Tatting Shuttle III

After making a number of bronze tatting shuttles, I was asked to make a silver one. Well, why not? At the outset, I made two design decisions: (1) Instead of texturing the shuttle, I would leave it plain. That means it can be as shiny as possible, while still looking finished. (2) Since I didn’t want it to be too plain, I decided to ornament it with a bit of gold.

Since I last posted about making tatting shuttles, I have made a discovery. Earlier, I dried the exterior of the shuttle on a dome light. That works, but it winds up having a bit more curvature than necessary. An idea for an improvement hit me: but a commercial tatting shuttle that comes in a plastic case and use that case for drying. It already has the desired curvature. The result is pictured below:


When these dry, one can sand them to even them up and use paste to fix any gaps in the shape. The next step is to create the interior of the shuttle. I have tried both making one post and drilling a hole through it, and making two smaller posts side-by-side. According to the tatters I have worked with, the latter design is preferable. Thus, I had this:


After it dried, I sanded out the unevenness, added a bit of clay to make the posts the same height, and added the top, attaching it with paste. After it dried, I did a bit of last-minute sanding. Then it was ready to fire. You don’t want the ends of the shuttle to fuse. I slipped a piece of paper between the top and bottom. This paper will burn out during firing.


After firing (but before brushing or tumbling(, I was ready to add gold. I decided against Keum Boo, because getting something this heavy up to temperature would take a while. Instead, I used accent gold ( https://www.metalclaysupply.com/Accent-Gold-for-Silver-p/50442.htm). I decided to not make it too complicated, so I simply painted (prior to brushing, so the gold has something to cling to) a gold oval in the center of each side. The picture below shows the shuttle sitting on a cup warmer to encourage the drying of the gold paint. I then sanded away the few drops of gold paint that were not where I wanted them.


I refired according to package directions. Then I brushed the silver, burnished the gold with an agate burnisher, and tumbled the piece.

At that stage, it was technically ready. I say ‘technically’ because the two leaves must be close enough together so a thread will not easily slip through, but far enough to that the thread can be pulled through without stressing the thread too much. My leaves were too close together. I solved this by a metalsmithing approach — using a jewelry saw, I sawed down between the two leaves, widening the gap by a about a quarter millimeter. That did the trick.

The completed shuttle appears below, with a coin for scale:


While metal clay is wonderful for jewelry, it also can be used for a variety of other purposes. I hope I have inspired you to consider non-jewelry applications of metal clay.



Naalbinding (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%A5lebinding ) is a fiber arts technique that dates back at least 8000 years. It is done with a single needle, of a particular design. At first glance, the fabric produced by naalbinding resembles crochet. However, the fabric is much more supple than crocheted fabric. Naalbinding was generally replaced by knitting, because knitting is faster. However, naalbinding survived in Scandinavia and the Baltic states, possibly because naalbinding produces a fabric that has fewer openings than knitted fabric, and is therefore more protective against the wind. Naalbinding is undergoing a bit of a renaissance — while it is still uncommon, more and more people are learning to do it. As in ancient times, most modern practitioners of naalbinding use a needle made of bone, horn, or wood. However, other materials are possible. When a modern practitioner asked me if I could make a bronze needle, it seemed like an interesting challenge.

After studying some naalbinding needles, I decided to make two — a blunt needle for coarse yarn and a sharp one for finer yarn. I decided to use Five Star bronze for the dull needle and Five Star light bronze for the sharp, so the needles would have a different appearance. I’m going to illustrate with the dull needle. The sharp one is basically the same, except that it is thinner and the tip is made sharper.

The first step is to roll out the clay to the desired thickness. I chose 4mm for the dull needle and 2 mm for the sharp. While the clay is wet, cut out a rectangle of the length you want the needle to be. Using a template, cut an oval eye in the needle. Using clay shaping tools, roughly shape the end.


After the clay dries, begin finishing the greenware. For naalbinding, it is essential that the needle be smooth (although it does not have to be straight). This means that the greenware needs to be sanded. I used multiple grits of sandpaper, starting from a coarse grit and working toward a finer one. In each subsequent sanding, I changed the direction of the sanding — first the length of the needle, and then the width. It is very easy to break the greenware while sanding. This can be avoided by holding the needle on either side of the section where one sands. If it does break, it is easily repaired. I’m not certain if it is necessary, but my final step was to burnish the greenware with a metal burnishing tool.

The inside of the eye must also be perfectly smooth. I achieved this by sanding with a watch maker’s file. In the absence of such a file, a piece of sandpaper, folded into a file, will work. After sanding, the piece (Five Star bronze requires two firings, the piece below is ready for that stage) looked like this:


The piece was fired according to package directions, and then tumbled. To prevent the bronze from turning green, it was sprayed with a lacquer. The finished needles, blunt and sharp, are pictured below. The coins are for scale.



Did bronze naalbinding needles exist historically? I don’t know. If they did, they would probably have been family heirlooms, or something that would have been buried with the owner. However, bronze needles certainly work. It adds to the thrill of naalbinding to work with a needle that you have made, whether that needle is bone, horn, or bronze.


The Shaman of Trois Freres


Staring at us from the mists of time, the Shaman of Trois Freres demonstrates for us the artistry of our Neolithic ancestors (Trois Freres is a cave in France with many wonderful examples of Neolithic art). While Native American art has widely been used as an inspiration for metal clay, Neolithic art is rarely touched. Here is my first attempt to remedy that, the Shaman done in bronze clay.

I chose One-Fire Bronz clay because it rarely fails to sinter. I chose bronze because, to do the shaman justice, I would need to make a large piece, and bronze clay is relatively inexpensive.


To start, I rolled the clay to a thickness of 0.75 mm, and cut out a rough outline of the shaman. I left out the antlers. They would be easy to break while working in greenware, and could be added earlier. I studied the image of the original shaman.


I added the shoulders, 0.75 mm thick. I added the face, carving out the eyes. The original image has no details in the eyes, so I kept that feature. I suspect that the original shaman, on whom this is modeled, wore a mask to deep that the eyes could not be seen. I shortened the antlers from the original — I want this to be worn, and I do not want the antlers to poke the wearer!


There are many details in the image. I cut them out of bronze clay and added them, one at a time. When all the details were added, I sanded the cleaned the figure. Then I attached the shaman to a disk, textured with a texture sheet that resembled carved stone. I attached a hidden bail, did some last-minute clean-up, and fired.


The image above is the fired and tumbled shaman. I considered leaving it in this form. Then I considered how the original would have been seen. The cave would have been lit only by firelight. The fire would have been smoky. No, the Shaman of Trois Freres should not be shiny — he should be dark and mysterious.

I considered using Black Max. However, I wanted a more archaic appearance. My final decision was to go over the shaman with a torch until the figure developed a black coating of oxidation. I then polished it, so it was not a uniform black.


This is my concept of how the Shaman of Trois Freres should look! Clearly, Neolithic art can inspire us, as metal clay artists. This is only my first step into the world of Neolithic art.




Tatting Shuttle II


After much trial and error, I believe I have perfected making tatting shuttles with bronze clay. I am going to lay out for you what I have learned.

Start by making a template for cutting the shuttle leaves (the part you see in the photo above, plus the other one just like it on the other side) from stiff cardboard. You can trace an existing shuttle or you can draw your own. If you freehand, it doesn’t matter if you aren’t perfectly symmetric — you can fix that while finishing your greenware. Leaves can be 0.75-1.0 mm thick. It is best to use a texture, because a smooth metal shuttle is hard for the tatter to use.

Dry the cut out leaves on something curved. If you have a pre-existing plastic shuttle (or a metal one, that you can cover with plastic wrap), great. If not, you can use a dome light, which is what I did.

Instead of making a single central post, make two small central posts. Attach them with bronze slip, not quite touching, but close, symmetrically located about the center of one leaf. Make them a bit taller than you need (more about this in a moment). Use plenty of slip to make sure they hold. If necessary, sand to make the part of the leaf to which the posts attach smooth. Let this dry thoroughly.

To attach the other leaf, place the leaf (no slip yet) where it will go on the posts. Keep in mind that the tips of the shuttle need to touch. This will, almost certainly, not be the case. Start sanding the posts down. Sanding might not be symmetric — one post might need more than the other. After you have sanded a bit, replace the top leaf. Repeat this process until the tips of the leaves just touch, and the shuttle, looked at from the side, appears symmetric. Then attach the top leaf with slip. Use lots, because it is important that the leaf and posts fuse. Let this dry.

From the side, read into the greenware shuttle with a file. Remove any roughness left over from attaching the top leaf. Look at the greenware shuttle from above. Are there any assymetries (almost certainly, one leaf is a bit bigger than the other)? Sand the larger leaf down until it matches. Now turn the greenware shuttle over, and repeat the process. You might need to iterate, until you have achieved symmetry.

Now for the acid test. Place the greenware shuttle on its side. Let it rock back and forth. Then place it on its other side, and rock it in the same manner. If both rockings look the same, you are close enough to symmetry.

Now it is time to fire the piece. To keep the leaves from fusing where they touch, slip a small piece a paper between them. Since you will fire in activated charcoal, the paper will not burn. It might or might not char but, in either case, it is easily removed once it is fired. Fire the shuttle on its side. If you fire it with the leaves lying flat, charcoal might or might not surround the posts. Fire a bit longer than package directions say; since this is a tool, not jewelry, you want it to be tough.

Once firing is done, tumble and patina as you wish. Patina lightly, because the shuttle will be handled a lot, and you don’t want the patina to wear off. If you patina, be sure to apply a protective coating so the patina will not come off on the user’s hands. Also, be sure to apply the protective coating to the inside — you don’t want the bronze tarnishing and transferring color to the thread used in the tatting shuttle.

I have not yet tried silver. I believe it would work in a similar manner. I believe that sterling silver would be almost the same. I am not sure if fine silver is or is not hard enough to use. However, a small silver tatting shuttle made into a pendant would be a nice bit of jewelry for a tatter to wear.

Tatting Shuttle


Tatting is a form of Victorian (although it is still practiced today) lace making. Tatting requires the use of a shuttle. In Victorian times, shuttles were made of German Silver (silver coated base metal), wood, or horn. Today, they are usually plastic. A client asked if I could make a bronze tatting shuttle. My answer was, “I don’t know, but I will try.” As the picture above, which shows the completed shuttle and a small amount of tatting shows, I was able to do so. Here, I am talking about how the shuttle was made.

Tatting shuttles consist of two curved forms (usually identical, although one end of one form can have a hook on it). I decided to omit the hook for my first try. I used heavy cardboard to cut out a template. I rolled out One-Fire Bronz clay to a thickness of 1 mm, then textured it on a commercial texture sheet at a thickness of 0.75 mm. I cut out the shapes, using the template I had made, and placed them on domed closet lights to dry, so they would have a reasonable amount of curvature.


Between the two leaves that make up the shuttle, tatting shuttles have a place for wrapping thread. This is often oval in shape. It is important that the two ends of the shuttle touch, so that thread can be slipped through it, but so that the thread will not go through without being pulled. To reduce weight, I made the central post hollow. Making the post of the correct shape, so the two leaves would just touch and so there was nothing on which the thread that will be wound around the post will catch on, was a matter of trial and error. The bottom leaf, with the post but without the top leaf, is pictured below.


When this had dried, I carefully attached the top leaf. I drilled a hole through the post, so that thread can be slipped through it (some tatting shuttles have this hole and some don’t). However, the piece was not yet ready to fire.


While the tips must touch for the shuttle to be used. However, I was concerned that they might fuse during firing. The solution? Place a small piece of paper at the tips of each leaf, preventing them from touching each other.


The piece was ready to fire. I fired it according to package directions, tumbled it, and lightly patinaed it (I used a light patina because I did not want it to come off on the user’s hands). I sprayed it with a protective coating, and the shuttle was done.



While this shuttle is usable, it was not ideal. For one thing, I made the post so large that not much thread could go on the shuttle. I am currently working on tatting shuttle Mark II. I will report on that when it is done.

In the meantime, keep on working in metal clay! And, if you tat, consider making yourself a shuttle 😉




Using Metal Clay for Cartoon Images

I have done a number of posts about using metal clay to make jewelry that resembled Alaskan Native art. This is done by making a basic shape, and then adding the ‘bits and pieces’ until it resembles Alaskan art. Then, one uses a damp sponge to smooth out the edges so the piece looks ‘organic’ instead of having sharp edges.

I was recently asked by a knitter if I could use the same methods to make a cartoon sheep for her from silver. Starting off from a cartoon sheep face, I used the same methods — cut out the overall shape; add the shape without ears (so the ears would recede in the background); add the shape of the face without the ears or topknot (so the face would come forward). I made the eyes by making depressions in the face and then, when the face had dried, adding small sphere of clay for eyes. I made the nostrils by making depressions with a clay sculpting tool, and then refining them after the clay dried. It resembled a sheep, but still did not look right. Then I realized the problem: to look like wool, the topknot needed some curls. I used syringe to add that. Having started on this, I used additional syringe to define the ears and muzzle. That was the look I wanted.

I fired, brushed, tumbled, and patinaed the piece as usual. I used a very light patina and polished the face, to give the impression of a light face and dark muzzle and ears. A photo of the resulting piece, with a coin for scale, appears below.


I think the technique is more successful with Alaskan art, which is highly stylized. However, the client was happy with the sheep. If the client likes it, it is good enough 😉


How do you show a customer what a piece will look like?

Today’s post is a bit unusual, as it does not directly involve metal clay or jewelry. However, there is a very real indirect link.

A customer commissions you to make a piece. You plan what it is going to look like. But do your plans truly match the customer’s expectations? The only way to know that is if you can provide a drawing of what the piece will look like when it is finished. To do this, you have to learn to draw. In particular, you have to learn to draw metal, with its highlights and reflections.

I have been working on learning to draw. I have chosen colored pencil as my medium, because colored pencil is a dry medium (I have several cats, and cats and wet paintings do not necessarily mix well). While I am still learning, I decided to post two of my practice pieces.

The first is an exercise in depicting metal (a tea pot, not jewelry). I drew on dark blue paper, using the following colors of Prismacolor pencils: white, black, French gray 70%, French gray 90%, and cream. My drawing wound up as follows:


Following this, I chose to go for full technicolor, and not restrict myself to metal. I copied a photograph of a rooster (you might notice the makers mark for my jewelry studio in the lower left hand corner):


Learning to draw, with whatever medium you choose (graphite, colored pencil, charcoal, or painting) seems far removed from jewelry making. But learning will help you make jewelry. And it will help you sell jewelry. It sounds like a digression, but, if you learn to draw, you will be repaid for your efforts.