Bronze Metal Clay: My First Impressions and the Charm Swap
I participated in my first metal clay charm swap last month during our L'Esprit du Metal guild's holiday party, and now I have a beautiful bracelet full of talent, friendship, and special memories. If you're a member of a metal clay guild (or any sort of jewelry-making group at all), I highly recommend doing a charm swap!
Working With Bronze Metal Clay
If you're a fan of Jewelry Making Daily on Facebook, you probably saw photos of my charms when I was working on them. I simply rolled a tiny ball of metal clay and pressed it into an antique button–a technique I use often with metal clay, since I'm so in love with old buttons. (Don't forget to put a bit of balm, olive oil, or mold release on your buttons if you try this technique.)
I'd never used the bronze metal clay before, but I have to say I loved it every bit as much as the silver that I've always used. You work it exactly the same (though the firing is different), but the affordability of the bronze set me free! Since I didn't have a big investment in the clay, I wasn't worried about taking design risks and experimenting. I had a big task to do (making LOTS of charms) so I didn't get to experiment too much, but I can't wait to get more bronze clay and play some more.
The bronze clay didn't seem to dry as quickly as the silver, either (though I've never used metal clay in such a damp, humid environment before–that had to help even a tiny bit), and I love the warm golden glow it has. I was especially pleased with the subtle color differences after firing, too; some pieces were brighter than others, some a little rosier (coppery), some more truly golden. I didn't fire them myself; a friend fired them for me in her kiln, so I can't say what caused the differences or even tell you how to recreate them, but the next time I use bronze clay, I'll let you know if the effects are replicated.
Here are some quick tips to keep in mind if you participate in a charm swap:
1. Include a jump ring! I didn't have any to match mine nor wire to make any, so I didn't, and I really regretted it. Some ladies brought their bracelets (or necklaces) and pliers with them and whipped up their masterpieces right during our party–but mine had to wait because I hadn't put it on a jump ring, and . . .
2. Consider the shrinkage factors of various metal clays and make sure the hole in your charm is big enough for a jump ring. Again, I didn't. There were so many small details in my charms, I didn't want a big hole to ruin the design. Later I bought drill bits especially for enlarging the holes, but when I sat down to do it, they looked large enough. I tested the holes with a few different jewelry-making wires I had around the house, and they fit fine. What I didn't think about was the heavier gauges of wire that folks might use to securely attach their charms or the fact that you need a bit more wiggle room to fit a round jump ring through a hole than you do for just wire. So while the straight wire fit, I should have tried a round jump ring–they didn't fit. Shame on me! Lesson learned.
3. Tie your charms to a business card or gift tag or put them in a labeled baggy so that folks can know who their charms came from. (I took a photo of my charms on with their labels before I removed them and assembled the bracelet.) I had this idea before the party and meant to share it with the group, but I didn't; then guess who forgot to take her own advice and put her own charms on a business card? And guess what brilliant group of ladies all remembered to do so? Oh, Tam.
4. Sign your charms in some way. I put a big T on the back of mine (as you can see, above), just "written" with a pin while the clay was drying, and others in my group made similar signatures on theirs.
5. Be distinctively you. One lady in my guild attached a tiny metal clay heart to all of her charms, which were all different shapes, unifying them in a unique way. Dianne Hoyt does bead work, so she made a peyote-stitch beaded loop on her charms (at right).
Katherine Wadsworth, a talented lampwork glass artist among us, made glass beads in her signature Natalia Designs style for her charms–and then added metal dangles to them to fulfill the rule that charms had to be metal in some way (it's the blue bead and dragonfly one in the top left of the photo below). Several ladies in my group added a tiny pearl or other gemstone bead to their metal clay charms.
My Metal Clay Guild Charm-Swap Bracelet Charms
I'm so pleased with my unique charms and the talented ladies who made them, I wanted to share with you. Each one is meaningful in its own way, and they're all so creative! That amazing two-piece charm in bronze and silver (near the top right in the image below) is our guild's logo and nametag (L'esprit du Metal), created by Simone Patout Palmer.
In addition to the ideas mentioned above, one that I found particularly clever was from my friend and guild member Angie Brice. She used a large holiday-themed stamp of a Christmas tree with lots of details to create her charms. She pressed the stamp into rolled-out silver metal clay (don't forget to use some balm, olive oil, or other release agents when you press something into clay or vice versa) and then cut out the shapes carefully to capture ornaments or other details from the stamped image. The charm I received had a doll and a candle on it; other had deer, bears, and various toys on them–and if you put them all back together, they'd essentially rebuild the complete image of the decorated tree. I LOVE this idea! It makes our charms all part of one greater whole, in more ways than one.
I hope our charms inspire you to make your own custom metal clay (or other metal) charms and have a swap with people you care about and whose work you admire. You'll end up with a truly one-of-a-kind, very meaningful piece of jewelry–and you'll have a great time creating it, I promise!
To learn about working with metal clay, check out the best and most complete metal clay resource I know, our Easy Metal Clay ebook (also available in an instant download). Also don't miss all our other metal clay resources, which you can learn about on our metal clay topic page.