Headed to Haystack!!!

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What a glorious way to end the summer. Unplugging from the computer, from the busy social schedule, from the crowded mailboat, and going to camp for a week. Many people know about Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, but if you don’t, just click on the link and see what I’m talking about. I have been a few times over the years for weekend workshops in basketry, glass blowing, metals work, polymer clay and keum-boo. It’s great to know the freedom of trying something totally different from the material I usually work with, and a weekend is the right amount of time for that. Now it’s time for an intense focus on the material I like to use most, metal clay. 

Tomorrow I will drive over to Deer Isle and settle in to my cabin with my good friend Holly Kellogg and we will begin a one week metal clay session taught by Chris Darway.  

“Not Your Father’s Metal Clay

Precious Metal Clay© made its first appearance in this country fifteen years ago at Haystack. Well, we’re back and this isn’t your father’s metal clay workshop. This workshop goes beyond the “thumb in the lump school of design.” We will be combining PMC, copper and bronze metal clays with titanium, copper, glass, and sterling. You will be introduced to Aura 22 (liquid 22k gold) and its application on copper, sterling silver, and fine silver for etching and enameling. Did I mention silver sponge? Now I did. This will be an interesting week of exploring what can be done with metal clay that would be difficult or impossible with traditional metal techniques. Prior use of metal clay required.”

Does this sound like fun or what?! 

There are looms in the photo below because the weaving studio is on the left. That bigger studio on the right is the jewelry studio. Woohoo! That is exactly where you will find me tomorrow night!

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Back to Basics

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Last year, toward the end of the summer, my sister-in-law, Vicky, asked if I would show her some basic techniques of soldering and fusing silver. “Sure, maybe in the fall when we both have more time,” I said.  Learning to solder or fuse involves putting two ends of metal together and joining them solidly with the heat of a torch. Although Vicky is very proficient with metal clay and beading, she lacked some tools that would be fundamental to metal smithing. “Just order what you think I’ll need. I have one of those butane torches, but that’s about it,” she told me. Last September I ordered a set of needle nose pliers, a set of needle files, a chasing hammer, a steel bench block, a bench pin, a jeweler’s saw, some saw blades, and some silver sheet and wire. Then our lives stayed too busy to follow through with our plan, until today. 

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I admit that any teaching situation makes me nervous, even when I’m with people I like to see, but I do like the planning part, and thinking about why I would teach one technique before another. As we got going I forgot about my nerves.  I had Vicky get a feel for the saw by cutting into some 22 ga. copper sheet. The sheet is supported by a thin block of wood, called a bench pin, that is clamped to the work bench creating room to move the metal around while keeping the saw in one spot. She traced two ovals on the copper sheet and cut them out. I love hearing the change in sound when someone starts to get more comfortable with the saw. Vicky got there very quickly. She filed the edges of the ovals to smooth them and them drilled holes near the tops. Lastly, she hammered the pieces with the small end of the chasing hammer to texture them. Ta da! Two dangles for a pair of earrings. 

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(Okay, right here is where I am kicking myself for not taking ANY photos all day. I apologize. The evening pictures of my workbench and tools are a pitiful compensation for showing you Vicky’s work.)

On to the silver sheet. Vicky cut out two triangles for the top part of her earrings. She drilled holes in the middle of the long sides, with plans to solder posts on the backs. She designed the earrings to connect the copper and silver parts with a jump ring. Then I had Vicky wrap 16 ga. Argentium sterling wire around a round mandrel to make a coil. She cut down through the coil with the saw which makes clean edges on each side of the open ring. (You need a tight clean fit between the pieces when you are soldering or fusing metal.) She also made some square rings.

Ready for the torch! To get comfortable with the torch Vicky started balling up the ends of wire with the flame. This is a basic technique I use all the time to make my own head pins for earrings. Vicky closed the ends on her square links by fusing them with the torch. No solder is required, but a tight join is needed if you want those two ends to flow together. She connected the squares links with the smaller round links between and soon had the makings of a cool little bracelet. Vicky was ready to try the solder. In no time, the posts were on the back of her earrings, the two pieces of each earring were linked with a fused 20 ga. jump ring, and my sister-in-law was comfortable with the torch. She even pulled out a broken ring that she brought along hoping to repair, and soldered it back together!

For me, it has been an “off” summer, creatively. I haven’t spent much time in the studio and I have had a hard time wanting to. Vicky, too, said she hadn’t been making anything for a very long time.  Before today, each work space on my bench was a messy pile and I just didn’t feel focused when I walked into my favorite room. It’s a small space (8 x10) and I needed to clean it up to make it workable for 2 people today. I felt focused for the first time in a while as I wrote a little outline for myself to think through the progression of what I would teach Vicky. Her enthusiasm for learning something new and her success with mastering several new tools filled my studio with fresh positive energy. She left wearing a new bracelet, a new pair of earrings, a broken ring repaired, and carrying a box of new tools that she’d learned how to use. I was left with huge satisfaction at her success, optimism for the return of my own creativity, and a clean studio!

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  I think this day, in the midst of a crazy busy August, was exactly what each of us needed.

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Claws for the cause

Sponsored by Marian Baker and Islesford Pottery it’s time again for the super cool bi-annual fund raising silent auction to benefit the Islesford Neighborhood House. This year’s theme is, of course, lobstahs! If you’re anywhere near Little Cranberry Island you’d better plan on coming to the Islesford Dock tomorrow (Sunday, August 17) from 1 to 3 p.m. or you will miss out on seeing and bidding on some wacky and beautiful crustaceans.

Who has had their hands in clay in the past few weeks? Who has been making lobsters from alternative materials? Who is bringing back the “Barbie Lobster?” Who will have the winning raffle ticket for Ashley’s lobster plate?

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I can tell you who has been up late tonight making lobster cookies… The mug I’m contributing to the show is a collaborative piece. Marian made the mug and I did the lobster design.

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If you want to preview a few more  pieces that will be in the show, check out the Islesford Pottery facebook page. See you on the dock!

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Bracelet Bonanza

at Winters Work on the Islesford Dock!

Summer is in full swing in the Cranberry Isles. Life is very busy because it’s full of good things. You don’t want to miss the Ashley Bryan exhibit at the Islesford Museum. It will certainly entice you to buy one or several of Ashley’s books at Sue’s shop, Winters Work. While you are there, why not try on a bracelet or two. You just might want several reminders of your happy time on Islesford. Books and bracelets and more!

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Does your earring collection need a fix?

There’s nothing like a new accessory to spruce up your wardrobe. I have many different styles at Winters Work on the Islesford Dock. The restaurant may be closed for lunch on Monday and Tuesday, but Sue Hill’s shop is open! Here is a sampling of what is available:

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Summer season at Winters Work

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New year, new necklaces, old friends. Come to the Islesford Dock and check out Sue’s shop; Winters Work.

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960 sterling metal clay

(Yes, I’m still hopping to read all of the bead soup blogs. I have about 50 to go. If you’re still hopping too and are looking for my post about bead soup, click here.)

 

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Way back in February, Celie Fago introduced a new  alloy of sterling PMC.  (Click link to read her blog post about it.) One reason I had never jumped on the PMC sterling bandwagon is that I really don’t like the mess of firing in carbon. (Sterling silver, by definition, is an alloy of  92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper or germanium in the case of Argentium™ sterling silver.) PMC sterling has just enough copper in it to require the carbon firing that one must use with other base metal clays like copper and bronze. I use carbon firing for those because I have to, not because I like it. When it comes to precious metal clay, my favorite version is PMC+, which is 99% fine silver. It can be fired on an open shelf, which means I can fire many more pieces at one time.  The only drawback to fine silver is that it is soft. It can be work hardened, but it still won’t have the strength of sterling silver. For some components  I make, it would be great to have the strength of sterling with the ease of firing without carbon.

When Tim McCreight wondered what would happen if PMC sterling were enriched with more fine silver, Celie decided to give it a try. The result was an enriched sterling clay that could be fired on an open shelf. Look Ma, no charcoal! Thank you Celie! The new sterling clay is creating quite a buzz in the metal clay community and I knew I wanted to give it a try too.
I started by making some simple toggle clasps using rolled “snakes” of clay, some washer shapes to use in multi-strand necklaces, some cone ends, and a bangle. I also wondered about firing synthetic stones in place. (The suggested temperature for using these in fine silver clay is lower than the 1500º needed to fire the enriched sterling clay.) And, I made a few of my usual “rock” beads to see if I noticed any difference in them with the 960 sterling clay. Results after firing:
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The stones I tried withstood the temperature, and everything else seemed to have fired well. A few of the pieces have added details made from PMC sheet. There was no problem using that on top of the 960 clay.
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I did run into a little trouble with cracking on the bangle and with the seam on one of my “rock” beads.
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I have never made a bangle with fine silver clay, so I’m not sure if this was a design flaw on my part. I wanted to test the strength of the 960 clay by making this type of bracelet.  I may have over supported it by dropping it into a pile of investment rather than putting it flat on a tile to fire it. (I use investment to support my pieces in the kiln rather than vermiculite.) I think the investment prevented some of the shrinkage as the piece fired, causing cracks and stress spots.
The bead is a different story, and something I learned while trying the 960. When I put two pieces of unfired PMC together, I do not use slip. I use water on each edge and squidge them together. This technique has worked well for me. However, the 960 does not seem quite as able to make enough of its own slip on the surface to work like this when putting two pieces together. I would definitely try using slip instead of water, next time, or I would go over the seams with another smudge of clay and then sand it down when dry. Below, one of the rings for the toggle that did not bond like I had hoped when using water along the seam.
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Another indication that the bangle was affected by the investment is that it is slightly wider at the bottom.
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I figured I had nothing to lose by trying to reshape  this on a mandrel. The bracelet seemed to take the hammering okay. It had the sound of a work-hardened piece of silver. But, when I tried to squeeze it a little bit, to see just how hard it was, it cracked and broke. It became a good test piece at that point, and this is how many stress points there were:
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I will have to try this again, firing flat on a tile, to see if it happens again.  I really don’t think it’s the fault of the clay. The pieces were all sintered, and I could not snap the smaller pieces. Even the seam of the bracelet did not break, though it was starting to crack.
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I hammered the heck out of this one piece just to see what it would do to the look of the PMC sheet triangles on the surface. I kind of like the effect.
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PMC+ (on the left) and 960 PMC (on the right) look a little different when they come out of the kiln. Actually, these pieces have also been in the tumbler and you can still see the difference.
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But, after applying liver of sulphur, tumbling and then buffing, I see no difference in their appearance.
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All in all it felt like a good first experiment with 960. There are a lot of other things I would like to try with it, including carving before firing. Right now I’m giving the unused portion of the 960 a test to see how it well it stores in a plastic container while I am busy using the components I made in pieces I’m finishing up for galleries this summer. Stay tuned!

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