Hilarie Stelfox tries her hand at making jewellery under the watchful and expert eye of Huddersfield designer Natalia Colman, whose first craft book, Silver Clay with Style, is out this month
HANDICRAFTS of all kinds are enjoying something of a renaissance.
Berry Brow jewellery maker and designer Natalia Colman believes that’s because in a recession we’re all looking for low cost ways to entertain ourselves.
“People aren’t going out as much but they want a hobby they can do to keep them busy,” she says.
“A lot of retired people enjoy crafts and at the other end of the scale there are the young mums who have time at home and can’t go out in the evening any more.”
Whatever the reasons, demand for knitting wool, jewellery beads, art materials and other craft items is steadily growing.
Natalia has a regular slot on Jewellery Maker TV, which in just 18 months has attracted over 75,000 viewers. She travels down to Redditch in Worcestershire once a month to film the show.
“Sometimes, it’s a bit like ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’, they give me a box of beads that I haven’t seen before and I have to make something from them,” she says.
Through the programme Natalia has sold 2,000 copies of her own jewellery-making DVDs, an indication of the popularity of the hobby.
Although she also works with beads and semi precious stones, Natalia is rapidly building a reputation for her expertise with metallic clays.
The clays – silver, copper and bronze (there is also gold but that, she says, is far too expensive to work with) – allow the creation of pure metal jewellery without the need for traditional silversmithing or metalwork techniques.
Metallic dust (reclaimed from photographs, circuit boards and the jewellery industry) and binders are used to form a pliable clay that can be shaped, cut and embossed.
Firing of the clay – over a gas hob – removes the binder to leave 99% pure metal.
It’s a fascinating process and one that I asked Natalia to lead me through. She’s an old hand at teaching and holds regular workshops in her craft room at home.
Step one is to practise your chosen design with Play Doh, rolling it out with playing cards stacked at either side to provide a guide to thickness.
I decide to attempt a simple heart shape and use cutters to achieve a neat outline.
Natalia suggests I might like to emboss it first so I have a second go. The real silver clay that I will eventually be using dries fairly rapidly so it’s important that I can work quickly.
When the moment comes to roll out my clay I waste no time, rolling, embossing and stamping it out.
A tiny drinking straw provides me with the means to make a hole for the jump ring that will string my finished pendant on a chain.
The heart is then dried in the oven on a low heat and after half an hour we’re ready to fire it over the gas hob.
Our photographer arrives just in time to watch the silver heart glow in the flames.
After dousing in cold water it looks white and slightly unattractive.
“You need to polish it now with a brush,” says Natalia “and then use a burnishing tool to get the surface pattern really shiny.”
I do as I’m told and after a few seconds of brushing I’m astonished by the results.
In my hand is a piece of shiny, silver jewellery, transformed from the dull, grey clay it once was.
Natalia has a cabinet in the corner of her dining room, showcasing some of the jewellery she has made.
There’s a particularly striking owl brooch made from layered ‘leaves’ of silver. It has two zirconia for eyes and was commissioned by a silver clay company to show what can be done with their products.
Rings, necklaces and bracelet cuffs – the only limit to what can be achieved is the imagination of the creator. At £2.50 a gramme, silver clay is also a relatively cheap way to make precious metal jewellery.
My stamped-out heart weighs just two grammes. Copper clay is much cheaper at 33p a gramme, with bronze clay at around the same price.
Natalia has been making jewellery for four years and says she finds inspiration everywhere:
“I am always taking pictures of things and taking cuttings from magazines. I collect images of jewellery and have scrap books full of drawings.”
She confesses to having, quite literally, “hundreds of necklaces” and other pieces of jewellery. If she’s going to a special event she will design and make something new.
Such is her expertise that she decided to write a book and has called it ‘Silver Clay with Style’. It will be published later this month and is the first, she hopes, of many.
Her next will be about Art Deco, another of her design passions.
The 300 or so photographs in the book were taken by her partner David Airey, who, most fortuitously, is a professional photographer.
In April Natalia and David are also working together, editing an entire issue of the Practical Jewellery Maker magazine.
l Silver Clay with Style from Style Specialist is £16.99 and available from Amazon at the end of the month.
For more details about silver clay check out www.silverclaycreations.co.uk