Tag Archives: Inspiration

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

“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 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 10: When is a Cupcake not a Cupcake? …

… When it actually turned out looking like a bakewell tart!

This reminded me of a blog I read called “Cake Wrecks“, which is great and well worth checking out every day – it’s really hilarious!  I wonder if they accept photos of jewellery “cake wrecks” as well as edible ones?  I’ll let you know…

Back to the disaster! My poor, tiny cupcake (it’s about the size of a pea) looked so pretty before I put it to the torch.  It had tiny sprinkles and icing and even a cherry on the top.  Okay, the paper-case was a little bit on the thick side (hence looking more like pastry) but everything at least looked cake-like.  The bottom of the cupcake was made with PMC (after trying a few times with silver sheet).  It looked okay before it shrank while sintering (firing with the torch to burn off the binder and bring the silver particles together) – it is meant to shrink about 10% but this time it also seemed to make the cupcake case shorter and so looking less like a cupcake.

Well, as I soldered the top and bottom halves together with easy solder (to make it easier to solder the two together, I had already attached a sterling pillar in the centre of the PMC bottom half), everything seemed to go okay but then – disaster!  My flame was just a little too hot and too close; the little sprinkles melted into the icing and all the fine detailing disappeared under the solder which ran just where I didn’t want it. I sadly withdrew the flame and quenched the ” little baked item of no fixed identity” in cool water along with all my enthusiasm for this piece.

After a few moments of reflection and silent swearing, I got out some more tiny pieces of silver wire from the scrap box and made a few more “sprinkles”.  This time I managed to solder them on without them melting away, and then quenched the “cake” before dropping it in the pickle.

I left the “cake” part with just a light polish and the rest (icing, sprinkles, cherry & base) was given a high shine.

Before I show you the finished item, I wanted to say that I started this challenge for a lot of reasons, one being to try new techniques/materials.  Usually, if I try something and either it didn’t come out as planned or it just ends up in the scrap box, I don’t have to admit it and I can keep it a secret between me and my workbench.

But now, I feel that in this challenge, it would be cheating not to document the bad as well as good. Well, I don’t mind admitting it – I’m not perfect (well, almost) and I’m not a master craftsman (who probably have off days too – please tell me they do?), so I do make mistakes.  Well, this one is not my first, and certainly not my last; but hopefully you’ll not mind if there are a few here and there in these posts.

Well here it is (please remember it’s less than 1cm²):

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 9: In Flux

Today has been a bit up and down – in flux, as it were.  That phrase could also be put to both the piece I made today and the technique used to create it.

I didn’t have much time to get something done, but I had an idea to solder some scrap pieces together and then solder that onto the top of a plain silver band ring.  I was going to then pierce out the silver of the ring which showed through the largest parts of the soldered scrap pieces to make it lighter and give it more interest.  Well, that experiment will have to wait for another day.  I got as far as soldering the scrap pieces and decided I liked the design as it was and my ring design suddenly became a pendant design!

The technique I used to join the scrap together was less like traditional soldering and more like almost melting everything together – a process called “fusing“.

I placed all my scrap pieces in a pleasing arrangement and then coated everything in a thin flux.  I gently heated the silver and added more flux (this time as powder) when the silver was hot but had not started to fuse or melt.

This can be tricky to get right and all too often some of the silver will actually melt too much and the design will be ruined.  When this happens, I just usually keep it aside for when I want to create the small balls I use in filigree.  For this design, I wanted the effect called “reticulation” which is where the silver is depletion gilded (creating a thin layer of fine silver over the whole piece) which means that the fine silver “skin” will melt at a higher temperature then the sterling silver underneath.  When it is heated with a torch the inner sterling silver melts first and patterns or texture are created on the surface.  I’m not very skilled in this so just went for the texture instead of any patterns.

I didn’t want to polish this to a high-shine because I didn’t think the texture would be as noticeable as with a more matt-finish.  To finish, I added two beads of real amethyst with a silver flower bali bead spacer in-between.

The photo has been digitally-enhanced a bit, because I took the photo at 1am and didn’t have the energy to get all my photo stuff set up.  I will take a better photo and post it here (hopefully tomorrow).

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 8: From Daisies to Roses

I used to have this beautiful rose ring, with a large central rose and stems with leaves entwined around it.  Sadly, one day the shank broke off and it wasn’t possible to re-solder it together.  Today, in memory of that pretty little ring, I have made a Rose pendant in the same style – using a fired PMC rose with scraps of silver sheet and 1.5mm round silver wire.

Soldering fine/pure (.999%) silver to sterling is very difficult (or at least it is for me!) and so I treated the silver wire (depletion gilding) to give it a coat of fine silver, which would make it easier to solder.

With the sterling wire, I created the basic shape of my stem and then soldered the rose onto it.  I cut smaller pieces of wire and soldered these on as off-shoots of the main stem.  I curled the ends round to both look pretty and to give me something to hang my sparkles from.

The leaves I cut from scrap pieces of 0.5mm silver sheet.  After a quick file to get rid of any sharp edges, I took my tiny jewellers screwdriver (with a flat head) and hammered a curved line down the middle of each one.  This gave the leaves some shape and definition.  I put the leaves in place and soldered them, all at the same time, with easy solder.  Some of the leaves had a bit too much solder for the small area needing soldering; and excess solder leaked onto the surface of the leaves, masking the texture and shape that I had just added.  Oh well, they still looked good, so I didn’t mind too much.

A quick dip in the pickle and a polish with the silicon wheels, brought up the silver nicely.  I didn’t want a high shine on the stems and leaves – I wanted to have some contrast to the rose, which I would polish up more later on.

I’ve been using “Gilding Wax” for a while instead of Liver of Sulphur to give colour to the detailing in some of my pieces.  The black is easy to apply and gives a dense coverage.  After about an hour, I rub in some “Renaissance Wax” to seal the gilding wax in place; then wait a few minutes more and polish off the excess renaissance wax.  This keeps the colour on the silver but any pieces with this finish can only be polished using a polishing cloth.  Silver dip or liquid polish would ruin the colour or totally polish away the wax.

I wanted to use the marquise cut, clear (white) cubic zirconium (CZ) again; so I found in my scrap box an old “cinch” bezel type finding.  It’s a thin piece of flat wire which has been curled inwards so it’s more of a c-shape in cross-section.  It’s most usually seen as a complete item, with a loop at the top and a place just under the loop to squeeze shut with pliers (after the gem is set).  This tightens the wire around the gem so it can’t fall out.  Anyway, I had re-cycled some gems that were mounted this way and I had kept the cinch bezel pieces for a rainy day.  I cut the wire to size and shaped it around the CZ gem.  As it was only a small gem, and one I had heated successfully before, I soldered the wire ends together with the gem mounted inside.

Remember to not quench any stone/gem/crystal that you heat – it will cool way too quickly and will crack or break.  Some CZ’s and crystals will change colour after heating and I wouldn’t suggest it with a stone over 5mm (round).  If you are going to heat a stone, either have a spare in case of disaster or check the place you purchased it from – most sites have information of this sort freely available.

The rose pendant is back in the pickle pot as I type this.  I wasn’t happy with one of the soldered joints and so I’ve re-soldered it and now am waiting to be able to polish it. So, I’m going to post this and then add the photo tomorrow (or later tonight, if I’m still up).  Sorry for not persevering now but the head-cold is still making me feel rough and I need a bit of a rest.

UPDATE:
Apologies for the awful photo – 12:30am isn’t the best time for me to be taking photos but this is the first time I’ve had all day to do it. Anyway, I hope it gives you an idea of what the rose pendant looks like!

Aside

As I’ve said before, I’ve been playing an on-line card and story based game called “ The Night Circus ” based upon a book of the same name by Erin Morgenstern.  I’ve finished the book now, and I can’t recommend it enough. … Continue reading