On Saturday 16th March I had the joy of attending a Silver Bangle Workshop with my grandma (who I call Ga, always forgetting that this makes little sense to anyone who doesn’t know us). I hadn’t meant to go, it was a Christmas present for Ga that her and my mum were supposed to do together. But mum doubled booked herself with the ballet (obviously) and I had to come home to Stroud from London for a hospital appointment that week anyway, and it was very much like the stars aligned. So Ga (who’s first words to me were “I’m your best friend”, words which have very much stayed true my whole life) and I went to Victoria Works Studios in Chalfold, to be taught by the excellent and talented Zoe Watts. Zoe’s classes are small, just 4 students, giving the day an intimate and friendly feel. Her specialism in metal is chasing and repoussé, so her workshop powerfully reminded me of Bryony Knox, our wonderful silversmith on The Victorian House Of Arts And Crafts, who’s also an expert on the technique. During filming Bryony and I had spent an evening cleaning her tools, and I loved feeling the weight of such similar tools in my hands again.
On to the making, Zoe had given us little pieces of copper to practice on, all the various stamps and punches and hammers, all producing different textures and effects. We had to get used to the force needed to produce a clear and even stamp, and how to line up our lettering stamps.
Then we got our silver strip, and it was time for the real thing! First we texturised it with a hammer, which made it mottled with small divots, making the silver catch and shine, and then we had to heat the strip for the first time. Basically when you repeatedly bash silver around, all its molecules get squashed together, making it tough and hard to work. Heating relaxes the molecules, making it more malleable again. After it’s heated it goes in the “pickle”, which is a mild acid that gets rid of any oxidisation. Once pickled for a few minutes, which turns the silver a pearly white, it’s scrubbed off with pumice grit. Then it’s time to stamp in our chosen designs. I was thinking about “feminist”, but instead decided on “grow”, as a constant reminder to myself. I added flower and leaf motifs, and my initials on my inside of the would-be band (it was still in a strip at this point). After all that bashing we had to repeat the heating-pickling-scrubbing process, before sawing off any excess strip so it would perfectly fit our wrists. Then it was filing the edges so they were perfectly flat and straight, that when you made it into a band there would be no gaps. Next came the soldering, which was quite frankly terrifying. We hammered the band into a circle, making sure our edges matched perfectly. A small amount of flux was painted on, and then the tiniest snippet of solder. The flux keeps the solder contained, stops it from going anywhere but down the join, and helps heat that particular area more than the rest of the band. Once the soldering was done it was into the pickle again, more scrubbing and then more filing, this time to disguise the join mark. That took a long time. The next part took even longer, although it did mean that we were nearly finished! It was time for the polishing. We used different polishing papers, the grade getting increasingly finer, our bangles getting more and more shiny. And finally, we were done!
The whole experience was brilliant, the day was made easy and relaxing by Zoe, and the 3 other excellent women taking part. The best bit was the making though - it’s so exciting to see something coming to life before you, even more exciting to know that we’ve created things that are completely one of a kind in the whole world! Even if we recreated them they wouldn’t be the same, and through wear we’re going to get to know our bangles so well, the punches that we hammered a little too enthusiastically, the wonkiness of the lettering, the slight discrepancies that show actual hands made it, our hands. How amazing is that? I’ve said it over and over, making is magic.
Victoria Works Studios - http://www.victoriaworksstudios.co.uk
Zoe Watts - http://www.zoewattsdesigns.co.uk