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August 2011

Slaving over a hot kiln

Well it didn't feel like slaving but there was certainly a lot of hovering anxiously by a kiln heated to 800C in the enamelling workshop at the London Jewellery School.

Enamelling, it seems, is not an exact science. Because the firing is quick, the kiln temperature can fluctuate as you repeated open and close it which can vary the time it takes for each layer of enamel to cook. Other variables can be the thickness of your layer, moisture in wet enamelling and even the colour you choose. As a result you stand by the kiln taking nervous quick peeks and repeatedly seeking tutor reassurance until it looks right. So it is warm work.

The enamel comes in powder form (as pictured below) and the first lesson is handling it in dry form.

Jewel 003 Thankfully we started with counter-enamelling - enamelling the back to add strength and support to your piece.

The first step is to clean your metal blank - we mainly worked in copper, the cheaper option. Professionals use dilute hydrochloric acid but on this occasion we scrubbed the blanks with a wire brush and wahing up liquid followed by the crucial stage of spitting the metal. Saliva is excellent for removing an greasy residue.

To dry enamel you place your blank on the work mat. Then you put a small amount, a spoonful perhaps, of your chosen enamel powder into a small sieve and then gently distribute the powder over the metal by tapping the sieve. You want an even coverage over the whole of the metal including the edges.

This sounds simple but the tricky bit comes when you then try to move the piece to put it in the kiln. You use a pallet knife to lift your piece on to a firing stilt (the spiky devices pictured beside the kiln below) and then put it all into the kiln using a long fork. All without spilling the powder - not that easy as our tutor proved when helping me involved dropping it.

Jewel 004
Working on the back of the piece first allowed us to be slightly less nervous and learn about when enamel is properly fired. 

The enamel we used for the backing was also less intimidating. The backing powder is made up from left over powder from dry enamelling all mixed up, creating a mottled grey effect that I actually think is very attractive.

  Jewel 009 

Jewel 005For our first project we concentrated on dry powder using opaque enamels and stencil techniques.

Because of my tendency towards always choosing blues and purples, I decided to go for sunflower yellow.

This proved quite alarming when firing the first of the two layers. The enamel turns a strange mustard brown, but as we learnt the colour changes are normal and as the piece cools you, usually, end up with the colour you expect.

Once the second layer of base colour had cooled we moved on to sprinkling a second colour over a stencil of template.

This adds the challenge of removing your stencil cleanly and not smudging the pattern as you place the piece in the kiln. Not sure I was completely successful with this but I like the effect I achieved.

On my second dry powder piece I experimented with "sgrafitto". With this technique you use a sharp tool to scrape patterns in a third contrast layer over your base layer.

With practice you could produce interesting designs. On this occasion I stuck to some simple straight lines. 


Jewel 011

 We then moved on to wet enamelling. With this you grind your colours with water and then paint them on your base using a quill - or piece of drinking straw - or brush.

There is a certain magic about wet enameling. Not only can you blend colours on the piece but when you have completed a wet layer, you tap the edge and say abracadabra. Well not quite. The tapping with a pallet knife handle for example, evens out the wet layer. Then you put a sheet of kitchen paper over your index finger and gently touch the edge of your piece - amazingly this dries the enamel.

At the kiln you move your piece in and out a couple of times to remove more moisture before firing.

  Jewel 013

With this one I also had a go at adding silver wire and sinking it into the enamel. This involves working on a piece straight out of the kiln - I can certify it is very hot.

Finally we enamelled a silver piece. Silver is a better base for transparent enamels - like the turquoise below - because the colours remain truer. 

The day really gave a taster of what can be done with enamel - again I find myself wondering where I could put a kiln.... Jewel 010



Lego Rugby

Ok - so it's not craft, and it's not fencing. And there isn't much in the way of a pointy stick. But it does reflect what I'll be watching while knitting over the next few weeks.



Do I need a specific Rugby World Cup knitting project? Something that will cope with me leaping up in excitement or cowering behind the sofa as Ireland shred my nerves one too many times.

A real Making Monday

There's a line from one of my favourite Van Morrison songs, Coney Island:

"Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?"

And some days you just have that sort of feeling. That not realistic, if only money was no object, simple pleasures sort of day. Today counts as one of those because it was a proper Making Monday. I have reached late August without using a great deal of my annual leave so am  having the odd day off. 

Today was the first and I decided to make it about making. 

So from experimenting with Fimo buttons first thing:

  Craft 005

To finally dusting off my sewing machine to work on a panelled skirt.

  Craft 007

And the post blog task of sewing in the ends and crocheting a neck edging on a knitted t-shirt. It's been all about making today.

  Proj 047

Even lunch with my sister involved me delivering glass pendant I'd made her.

  Glass 015

Plus I tidied up yesterday's projects:

Proj 046
Cranford mittens

  Craft 002 Some stitch markers

And a recycling project. I have a multi-stranded turquoise on wire  necklace from which one strand broke off. Not wanting to waste it, I had a bit of a play with what's in my findings jar and I now have accompanying bracelet.

  Jewel 002

Wouldn't it be lovely if evey day was about messing about with wire, beads, wool, and whatever else takes your fancy?

Making Monday 2: In need of a finishing Friday

Right now I don't have any problem with the making but finishing anything seems quite far off right now which has lead to a bad case of startitis.

The problem is in part due to making two lace projects on very small needles which inevitably take ages. 

There's the cotton tunic...

...  and the cobweb weight Shetland Lace stole (beautiful but a couple of centimeters takes a long time).

Proj 041
Then there is the pink T-shirt, I cast on so had knitting to take to  Belfast to see Mum. Although knitting needles should be allowed through UK airports, I find it best to have my project on interchangeable circulars so I can separate the ends before going through security. Neither of the tiny projects qualified and so something else had to be cast on.

I did cast off on item recently - a summer cardigan. Unfortunately I then lost the buttons (now found) just as I was ready to sew them on. 

Proj 038
Then there's a skirt to sew up, and some fused glass to mount into jewellery.

Enough to keep me occupied you'd think. But I had an idea of how a lovely skein of Nimu lace would make the perfect but it had to beaded - and then I saw the perfect beads to replace nupps in an Estonian pattern and now I really want to experiment.
image from
And then I have the perfect yarn to make the cover pattern from the latest edition of The Knitter - a real tempter because of it's unusual centre out construction.
I will be strong.
I will make this Friday a finishing day.
And right now I'll make myself some dinner.

Making Monday 1: Tea and fundraising

The idea of making Monday is to share some thoughts about making whether sewing, knitting, card, cooking, etc, etc. This whole blog falls under this theme but as it's Monday and I have something to share I thought I'd join in.

My office recently had a reorganisation which resulted in my team moving from next to the kitchen. As a result we needed to invest in a teapot and a tray. Once we had those someone suggested we needed a tea cosy and I had a light bulb moment.

I'd jut been volunteering for MSF P/hop at Knit Nation where we have been promoting the latest pattern, a Cricket themed cosy by Ros Clarke.

So I put out an envelope for Médecins Sans Frontières donations and rewarded my generous colleagues with this.

image from