A Study in Steampunk Jewelry Techniques

And now for something totally different.

Steampunk inspired jewelry-making is one of my favorite hobbies, one that I don't get to indulge in too often, unfortunately. Sometimes it seems impossible to just set aside an hour or so to devote entirely to a project, but recently I did one that I'm pretty proud of and wanted to share the process with you. I employ some general techniques that are useful for jewelry making in general, especially anything altered-art, distressed, Victorian, etc.

People tell me so often that I should start selling my pieces, but I tend to fall on the same old excuses: I'm not very business-savvy, I don't want to turn a creative outlet into work, my pieces, while durable enough for my use, may not be things I'm comfortable selling for profit.... blah, blah, blah. Though I admit sometimes all those excuses feel pretty lame and I would love to have my own wee business.

Anyway, for this piece I had some raw brass that I bought on Etsy, but I want to age them so they didn't look so shiny new. I'm for cheap and easy techniques and wanted to avoid any heavy duty chemical processes, so I found one that actually uses salt and vinegar potato chips.

You simply bury the pieces in crushed chips, soak them with vinegar, and let the chemical reaction between the salt, vinegar, and brass do its magic. I let these set overnight, and I was very impressed with the results. The longer you let it set, the more pronounced the patina.

The patina on these turned out gorgeous, with varying rusty and greenish blue shades with touches of pink. I did try this with a few gear pieces from Tim Holtz, and they weren't affected quite as much. I think that the process works best with raw metals, and these might have been treated/coated. They still darkened enough to use in my project.

After I cleaned up any chip residue (which I admit smells rather unpleasant) I sealed each piece thoroughly with acrylic sealant. A funny aside: I actually had to fish these pieces from the garbage when G decided while I was at work that the container was trash because it smelled 'like rotten onions." He doesn't throw anything away of his own volition so I was shocked he did this. I guess it did smell pretty bad.

But look how lovely these turned out!

The focal point of this piece is the locket, and I wanted to use a passage from Jane Eyre inside the little indentation. I love using words to express sentiments I may not be free to say outwardly, especially when I'm at work. A little sneaky, subtle rebellion on my part.

So I typed it up in the smallest font I could use without blurring the visibility, and printed it out on scrapbook paper. Then I carefully burned the edges to add to the aged effect, until it was a size that fit naturally inside the locket's well.

In case it's hard to see, the passage I use is:

I am no bird
and no net ensnares me
I am a free human being
with an independent will

The ultimate goal is to fill the locket's well with resin , but anytime you work with resin and paper you absolutely must seal the paper thoroughly with a sealant like Mod Podge first. Preferably several light coats that you allow to dry before adding the next one. And then add a little acrylic sealant for good measure. Because resin soaks through paper, and if you miss a spot that paper will turn dark and potentially ruin the whole aesthetic of the piece. I know this from experience. Seal, seal, seal.

So after the locket was properly sealed I prepared my resin. I've been using Envirotex Lite, which can be bought at craft stores like Michael's. This stuff is a little toxic, so use it near an open window and use a face mask if you're sensitive to fumes and rubber gloves as well. I've only used it in very small quantities for my jewelry so I've never been bothered, but better safe than sorry.

I keep wooden craft sticks handy for stirring, and you also need plastic cups that you won't mind throwing away after using. I didn't have any proper cups, so I found a couple of small medicine measuring cups, which are actually great because they have measurements indicated. You have to mix equal parts of both the resin and hardener so cups with measures are useful.

Basically what you do is combine equal amounts of resin and hardener in one cup, and stir vigorously with a paint stirrer or craft stick for one minute. Then you pour the mixture into the other cup and whip the mixture for another minute. Bubbles are not a problem and actually a sign the mixture is properly blended. Start pouring promptly because the mixture will become warm and start to set fairly rapidly.

I then poured a small amount of resin into the well of the locket and tried to keep it from overflowing but it didn't want to cooperate so I eventually just let it run over to where the whole face of the locket was sealed. Bubbles quickly rise to the surface.

You get rid of the bubbles by passing over the surface with a flame, taking care to not linger in one spot too long (it could damage the piece) or getting too close to the surface. If the resin has been properly mixed the bubbles will start bursting and the resin will appear more clear, allowing the image beneath to shine through.

Here is the piece after sealing:

A word of caution: give the piece a few days to cure, or harden, perhaps setting a box over it to prevent any dust contamination. I made the mistake of impatiently touching the surface of my locket while it was still tacky and the resin was too set to flow back to its original position. So now at certain angles when the light hits it you can see some slight rippling of the resin, which annoyed me immensely because otherwise this piece turned out wonderfully.

After it was totally cured I then went to design the rest of the piece. I wanted a little color in it but not too much, so I settled on some light rosy beads to pair with the large link chain and the aged gears. Not to sound snobbish, but nothing frustrates me more concerning Steampunk jewelry than seeing some lovely aged watchface with a huge glittery rhinestone or some gaudy, completely modern bauble stuck on top. While I like color, with Steampunk I feel it should be muted and not too shiny/sparkly.

The actual construction wasn't too difficult, I just used jewelry components that you can find at craft stores. The only real tools I used were round nose and chain nose pliers, which are good for opening/closing jump rings, cutting wire, and creating loops for head and eye pins.

Here is the finished piece:

Finally, you might be wondering what I put inside the locket. Well, I decided to turn it into a scent locket for solid perfumes. The scent I chose for it was Inked from Darling Clandestine (I will do a review eventually, I swear!). It is pretty useful to always have perfume at the ready!

I decided however that I will need to seal the inside of the locket with resin at some point as well, since the acrylic sealant didn't seem to be enough to keep the perfume oils from reacting with the brass.

As I've explained, the whole jewelry making process is just that, a process. It requires making mistakes and learning from experience over time, and being willing to change courses if necessity requires it mid-project. It simply requires a little bit of flexibility, improvisation, and just a touch of vision to see the possibilities.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I will try to help!

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  1. All I can say is wow. You're so talented! Way more effort than I'd ever go to. :)

  2. Thanks Olgie! I did this over the course of a week of so, so I only did little steps at a time. It probably seems more time consuming and difficult all shown at once. Once I get my mistakes and fumbling out of the way the process goes much faster and I learn new things with each piece I make! I just love making my own jewelry, it's more personal and meaningful that way.

  3. That is so clever! I have zero artistic talent - I just have to admire other peoples'. :-)

  4. I´ll have to try that salt, vinegar and potato chip soak for some of my brass items... I have tried before to rust keys and other stuff by soaking in water and then burning them, but that has not worked very well... I´ll have to search the blogosphere for some tips on that too... I have so much wonderful junk that could be turned into jewelry!

    1. I was amazed by how well this worked, I'd never really tried anything like it before. I got the idea from this book : Rustic Wrappings: Exploring Patina in Wire, Metal, and Glass Jewelry. It covers all the different ways to patina!


Please leave me comments if anything strikes your fancy or if you have any helpful suggestions. Remember, I'm no expert and am just sharing my truth. Hopefully you will find something useful to take with you!

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