Daily Archives: July 27, 2010

A charming little story…

…or more accurately, a story about little charms;  for the charm swap at the PMC conference this weekend at Purdue. I like to participate in the swap, but this year I gave myself permission to sit back and watch. Which meant, Yes, I came up with an idea at the last minute. I knew I wanted to make something that used small components, as I like having them on hand to combine with earrings or necklaces.

I wanted to try making a headpin by embedding fine silver wire in a ball of PMC, to create a pin with an end that would have a larger  ball than if I melted 18 or 16 gauge wire. I made a bunch of pins with ball ends, and a bunch of PMC discs, textured on both sides, and fired than for 2 hours at 1650º.  (Thanks to Kate McKinnon for all of the tips and tricks in her FABULOUS new book, Sculptural Metal Clay. I used a number of her techniques in making this set of charms, including making all clean cuts, which eliminated the need for any sanding.) I also combined copper and bronze clays to make some base metal components.

Once the first batch was fired, I stacked these little components on the pins with the ball ends, and cut out ovals of textured PMC, 7 cards thick. I imbedded the posts into these fresh PMC pieces and let them dry before firing. I did wonder how the copper/bronze discs would withstand a 1650º firing. It seemed hot for the bronze. Then I started wondering about fire scale on the copper, if it was reheated in the open air during the firing of the silver. So I fired the second batch at 1500º for an hour and a half. Fingers crossed that this would be long enough and hot enough for the silver clay t0 firmly hold the embedded head pins. When the firing was done, I removed the pieces while hot and quenched them in cold water; hoping that would help with fire scale on the copper.

Well, there is a reason why no one suggests this sequence of firing when adding copper/bronze components. Some firescale came off with the quenching, but there was still a lot of black. Pieces that originally  had looked pretty darn good, now looked pretty mediocre!  But I was ever so pleased with everything else about the firing. The embedded parts held, and the charms have the kind of playful movement of the components I was hoping for. Another trick learned from Kate McKinnon: I grabbed each end of the wire – the ball end and the flat end – pulled tight and gave a few quarter twists. This action totally work hardened the wire that holds the little discs. It also tested the pieces to make sure the embedded wire held firm. (Full disclosure: Out of 27 charms, one ball end came off, and two others twisted off because I was getting a little carried away with my twist action. It only takes a quarter turn, or a pinch more, while pulling simultaneously on the two ends to harden this 18 gauge wire.)

I then added patina with liver of sulfur, to add some depth. I buffed most of it off with a muslin wheel and polishing compound.

So, I have 2 dozen charms I am very happy with. Even though the copper/bronze bead is not as planned, I learned so much from doing this, and I have new ideas for earrings as a result.  I can’t wait for the conference to see my old friends, to make new ones, and to see what other people are doing in the world of metal clay.

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