The long awaited completion of the Alligator Coronet

Yay, after building this as a draft for weeks, it’s finally done!

If I would have made this out of leather, it would have been done months ago. This became an issue of scope creep, that is, the project just kept growing more and more out of my hands.

At first, Jeff was going to make it, then he decided I needed to learn. So what culminated was a joint effort of, “Hey y’all, watch this.”

I am a total metalworking rookie, and I think that it shows, but hey, I did the thing! The base metals are nickel silver and brass. It’s not really based on any one particular coronet, you see hinged crowns across the continent.

Timeline: February to July. I could have had it done sooner if we focused on finishing it. But once we missed the deadline of East Kingdom Coronation, our goal became Pennsic.

February:

We started with a mockup made out of cardboard. Pieces of cardboard were cut into plausible plaque shapes, and taped together. We used this to make a stencil.

March:

I was busy with conference prep, so things got pushed back, but I got to cut METAL. \m/ I couldn’t do everything, and it was very hard to shape the plaques on the bandsaw after I traced the shape, so Jeff had to nip them by hand. It took 2 days. I felt horrible.

 

My cabochons had also come in. I went with a swampy Ruby-in-Zoisite.

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April:

Time to figure out copper shapes for enameling, and the sizing. Jeff punched them, I dished them. It was a loud night in the garage.

We tried to gun through this, but ran into some hiccups. I did all the enameling and soldering on the ornaments. Yep, hurricanes. And one tropical storm for luck. One of my non-SCA hobbies is storm tracking, much to the chagrin of my Facebook friends once the season gets cooking. That and, growing up in Florida, living most of my life on the Eastern Seaboard, yeah, they sort of become a way of life.

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Jeff did the brass work on the edges and hinges, I helped only a bit with the solder but didn’t feel confident enough with the higher temp stuff.

At this point, we were pretty much out of time, but Jeff attached the bezels for the cabochons. I didn’t get pictures of it. Attempts at polishing with the wheel and dremel failed. We needed to use pickle. This was going to have to wait.

May:

I found the damn pickle solution, and had fun with it. It took off all of the fire scale, and then I went in with some baking soda solution to get extra crud off.

July:

I had to spend some time out of town for most of June, so aside from sewing, not a ton toward Pennsic got done. Time to revisit the coronet and finish this.

Jeff finally got a good polish on the wheel, and inserted the cabochons into the bezels.

Lacquer was painted on it to protect the metal, and let dry.

The ornaments were re-attached, and the rivets were cut. While Jeff did that, I cut the pearl for the tropical storm ornament in the front of the coronet.

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Pearl in the storm, and that is not an obscure sports term:

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Because of the weight of the metal, we needed to get a suspension in there for a lining. My husband concocted a system using cardboard to frame padding made from a tube of flannel and craft felt. It was then riveted to three of the alligators, and treated with Loctite.

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And then I got to play fashion show to make sure it fit. Some of my veils are thicker, but overall it fits well. The padding should squish down a bit, if not, gravity is definitely going to do its job. I haven’t weighed it. I don’t think I want to.

And voila! We did it! A week and half from leaving for Pennsic! It’ll be on display in the Known World A&S Display on Middle Sunday. If not, I think I should stick out in a crowd.

Is it perfect? No. It’s only the third metal coronet Jeff has ever done, and the first like this where stones were set and it was full of ridiculous detail, but it’s mine, and the imperfections make it better for it.

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So, we remembered we had an enameling kit…

No, really. Somehow, it ended up in a box of our holiday decorations because that’s how military packers and movers roll.

We aren’t pros, we have a basic know-how of the art thanks to a couple classes at Pennsic, and dropped a few hundred dollars on supplies because it sounded like a good idea at the time and then FORGOT ALL ABOUT IT.

So we decided to fire it up and see what kind of horrible we could make. We have a Sutton Hoo-era Coronation for our last hurrah here in Caid, so might as well go all out with some Anglian enameled jewelry. Sure, we could totally do this.

Oh yeah, no sweat. (This is a shoulder clasp from Sutton Hoo.)

At first, we figured we’d actually just splurge for the holidays and get ourselves some new shiny bits from Raymond’s Quiet Press, since he has a great selection of Saxon goodies, including Sutton Hoo replicas. But, my husband rarely gets to play with his metalworking stuff, and we found the enamel, so, why not try stuff for ourselves?

Deciding that we were going to turn our early Anglian garb into Founders Era Harry Potter subtle SCA cosplays of Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor (Yes, I know that they founded the school in the 10th Century and not the 6th, but they were Anglo-Saxon so bear with my madness, please, we go any later and my Norman husband will declare war on himself and things get messy) I started planning stuff out, since I’d be doing most of the work, anyway. I needed brooches, but since I’m Ravenclaw, I needed some house pride.  I’m really unsure if the plethora of bird brooches used between the Anglo-Saxon, Frankish/Merovingian, and Gothic cultures were used on the peplos dresses, but I decided to take that risk for my impression.

Now, there’s some REALLY IMPRESSIVE enameled and inset stone eagle fibulae out there. Way beyond what I can do, so I needed to keep it simple. I found that Quiet Press had a style I could possibly emulate, only in red, but I wanted to find his source before being a jerk and ripping off a respectable merchant I buy from frequently. I have no intention of selling my enameling work, or even attempting to compete in the reenactment jewelry market, ever, so I used that thought as a soothing mechanism, and reminded myself I was still learning. I still sought to find a few other birds I could work from for my “eagles.” (Let’s face it, they all look like Gonzo.)

This guy is from a lot at Christie’s, and I decided I liked the wire work for the cloisonne and the inclusion of the pearl. As you can see, red garnets were the thing for this period, but it didn’t work with the color scheme I’m going for.

Gonzo.

 

Two Gonzos. Ah Ah!
An opposite-facing pair of Gonzos, which I wanted to find to support my own Gonzos.

Finding enough supporting evidence for my Gonzos and some line variants, I went ahead and made my shape, and the Norman cut them out of copper, which was chosen for the type of enamel we have. They do make enamels for bronze, brass, gold, silver, etc, but we have the copper kit.  I sat, watching some bad television, and filed the edges of my birds down while the kiln warmed up. It went pretty fast.

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Once things got hot, I went ahead and prepped the pieces with the clear base coat:

And fired them:

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Top bird is “cooled”, the one on the pizza stone is scorching hot. The base coat cools to a pleasant deep red.

Once they were fully cooled, I started the wire work. A note about the temp: this is not a “fresh out of the oven” hot, this is surface of the sun hot. You will get severely injured if you are not cautious. This is 20g copper wire. It took me quite a bit of time, and I used Thompson Blue Stic glue to keep it down. I am unsure if any adhesive was used in period, but I assure you, it’s a pain if your wires move. It’s also a lot easier to work with smaller cuts of wire, as I found out almost immediately.  Hopefully as I improve, I can handle manipulating larger pieces.

Once the glue was dried, completely (this is not a “fast” art), I put down the blue enamel, emulsified in water.

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Fire! You can see how red-hot the stones get.

And cooling down to the blue. I had to do a second coat with the enamel since I had some coverage issues.

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Husband made some fibulae pins from brass wire, and he showed me how to solder them on in about 5 minutes. Again, HOT. LET COOL. OMG. SO EASY TO REALLY BURN YOURSELF.

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And then the sanding. This is how you get your wires to show up again, after oxidizing in the kiln. During the process, one of the brooches popped some air bubbles in the enamel. This upset me, but I’ve seen period pieces with similar imperfections. Part of the learning curve, I suppose. I was still pretty pleased (see also, hooting, hollering, and down right ECSTATIC over how these were coming out.)

For the finishing touch…pearl eyes. We gently sawed a couple pearls in half to get the right size, and glued them in the eye sockets. The period technique would have them set in, but I’m not really there as a jeweler, and probably never will be, but Gieffrei insisted I do this almost entirely myself, so…E6000 it was.

But seriously though…they aren’t museum quality works of art, but I am insanely proud of this project. Behold, Rowena Ravenclaw’s Gonzo, I mean, Eagle, fibulae!

I have a long way to go before I’m ready to do intricate Byzantine style enamels, but it certainly beats my “warm-up” project from the day before.

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Uh. Well, that’s something. 

I learned a lot. I think I learned how to do some troubleshooting on the appearance of the enamel, but this is going to take some time to really get into. I have some great friends in the East Kingdom that do enameling, so next I see them, I’ll have to see what kind of tips they can give to work with the minimal tools we own. I don’t know if we’re going to invest in a larger kit just yet, because it’s not our primary art form, but rather another corner of the Middle Ages that have entered our home. Or rather the entirety of our dining room. In fact, we had a ton of friends over on Saturday to give it a try with us, and we had a ton of fun with great results just after 2 little projects.

Well, I suppose Godric Gryffindor needs some kind of lions next. Stay tuned for the next segment of our Anglian Experience.