In my Creative Focus blogs I feature one particular area of creativity that we offer at The Arienas Collective.
This time it's jewellery making using a magical material called metal clay: a creative activity I've fallen for myself.
All our silver jewellery classes are run by metal clay expert Anna Campbell, owner of Jewellery School Scotland. In the paragraphs below, I share my jewellery-making journey with Anna. I hope it inspires other total beginners like me to give it a try.
Lynn Powell, founder of The Arienas Collective
Getting started: a tempting taster
Anna's 3-hour silver clay taster is one of two beginner classes she offers, and is the perfect place to start. On this class you learn all you need to know to start making silver jewellery from metal clay.
As a complete beginner, what I love most about working with metal clay is that if you mess up your design - or aren't happy with what you've created - you can roll it up and start again. Yes, it really is a clay!
Until you fire it that is...
On the taster class, you get your first experience of firing. This is the point at which this previously malleable material turns into metal. All you need is a blow torch (a crème brûlée torch will do the trick) and your greyish-looking clay turns into hallmark quality silver that can be polished until it sparkles - that's modern day alchemy for you!
I started my silver jewellery journey making simple, patterned (using scraps of wallpaper and lace) and initial charms, which I added to bangles, chains and earring hoops to turn them into truly hand made gifts for family and friends. So far, they've always gone down a treat!
Making moulds and setting stones
If you like the idea of adding moulded features and stones to your jewellery, then you can either start off with the full day Introduction to silver clay beginners class, or - like me - you can choose it as the next step on your jewellery making journey.
I had much admired Anna's bee mould, and had someone in mind who I wanted to make a pendant for. The first part of the full day class helpfully recaps what you learned on the taster, then Anna teaches you how to make a moulded shape (she has so many to choose from), and how to set a stone into a pendant. I was really happy with my final silver bee pendant (shown above), as was the recipient who I'm delighted to share wears it all the time!
Metal clay uses such simple, everyday tools (such as playing cards, toothpicks and wallpaper) yet the results can look really fantastic. And of course each piece is a one-off, which makes it extra special.
Once you've completed either of Anna's beginners classes, you are ready to move on to the intermediate level. She has 3 options to choose from: ring making, soldering and boxes and beads.
I began with ring making. I've admired the rings people have made over the years, and was desperate to have a try at making my own. Anna only runs her intermediate workshops once or twice a year, and the ring making usually sells out. But finally an opportunity arose in 2023 when someone could no longer make the date, so I took the plunge and snapped up their space!
On this one day class you get to make two different types of rings: a flat band ring, and a D profile ring. I made them for myself since I didn't have time to get anyone else's ring size (that's my excuse anyway!). I was quite nervous as it felt like quite a step up, but Anna breaks the process down into manageable steps. I found it a truly mindful making process, and became totally immersed in the process of creating.
You can't fire rings with the blow torch, so there's a the excitement of waiting to see your rings look like in their finished state. Anna takes them home to fire in her kiln, and posts them straight to you. They arrive beautifully polished and ready-to-wear!
I was really pleased with the results: they're not perfect, but they are unique, and each blemish is one I remember making and learned from. I wear them both with pride! I get so many emails from people saying how pleased they are with their rings, and we get people coming back to make more (yes, I am thinking of it!), so it's not surprising this class usually sells out.
My second intermediate level class was soldering. On this class you learn how to solder earring posts onto earrings to make studs, cufflink backs onto your designs to make a pair of cufflinks, and how to solder a jump ring onto a pendant so it can be hung on a chain without the need for drilling a hole.
It was coming up to Christmas 2023, and I had longed to make my son and son-in-law a pair of cufflinks each. I had designs in mind, and since I'd done quite a few classes by now, Anna kindly agreed to adapt the class slightly so I could make two pairs within the time available - since there's usually only one soldering class a year, I couldn't wait for the next one!
Soldering takes concentration, and Anna keeps the numbers small so she can keep a close eye on you. It took me a little while to get the hang of it, but once I did I was off and running! And now I know how to solder, I can also make stud earrings - which might be my next project.
Boxes and beads is the third of Anna's intermediate level classes, and the one I've yet to do.
Check out the fabulous collection of shadow boxes in the photo above. The boxes make the perfect receptacle for the collection of mini-moulded shapes that have been carefully made, and placed inside. What I especially love about this project, is that each box has its own story to tell.
As well as these gorgeous boxes, you get to make a Pandora-style wrapped bead, plus a silver lentil bead. The beads look fabulous on a leather or silver charm bracelet, or chain.
The next Boxes & Beads class is in April 2024 - perhaps this will be the year I finally complete my intermediate level journey...
Because metal clay is such a fun and forgiving material, a private jewellery taster class makes for a fantastic creative celebration for all.
A few years ago, to celebrate a special birthday, I booked a private taster class with Anna for myself and a group of friends. Everyone made me a birthday charm for a bangle I already had, and used the remainder of their clay to make their own pendant - some made one to match what they had given me. It was a really great way to bring us all together around the kitchen table - as we'd done so often in our younger days. Anna kept us focused (she needed to!) but there was time to relax and chat while we created together. We ended what was a wonderful afternoon with cake and fizz, and very proud of what we'd made!
The taster class is also a great hen party option. Each hen can make a charm (like the ones shown above) to add to a silver charm bracelet or bangle for the bride-to-be to keep, plus their own piece of jewellery to take home. Since our private workshop space is hidden away right in the centre of the New Town, it's also perfectly placed for continuing the celebrations into the night.
I love that I have my charms to keep as a memory of that moment in time together, and when I meet my friends they often wear the jewellery they made on the day. I hope that all the others who have booked to join us this year for their special creative celebration will have similar happy memories.
Last - but not least - on my silver clay journey are the family Christmas drinks charms.
One year, instead of buying crackers for the table (with gifts inside that no-one wants), I made everyone a wine glass charm. I don't know about you, but we're always getting our glasses mixed up, and wee charms (like the ones in the photo above) are a great way to make sure you hang on to yours!
It's amazing how far a few grams of metal clay goes, so you can easily make enough drinks charms for a family of 4 (or more depending on the size of charm). We bring ours out each year, and they've become a part of the annual festive table setting.
I made mine on one of Anna's December taster workshops, when people often come along with Christmas gifts in mind. We serve up mince pies to get into the festive mood, and there may or may not be Christmas music playing in the background...you'll have to join us this year to find out!
Ready to give it a try?
I hope this creative feature has given you a wee insight into the versatility of this amazing material called metal clay, and may tempt you to give it a go. I really believe that working with silver clay is a great place to start your jewellery making journey, and an excellent option if you want to make your own jewellery at home without having to invest in expensive equipment. (We have people who go on to set up their own jewellery making business.) Plus, as it's made from recycled materials, you'll be doing your bit for the planet too. That's a win-win in my book!
If you do give it a try, I hope it adds a little magic to your life too.
Image credits: Jewellery School Scotland, except images 2 & 3 which are my own.
To find out more about the workshops mentioned click on the links below: