{April 12, 2013}   Crafting Cloisonne

If you’d told me a year ago that I could create a piece of cloisonne jewelry, I wouldn’t have believed you. You might just have well have told me I could make my own mattress or shoes. Crafting items like those requires specialized skills, tools, and materials that aren’t readily accessible to an average person.

Cloisonne, an enameling technique that’s been around since the 8th century, sounds like it demands precision, talent and expertise. Maybe that’s why my sister-in-law Lisa didn’t use the word and instead asked if I’d like to make enameled jewelry. Enameling sounds more approachable. So I agreed.

Our sister-in-law Kathy also joined us. These two talented women have been with me from the beginning of my year-long quest to try new things. Lisa is an art teacher and showed me how to make and glaze pottery. She also joined me for indoor rock-climbing, the Dirty Girl Mud Run and the Polar Plunge. Together, she, Kathy and I took a class on blowing hot glass and spent an evening painting with acrylics.

This time, Lisa walked Kathy and me through the process of making a cloisonne pendant. Broken down into steps, it was simpler than I could have imagined.

First, we each sanded a 1-1/2-inch copper disk and punched a hole in it to make it into a pendant.

Next, we used pencil to draw our designs on the disks.

Then we bent special silver wire to match the shapes of our designs. Each piece of wire must have a bend or fold to keep it from falling over in the kiln. The wires form the cells that hold different colors of enamel.

When we finished creating our design in wire, we brushed the copper disk with a gum solution to help hold the wires in place. We arranged the wires on our disks and sifted a thin layer of fusing flux over the pieces. Into the kiln they went for 3 minutes.

After they cooled, it was time to add color. We referred to an enamel chart to select our colors. Working with one color at a time, we mixed water into the colored, powdered glass to form a paste. We used flat toothpicks and paint brushes to fill the cells with the paste. We filled cells that did not touch with different colors before the pendants were fired in the kiln.

Once they cooled, we went back and added additional colors and filled in low spots before firing them again. I think we added colors and fired our pieces four or five times.

To finish the pendants, we lightly sanded the fronts to bring out the silver wires, popped them in the kiln a last time, and then spray-painted the backs. They turned out great! Mine lacks the glossy even layers of enameling that Lisa’s and Kathy’s possess. But I know that’s because I was not as precise or exacting when I filled the cells. (They both love intricate work like that—not me.)

Overall, it was a successful afternoon: I learned a new art form and now have a piece of brightly colored cloisonne jewelry to show for it.


Michelle says:

Love this! Such a cool process. Also, I hope to see more of your posts soon, Julie 🙂

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