Friday, more flotsam experiments …

Friday, a week into having an independant studio to work in.

Being alone is turning out to be pretty damn inspiring. I’ve had a chance to get ideas down on paper and develop them gently through the day. It’s been one of those weeks that’s made me happy to be a craftsperson and reminds you why you scrimp, save and work dingy part time jobs to pay for the time to play with metal.

I got my bag of driftwood out of storage when I moved and went through my beachy photos. Looking back at my last trip to Wales and the drfitwood spoons I made then I realised again how great a combination wood and silver can be – so I’ve set out to make some more ‘found object’ pieces. Here’s an almost complete picture of one of the necklaces I made today, following a quick sketch:

Flotsam Salvage Necklace (in pieces)

Then I found, in amongst the stash of driftwood, a really nicely coloured section of wood so I went a little crazy and made some brooches too:

New Salvage pieces in progress

and another necklace. Then I dropped them all at the Assay Office on my way home. More pictures when I pick them u next week!

*Good Day*

Wednesday, finishing work and opening Centrepiece 2010

Wednesday was an extraordinarily productive day.

Not only did I get to work on some new ideas that have been kicking around my head for a while:

Pebble Brooch Experiment

but I finally got my first set of snowflakes finished and up for sale too. These have been a bit of a nightmare, porous castings meant that the resin that fills them seeped out as is was setting, causing quite a mess and a lot of extra cleaning up. I’m not sure what went wrong in the casting process (I need to go and consult with my caster) but tiny holes throughout the silver are never good. Fortunately the initial leakage seems to have plugged the holes in them and the second layer of resin went on just fine:

Snowflake Pendants

They look lovely now that they’re all clean again. I’m currently sporting a purple one and once I finish cleaning the rest I’ll get them up in the Folksy shop. The ones I have sanded and polished are in the 2010 Centrepiece Selling Exhibition which officially opened on Wednesday night too. It’s being hosted by Symphony Hall and features over 30 designer makers form in and around the Quarter. It’ll be open until the 23rd of December so if you;re heading into the city for the German Market it’s well worth stopping by us too!

Centrepiece Private View gets underway


The demise of the pickle

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for machines in my studio. Firstly Vera got sick and now, now my piclke has died. Well, I say died- I really mean ‘is just no longer usable’.

I should explain exactly what my pickle is -lest you think that I’m just a particularly sentimental and strange vegetarian. Don’t get me wrong, I like to garden and have been known to grow the odd thing but this pickle is distinctly jewellery related.

It’s a standard household slow cooker that I fill with a weak acid-like solution. At the proper temprature it eats away the layer of oxidisation that forms on metal when it’s heated. This cleans up the surface of most precious metals and is an essenial step in the making of any piece of jewellery. It’s heated simply because that makes the chemical reaction go faster and I am impatient. Most makers will have some kind of device that serves the same purpose as my pickle tank – be it an acid bath or a vinegar solution.

A few weeks ago, upon plugging it in, my pickle tank threw the household trip switch. I wasn’t overly worried because I live in an area prone to power cuts and electrical over-sensitivity and, well, it didn’t look broken or anything.

I probably should have taken it more seriously given that I have no idea how old the thing is -I had it second hand from a former housemate and, well, take a look:

It’s not exactly a modern design right? When was avacado coloured plastic in anyway?

Last night when I plugged it in it threw the trip switch 3 times in as many minutes. I thought that maybe, just maybe, it was time to stop plugging it in for good. A little research confirmed my opinion and this morning our dustmen took the pickle away.

It was all a little sad, because it was a part of my first independant studio, but  it does mean that I won’t get fried while I’m working (and this may seem shallow) that I got to go shopping.

And behold:

New, beautiful, fully functional and electrically safe pickling equiptment! I am quite happy and relieved, as there’s a show coming up in Malvern in a couple of weeks and I’ve totally run out of a few things. Time to get making.

Vera and the Black Scum : Adventures in barrel polishing

Now I must apologise in advance but I fear that this is going to become a rather technical post. You see, while I did spend a good three years at university being taught to be a silversmith I did very little in the way of machine maintenance while I was there. So, when my barrel polisher went arwy on Monday I didn’t have a clue what to do.

Firstly, let me introduce Vera to you all – she’s my barrel polisher. Technically (for anyone who wants to be picky) she’s a stone tumbler, for finishing gem stones, but in principle jewellery barrel polishers and stone tumblers are both just high speed tombola‘s – so it’s okay. Why did I buy a stone tumbler and not a barrel polisher? Because they’re a fraction of the cost of a proper barrel polisher and I’m a poor artisan. (Though in truth Vera was a Christmas gift from the lovely Mr W.)

Anyway, here she is:

She works by rotating a mixture of finished jewellery, steel shot (of many shapes) and polishing soap to give the jewellery a lovely, shiny finish that gets to the magpie in us all. Only, on Monday, this happened:

Hmm. My silver came out speckled with black and grey scum. I had no idea what caused it but it was decidedly ick. So I scrubbed it off with pumice, cleaned Vera out and tried again. Same result. Another clean of the jewellery later and there was no improvement. I did what anyone would do in my situation. I Googled it.

Underneath a lot of confusing internet madness about motorcycle parts and industrial manufacturing I found a handy article which seemed to describe my problem. 6 months of soap build up had left poor Vera all full of alkalines which were tarnishing the silver as they polished it, effectively oxidising it on the move. Even I knew that this was not good. And the solution? Vinegar.

Oh yes, pure and simple household cleaning vinegar has such an acidy pH that it neutralises alkaline build up and lets you start all over again with a happy, clean polisher. Unfortunately a small part of my studio now smells like a chip shop but it did solve my problem. Vera barrelled away for 20 minutes, full of vinegar, then I rinsed her, filled her with soap and ran her again. After that I braved putting in a test piece of jewellery and, ta-da! It came out shiny and beautiful.

Everything else was then barrelled and left sparkling ready for the show in Wirksworth. Vera is now anticipating a happy and restful weekend with me out of the county and hopes that another vinegar bath won’t be coming her way any time soon.