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Millefiori, Wafers & Decals

Using Millefiori, Wafers and 
Decals in a Controlled Manner
by Edmund Massow
from Volume 19, No. 1, February 2000

     Millefiori, threads, decals etc. have not always been popular with serious enamel artists.  They have been looked upon as materials that usually are used haphazardly; not in a controlled manner.  Many times millefiori, lumps or threads are randomly scattered on or in an enameled surface.  The results are mostly accidental and far from a planned design.  Because I am alwaysFigure 1 looking for ways to make unusual designs I decided to try using these materials in a more controlled manner.  The photos on this  page are some of my results which I hope will further stimulate the reader.  I am sure that other artists may come up with different solutions as to the controlled use of these materials.  
     The examples shown are mostly brooches or pendants.  In a controlled manner these materials can also be used on dishes, bowls or cups.  

Technical Description 
     A basic knowledge of silversmithing techniques is suggested to understand the following descriptions.  I think that brooches, pendants etc., should always have a rim of metal around the enamel.  I make jewelry mostly in the "champlevé" style. My brooches are made from fine silver.  To save material, I make the rims of the brooches from rectangular or square fine silver wire. Here is a short description: 
     I use rectangular wires from 0.7 x 1, to 1 x 3 mm with different intermediate states.  But the minimum depth of the wire (the depth of the champlevé) should be 0.7 mm. 
Figure 2      We'll make a brooch 40 x 40 mm.  Our minimum wire length must be 4 x 40 = 160 mm. Make it a bit longer!!  With round nosed pliers bend the wire into a square.  If you use broad wires, it may be helpful to bend the corners with two flat pliers.  Make the first bend at nearly 20 mm, then 40 - 40 - 20, so you get both open ends in the middle (where you will solder).  Your rim may be a bit uneven, but that is not a problem.  You can straighten it out later. Fit the ends of the wire tight together for soldering.  I always use fine silver wire.  I prefer to solder the seams with sterling silver. The advantage is that if you solder the rim with IT-solder to the basic sheet, the wire soldering won't flow again.  The melting point of sterling silver is a good l00 degrees Celsius higher (212º F), than the melting point of IT-solder and slightly lower than the melting point of fine silver.  
     After cooling bend the rim into a pleasing form and level it.  Solder the rim with IT-solder to the ground sheet.  The groundFigure 3 sheet should be a bit larger than the rim, so that you can lay IT -shreds outside of the rim.  This way you get very little solder into the inner side of the rim/sheet and this eliminates having to scrape the solder away.  After cooling, file the outside so that the sheet is round, about 0.2 mm bigger than the rim.  By doing so you have on the outside of your piece a little flute of solder.  If you solder again or enamel your work-piece, make sure that this seam of solder does not open up.  Solder your findings onto the reverse side of the rim/sheet.  Pickle your work-piece and counter enamel as usual.  
Figure 4      After cleaning the inside of the piece, make at first a thin layer of wet enamel (I often use flux-transparent clear enamel - but any other enamel will work).  In this layer of enamel place some groups of millefiori closely packed together (see figures 1 & 4).  Use millefiori of the same color/design.  If you don't, the piece may look gaudy and uncontrolled.  The size of the millefiori can differ.  Fill areas between the millefiori with enamel colors which work well with the color and design of the millefiori.  You can wet pack transparent or opaque enamels.  When I work on silver I like to use transparent and opaque enamels together.  With a bit of practice you can obtain pleasing contrasts with opaques and transparents. Dry the piece and fire a bit longer, but not hotter than usual.  I prefer temperatures about 750-780 degrees Celsius (1390-1440º F). 
     The millefiori does not flow as easily as other enamels as theyFigure 5 have a higher softening point.  After firing, fill in places with more wet enamel where it is lower than the rim. you can use the same colors or use a very clear flux (transparent clear enamel).  After drying, fire again.  The millefiori/enamel layer may become quite thick and upon cooling, the top layer may crack off.   If this happens, refill these areas with new millefiori or with flux and fire again.  
     Now you can file the silver edges of the piece and bring it into a light rounded form.Figure 6  The most work is grinding down the millefiori.  I use a machine used by gem cutters.  If you grind often, such a machine is very useful.  If you grind by hand, use diamond tools (files pads etc.), otherwise it is difficult and laborious to grind down the very hard millefiori.  First grind areas with millefiori.  If necessary, refill enamel and fire again.  It is much easier to refill and fire again, than to grind out a hole.  Grind again and if you have any pits, open them up with a diamond burr and refill with enamel, fire and grind again.  It is self evident that you do all grinding wet.  I start with 120 grit, followed by 180, 240, 320 and 360.  After 360 grit I polish the surface on a hard felt wheel, wetted with Cerium Oxide which can be obtained from a gem cutter supply.  In the same step you can polish the silver rim.  If the surface is smooth and perfect, you can polish it with wax. Warm up the piece carefully, lay it on a trivet on top of your enameling furnace.  When the piece is warm, apply a colorless wax to the whole surface.  I prefer not to use bee's wax as it imparts a yellow color to white enamel.  Remove as much wax as possible with a paper towel.  Then polish the surface with the palm of your hand.  After fastening the pin, the piece is finished. 
     Another possibility is to set the millefiori in bezels (see figure 6).  I make rings from 0.8 x 3 mm rectangular fine silver wire.  The inner diameter of the rings correspond with the outer diameter of the millefiori.  For a necklace I solder the "hanger" and the rim in a single pass (see figures 2 & 5).  After soldering and pickling, file away the "inner nose" from the "hanger".  Place a millefiori into the rim. Lay it on a sheet of mica and fire it as usual.  After firing grind away the mica from the back and any unnecessary enamel on the front side.  Polish the enamel (millefiori) inlay.  Make holes in the "hangers" and finish the necklace.  In the same manner you can solder together figures of silver rims to make pendants, earrings or rings. Transparent millefiori make earrings with a plique-à- jour look (see figure 3).  

Decals
     The use of decals is also unpopular with many serious enamelers.  Good results can be achieved by using only parts of decals or by using decals in combination with other enameling techniques.  I prefer to use it with cloisonne, but other combinations are also conceivable.  
     The imagery on decals is printed with enamel colors on a special paper.  The structure is as follows:  special water resistant paper, a layer of water-soluble glue, the enamel colors and a cover of varnish.  Decals are placed in water, the soluble glue dissolves and you can slip the image together with the varnish from the paper.  The varnish holds the image together so that it can be laid onto a clean, grease-free enameled surface.  The decals I have used are "antique" as they come from a workshop that is over 80 years old.  I suspect these decals were printed with lead bearing enamel.  It is important to know whether your decals were made from lead bearing or lead free enamels because I have had problems when applying lead free enamels over leaded decals.  
     Make a brooch or pendant as described before.  Counter enamel the reverse side as usual. Pickle and clean the front side.  Wet inlay a thin pale opaque or transparent enamel layer.  I prefer a layer of clear transparent because I mostly use fine silver.  Then fire. 
Figure 7      Prepare a decal or part of a decal.  Put the decal in a bowl of cold water.  After a few minutes you can slip off the decal image from the carrier paper. Slip the image direct from the paper to the pre-enameled surface. Remove the paper.  With a paper towel squeeze all water and air bubbles from the decal.  Be sure that the decal fit is tight everywhere.  If bubbles are trapped under the decal, they will result in pinholes in the decal after firing.  Let the work piece dry thoroughly.  You can leave it overnight or place it on a trivet that is raised at least 10-15 cm above the top of the enameling furnace. Don't try to dry the decal directly on top or the furnace or by holding it in front of an open hot furnace.  Traces of water under the decal will blowout and lift off the decal leaving ugly blanks after firing.  
     After drying, put the piece on a trivet in the mouth of your open furnace.  The decal will start to smoke.  Continue until it stops smoking (you are burning off the varnish).  Place the piece a little deeper into the furnace.  Watch the piece closely.  If it starts to flame, take it out of the furnace.  The varnish should never flame, but smoke away.  When the varnish has finished smoking or fumed, the decal may now look very black.  Let the furnace regain its firing temperature (700-750 degrees Celsius or 1300-1390º F.) and then place the piece into the furnace.  Watch the firing very carefully as the enamel color layer of the decal is very thin and may easily burn out.  When the enamel surface shows gloss or reflection of the furnace elements, take the piece out.  
     Now make your cloisonne design, You can make it only on the free parts of your piece or you can make it over parts of the decal.  It is important to only cover the decal with layers of very clear transparent enamel.  Be careful each time you fire as the decal can still burn away with too much heat.  Finish the piece in your normal manner, wet inlaying the enamels, firing, grinding and polishing.  
     Decals, millefiori, enamel lumps, threads or wafers can be used in a creative way as long as the materials you use are used in a controlled manner leaving nothing to chance.  If you have any questions, you can contact me through Thompson Enamel. 

 

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