While my BFF and I were riding to dinner the other night with the top down on the car, the surprisingly cool wind blowing all the cobwebs out of our minds, when I was overcome with a feeling of great fortune (and not just for the comfortable evening during a string of 90+ degree days). I felt so lucky, so blessed to be enjoying that lovely, peaceful moment, especially when there’s so much pain and sadness in our world.
So the next day, when I sat down in the studio to make metal clay jewelry, I still had the feeling of luck and fortune and happy moments–so you guessed it, my mind went right to lucky charms.
Speaking of feeling fortunate, I’m also particularly happy to be playing with metal clay this week. Though it’s a favorite of mine, I rarely get to use it because I don’t have a kiln, but I finally decided to experiment more with torch firing. Small pendants and charms are ideal for torch firing metal clay, because they’re small enough and thin enough to sinter properly with a torch. And now that I’ve done it a few times and know how quick and easy it is, I’m wishing I’d done it much sooner!
Torch-Firing Metal Clay Jewelry
I turned to Tamara Honaman’s video on making metal clay charms for a refresher before I began. In general, metal clay jewelry components should be no larger than 1-1/2 in diameter (a silver dollar), no more than 25g, and no thicker than four cards thick in order to be fired with a torch. I also picked up on the great tip of using a timer when torch firing metal clay jewelry, because keeping track of time isn’t as easy as one might think when holding a flame in one’s hand and determining if your pinky-peach color is pinky-peach enough or if you’re melting your charm!
I used ArtClay Silver 650, a low-fire clay that can be fired with a butane micro torch in 2 to 5 minutes according to the manufacturer. There are some other types of metal clay that can be torch fired, just check the manufacturer’s instructions. So I rolled out my clay four cards thick (allowing for some compression when textured) and hauled out my stash of vintage buttons and such to make impressions and textures. I like to use concave buttons, because they create convex charms with nice dimension.
I used a vintage scalloped brass ring (purchased from Gail Crosman Moore awhile back) as a cutter to cut the charms from the clay after I was happy with the designs. After finishing the edges with water and a paint brush and piercing a hole for the jump ring later, I transferred the pieces onto my Mr. Coffee mug warmer (on a non-stick sheet) to dry completely, and soon I was ready to torch fire metal clay. (Always start by filling your micro torch with butane so you don’t run out of fuel during a crucial moment.)
Metal Clay Jewelry Making: Inspiring Ideas for Charms
Have you ever seen an old charm bracelet at an antiques store and looked at each charm to imagine its meaning, or to speculate on what the theme of the entire bracelet might be? Charm bracelets are great conversation starters, too, and I love the little trip down memory lane I get to take whenever someone asks me about one of my charm bracelets. I treasure the charm bracelet that Mama got me for high school graduation, which has since been filled with all kinds of meaningful charms from vacations, milestones, and gifts. There’s the charm bracelet from a holiday charm swap at my metal clay guild in Louisiana (above, top), each charm a unique work of art by a lovely lady. I also adore my Louisiana-themed charm bracelet (above, bottom), filled with charms that remind me of my second-home state and all of my adventures and sweet memories of life on the bayou.
All of my charm bracelets are priceless to me and I love telling people about them, just like I loved asking my mom about the charms on her bracelet when I was little. Someday someone will be looking at my (and your) charms, wondering what each one represents. Here are some idea for making meaningful charms for bracelets and other jewelry.
Perhaps you want to do a metal clay charm bracelet in all hearts, stars, teardrops, or circles, with different patterns, words, or designs on them. Maybe you want a more specific shape–a house, a bird, a shoe, a dress. Texture your clay first if you plan to, using texture sheets, rubber stamps, found objects, metal design stamps, or whatever you have around the house that you want to use, coated with a bit of olive oil or spray release, and then cut out your shapes. I used a vintage brass scalloped ring as a cutter to cut out some of my charms and give them a pretty edge. I also use a variety of lids and even the open end of my clay roller to cut out round shapes. All kinds of clay cutters are available for purchase, or you can use a stencil or template and a fine-tip awl to cut out shapes as well.
Once you’ve made your shapes, you can add meaningful details like friends’ or children’s names or initials and/or birthdates, inspiring words or phrases, etc., by stamping (with metal stamps on soft clay) or carving (on leather-hard dry clay). Or, just leave the shapes as is, with whatever texture you’ve given them. Each charm doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning; they can just be pretty!
Your charm bracelet could feature charms like quilt blocks (square charms with a different pattern or texture on each one–you could even recreate actual quilt patterns, especially with the help of paper metal clay), Christmas stockings, seashells (use actual tiny shells from a family vacation as molds to make enough charms for everyone in your family), animals or pets, antique button impressions (my favorite for metal clay jewelry making), flowers or flower petals, desserts, birds, musical notes. . . . There are an endless number of options.
You’ve probably seen the sweet baby fingerprint charms made in metal clay; this is a unique idea for grownups, too. How about having each of your dearest friends make fingerprint charms for your own beloved friendship charm bracelet? Or have a special group of mutual friends over, each make a bunch of their own fingerprint charms, and do a charm swap with each other. Perfect for bridesmaids, sisters, sorority sisters, or a sports team. This would be a fun thing to do with my four housemates and other friends from college.