Tag Archives: silver

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 26: A Girlfriend for Pete

Remember Pete, my little bat from Day 16?  Well, today he got a girlfriend.

I’m down to really tiny pieces of silver sheet and odd pieces of wire in my main scrap box – so I wasn’t going to be making something big today.  I had made myself a replacement engagement ring a little while ago (the original had worn too thin and was uncomfortable to wear) out of two circles of wire soldered together, with the front part opened up enough so that I could set a rainbow moonstone with a heart shape either side.  I wanted to try this technique out again and I thought that a little bat would look great in the frame of silver wire.

The silver wire I would be using is the Reflections silver wire, which would make life easier with less pickling because of resisting fire-scale.

As you can see, the bat had to be cut in sections from lots of little pieces of scrap silver sheet.  It was quite difficult to use a hand saw with such small pieces but, apart from one broken saw blade, everything turned out how I wanted it.  Then, I soldered it all together with hard solder, making sure that all the seams were tight.

To make the ring, I decided to take two lengths of round 0.8mm silver wire and shape the middle of each to be a half-oval.  Putting the two wires together as a mirror-image of each other, both ends (where the wires lay parallel to each other) were soldered to make the ring shank.

When the bat was placed in the oval, even though it looked fine, I decided to shape the wire around the bat rather than leave it the oval shape.  This was easier said than done because the wires had already been soldered together and that left me with only so much wire that would still move.  Oh well, hindsight is always 20:20, yes?

Once the “oval” was roughly the right bat-shape, the little bat was soldered in place with hard solder.  Any previous solder joints that melted would re-harden again without moving due to the fact that all the pieces were still flat.  If this had been shaped or already formed into a ring, this technique would not have worked and a lower temperature solder would have been used to avoid melting the original joins.

The ring was then formed on a metal ring mandrel (looks like a thin cone which is marked out in graded ring sizes) with a raw-hide hammer, so as not to mark or distort the silver.  The ring shank cut to size and the joint soldered with medium solder (after having been taken off the mandrel!).  I took this opportunity to check the back of the ring and solder again any part that had not been done to my satisfaction.

The ring was put back on the mandrel to check that it was still round and to make sure the ring shank was level (heating the ring for soldering can distort the piece so it is always best to re-check your work afterwards).  Looking at the little bat, it occurred to me that she was missing any definition (except for her eyes, which were round indents punched with a sharpened nail and a hammer).  Leaving the ring on the mandrel for support, the lines on her wings where her bones would be and the fur-like texture on the main body were created with a motorised engraver.  I don’t use the engraver much as it buzzes extremely loudly – even a few minutes of using it is enough for me!

Another check and then into the tumbler for about an hour.  It comes out looking really shiny, but after taking photos, I decide that it could do with a final polish by hand to make sure any fine scratches (which show up on the photos but you can’t see by the naked eye) are removed.  I am in two minds about adding black (by either Liver of Sulphur or by Gilder’s wax) into the details; on one hand – the patina may not stay in the engraved lines and just polish off, but on the other hand – it may make it easier to see the details and this little bat is really pretty.  If I decide to add the black, I will do an update post with new photos.

Anyway, here is the little ring (it’s size is about halfway between “O” and “P” on the ring mandrel):

“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 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

“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!