I always come away from Flourish feeling so uplifted. Last Thursday night making silver jewellery with Beccy Gillatt was definitely no exception. What a treat to be let loose with all her fabulous silver making tools.
Beccy has a wonderful teaching style that guides you through various processes in small bite size chunks. After the workshop Lorraine commented to me how great it was that Beccy, although always on hand with advice, didn’t actually do anything for us. When we got confused and asked her how to do a new technique with pleading eyes, Beccy would just gently show us again. Then we had to do it ourselves whilst she supervised. Of course this is the only real way to learn, even if it feels a bit scary at the time.
The Flourish group had told Beccy before the workshop what option they would like to make from a choice of earrings, wide ring, stacking rings or a pendant.
We were each then handed a small piece of perfectly flat silver with a blue protective film over it. This was the silver we would use to make our piece from.
Stage One – Texture
The first stage was introducing texture. Throughout this workshop we practiced techniques on copper first before we committed our ideas to the silver. There was a bag with various pieces of fabric that we could use to imprint patterns onto our pieces of copper. We simply placed the fabric on top of the metal and fed it through what looked like a miniature version of an old fashioned mangle that my grandmother would have used. It was as simple as that, although you needed some real muscle to wind the mangle.
There were lots of different results according to which of the fabrics you plumped for. Pieces of lace gave a lovely effect. Ribbons also worked well as did the hessian that I used.
My two favourite results from the mangle were from Steph who used netting to get a really funky texture and Sally who used what looked like a very plain ribbon but actually had a cool ribbed effect.
Once we were happy with the patterns the mangle was producing on the copper, it was time to put them onto the silver. Beccy adjusted the mangle for us, as the silver was thinner than the copper, and we had to find new pieces of the same fabric (once it had been through the mangle it was pretty much obliterated!).
Some of the group who had opted to make rings had decided not to use the mini mangle. Instead they would create texture themselves by hammering the silver by hand to give a wonderful dimpled texture.
Stage Two – Cutting out your design
Now we had beautifully textured, rectangular, flat pieces of silver, it was time to decide on our designs, and use a special saw to cut the silver into our desired shapes. This was not as easy as it looked! I found that even cutting a straight line was a challenge requiring total concentration. Again Beccy had cleverly suggested we practice our sawing technique on the copper pieces first. Once I had cut a very strange shape from my piece of copper, I decided to completely change my idea for a pendant design and make it much more simple. (How many times have I done that at Flourish! :))
I had been thinking about designs for this workshop for a while. I was very taken with the Miami Memphis spread in Issue 90 of Mollie Makes magazine. The shapes are simple and the patterns had a really late 80s / early 90s throw back feel. However, always one to make things more complicated, I was thinking i could some how incorporate my name into the piece and use it for a name badge for Blogtacular in June. Will I ever learn!
So those plans were quickly shelved once I realised the amount of skill and practice they would require ( we had only 3 hours in total ). Instead I opted for a simple heart shape that was far more achievable for a beginner like me, and would let the new hessian texture of the silver stand out.
First we stuck masking tape onto the silver so that we could use a biro to draw designs onto the surface to act as a template. Then we used a v-shaped wooden block which was clamped to the table to guide the saw as we followed the drawings and cut through the silver. I tried to get my heart shape to fill pretty much the whole rectangle of silver. However, I was trying to saw quite quickly, too quickly, and lost all control of where the saw was cutting. Luckily Beccy was on hand, and assured me that using a slower action was still fast but a lot more accurate. So my silver heart was saved, but only about two thirds of the size I had originally aimed for. Ho hum its all happy accidents !
Next was some furious filing to smooth out any rough edges left by the saw.
Stage three – Soldering
I was making a pendant, so the aim of this stage for me was to make sure I would be able to thread my silver heart on to some sort of chain in order to wear it. Beccy showed us how to make a tiny twist of silver wire into a hoop and solder it onto the back of our pieces using tiny pieces of silver solder. Silver solder is an alloy of silver which melts at a lower temperature than the pure silver. We also had to apply a substance called flux to the area with a small paint brush to assist in the transfer of heat.
We then used a blow torch similar to one you would use in the kitchen to make a creme brulee. (Note to self : must try to make a creme Brulee soon yum !)
Because of the way that silver conducts heat, the soldering was done on a special white kiln brick and we had to warm up the other side of the piece first before we let the flame approach the join we wanted to make. We had to sort of creep up on it. Weird!
Beccy had some brilliant copper tweezers which were on a kind of angle poise stand. The tweezers held my loop in place, so it was just touching the pendant in the ideal position for soldering.
The guys that were making rings also used this soldering technique once they had manipulated their silver to the right size for their fingers. After soldering the pieces were quickly put in to a small bowl of water to cool down.
Stage Four – Pickling to finish
All of our creations were then placed in a tub of special ‘pickling’ solution for 15 minutes to clean them up and make them sparkle after the heat of soldering.
I was really pleased with the pendant I made and would love to do another workshop with Beccy soon. Watch this space for updates and we will try to get Beccy to run another Flourish session for us in the near future.
If you can’t wait for me to get that organised ( and who could blame you :)) then visit Beccy’s facebook page here to find out what she’s up to. Also, there are often classes at her workshop at Yardley Arts Centre which I would highly recommend.
Hmmm maybe I’m nearly ready to make that name badge afterall …..
Finally I must say a huge thank you to Lorraine for organising the session and introducing us to the lovely Beccy. Thanks Loz. You are a superstar!
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Here are some more pics from our session. Hope you can join us at the next Flourish.