Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Acrylic Jewellery
Acrylic was originally used to imitate as closely as possible natural materials such as wood and ivory and therefore frequently labelled inferior or low quality. However, more recently, artists have found they have been able to make objects in plastic that are both fine and interesting in their own right.
Plastic is an extremely flexible material. It can be dyed in a multitude of colours, combined with other materials including gold, silver and precious stones and then heated and moulded into a whole range of interesting designs. It has thus attracted a growing following among jewellery designers eager to exploit its versatility.
The first plastic to be made into jewellery was Bakelite in the thirties. Today a favourite is acrylic, the generic term for the plastic sold under the tradenames Perspex. Plexiglas and Lucite.
Often used as a glass substitute, acrylic has all the twinkling clarity and high polish of glass but, and this is one of its chief advantages, it is much lighter. This means that the designer has plenty of scope to make the pieces big and bold without having to worry about weighing down the wearer.
A new range of possibilities opens up with the use of mirrored perspex. This has a mirrored surface so that while it still has the same high shine, it resembles metal rather than glass. A wide variety of looks can be created by scraping or cutting away some of the surface so that only parts of the surface are left mirrored. Mirrored perspex is available in gold, silver and bronze and should not be heated or moulded as the surface will lose its mirrored effect.
Acrylic becomes soft and very maluable when subjected to heat. Shapes that flow like liquid around the wrist, neck, through the hair or spiral from the ears, can be formed from acrylic once it has been adequately softened.
This is easily done by placing the acrylic sheet or rod in the oven or above a hotplate for three to four minutes.
Once the acrylic sheet is soft enough to bend and handle like plasticine, it can be moulded around any suitable shape. Coffee jars are good for shaping bangles around; tight spirals for earrings can be made by wrapping strands of acrylic around a pencil.
You will need a thick pair of gloves for holding the acrylic in place until it cools and keeps its shape. Once it has cooled, the object can be dyed.
The basic shapes required are drawn on the acrylic sheet with a permanent pen and cut out using a piercing saw with a wide toothed blade. Try cutting out interesting shapes that can be glued on to hair combs or slides or a selection of different motifs to form an interesting necklace. Any holes for jewellery fittings should be drilled at this stage.
The saw marks and cut marks will inevitably spoil the perfect surface that technology has bestowed on the plastic and it will need to be repolished. Sand gently with fine, wet and dry paper and then polish, either with a jewellers polishing machine and polishing compound, or with brasso, a cloth and lots of energy. Your design will then be ready for dyeing
There are numerous ways in which transparent acrylic can be dyed; each method creating its own unique effect. Experiment by dyeing the whole piece and then polish off the dye where you want the plastic to be clear, leaving colour around the edge or just in the centre.
Alternatively, press on blobs of blue tac or insulating tape before dyeing so that some areas will be left clear. In both cases, although the dye is only on the surface, the rich colours seem to glow from inside the plastic.
The dyeing itself can be done using basic kitchen equipment. A stainless steel pot can be used for dipping the items. Dispersal dyes for synthetic fabrics are often used, but Dylon is quite adequate. Do avoid using cold water dyes. The intensity of the colour depends upon how long you leave the piece in the dye - a matter for experimentation.
It is useful to use a sieve to transfer pieces in and out of the dye, keeping the pieces separate. Do remember that dyes can be dangerous and any equipment used in the process should be kept specifically for this purpose, or washed thoroughly after use.
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