Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: Beyond Enameling with Special Effects, Supplements, and Techniques
I love it when I get a chance to revisit a favorite jewelry-making book or video I haven’t seen in awhile. Today I got to take another look at Barbara Lewis’s Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: The Next Steps in Painting with Fire, and I found several neat bonus jewelry-making techniques among the steps of the 17 torch-fired enamel jewelry projects that I hadn’t noticed before. I love it when that happens!
ABOVE: Forest Nymph necklace by Barbara Lewis, from Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry
For example, just by looking through Barbara’s tutorials, I discovered how to:
- cast jewelry components using soft solder wire and a micro torch (like the twig on the right)
- get the look of silver foil in enamel without using silver foil
- make glass flower head pins using 6/20 enamel and a flower press or freeform with pliers
- wire wrap sea glass and briolette dangles
- fold-form interesting textures that show off under enamels
- space focal and feature beads on multichain necklaces
- get dangle earrings to face the right way
- turn a purse strap into a leather wrap bracelet
- easily create domed metal shapes without a hydraulic press, including how to make your own custom dies
- solder as well as rivet without hammering (safer for enameled pieces) and other cold connections
I found all of those neat how-tos in addition to the beyond-enameling techniques (like sgraffito, etc.) and supplements Barbara demonstrates in Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry.
Enamel Jewelry Supplements: Millefiori, Whiskers, Decals, Mica & More
I appreciated the reminder of all of the supplements that work so well with standard 80-mesh enamel powders, to give them a little extra pizzazz. I thought you might like a refresher, too–or an introduction to a fun new product to use with your enameling projects. So here are some of them, excerpted from Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry by Barbara Lewis.
6/20 mesh refers to the particle size. It means that in a linear inch of screen with six openings, all of the enamel will sift through, but in a linear inch of screen with twenty openings, all of the enamel particles will lie on top of the screen. 6/20 mesh is a common size for glass bead making and our favorite size for making enamel head pins. You can also lay this type of enamel on top of a pendant and create either raised bumps or liquid pools of glass. If you want your enamel to remain raised, heat from underneath just long enough for the enamel to become fused to the metal (or the base enamel), then bring the torch topside to round off the corners and edges of the enamel.
Enamel Threads, Stringers, and Cat Whiskers
Enamel threads are about 2mm in diameter and about three inches in length. Cat Whiskers are thinner and shorter. If you lay a thread or whisker on top of your enamel and heat from below, the thread or whisker will melt as a straight line. If you direct your flame topside, the thread will ball up.
I love millefiori, which means “thousand flowers” in Italian. It comes in different sizes, but the tiny glass wafers, which are about 3mm in diameter, melt very easily with a torch. When heated, the wafers can expand in size to about three-eighths of an inch.
Liquid enamel is a favorite, too! In my studio, I primarily use the dry form, BC1070 White or BC303L Clear. Liquid enamel also comes in a wet form, but I don’t like to pay to have water shipped (it’s heavy). Dry form liquid enamel, which resembles confectioners’ sugar in its fineness, contains binders that help to keep the particles in suspension when water is added.
P-1 Overglaze Enamel and P-3 Underglaze Enamel
These enamels, which are creamy and easy to paint with, are pitch black. After you paint your design, you have to refire the piece. P-1 does not require a coat of clear enamel; P-3 does.
Mica is mined from the earth, heat-resistant and looks much like silver when applied to enamel. It comes in various forms including powder, chips, flakes and sheets. Please don’t confuse glitter for mica or you’ll have an ooey, gooey mess upon heating!
The decals we use on torch-fired enamel are called ceramic waterslide decals. Homemade decals can be printed on older model laser printers that use ink containing high percentages of red iron oxide. Red iron oxide is a colorant that survives the firing. Because there is a lot of interest in decals for ceramics, glass and enamel, you’ll find lots of information about homemade decals on the Internet. Commercial ceramic decals also can be purchased online. The images are created with pigments that survive the maturing temperature of our enamel, which is 1,400° – 1,500°F. . . Search for mini decals, which will bring up jewelry-sized selections.
If you don’t already have Barbara Lewis’s book, Mastering Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry: The Next Steps in Painting with Fire, you will love it. The projects are beautiful and inspiring. Nearly all of them utilize a bonus technique (explained in tutorials) that adds artistic flair to the designs. So even if you already know how to create enameled jewelry, there’s much more to learn and enjoy.
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