cat. UPDATE!

As I said yesterday, My boy Frodo is my own Cheshire cat and this brooch is based upon him. (Please check out the previous post for the details of how I made it.)  I’ve now done the photos and, even though I think I still need to do more polishing, here they are:

First is the design I came up with.  It was originally to have had a gold ring suspended from a loop at the back, so it looked like he was holding it.  This was because of both of his name (Frodo from Lord of the Rings with the One Ring) and because it could then be used as a brooch to hold spectacles when they’re not being worn (not my typical type of jewellery, but it was a work in progress sort of idea).

As you will see from the photo of the finished brooch (see below), I decided against adding the ring.  The brooch looked pretty enough without it; although if I make another one, I may add one to see how it would look in real life.

The photo doesn’t show very well that the silver contrasts beautifully against the copper.  I know I need to polish it more, but I am quite proud of how smiley this Cheshire cat looks – just like my Frodo.

Oh, and I promised I’d post a photo of my beautiful boy – so here he is:

Beautiful, isn’t he?

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 18: My Own Cheshire Cat

My boy Frodo is my own Cheshire cat.  Not only is he stripy and is a pale orangey-pink, he was also born in Cheshire and he has the cutest smiley mouth (it really does turn up at the corners and looks like he’s smiling).

Now Frodo has always been important but even more so now that he has CRF (Chronic Renal Failure or Kidney disease to the rest of us).  I’ve got lots of sketches of him as he is quite the laid-back kitty, and I decided to turn one into a brooch design.

As he is such a pale coppery pink, what better than to make his brooch out of copper.  I used the same technique as with yesterday’s bat pin but with silver wire on copper sheet.  I won’t go into the same details (go read my bat post!) but I will say that after cutting out all the pieces, I soldered the face first, the leg next and then soldered both to the body.

I don’t know if it was just me, but I had way more trouble soldering silver onto copper than copper onto silver.  I think that the melting point of copper is lower (don’t quote me on that until I can go check) but anyway it was a headache I could do without and I think I spent way too much time soldering and problem-solving because of it.

I don’t have any way of cutting tiny circles, except by hand, so I decided to take two of my silver beads (they were flattish rather than round to begin with) and hammer them flat.  I also filed into the middle to make the cat-eye shape I wanted.

The brooch pin was made by coiling silver wire around a thin mandrel about 4 times (you could use a thin knitting needle or a metal skewer as long as it’s cross-section was round) and soldering the last loop of the coil to the back of the brooch.  The unsoldered loops of the coil are then (as one) pulled 90° to the side (making sure the tail of the pin is uppermost) and then the pin is trimmed to size and the end filed to a point.  I don’t push the pin down horizontal to the back until after I have added the catch.  The catch was added the same way but the wire had only one loop which was soldered in place.  The tail of the wire was then cut to size and curled round, leaving a gap for the pin to tuck under and be held in the curve of the catch.

I wanted the silver to have a high shine but the copper to be more muted.  With this in mind, I  haven’t tumbled this piece but polished by hand and with silicon polishing wheels on the rotary “drill”.

As I type, it’s 1am and my Frodo brooch is still a little polish away from being finished.  I will post this and then add the photo tomorrow, when it’s all shiny and pretty.  I’ll also add a photo of the pretty boy it’s based on.

BTW, just in case anyone was wondering … Frodo was originally a nickname for him when he was a little kitten and we were trying to think of a proper name.  He has the hairiest, tufty-est paws I had ever seen (he’s half Maine Coon) and he ate at least seven breakfasts a day.  The name just stuck and forever after, he has been known as Frodo (but more often as Mr Frodo or Frodo Bun (short for bunny – a term of endearment, just not a species-correct one).

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 11: Technical Difficulties

Firstly, sorry for this being a day late – everything mechanical seemed to be on a go-slow (or stop) yesterday.  By 2am, I had decided to give up and re-write/post this today.  Also, my beautiful Frodo (Maine Coon Cross kitty) is back at the vets, staying overnight for fluids and TLC after having a dip with his CRF (Chronic Renal Failure) and loosing a bit of weight.  You’ll be glad to know that he’s had a good night (and lots of cuddles from the great staff there); and hopefully, I’ll be picking him up today.

The other technical difficulties I had with this piece is the actual setting of the fluorite stone – but I’ll get to that later on.

You see, I had this beautiful green & purple fluorite stone in a (sort of) tear-drop shape, which has been sitting around not doing much for about a year.  I don’t make much big jewellery and thought that this stone was much too heavy to make something out of.  Well, I had an idea for a spiders web type of decoration for a bezel set stone and for once, this stone seemed perfect.

I drew around the stone as a template and roughed out the idea before picking up any tools.  I usually like designing as I go, but this time I needed to make a pattern because the stone isn’t a flat-backed cabochon but a rounded stone like a pebble.  Once I had the design I wanted, I drew it out in pencil on my soldering board.  This meant that I could place the silver where I wanted it and solder as needed, without the worry of flammable paper being near; and it’s much more of a stable surface than setting out on paper – less likely to shift when placing items together.

I decided to make the silver “webs” first and make them a little larger than needed.  This way, they would rest on top of the bezel wire for soldering and then I could file the unwanted parts back.  It would be easier than making them the exact size and the finding them not quite fit or having trouble soldering them to the bezel.  The strands of the web were done using scrap pieces of 0.8mm round wire – bent to shape and laid together.  These were soldered with hard solder and then I filed the places for the silver balls (so they would sit still whilst soldering) and then the silver balls were soldered on top with medium solder.

The bezel was wrapped around the stone for sizing and then (with the stone taken away) soldered closed with hard solder.  A jump ring was soldered to the top at the same time.  It was quite hard getting the jump ring soldered in the right place – the locking tweezers acted as a heat sink and made it difficult for the two pieces to heat up evenly.  In the end, I sweat-soldered the two together.

The two parts of the spider’s web were placed on top of the bezel and soldered in place with easy solder.  I trimmed and filed any excess silver away.  Originally, I was going to have the strands terminate at the silver balls, but I liked the way a little bit of the wire poked out at the end – so I kept it like that and just rounded the ends off.

The whole thing went into the pickle pot and then (after a quick smooth & polish) had a turn in the tumbler for about an hour.

As the stone was rounded, I didn’t want to have a back on the bezel.  The idea was to have the flat bezel strip pushed down on both sides of the stone, curving around the edge and setting the stone from both sides.  This is where the real technical difficulties happened for me.  Placing the stone in the setting, I had to curve the web part of the design (okay so far) and then turn the whole thing over and push the bezel down.  In hindsight, I think I should have pushed the bezel at the front down first, but originally I wanted the bezel to be straight at the front – although it didn’t look  right when I did it that way and I ended up pushing the bezel down over the front of the stone in the end.  But I’m getting ahead of myself!

As the stone is very rounded, it was quite hard to get it to stay in place when pushing the bezel down.  As soon as I thought I’d finished, I checked it over and there was still more movement in the stone and I’d start going over it again.  I don’t think I would have had a problem if the stone was a flat-backed cabochon and the setting had a back on it; but it wasn’t and it didn’t – so I just had to persevere.

When it came time for me to turn it over, the bezel at the front didn’t look quite right, so I decided to push it down there as well.  It was a bit difficult around the webs but I managed it with not too much trouble. The problem only showed itself when I thought I’d finished – the bezel had twisted slightly while setting and had slightly come forward at one side.  “Oh bother” I said (or something similar), and proceeded to try and bend the bezel back into place.

This has been more of a learning curve than I had expected.  Although, I am quite pleased with the finished piece; I don’t think I will do this type of bezel again in a hurry!

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day Six: I need The Doctor

It’s ten to two in the morning, but I did finish my daily challenge – even if it is a bit late.  I’ve got a horrible head cold and it’s made everything much harder today (even blinking hurts ).  I had a good dose of sea breezes and sunshine this morning, going to the beach with my husband Chris ( and daughter; but I still needed a doctor … well, The Doctor, actually.

Tonight (UK time)  was the last episode of Dr Who for this current series (no spoilers here though!)  – by the time Little Miss was in bed asleep and Chris was home from work it was about 9:30pm and I just couldn’t wait any longer to watch it.  So, the upshot of all this, is that I didn’t actually get to sit down at my bench till 11pm today!

When I first started making jewellery (for other people, anyway), I did a lot of wire-wrapped jewellery.  In my scrap box are lots of pieces from that time which either I didn’t like, didn’t come out as planned, or have just been de-constructed as my skills improved and I wanted to make better pieces.  The wire-wrapped hearts I used for these earrings were originally part of a necklace which didn’t come out as I had wanted.  To start with, I tidied them up a bit, hammered them flat and soldered all the joins/wraps to make them more durable.

I just love the “heliotrope” Swarovski® crystal hearts – the colour is just amazing (blue with flashes of purple).  To hang one from each upside-down heart, I created for each a triangle (with an opening at the bottom and point at the top) to act as a bail and soldered this onto the same gauge round wire.  I sanded the front of the bail flat and soldered onto this a tiny silver heart, which I had cut out from thin silver sheet with my trusty saw and tiny blades.

As it was late and I couldn’t have the tumbler on without waking my daughter up; I used my wonderful silicone wheels to remove any firescale and then polish up the earring components.  It was very quick to do and, although didn’t give the high-shine that the tumbler would have, I liked the more matt finish which contrasted nicely with the sparkle of the crystal hearts.

The round wire was used as a pin on which I threaded two silver round beads and a “dark indigo” Swarovski® crystal.  A loop was added at the top and this was threaded through the loop at the bottom of the heart.  An ear-wire was added to each earring.

Looking at the earrings now, I think there is more than a slight nod to Tardis blue about them.  I’ve still got the sniffles, but at least I got to see one Doctor who made me feel much better today.  🙂

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day Five: Reflection and Illusion revisited

After the blood, sweat and tears of yesterday and my efforts to make some reflection earrings (which I remembered very early this morning were based on “illusion” earrings, not “reflection” earrings – but then I turned over and went back to sleep because I decided I preferred the term “reflection” for my earrings, and also because it was too early in the morning to think about it any more!)  Anyway, this morning I decided to have another go.

Having played about with head-pins and crystals and solder today; I can tell you that even with easy solder, the shine on the concave shape will disappear and you will have to polish the thing again!  I have been using (amongst my many other polishing discs/mandrels/cloths/etc) flexible silicon wheels to polish the inside of the concave shape (today shape being a hemisphere) and that if you do need to polish around a crystal on a head-pin inside a concave hemisphere, or some other such difficult thing, then these are just what you need.  Just don’t use the yellow ones near gems/crystals/glass as they can scratch them.

Back to the point – oh yes, I was looking at my very shiny concave hemisphere (sawn from a scrap of 0.4,mm silver sheet and rounded in my doming block)  and wondered how I was going to set something sparkly in there.  I’ve got some prong settings which I use for PMC and I cut one of them right near the top of the setting so the gem would sit very low in the bowl (oh yes, let’s call it a bowl – much less typing!) and put it aside to solder later.

I found some thick wire (about 1.5mm) and made a two loop shape, one big and one small.  Instead of crossing over the wire and having to hammer it flat, I had both ends of the wire terminate at the junction of the two loops and soldered the joins shut with hard solder.  Then I took a jump-ring mandrel and my round nosed pliers and stretched the loops tight by pulling in opposite directions.  This straightened and evened up the large loop as well as testing the strength of the join.  To make sure the bowl fit securely in the bottom of the larger loop for soldering, I sanded the wire to have a inward slope where the bowl would touch the wire.  This was also soldered using hard solder.

At this point I pickled the pendant to get rid of any fire-stain and made a bail from another piece of scrap 0.4mm sheet.  I then soldered the bail on the pendant and the prong setting in the bottom of the bowl using flux and easy solder wire straight from the spool.  After using solder+flux paste for so long, I had forgotten that I liked doing it the traditional way – either that, or I had got better at it!

Another pickle and a preliminary polish before going for a tumble in my amazing and most loved tumbler (is it wrong to love a gadget so much?).  At last, a very shiny pendant was ready for setting the blue cz.  Now this is something I’m always so nervous about – bezels I’m about 99% fine with (there’s always one which doesn’t want to do what you want it to), but prong settings always seem to have a mind of their own – especially when I don’t have a spare setting or a spare gem!  The cz wasn’t sitting well because of some extra solder that had sneakily attached itself to a prong when I wasn’t looking, and I had to file it away very carefully because I didn’t want to weaken the prong too much.  After sorting that out, I managed to get the cz in place and then had to bend the prongs over the gem to hold it in place.  A quick, final buff with a polishing cloth and here it is:

The setting reflects nicely, making a great illusion pattern in the silver; but the gem only reflects slightly.  I had hoped for more of the colour to be reflected but it still looked beautiful.  It went as a prize at a fundraising event tonight – I miss it already …

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge: Day Four (Trouble in Paradise)

For today’s scrap I found some 0.4mm thick silver sheet pieces hanging around, acting all tough at the bottom of the scrap pot.  I knew if I didn’t find a use for them today, then they would get their sharp little edges in all sorts of trouble later on.  And what better for sharp little tough guys than to be turned into smooth and shiny heart earrings.

I’ve been inspired by a few examples of jewellery using highly polished surfaces to reflect the colour of gems/crystals.  These reflection pieces look stunning, and I wondered if I could make something as nice myself.

Well, as it turns out, the answer is: “sort of”.

The small pieces of silver sheet were cut out by saw into two small heart shapes.  These were then shaped using the doming block.  Looking back (isn’t hindsight always 20:20, *sigh*!) it probably would have been better to have made the shapes circles rather than hearts because it would have been half a sphere and would have reflected better than the heart; which although curved well, didn’t reflect all the way round all at once.  Oh well, we live and learn (at least I did today, anyway).

The concave hearts were then polished to within an inch of their tiny silver lives – making them very polished and shiny indeed. Now came the part with all the trouble …

… The video instructions I had seen for making something similar (albeit with circles rather than hearts) said to drill a hole in the middle and then thread a head-pin through with a coloured glass bead between the head of the pin and the silver.  Okay, that bit was easy.  The bit that was difficult to understand was that they next said to solder the back of the pin to the silver and take away the excess.  Well, even though I knew that the silver would firescale, I gave it a go … and yes, it did blacken; even after using extra easy solder and a very soft flame.  Oh well, back to polishing up that piece of silver then.

So, how to attach the crystal to the silver? I tried lots of cold-connection ideas and spent a good while trying to sort out this problem – and I am pleased to say that I know when to give up!  I decided to leave that problem for another day and a trip to the internet!

What I decided to do in the end was to use some lilac CZ gems pre-drilled with a hole at one edge, that I had laying around and hadn’t known what to do with.  I had wanted a deep colour but beggars can’t be choosers and the CZ also gave off such beautiful and subtle reflections, that I decided to favour sparkle over the wow factor that a deeper colour would have given.

I drilled a small hole just under the “v” of each heart and threaded through a very thin wire jump-ring with the CZ attached.  Another small jump-ring joined the heart to the ear-wire, and the earrings were complete.

I think if/when I make these again, I will try using a half-sphere (maybe soldered onto a heart shape) and solder a jump-ring on the back before I polish them up.  The headpin that goes through the crystal and attaches to the silver may have to be done a different way – maybe trying to splay out the end of the headpin like a rivet?  I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Anyway, here are my Day Four earrings:


Being a busy mum of an even busier 3½ year old daughter; I don’t have much time in a week to make jewellery.  Mostly, it’s a quick hour here and there, but Fridays are my main working time (when she’s … Continue reading