Recently a call was made for gentles to donate order medallions for the Crown to give to worthy subjects when they are inducted into Kingdom orders. If you think you don’t have the talent or skill to make them, think again! Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope asked artisans from all around Æthelmearc to explain how they make medallions using media like embroidery, paint on ceramic, leatherwork, and metalwork. Here’s how they responded.
Note: the designs for the Kingdom order badges are available on the Æthelmearc Heraldry website.
Baroness Bronwyn nic Gregor, former Baroness of Thescorre, is a skilled needleworker who has made numerous embroidered order medallions. She uses a variety of methods for embroidered awards medallions.
- Do not use Aida cloth, due to both size and appearance. Monaco (25 ct.) or Lugana (28 ct) fabrics are easy to work with as they are even weave fabrics and produce an attractive piece. With both of these and with a linen you need to be careful to lock stitches in place by orienting the stitches and completing a cross before moving to the next stitch. If you are not careful the stitches will slide under the weave. Half stitches don’t work well with these materials. Garment fabrics can be used but they may not be even weave, resulting in a warped or stretched pattern. This might be desirable depending on how the medallion is mounted. Take care to orient the design correctly if your fabric is not an even weave. Charted patterns are available online from the Thescorre Threadworkers’ Company as well as by Mistress Yvianne de Castel d’Avignon and Lady Astridr Vigaskegg.
- Garment linen or silk both work well. If you are using a colored fabric it should be prewashed. I generally copy the awards from the Kingdom Heraldry website and paste various sizes into a Word or PowerPoint document and print it off. I match the pattern size to the one I want and use fabric transfer pages tracing over the picture to create an outline. Drawing the picture on the fabric or stitching free-hand will also work.
- I pretty much exclusively use silk thread, but like the feel of a bamboo thread called Mandarin. I am lucky enough to live near an embroidery store, but most materials can be purchased online. I am aware of 3 distinct thread sources in a variety of colors. The Italian-made thread available from Lady Dionatta is a 12 ply tends to be a little thin. Madeira comes in handy packets and is a 4 ply x 3 meters for $4+. I prefer Splendor which is made in France is 12 ply x 8 yards at $3.50 -$4 a bobbin. These are easy to work with. The threads should be prewashed, but I confess I often don’t do so. If you are using beeswax to strengthen the thread it will not fill as well and may impact the color of the thread. You should use it in all of the thread color you are using or do not use at all.
Frames – I have searched a variety of sources for frames and often find they are: not durable, unattractive, the wrong size or cost prohibitive. An early source from Hallmark Mother’s Day collection dried up years ago. In recent years I have purchased family tree photo holders from Things Remembered. These come in the form of a silver or pewter tree with decorative frames (often double-sided) hanging from them. I have had several naked trees hanging around my house which would be attractive for displaying the finished medallions. You have the option of creating two different embroidered works to “match” outfits or simply leaving one side blank. These generally run about $50 for a twelve frame tree.
- Finishing without frames – You will need to locate a suitable backing disc. I have found that the St. Patrick’s Day gold plastic coins available at JoAnn or Michaels are ideal for medallions (and probably lucky too). I using a running stitch larger than the size of the coin, placing the coin inside and drawing it tight. Tie off the thread and make a plain backing piece. Whip stitch the two pieces together. I stitch beads around the join and then add a necklace. I prefer to use semi-precious and non-precious beads, but this can be price prohibitive. Glass beads can be a good substitute, but can still be expensive. Depending on the size of the medallion you can use other materials. I have used quarters with a backing of a couple layers of plastic stencil material. Be careful to seal other metal discs so it doesn’t rust through the fabric. Wood Discs tend to be too thick for my taste, but it is possible to use them.
THLady Clarissa da Svizzera, also of Thescorre, has also made numerous embroidered/needlepoint medallions, and offers this insight on the combined Pelican-Laurel medallion below:
- It is worked on 40-count silk gauze (40 threads per inch) which necessitates the filled-in background. The piece shown is just over an inch in diameter, laid flat as shown. It is worked in silk floss using basketweave stitch which uses more floss but provides a denser, better looking background. The finished stitching was mounted over a domed disc placed on a flat jewelry pin back fitting that had “fingers” to bend to hold the disc in place. The recipient doesn’t like “danglies”, and I believe wears this on his hat.
Baron Magnus de Lyons, recently invested as Baron of the Rhydderich Hael, is also a leatherworker who makes tooled leather order medallions.
- I use 8-9 ounce vegetable-tanned cowhide. In terms of inches, 8-9 ounce leather is just over 1/8 of an inch thick. You need it to be thick enough to tool but not so thick that the finished project looks clunky. Veg-tanned cowhide is available from several on-line sellers (Tandy leather, for example) or if you are fortunate enough, at a local leather shop. Leather can be on the expensive side (as much as $8 US per square foot), but the nice part of medallions is that they don’t require much leather (2 inch diameter on average). Local and on-line sellers will often offer small scraps for a reduced price, or if you know a person who works with leather, most of them have an odds and ends bin that is useless to them but is a treasure trove for a medallion maker. Pro tip: leather scraps are cheap, but make sure you are using fresh leather. Using old or imperfect leather will result in a lower quality finished product.
- My medallions are all tooled leather. I trace or draw the design onto the leather and then use a swivel knife to cut the design into the leather.
- Next I use a simple leatherworking tool called a “spoon” to shape the leather and give the design a 3D effect. This is done by wetting the leather with water to make it malleable and then pressing the design into the leather with the spoon.
- When the leather dries, the design is permanent.
- There are a ton of different leather working tools that can be used for tooling but I do about 95% of my work with the swivel knife and spoon.
- Once the leather is tooled, I color the medallion with leather dye.
- Once that is dry I paint the details with acrylic hobby paint. My paint of choice is the Games Workshop brand of “base” paints. They look good and have almost full coverage with one coat (even over black leather dye).
- The average build time for a medallion with a moderately complex design (going from raw leather to painted) is about 4 days. A lot of this is drying time (water after tooling, dying, and painting) so working on multiple medallions is a good idea. It won’t cut down the production time but you will increase output. It is possible to shorten the production time, but rushing will often yield a lower quality product.
- Making leather medallions is a fairly painless process. Follow all the normal rules for using sharp objects and chemicals (leather dye, paint, etc.) and you will be fine.
- Leather medallions are ridiculously durable so they are a great option for people who want to wear an award in high use environments like the list field.
- Leather is also very forgiving when it comes to inexperienced crafters. A finely detailed finished product might take some practice but the basic product is durable, safe to wear, and pleasing to the eye.
- If people have questions feel free to contact me directly, either on the Book of Face at “Lance Magnus Kazmark” or by email.
Lady Máirghréad Stíobhard inghean uí Choinne of the Barony of Thescorre has led efforts by the artisans of her barony to make ceramic medallions. Here she shares how they’re crafted. She says ceramic award medallions can be prepared fairly simply with about an hour of effort over a period of a day, and the process works best with the simpler award badges: Sycamore, Millrind, Alce.
- Pendant blanks
- Ceramic Paint
- Permanent fine line black marker
- Glass cleaner (Windex)
- Paper towel
- Oven capable of 310 degrees F
- The porcelain pendant blanks were purchased from Freddi’s China. The unframed pendants without chains (shown) are $1.25 each. A pendant blank that is framed in metal including chain can be purchased for $4.99 each. These have been found to be more durable. Remove the chains before starting the painting process.
- The Pebeo paint was purchased at The Art Store in Rochester, N.Y. but you can also order them online at Pebeo.com. Each color (red, yellow and black were purchased) is about $5.00 for 2 oz. This paint can be used on ceramic or metal.
- Add cords or chains to complete the medallions.
Clean the front side of the medallions with glass cleaner and paper towel.
- Using as little handling as possible, draw the pattern for the badge onto the medallion using a fine line black permanent marker.
- Apply the paints one color at a time, starting with black for the outline. Let each paint color dry about 10 minutes before proceeding to the next color.
- If mistakes are made, they can be “erased” using a toothpick to scrape the paint away.
- Allow the paint to air dry for 24 hours.
- Fire the medallions in a conventional oven, following the directions on the paint package for drying and firing. This converts the paint to ceramic. A second hand toaster oven be dedicated to this purpose. In this way, any residue from the process that may adhere to the inside of the oven enclosure cannot contaminate food items cooked in the oven later.
Lady Edana the Red of the Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands learned pewter casting from her Laurel, Master Will Langdon of Greymorne. Lord Andreas de Heisende from the Shire of Gryffyn’s Keep has made pewter medallions as largess for King Malcolm and Queen Tessa to give to the Kingdom of the Outlands.
Lady Edana says this craft is best pursued with someone knowledgeable in the art. With the guidance of her Laurel, Master Langdon of Greymorne, and feedback from many other pewter casters, she begin with the first lesson in casting: “Hot metal looks the same as cold metal.”
You need rock to carve into a mold – soapstone is a perfect medium for beginners. Lady Edana buys hers at an art store for $3.00 per pound (Ed. note, it’s available through Dick Blick Art Supplies or Sculptor.org online). Try to select a piece that is free from inclusions, which you cannot always see. She always performs a scratch test to see how readily it carves. Lord Andreas recommends using a hacksaw to cut the soapstone blocks into two 1″ thick slices and sanding them smooth so they fit tightly together.
Lady Edana says tools specifically for carving are hard to find, so many people create their own or use jeweler and dental tools. She has modified bead making tools, and employed micro tools such as screwdrivers and hand drills bits. Lord Andreas epoxied a regular nail into an antler and then shaped the tip to the working head that he needed. He also used ball files and wood carving tools. Lady Edana also uses “planers” to carve large flat surfaces evenly and a modified compass utilizing the sharp pointy end. For shapes she has various templates of circles, ovals and squares and a good sturdy metal compass. Costs are varied from free to how much your pocket book will withstand.
You will also want rulers (one transparent and one metal), sandpaper, play-doh, and talc. A cast iron pot, ladle, and a heating source (Edana uses a propane camping stove) will get you started. A metal file and steel wool are used for finishing. The greatest needful thing is loupes – magnifying eyeglasses. It is irrelevant how wonderful your eyesight is, they are indispensable. Edana bought hers for $50 and considers it well worth the cost.
- Pewter is an alloy of tin and a mixture of various elements that may include bismuth, antimony, and occasionally copper or silver. It used to contain lead, but no longer does because lead is amazingly poisonous and absorbed through ingestion and skin contact include the eye. There are two kinds of pewter available: reclaimed, which is old pewter items re-melted into ingots; and pewter alloys categorized as R92 and R98. The number represents the tin to element/metal ratio. RotoMetals is a great source, but it’s worth comparison shopping. Prices are roughly $18 per pound.
- Use eye protection, gloves, a leather apron and a facemask. Tie your hair back. Don’t wear loose clothing of synthetic fabrics, and wear enclosed leather shoes. You will get metal on you at some point. It splashes, spills and is quite hot even if it looks cool. When you wish to exam a cast item, you may think it is cool – it is NOT. Pewter’s melting point is between 350-500 degrees.
Designs and Carving
- Draw the design to scale on paper, then draw it in reverse. YOU MUST DO THIS, because you are going to carve in reverse and looking at the design in reverse reduces mistakes. You can either trace or draw the reverse design on the soapstone. In the picture shown here, the darker square is the back piece and the lighter is the front piece of soapstone.
- Now contemplate the various depths of your carving. Lady Edana uses three. The most shallow is the shape (circle) of the medallion. The deepest is the foremost (cloud) of the picture. The sun’s depth will be shallower than the cloud, yet deeper than the shape, so it appears to rest behind the cloud. Carve to the appropriate depths, and be careful not to create undercuts, when you have an overhang of soapstone where the pewter is to pour. Undercuts will cause the pewter to lock into the mold and more than likely crack it. Fine sandpaper will help you create smooth surfaces.
- While carving, Lady Edana presses play-doh into the mold to check her progress. You can fine tune details of your carving when you test pour with pewter. When you are finished, carve a “Y” shaped sprue connecting to your circle into which the pewter will enter. You will invest 4+ hours in the carving depending on your skill and detail.
- Lord Andreas made 60 medallions using a little over 4 pounds of pewter. The total time to carve, cast and file them was around 120 hours.
Pouring occurs in several stages. First, pin my molds so they match exactly every time you pour. You must do this for medallions with two carved sides. Using a drill, make a “L” shaped hole from the side of the stone. Then drill a matching divot on the second piece of stone. Squeezing the two pieces of stone together, pour melted lead into the opening. The result is an exposed peg that fits into the divot, holding it in the same place every time. Lead is used for these pins as it has a higher melting point than pewter. Repeat the process again opposing the one you just created.
- The second stage of pouring is to see how well the mold casts. You may need to touch up some of your carving. If pewter is not completely filling the shape, carve air vents from the shape to the outer edges of the mold to allow air to escape instead of creating pockets in the medallion. If the pewter sticks to the stone, lightly dust the stone with talc. Sticking can also be cause by overhangs.
- This stage can be the most tedious and frustrating because there are so many variable as to why the medallion is not pouring correctly. It takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to troubleshoot a mold.
- When the medallion does pour to your standard, begin the last stage of pouring, mass production. You can pour one right after the other. You may have to stop because the mold is too hot to handle or begins to have mistakes. Letting the mould cool rectifies most issues.
- Once the medallions are cast and cooled, remove the sprue and any flashing (extra pewter on the edges of the shape) with a file and smooth with sandpaper. Remove any oxidation and shine the medallion with steel wool. With skill and luck, you will end up with something like this:
- For hanging the piece, either carve loop into the mould or drill a hole in the pewter.
- Lord Andreas notes that you can paint your pewter medallions with enamel paints that fuse at very low temperatures. Pewter melts around 430 to 460 degrees F, so you after painting your medallions, you can put them in the oven at 250-300 degrees for about an hour to fuse the paint and make it permanent without melting the pewter.
Medallion at left by Lady Edana, medallions at right by Lord Andreas.
Don Anais Fenne of the Shire of Misty Highlands is well-known for his metalwork, and tells us about several methods he uses when making enameled order medallions.
- I predominately do my medallions in metal: Brass, bronze, copper, pewter, silver, or gold. I would say that the two sources that I use the most for supplies are Rio Grande Jewelry Supply and Online Metals.
- The two methods that I use the most for making medallions are repoussé, which involves shaping metal into a bowl of pitch, and cloisonné, which is a method of fusing glass enamels to metal in intricate patterns. Both of these methods have a very steep learning curve and require fairly large investments in both equipment and in time to learn to do them well. Cloisonné, in particular, is not for the faint of heart, as it involves multiple firings in a kiln, and one small mistake could erase hours upon hours of work.
- The time invested in my work ranges anywhere from a couple of hours for a simpler piece all the way up to anywhere between 20-40 hours for a complex peerage medallion.
- The most important things to remember in the styles of awards that I do is that you need to practice, practice, practice in order to be competent in these styles. I highly recommend finding someone that you know already has experience working in the styles you would like to try and get as many pointers from them as you can. You would be astounded at the time you can save and the mistakes you can avoid just by getting tips from someone who has done it many, many times. And with any metal work, always, always, always keep safety in mind. You haven’t lived until you have had to remove a tiny sliver of bronze that was sticking into your own eyeball with a pair of tweezers.
- Those wanting to break into doing metal medallions might want to look into etched metal. It has a much lower learning curve, a much lower equipment cost, and an easy repeatability of design. All you need is a sheet of metal, some ferric chloride (which is an easy to use and much safer and cleaner etching chemical than any acids… it is also readily available on the internet as it is also used for etching circuit boards) and something to use as a resist. You can use anything from fingernail polish to latex paint. I personally use Staedtler Lumocolor Permanent Red pens for fine designs, and a thick tarry substance called asphaltum for large ones. This method allows you do designs both simple and incredibly complex, and with the use of a stencil, you can easily repeat your design on multiple pieces.
Medallions by Don Anais, cloisonné at left, repoussé at right
Countess Genevieve du Vent Argent of the Barony-Marche of the Debatable Lands received her Laurel for the beautiful cloisonné medallions she made. She provides us with details of how they are constructed for those who are interested in this challenging technique.
What is Enameling?
- Enameling is a process of fusing colored glass to metal through several firings in a kiln. Enamel firing temperatures are between 1250-1500 degrees F. Enamel glass is available in stick form, or pre-ground into granules (like salt or sugar) or a powder, and comes in several opaque, opalescent and transparent colors. Every layer of enamel requires a separate firing; the color is built up one layer at a time. Opaque enamels can be applied more thickly; a small piece may only need 6-8 layers. Transparent enamels usually look clearer when applied in several very thin layers. Depending on the project, a piece with transparent enamels need 15-25 layers to complete. Patience is rewarded when your piece shines in the sunlight like a beautiful jewel!
- There are several enameling techniques; when I was actively making medallions years ago, my favorite technique was cloisonné. Thin wires are formed into cells or “cloisons” into a design. Besides acting as a linear design element, the wires also keep the different enamel colors separated, so the colors won’t run into one another when the glass is molten hot during firing. This is a great method to use for creating simple linear designs.
- For information on the enameling process, several books and lists of workshops and classes are available on The Enamelist Society web page.
- The base metal must be 99.9% pure copper (not an alloy) for enamels to adhere, can be purchased already cut into circles or other shapes. Fine silver .999 works well and 24-karat gold works very well but is a bit expensive. (Sterling silver .925 can also be used but requires an additional process called “depletion gilding” to prepare the surface to accept the enamels.)
- Cloisonné wire must also be either pure .999 fine silver or 24-karat gold, and should be annealed (heated and cooled) so that it is soft and flexible for shaping. Copper wire can be used, but adds a clean-up step to every firing, since the copper will oxidize (fire scale).
- Rio Grande is a good source for silver cloisonné wire, copper sheet, lead-free enamels, kilns, enameling and jewelry tools.
- The Enamelworks Supply Company is a great source for books, lead-based enamels, pre-cut copper shapes, cloisonné wire, enameling tools, and other supplies.
Construction and Safety
- Firing is done at very high temperatures: 1250-1500 degrees.
- Some enamels are lead-based, which means they are toxic and must be handled carefully. Lead-free enamels are available, but I think that the colors are not quite as vibrant as the lead-based enamels.
- Enameling is a time-consuming, methodical process. If you skip a step or are not meticulous in cleaning your enamels or keeping your workspace clean, dirt or impurities will get into your enameled piece and will ruin it, or may cause you extra clean-up work. Rushing a project or working when you are tired is definitely not a good idea — if the kiln gets too hot or you get distracted while firing, you may melt your piece and will ruin hours of hard work. Cooling the piece too quickly will cause the enamel to crack.
- There are a few things I did to speed up the process somewhat. Buying pre-cut or die-formed copper shapes saves a lot of time compared to cutting out shapes from copper sheet metal.
- Working on multiples of the same piece simultaneously saves time (groups of 3 worked well), so if one piece melted in the kiln, I had a couple of spares in progress. Each step required extra “waiting” time: drying the wet-packed enamel, allowing the fired piece to cool, filing the edges and cleaning the enamel after each firing — I could work on the next piece while the previous one was in one of these “waiting” stages.
- For the final step of “stoning” – grinding the surface of the enamel to smooth out the piece, traditionally done by hand with a carborundum grinding stone, I saved time by using a power tool, a flexible-shaft (like a Dremel tool) with a diamond-cloth pad acting as the grinding stone. Stoning is done with the enamel sitting in a shallow pan of water, so you have to be careful while using a power tool, but it sure speeds things up and saves your elbow from repetitive stress. However, you also have to be careful not to grind too quickly or you may lose too much detail or color.
- Enamels are essentially “glass on metal”. If someone’s medallion is dropped or gets smacked into something, it will crack or chunks of enamel may fall out. A damaged medallion can be very difficult to repair; often it will just melt in the kiln. While I used to just drill a hole in the copper before enameling and add a jump-ring and neck cord to the piece when it was completed, I wouldn’t recommend this after seeing what has happened to some of my pieces over the years. Really, enameled pieces should be set into bezeled pieces of jewelry (as pendants or pins) in the same way that a jewel, stone, or cameo is set into a ring or brooch. The bezel or other setting will protect the edges of the piece, and the effect is much nicer looking, finished piece of jewelry. So you need to add jewelry making skills to the list of requirements or find a pre-made setting or a friendly jeweler to set your pieces for you.
Cloisonné medallions by Countess Genevieve,
photo at left by Master Gille MacDhonuill.