I have been trying to combine metals with glass ever since I took my inspiring first glass beadmaking class from Kate Fowle Meleney nearly 20 years ago.. The advent of low-fire silver metal clays it has made it easy to add silver embellishments to glass, which not only is a beautiful touch but also is eminently practical given the rising cost of silver. Even a small amount of embellishment allows you to make something unique very quickly. You will need to buy or make a long-necked lampworked glass bead from soda-lime glass (aka “soft glass”), which has a COE (coefficient of expansion) between 90 and 104 and is manufactured under a number of brands including Effetre (formerly Moretti), Bullseye, Lauscha, Vetrofond and BellaDonna, among others. The secret to a successful outcome is working “wet” with the silver clay and using thick PMC3™ oil paste to adhere it to the glass.
Author: by Ann Davis – USA Photos: H. Caldwell Davis
Edited by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc, Margaret Schindel and Joy Funnell.
Project Materials and Supplies
-Lampworked glass bead with long, slender neck (made from “soft” (soda-lime) glass with a COE of 90 to 104 and optional frit or reactive glass decoration)
-PMC3™ clay, 25g or less
-Thick PMC3™ oil paste made with pure essential lavender oil or another essential oil
Tools, Supplies and Equipment:
-Basic metal clay tools (Click thumbnail image of list above to enlarge.)
-Isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol
-Gold pen-plating system (optional)
-LOS Patina Set-Up (optional)
Creative Fire Health and Safety Tip: Vermiculite is the safest of the support materials mentioned. Potter’s sand/silica sand and ceramic fiber blanket can be hazardous to your health. Inhaling airborne silica dust or refractory ceramic fibers/dust can cause not only eye and skin irritation but also respiratory problems including silicosis and lung cancer. MCAM recommends that you wear disposable gloves and a respirator NIOSH-rated for this type of airborne silica or refractory ceramic fiber dust, and that you follow all health and safety precautions on the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product you are using.
Select or make an elongated lampworked glass bead with a long, slender neck. My bead is about 2″ (2.54 cm) long with a 1/2″ (1.27 cm) neck that will become the stem of the silver flower. Make sure the neck isn’t too short or thick, since the silver stem will be built around it. When selecting glass colors, keep in mind that silver metal fumes can coat the glass and sometimes cause a color reaction. I make my own lampworked beads and test my glass colors ahead of time to see which ones react to the silver fumes (see sidebar “Testing Glass Colors”). Sometimes I don’t want the reaction, and other times I think it will add more character to the piece. This particular pendant was inspired by blooming fuchsia flowers, so I used Bullseye brand Neo-Lavender glass decorated with Val Cox’s frit Indian Summer, (www.valcoxfrits.com) . BellaDonna brand reactive glass colors (Moody Blue and Purplescent) also are great for decorations. If you are making your bead, be sure to anneal it in the kiln according to the glass manufacturer’s instructions. Adding fired metal clay embellishments onto the glass adds stress, and if the bead has not been annealed properly it could fracture, either right away or in the future.
Wrap the neck of the bead with silver clay. Roll a coil of PMC3™ long enough to wrap around and completely cover the neck of the bead. Moisten the coil lightly with water and cover it with plastic wrap so it won’t dry out. Paint the neck with thick PMC3™ oil paste (see sidebar, “Making PMC3™ Oil Paste”) and quickly wrap the moist coil around it , lightly pressing the clay into the oil paste as you go.
Tip: We’ll be adding a silver bail to the bead later to turn it into a pendant, but you also could cover the hole with clay at this point or omit the bail and hang the bead conventionally instead.
Add the silver clay embellishments. Roll out a slab of clay and texture it to a thickness of 3 cards (0.75 mm). I used a texture plate I made many years ago. Cut out several motifs from the patterned clay  to embellish the top of the bead. Carefully lift one of the cutouts and invert it onto your palm. Cover the back with PMC3™ oil paste  and quickly place the embellishment on the bead in the desired location. Press the wet clay onto the bead to adhere it securely, using gentle pressure to avoid damaging the texture. (Don’t worry if there is excess oil paste on the bead; you will clean it off after the clay has dried.) Apply the remaining clay cutouts. Have fun by adding your own personal touches, if you wish. For example, you could add a fireable gemstone or maybe a little ladybug to accent a leaf texture. The possibilities for embellishments are endless. When you have finished embellishing, set the bead aside and let the clay air-dry. It’s okay to put the bead in a dehydrator, but be careful; if the air is hot, the glass will get hot, too. (My dehydrator, which has a fan, is set to 125°F (52°C); when I take the bead out I usually do a little “ouch, ouch, ouch” dance as I carry it across the room to my worktable!)
Clean off the excess oil paste thoroughly. Dip a clean, small brush into alcohol and wipe away any excess oil paste that squished out around the embellishments when you pressed them into place (and any silver fingerprints). Don’t worry, the alcohol won’t hurt the clay. Clean the brush constantly by wiping it off on a rag as you remove the excess paste. Be careful to clean the entire glass bead thoroughly to be sure that no traces of unwanted silver remain .
Make the silver washer for the bail. The bail is made from a textured silver clay washer (flat donut shape). To determine the diameter of the hole, select an opening in a circle template that fits comfortably over the silver clay-covered stem of the bead. Then select an opening in the template at least two sizes larger for the outer diameter of the bail. For the stem of my particular bead, I chose a 13/16″ circle for the outer diameter and a 1/4″ opening for the hole in the middle. Roll out your clay and texture it (optional) to a thickness of 4 cards (1 mm). Cut out the outside of the washer using the larger circle template opening, then cut out a hole from the center using the smaller template opening . Set the bail aside to dry.
Tip: Firing metal clay over glass requires a cooler firing schedule, so the sintered silver is not as strong as it would be if it were fired hotter. I compensate for this reduced strength by making my bails very thick. I’ve been doing this for years and never have had one fail. It also is desirable to reinforce the bail attachment area with as much clay as you can work into your design, which is why I designed this pendant with clay covering the stem.
Trim and attach the bail. Measure the diameter of the stem (the clay-covered neck of the bead) and cut out a strip that width from the silver clay washer . Allow the bail to dry. Test fit the bail over the stem. If necessary, sand the cut edges until it fits comfortably. Remove the bail and moisten the cut and sanded edges with a damp brush. Press a tiny ball of moist clay onto each of the moistened, cut edges. Moisten the areas on the stem where the bail will be attached (inside the penciled lines) and carefully slide the bail onto the stem. The tiny clay balls should attach the bail to the stem very firmly, with no gaps. (If there are any gaps, caulk them securely with bits of fresh clay.) Remove any excess clay that shows around the seams and dry the pendant .
Make the end cap. Roll out a slab of clay to a thickness of 3 cards (0.75 mm). Cut a circle out of the clay that will cover the unembellished bead hole and come up over the sides of the bead at least 1/8″ (3.2 mm). You can texture the end cap or leave it plain. Paint the back of the clay circle with PMC3™ oil paste and press it onto the end of the bead, conforming it to the glass gently until you have a pleasing shape. Add embellishments, if desired. If you wish, you also can embed a fine silver jump ring into the center of the end cap so that you can add a dangle to the finished pendant. Dry the end cap and any new embellishments thoroughly.
Fire the pendant. Place the pendant in the kiln on a kiln shelf, never fire on the floor of the kiln. Make sure you support the whole bead and especially the bail and any other protruding elements with fiber blanket, vermiculite, or another firing support. Ramp the kiln at full speed to 1110°F (500°C) and hold for one hour. I have experimented with lots of firing times, but the one-hour hold seems to work every time for me. It’s best just to let it cool to room temperature inside the closed kiln. At a minimum, don’t crack or open the kiln door until the internal temperature is 200°F (93°C) or cooler, or you will cause thermal shock to the glass.
Finish, add optional gold accents, and patina. If you wish to add gold accents to any of your silver embellishments, (If you plan to use a gold plating pen, wait until after you have burnished and buffed the silver.) Burnish the metal, preferably in a tumbler. I have a vibratory tumbler and stainless steel shot and put everything I make into it overnight. If you have attached your metal clay to the glass securely, tumbling will not detach it or damage the glass. I have test-tumbled pieces of glass embellished with fired silver clay for as long as 48 hours with no ill effects. After tumbling, buff the pieces to a high shine. (I use a motor with a 6″ buffing .) If you wish to add pen-plated gold accents, do that now. Add a liver of sulfur patina, if desired, and remove it from the high points of the silver with a polishing cloth. Your pendant is ready to wear .
Making PMC3™ Oil Paste. You can use any essential oil to make your own silver oil paste, but lavender seems to be the most popular. Take a small container of fresh PMC3™ slip, such as a typical 15g jar, and add 10-15 drops of oil. I have found that there is a lot of leeway on the amount. Stir, stir, stir! Eventually it will get smooth and creamy. You can make this from your own recycled powder. The technique works best when the slip has a pudding-like consistency. I keep one small container just for this purpose and keep topping it off with silver clay powder, essential oil and/or water, as needed. It never seems to go bad.
Testing Glass Colors. Cut small strips of clay and wrap them around 3″-4″(7.5 cm-10 cm) scraps of glass rods. Allow the clay or paste to dry completely and fire the rods to 1110°F (500°C). You will quickly see which glasses react to the silver and which don’t  and can make your choice about which one(s) to use for your pendant. The glasses that tend to be reactive usually are great fumers. If you prefer a finish, the fuming can be removed easily by dipping the glass in etching solution. I’ve created some great effects that way.