Sunday, 4 January 2015

All That Glitters / Fairytale

Way back when the 2014 Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges were announced, I immediately decided what I wanted to do for Fairytale. Unfortunately by the time that challenge came round, things were not very fairytale-ish in my life, so it didn’t get done. It had been one which I was really looking forward to, so as my intended entry involves glitter, I decided to sneak it into the All That Glitters challenge.

Like my Politics of Fashion dress, this was inspired by a long-ago exhibition in the Edinburgh Festival. This one was about Phoebe Anna Traquair.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852 - 1936) was born in Ireland and moved to Scotland when she married. She had studied art in Dublin, and started working in Scotland in the 1880s. Her work ranged from mural painting and large-scale embroideries to illuminated manuscripts.

Catholic Apostolic Church murals, Edinburgh. Photograph by Stephencdickson (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Around the turn of the century she took up enamelling.

The Love Cup, 1907, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

She created small, vividly-coloured plaques in metal frames, which were made up into jewellery or included in other pieces such as this silver and paua shell bowl.

Paua shell bowl, 1905-1906, National Museums Scotland

As well as pendants, examples of her work which I've found online include some necklaces with multiple enamel plaques, such as this lovely piece with its mermaid, ships and sea creatures.

Necklace, 1905, © Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Necklaces with multiple pieces and multiple chains seem to have been quite common around the turn of the century; you can see some more examples here.

Taking Phoebe Anna Traquair's enamelled jewellery as inspiration, I decided to make a necklace based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses; specifically on the items which the soldier brings back from the enchanted underground realm. (If you're a bit hazy about the details, click here for the story.) The idea was to have the branches with the leaves of silver, gold, and diamonds framing the golden goblet, which would be set in a sea of blue for the lake in which the magical castle sits.

Design sketch for the necklace

I used Fimo modelling clay to make main part of the necklace. Unlike silver clay, it is hardened by baking in the oven, so no naked flames are involved! The blue base was made from a sparkly clay; the nearest I could get to an enamelled effect. The rest was made from white clay, which was then painted with gold or silver metallic powder before hardening. Once baked, the painted pieces are varnished to stop the powder from rubbing off.

The leaves at the points had oval jump rings impressed into them and then removed before baking. The rings were then glued into place once the leaves were complete. You can see one by the top right of the blue section in the photograph below.

The 'lake' base, goblet, and leaves

I made far more leaves than I actually needed, so that I could choose the best ones. The 'diamond' leaves were painted silver, and then covered with tiny, glue-on navette stones.

The branches were tricky to make because they had to be moulded to the shape of the base, then very gently prised away without distorting them, so that they could be painted silver.

Shaping the branches

The necklace was assembled by gluing all of the parts together. I would have liked to model and harden it as a single piece, but couldn't work out how to do this without getting gold and silver powder in all the wrong places! I wasn't convinced that the leaves at the points would remain attached with just glue, so added a thin backing to hold it all together.

The main section, with silver, gold and diamond leaves and the goblet

Taking inspiration from the bowl above, I used paua shell beads for the droplet at the bottom and between the various sections of chain.

The completed necklace

This was the point at which everything got a bit too glittery! Try as I might, I just haven't been able to get a decent photograph of the finished necklace. I've tried every combination of natural light/flash/close-up/zoom etc. I could think of, but anything other than the murkiest of light seemed to bounce off the shiny parts and wipe out the details. Any suggestions of how to take a better photograph gratefully received!

The small print:
The Challenge: All That Glitters, and a very late entry for Fairytale
Fairytale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Pattern: My own
Year: Early twentieth century
Notions: Fimo modelling clays, gold and silver powders and varnish. Paua shell and pearl beads. Metal chain, jump rings, wire and necklace clasp. Glue-on stones.
How historically accurate is it? The shape and idea, yes. The materials, definitely not. 60%?
Hours to complete: Too many to even think about, but worth it
First worn: Not yet
Total cost: Fimo products £15.52 (with lots left over), paua shell beads £5.59, chain £1.99, everything else from stash, so £23.10.


  1. Oh wow, making your own jewelry! Great job. My kids have used filmo clay for various other projects.

  2. Oh awesome!!! How cool is your necklace? I am in awe of anyone who can actually make jewelry from the ground up! It is fabulous!!!

  3. Beautiful! The leaf detailing on the frame is particularly lovely. And thank you for sharing Phoebe's story--I had never heard of her, and I love learning about the work of female artisans and in history!

  4. Oh wow, what a beautiful an unexpected interpretation of the challenge! You are really talented!