HOME Made – Sarah’s silversmithing

Welcome to HOME Made, where we’re delving into some of the cool skills and hobbies our clever bunch of Homies have.

This week we’re chatting with Sarah, our Insight & Strategy Director, about her endeavours in silversmithing.

Okay, first up, what is it you do?

I’m learning silversmithing, which includes basic silver work as well as stone setting in order to make my own jewellery!

It’s something I’ve always wanted to try but never really found the courage to give it a go. In the end I booked a night course at Leeds College of Art back in 2017 as a Christmas present to myself and haven’t looked back! Since then I’ve been teaching myself new techniques by watching videos, following people on Instagram and reading books.

Sounds like there was a lot to learn, have you had any epic fails along the way?

So many! One of the things about teaching yourself is you learn as much from the mistakes as anything else, but you do end up doing quite stupid things because there’s no-one to tell you better!

One of the most memorable ones was with a ring that I’d been making – an open circle, with a stone suspended to one side, on top of a D-shaped ring. It’s complex because there are quite a lot of soldered joints which need various grades of solder, all with different melting points. You have to plan out the connections in the right order as otherwise you can melt your earlier joints. All was in order and I’d managed to solder everything successfully, but it was slightly wonky which was annoying me, so I thought I’d just straighten it up a little. I totally forgot that the solder on the suspended section would melt off if I heated it back up again, and the whole thing fell apart! So frustrating!

I’ve also made some pretty big fails with equipment too. After you heat a piece up with a blowtorch you have to pickle it in warm acid to take the impurities out. I use an old slow cooker to do mine – but it completely slipped my mind to turn it off and I left acid bubbling away in the basement for a good few days until I noticed! Possibly not the best for the quality of air in the house!

Oh dear! Fails aside, what do you love about it?

I love the process of designing and making things. I’m not great at drawing or particularly artistic, but I like being able to plan something out and then turn it into a real object. It’s very therapeutic to get into the zone and watch the design slowly come into being – it isn’t something you can rush. It’s also fun to look at other jewellery and work out how I could make something that I love myself – I made a pair of earrings inspired by a character on a TV show I was watching and it’s really cool to know that I have the skills to be able to do that.

I love looking for unusual stones – including some I’ve recycled from old pieces of jewellery I didn’t wear anymore – and it’s a bit of a thrill to place orders for ‘silver bullion’ (yes really, there’s a website for that!)

Is there anything else that inspires your craft?

I have a hefty Pinterest board for inspiration, but I would say that the person I’m inspired by the most is Alexis Russell because she uses really unusual stones – including hexagon cuts – stacked layers and interesting nesting elements, plus her settings are amazingly clean. I love geometric designs with really clean lines and deceptively simple forms.

Any top tips for people wanting to try it for themselves?

Getting into silversmithing as a home hobby can be expensive, so I’d really recommend trying it out first. If you can find a day course (if you’re in Leeds, the Bowery in Headingly often have them) then you can see whether it’s for you or not. If you are enjoying it and want to properly take it up, my top tip is that you can often pick second hand bits up on eBay and some things are pretty easy to make yourself – I’ve made my bench and bench-pin out of MDF and scrap wood which was way cheaper than buying one.

Also, I follow @metalsmithsociety on Instagram which is a community of makers. They have the best tips as well as monthly challenges, and it’s lovely to be able to be part of the behind the scenes element of jewellery making and see how other people are solving challenges rather than just seeing the perfect finished product at the end – I learn loads more that way.

And to give people an idea of the kind of commitment it takes, how much time do you dedicate to silversmithing?

As much as I can! It’s taking a little bit of a backseat to other DIY bits at the moment as I’m also renovating a house, but I have a dedicated silversmithing workshop set up in my basement, so I can pop down and do little bits here and there.

If I’m making a specific piece, I’ll put in a lot of evenings and weekends – a simple ring might only take an hour or so to make, but something more complicated could take a full weekend, especially if I need to teach myself a new technique to do it.

What has your proudest moment been so far?

I’m really proud of this set of 3 bangles that I made. They might look simple, but they are a circle, a square & a hexagon, and a lot of maths and geometry went into making sure they were all the right size and worked together!

To get the angles right I had to file out a precise degree into the silver wire, then fold and solder the joins to make them strong. My teacher genuinely didn’t think I’d manage to make them and while they aren’t totally perfect, I’m really proud of them and wear them all the time.

I’m actually still proud of the first thing I ever made, in fact it’s probably my favourite piece! It’s a set of three very skinny stacking rings, each with a different texture on it. I’ve also made a bracelet for my friend’s birthday, which is a simple silver bangle with an interconnected set of ‘bubbles’ moving round it which I love and might need to make one for myself too!

Written by:

Sarah Wareham Insight & Strategy Director


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