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Basse Taille and Cloisonne Pendant – Part III

When beginning an enamel, you first must sift a little clear glass onto the base, which will act as an adhesive for the wires. Since my next step is to bend and attach wires for the design, I am here sifting on a thin coating of Bovano #3, the clearest clear I have found.

Lillian Jones

I use alcohol instead of water to help the grains of glass stick, as it evaporates away fast and there is less chance of it muddying the clarity. It is best to use a thin coating, like snow in North Carolina.

Lillian Jones

And heat it. I use an ultra-lite kiln, good only for a few things, but I like it for what I do. You can also just use a torch, it works fine, just heat it from below. I have other posts on torch-firing, if that is your interest.

Lillian Jones

And there it is, cooling on a steel block, which sucks the heat right off. There are some other projects waiting for some attention.

Lillian Jones

OK. So this is the commission: match the tattoo. On the surface, this would appear to be fairly similar to the designs I already do, but once I start really looking at the design, I realize I’ll have to use some technology to make a replica, or get even close.

Lillian Jones

So I fire up the old Mac, with the ancient copy of photoshop, and pull out the lines from the photo. I always make a sheet of various sizes of the image, because I am measurement challenged, and can’t envision the exact size without looking at it on paper.

Lillian Jones

The outer line I will draw with enamel, rather than using a wire. I think this will be closer to the tattoo.

Lillian Jones

Here I am using a sharpie to put some guidelines on the base. The sharpie will burn away when I fire on the wires.

Lillian Jones

I use the drawing to work over and golly, this was a whole lot harder than I thought…so after a struggle,

Lillian Jones

I think I have what I was looking for.

Lillian Jones

Basse Taille and Cloisonne Pendant:Part2

Continuing from the last post, I am now going to use the etched plate to create and fine silver base for the enamel. I could use a rolling mill, but that would distort the image.

Lillian Jones

So I will use the hydraulic press instead, which applies pressure directly down and will not stretch the silver.

Lillian Jones

I’ve carefully marked both the silver and the plate, and taped the urethane to the edge of the lexan block, so it folds straight down and doesn’t shift the silver when I close it.  You can’t use anything to secure the silver to the brass because it will be printed into the piece.

Lillian Jones

I put the silver, brass plate, urethane rubber pad and two lexan blocks in the hydraulic press, and jack that sucker up.

Lillian Jones

And it looks OK.  (Whew!)  I only used about 4000 psi, I could anneal and go again, but I’d never get the silver exactly back into the right place, not worth the risk.

Lillian Jones

Now for the rim, I do some math and measure out some 16 ga. fine silver wire.  All the silver must be pure silver, never sterling, because I am going to fuse it all together.  This means melt it together without solder, which is the best way if you plan to enamel it.   Pure silver has a much higher melting temperature than sterling, and any speck of sterling, or solder would burn a hole in the piece when brought up to fusing temps.

Lillian Jones

Make a nice neat joint, and spring the two ends of the silver together.  Somehow, this makes  it fuse better.

Lillian Jones

I use butane and a Very Clean firebrick for fusing. I learned from my friend Iris, the mistress of fusing.  You can see her at

Lillian Jones

OK, so it doesn’t look that clean, but there is no flux or old solder there.

Lillian Jones

Make it round on my favorite mandrel.

Lillian Jones

And note that it is too small.  But, I am going to flatten it in my mill, so I needed to allow for the stretching that will happen.  Here I carefully roll the circle, changing directions to keep it roundish.

Lillian Jones

I use Bluefuse as a fusing aid for the final fusing.  It is  a solution of copper salts that cause the silver to melt a little sooner where it is applied. It is the same technique used with granulation See here for more on that.

Lillian Jones

And here I set it up on a tripod.  This fusing must be done in total darkness, or you will melt it.  This is the secret to granulation and all fusing.  Darkness.
Lillian Jones

I achieve this during the daytime with the aid of a tuna can.  At night, I just turn off the lights.

Lillian Jones

There it is, nice and shiny and fused together.  The fused shine will hold up under the enamel, whereas a polish will not.

Lillian Jones

Lillian Jones

And I keep it in white vinegar until I am ready to use it.  I don’t have any reason for this, other than it works, and I am superstitious.

Lillian Jones

Basse Taille and Cloisonne: Making a Triskele Pendant, part 1

I want to make a triskele pendant, and have lately been interested in the surface that is under the enamel.

For my first step I am going to create a new texture plate for this particular design.

I’ll start with some heavy brass sheet. This is about 14 gauge, and I’ll cut a square that is 2 x 2 inches.

Lillian Jones

I had a cool idea about how to get the kind of image I wanted, so for this I find the center, tap a dent and drill a little hole.

Lillian Jones

Next I forge a curvy wire and drill another little hole with the same size bit.

Lillian Jones

Using the drill bit as a pin, I am able to rotate the curve all around the sheet. It is a little squirrelly but looks interesting.

Lillian Jones

Since I need to etch the brass, I first cover it with clear packing tape, and then I cut the lines using a sharp blade and the brass wire as a guide. It looks larger in these images than it is, and this was painstaking.

Lillian Jones

Lillian Jones

Here it is with all the tape cut and peeled away.  I’ll electro-etch away the surface of the exposed brass.I like the way the hand drawn curves multiply, both mathematical and natural at the same time.

Below I’ve taped some coated copper wire to the back of the piece, and I hope to establish a connection
along the bottom edge to make a circuit in the etching bath.  This turns out to not work very well, so if any of you have a better method, feel free to comment.

Lillian Jones


Here is my etching rig: a salt water bath with a copper anode and a motorcycle battery.  It is pretty simple and not as messy as ferric chloride, but a lot more fiddly.  So far I have not shocked myself with it.

Lillian Jones


So here is the final plate.  I’ll be interested to see how it prints the silver, which will be the next chapter of this project.

 Lillian Jones

Lillian Jones

I like it.  It reminds me of these.

Lillian Jones

Lillian Jones

Torch Enameling: Cloisonne on Silver Part II

This is the last part of a tutorial on torch enameled cloisonne.

In this picture I have picked a color pallet of green and blue and yellow.

Lillian Jones

And here I’ve filled the cells.

Lillian Jones

Firing with mapp gas, and a cheap little torch tip from Lowes.

Lillian Jones

And there it is, filled with enamel.

Lillian Jones

I have stoned the enamel down with a diamond hone.

Lillian Jones

Adding some decorative elements, as it is a rather plain design.

Lillian JonesLillian Jones

And finished, all done with a torch.

Lillian Jones

Lillian Jones

I made this for a friend who is always lost. It reminds me of this granulation piece I made as a class sample.

Lillian Jones

Torch Enameling: Cloisonne on Silver

I had a great visit with Patricia White of Grains of Glass, the coolest enamelist’s website out there, and she mentioned that the current trend in enamel is ‘torch firing’. I enamel on silver, and torch firing is super easy and cheap, and can look great. I use propane and butane for this, either of which can be purchased at the local hardware store from less than $20.

So I decided to make a tutorial. Turns out it’s really easy to get the bright beautiful cloisonne on silver that I usually get with my kiln, except the back is black, which is not really a sacrifice.

So here goes.

I start with FINE silver, a disk and some round wire. Sterling doesn’t work.
Lillian Jones

I am going to fuse a rim onto the disk, so I start by measuring the disk.
Lillian Jones

And cutting a length of wire a little less than the final circumference. I plan to hammer it into a flat washer, which will make it bigger.
Lillian Jones

Using butane, I fuse the wire. Solder will not work.
Lillian Jones

Round it into a ring,
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And flatten it into a washer. Or whatever shape: I am using a circle for an example.
Lillian Jones

Dip it in a fusing agent, place it and fuse it.

I like to heat it from below, using propane or air/acetylene. This is the same technique as granulation, only using wire instead of little balls.

It also makes the silver nice and shiny for the enamel. Sometimes this is called ‘flash-fusing’, and the shine holds up under intense heat.

Punch a hole for a jumpring or bail,

Dome it slightly,

And I am ready to put enamel on it.

First I’ll apply the counter enamel, with the torch above the piece. If you heat it from below, you will lose your nice shine. Here I am using a little butane torch for a heat source. I am using Ndidi’s suggestion of Thompson’s Grisaille Black enamel.

Now I apply a clear enamel to the front, using rubbing alcohol instead of water or Klyr-fire. It seems to burn off cleaner, and leaves a clearer coat of enamel.

Heat it from below until it melts. Here I’ve switched to a hotter torch (actylene, but a big butane might work, propane does work)

Now I begin the wire work by marking my axis with a sharpie.

And make the wire design. This is going to be fairly simple.

Place the shaped wires with Thompson’s holding agent (I hate Klyr-fire) and heat it until it glows. The wires will be stuck on, and ready for color.

I’ll show the enameling in my next post.

In Search of Shape

My work for the last few years has all been circular. Not that there is anything wrong with that…

But my friends Marina, Addison and Bill advised me to look at some other options. So, after seeing a great brooch Bill welded, I decided on this:

Kinda goth, but might be interesting made in prissy pretty enamel. So, I started with the outline. One idea is to abstract the shape, and the other is more literal.

And fill in with some wire linework, to hold the color.

Filling with enamel and firing.

I love my new color palette strategy, it really works great.

I am not sure which shape I like best.

Macabre is always classic.

By the way, I have started to compile my notes from the blog on granulation in a more readable form here, if this is something you are interested in.

Granulation with the Ultralite Kiln

I am an enamelist, primarily. As offshoots of this passion I have also played with Jean Stark’s wonderful series of fused link chains, and lately, granulation.

These endeavors have in common the act of fusing fine silver. If it is chain, you are making circles to become links. If it is enamel, I am making fused borders (and soon, settings for small gypsy-set brilliants) and if it is granulation, I am just indulging my curiosity.

Last Christmas I was granulating on a little butane burner, and made lots of earrings. (see previous posts)
But for the past few months I have been enameling happily and listening to the History of Rome, a most entertaining podcast. This put me in the mood for a cloak brooch, something bigger to wear with my winter gear, and indulge my inner barbarian. Need more BTUs.

Reflecting on the matter, I resolved to try the little ultralite enameling kiln that I use for my enamels.

It is about 1500 degrees, and with a little butane torch on top, I should be able to get it to the eutectic threshold, which I am guessing is 1640 degrees, or the melting point of sterling silver.

So beginning with a 2 inch disk, I use cable, wire and bosses to make a design, and some granules, too. Granules are the least fun aspect of granulation, so I try to find alternatives.

I use Bluefuse to attach the elements and heat it in the Ultralite kiln, and use a butane torch from above to bring up the temperature enough to fuse. It took several tries, but worked.

Now next winter I can bundle up in style and pretend my name is Eudoxia.

To Capture Color

One thing about enameling, the color is marvelous. The Color is the point, mostly. But on a bad day, it can be is awful. Color in enamel depends on color combinations, and if you pick the right colors all is well. If not, then your piece goes into the box in the drawer.

It is so frustrating to do all the wirework, and all the preparation, to have your colors go wrong. And if your colors are beautiful, that enamel sells right away, and you have lost the color palette.

Obviously, I need a strategy to both create and retain color combinations. Knowing what enamels I used to get there would be helpful, too.

As the morning sun lit an arrangement of freesias in the dining room, I had an idea. The colors were so lovely, I wondered if I could capture them in enamel. So I photographed them.

I used photoshop to pull likely colors from the photo, and made a digital palette of color. Enamel over silver has a lot the same brillance as color on a computer screen, and I thought I could come close to duplicating the colors on a small sample chip.

So I prepared some sample cloisonne bases, using quick and non-fussy wirework, just enough to hold the colors.

The final enamel ‘palettes’ are not beautiful, but they give me guidance for the actual work. I wrote down the enamels I used, so now I can design the piece with better confidence. Also I can show the palettes to customers who may want designs in custom colors. I have heard this referred to as ‘colorways’ in fabric printing.

Here is how the information retained in the palette is used. It looks a lot better in the final designs.

Simplifying Granulation

Lately I’ve been absorbed in making lots of earrings for the holiday season, using my new granulation skills. I’ve found fusing to be an easy and surprisingly speedy way to assemble things. Anyone who has experimented with granulation knows that the main problem is making the granules. My friend Iris solved this problem for me, with her ‘splash’ method, see this link for an explanation.

Using this method, you can make a nice tablespoon of shot quickly, using your fine silver scrap.

But to use the shot, you must sort it first. If you own a set of sieves, no problem, but what if you don’t? If you are trying this technique out, you probably want to be sure you like granulation before you buy a pricey diamond sieve. Well, here is a simple way to sort your pile of granules into graduated sizes using tools that you may have in your house. I’ll call it ‘Straw Grading’.

Backing up, you might have some sieves laying around that you didn’t notice. Here are two basin catch-thingys I got at the oriental food market yesterday, and a stainless screen I regularly use for soldering on a tripod.

For the purposes of this demo, I am going to use the soldering screen to remove the largest of the shot, but you could just as easily pick out the largest balls with tweezers.

Next, get an ordinary plastic drinking straw, and a couple of alligator clips.

Fold and clip one end of the straw closed, and fill the straw with your shot.

Trim the straw with scissors, leaving an inch or two of head-room, and clip the top closed.

Notice the shot loads into the straw mixed randomly.

I remember in science class in 6th grade we added water to a jar of soil and shook it, and watched as the particles graded themselves into layers. I guessed that the same effect might happen with granules, and it does.

I give it a couple of shakes, and then roll it vigorously between my palms.

As it sorts itself, it will pack tighter and tighter, so I stop and pinch it to loosen it, and roll it some more. After about five or ten minutes, the granules will become sorted from large to small. The stacking pattern will look a little like corn on the cob.

Now it is just a matter of pinching the straw at the top of the column of shot. This forces upward a few granules that are the same size, and stops the rest from rolling out. Pour these little balls in the first of a series of little cups, and they will be your largest shot. Pinch again, right at the top, and another dozen granules will be squeezed away from the column. Pour those into the next little cup.

Work your way down the straw, squeezing and pouring, until your reach the bottom. The last batch are dust-like , and too small to use anyway, unless you fuse like an Etruscan.

Now you have lots of sizes. There will be a few ‘odd balls’, that you can move to a better matching size with a pair of tweezers. This way of sorting isn’t as perfect as using the diamond sieve, but it is much easier, faster and cheaper. The resulting sets of granules will need a little correction, but are amazingly well matched given the simplicity of the method.

Now you can start the fun part of granulation, making the jewels. These are enameled earrings I made this week for the Betty McKim Earring Challenge.

The Beauty of Portability: Working at the Beach

My friend Iris was in town this week, to enjoy the hurricane in Wilmington, NC. After it blew over, I joined her down at the Carolina coast for a few days of jewelry talk, fancy food and beach.

Because this is our passion, we are both happiest while working. So she used her new technology to complete a distance learning lesson.

Iris Typing

Meanwhile I used my stone-age technology to make my earrings for the Betty McKim Earring Challenge. I just put a few tools on the table, and had everything I needed. Sometimes simplicity is a good thing.

The next pieces I made fusing wire and using a bit of old delrin as flat surface to true up things, as it is both light, tough and less likely to mar soft fine silver.Delrin block

Here is the dining room table with my stuff. It was a very simple setup, not even a whole toolbox full of stuff. Granted, I made the granules at home…

And another shot of things in progress. Here I am fusing on my little butane ‘chaffing dish’ burner. I made a wire holder support for the firing platform. It is light but squirrelly: I am contemplating a better design.

And after a hard day playing, we enjoyed the fruits of our labors. Here is Iris drinking a cocktail at the Oceanic Pier, and showing off earrings.