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Designing with felt

Create forged silver and kinetic elements to accentuate felt components

Fibers have always been a part of my life. My mother is an award-winning art quilter and designed heirloom-style clothing throughout my childhood. She had a sewing room in every house we lived in, and bits of fabric, thread, and other fibers were always at my fingertips. It’s only natural that I now combine fibers with metal! 

Based on a series I made a few years ago, the pendants above combine handmade wool felt balls, forged rectangular sterling silver wire, and tiny kinetic wire components. You can use premade felt balls, but it’s fun — and surprisingly cathartic — to make your own! Rather than tell you how to re-create this exact pendant, I encourage you to play with the techniques I present, and develop your own kinetic hard and soft pendant.

 

SUPPLIES 

Designing with felt Felt balls
BUYING FELT BALLS

You can purchase premade felt balls from many craft, knitting, and bead stores, as well as from online sources. You’ll want to use fairly small balls for this pendant, so look for ones that are approximately 1/2 in. (13 mm) in diameter.

Want to make your own felt components? It’s easy! Learn to combine two simple felting techniques to create felt balls to use in this project. Check out the article Make Your Own Felt Components.
  • Sterling silver
    • Rectangular wire, dead soft, 4 x 1 mm, 2 in. (51 mm)
    • Round wire, 20- and 18-gauge (0.8 and 1.0 mm), amount determined by your design
    • Sheet, 24-gauge (0.5 mm), amount determined by your design
    • 2 jump rings, 20-gauge (0.8 mm), 1/8 in. (3 mm) inside diameter (ID)
    • Chain, length variable
    • Clasp
  • Felt ball
  • Fine-silver jump rings: 18-gauge (1.0 mm), 3/16 in. (5 mm) ID, 2
  • Ring or bezel mandrel (optional)
  • Clamp (optional)
  • Wood or plastic mandrel, wood forming block (optional)
  • Center finder

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Make a basic silver pendant component

Designing with felt P01
PHOTO 1
Designing with felt P02
PHOTO 2
Designing with felt P03
PHOTO 3
Designing with felt P04
PHOTO 4

Cut the silver strip. Use a jeweler’s saw frame and a #2 blade to cut a 2-in. (51 mm) piece of 4 x 1 mm sterling silver rectangular wire [PHOTO 1]. Use a flat needle file to round the ends of the wire and to remove any saw marks [PHOTO 2]. Sand the wire ends with 320-grit sandpaper.

If your sterling silver strip isn’t dead soft, anneal, pickle, and dry it before continuing.

Plan your design. Decide if you want your pendant to hang vertically or horizontally, and where you want to place the felt ball. Based on this, determine where you want to compress (“neck in” or swage) the strip and where you want to stretch it. Mark these areas with a fine-tip permanent marker. These don’t have to be precise measurements, so you can just eyeball it if you prefer!

Forge the edges of the silver strip.
To compress the strip from both narrow edges at once, you want to effectively pinch the strip from opposing sides. Secure a ring mandrel, bezel mandrel, cross-peen hammer, or a dapping punch in a vise. Hold one edge of the strip on the mandrel at the point where you want to compress the metal, and strike the opposite edge with a cross-peen hammer [PHOTO 3].

If you don’t have a vise, clamp a dapping punch shank to your workbench.

Continue to forge the narrow edges of the strip, flipping it over occasionally to make sure you’re compressing both edges evenly and creating a smooth transition from the pinched areas to the flat areas. Check the edges of the compressed areas often to make sure they haven’t folded over (cold-shut) onto the wide surfaces of the strip [PHOTO 4]. You can prevent this by forging slowly and tapping the edge back into position as you go.

If you don’t want to compress both sides of the strip, place one narrow edge of the strip on a steel bench block, and forge only one side. The flat surface of the bench block will support the strip along its entire length and prevent it from compressing only in select areas.

Stretch the silver strip.
Set one wide surface of the strip flat on the bench block. Use a cross-peen hammer to strike the noncompressed areas of the strip parallel to the length of the strip [PHOTO 5]. 

Stretch the strip as much or as little as you like. Compress the edges more as necessary until you achieve an elegant, balanced form.

Use your fingers to gently curve the strip [PHOTO 6]. If the metal is too hard to form with your fingers, form it on a wood or plastic mandrel with a mallet.

Designing with felt P05
PHOTO 5
Designing with felt P06
PHOTO 6
Designing with felt final
PHOTO 7
For more instructions on constructing a pendant form and attaching a felt ball [PHOTO 7], please download the PDF. See below for a variety of options on choosing the kinetic way that you connect the felt to the metal in your own design. 
Designing with Felt KineticElementsSB
FIND MORE: metal , forging , fiber , pendants

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