Finding my inner wrapper

Jessica Rose, who runs what seems to be rapidly becoming my home from home, the London Jewellery School, recently told me that she thought I'd really love wire wrapping. She is a great judge of character. I am totally hooked. 

A day's workshop is a big step up from the cocktail ring taster class I'd already attended but that had made me much more confident with the tools and wire.

We worked with square and d-shaped wire - often several strands at a time - and learnt how the make coils and spirals (and even our own earring wires).

We started with rings which were to some extent familiar but with far more techniques. First up was a simpler creation using two lengths of wire and some shorter parts for wraps.

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But then we moved on to more elaborate creations built from four strands of square wire...

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What we learnt from manipulating several strands at once we then applied for setting pendants - for which I chose a challenging shape - circles and squares are recommended - and continued to work in the stiffer silver rather than copper wire. But am really pleased with the result.

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And finally we applied the setting technique to earrings - much fiddlier but a fun challenge.

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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.

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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.

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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. 


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 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.

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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



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:

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

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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.

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

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Plus I tidied up yesterday's projects:

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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.

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

Crafty compliments or why I should see more than flaws

So there I was wandering round Exeter when I spotted an Aladdin’s Cave (well a second one actually, I’d already found some hand dyed yarn in a tiny knitting shop) full of sparkling jewels. This designer jewellery shop specialised in handmade silver so there was no way I could walk past.

While the long suffering Mr Penguin wandered off to look at historic markers in the sunshine I gave myself a few minutes to gaze on the shiny loveliness and daydream about when I will be able to make pieces like that.

 The shop was quiet so the owner came over to ask what I was interested in. I explained I was browsing because I was a fan of silver jewellery (not hard to guess actually given what I was wearing).

“Yes she said, you’re wearing some interesting pieces, I wanted to ask you about your pendant.”

 It was this.

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And so I was taken aback.

It is a piece I’d made in a silver clay class at London Jewellery School. In fact my first go at setting a cabochon stone. I wear the pendant a lot because I like it and I made it but I am very clear about its flaws, so it was overwhelming to have it praised like that.

It occurs to me though that I'm very poor at accepting compliments and tend to see the errors over the successes. But I need to see the positives more if I want to spend more of my time on craft projects. It was a real boost to hear something like this, and I'm going to use it to push forward with my ideas and skills development.


Walking on broken glass: part 1, the before

I don't like broken glass. Actually it is fair to say that a dropped glass has caused me to flee the room before now. So it was perhaps an unusual decision for me to sign up for London Jewellery School's Fused Glass workshop.

My broken glass issue is to do with a past traumatic event and is something I'd like to be rid off. On the other hand I am enjoying my jewellery adventures. So it seemed a perfect opportunity for a spot of amateur psychology by taking control of how and when the glass is broken and turning it from jagged and dangerous into smooth colourful jewels.

The trays of glass pieces were mini treasure troves of colour that we all just wanted to play with, but there was learning to do. 

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Some of our first goes get ready for firing.

 First we learnt about the correct and safe way to cut glass - something I was quick to get the hang of, challenging myself to cut smaller and smaller pieces. Although I'm not great at square shapes just yet.

Glass 011 Then we started on some techniques.

Fused glass is all about melting the glass in a kiln, so all pieces have to be placed on kiln paper which stops the glass sticking to the kiln shelf.

This allows for one of the simplest techniques; placing a piece of fibre mat under a piece of transparent glass. The glass melts over the mat which burns away to a powder leaving an impression in the glass.

There aren't many finished items in this post, it is very much the before, because of the length of time it takes to fire and cool the pieces, but here you can see an after in the form of a blue moon.

We also experimented with layering up glass with an opaque base, a piece of fancy dichronic glass in the middle and clear on top.


Glass 012 I like the effect of this piece but it does show what happens if your top layer is much bigger than the base.

On the other hand if you make it too small you won't get a smooth domed shape.

You can layer other things as well as glass. For example, brass or copper can be sealed between two layers of glass. Or you can use mica powder to create patterns between the layers. And then there are long strips of glass that you can shape in the flame of a candle to create patterns on your glass. 

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 All of these techniques are used in full fusing where all the glass melts together into one shape. Tack fusing joins the pieces of glass you use together but retains their individual shapes.


Frits, small glass pieces, can be used in either to create effects. You can layer then on with PVA glue that burns away in the kiln. I'll be interested to see what happens with these experiments.

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Tack fusing also allows you to assemble shards of different colours on scraps of glass to create interestingly textured pieces. I think this is my favourite of the day.

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But there are plenty of options in the pieces I assembled in our "creative play" session towards the end of the day. It will be fascinating to see what works and what unexpected effects appear.

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The results will be revealed, once I have them, in part 2. And then we'll see what jewellery pieces they turn out to be.


Shiny, shiny - a wealth of silver techniques

I've recently taken a couple more silver courses at the London Jewellery School, the main one being the two-day intermediate clay workshops where we learnt so many techniques it was hard to keep count.

This is a course for people who have some experience in basic metal clay techniques and is designed to show the range of things you can do with this material.

We started by learning about cork clay, a material that will burn off in a kiln at the temperature you fire preciou s metal clay which means you can use it to help build hollow shapes. We also buried a cubic zirconium stone in our cork cores before using silver clay in syringes to create freehand filligree cages. 

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 The colour here is due to another technique - dipping the piece in a "liver of sulphur" solution which can produce a range of colours which you can also affect by judicious polishing and burnishing. What is hard to convey is the fact that there is a stone rattling about in the cage - if you listen very carefully to this video clip you may hear it.


After that there was the first of my ring disasters - I may be rechristened "Death to Rings". In this case we were making a motif to sit on a wire wrap ring. The wire part was fine but unfortunately my ring tipped over when drying and I ended up with a blob rather than a motif.

More successful was the session on creating bezels to set cabochon stones. This involved using a strip of silver, worked on a mandrel, to make the bezel to fit your stone and then setting that in the silver clay piece. Then after firing we placed our stones and hammered our bezels into shape.

I'm particularly pleased with my intentionally organic lapis flower.

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We also had a go at making full round rings in silver clay - I shattered mine when filing it before firing, so least said best on this point.

Hollow silver beads seam more my style as can be seen from this "walnut" made from two pieces and joined.

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 After all of this we were introduced to gold. Both setting a gold nugget in a piece and applying gold leaf as decoration. I used both techniques on the same piece to create this gift for a friend. 

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 Amazingly I still had enough materials and time to fire a pair of earings.

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Despite my track record with rings, I do have one success to share. I have also taken a beginner's silver one-day course where we made silver rings from cutting our metal strip through annealing, texturing, shaping and soldering to create the final piece.



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Playing about with crochet jewellery

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What do you do with those oddments of yarn, the 10 or 20g balls left over from projects?

I know of some sock knitters making blanket squares but I use all sorts of weights of yarn so that won't work. 

On the other hand I've been saying for ages that I should refresh my crochet skills so the 4ply and the laceweight remnants are forming a plan to play about with embellishments, brooches etc.

Having just made a pair of lace gauntlets for a friend, I've had my first go with the remaining yarn - a Irish rose and button brooch.

Silver clay - the makings of a new obsession

2011 is the year of jewellery. I've decided to year some new skills and as I love silver and beads, a series of jewellery workshops seems like the plan. 

Don't worry there are still pointy stick - tools to make holes and fine drills - plus blow torches. And that was just in my first day long workshop. 

 I started out with Beginners' Metal Clay, a full day workshop from London Jewellery School, where I learnt techniques to mould and fire this amazing material.

Precious metal clay was invented by .a scientist at Mitsubishi and is a remarkable substance. Microscopic particles of silver or other metals are suspended in a medium that can be worked like modelling clay. When the clay piece are fired the medium burns away leaving solid silver objects, some 10-15% smaller than the modelled piece.

Pieces can be fired in a kiln, with a blow torch or over the flame on a gas hob.

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Thanks to the support and enthusiasm of teacher Emma my fellow learners and I each produced a ring, earings and a pendant (some of which can be seen above).

We learnt about texturing, cutting and shaping,  setting a stone, smoothing and polishing amongst the techniques. Plus why playing cards and olive oil should be standard items in the creative process. Here from left are pieces pre-firing, fired and polished.

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And perhaps most importantly the use of ordinary model clay like Fimo to work out and test designs. I think some of the problems I had with my ring were due to me not modelling in clay enough due to the excitement of the day - but there was also the challenge of using a syringe filed with PMC to create decoration and the fact I snapped it in two as it was about to go in the kiln. Of course that meant I learnt a repair technique as well.

And it didn't turn out too bad.

Silver 008

But the ring is definitely outshone by my textured earing and pendant set of which I am very proud. This involved small cookie cutters, pressing in textures in the rolling process, joining layers and drilling.

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Next month is an introduction to silver jewellery - so working with the metal from the start. Can't wait. Meanwhile I'm already working on to put knitted textures into PMC and how to combine knitting, crotchet and tatting (I'm relearning the latter two) with jewellery techniques. The Fimo is ordered so I'll start working on roughs for designs at the first opportunity.



Wire, beads and how the pointy sticks nearly let me down

Last Saturday as I sat in The Make Lounge surrounded by beads, wire bits, other findings and several pairs of pliers my love of pointy stick hobbies left me all at sea.

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I was at a wire wrapped jewellery workshop, part one of a plan to learn jewellery making techniques over the next year or so.

The first poor decision may have been to choose a seat near the window. It did mean I could see the beads and wire well, but turned out to be at the furthest point from the teacher. 

The first instruction was ok - I had the skewer a bead with an i-wire and then bend wire to about 90degrees. So far, so good.

Then the teacher told us to hold our pliers in what she described as the "fencing position" (she even lunged) and make a further bend in our wires.  

Still couldn't see her demo well but I persevered. I held my pliers as close to how I would my fencing sabre and bent the wire,  so it was away from me (as if attacking).

Teacher did her rounds: "Why are you holding your pliers like that?"

"Because that's the fencing position"

"No more like this, and your wire is bent the wrong direction."

So everyone waited while I held my pliers in the "About to get my wrist slashed with a sabre" position and bent my wire correctly.

"Right, now we're going to hold the pliers in the archery position and use a second pair the manipulate the wire."

This didn't bode well. I'm not an archer, but I hope to be one day and have had some beginner's instruction about launching those pointy sticks. So archery suggested either having my pliers by my right ear or swapping them to my left hand angled so my little finger was at the bottom.

Teacher appeared: "Are you left-handed?"


"So why are they in your left hand."

"Well, because I've no idea what your instructions mean." This was going from bad to worse.

But, then some pointy stick experience did come to my rescue. I sometimes teach people to knit and have realised that some people can learn by following instructions and some need to understand how knitting works - how the fabric grows in other words. 

So I suggested I just looked at how she was working with other people and the various stages of the wrap so I could see what we needed to achieve. And assured her I'd catch up.

Luckily ten minutes later and I'd completed my first bead wraps and could even join them together. Wwbeads 001


I'd worked how to make my hands achieve the necessary stages - and strangely it did involve working one stage left-handed. And although my wraps were by no means perfect, I understood the principles and could have fun.


A first go


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Starting to improve


Once we'd managed the basics we were given the run of an Aladdin's cave of beads and findings to create our own pieces. It's suggested you try a bracelet or earrings to start. But inspiration struck and I started creating multiple bead links and suddenly had enough for a choker. It's not perfect but it is wearable and I've learnt a lot - time to buy some left-handed pliers, perhaps.

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