Monday, 23 November 2009

Inspired by an ancient design

Further to earlier blogs about the perpetual gift dilemma, I wanted to make my Mum something a bit different and unusual for her birthday. She doesn't habitually wear much jewellery and so I settled on the idea of a brooch that she could wear on a coat or fleece, or use to fasten a scarf.

The design makes more sense when you see it at home on some chunky fabric.

The initial idea I sketched a little while ago with a nice lump of lapis lazuli I have put aside for her, mounted in Sterling silver, wasn't going to be practical, I'd need to buy too many materials and I knew the design was at the limit of my abilities. That in itself is not a bad thing by any means - pushing myself to do things for the first time and outside my comfort zone is precisely how I've grown - but I hadn't allowed myself enough time for that luxury on this occasion.

Please click on the photos to see a larger, clearer version.

As I commented in an earlier blog on the loop-in-loop chain I made in copper, that link format is an ancient design with examples 3000 years old having been found. That set me into looking at old jewellery designs and I was astonished at how contemporary some of the oldest forms still look. I suppose that just goes to prove the adage that good design is still good design - and will remain timeless.

Good design is still good design and will remain timeless.

The one design piece that really captured me was that of Roman fibula - sometimes called Toga pins - usually a T-shaped design with a bow front to accommodate a chunk of fabric where they were fastened at the shoulder and a sprung hinged pin. Many examples were made in copper or bronze with an iron pin for the hardness. Consequently, many have survived and are now a fabulously patinated green colour - but missing their pins.

The pin is sprung at the hinge to give it tension to keep it fastened

The design looked like it had potential to be re-worked and easily decorated - a good variation on my often made kilt style pin. I have a good range of gauges of copper wire in stock, so set about working a small prototype initially, then when it was evident it would work as I hoped, I set to work on a larger final version.

The 'decoration' of the pin was provided by 3 strands
of copper twisted together and wrapped around the bow.

For practical, domestic reasons that aren't of interest, I ended up finishing it in rather a hurry and consequently there are a couple of aspects I would prefer to give more time and attention to. But on the whole, I'm happy with the design and how it works in practice. I'm not sure however that the time it took me to make would make it practical to make to sell. I'd like to make another one, armed with what I learned on the first one, to see if I could hone down that time significantly enough to make it affordable.

One of my favourite parts of it is the scrolled end acting as the clasp.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Copper loop in loop bracelet - part 2

Further to my earlier post about the thought process that gave rise to the copper loop in loop bracelet featured - I decided on a finished colour for it.

I oxidised it fully black initially - I get a good solid black on copper by heating the pieces in a bowl of just boiled water to get the metal nice and warm, then drop them into a warm solution of liver of sulphur - a task I relegate myself to the garden for as it pongs something wicked. When it appears to have taken on a good tone, I take it out and rinse it, give it a good rub on some kitchen paper and repeat the process.

A copper pendant that has been oxidised, then polished back
to give an antiqued finish.
Please click to see a larger version of all of the photographs.

Pieces to be oxidised must be really clean - my habit is to tumble them just beforehand with some warm soapy water and avoid touching them with my fingers - I've seen pieces with flat hammered sections not take the colour properly and leave a clearly visible fingerprint, just from picking it up - the oil in your skin is enough to create a resist area. Hence I feel the hot water bath also helps get any surface grease off too. If I don't want to fire up the tumbler, I just give them a quick scrub with a baby toothbrush in hot soapy water.

One of my copper raindrops necklaces, antiqued.

Once I had the bracelet - and several other pieces - good and black I rinsed then washed them again with the toothbrush and washing up liquid - the oxidisation process tends to leave the surface rather sooty and I aim to get all the surface blackening off initially before I decide if the colour is good as it is, or it needs something else. In the case of the bracelet, I was delighted that the silver soldering (each of the 32 links and clasp is soldered) had taken the oxidising well - I'd chosen a harder solder for this reason and it worked well. Even after some polishing, it has remained less visible than I expected.

Darkly oxidised copper earrings which have been extensively
tumbled to give rise to a glossy gunmetal finish.

If the piece can withstand it, I tend to tumble again at this point as I really like the gunmetal finish this gives the post-oxidised metal. Some pieces are left like this, others get more attention. At this point, I extensively tumbled the bracelet before I decided on the final finish. I tumbled it until the outermost surfaces were just showing the copper through.

But I decided that it was rather too dark for the style, so manually polished the proud surfaces to settle on an antiqued finish instead. So this is the final version of it, heavily antiqued (more so than I typically do) and giving a good contrast between the internal and external aspects of the link structure.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The perpetual gift-giving dilemma gives rise to a new piece

If you're a craftsperson like me (I use that term loosely to mean you make things) you're surely familiar with the dilemma we continually face around Christmas and birthday times when it comes to gift giving. Do you give your nearest and dearest yet something else you've made, or head to the shops?

Please click on the photos to see a larger view.
They look rather dark and woolly here on the page.

The way I see it, if I'm going to spend a given amount of cash on someone, if I spend that on raw materials and increase its value by adding a chunk of my time too - they ultimately get that much more of a gift, value-wise, than if you'd spend the same cash on something priced at retail. This is especially worthy of consideration when times are hard and you simply don't have enough dosh to buy something you feel would be suitably worthy. Not to mention that most people value a little extra care and thought than just popping into a department store and grabbing the nearest shiny. For me, personal time given is 'value added' in every sense of the word. I'd much rather have an hour of someones time than know they just flashed the plastic.

But do others appreciate that thinking? Do they get sick to death of some piece of hand made goodness, no matter how carefully crafted or how many hours invested? Do they just think you're a cheapskate? I do have one particular relative who always calls my creations 'home made' deliberately to demean them. But thankfully she's the exception.

It's a perpetual dilemma to which there is no easy answer. I hope those that I invest the most time on will take it in the spirit in which it's intended - an effort to make my hard earned cash go that bit further, as well as giving them something that is perhaps even more precious than a few quid - some of my time and a resulting piece that I often aim to remain unique for them and something I've given particular thought and care to. I actually really enjoy sourcing materials, sketching designs and ideas in order to create that particular piece I hope they'll treasure.

Which is what took me to a reel of copper wire this week, to test out a Christmas gift idea I had, before committing myself to some Sterling silver. I wanted to try a chain maille technique I'd done before with rubber 'O' rings - a chain making technique which uses closed and usually fairly thin rings - where most maille techniques use open jump rings - at least initially to create the weave. This weave starts with closed rings that you shape and link together.

I know this as a loop-in-loop weave, but it may well have other names. It is reputed to be one of the oldest chain patterns found in antiquities, examples have been found up to 3000 years old. The design often features in Roman jewellery and as they knew a thing or two about personal adornment those Romans, that's good enough for me.

I soldered together a handful of rings of a guessed size and made a section of chain. The first attempt looked very nice, but there wasn't enough space for it to move and the chain was too rigid, so I made some sightly larger rings. Only a couple of millimetres larger in diameter (but over 6mm more wire in each loop), but it made quite a difference to the weave. They were now a little too loose and open.

But I made a few more to see how it flowed in a decent length and decided that I liked the loopy open look of it, so stuck with the size. It was intended to be a snagging and measuring exercise before I made a reach for the silver (I think of them as prototypes - I learn by trying), but I actually really liked the result in copper, so made a pile more rings and made me a bracelet.

It took me a while to work out a clasp design and methodology that worked with the shapes of the chain links, but I'm pretty happy with how it worked out - after a bit of trial and error and some that weren't quite right. I often see beautiful chain maille pieces, with poorly executed clasps or commercially made ones just plonked on. To me, the clasp is an incredibly important part of a design. It has to work efficiently, so be well engineered, but also sit comfortably aesthetically alongside the rest of the piece - to look like an intentional part of the design, not an afterthought.

So this one needed a little extra thought (I left it overnight for my brain to work on) as the links are directional, so one end of the chain is a different shape from the other, so making the clasp flow nicely, but with connections 90 degrees from each other and to reflect the shapes of the main links, took some working on. I also have bruised fingers for my trouble too. It's hazardous stuff this jewellery making.

I took some photos of it in its raw copper post-polishing state while I decide what final finish to give it. I'm erring towards antiqued - as I just like that colour best - but it depends on how the silver soldering will look once oxidised.

What do you think?


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