I’ve been experimenting with new jewellery with my latest batch of photoetching done at my evening class at Leeds College of Art. My first bangle was a great success, or so I thought, but in terms of the photoetching process and the colours produced by adding alcohol inks. The actual craftsmanship and finishing of the copper bangle; not so good.
The trouble with finishing metal jewellery is the same as doing the preparation involved in decorating. Its BORING and you really want to get on to the exciting part. But if you don’t do that all-important hole-filling, sanding or polishing correctly, the finished effect will disappoint.
My first bangle made with my first photoetching batch was also completely wrong for size. I realised that when I started wearing it. Its too big and the gap between the ends of the copper was not big enough. Its hard to get on and off without bending the copper in the middle – that will stress the metal over time and the bangle will bend and could break.
So, that first experimental bangle has become more of an ornament on the shelf if my office than a wearable piece of jewellery.
Copper bangle mark 2
The good thing about having a crafting journey, including a side path into metalsmithing, is that you can move on and do better. I know a lot of blogs have wonderful pictures of a masterpiece in progress, with perfection at every step, with the grand reveal of a gorgeous item at the end, free of snarls and mess-ups, but that’s not what I’m about. I am not a lifestyle blog because I can’t really imagine anyone aspiring to my life, which is generally spent working, cleaning up after teenagers and cats, and doing a bit of crafting in my spare time.
This is a record of what I have done, the progress I have made, ideas, achievements – and the many, many disasters and mistakes along the way.
So, bangle number 2. I started out with a whole stack of copper plates patterned by photoetching and finished in nasty chemicals during last weeks class. I soaked them at home in bicarbonate of soda – must remember to buy some more because we nave none now in case of a mad need-to-bake moment.
I ended up with lots of interesting designs and patterns and set about thinking what to do with them. One piece was 2cm wide and 20cm long and had a lovely swirling pattern. Learning this time, I cut it down to 15cm and started finishing the back really carefully.
Starting with 240 wet and dry paper and working through different grades right up to 1200, I polished the copper back to an almost mirror finish. I filed and then sanded the edges too, gently rounding off the corners to make the bangle easier to take on and off. The photoetching is quite delicate, so I just gave this a light sand with the finest grade sandpaper.
Once I was happy with it, I used a piece of soft material to protect the copper while I bent it around the bangle mandrel. I needed to anneal it once to make it pliable enough to bend in the ends.
I then used the alcohol inks but blended them, let them dry and then polished gently with a fine brass brush attachment on my dremel. I like the effect. Its more subtle, the etched pattern still shows through and the bangle looks better made and better finished.
I have worn this a few times this week (but only for a bit as I need to take it into class for a show-and-tell tomorrow). It is comfortable, its the right size and it looks good. Mistakes this time? Not really my fault but the photoetching was not as deep – it would have been good to get a more defined pattern.
Experimenting with aluminium
This whole bangle escapade took HOURS of time, but I really enjoyed it and almost lost track of time. Just on a whim I decided to experiment with some aluminium that I had grabbed from the waste box at the class last week. It was a pre-cut strip – the end cut off some project and chucked. It was perfect for a bangle and I thought I would try the same sort of shape in this lighter metal. Its also softer, so I also put it through my Sizzix Big Shot inside an embossing folder to give it some texture first.
That worked better than I expected, and the aluminium took the alcohol inks really well. Its not well finished – the edges need sanding, but you can see the effects.