From Wire to Wow, Part Two: Expanding Wire into Design Elements with Enamel
Thanks to the prices of metals going up, up, and up (even though silver took a small dip this week, still…), I'm increasingly interested in what I can do with wire instead of metal sheet (ironic, coming from the girl who was adamantly not a wireworker or wire jewelry maker a couple of years ago). I find that there's less waste when I use wire in my jewelry-making efforts than there is with sheet, but also it makes me feel more thrifty and creative, trying to make more with less. Kind of like when I find enough stuff in the kitchen to make a good dinner, even though I haven't been to the grocery store in who-knows-how-long. It forces me to be creative.
But back to the wire. I love finding ways to make jewelry components (not just findings) out of wire, to have the wire serve another purpose. I wrote about wire as a design element a few weeks ago, and I'm still in that frame of mind. I woke up this morning thinking of ways to use wire to make jewelry, as if I had no metal sheet. My first idea was to shape wire into a chandelier earring shape and then enamel it, letting the enamel layers fill the open areas, kind of like how we make a wire leaf frame and then enamel it, to make enameled leaves.
That didn't go over as well as I'd hoped; I think I need a wire jig to make the base shapes more even. But I like the basic plan so I'm shelving that idea for later.
My jumbled efforts got me thinking about wire rosettes. Wire rosettes are probably my favorite thing to make with wire, likely because I love flowers so much but also because I love that you can just coil up something utilitarian like wire and end up with something pretty and delicate looking, like a flower. That led me to experimenting with enameling those wire rosettes on rings and making the ring band look like a flower vine. The whole ring is made with one long continuous piece of wire, with the ends tucked into the rosette and hidden in enamel.
I found that it's best not to enamel too many layers on the band, just enough to get some color on it. Enamel is glass, after all, and overly thick layers are more likely to break, which could cut you. Also make the wire ring band a size or two bigger than what you need, because the enamel will take up some of the size and make the ring smaller.
I'm still working on my enameled wire rosette rings; I like how the vine-y ring bands are turning out, but the colors of the roses aren't where I'd like them to be. Could be the propane's fault; I've heard propane torch enameling makes muddy colors. So I'll switch back to MAPP gas and keep experimenting with different enamel colors (maybe a layer of white enamel underneath will help) and different kinds of wire for the bases/frames.
One rosette mistake (bad wire choice = meltdown) gave me another idea: Ball the ends of three long copper wires, torch enamel the balls in light blue, and then coil the lengths of the wire around and around similar to the rosettes but this time, make a nest. Adorable and just right for spring. I found that it helped to send one wire through the building nest once in a while to help keep it all together and to help create a more organic look.
My next experiment was paddle-shaped enameled wire dangles, inspired by some made by Barbara Lewis. Just hammer wire ends flat on a bench block and make a perpendicular loop on the other end (or use larger-gauge wire, hammer the whole wire flat, and pierce a hole in it) and then let your imagination go, mixing lengths and colors if you like. Voila! You have fringe–one of the fashionable trends for the year. They're great for hanging on a necklace or on earrings.
If you'd like a steady supply of unique ways to make jewelry with wire, subscribe to Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry magazine. I'm continually inspired by all the ways the mag's designers use wire and re-imagine what wire can do in their jewelry designs.
Update: A little bird just told me that the April-May issue features enameled wire on the cover. Serendipity!