I adore jewellery and just before Christmas I signed up for a jewellery making and silversmithing course at one of the Sheffield colleges. It’s a six month course with no big qualification attached, just a college certificate, but I wanted to do something unusual, something that would be a challenge and something where I could explore another creative medium. Quite a jump from needle and thread – not that I’m abandoning my textile work, just widening my skill base.
Like many British women, my opportunities for experiences with resistant materials at school were very limited. I’m familiar with a range of tools because I was allowed to poke around in my dad’s workshops/sheds as a child, but metalworking was all very new. And scary. And fascinating.
The first week we were thrown into the world of pickling, hammering, annealing, shaping and soldering and given a piece of gilding metal (copper zinc alloy) to turn into a ring. To my amazement I not only made one, I went home wearing it.
It has a simple hammered texture that I love and that came up like rose gold on the polishing wheel. The join is wonky where I didn’t cut straight because I was concentrating on not snapping the fine blade of the hacksaw and also not cutting into the opposite side of the ring.
The gap was too wide and the soldering is blotchy and obvious, but as a first attempt, well out of my comfort zone, I was very satisfied.
The next week our first task was to come in and make another ring straight off, remembering the techniques from the first week. I decided to use a punch to texture my metal but it wasn’t a success, giving only a partial shape which I had to go with. I hammered it as well, just to try to salvage the mess. This is how the metal looks before polishing. A much better cut and join this time, so I am improving.
After polishing. I quite like the partial marks from the punch now; almost like hieroglyphs.
And a much better soldered join.
The second week we also looked at other techniques for altering the metal including oxidising copper to get a wonderful range of magentas and purples. It seems a bit hit and miss – well certainly for me as a novice. I just heated the copper, quenched it and had a look at what I’d got. if I didn’t like it I stuck it into the acid bath and tried again, but this I did like.
I love the colours and the ringed spots remind me of Kaffe Fassett textiles. And yes, I guess even working with metal, for me, it all comes back to textiles at some point.
At the end of the evening, the tutor told us to start thinking about ways we could take some of our pieces of altered metal and finish them into items of jewellery. It’s a long drive home from Sheffield with plenty of time for thinking and by the time I got home I had ideas…