Monday, 9 September 2013

Using Silver Clay

I've always enjoyed messing about with anything that lets me use my hands, and I was a big fan of Fimo Soft for a long time. I've been making jewellery for a little while now, and I always enjoy finding new materials or techniques to try. I was browsing available one-day workshops around Newcastle when I came across a Silver Clay class at the Mushroom Works. I've known about metal clay for a while but haven't been able to get my head around how it works, so I thought I'd go along and give it a go.

Silver clay, in this case Art Clay Silver Standard, looks just like regular polymer clay when it first comes out of the packet. You can roll it out, cut out shapes, all the usual jazz you'd expect from clay. I made these shapes by pressing the clay into silicon moulds, the type of thing you might use with sugar paste for cake decorating. The ammonite on the left came out looking like that, but I added the last of my clay as a tiny ball onto the heart on the right.

Next stage is to dry the clay - we used heat guns but you could leave it out overnight. Once it's dry, you can use emery paper to smooth off the edges and buff out any imperfections or fingerprints, and you can use a pin drill to make the holes. Then it needs to be fired.

We used a kiln, in this case at 650°C, and it comes out white (you can also use a blowtorch or a gas stove). The pieces also shrink by up to 10% because the binding agent holding the silver particles together burns off in the firing process, leaving behind 99.99% silver. Using a brass brush, you brush off the white coating, revealing the silver underneath. An agate burnisher helps to buff it up to a mirror shine.

Next, I used the pin drill again to make sure the hole was big enough, and I attached a jump ring so I could hang it from a cord. A length of 3mm black satin ribbon helped turn the heart into this choker...

And I repeated the process for the ammonite (which I only realised looked like Ursula's shell from The Little Mermaid after I was finished).

It still baffles me how I could now have two pendants made of silver which started life looking like clay, but it's definitely something that I want to experiment with further. I think I'll try the copper next as it's cheaper, and while it can't be fired on the stove, it can be fired with a blowtorch, making it a more accessible route into metal clay jewellery!

Have you ever used metal clay?


Katherine Hajer said...

Great summary: nearly all of the articles in my beading magazines just keep harping on how great metal clay is without, you know, explaining what it is, or what the content of the final product will be. For the longest time I just thought it was stuff that looked like metal but wasn't. I only found out recently how it works (sort of), but your description cleared things up.

The charms you made look great!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Yeah, I remember the first time I saw a book on metal clay, I didn't really think it explained it properly, but when I saw there was a workshop on it, I figured that would help me work it out better. It's not something I would have wanted to try without any instruction!

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