Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Givin' Me the Finger

Look what I made, knit bling! This is a knitting thimble, it's an aid for Fairilse knitters who use the continental style of holding the needle. One or more strands of color sit between the posts. The tensions is made by holding the body of yarn over the pinky finger.

Dan and I took Caroline's silver workshop this past Saturday and Sunday. Caroline Gleman is a jewelry designer (and Dan's wife) who specializes in wedding sets. She and her creative partner Michael Fitzgerald own and operate Studio174 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. What a rockin' class! We learned the basics of working with silver, then used those techniques to make jewelry. I never realized how maliable silver is — it can be pulled into wire, twisted, hammered, and bent. It's almost like working with hard clay. BTW, on Saturday Dan roasted two chickens and made risotto for the group. We sat up on the roof for lunch, it felt like a summer picnic in April. I own a few commercially made thimbles, but they're for people with tiny hands. Although they are about $3 a piece, they tend to break easily. I admit I was seduced by the umlaut. The difference? Mine's better. Booooya Grandma!

(l-r) Inox™ "Norwegian Thimble", Clover™ "Yarn Guide", Inox™ "Strickfingerhut für Jacquard Muster"

In this workshop we learned about materials and techniques. Silver (Ag) is usually alloyed with other metals such as copper and zinc for strength. "Sterling" describes a grade of high quality (92.5% silver by weight). Working with silver is a very physical process that requires patience, a good grip, and your undivided attention.

Silver can become brittle by simply overworking it. To recondition the metal, silver must be "annealed" with heat. It's first coated flux (borax and ammonium chloride) then heated with an acetylene torch until it acquires a dull rosey glow. It's cooled in water, and cured in a warm boric acid bath, then neutralized with a baking soda solution. This heating/cooling process is repeated as often as needed.

The day started with drawing a short slug of silver through gauge plates. I made medium and large wire by pulling the slug through progressively smaller slots until I got the gauge I wanted. Constant annealing is important when the metal becomes too difficult to pull through the plate. Afterwards the wire can be flattened using a mallet between steel blocks or pulled through a press for a more accurate thickness.

Sunday morning, Dan and I roamed Williamsburg looking for coffee, bagels, and whitefish. For lunch, Paul and Gabby made some nice sandwiches with provolone, roasted peppers, and hard salami. They also brought watermelon. It was a bit chilly that day but we took our lunch break on the roof again. Meanwhile back in class... the bridge of my knitting thimble is made from a wide square wire and bent into shape with rounded and square jewelry pliers. Caroline helped me with much of the shaping. The continual loop shape is known as "the dragon". It reminds me of Andy Goldsworthy's earthworks.

The knitting thimble was made in three peices which required silver welding — that is a whole other skill set to acquire. My first weld didn't take becase my metal wasn't hot enough. In my second attempt I used the wrong grade of silver soder so the weld snapped off. The third weld finally took but that was pure luck — the soder liquified and drew into the join. As you can see (above) the heating and cooling process creates a patina that must be cleaned with a file and sandpaper. I did a lot of sanding and filing to refine the shapes. Fine sanding is used before the final polish.

Buff polishing is one way to finish silver after fine sanding. Soft clay is used as a polishing agent. You can control the level of sheen you want to give your silver. That's Dan at the wheel finishing his Thunder Cats medalion. The metal took on a deep luster. For an extremely high polish we used the sonic drum, a machine uses vibration filled with stainless steel beads called "shot" and tap water. The silver is layered with shot and left in the sonic drum overnight. This is best used for fine wire work, chains, and delicate casting.

When we took the silver out to dry it seemed to glow. I couldn't imagine trying to buff these fine pieces at the wheel. We had a lot of talented people that day in the studio, some people returned to rent work space, for some this was their third workshop with Caroline. Jodie mentioned that she wanted to take the gold workshop. While waiting for a welding station to free up, I ate the last poppy seed bagel. I got a chance to look at Caroline and Michael's work in the glass show cases. I now had a greater appreciation of their craftsmanship. I'm defintiely coming back for more... and possibly bialies with lox spread.

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