Tag Archives: designing

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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Aside

Do you know how a top jewellery designer spends their day? Well, I don’t know either, but here’s what I get up to on my typical jewellery making day (this being a Friday) … 7:30am – woken up by Siamese … Continue reading

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 24: Back to the Beginning Dragonfly

The “back to the beginning” in the title is a reference to where I started with jewellery.  A pair of round-nosed pliers, a pair of snipe-nosed pliers and some wire-cutters rattled around in my first tool-box and I worked with silver-plated wire and crystal beads from a well-known hobby store (in the UK).

That was about five years ago and my first pieces were wire-wrapped earrings.  I soon progressed to sterling silver wire and semi-precious stones, but it wasn’t until I got my blow-torch  that I really started to broaden both my skills and designs.  (I had learned to solder and arc-weld at college w-a-a-a-y back in my youth as an art student.)

The reason I’m in the reminiscing mood is because I’ve had to put down my torch for today.  My little girl is a bit under the weather and we’ve had a lovely day doing nothing-much but watching films and playing Lego Rock-band.  Not wanting to disappear to my bench, I decided to make something while we sat watching another Scooby Doo film.

That meant that I could only use enough stuff that I could sit on a tray on my lap and only cold-connections.  I’ve got some lengths of gold-filled (better than gold-plated as it’s got thicker layers of gold and is more resistant to polishing and general wear & tear) round wire that I’ve not really found much use for (it can be really hard to solder without the gold fading by being absorbed into the core metal).  Well, I’ve had an idea for a dragonfly brooch for a while and so today seemed a great day to try it out.

I found a picture of a dragonfly that I liked:

I sketched it out on paper and decided on how the wire would have to be wrapped together to make the shape.  Then I got my first piece of wire and made the first loop (for right at the top, so it could be a pendant as well as a brooch if needed).

All the crystals used were either Swarovski® or Czech crystal beads.  I used two black ones for eyes and Light Sapphire for the body with the “tail”  in Metallic Crystal Blue ABx2 (twice coated in the Aurora Borealis finish, which gives the crystals a multi-coloured sheen), and the wings in a mix of AB crystal in different sizes/shapes.

The main outline, including the wings and legs, was made first out of 0.8mm gold-filled round wire.  Then the eyes, body and “tail” were beaded.  I added a brooch fitting (sadly in a base metal, as I didn’t have any other and wasn’t going to make a brooch pin as I wasn’t soldering today) and wound the wire round to secure it.

I didn’t totally fill the wings with beads – I liked the lacy look came with having spaces in-between the beads.

This piece turned out bigger than I actually had expected.  It measures approximately 7.5cm across the wings and 7cm from head to tail.

It reminded me of how difficult I found this type of jewellery – I find it really hard to make the wire-wrapping neat, and tight against the wire.  I’ve always had respect for those who can make beautiful things without being able to solder or rivet; but today has reminded me that I shouldn’t neglect to refine all my learned jewellery techniques and still strive to learn more – as they are all facets of this craft that I love.

Update:  I’m so sorry that this didn’t make it onto the blog yesterday (when I wrote it), I thought I had posted it but only noticed that I hadn’t when I came to write today’s post.

“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

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 21: Fluttering in the Dark

I mentioned in my last post that we’d had a visit from my Cousin Adelene and her husband, Jon.  They have a business called Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies UK which I know is do to with moths and butterflies (and bats too, I think).  When they were here, they suggested I make a piece of jewellery like a moth – and as I had more time today to make something, that’s exactly what I did.

I’ve had a small piece of silver in my scrap box for a while – it was originally thick  silver wire but I had hammered it flat for some reason (I’m sure I was trying to see what I could do with a hammer instead of using a rolling mill – sadly, because I don’t have a rolling mill yet…).  Anyway, this little odd piece of silver was just perfect for the body/head of the moth.  I filed a notch in either side to delineate the head from the body and rounded both ends (it was already tapered at one end).

The wings I made from copper sheet.  I looked in a book for a picture of a moth and drew something similar (okay, it didn’t turn out a perfect moth, it’s more of an impression of a moth) onto paper.  The finished piece would be about 5 x 2cm.  The basic wing shapes were cut out with a scalpel and the outlines were traced onto the copper sheet with permanent marker (I do normally prefer scribing my cutting lines but, sometimes if the metal is really shiny, the lines can be hard to see), then cut out with tin-snips.

After a bit of filing to get all the edges smooth; I soldered the bottom wings on first and then soldered the top ones, overlaying them on the bottom wings slightly.  At this point I had cut small pieces of silver wire for legs but then decided to make this a brooch and needed room for the brooch pin.  Also, having legs on the moth would have been at best, a good detail but hidden – and at worst, a nuisance and snagging hazard.

The antenna turned out to be problem enough.  First, I used a single piece of silver wire bent in the middle but this didn’t lay flat and wouldn’t solder to the head – the solder kept to the wire as I couldn’t get the head to the same temperature without risking melting the solder on the wings.  I got round this with sweat soldering the solder to a couple of cut-off head-pins and then soldering these to the head.  It seemed that two ends of wire was easier to solder than a length of wire which I wanted to solder in the middle (I also think that the heat dissipated along the length of the long wire which didn’t help).

I now put the moth in the pickle and then (after neutralising the acid on the piece by dunking it into a solution of bicarbonate of soda) filed off any excess silver solder from the copper wings.  A good deal of polishing later (to get rid of any grooves that were added when I filed off the excess solder) and it was ready to patina.

If you’ve ever heated up something with a torch (or used a copper pan on the stove) – you’ll have noticed that there is a colour change in the metal when it is heated.  To get the patina I wanted, I heated the moth very slowly with a soft flame (less oxygen and less gas than a flame for soldering) and watched as  the metal’s colour changed from it’s polished coppery-gold, through orange, red and then it started to just turn bluish in places.  Copper continues to change colour, even after the heat is taken away and until it’s cooled.  As I didn’t want it to become totally blue or black, I removed turned off the torch and (picking up with tongs) placed the moth on a cool soldering board (the one I had used when heating the moth would still hold some heat for a while and would help continue the colour change).  As it air-cooled, the patina showed as a beautiful bronze with blue -green areas.

A quick polish of the silver areas to get rid of any fire-scale colouring and then a wipe-over with Renaissance Wax to seal the colour, and to protect the wearer from going green!  The wax is wonderful but the colours do dull a little – not a problem here as I didn’t want my moth to look too colourful.

As an after-thought, I decided to curve the wings a little bit to give the moth a bit more interest.  I did this by holding each side of the moth, in turn, on my doming block and pressing the wings into the curve with my fingers.  It didn’t damage the finish and looked quite effective.

I name this moth the Clifton Copper-wing!

“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 19: Learning Something New Everyday

Today, I found a piece of 2mm round sterling silver wire that had tucked itself behind my tool holder on my workbench.  At 6cm long it’s not strictly scrap, but I can’t actually remember what I originally cut it to size for and by using it, it gives me a chance to try a technique I’ve been itching to do for ages.

I’ve got a couple of great technique books by Stephen O’Keeffe (I can’t recommend them highly enough if you want to do make some jewellery for the first time or just want to learn some new techniques), and today’s piece is from one of them (Practical Jewellery-Making Techniques: Problem Solving).

The technique I wanted to try out is making a compression setting for a stone in a ring.   The book made it sound so easy: solder a length of 2mm wire into a ring and planish (hardening the metal and creating a surface texture) before sawing through the original join with a piercing saw (it would weaken the ring if I sawed through at any other point – doing it this way keeps the rings integrity and strength which is needed with this ring).

The next part was to open the ring sideways to be able to drill into the flat ends. Well, so far, so good – but here’s where things went a little off from the instructions.  I don’t have a chuck for my rotary drill that’s small enough for the 1mm drill bit – I use a pin vice or Archimedes drill – and so I need to make a dent in the wire to help the drill bit bite in the right place.  For this, I use a nail that has been sharpened to a good point which works as a pretty good punch.  Trying to get it dead centre on a 2mm diameter wire isn’t as easy as it looks, and then trying to get the drill to stay in the centre isn’t easy either.  Well, both holes were mostly in the centre, and it probably doesn’t show in the finished product, but the perfectionist in me did a bit of silent swearing at this point.

Not to be put off, I then shaped the ring back on the mandrel and made sure that the tension was right, that it would spring back to shape if pulled slightly apart.  I did have to make the ring slightly oval in shape, rather than round, because the stone is a marquise cut CZ and the gap needed to be larger.  This is where I wish I had an oval mandrel as well as the more traditional tapering cylindrical one – but I made do with forming it manually, with the hide mallet and with my fingers for the last adjustments.

In the book, Stephen has a tapered strip for ring sizing, which was perfect for sliding the ring along till the gap opened up wide enough for the stone to be positioned in the gap and seated in the drilled-out ends of the ring.  Not having a tapered strip, I looked around the house for a suitable replacement.  I found a softwood fork which came as a pack with wooden cooking spoons, the neck tapered down to the bottom of the handle and it was flat.  A quick minute of sawing the top part (with the prongs) off from the handle, and I was left with a pretty good alternative.

Before I set the stone, I filed off any fire-scale from the soldering (I decided not to pickle this piece as there was only minimal fire-scale) and polished with my rotary drill and abrasive-embedded silicon cylinders, to get a mirror shine.  The photos don’t show the polishing really well – it wasn’t till I was checking the photos out that I realised I had been handling the ring with mucky fingers (polishing does get the hands a bit black!) and had smudged the shine 😦

Setting the stone was easy, using Stephen’s technique and the finished ring looks amazing.  I think, in hindsight, I would make the ring more oval than it is, and also maybe use a stone with a flatter back (or keep it round and use a small stone which would only be as thick as the wire itself) so as to make it more comfortable to wear.

I’ve also now had an idea about making the ring so as to have another, complete band inside the first; so that the stone doesn’t touch the skin of the wearer.  I’ll have to do some sketches later.

Well, thank you to Stephen O’Keeffe for teaching me another new thing.  I can’t wait to see what I learn to do tomorrow.

cubic zirconia compression ring