Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Enameled Jewelry: Test Of Skill

My enameling skills were put to the test yesterday when I was hit with a "jewelry emergency" and had to race to complete a necklace.

I was away for Labor Day Weekend when I got an e-mail from Etsy saying that I'd sold one of my enamel necklaces. Of course I was thrilled because I haven't sold that many enameled items online; they usually sell much better at craft fairs. I planned to box up the necklace on Monday night so I could get it out first thing Tuesday morning; as a small business owner, I like to ship things as quickly as possible and not make my customers wait.

However, when I got home, I could not find this necklace. I'm pretty organized when it comes to stocking my pieces, but I had no idea where this one went. I don't remember selling it... but I must have since it wasn't with my other enameled jewelry. I'm just surprised that I hadn't marked it as "sold out." Because I don't have a kiln, it isn't as easy to make enameled jewelry -- and the Y's classes don't start up again until the end of the month.

I was determined to get this piece to the customer, though, so I schlepped to Brooklyn to visit the jewelry store where I'd taken classes. About a month ago I contacted the owner to see if I could purchase some bench time and use their kiln; he agreed and told me to show up whenever I wanted. But I haven't had time to make it down there so I never followed up. The store's site said that it was open until 9 p.m., though, so I planned to arrive around 1 p.m. I figured that I'd buy 20 hours of bench time and could spend the afternoon making this piece and then maybe working on some of my champleve jewelry.

Once I arrived, however, the woman in charge told me that she was about to leave -- and that they only had bench time at certain hours on certain days. What? This was NOT what the store owner told me. I repeated his message to me and explained that I had an "emergency." She agreed to give me an hour to make my necklace. GULP.

The thing is, it takes nearly an hour for the kiln to heat to 1500 degrees F if it hasn't been running. Of course, the kiln wasn't on ... which meant that I'd have to wait a very long time for it to be of use. I was desperate, though, and had to do something... so I made most of my piece by simply torching it.

Torching enamel works, but it isn't quite as effective as a kiln because the heat isn't as evenly distributed. It's a little like trying to make a gourmet meal on a hot plate. But I was determined to complete this piece so I worked on the main side. Somehow I managed to torch the cloisonne design into place without melting the silver. The store's materials are terrible, though, especially compared to the Y's. The strikers (used to light the torch) wouldn't, well, strike, and it was very frustrating. But I pressed on and finished the main side with the design. I couldn't do the counter side because I didn't want to burn the main design with the torch flame.

Once I'd laid down the enamel, I wet packed the colors onto the front. Normally I'd add enamel to the counter side to keep the piece from bending and cracking, but as I said above, I had to wait to do that. I also usually wait for the wet enamel to dry before I fire it, but time was running out. I used a cloth to blot at the enamel and prayed that it would fire correctly.

I attempted to fire the piece in the kiln, but it still wasn't hot enough. And then disaster struck. Another girl who was working there bumped me ... and I dropped my piece onto the floor. The enamel hadn't fired correctly so the powdered glass spilled all over the floor. I was ready to scream.

I again wetpacked the colors and didn't even wait for them to dry. I simply fired the glass with the torch. And then I didn't even wait for the piece to cool; I just dipped it into a glass of cold water. You know what? It worked. If my Y teacher saw me skipping these steps, she'd give me a good lecture, but my pendant was starting to come together. I didn't quite feel as if I were in control, especially since I was in a rush, but it looked nice.

By now the kiln had finally reached about 1200 degrees F so I again tried to use it to apply the two coats of counter glass. This time, I kept the piece in for about three minutes -- and this worked. The glass hardened and glossed as it was supposed to. Whew! The other girl working, the one who'd bumped me, even said, "Wow, that's good." So I guess it looked okay to an outsider.

I managed to finish my piece just at the hour mark. I wanted to clean it a bit more, but I could tell that this woman was ready to leave so I figured I'd just fix it up at home. I grabbed my things and hurried out of there, grateful that I'd successfully put together the pendant. And then, just as I was getting off the subway, I remembered that I'd forgotten to turn off the kiln. OOPS!

I called the store as soon as I got home and the woman said that she'd turned off the kiln for me. Thank goodness! I feared that the store would blow up or something.

I'm amazed that I managed to finish this piece in time, and that I could mail it out today. I really hope that the customer likes it. I think that it's pretty, but I didn't like having to rush through the work. I'm not one to cut corners, especially when it comes to putting out quality products. On one hand, I appreciate the fact that the woman stayed for an extra hour so that I could work at the last minute... but on the other hand, I'm annoyed that I hadn't been given the full scoop on bench time hours. Don't tell someone to "just show up" if you don't mean it.

Though I had to race to get this done, it did feel good to get back to enameling. Now that I have 19 hours of bench time left, I might as well use them before class begins. I guess I'll be making more trips to Brooklyn...

To purchase my jewelry, head to Naomi's Designs or MayaGirl Creations.

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