Fine Silver Leaf Earrings by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is the editor at www.cre8tivefire.com, which is a site dedicated to teaching and inspiring jewellery makers. She works in metal clay and mixed media. You can find her work online and in several boutiques. www.SassyandStella.com.
Her thoughts about this project: "I live in rural Ontario, Canada where autumn is the most glorious and colourful season. Once the leaves turn many colours, I start to think about making leaf jewellery. I was inspired by oak leaves for this project. Follow along with me and you can easily use your own favourite leaves to make earrings or a necklace pendant."
Step by step:
Choosing the right leaf. Have a look around at different leaves. You need to find ones that have very pronounced veins. In the sample photo, I’ve chosen four leaves. The first one on the top left is not a good option as you can see the veins but they do not protrude very far and will not give a good impression when rolled onto metal clay. The top right one has nice veins but they are too far apart for a piece of jewellery. The bottom right leaf is a great choice.
Testing the leaves. Once you have chosen some leaves I suggest you test some to see what the impressions will look like BEFORE you roll them into metal clay. I roll out some modelling clay and then I roll each leaf on top. Once the leaf is rolled into the clay, you can see how thick the leaf veins are. This gives you an idea of how thick you will need to roll the metal clay so that you don’t roll the leaf right through the clay. In the last two photos, I’ve dusted the rolled leaves to show up better in the photos. I was happy with these leaves and moved on to repeating this step in metal clay.
Rolling the leaf in metal clay. The first thing you do before opening your metal clay is put a little dab of olive oil on your hands and rub it in like hand lotion. Then pass your hands on your roller. Lay out your roller, Teflon or non-stick sheet and something to be a thickness guide. I chose to roll my clay six cards thick (1.5mm or .06”). You need to use something to control how thick your clay is when it is rolled out. Some people will stack playing cards on either side of the clay (where I have the red plastic slats) and this creates a thickness gauge. Once everything is arranged on your work table, open your clay. Quickly knead the clay in your hands into a small ball and then put it on your non-stick sheet ready to roll. Roll the clay gently with a few passes of your roller. Leave your thickness gauge in place and roll your leaf onto the metal clay.
Cutting out the leaf. Using a scalpel, carefully cut out your leaf. Take the extra clay and ball it up and put it into an air tight container to save for a future project. If you are making a pendant you can add a coil of metal clay (like a rolled out clay snake) as a bail like the finished piece shown in the sample. Since I was making earrings, I chose to repeat the process using small oak “like” leaves I found on a plant in my garden. I cut away the extra clay around the leaves with my scalpel.
Use a needle tool and make a small hole about 1/8” from the top to add ear wires later. The hole should be about 1/16”. At this point you need to leave your metal clay leaves to dry. They can air dry over night or you can speed up the process by drying them out on a mug warmer.
Refine the shape by filing. Once your leaves are dry, use micro files and refine the shape of the leaves. Carefully support the leaf in your hand and gently file in one direction so that you don’t stress the dry metal clay.
Breaks happen. If you break your metal clay project, it is very easy to repair. You will need some dry metal clay…so take some out of your extra metal clay and tear it into tiny pieces. Once they are dried out, use a tissue blade to chop up the bits. Add water a single drop at a time and press it into the clay with a pallet knife or the back of a spoon. Keep working the water into the clay until you have a paste. Add some of this paste to both sides you are reattaching. Don’t worry about it looking messy. Leave the mend to dry completely and then file off the extra.
Note: If you have it available, skip this step and use PMC3 Paste to repair any breaks.
Fire. Once your metal clay pieces are dry and you are happy with the shape, it is time to fire the metal clay. Follow the directions that come in the package. You can torch fire with a small butane torch and kiln brick. Or you can use a programmable electric kiln and follow the time and temperatures for your clay.
Burnish, colour and add ear wires. After firing, your metal clay will need a good polish. I use a small brass brush and a polished agate burnisher to rub over the surface of the clay until it is shiny. At this point, you may love the look and want to just add ear wires and start wearing your new jewellery! Others of you may want to add some colour like I did. You can buy “liver of sulphur” from jewellery supply retailers. Follow the instructions for the product you buy. For me I just have to add a little hot water to my liver of sulphur and brush it on to the silver. Once it darkens I rinse the jewellery and then use a polishing cloth to remove some of the patina on the high areas. Once I was happy with the look I sealed the earrings with protective sealant and then added the ear wires. I hope you enjoy wearing your new leaf jewellery!