On the 26th of last month, I had a trunk show over at Tempe Yarn and Fiber. I brought quite a few of my fine silver stitch markers and earrings. Brace yourselves because this post is not going to be my most entertaining. If it’s really late or if you haven’t had your coffee yet, you may just like to see the pictures and skip down to my Halloween recap. Believe me, I know that there’s only so much of me that some people can handle, both when I’m a bit crazy and when I’m a bit boring. I don’t seem to have a middle ground. The astute among you can probably tell which side of my personality you’re getting today. Basically, view the next bit as the special features on some movie that you just bought. If you’re like me, you watch every single one of those features, and you’ll probably really enjoy today’s post. Here’s the director’s commentary for some of my fine silver work:
What’s the difference between fine silver and sterling silver? I’ve told so many people, so you can skip this next few paragraphs of boring text book stuff if you’re one of them. But for those of you who haven’t heard my little speech, or are closet Wikipedia addicts just like me (I get stuck on there, clicking one thing after another like most people get stuck on Pinterest… I love knowing things!): sterling silver is 92.5% silver (this is where the 925 stamp you can find on most sterling silver jewelry comes from), with the other 7.5% any combination of other metals such as copper or nickel. These metals add strength to the silver, but also cause some people to have an allergic reaction to sterling silver things. Most people are not actually allergic to silver. They’re allergic to the additives.
Fine silver, or pure silver, is 99.9% pure silver. It’s much softer than sterling, but because of the purity of the metal, it tarnishes much more slowly and I have yet to find a person who has a problem wearing it. If you’re looking for fine silver earrings that won’t bother your ears, make sure you check with the jewelry artist who made them and ensure that both the earwires and the rest of the earring are all fine silver. Some artists use fine silver for the bulk of the piece, but will still use sterling silver for the earwires, either because it’s hard to find pre-made fine silver wires, or because they prefer sterling silver for the strength even if they do make their own.
I love fine silver for another reason: it requires absolutely no harsh chemicals to form chains and other jewelry. I have kids and when I started working with the fine silver, one of them was still very small. A torch was bad enough. I didn’t want a bunch of chemicals sitting around, too. I fell in love with the ease of working with the fine silver and today, according to one of my friends at TYF, I make the “best stitch markers in the universe”.
Here is the huge batch of them that I had made for my show, all wired up and ready for their overnight session in the tumbler. Each of these rings starts out as wire. I form the wire into coils and cut each individual ring. They are then formed one by one into closed rings and laid flat on the firing brick. I hit the ring with the flame of my torch, circling like mad until the metal begins to melt. The second it melts and flows over that join, I pull the torch away and it cools, forming a solid ring. They get cooled and hammered.
This process, in which I melt the metal onto itself to form rings, is called “fusing”. Soldering is what must be done with sterling silver. That process is basically like gluing the join of the ring together. The ring is heated, a chemical called flux is added to the join, and then when the ring is hot enough, solder (solid metal compound that turns into super flowing metal “glue” when it gets hot enough) is touched to the surface and flows into the join, sealing it together. When done correctly, you’d never be able to tell where the join was.
Soldering in jewelry allows for relatively easy chain formation. You can set up several rings, fluxed, with solder sitting right on top of the join, and just fire them one by one, sealing joins and making chain in a relatively quick fashion.
Because fine silver actually requires the melting of each entire link of chain, the links are formed one at a time, and somewhat painstakingly. It finally occurred to me that I could take a picture of the chain process as I was working for my show in October.
Here you can see a little line of pieces that are getting ready to be chains. Each chain bit is formed of three links in these photos. There are two (already fused) sitting in each groove with an un-fused ring around the first two, sitting flat on the brick. Each joining ring must sit flat like this for the melting required in the fusing process. As chains get longer, each linking step will look like this, except that there will be a long chain hanging off of the back of the loops that are standing up.
The torch is on these chains constantly. In fact, I have to save all of my shaping and hammering for the very end of my process, after the chains are made. So each little ring has to be hammered once, turned slightly, hammered again, etc… with the other rings hanging off of the side of my hammering block. So I can’t just hammer the entire ring at once. It’s very painstaking work, but I love it. I adore this metal and this process, even when I have to hammer tiny rings.
Okay, if you read all that, you were very good, and you deserve a treat instead of a trick. This year for Halloween, my boys were Ironman and a Ninja. Very cool.
I was a black widow and spent the evening handing out candy while spinning my web (spinning white yarn on my spinning wheel) out front. I didn’t get as much time as I wanted to work on my costume. I crocheted the little wristlets from a free pattern on Ravelry only a day before Halloween. Next year, I’m going to get much more decked out, with little red hourglass accessories that make it all so much more realistic… “Realistic” being a relative term, of course, for a pretty spider outfit.