Working with members of the great Tortoise Butler (Alia Sheikh and Andy Vine), I was filmed making a sample etched copper piece, and the whole thing set to a lovely piece of music by Roger Paul Mason.
As always, I’m stunned by their arcane mastery over lens, lighting, camera and editing, and this time was proud to add my own touch in the text and credits.
If you can watch HD and full screen – it’s worth it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired! I use the technique (along with a little sterling silver magic) to create some of the jewellery in my Etsy shop.
A commission for a pair of my Ram’s Horns was the perfect excuse for me to document their construction process.
This time around, to save me some labour, the lovely SamLR used the python library ‘dfx writer’ to generate 50-odd circles ranging from 7mm to 32mm in radius, in steps of +.5mm radius. Each one is numbered, and has two holes in for the wires to go in. The circles for one horn fit on two sheets of A4. A little spray glue later, and we had a few fun hours cutting little circles out of cardboard with scissors and stabbing through the holes with the spikes of a pair of dividers.
We then threaded the circles onto folded wires, separated by two cardboard spacers in each gap. Another time I’d like to make ’em all on a laser cutter – that would approximately halve the construction time.
Once the cone is constructed, I bent the wire in opposite directions to form the horns’ spirals.
Plaster of paris fabric strips are really easy to use – cut to size, dip in water, slide it between through two fingers to squeeze off the excess water, then drape over the form, overlapping and building the surface. By placing the fabric strips diagonally – what you’d call ‘on the bias’ when cutting fabric – the fabric distorts to suit the form. I pushed the fabric between the circles to shape the distinctive ridges.
Once the plaster was dry, the texture of the fabric was still very visible. I mixed up a loose slurry of plaster and water – far runnier than you’d expect – and laboriously re-surfaced the horns, touching up the shaping where necessary. As I worked the plaster in my tub gradually got thicker, and I was able to use globs of it to improve the shape of the ends of the horns, covering up the stubby ends.
I painted the plaster horns with acrylic paints – yellowey undercoat and dark brown on the outside. A little tricky to paint without lifting the plaster surface, but otherwise not too bad. Then it was mounting – a plastic hairband from Claire’s Accessories, trimming the wire to suit and planting it back into the body of the horns.
Ta-dah! On their way to one hopefully happy customer.
It’s the last minute, and you need a costume, fast! This method lets you make a pair of comfy animal ears with a realistic shape in about half an hour. It’s pretty flexible – whether short dainty cat ears or giant swaying bunny ears, they’ll come together in a jiffy! Mine are pretty bright, but switch out the fabrics with fun fur and vinyl for a more realistic look. Tools and Materials
- Wide, strong plastic hairband (to be nice and stable on your head)
- 8 Cable or Zip ties (these provide the structure)
- Fabric scraps
- Hot glue gun (and glue sticks)
- Fabric scissors
- Strong snips (I used metal snips, but you could also use wire-cutters or really strong scissors)
Design your ears & build the structure
Decide where on your hairband you want your ears to be – standing straight up, or wide spread to the side. Mark the middle of the hairband, and add the cable ties symmetrically. I’ve only shown making one ear here, but it’s a good idea to make both at once, so they match. The innermost cable tie should stand up at the front, and the others at the back to add depth to the shape of your ears. Place the last one a little further apart from the others. Shaping
Where you gather your ears will determine their size – use a rubber band to gather them together. Twist the innermost tie to lay flat on top of the other ones – this will help make a little pocket at the front. Push and pull the individual ties to settle the shape of your ear. When you’re happy with it, add hot glue to the cable ties below the rubber band. When it’s set, trim the ends off, and add more glue to reinforce the join. Add outer fabric
Take an oversized bit of your outer fabric, and glue it to the back of the ear. Start with the base, then the tip, then either edge, making sure it’s securely anchored. If you’re using hot glue, try and make sure it stays neat and tidy, so it doesn’t leave hard splodges to alter the shape of your ear. Once it’s fixed to the outside, trim the fabric down to leave a nice wide hem around the structure, then glue that down. Trim the fabric around the base of the ears. Lining
Nearly there… Cut your lining fabric slightly larger than your ear, then glue to the two innermost struts first. Once it’s firmly in place, trim it more precisely to fit, and glue it around the edges. You’re done!
I decided to sit down and figure out how to make an embossing set-up at home. I used my favourite material – a thermoplastic called ‘polymorph’ or ‘friendly plastic’ – something that’s as springy and tough as nylon, but melts at 60 degrees C, in hot water from a kettle.
Previously I’ve followed tutorials for embossing paper using a cardboard stencil and rubbing the back with a rounded tool, as per this tutorial, but it’s fiddly, time consuming and inconsistent. I’ve seen franking machines that use positive and negative aluminium dies, and thought I’d give it a go using things I had laying around. I’ve devised something that gives lovely results, simply, and is very easy to use – just slip the paper into the hinged die, and squeeze.
To test the theory first, I used a cut-out piece of copper sheet as a template and thermoplastic as my die-making material.
Starting with a 0.8mm thick ‘positive’ – an ivy leaf cut from copper sheet.
The two parts of the thermoplastic die are fused by heading and squishing the edges together – nice and springy.
A test sheet, showing how the ivy leaf die works. This is thin card.
Here’s a step-by step breakdown of the process of making a more involved die, suitable for making business cards. I was inspired by one of the images from my book ‘Duckie and Chickie Afloat’. For later versions, I’d like to add registration to site the paper accurately, and also explore multi-level or carved positives to give more intricate embossing.
This is the sheet of packaging plastic I used to make more positives. I think it’s about 1mm thick.
Heating up pellets of thermoplastic in hot water from the kettle. You can’t use plastic containers or it’ll stick.
I placed the plastic template on a ceramic tile, smoothed over a wad of hot thermoplastic, and sandwiched it with another tile before standing carefully on the stack to squash things together.
Separating the tiles reveals the plastic positive is neatly embedded in the thermoplastic.
A nice neat impression.
Holding it up to the light shows the thinner area really nicely – I know it’s rather hard to spot in the photos.
Liberally coating the negative layer with oil (olive was closest) prevents the second layer of thermoplastic from sticking to the first when you push it into the crannies of the design.
After cleaning the two parts and holding them together, I reheated one edge until the thermoplastic was clear, soft and sticky again, and squeezed them together, locking the two parts and forming a cool springy hinge.
This is testing the embossing using some watercolour paper. Slightly dampening the paper made it a lot easier to make the impression.
This is slightly longer than a standard business card but I’m pretty pleased.