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Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch

Spare lines and contemporary materials rejuvenate a traditional brooch motif

Handsculpting polymer clay cabochons for this brooch instead of using traditional gemstones means that you’ll have more freedom with your design. You can use this chameleon material to create focal points in any shape, size, and color scheme, so your piece may evoke tradition or put an urbane spin on a classic motif.

You’ll learn techniques for making a simple lace cane and applying Skinner-blend overlays. You’ll also use traditional metalworking skills to make bezel cups, solder a stem, and attach pin-back findings. 

For instructions on making the polymer clay cabochons for this project, read below. To see the complete step-by-step project instructions, click here for the free project PDF.

Materials 

  • Polymer clay
    - 2 oz. (56g), translucent
    - 2 oz. (56g), white
    - 1 oz. (28g), dark color
    - 1 oz. (28g), pearl or light color
    - 1 oz. (28g), scrap clay
  • Acrylic paint: metallic silver
  • Pearl: flat bottom, 5mm diameter
  • Fine-silver bezel wire: 3mm, 28-gauge (0.32mm), 12 in. (30.5cm)
  • Sterling silver or Argentium sterling sheet: 24-gauge (0.5mm), 1 x 6 in. (25.5 x 152mm)
  • Sterling silver or Argentium sterling wire: 8-gauge (3.3mm), half-round, dead-soft, 4 in. (10.2cm)
  • Nickel or sterling silver pin-back findings: hinge, catch, and pin stem, 2 1⁄4 in. (57mm)
  • Sawdust (optional)

Tools & supplies

  • Nonstick work surface
  • Pasta machine*
  • Craft knife
  • Tissue blade
  • Acrylic roller
  • Paintbrush: 2/0, fine tip
  • Oven*
  • Dust mask
  • Wet/dry sandpaper: 320 grit, 380 grit
  • Flush cutters
  • Soldering station: torch, solder (hard and medium), fire-resistant surface (soldering pad, firebrick, or charcoal block), pickle pot with pickle, flux, steel tweezers, copper tongs, anti-flux
  • Hand files: #2-cut flat; #4-cut to #6-cut half-round or flat
  • Cotton cloth
  • Pliers: chainnose; flatnose or half-round forming
  • Rawhide mallet (optional)
  • Steel block (optional)
  • Burnisher or bezel rocker
  • Marker
  • Dapping tool
  • Finishing items (choose from):
  • Buffing wheel, tripoli polishing compound
  • Flex shaft, Scotch-Brite wheel
  • Scrap lumber
  • Drill, bit

*Dedicated to nonfood use.

Instructions
Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 1
Photo 1
Polymer clay cabochons

Make a wrapped cane. Separately condition 2 oz. (56g) of translucent polymer clay and 2 oz. (56g) of white polymer clay.

Roll the translucent clay into a cylinder 3 in. (76mm) long and 3⁄4 in. (19mm) in diameter. Run the white clay through a pasta machine set to a thin setting. Wrap the white clay sheet around the translucent cylinder [1], allowing the edges of the sheet to overlap. Gently press the sheet where it overlaps. Unwrap only the overlapping portion of the sheet, and use a craft knife to cut off this excess portion. Roll the wrapped cylinder on your work surface to smooth the sheet’s seam.

Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 2
Photo 2
Reduce the cane. Use your fingers to pinch the midpoint of the wrapped cane [2, left], forming an hourglass shape. Pinch, pull, and roll the cane to reduce its diameter and to lengthen it to 14 in. (35.6cm). Use the craft knife or a tissue blade to trim the distorted ends of the cane, and then cut the cane into seven equal-length pieces [2, center]. Use the seven cane pieces to build a larger cane, grouping the pieces so that six of them encircle the seventh [2, right]. Gently roll this large cane on your work surface until the outer layer is smooth.
Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 3
Photo 3

Make a lace cane. Reduce [3, left] and cut the cane into seven equal-length pieces. Use the seven cane pieces to build a large cane, grouping the pieces so that six of them encircle the seventh [3, center]. Roll the cane to smooth its outer layer. A cross section of the cane should reveal a lacy pattern [3, right]. Place the cane in a refrigerator to chill.

Make a Skinner blend. Separately condition 1 oz. (28g) of dark-colored polymer clay and 1 oz. (28g) of light-colored polymer clay. I mixed green with black for the dark color and pearl with just a bit of yellow for the light color. Make a Skinner blend with your color mixes.

Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 4
Photo 4

Make leaf forms. Condition approximately 1 oz. (28g) of scrap polymer clay. Form the clay into two leaf shapes that are approximately 1⁄4 in. (6.5mm) high with flat bottoms [4]. The leaf forms in the featured brooch are 2 1⁄4 x 3⁄4 in. (57 x 19mm) and 1 1⁄2 x 1⁄2 in. (38 x 13mm).

Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 5
Photo 5
Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 6
Photo 6

Add the Skinner-blend overlay. Select the most interesting part of your Skinner blend, and mold it over one leaf form [5]. Use the craft knife to cut around the base of the leaf form to remove the excess overlay. Gently roll an acrylic roller over the overlay to remove any air pockets and to ensure that it is securely bonded to the form. Repeat to make the second leaf cabochon [6].

Make the bud form. When you’re selecting a piece of scrap clay to make the bud form, keep in mind that it will be covered with the lace-cane overlay, which is rather translucent. Shape the scrap clay into a bud shape that is approximately 1⁄4 in. (6.5mm) high with a flat bottom.

Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 7
Photo 7
Sterling silver and polymer clay brooch 8
Photo 8

Add the lace-cane overlay. Use the tissue blade to cut very thin slices from the lace cane. Place the slices over the bud form, avoiding the bottom of the form [7]. Trim excess cane if necessary. Use the acrylic roller to remove air pockets and secure the bond between the form and the cane slices.

Add painted highlights. Use a 2/0 fine-tip paintbrush to apply random dots of metallic silver acrylic paint to the bud cabochon [8]. Allow the paint to dry completely.

Bake the cabochons. Bake the leaf and bud cabochons in a preheated oven according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the cabochons to cool completely.

Refine the cabochons. Put on a dust mask and refine each cabochon by sanding any uneven edges with 320-grit wet/dry sandpaper. To level the bottom surface of a cabochon, use a figure 8 motion to sand it against 320-grit wet/dry sandpaper placed on a flat surface. To minimize dust particles, hold the cabochons in a pan of shallow water while you use the wet/dry sandpaper to refine them.

For the rest of the project instructions, click here for the free project PDF.

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