How to Make Cremation Ash Jewellery
After some disasters with resin, like a batch of EcoResin turning everything yellow, even hair and fabrics, I went back to using standard epoxy resin and recommend Axson D150 (I don’t know if this is available outside the EU, sorry). This is a cost effective way of doing resin but when you add grains of ash to epoxy resin it sinks if the resin is freshly made. This is because it has a long pot-life (click this link for a downloadable guide to pot-life). The longer the pot-life, the longer it takes to start to thicken and it gets too thick to work with. This is a bit different to cure time, which is the total time it takes for a piece to be completely hard.
When you first mix up epoxy resin, it has a consistency thicker than water but thinner than maple syrup. If it’s left in the cold it will stay this way for the maximum amount of time. Keeping resin cool helps extend its pot-life, which is perfect for breastmilk and lock of hair jewellery. However, for cremation ash and umbilical cord/placenta or sand you need thicker resin. If you’re in a hurry you can put the pot onto a USB coffee warmer or for lots of items try a reptile mat, being careful not to tip over your resin, and don’t let it get too hot and don’t forget it. Trial and error will show you the perfect lividity of the resin but I like the texture of black treacle but if it’s left too long it will gel and be ruined. It can be hard to get thick resin into a mould so our favourite method of getting pieces ready was to fill the mould with fresh resin and wait until it is the right thickness before adding the ash. The problem with this was planning and when you’re a working parent or having to manage a chronic illness and I had trouble knowing if I would be able to go back later and complete the pieces, sometimes losing entire resin pours.
In recent months we’ve switched to using UV resin like Lisa Pavelka or the Qiao Qiao UV Resin.
It’s more expensive per ounce or gram but because we waste less and it’s a much quicker process I get that value back. I purchased two cheap brands and one was great, one stank like polyester resin and affected my breathing and cured yellow! The Lisa Pavelka one is low odour and cures crystal clear so it’s best not to skimp on something so important as clients’ loved ones’ ashes. You’ll also need a cheap gel lamp like this. My hack for the gel lamp is to remove the plastic insert and place the lamp on a sheet of aluminum foil! We want the maximum amount of light to hit the jewellery to cure the resin and you work in layers.
Moulds and Layering With Resin
Our best selling items are our charm beads. They take a bit of practice and knowledge of filing, doming and attaching hardware called inserts (also known as grommets and washers). Pearls are popular, they are spheres usually around 10mm, but need to be drilled and attached to pearl cups. Rings are a little less complicated because you can pour the resin into a ring setting, or make a cabochon (a “stone” with clients’ elements) and fit it into a ring with crown settings. I’ll write more blogs soon on settings and explain the differences between the three main style of setting resin rings, how to drill charm beads and pearls. For a new artist we recommend necklaces that don’t need much hardware that pop straight out of the mould so we recommend this inexpensive little mould. I cut mine into smaller sections and they can be used individually for each client and fit under the gel lamp nicely. You can add a thin layer of resin, cure for a minute, then another layer with little bits of ash in a shape like a heart or swirled in, then a third layer could contain a photo transfer or a picture of a tree, text, stamping, real pressed flowers. The list is endless and falls to your creativity and your client’s wishes. You can add a little pigment or mica powder like Pearl EX to the resin in a shot glass or silicone muffin case, that’s how we do our beautiful coloured backgrounds.
When you take the piece out of the mould make sure it’s well-cured (five minutes for gel, a few days for epoxy). Then if you have any rough edges you’ll need to sand them down and dome the piece. I love this video by Little Surprises; Ayla and I love to watch her videos together 🙂
Other Media to Make Cremation Ash Jewellery With
Oven bake Sculpey is a great way to work at your own pace with clay which stays soft until you bake it. You can get a huge range of colours but to best see the ash I recommend using a translucent clay like Sculpey Premo Accents in Translucent or FIMO Effect Translucent. It’s much easier to work with than the air dry Lumina clay, which you would use with things you can’t heat like flowers or breastmilk (and is pretty crumbly).
Polymer clay artists often invest in a toaster oven (try Lidl or Aldi for good deals!) but you can use your oven at home to try it out at first but we’d advise against putting clients’ elements like cord and ash in the oven you’ll use for family cooking for hygiene reasons. It will have a dull finish but can be polished to a satin finish. It’s possible to give it a shiny finish with sprays but they’ve never worked out for me because they go yellow and flake off. UV resin works, but if you’re using that you might as well cast the ash in the resin in the first place.
Safety in Making Cremation Ash Jewellery
(From Making Breastmilk Jewellery Part 3) So another safety reminder before we move on, not meant to patronise but to remind us how important PPE (personal protective equipment) and safety are. I can’t make you read it, but I hope to do my best not to encourage anyone to take risks in their family home. Use common sense and we take no responsibility for any use of heat, preservatives, chemicals including resin etc.
1. We recommend wearing goggles, facemask and tying back your hair (if appropriate) when working with resin. Most importantly you must wear gloves. Some people are allergic to latex, like Nikki, so unpowdered nitrile gloves are what we use here and a great tip is: put on two pairs of gloves then you can remove one pair quickly while working with no break in workflow.
4. Be careful not to do any of this with pets or small children around, even if it is heating something in the kitchen. I’ve found that even curious spouses need to be kept away… Let us know in the comments if you have any more suggestions.
For classes on resin you may be able to find something local but I learnt all resin and most silver smithing from YouTube tutorials. We’re planning videos showing you how to make and use silicone moulds, open bezels and pour-in bezels as well as some studio safety. You can read about Fairtrade Gemstone Ethics here; if you’re adding precious stones to your work and I’m soon to be visiting a friend’s gemstone mines in Tanzania at the same time as delivering menstrual pads with the charity Project Kidogo.
You can learn a bit more about my life as a memorial jeweller in my blog A Day In The Life of a Bereavement Jewellery Artist. If you’re looking for more tutorials you can see part one of How to Make Lock of Hair Jewellery here and part one of this blog is here.
Spellings – this blog is written in the United Kingdom so my spelling is in English. I’ll try to add alternatives after but our spelling of jewellery is correct here.
This post contains affiliate links meaning when if you buy one of our recommended products I receive a small amount of earnings which comes in handy on Amazon for our two children’s books. They are learning Phonics and love animals, bugs and spaceships.