30 June 2015

Inspired Craziness-- Cloisonne Pelican book plate: Material Culture 26: A&S50 Challenge

Inspired Craziness-- Cloisonne Pelican book plate: Material Culture 26: A&S50 Challenge
Created by Baroness Marwen, Baroness Euriaut, Baroness Samia
Julia May

King Vladimir II and Queen Petranella II saw fit to honor the Honorable Lord Viði Hovdestad by placing him on vigil for the Order of the Pelican in Northshield early in 2015. Many friends were ecstatic to assist in preparation for the ceremony, garb, a vigil space, food, a cloak, and a vigil book.

While planning the vigil book, Marwen and Samia spun each other up into a crazy project idea. The Honorable Lady Una Duckfoot generously volunteered to make the book, while Marwen, Samia, and Euriaut were going to make a cloisonne enameled cover. Between us we had made a handful of enamel pieces, so we had no idea how afraid we should be of this project.

Baroness Siobhan Medhbh O'Roarke found an image online which inspired all of the volunteers as Viði-esque. Baroness Ellen de Wynter drew line art from the image. Marwen and Samia ordered fine silver and enamel. The Honorable Lady Niamh ingen Dhomnail advised us in the design.

We spent hours wrestling with the enormous cloisonne wires and watching videos posted by Rio Grande. Marwen was also able to use her Zing engraving machine to etch the design on sheet of fine silver so we would have lines to follow. 

The first layer of enamel is typically a clear base coat. We had enough experience to know that it was possible to be too light in this application and ruin the piece from the start. Unfortunately, that made our application a little too heavy handed. The border cloisonne is more than half full with the first layer of enamel, and the hard fusing enamel has a yellow cast on the fine silver.

We applied all of the cloisonnes. We were quite pleased with our progress!

Colored enamel is carefully applied to each of the cells.

The first layer of color added.

Tiny silver balls were made from "dead" cloisonne wires.

The balls were laid into a subsequent layer of glass.

After several firings, we realized we had developed a problem. The trivet we were using could not support the full weight of the piece. It was warping by slumping around the trivet. Viði made us a new set of trivets, pictured here, where we placed the work upside down and fired it in an attempt to slump it back to shape.

(The colored stripes are the counter enamel. We used Pam East Counternamel, a fantastic product that's part glass, part cement, and part magic. We were applying the counternamel too thick, but weren't worried because it was the back. We have since learned that  the uneven application likely contributed to our slumping problem.)

We had less than a week to finish the project, and we had already put in about 100 (novice) hours at this point. We researched large enamel pieces in Linda Darty's book The Art of Enameling: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration. A small section describes smashing the molten glass piece with a steel block to flatten it, while hoping it didn't effectively explode.

Our choices were to either display this as a piece of "what could have been", or smash it. We decided to be brave.
Marwen got out an old iron which does not have the safety of turning off when it's on it's face. We used a jeweler's steel block, a hot pad, and a trivet. We heated the iron on high for several minutes.

Three of us were required for the smashing. Samia would pull the enamel out of the kiln and place it on the hot block. Viði would close the kiln door. Marwen would do the smashing.

It worked!! The enamel was flat enough to apply to the book cover, and we could bend the corners flat with pliers.

The finished piece. This is after the last stoning, and before the final firing (you can see the dull areas prominently on the nest).

It was a wild experience, and we were crazy to give it a try! 

Order of Defense Medallions for Northshield by House Wortham

Order of Defense Medallions for Northshield
Create by House Wortham and friends
Julia May

House Wortham was selected to make the first four Order of Defense Medallions for Northshield. Three for the premieres of the Order, and one Legacy.

We started by perusing images of extant enameled jewelry from the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Many of the later-period images we could find represented basse taille enameling.This beautiful technique requires skilled carving of the base metal before carefully placing glass in the correct areas.

Musée national du Moyen Âge, France. Medallion with the bull of St Luke. Translucent enameling on basse-taille silver, Catalunya, second half of the 14th century. Credit line: Bequeathed by François-Achille Wasset, 1906. Accession no. Cl. 14719 

Based on our collective experience, we elected to use champlevé and cloisonné enamel. Champlevé is the practice of creating wells in the metal surface for laying in glass. Cloisonné is bending tiny wires of silver which are fused to the surface of the metal to make wells. These styles were used throughout the SCA periods, but occur in higher concentrations before the fourteenth century.

Champlevé is removing metal from the piece to create wells for the glass to lay in. It can be carved away or etched away; some artists fuse a pierced sheet of silver to a flat piece.
Victoria and Albert Museum, England. Plaque. Copper-gilt, champlevé enamel; Aragon, Spain, 1420. Credit Line: Given by Dr W.L. Hildburgh. Museum number: M.25-1954
Lord Phillip and Lady Marion generously tried milling the original line art released. The milling machine they used is not calibrated for such fine detail. We were able to enamel on the piece to cover most of the milling marks, but the image was not as crisp as we had hoped.

Cloisonné is the application of fine bent wires to a base of glass. The rectangular wires are .25 mm wide and 1 mm tall. The ground glass used for the enamel is shipped in grades of fineness. The glass is laid in place onto a pure metal foundation with water and capillary action. The foundation is put in the kiln at 1450° for two and a half minutes to fuse the glass into one solid piece.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Four Enamel Plaques. Cloisonné enamel, silver-gilt, jewels; French, ca. 1300. Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917. Accession Number: 17.190.595a-d.

With milling off the table, we moved to bending the cloisonné wire. Baron Robin devised a simplified design for the cloisonné that still read as a rapier visually. You can see the completed and set cloisonne piece on the table. The piece in process has a layer of base glass on it. Then the bent cloisonnes are glued into place with an enamel adhesive, because the surface of the metal is domed.

On this piece, the fine particles of yellow glass bled over into the black glass and blurred the clean lines of the design.Since this piece was sadly removed from circulation, we used it to test the application of the laurel- shaped copper wire. Laying the copper onto the fused glass and firing worked to sink the wreath into the glass just enough to secure it in place.

Here, you can also see more design adaptations created by Duchess Anne. In this piece, some of the cloisonné wires fell over in the kiln and fused out of place. The pock marks in the glass around the wires were made when we tried to pry the wires out of the molten glass. The surface tension was too high for the tools we had available.

Enamel is fused to fine silver or copper, both 99.99% pure. Pure silver is not sturdy material for jewelry structure, so jewelry makers use sterling silver (92.5% silver and 7.5% copper) for structural elements. Sterling silver is considerably stronger and makes sturdy settings.

This setting is marked in two places where the solder flowed up the bezel, preventing the bezel from forming a neat, smooth line around the set piece.

This bezel setting melted in two placed. The limitations of our shop required us to use two torches to heat the large silver setting enough for the solder to flow (technically, it’s “brazing” instead of soldering). There was a learning curve to getting two torches to work in concert.  Both of these pieces will be scrapped and recycled.

For the legacy medallion we wanted to swords to be boldly visible, planning on gilding the silver with gold. We sought the assistance of Master Danr to learn about etching the metal to make champlevé. From there, Master Viði and Lord Oswald succeeded with electro-etching in ferric nitrate. Master Geoffrey, The Honorable Lord Robin, Lord Oswald, and Dame Marwen developed the design for etching. Dame Marwen cut resists from vinyl which we applied to the fine silver so only parts of the silver would be removed.

The last step was plating the sterling silver pieces in 14 karat gold. We employed an alchemist, The Honorable Lady Thuri, who is a goldsmith by trade and owner of Whiplash Designs. While the period method of gilding is reportedly quite easy, it involves burning mercury and releasing heavy metals into the environment.

The cloisonné and enamel were made by Baroness Ellen, Dame Marwen, Baroness Gunnora, Baron Richard, Baroness Ainesleah, Baron Robin, Duchess Anne, Baron Geoffrey, Baroness Claire, Baron David, Countess Guenievre, Baroness Amalia, Baroness Ekaterina, Baroness Euriaut, Lady Aneka, Lord Oswald, Sayyeda al-Kaslaania.

In addition to the people already named, the following individuals supplied moral, technical, spiritual, and financial support. Lord Malcolm, young Zane Malcolmson, young Garrett Malcolmson, Lord Njall, Lord Phillip, Lady Marion, Baroness Cassandra, Master Cadwallon, Baroness Angelina, Baroness Siobhan, Duchess Petranella, Master Danr, The Honorable Lady Thuri, Master Peter, Baroness Ivetta.