Sally Boehme has been making jewellery for nearly 30 years using many materials - glass beads, lead crystals, pearls, semi-precious stones, polymer clay, fabric and wire. Often, a unique piece be it a cabochon or bead, will set Sally off on an extraordinarily creative journey.
Sally has published work in Bead, Beadwork, Vogue and WI Life magazines over the years. One of her intricate beaded collars was featured in Vogue magazine, after she was contacted by them for an article, and Beadwork Magazine, which is an American publication, featured her waterfall necklace project. This project was a particular favourite for Sally. She had seen a necklace which had been based on a spiral pattern, and this was the basis of her inspiration. Beadwork is much like knitting and crochet in that it uses lots of stitches, so Sally decided to use a Spiral Herringbone stitch, which created the waterfall effect and was interwoven with leaves and flower shaped details. One string of the main spiral is shorter than the other, causing it to twist on itself into the tight spiral shape. The same principles as when a climbing vine winds its way up a cane because one side of the stem (in the sunlight) grows faster than the other.
Today however, at Ardington School of Crafts, Sally is working with her students to create a kaleidoscope of polymer clay jewellery.
What is Polymer clay?
It's a type of malleable hardening clay in a rainbow of colours and effects such as glitter and mica flakes. It can be moulded and cured (that means baked!) in a domestic oven at just 130 degrees centigrade, so it makes for the perfect home craft. The ‘Polymer’ part of the name refers to its chemical base in polyvinyl chloride, so it is a plastic, but despite the bad press some other plastics are currently getting, it’s interesting to note that Polymer clay models can now be found in many major museums in America.
Why do you like to work in it?
Sally says ‘it’s an addiction! It’s sucked me in and won’t let me go. It’s so versatile, and I have used it for miniatures and for jewellery but it can also be used like fabric or for making handbags’. A Google search reveals some fascinating bags sculpted from this material. Sally goes on ‘it can be moulded over wire armatures for sculpture – the possibilities are endless. Perhaps your only constraint is the size of your oven!’
Silver Clay Jewellery
I’ve been on this course myself three times so far and I still haven’t got it out of my system just yet! What is it with jewellery that’s so fascinating? Perhaps it’s something to do with how it makes you feel, as it is special and maybe we associate it with dressing up and celebrations. Jewellery is also a way of expressing ourselves - a chance to be individual. When you make it yourself, it's even more special and definitely something to be proud of.
How do you make silver clay jewellery?
Silver clay is a lovely new material which is fully mouldable, just like clay. You can shape it free-hand, or use moulds and tools to texture and shape it, and then fire it into fine silver (99.9% pure silver). Firing is by specialist kiln or there are alternative firing techniques you can do yourself at home, such as a domestic blow torch or on a gas hob. You do need to be careful with these methods though as they are less reliable than a kiln, and it can be more difficult to get to an accurate temperature .
You can learn the basic techniques in a good workshop, then go on to design and create jewellery in your own way. Silver clay responds and can be worked very much like Play-Doh, so if your design works there, it will look even better in fine silver. TIP: practice on Play-Doh first, not on your silver clay!
I made two pendants on my first workshop, and three rings on the next one. Give them a polish (by machine or by hand), add chains or fixings, jewels, pearls and a lovely box, and your indulgence is complete. The possibilities for designing individual pieces are endless, and I have since gone on to make lapel pins using moulds, as well as more pendants and rings.
Silver clay comes in a lovely paste too, so you can paint it onto leaves and other treasures from nature to preserve them perfectly in this precious metal. BBC recently featured silver clay on Countryfile, turning ferns and twigs into fine silver gorgeousness. I cast a leaf pendant on my third workshop and now wear it almost daily on a long chain. It feels wonderful, so very tactile and is often admired.
Our Tutor Melanie Blaikie
How did you start teaching Silver Clay Jewellery?
Melanie teaches silver clay at Ardington together with her sister Karen Blake. She says “I was always in the field of jewellery, working first as a diamond valuer at De Beers in Hatton Garden, and then moved onto design for Asprey and Tiffany. I wanted to learn silver-smithing but you needed so much kit. Then I discovered silver clay, and as there were no workshops around then, I learned as much as I could and then started to teach others. I found Play-Doh after the first few expensive experiments!”
What is your favourite piece so far?
“I love the piece on the front cover of my book (see top right photo below). I made it as a pendant for my Mum. The lily motif is so special I decided it had to be included in my book. I still love it and I know my Mum does too.”
What’s your advice to newcomers to silver clay jewellery making?
Try and find a class to learn the basics. Most of the techniques are quick and easy to learn but the little tricks and tips you’ll pick up in a class will save you money further on. After that, just give it a go and don’t compare yourself to others as this can affect your confidence and the joy you’ll feel from being creative. What you make will please you and give a great sense of satisfaction. A little practice is all it takes.”
It never too late to learn a new skill. If you would like to learn more then we recommend you book on one of our workshops - you can use the button below which takes you directly to our latest dates and workshops!