Way back in my days of maternity leave, I decided that I wanted to do at least one craft workshop. I have a major guilt complex and feel terrible anytime I spend money on myself. But at the same time, I recognized that being able to a) spend money on myself and b) spend an entire day without a baby would be even more difficult once the baby arrived. So that was my decision made, and I spent a few weeks trawling the internet, looking for workshops and events within a reasonable distance and that I could afford. I’d hoped to do a silver enamelling workshop, but unfortunately I couldn’t find one. I did, however, come across (I can’t remember where) a silver workshop just down the road from my in-laws, run by Helen London. I signed up for it because it was so easy to get to, reasonably priced, and, as a bonus, I loved the examples of Helen’s work that she shared on her website. I felt like she would understand my interest in small details. Plus, her website said this was her first class after maternity leave, so I knew she’d be aware of any potential health & safety risks, and was likely to not resent having a heavily pregnant woman there!
I arrived with no real expectations, but was greeted in a room outside the workshop by two other students, plus Helen’s mum, son, and 2 dogs! No doubt the latter aren’t at every class, but I thought it was wonderful that they’d come along to support her for her first post-maternity leave class. It also gave a sense of Helen’s friendly & supportive personality, which carried through into her teaching.
We started the day by learning basic techniques – piercing (cutting the silver), soldering, different ways of applying textures, etc. – and learning how to tell when the silver was at the right temperature to be worked with. Helen demonstrated the techniques before letting us have a go and helping us at our stations when needed. This was the most frustrating part of the day for me. While it was supposed to be done slowly and patiently, the other students were faster learners than me, so I got a little frustrated, especially when piercing in this case. Getting a tiny, tiny saw to do what you want is hard! There may or may not have been tears…don’t judge me, I was hormonal! But my frustration wasn’t a reflection of Helen’s teaching; she was patient and encouraging throughout. Getting to use the equipment was quite fun; there was a steel roller for patterning, a block set up to pull and shape silver wire, and of course mini blow torches for melting the silver and making it malleable. One of the coolest things was making silver balls – watching a tiny piece of metal melt and pop into a perfect sphere is magic! You can see why they ended up in my final piece of jewelry.
We had a lunch break (we brought our own), then spent the afternoon working on our own projects. I would suggest planning ahead a little more than I did, and having a rough idea of what you might like to make if you do a similar workshop. I’d brought some inspiration in the form of my favorite jewelry, and Helen had several magazines and examples of other students’ work on hand as well, but choosing what to make and refining the design took quite a while. In the end I made a bracelet inspired by my wedding earrings; I wanted something swirly, fluid, and detailed. And there was my downfall! I was a little overambitious for the time we had. I used several of the techniques I learned in the morning to create individual bracelet links by bending sterling silver wire with pliers, making silver pearls, and soldering them into the curves of the links. We had about 4 hours in the afternoon to work on our own projects, and all my work took…probably about 6! Oops. In the end, I made the individual links and Helen soldered the jump rings on and helped me attach the links to each other, as it would just have taken far too long for me to do it on my own.
The most magical part of the day was seeing everything after it had been tumbled (I’m sure that’s not the technical term, but that’s what it seemed like!) Before that, the silver looks quite tarnished from solder, changes in temperature, etc. All the polishing came from this final tumble, and you can see what a huge difference it makes!
If I could go back, the only thing I’d change would be choosing a simpler design. That said, I do absolutely love my bracelet and have already shown it off several times!
Have you taken any similar workshops? How were they?