This past twelfth night, I joined the An Tir Bardic Ensemble to sing some songs. This was a completely new thing for me- I have vowed never to sing in public. It went remarkably well.
I wanted a little celebration of this, the Bards of Twelfth Night, AS L (anno societatas 50), and thought I’d make a little gift to the other bards. After looking around, my affection was seized by an annular brooch.
Of course, I wanted to cast it in pewter. Because that’s what I do. My plan was to cast it with bardic symbols (the treble clef, lyres, music notes) and also with the Lion of An Tir and a Capital L to remember the year.
Work began. I scribed out a couple of concentric circles and radiating lines (8), and carved out the big circle. Then I added small circles at the 8 points and carved them deeper than the main circle. I went to run a test cast and … not deep enough. So I made it deeper, and the circles too. Still not deep enough- while it was better, and the circle cast completely, the pewter was easily bent. Which wouldn’t work so well for a brooch, now would it?
I carved it a little deeper, and then carved a circle on the back piece which helped somewhat both with the pewter flowing and also the thickness. But at some point, I had to stop.
At this point the main circles were done and the troll of making the designs stood up. I started with the Treble Clef (after discussion with Khanzara, that worked for music for Ottoman as well as English). I practiced a lot to be able to draw it backwards, and carved it into opposing circles (both facing up if you turn the brooch. Notice how the designs above turn with the brooch like that. As opposed to both facing up if the brooch is stationary). I gently ran a scratch with my very sharp probe, got it to stay in the channel after repeated carvings, then brought out a deeper, wider tool, to get the actual image. The circles are very small.
The treble clefs were terrible. So I sanded them down and recarved them, and got them marginally better. Then Ivan shared this image.
Thank you Ivan. Ok. My treble clefs weren’t that bad. At least mine were recognizable (Beethoven, I’m looking at you). I decided I needed 3 more images, and was going with the An Tir Lion, an L, and a pair of masks, one happy, one sad (tragedy and comedy).
The L went in fine. A little boring, but fine. I mean it’s just a right angle with a flourish, and I managed to remember to carve it backwards. The lyres were pretty good. Made them a little deeper and they looked much better. The lion, on the other hand, was terrible.
I didn’t take a photo of the first attempt. Then I asked for help, and got some amazing clip art of lions, and Fjorlief drew me a sketch (which is in my sketchbook), and it was a lot of help. But once I carved it into the soapstone and cast it (for the second time), it still looked like this.
Yeah, not so good. You can see how he has a eyebrow ridge, down to his nose, back up over the other eye, and then the mouth comes out of the nose. Much better than my sketch, but I don’t have the skill to get him perfect there.
Erennach suggested I substitute books, because all bards use books, whether we sing, tell stories, act plays, research stuff, whatever. Good idea, I sanded him off again and put in a book (both sides). But now I didn’t have “An Tir” in the circle, so I didn’t need the L. I put in some nice comedy/tragedy instead.
One more thing. Before I sanded the lion faces off, I tried casting them in the R98 from Rotometals. Kirsten uses the r98. I like the AC. But the R98 is supposed to flow better into the carvings and give better detail. I’m actually planning to move over to that alloy as my carvings get better.
I don’t see much of a difference between the two circles, focusing on the lion’s faces. Could be a problem with the mold- maybe it wasn’t detailed enough to have enough detail that the alloy could pick up, maybe the pewter was the wrong temperature, whatever.
And I handed both rings to Erennach, and asked which bent easier (an important thing for me to think about on this project. We both agreed that the 98 was more flexible. I went back to the AC.
Well, now the circles are done, so it was time to cast. Actually, after the first four or five castings, the stone was hot enough that the pewter flows nicely (it’s been cold here). After fifteen casts, the rocks were too hard to hold onto and I was getting some strange flash on the side opposite the sprue.
Actually that’s an interesting point. I really had to pry the circle out of the mold. It was catching somewhere around the sprue. So I’d grab a file (with a blunt end) and push on the cast metal at the sprue, and force its way out. This lead actually to a problem with the opposite side of the circle, where the force of the prying caused damage to the mold.
Another way I hurt the mold was kind of funny. I had been talking with someone about vents in open areas (like the inside of the circle), so when I put the pewter on to melt I decided to carve a vent in the center, and have air channels go to the center as well. It was supposed to help with the circle-casting part. And I had this small bit in this hand drill and a little time while the pewter melts. So while the pewter is melting I started drilling. And then it broke – the drill bit broke off in the soapstone. And it wouldn’t come out with pliers or anything. In a panic, I carved out a little bit of the back plate so at least the mold would close. And then I used the pliers again and twisted the bit so it drilled itself out.
After casting it, I took a hunk of brass wire (which I got at SCRAP, so I don’t really know the gauge, but which I think was 12g, you know, I could totally check the wire gauge with my wire strippers), and wrapped it around part of the circle, and made it into a pin. Actually, I bent it into a candy-cane, then work hardened the brass, then bent it around the circle. And snipped and filed the pointy part into a point. Next time, the part that the wire gets wrapped around should be rounder, they open and shut weirdly.
I cast 50 of them and had enough wire to wire up half of them. I gave them to Geoffrey (the bard) who was doing a lot of the cat wrangling to organize An Tir’s bards, and he passed them out to Ensemble singers, players, play players (there were two plays!), and the ambiance musicians. In fact, Elizabeth Piper proclaimed them to be the best bard gift ever(!).
I posted on the An Tir Ensemble FaceBook page that I’d mail them out to people who missed out, and mailed out a few more the week after 12th night.
I’m really happy with them, all told. Since my original plan was to celebrate the An Tir 12th Night 50 bards … I was going to melt them down afterwards. Not to pollute the brand, as it were. However, both Mistress Piper and Master Galeron have encouraged me to keep them, and use them for other inspiring bards. So … now I have that as well as the Irish Throwing Stars.
I was handing them out telling people “now you should never be too far from your bardic circle” and getting the smiles I hoped for.