Silver Clay Pendants: How I Make Them

This was my little fundraising project a couple of months ago when I was raising money for El Hogar, the organization I worked with when I brought my students to Honduras for a volunteering trip in February. They’re made of silver clay, and my wonderful friends stepped up to support the cause.

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My ‘customers’, or rather Facebook friends who put up with my fundraising statuses for a couple of months, could choose the shape (heart, circle, flower), size (large or small), font, and initial(s). One friend gave me an order for 10 different pendants, getting a lot of her family’s birthday shopping done for the year in one fell swoop. We were both glad she could accomplish this knowing all the proceeds would be supporting a great charity.

Silver clay pendant

If you’re not familiar with how metal clay works, it’s basically MAGIC. Silver clay can be manipulated pretty much like any other clay (you can roll it, shape it, texture it, carve it, etc.), then you let it dry out and fire it with a torch or in a kiln, and voilĂ  — like medieval alchemy you suddenly have a silver piece. (Alright, it’s definitely more complex than that but you get the idea.)

Silver clay initial pendants

Here’s a brief explanation of how I make these pendants. I have left out a lot of detail that would be important if you’re trying to learn this on your own…if you want the long version, complete with explanation of tools and more detail on the procedures, feel free to get in touch, or check out some of the tutorials available online. I learned how to do this from Jenn at Metal Clay Atelier, who gives metal clay workshops in Oakville and Toronto; check out her website, too.

How to Make a Silver Clay Initial Pendant

Step 1: roll out the clay to desired thickness. With my hands lubricated with olive or coconut oil, I roll the clay into a ball then roll it on non-stick surface using an oiled rolling tool. I use Art Clay Silver but there are other brands of metal clay available as well.

Here's the ball of clay rolled out flat. The plastic slats at each side allow you to roll the clay out to a specific thickness.

Here’s the ball of clay rolled out flat. The plastic gauge slats at each side allow for rolling out the clay out to a specific thickness.

Step 2: Cut out the desired shape. You could use a knife or clay cutting tools to do this freehand but it’s easier and more precise to use a shape cutter like the one below.

Here I've used a flower shape cutter from XXXX. The edge of the cutter should be oiled with olive or coconut oil to prevent sticking.

Here I’ve used a flower shape cutter by Kemper Klay Kutters. (I like K’s as much as anyone but that’s a bit annoying.) The edge of the cutter should be oiled with olive or coconut oil to prevent sticking.

Klay Kutters

I have a variety of shape cutters in different sizes.

Step 3: Add a hole for the jump ring and stamp the initial.

I use a toothpick to create a hole for the jump ring

I use a toothpick to create a hole for the jump ring

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I have a selection of letter stamps that I use for the initials. The stamp must be well oiled.

Studio G alphabet stamp set

These are great, inexpensive stamp sets that come in different fonts to use on metal clay. I have found some at Michael’s as well as from suppliers on Etsy.

Step 4: Allow the piece to dry — it must be completely dry or it can crack during the firing proces

Silver clay pieces drying on a mug warmer

You can let the piece dry by leaving it overnight, or set it on a mug warmer as I have done here for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the piece. I leave them on the non-stick sheet they were rolled out on so I don’t mar the wet clay by trying to lift and move it.

Step 5: Sand and refine the dried pieces. I use various nail files and sanding pads to make sure there are no rough edges, scratches, or irregularities. This is the stage where it’s important to make the piece as perfect as possible, because it’s much harder to file out scratches after it’s been fired and turned to solid metal. The dry clay is fragile at this stage, so care must be taken not to break it.

Metal clay sanding tools

Filing & sanding tools. I do all the sanding in this little plastic tray, so that I can collect the silver clay particles and reuse them — too precious to waste!

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I have a little manual drill bit to make sure the hole for the jump ring is uniform. It’s important to do this on a spongy surface (polishing pad) so as not to break the dry clay piece.

Step 6: fire the clay pieces. They can be fired in a kiln, but small pieces like these can also be fired with a butane hand torch. These pieces generally take about 2 minutes of steady, even heating, constantly moving the flame around so the piece doesn’t overheat and melt. I don’t have a picture of the firing process for you — sorry! I’m pretty sure it’s a big safety hazard to be wielding a blow torch and taking a picture at the same time. 🙂

Metal clay pieces on the firing block

The pieces on the firing block. The one on the left has been fired and the other two haven’t. You can see how the clay shrinks a bit during the firing process if you compare the size of the fired and unfired heart.

Step 7: Marvel at the magical alchemy! When the piece is cool, I use a brass brush and water to remove the white coating that formed during the firing and discover that the piece has turned to fine silver! This is *always* cool. I will never get tired of this moment.

Brushing away the white coating to reveal silver!

Brushing away the white coating to reveal silver!

Step 8: Polish the finished piece. I usually tumble the pieces to work-harden them, then I use emery papers and polishing papers to bring the piece to a shine. This is a boring part so I don’t have pictures. 🙂 I also apply a little silver-blackener (Jax) to the initials to darken them and give contrast.

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Ta-da! Some cute, customized silver clay necklaces.

It’s a time-consuming process but a lot of fun, and I managed to raise a good chunk of money to donate to a great cause. Win-win-win all around, I’d say!

Silver clay initial pendants

2015 Prediction Comes True: 3D Printed Jewelry Was, In Fact, In My Immediate Future

In my 2014 round-up post I predicted that 3D printed jewelry was in my immediate future, and I was right!

Ok, it’s true that as the person actually planning to make the 3D printed jewelry, I did have some insider information…so don’t go recommending me to friends seeking a future-predicting oracle. Unless, of course, they’re gullible and have lots of money.

As part of a fundraising initiative, I was involved in the design and manufacture of these cool little 3D printed pendants.

3D printed TNT molecule pendant

3D printed TNT molecule pendant

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3D Printed Dopamine Molecule Pendant

I’m taking a group of my students on a volunteering trip in a couple of weeks to Honduras, the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere. We will be volunteering with El Hogar, a home and schools for orphaned and underprivileged children who might otherwise be living on the street or involved in gangs. In order to raise funds to donate to El Hogar, we planned a couple of fundraisers including selling these necklaces at school. Dopamine is the chemical that activates the pleasure centre of the brain, and TNT is, well, dynamite. We also made them in glow-in-the-dark blue!

3D printed glow-in-the-dark dopamine molecule!

3D printed glow-in-the-dark dopamine molecule!

In addition to pendants, we made wooden keychains using our laser cutter. Being a media school, I thought depicting the sound waveform of various phrases would be a hit, and it was. We had keychains with the name of our department, as well as some that said “I Love You” and, in honour of our Spanish-speaking destination, some that said “Te Quiero”.

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Our group managed to raise about $900 for El Hogar over the course of four days of selling these in the lobby of our building at school. Overall, we’re getting very close to our goal of $2,500.

If you’d like to know more about our trip and our projects, check out rtahumanitarianmedia.wordpress.com.

My next prediction: lots of marking papers as well as dithering about what to eat for dinner then finally ordering pizza is in my immediate future. I’ll let you know if that comes true. 😉

Enameling Class

I can’t keep myself away from my neighbourhood jewelry studio! I’ve taken a few classes at Jewel Envy: Introductory Fabrication, Introductory Casting, Intermediate Fabrication, and recently I completed an 8-week course on enameling. I must admit, the look of enameled jewelry is not really my first choice for pieces I’d like to wear, but I just love being in the studio and learning new techniques so I thought, what the hell, let’s try enameling.

Enameling is really just coating metal in melted glass by applying powdered, pigmented glass in fine layers and firing the piece in a kiln until the powder melts and fuses into a smooth, glossy coating.

This is the chevron necklace I made.

Copper & enamel chevron necklace

copper & enamel chevron necklace

I’ve currently got a thing for turquoise blue and red in combination, apparently, as I used it for two of the pieces I made in this course. For the piece below, we were learning the cloisonnĂ© technique, in which fine copper wires are fused perpendicularly onto a copper base to create ‘sections’ into which different colours of enamel can be applied. The word cloisonnĂ© actually means “partitioned” in French. As it turns out, bending wires into shape is harder than I thought (which is actually a pervasive theme running throughout my entire experience learning how to make jewelry — *everything* is harder than it seems). Those triangle sections could be more uniform and even, but whatever – I’ll leave uniformity and evenness to machines and factories.

Cloisonne pendant

Enamel pendant using the “cloisonne” technique

Below are a few practice pieces I made in the first couple of weeks of the course. The purple heart key ring is for my young niece, and I made it using a technique called sgraffito (from the Italian word meaning “to scratch”. Bonus to taking this enameling course is that I have added arcane vocabulary to my paltry European language skills.)  I applied several layers of pink enamel and fired each one, then applied a sparse sprinkling of purple enamel and scratched away some of the purple to form the initials, then fired again. The black & yellow cedar leaf outline was done using the stenciling technique: I fired several layers of yellow enamel, then I applied the ‘stencil’ (in this case, a sprig of cedar) and sifted black powdered enamel over top, removed the stencil and fired in the kiln. I seem to have been playing with just adding a fine sprinkling of enamel on the last layer in these pieces; looking at them now, I should’ve gone for the gusto and put a full coating of colour on for the last layer — that might have looked better. But these were all first-time experiments.

Enamel pieces

The blue and yellow piece is kind of interesting, in that I accidentally produced a piece that showcases the three different finishes it’s possible to achieve with enamel, depending how long you fire it for. The smooth, glossy finish you see in the other pieces takes the longest firing time, but before it reaches that stage the enamel goes through two earlier stages: ‘sugar’, where the enamel particles just start to slump and fuse but they still have a powdery, crystalline texture (see the white bits in the close-up below), and then ‘orange peel’, where it starts to melt even more but hasn’t quite smoothed out fully and retains a slightly pitted surface like an orange peel. My instructor said she’s tried to get a sugar finish but has never been able to pull it out of the kiln in time, as the enamel only stays at the sugar stage for a moment. For me, it was just accidental luck, as I was underestimating how much time the piece should be in the kiln for fear of scorching/oxidizing the piece. I used a combination of stenciling and sgraffito on this piece, starting with several layers of blue fired to gloss, then stenciling on some yellow, scraping some lines away and firing to orange peel, then finally sprinkling some white on top and scraping lines away, and firing to a sugar finish.

sgraffito enamel: sugar & orange peel finish

I love the vibrant colours you can achieve with enameling but I can’t help but think that my pieces just look like made-in-China baubles. I don’t mean to be all self-denigrating but truly, I haven’t seen all that many enameled jewelry pieces that look like “fine” jewelry to me. Maybe it’s because we are used to enameled things that are made in factories and available for cheap? Or maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. I’m not sure. What do you think?

The final piece I made in the enameling course is a double layered pendant: the bottom piece is enameled and the overlay is a silver geometric cutout.

Silver & enamel medallion

It’s a riff on the bracelet cuff I made in another class:

Silver Geometric Cuff

The bottom layer started off purple, and then I decided to add a sort of gradient sprinkling of fine silver powder for the final firing. What I didn’t know was that the purple enamel somehow reacts with the fine silver when fired and turns yellow! Here’s a pic of the underpiece when it was purple (it looks quite red in this pic, but it was actually more plum-coloured), as well as the silver overlay in the early stages of piercing & cutting.

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Here’s what the purple piece looked like after firing with fine silver particles:

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I think the unintended yellow is actually alright — it’s a nice neutral, understated tone. The fine silver powder would’ve really popped against a purple background, but the universe was not going to allow for that, so who am I to argue? The universe wanted a yellow necklace!

silver_enamel_medallion2

Now that the enameling course is over, I’ve signed up for another lost-wax casting course. (You can read about the jewelry I made in my first casting course if you’re interested.) Stay tuned for the results of my attempt at creating a silver-and-pearls ring in a few weeks (*fingers crossed*). Thanks for reading!

Yarncore!

Yesssss! I’m a nerdy badass. Or a badass nerd. (Or, ok…I’m prepared to accept I am just a nerd.)

Yarncore screenprint

Screenprint by Kat Gomboc

I purchased this lovely 11 x 14″ screenprint by Kat Gomboc at the Trinity Bellwoods Park Outdoor Art Show & Sale (part of the Queen West Art Crawl) in Toronto. I love the contrast of the skull motif and the French country toile fabric.

Now all I need is a jean jacket to sew this to the back of. And maybe accessorize with a little something nerdy yet badass like this:

Problem is, I’d find a way to work some yarn onto those needles and then people would *really* look at me funny on the subway.

Crystal drop pendant

My dear friend Tawnya had a birthday last week and I made her a long pendant as a gift. Tawnya is a gorgeous natural beauty with thick, wavy reddish-brown hair and green eyes, so I chose crystals with that colour scheme in mind.

Crystals & heart pendant

The heart is a neat little pre-fab item, from Arton Beads in Toronto, that opens up on a hinge so it made a perfect container for some crystals. There’s something about filling a vessel with little beautiful things that makes them seem more precious, as if instead of wearing them ‘open’ around your neck you need to keep them safe in a lovely container.

Crystal & heart pendant

I used various crystals from 4mm to 8mm in shades of brown, yellow, green, and purplish-brown. The technique is simple: just put each crystal onto a headpin and using round nose pliers, form a loop. Attach the looped crystals to a short length of chain. At the bottom of the chain, use a jump ring to attach the heart pendant.

It’s so nice to be able to give a personalized, hand made gift to someone you love. Of course, there’s always the worry that they won’t particularly like it but feel obligated to say how much they love it. However, as a maker/crafter/knitter/etceterer you do develop a sense of who would appreciate something hand made. Tawnya has always purchased her clothes from local designers and stays away from big corporate clothing chains, out of a strong sense of not only great style, but also social justice and environmental protection. So no worries there! — I know she’d much rather have a hand made gift than something made overseas and purchased in a big box store. What an awesome woman she is. I’m so glad she’s my friend. Funny to think that I met her and her partner quite randomly many years ago on a canoe trip to the Toronto Islands. We met as we were getting our canoes ready to go in the water, joked around, had fun paddling across and exploring some off-the-beaten-path parts of the island, and decided to go for a beer after we returned to the mainland. We’ve been friends ever since.

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So happy birthday, dear Tawnya, and many happy returns!

Twig Necklace

Who gets a cold in summer? Me! That’s who! So as I’ve been dragging my ass around the house for the last couple of days, I thought I’d better try doing something productive other than napping and sipping tea. Hence the twig necklace. I’m sure my husband would much rather I went to get groceries to replenish our empty cupboards instead. But I’ll contemplate that during my next nap.

Twig Necklace

Twig necklace

This design is from the book Wrapped in Gems by Mai Sato-Flores. I did it as a kind of a trial run for a more expensive version I’d like to make. This one is made of some cheap Chinese crystal teardrops and 28 gauge bright blue wire that I already had (both purchased at my favourite bead shop in Toronto, Arton Beads). It was a really quick process — maybe only 30 minutes total. I put it on a silver chain but this might look better on a pretty blue ribbon necklace.

twignecklace1

Twig necklace

The design in the book uses sterling silver wire and peridot gems. It called for 25″ of wire, but I had to use twice as much wire to wrap the whole thing. That would get pretty spendy pretty quickly in silver. I’m also a bit reticent to have to deal with silver wire getting ‘work-hardened’, as I’m prone to bouts of zealous sloppy wrapping which necessitate unwrapping and re-doing. I hear that’s a lot more tricky with wire that doesn’t stay soft after it’s been worked. Still, I think this design would be much prettier with silver wire.

The book has lovely photographs of the author’s designs but the instructions are mainly text-based and lack illustrations of the steps. Which is not a huge problem, as most of the procedures aren’t rocket science and you can mostly work out what to do by looking at the photo of the finished object. There are a couple of other designs from the book I’d like to try, including the Tree Branch necklace pictured below.

Wrapped in Gems by Mai Sato-Flores

Tree Branch Necklace

The Tree Branch Necklace

Off to put the kettle on for a cuppa. I’m sure we’ll survive if we order pizza for dinner.