For the love of silver…for the love of life!!

Posts tagged ‘experiment’

Eat Your Heart Out Rene Lalique!.. ;)

Thing-a-Day  Day 11

The experimental piece I have been working on today has been really interesting. It has been something I have wanted to have a go at for nearly 2 decades but have never really been brave enough to risk ruining a piece of silver if things went horribly wrong!

When I had a go at making some filigree silver pieces from fine silver wire earlier in the year, I realised that this would be my opportunity to have a go at this technique of enamelling as the value of the silver in the filigree pieces was not very large and I could just about live with the possibility that the whole lot might be trashed!

So this is my journey through the plique-a-jour window!

Plique-a-jour enamel is a style of enamelling where transparent enamels are fired into individual cells without any metal backing – thus creating a stained glass window effect.

1. I purchased a piece of mica sheet to use as my ‘non-stick’ backing plate and put my filigree pieces onto it.
2. I then attempted to fill each of the little cells with wet enamel – although there was a little bit of bleeding underneath the wires due to the twisted nature of the filigree wire it was impossible to get good contact between the wire and the mica sheet.
3. This was the enamel after it had dried for a while on top of the kiln.
4. …and again after it had been fired for the first time! Quite a few holes to be filled there!!
5. More wet enamel was put on top and then fired again. When everything had cooled down a gentle lift with a fingernail behind the wire and the pieces just pinged off of the mica…brilliant!!!
6. The effect from the front is now fine.
7. …but the look from the back is pretty rough!!
8. I ground down the enamel from the back of the filigree using a carborundum stone.
9. A little better now – but not as tidy as I would like! The areas where I had reinforced the fragile joins with a dab of PMC slip had now been ground down into irregular shaped patches…not so pretty…

All in all – I think this has been very successful – as I have seen how well the mica backing sheet works and how easy it is to remove the enamelled pieces. I would try again using a lighter coloured enamel as the royal blue is a bit dark unless held up to the light. I also think it would work really well for pierced sheet silver – or PMC.

I have always loved Art Nouveau styles and this enamelling technique was used a lot by Rene Lalique…so I will definitely have another go later on!

“Argentium Experimentium”

Is there anyone else out there that is trying to get to grips with Argentium silver and not exactly meeting with success??  I have tried to find information on other people’s experiences with it but have come up with very little success so far…but I will keep looking!!

I am a really recent convert to making jewellery with silver so I don’t have a lot of experience of working with the metal to really know what to expect when faced with Argentium!  But I have always been one to have a go and experiment!  I love working with pure ‘fine’ silver…it is just so clean and beautiful to work with….but it is not a very strong metal.  So although I make chunky, decorative chains from fine silver and use pmc with it as well, I am very aware of its limitations. That is why I was very excited when Argentium was finally available in the UK!

I have made earwires and catches with it since July with great success but I thought it was time to get more serious with it…and I especially wanted to see how compatible it is with pmc….so I have been having a play with it this week…  Can I just say that I am pretty new with pmc as well…and am reluctant to commit large pieces of it to experimentation!!

I have had a go at annealing the Argentium with a torch – using the Sharpie trick – and just watching for a very dull red colour change in a darkened studio but found it less than successful…so this time  – after initially trying to wind it round mandrels straight from the supplier and creating a very springy spring!  – I tried annealing it in the kiln…with the door ajar to allow lots of oxygen to circulate…

After allowing it to cool a bit and quenching it – it still looked rather springy…

Trying to get it tight round a mandrel was impossible – although I taped it into place!  See the gap that sprung open as I cut through the rings!!!

Anyway – I persevered…  I have already discovered that Argentium fuses really well…doesn’t even need a flux…and amazingly it goes silver again as it reaches fusing temperature!  Can you spot the difference between the fused and non fused rings here!!!

And here is the difference between the colour of the fused rings (right) and the smaller rings that I cleaned up in pickle…

So now we have my little pmc additions.  I have previously tried attaching stars and holly leaves to elongated Argentium  jumprings using pmc slip with some success and discovered that  if the attached area is too great it causes the Argentium to distort alarmingly!   So I have been very careful of the way I have attached them this time.  The rings were real experiments where I literally only attached the rings to the back with 3 or 4 little spots of pmc slip…just to see how strong a bond this would make!

Well – you can see by the results that the rings have distorted pretty dramatically  here so obviously the Argentium has adhered pretty well to the pmc even with a few dabs of slip!!  I am still pretty shocked by the extent of the blackening of the Argentium though – considering how bright it was after fusing it!  It is so thick it is actually pinging off the surface in little flakes!!

So I plopped them all into pickle after they had all cooled down a bit! and they came out looking lovely!

But as I gathered them all together I felt a horrible crunching noise in my hand and—– disaster!!  The ring from the ivy leaf – which had distorted so much in firing had snapped!  And as I manipulated it more I discovered that not only had it snapped but that I could break the rest of the Argentium off of the pmc leaf just using my fingers – and worse still…it snapped just like a piece of dry spaghetti!!

But I plodded on with my plans and popped a bit on enamel onto the pieces that were left…only to get distracted at the vital moment and ended up leaving them in the kiln for much too long…so that wasn’t much of a success either!!  A bit of a bad day all in all!!  (And it does get worse!!)  But look again!!  …why has the Argentium not blackened this time?  I fire my pmc and my enamel at the same temperature 820 degrees C – so why did it go black when fired with pmc but not when enamel firing and accidently leaving it in a hot kiln for the same sort of time??

Having messed these up I left them to cool in the kiln and had an evening with my grandchildren before looking at the pieces this morning….and yes…I couldn’t resist a fiddle!!  I could tell that the wire was just not feeling right…no where near as fragile as the ivy leaf ring was – but obviously not good…and there we go….  A pile of so much scrap!!

The broken wire I have discovered balls up beautifully – so perhaps that is not entirely wasted…but I can’t think how to salvage the pmc!!

I don’t know what I have learned from all this yet…and would welcome any comments!!  Perhaps Argentium isn’t compatible with pmc…not with a physical bond anyway.  I am thinking that the shrinking process with the pmc3 is disturbing the Argentium when it is at its weakest and most brittle state and causing it to shatter all through.  Perhaps it can only fire with pmc at its lowest firing temperature.   Perhaps it is only safe to use it with a mechanical attachment to pmc pieces….

Perhaps I will just go back to fine silver!!

As I have said above…I would really welcome any comments…and would love to have some information on how you have found Argentium to perform in the workshop…and with pmc if you have tried it!!

Fit for Anything!!

For those of you who have been kind enough to keep popping back to my blog – even though I seem to have abandoned it for so long…thank you so much!!  I thought my stats would have flatlined but they have kept gently bobbing along so thank you again!  Hopefully I am back now…and in almost full working order!

I caught something during the first week of September which really laid me low…perhaps it was the dreaded Swine Flu – I don’t know – but I have rarely in my life felt quite so rotten.  It seemed to affect my balance long term and made me feel really woozy and shaky.  I started to feel a bit more able by the end of September – and just as I started to get going again I caught a cold!  Not a particularly bad one, as colds go, but it has gone straight to my sinuses and has got me reeling and shaking again!  I very rarely resort to pills – but I have gone through a packet of decongestants now!  I’m still not right but I’m beginning to see the end of the tunnel now…fingers crossed!!

Anyway – by way of therapy – (as I daren’t trust myself with a flaming torch at the moment!!)  I’ve been having a go at wire weaving and I am really pleased with the results.

I have been posting my efforts on the UK forum run by and thought using my blog would be a good way of showing them all what I am doing as I can post lots of photos on here – and everyone else can have a peek too!!

So – this was my first attempt – using 0.8mm silver plated wire…

And here is how I did it (but using 4 groups of 2 wires this time).

I started by cutting my wires and taping the ends together – making sure they were all tight and parallel (1)..  and then I clamped this taped bundle into a ring clamp to hold it firm.  I then pushed 2 wires alternately to the back and front of the clamp making sure the working section was kept straight and parallel at all times (2).

The wires on the right are lifted up and then bent over the other sets of wires – keeping the wires flat and parallel (3).  Then the wires that are laying against the clamp are lifted up and over this set of wires (4).

The wires that are now sticking out to the left of the clamp are carefully bent upwards – keeping them flat and side by side.  I do this by bending them against my fingernail to get a nice tight bend close to the woven wires (5).  The clamp is then opened and the work pressed downwards so that the weave you have just created is now clamped inside the ring clamp.  The set of wires to the left are now very carefully laid into a weaving position (6) and a new set of wires to the right of the work are lifted up before being bent over the other sets of wires as in picture 3 above …and then the process repeats over and over!!  It is as easy as that!!

As the work progresses you will begin to see that the taped end is slowly working its way out of the right side of the clamp.  This is just as it should be as the weave is added to in a diagonal fashion.

And this is what is going on inside the clamp!

I really do love things that are so simple and yet effective!!

Obviously this technique could be used with any number of wires, with 2, 3, 4 or more wires in each group and as many groups as you want – and any length of wire!  But PLEASE remember to wear safety glasses though as we don’t want any eyeballs jiggling about on the end of the wires…!!!  The only thing to remember is that you need to have an equal number of wires to the back and the front of the work.

There is so much scope with this technique and since I have only just found out how to do it I have a lot of experimenting to do!!  ….starting this week-end…. ‘cos I’m fit for anything now!!!  (fingers crossed!!).

What a Great Week-End!!!

Wow!  Have I had a great week-end (and a bit).

For a while now I have been toying with the idea of making some fine silver rings using pmc (precious metal clay) and building them on fine silver sheet metal ring liners.  Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I won’t pay over the odds for something I can do myself – so I bought some fine silver sheet with the determination to make my own ring liners rather than buy them at twice the cost (plus postage of course!!) from some other supplier.

Over the weekend I had a go at making a couple of rings with the fine silver sheet – cutting, shaping and fusing the join – and made a pretty decent job of it – if I say so myself!!  I then went on to produce two designs in pmc on these ring liners – and that really did make my day because they worked out so well!!

Since it all went so well I had another go yesterday and did a couple more rings…building up the pmc and fine silver designs.  I fired them in the kiln this morning and was even more pleased …because I was able to produce another couple of really good rings…but I felt something was missing…

…you see that one second from the left… inspired by the 40th anniversary of the moon landings –  I felt my ‘moon craters’ needed a little something in them.  I knew that I had some enamel powder somewhere – so I went digging around and found some transparent blue.  Now it has been a while since I last did some – not too successful – enamelling, but since these rings were only experiments for me to wear I took the plunge and filled my little craters with the enamel powder and popped the ring  into the kiln.

I’m really glad I went for it because I am just so pleased with the way it has turned out!!  I can only get better with these techniques…I just need some practice…but boy! am I happy with my week -end’s work!!

I’d love to hear your comments!!

Did You Ever Make Mud Pies?

As a child of the 60s – long before the arrival of day time television – when we were masters of our own entertainment… having been plonked out in the garden for the day to get the sun and the fresh air I can vividly remember the joy I experienced in making mud pies and rose petal perfume.  All I needed was a few empty jam jars and a watering can full of water… and an old bent spoon to dig around in the soil and to stir my concoctions!!

So – what has changed????


I am now going to give you the recipe for the ‘connoisseur’s choice’ concoction that I made in my garden today!

As a jewellery maker/chain maker I make hundreds and hundreds of fine (pure) silver jump rings every week.  Everybody has their own way of cutting jump rings and I make mine by winding a ‘tube’ of wire of about 25 turns around a mandrel and then taping this up with some low tack masking tape.  I then insert my jeweller’s saw and cut through the rings from the inside of the tube.  The masking tape stops the rings from dropping onto the floor when they are cut through…and it also picks up a lot of the fine silver ‘dust’ that the sawing process produces.

Now – I hate waste.  So I collect the ‘sweepings’ from the sawing and put it in a pot.  I hope to be able to melt this and recover the silver one day.

I also collect the bits of masking tape and when I have a pot full I put them into a jam jar full of soapy water and some of the silver flecks swill off into the water.

Today was a fine, warm and still day so I decided to carry out my ‘experiment’.  I had collected the equivalent of 2 pots of masking tape from which most of the silver flecks had been washed…but I don’t like waste – and I could see there was still some silver adhering to the tape.  So – thinking back to the techniques of my chemical analysis job in the 1970s – I decided to burn the tape along with the silver flecks – collect the ash in a jar full of water and dissolve the soluble ashes. The liquid could then be decanted off leaving the silver flecks and any insoluble ashes left behind.

You may well think I am a lunatic…..but watch and admire!!!!

I started with a small pile…and as it started to really burn I added more from my stock.

Eventually it burned down to this…the large pieces to the top right are wrappers from Art Clay Silver packs which I couldn’t get the last bits of clay out from…and these are obviously made from plastic coated aluminium – and the aluminium wouldn’t burn.

Next, using my spoon…(not a bent one but something from my chemi lab days) – I scooped the ashes into a jar of water…

and then swirled … well more of a manic coacktail shaking technique actually!!

And you thought I was crazy………..

Not impressed yet?????……

Do you see what I see??

I guess you really need the sunlight to see it sparkle!!

OK – it isn’t pure silver….  there will be other stuff lurking in there too.  So I will let it settle for a day or so and then decant off the liquid on the top and the silver gunk at the bottom will go into a crucible in the kiln to make sure everything that I can burn of is burned off.  What is left I will melt with my torch in a scorifier – which is a pot with a spout designed to melt precious metals in.  If there is any scum and random debris I can scoop it off and what is left I will try to do some water casting with or maybe cuttle fish casting….I will have to see how well it works first!

But – aside from my joy at recovering this fine quantity of silver – I have had the delight of reliving my past!  I stink of smoke from the burnt paper and I am covered with smuts from the ash and water.

……I could always pick a few rose petals and lavender flowers and steep it in some water in one of those jam jars and make some exotic ‘perfume’ to mask the smell…

……just like I did when I was a little girl……

I hope I have taken you all back and you have relived a little bit from your childhood too.

Especially all my visitors.

If you have enjoyed this post please send me a comment and let me know!!

Shiny, shiny….

Just a quick update of yesterdays pmc experiment.  I have added 2 more layers of pmc slip to the ceramic beads and then fired them again.  They look so much better now with no gaps and a much deeper silvery look to them.  I have put them in the tumbler this time to get a bit more of a shine on them and I am really pleased with the way they have turned out.  They are a little bit knobbly and have a rather rustic look about them  but I think that adds to their charm…and they were only experimental pieces after all.  I will make some lovely smooth slip next time round and try to get a smoother finish…and now I know it works I might try a more exciting bit of decoration!!

Cross my Palm with Silver…..

I finally managed to get a little pmc (precious metal clay) experiment up and running today – I’ve nearly got my pmc ‘workcupboard’ finished now so I thought I would christen it!  It is quite a comfortable space to work in although it is a very small area and I have my back to the door (which I don’t like) so I have rigged up a mirror in front of me so that I can see what is going on behind me…I think it’s a Feng Shui thing but it makes me feel more comfortable!

Anyway – back to the experiment….

I bought some ceramic beads, some glazed and some not.  Figuring that ceramic beads have already been through a kiln firing they won’t mind going through another one, and the temperature needed for pmc is lower than that used to biscuit fire or glaze fire clay, it should be a ‘walk in the park’ for them!!

So I have coated the beads with layers of pmc slip, drying each layer before adding another one.  After several coats I added a simple decoration using a syringe of pmc.   This is only the second time I have tried a syringe for pmc and I used a larger tip this time making it easier to push the pmc out.  It was very similar to piping with royal icing so I was quite comfortable doing it this time!

After they were thoroughly dry I popped them into the kiln nestled on a bed of vermiculite.  I cranked the temperture up slowly this time so as not to shock the ceramic beads and then fired them for rather longer than usual before allowing the kiln to cool slowly.

They looked to be in one piece although there were obviously areas on the large glazed bead where the bead was shining through the silver layer so something had gone wrong there…whether it was because the pmc doesn’t stick too well to glazed ceramics or because I hadn’t put it on thickly enough in those spots I’m not sure.  The unglazed bead seemed to be fine as were the little glazed beads.

I haven’t had time to tumble these in my machine to polish them up but I have given them a quick brush with a brass brush which has given them a ‘satin’ look.  It also put a lot of friction stress on the large glazed bead which surprisingly didn’t seem to suffer any more silver damage so perhaps it was just that I had put the pmc  on too thinly.

Generally, I think these look rather good considering it was a first attempt.  I think I might try painting another few layers of pmc onto the fired layer and then fire it again…I’m not too sure how well this will work but it is worth a try.  I might be able to build up a more substantial layer of silver doing it like that….I’ll have to give it a go!!

I’d love to have your comments on my stripy ceramic bead experiments…

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