Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a day that celebrates deceased friends and family members through prayers, remembrances, and shrines decorated in their honor. Our September/October 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine featured a number of projects inspired by the festive holiday, including this textured metal sugar skull necklace designed by artist Karen McGovern. It’s perfect to wear on the Day of the Dead and beyond. Follow Karen’s step-by-step guide below to create your own!
Day of the Dead Necklace by Karen McGovern
I am fascinated with folklore and cultural history. One of my favorite cultural holidays is Día de los Muertos, also known as Day of the Dead. Sugar skulls feature heavily in this holiday—fanciful and elaborately decorated skulls adorned with flowers, paints, gemstones, and more. This necklace is my interpretation of a sugar skull, rendered in a mix of wonderful metals and embellishments.
- Permanent marker, fine (I used a fine-point Sharpie® marker.)
- Copper sheet, 24-gauge, etched or textured, 2 1/2″ square
- Metal shears or jeweler’s saw
- Flat file
- Needle file
- Solder block
- Brass cross stampings (I used 2 large stampings from Nunn Design®.)
- Easy Solder paste (I bought mine at cooltools.us.)
- Micro torch
- Quench bowl
- Sanding sponges in medium and fine grit
- Eurotool Euro Punch Tool
- Decorative metal stampings (I used metal stampings from Nunn Design®.)
- 1 brass grand aster
- 1 large aster
- 1 brass mini daisy
- 2 silver twig connector bars: 1 large, 1 mini
- Dapping block
- Micro screws and nuts, 3
- Pliers, needle-nose
- Wire snips
- Bench block
- Hammer, chasing or ball-peen
- Accent beads, 3 (I used silver beads.)
- NOTE: The beads must have holes large enough to accommodate the micro screws.
- Charm (I used a copper medallion dispeller charm from Nunn Design®)
- Jump rings, 5 (I used silver.)
- Rosary chain, two 5″ lengths (I used black.)
- Closure (I used a leaf toggle bar and a round toggle ring.)
- Protective finish, clear (I used Everbrite™.)
NOTE: This necklace is approximately 17″ in length, including the connectors and charm.
1. Draw the outline of a skull (click here for pattern) on the back side of your etched or textured copper sheet with the fine permanent marker, (FIGURE 1) and then cut out the shape with the metal shears or the saw. File all of the edges smooth with the flat and needle files. (FIGURE 2)
2. Place the copper skull on the solder block and solder the crosses to the skull using the Easy Solder paste and the micro torch, forming “teeth” for the skull. (FIGURE 3) Quench the metal in the bowl, dry it, and then clean the piece with the sanding sponges to the desired color and finish. Spray the skull with the clear protective finish to prevent further tarnish or color change, if desired.
NOTE: Copper changes color wonderfully with the heat of a torch. After soldering and cleaning the skull, simply heat it again until you get the color you desire.
3. Punch a 1/16″ hole in the center of each floral stamping, (FIGURE 4) and then clean the hole with the needle file.
4. Dap the large and medium-sized floral stampings on the steel dapping block to give them a gentle curve. (FIGURE 5)
5. Arrange the flowers on the skull as desired, and mark through the centers with the permanent marker. Punch 1/16″ holes through the skull at the Sharpie marks with the EuroPunch tool, and then clean the holes with the needle file.
6. Starting with the smallest floral stamping, attach the metal stampings to the skull through the holes made in step 5, using the brass micro screws and nuts as follows: thread a silver accent bead onto the micro screw, then the flower, insert the screw through the hole in the copper skull, and then thread on the small twig connector from the back. (FIGURE 6) If the hole on the twig connector is snug, open it a bit with the needle file.
NOTE: The twig connectors can be moved slightly and adjusted, if desired, to center the skull prior to the final tightening of the nuts, trimming of the screw, and hammering.
7. Attach the nut on the back side of the skull, and tighten it with the needle-nose pliers, making sure the nut is as tight as possible.
8. Trim the excess length from the screws with wire snips, making them almost flush with the nuts. Place the skull face down on the bench block, and hammer the end of the micro screw flush to the nut with the round end of the hammer.
9. Use pliers to attach the copper dispeller charm to the small twig connector with jump rings, finishing that side with 5″ of rosary chain and the toggle ring. Attach the remaining rosary chain to the large twig connector, finishing with the toggle bar. (SEE FINISHED IMAGE.)
Karen McGovern is a conservation biologist and jewelry designer living in South Florida. She works with mixed metals, found objects, botanicals, and more in her hand-fabricrated jewelry designs. Visit Karen’s website at beadkeepers.com to see more of her jewelry art!