I consider myself very lucky to be living in possibly Britain’s leafiest county. On the common next to my house grow Oaks, Yews, Larch, Holly, Ash, Beech and many more besides. I share my dog’s passion for daily walks and so have spent many hours taking in the changing of the seasons. Lots of things inspire me in my designs but in this project I am concentrating on the Oak with its well known Acorn. What I have noticed certainly where I live and walk is that there are many different shapes and sizes of Oak leaf and Acorn. When my children were small we used to collect fabulous autumn leaves of all colours and shapes and then press them between the pages of the heaviest books I could find – jamming them back onto the bookshelves so that the leaves would dry out. A couple of weeks later you then had perfect little ironed leaves to use in all sorts of creative ways. The children not surprisingly moved on from this pastime – but I am still loving it! I have used the leaves for inspiration for my design on this bangle. First step for me is drawing in pencil (2B) on squared paper which helps give me a sense of the width of the bangle and what fits best.
My technique is currently to pierce out the leaves that I will be soldering to the bangle. I see the bangle as a form of applique – using Silver rather than fabric to build an extra layer. I have also used wire shapes to put some pattern into the band itself – achieving a similar effect to etching but without the chemicals. The use of a hammer is not only remarkably satisfying but it also puts some texture onto the pieces.
The Acorn gets onto this bangle by courtesy of the hammer. I did experiment with casting an actual acorn using Delft clay-sand but it was not very successful! I didn’t solve the problem that the acorn was not really hard enough to withstand being pushed into the sand and then the cast Acorn actually proved to be too heavy to be practical as a detail on the bangle. A later project may well come back to this casting process.
The next step is soldering of the leaves onto the bangle, which is done by a process called sweat soldering. Tiny pallions of hard silver solder are cut up, fluxed and placed onto the backs of the leaves (which are also fluxed). Then the leaves are individually heated until the solder melts and flows over the leaves. The leaves can then be placed into position onto the bangle strip and heat is again applied until the solder runs again and everything sticks together. The issue at stake in this particular soldering project is that the leaves are smaller and thinner than the backing rectangular strip. To get them to solder together means bringing all pieces to the same temperature at the same time. Quite tricky to keep the heat in the long rectangle of the bangle because as you heat at the centre of the strip, the metal conducts the heat through the bangle and out of the ends. On the other hand as the leaves are smaller and thinner they can heat up quite rapidly and care must be taken not to overheat them or sadly they will melt! What you are looking for is a brilliant line appearing all the way around the edges of the leaves which indicates the solder has reached the correct temperature to flow and is ‘glueing’ the pieces together. This is not always obvious as it depends on how much solder is used. Too much and there is a lot of extra clear up to be done afterwards which is to be avoided if possible. Key points when soldering are to make sure all pieces of metal and equipment and hands are scrupulously clean – any grease anywhere can stop solder from flowing. Also to choose a torch the correct size for the job so that just enough heat can be applied to the pieces.
Having soldered the leaves the heating process leaves oxidisation on the piece which is cleaned off by placing it in a pickle solution – I use Alum which i get from the Chemist, dissolve in hot water and then keep warm on a warming plate. I chose this over an acid pickle(which can achieve quicker results) because when i first began working with silver my children were young and I was definitely in health and safety thinking mode!
Next I have formed the silver into a bangle using a wooden mandrel and a rawhide mallet – I also protect the silver with a piece of leather just in case there is something on the mallet. Having formed a rough circle the ends that are touching need to be brought together with a really accurate fit – if any light can be seen through the gap then a combination of filing and sanding needs to be used. As this bangle is being made for someone, I am just waiting for confirmation of their bangle size before completing the join and soldering the bangle with medium silver solder…