Last time, I talked about casting resin with molds and dyes and whatnot. Today, we will be moving on to making jewelry using clear resin and bezels. These projects are both easier and more of a PITA than casting. The resin part is significantly easier, but the prep and design phase takes a lot more work.
First of all, this is a bezel cup, a.k.a. pendant blank, pendant bezel or rectangle bezel. They are much easier to find now than they were a year ago, but if you are searching online you could need any combination of those words to find something like this. Or you could just go to your local craft store. I was looking around last week and I found them at Michael’s, JoAnn’s and Hobby Lobby for not a lot of money.
Now, what are you going to put in your bezels after you have found them? There are a lot of pre-packaged pieces of mini-art specifically for using in this kind of thing, but if you want something unique, you are going to have to go farther afield. Scrapbooking supplies are your friend here. You can find pretty much any motif you could want in scrapbook papers, and all the brads and stickers are great for embellishing said papers. You can also look at fabrics with small to medium prints as backgrounds. One thing to keep in mind is that your canvas is only about an inch across. A pattern that looks amazing in a big piece might look completely boring once you have cut out the tiny little bit that will fit in your bezel cup. When I was doing a lot of pendant making, I had a piece of cardboard with a 1″ circle and square cut out of them that I would hold up against prospective materials to see just what they would look like as jewelry. There were a lot of things that I thought would be awesome that turned out to be pretty blah and vice versa.
Once you have decided on the graphics you want to use, you need to decide which part of it you are going to cut out. Some of the bezel packages have a handy dandy diagram on the back showing you exactly how large the interior of the cup is. I like to cut that part out with an Exacto knife and use the “frame” to find just the right piece. When you are working with something this small, a few millimeters can make a huge difference, so keep moving your frame around till you hit a spot that clicks. Often I will cut the frame a hair larger than it needs to be, so I can trace the opening once I find the sweet spot. Then you simply cut away your line and you’ve got your piece.
After you have your tiny pieces of paper, you need to seal them. You can use special decoupage glue, if you want to, but it isn’t necessary. Any white glue that dries clear, like Elmer’s school glue, will work. Just thin it down until it’s nice and runny and brush it on. This part is tedious, because you want at least two coats on the front, back and all around the edges, and you have to let each coat dry before you put on the next one. Thankfully, they dry quickly, but it still gets old. It is an important step, though, because if you skip it, the resin will seep under the edges of the paper and discolor the pretty picture you worked so hard to find. If you are using fabric instead of paper, it doesn’t need to be sealed, but I usually brush on a coat of glue before I cut anything because it keeps the edges from fraying.
If you think just plain paper is boring, there are always embellishments. You can layer bits of paper or fabric into a tiny collage, or add other 3D elements. I love the little aluminum brads you find in the scrapbook stores, they are an easy way to add a little depth to your vignette. Don’t bother trying to use the brad as it is intended; it’s easier to wiggle the prongs off and lay the pretty part where you want it. One thing to be aware of: if you decide to use rhinestone stickers or cute little bubble stickers (the ones with the clear epoxy tops) the clear stuff on the rhinestones or stickers will bond with the clear resin and turn invisible. You lose all dimensionality and it looks like just a flat dot or sticker. I was quite bummed when I found this out.
So, you’ve found the right artwork, cut it to size, sealed and embellished it – time for resin, right? Not quite. Now you have to glue it into the bezel and set everything up for pouring. Gluing the stuff into the bezel is easy; just brush a little more white glue into the cup and press the paper in. This step isn’t structural; it’s mostly to keep everything in place while you are pouring and stop the edges from curling up. It’s a “make your life easier” step.
OK, there’s one last thing before we get to the resin. I swear, this is the last bit of prep, but it is possibly the most important. You have probably noticed at this point that your bezels have a little ring at the top so you can string the finished pendant on a chain, and the ring keeps the bezel from laying flat. Your bezel must be flat. Resin is a liquid, and it will all run to the bottom if the cup is propped up on that stupid ring when you pour. For a pendant with a ring, I set everything on a book and let the rings hang off the edge. This is also handy for moving them off the table while they cure. Just pick up the book and put it somewhere the cats don’t like to go. If you are doing barrettes or a bracelet that is pre-linked, you have to rig up some contraption where the edges of the cups rest securely on a pair of flat surfaces and the underbits are off the table and out of the way. It is an enormous pain, even if the end result is pretty cool.
Now, FINALLY, it is time to pour in the resin! It’s also time for my big confession. You don’t actually have to use resin for this part. You can use it; it works wonderfully. You just mix it up, making sure you have equal parts resin and hardener, and carefully pour it into the cups, stopping just before it overflows. However, if you are just making a few things for yourself and your loved ones instead of a boatload of jewelry to sell, it’s more economical to use something like Mod Podge Dimensional Magic. It’s pre-mixed, odor free and costs about half as much as a resin kit. It even comes in a needle-nose bottle to give you greater control over how much glue goes where. I used it on this batch and I’m fairly happy with the results. It dries nice and clear, but it shrank more than I was expecting. If this happens to you, I am fairly certain that you can apply more when the first application is dry and it will cover nicely. My biggest problem with it was the bubbles. I saw that I was getting a few, and I assumed it would be like the resin and I could blow them out with a drinking straw. Not so. I just pushed them around like little boats. In the end, I had to twist bits of paper towel into something I could use to push the bubbles over the edge of the bezel, and then twist up more paper towel to gently clean off the edges of the cup.
Like the resin, it takes a full 24 hours to cure. DO NOT TOUCH IT FOR AT LEAST 24 HOURS. If you give in to the temptation, your fingerprint will live forever on the front of the pendant you worked so hard to make. It’s not worth it, trust me. But, if you can wait, you will have beautiful new things that you can show all your friends and say “I MADE THIS!”