Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cooking at 1600F

I do love jewelry. Surprise! A Southern housewife who likes sparkly things. Who'd have guessed? Though I usually wear the same pieces every day, everything I have has its own story, so my jewelry box is filled with memories and happy thoughts.

I had the opportunity to create some fine silver (.999 silver instead of .925 sterling) pieces of my own this weekend. Millsaps was offering an enrichment course entitled Making Rings with Precious Metal Clay, and boy have I been enriched. Laura T., the instructor, has an large studio out in the forest close to her house in Brandon where any manner of crafting device can be found. Her dogs, Freckles, Doxy, and Sista, come in and out and wind their way through the chair and table legs for a scratch behind the ears. Doxy and I bonded, and she spent most of the afternoon in my lap.

Precious metal clay is some interesting stuff. It comes in small foil packages that are tightly sealed. It's important to work quickly, because though it's forgiving of mistakes and easy to start over, it it's exposed to air for more than an hour, it will dry out and must be put back in the pouch with some distilled water to soften up again.

Once you have the piece in the shape that you want, you must heat it to take out the moisture. We did this on a plain old kitchen griddle at 250 degrees! I love the dual use of household items. Then, in a kiln and over a period of about 45 minutes, you fire your piece. The kiln starts at normal room temperature and shoots up to one thousand, six hundred degrees Fahrenheit over that short time. It was impressive. And a little scary.

After they come out of the kiln, you must temper your piece by dipping it in water with tongs. It makes a pssst! noise, and the forms holding the rings in place violently dissolve, causing a temporary freak-out that the sterling has actually broken.

Here are my original pieces straight from 1600 degrees. You can't tell very well from the photo, but they're covered in a white substance, kind of like a bisque in pottery. I took a steel brush to scrub it off and an awl to burnish. Finally, I ran them through the tumbler to strengthen the metal. The ring on the bottom right might be my favorite: it has fleur de lis stamped into it.
The finished products after scrubbing, polishing, and tumbling.
One of Laura's more fascinating talents is glass bead making. She has hundreds of rods of beautifully-colored glass, an O2 condenser, and a propane tank. Since Mike doesn't even really trust me with the smoker (OK, OK, to his defense, I did set the deck on fire. Just once.), I decided to leave this craft to the professional.

Next I really want to try to do a mint leaf, but that's pretty intimidating. I have gathered the materials, but I can't bring myself to start just yet.



Made by Lena