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Entry-level repoussé cuff

Use household items to make a low-relief image emerge from metal clay paper or fine-gauge metal sheet
Entrylevel repousse cuff
This 6 x 2-in. (15.2 x 5.1 cm) fine-silver cuff features a metal clay paper repoussé image of a bishop’s cap cactus.

Repoussé is an ancient metalworking process that traditionally requires an artisan to use punches, mallets, and hammers. Using these tools, the artist works on the back of a piece of metal, pressing it to create a raised image on the front of the metal. A bowl filled with a gooey substance called “pitch” holds the metal in place during all the hammering. The counter technique to repoussé is “chasing,” in which you work the metal from the front, pressing and indenting it to create a pattern or image. 

My version of repoussé and chasing substitutes a terry cloth towel for the bowl of pitch. I use various sizes of ball styluses and wooden clay-shaping tools instead of punches, hammers, and mallets. This technique works equally well on fired silver metal clay paper or on thin-gauge fine-silver or copper metal sheet.

SUPPLIES

  • Metal piece (choose from):
    • Metal clay paper: 2-in. (51 mm) square 
    • Fine-silver sheet: 24-gauge (0.5 mm), 2-in. (51 mm) square
    • Fine-silver sheet: 16-gauge (1.3 mm), 6 x 2 in. (15.2 x 5.1 cm) (cuff)
  • Metal clay slip
  • Metal clay paste
  • Metal clay syringe
  • Metal clay toolbox
  • Jeweler’s saw, blades
  • Annealing station (optional): torch, fire-resistant surface (soldering pad, firebrick, or charcoal block), copper tongs
  • Carbon or transfer paper
  • Terry cloth
  • Ball styluses: various tips
  • Wooden clay-shaping tools
  • Binder clips
  • Bracelet mandrel
  • Liver of sulfur 

INSTRUCTIONS

Preparing the metal

Choose either metal clay paper sheet or fine-gauge metal sheet to make this project, and follow the appropriate instructions, below, to prepare your metal.

Prepare metal clay paper sheet. Fire a 2-in. (51 mm) square of metal clay paper sheet in a kiln according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

NOTE: Do not burnish or tumble the fired sheet; this work-hardens the metal, making it likely to crack as you raise it with the shaping tools.

Prepare fine-gauge metal sheet. Use a jeweler’s saw and a 4/0 blade to cut a 2-in. (51 mm) square of 24-gauge (0.5 mm) copper or fine-silver metal sheet. If you choose copper sheet, be sure to anneal it periodically as you work. 

Preparing the image

Images that have spare, clean lines work best for this project. Make a simple line drawing approximately 1 5⁄8 in. (41 mm) square. The image must fit within the dimensions of your metal piece, leaving about a 1⁄8-in. (3 mm) border.

As an alternative to drawing an image, you can modify a photograph, using photo-editing software. Uncluttered patterns like a simple Celtic knot, an Art Deco design, or the charming lines of a young child’s drawing are good candidates for this technique.

Carbon paper transfer

Prepare the transfer paper. Cut a piece of carbon or transfer paper slightly larger than your metal piece. Put the carbon paper carbon-side up on your work surface. Center the metal piece on the carbon paper. Use tape to secure one edge of the metal piece to the carbon paper.

Entrylevel repousse cuff 1
Photo 1
Turn the assembly over. Position your paper image on the carbon paper. Make sure the image is centered within the metal piece. Fold one edge of the paper image behind the carbon paper [PHOTO 1]. 
Entrylevel repousse cuff 2
Photo 2
Turn the assembly over and tape the folded paper edge to the carbon paper [PHOTO 2], creating a “tape hinge.” Flip the assembly over so that the paper image is face up.
Entrylevel repousse cuff 3
Photo 3
Trace the image. Applying heavy, even pressure, use a pencil to trace the lines of your image [PHOTO 3].
Entrylevel repousse cuff 4
Photo 4

Lift the image and carbon paper to check if you’ve transferred your entire design to the metal piece [PHOTO 4]. If necessary, return the paper layers and continue tracing until you’ve transferred the entire design.

NOTE: The tape hinge will keep the image aligned when you lift and return the layers.

Remove the paper layers. Carefully peel the taped paper layers from the metal piece. The side of the metal piece with the image is the back.

Repoussé and chasing

Place a piece of folded terry cloth on your work surface. Set the metal piece image-side up on the cloth. 

Trace the lines of the image. Using a small-tip ball stylus and moderate, steady pressure, carefully and slowly trace the lines of your image. 

NOTE: Don’t rush any of the steps that involve pressing or moving the metal. If you don’t work the metal gradually, it can crack. It’s preferable to make several light passes over a line than to do one heavy tracing. The tools you use must be smooth, or they will scratch the metal.

Entrylevel repousse cuff 5
Photo 5
Continue defining the lines. Use a ball stylus that has a slightly larger tip to retrace the lines. Continue working this way, switching to progressively larger-tip ball styluses [PHOTO 5].
Entrylevel repousse cuff 6
Photo 6

Add depth to the interior portions of the design. Using a smooth, wooden clay-shaping tool, gently and slowly press the areas within the defined outline [PHOTO 6].

These concave areas on the back of the metal piece create the convex, raised areas on the front. As you did with the styluses, work the metal slowly to prevent the metal from cracking. 

Continue working the metal, occasionally turning it over to check that you’re raising the metal uniformly and that the image is clearly defined. 

Chase the front of the metal piece. Turn the piece over so that the raised face is up. Use a burnisher or wooden clay-shaping tool to smooth and flatten the border around the raised image. Work from the edge of the raised image outward to the edge of the sheet. 

Entrylevel repousse cuff 7
Photo 7
Then use a wooden tool or ball stylus to gently trace and define the outline of your image [PHOTO 7]. Take care not to press so hard that you deform the convex areas of your image.

Refine the image. Alternately working on the back and front of the metal piece, use your styluses and wooden tools to refine the image. 

NOTE: If you used metal clay paper sheet or thin-gauge fine-silver metal sheet and you detect cracks in it, fill the cracks with metal clay slip. Allow the slip to dry completely (see the “Metal Clay Dryness” chart). Use extra-fine sandpaper to smooth the surface of the repair. Fire the piece according to the clay manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the piece to cool completely. Do not burnish or tumble-polish the piece.
Entrylevel repousse cuff 8
Photo 8

 

Cuff blank and assembly 

I chose fine-silver metal sheet for my cuff. This allowed me to use syringe clay to attach my repoussé panel to the metal sheet and then fire the assembly in the kiln. For other options, see “What Else Can I Do With My Repoussé Panel?” below.

Cut a metal strip. Use a jeweler’s saw and a 1/0 blade to cut a 6 x 2-in. (15.2 x 5.1 cm) strip of 16-gauge (1.3 mm) fine-silver sheet. I tapered my strip to make the cuff more comfortable to wear [PHOTO 8].

File and sand the strip’s edges. Use a flat hand file to smooth the strip’s edges. Refine the edges and surfaces with progressively finer grits of sandpaper. 

Clean the strip and the repoussé panel. Use a soft brush and soapy water to remove oils from the strip and the repoussé panel. Then rinse the components with water and allow them to dry completely. 

Draw guidelines on the strip. Handling the components by their edges only, position the repoussé panel in the center of the strip. Use a pencil to trace around the panel. Remove the panel.

Entrylevel repousse cuff 9
Photo 9
Apply metal clay paste to the components. Using a paintbrush, apply a coat of metal clay paste to the flat areas on the back of the repoussé panel [PHOTO 9].
Entrylevel repousse cuff 10
Photo 10

Apply a coat of metal clay paste inside the square you marked on the metal strip [PHOTO 10].

Entrylevel repousse cuff 11
Photo 11

Join the components. Position the panel paste-side down within the paste-coated area on the metal strip. Use binder clips to apply pressure and hold the components in place until the paste dries completely [PHOTO 11]. Remove the binder clips.

Entrylevel repousse cuff 12
Photo 12
Apply a syringe-clay border. Extrudea line of syringe clay that straddles the edge of the repoussé panel and the metal strip [PHOTO 12]. Allow the syringe clay to dry completely.
Entrylevel repousse cuff 13
Photo 13
Fire the assembly. Lay the assembly repoussé-side up on a kiln shelf. Place the kiln shelf in your kiln, and fire the assembly according to the clay manu-facturer’s instructions. (I fired mine at 1650°F/899°C for 2 hours.) Allow the assembly to cool completely.

Shape the strip into a cuff. Position the strip on a bracelet mandrel or tin can, and use your fingers to bend the strip around the mandrel [PHOTO 13].

NOTE: Repoussé panels that have been raised to a high relief may be stretched or distorted when you shape the cuff. 

Examine the cuff. Check the cuff for any gaps between the repoussé panel and the cuff. Fill any gaps with syringe clay, and fire the cuff according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Allow the cuff to cool completely.
Entrylevel repousse cuff 14
Photo 14

SAFETY NOTE: The sealed repoussé panel is now a hollow form attached to your cuff. If you reheat the cuff, the hollow form’s joins could blow out. Prior to any additional reheating of the cuff, drill a vent hole at the back of the cuff behind the repoussé panel to accommodate escaping air. 

Tumble-polish the cuff. Put the cuff in a tumbler with stainless steel shot and burnishing compound. Tumble for 2 hours to work-harden the fine silver and give the cuff a shiny finish. Rinse the cuff in water and allow it to dry.

Patinate the cuff. Apply a liver of sulfur patina to the repoussé panel [PHOTO 14].

 

repousse sample bead
Marian Ward‘s repoussé technique lends depth to a 1 1⁄4 x 3⁄4-in. (32 x 19 mm) bead.
repousse sample cuff
Marian Ward shows a variation on how to use a stylized motif to dress up a fine-silver metal sheet and metal clay repoussé bracelet. 6 x 1 1⁄2 in. (15.2 x 3.8 cm).
What else can I do with my repoussé panel?

Because the repoussé panel is very thin, you need to attach it to a sturdy backing to make it a functional piece of jewelry. Here are some of the backing materials you could use: 

  • Fired metal clay paper sheet (join using metal clay syringe, then fire according to the manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Traditional metal sheet: sterling silver, copper, brass (join with solder, rivets, or tabs)
  • Fired metal clay panels: bronze clay, copper clay (join with rivets or tabs)

SAFETY NOTE: Repoussé panels that are attached to their backing with metal clay paste or silver solder become hollow forms. If you reheat a hollow form (for example, maybe you want to add metal components), the form’s seams are prone to blowing out. Prior to reheating a sealed hollow form, drill a vent hole in the back of your assembly behind the repoussé panel to accommodate escaping air.

FIND MORE: bracelets , metal clay , metal

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