Bright, colorful headpins are the result of a few extra moments with your torch using an assortment of powdered glass enamels. If you use a butane (a.k.a. “kitchen”) torch to solder small projects and ball up your headpins, you must switch to a different type of gas for enameling. This is because the butane gas is “dirty” and will turn even the prettiest enamels into a yucky gray-green-beige color.
I personally find it easiest to use a map-gas torch with canisters of map gas from the hardware store, but if you’re already set up for torch firing enamels and glass beads with another type of torch, you can use that. Just don’t use butane!
The first step is to ball up your headpins using the method described here, and I recommend doing this with copper wire in gauges 24 through 18. Remove the fire scale using a commercial pickle, citric acid, or pool acid. The copper should turn bright orange in the solution.
Remove the headpins and rinse them in water. To fully stop the acid, you can neutralize your headpins in water with baking soda. Many metal artists do this, but I personally have not felt the need to and I’ve never experienced any adverse effects from eliminating this step.
An optional next step is to put all of your headpins in a jewelry tumbler with stainless steel mixed jewelry shot, water, and burnishing compound. I usually tumble my headpins for a couple of hours. Removing the tangled ball of headpins and then separating them out from the shot, rinsing everything and drying it, takes a very long time! You will have to straighten each headpin by hand, too, because they come out of the tumbler all kinky. But, this tedious process is worthwhile because the end result is a batch of gorgeous, shiny headpins.
To apply enamel to your headpins, first dip the balled ends into Klyr-Fire, which is an organic binder that adheres the enamel to the metal and helps to keep it from chipping off later. (You can substitute a layer of clear fusing enamel if you prefer to use that instead.) Next, heat the headpin to glowing orange.
Tip: Be sure to hold the opposite end of the wire in a pair of junk pliers to avoid heat-annealing a good pair of jewelry pliers.
Immediately dip the headpin into the enamel color of your choice.
Tip: Many artists will go straight for color, but I often dip my headpin into white opaque enamel first, reheat the headpin, and then begin to apply colored enamels in subsequent re-firings.
You can fire several layers of enamel on a headpin, but I usually restrict myself to no more than five layers, including the initial layer of opaque white.
Safety tip: Because you won’t be sifting any enamel, it isn’t strictly necessary to wear a particulate respirator mask. However, you might want to anyway, just to be on the safe side. Even lead-free enamels have tiny particles of chemicals that would be very unhealthy to inhale. Use your best judgment, but when in doubt always wear a particulate respirator mask.Protecting your eyes: If you find yourself doing lots of torch-fire or kiln-fire enameling, I recommend protecting your eyes by wearing a pair of Solaris IR green-lens glasses, which provides 99 percent UV protection. Prolonged use of a torch or kiln can cause the development of cataracts, so it’s a good idea to wear protective eyeglasses. You can obtain particulate respirators and IR glasses from Thompson Enamels as well as the Creative Arts catalog from Rio Grande.
The following photo shows a finished headpin that was first enameled in two layers of opaque white, followed by two layers of Robins Egg:
I recommend using opaque, lead-free enamels for this project, and I personally use Thompson Enamels for just about everything. Naturally, if you are familiar with enameling you may use the products of your choice.
Always work in a very well ventilated area, and if you don’t have a commercial hood to remove the gas fumes I recommend using the torch in 15- to 20-minute intervals. Turn off the torch, do something else for a while, and then come back to it. This will help reduce the buildup of toxic gases in your workshop, which can be deadly.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Many more wire jewelry techniques and projects are found in my instructional DVDs and eBooks, including Arty Jewelry, Arty Jewelry II, Arty Jewelry III, and Arty Jewelry IV. I also offer day classes in jewelry stores in the Southern California area, and I teach my techniques during Wild Wire Women retreatsheld in my mountain home in Idyllwild, California.