How to Attach Metal in Assemblage Art

29 Feb 2012

When my husband returned from a trip to Hawaii last month, he brought home coconuts for our daughters, a pair of earrings for me, some Kona coffee, and three odd looking, rusty pieces of metal he found on the ground.

metal assemblage wreath
Metal assemblage wreath.
Yes, Nick has joined the found object assemblage art club. Now, everywhere he goes, you'll find him looking down. He doesn't want to miss out on some undiscovered treasure he can reuse.

Nick has always collected odd stuff; he likes to fix things, and bits and pieces always come in hand. But he got inspired to make some art when he saw a book about Steampunk contraptions. Now he works on found-object contraptions in his basement workshop for hours at a time.

I also like to think he was inspired by this metal and found object wreath assemblage I made for the holidays last year. For a couple of hours every night for a week or so I sat with boxes full of metal, broken jewelry, and other found objects I've accumulated, attaching the bits and pieces to vintage bedsprings strung together in a circle. Some pieces were old and grungy, others new and shiny or new and aged to look vintage.

Metal assemblages are fun to make. And you don't need a lot of special equipment (though if you're handy with a blow torch and a soldering iron, go for it). Here are some ways of attaching metal in an assemblage.

Wire it. For my wreath, I used copper craft wire to attach most of my found objects. Most often I looped the wire through a hole or opening in the object and then wrapped the wire around the bedspring wreath. If the object didn't have a hole, I wrapped the wire around the object, cage-style, then twisted the wire onto the wreath. You'll need wire cutters and a pair of pliers can help.

Glue it. If you're attaching metal objects to a board, a canvas, or heavy fabric, you can often use glue. Heavy gel medium works for most objects, but if they are very heavy you might want to opt for a heavy-duty adhesive like Gorilla Glue, E-6000, or two-part epoxy.

Pre-cut metal pieces and metal
stamping tools.
Screw it.
If the metal is very heavy, large, or in an awkward position relative to the base, screwing the pieces together is a good choice. This is my husband's attachment preference for his found-object contraptions. You will need a solid base such as wood or medium-density fiberboard to attach the piece to, however.

Stitch it. Metal pieces can be attached to canvas and fabric with heavy-duty thread, embroidery floss, or yarn. Either pass the needle through a hole in the object or couch the object by crisscrossing the thread over it to hold it in place.

Chain it. Jewelry findings like jump rings can be used to attach a piece of metal in an assemblage. You can even use broken jewelry parts such as chain links for this purpose.

If you'd like to add metal to your artwork but don't want to spend all your time looking down at the ground, scrounging for old objects, you can find ready-to-buy rusty metal blank shapes and reproduction vintage hardware in the Cloth Paper Scissors shop, along with hundreds of other mixed-media and collage books and supplies.

Otherwise, keep your head down!

P.S. What's your favorite place to look for found objects? Do you prefer old metal, bits from nature, or some other kind of object for assemblage. Tell us about it below.

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Donna Wilkes wrote
on 29 Feb 2012 6:41 AM

I am a self-proclaimed rust goddess.  I cannot believe I open today's blog and find an interesting idea for bed springs.  I rescued one last month and have been taking it apart.  Today was the day I was planning to play around to come up with something besides votive holders.  Thanks for the great ideas and the affixing advice. I love waking up to you each morning!

on 29 Feb 2012 10:04 AM

Don't forget to check Etsy for supplies.  A great resource.

Brumille wrote
on 29 Feb 2012 11:46 AM

We have an awesomely junky thrift store here called The Barn where Goodwill dumps whatever doesn't sell. And I mean DUMP - like pnto huge rolling tray tables. I let the crazy "gonna make a fortune on ebay" people root through first, and then I find cool things underneath like scrabble tiles, old charms and trinkets, tiny plastic toys and beads, etc.

Geri F wrote
on 29 Feb 2012 12:28 PM

First of all, love CPS!!!! Have picked up so many wonderful ideas for where I find my fav found objects????....well, everywhere! I find great "natural" pieces while walking my little poochie...found a tiny twig that will be a perfect starting point for a cluster of polymer clay grapes for a pin just yesterday!  Also find super odd pieces at the local thrift shops...have found lovely vintage buttons/zippers and even great broken vintage jewels too there not to mention fab frames for my collages and tons of wonderful old dress patterns for card/collage use. Best of all, don't overlook your very own "trash" bin...foil lids from yougurt that can be embossed for use on cards, colorful candy wrappers and containers and my hubby dares not discard any of those wonderful cup holders from the local coffee shop...great texture and color for use on whatever!!! Just keep your eyes open and you'll soon have more found objects than you could ever imagine!!!

Donna Wilkes wrote
on 29 Feb 2012 4:11 PM

I'm back - have been playing around with a wire hoop and threading the larger mattress coils around the frame.  It still needs work, but at least it is a start.  Another source for odd objects - Make friends with people who do clean-outs after estate sales, tear-downs, and rental properties.  They often throw out the best junk!!!  I came home today with a box of free sewing scraps, button cards, and thread spools.

Bigskyartist wrote
on 1 Mar 2012 12:30 PM

I seek out old homestead dumps down in ravines & ditches. Where I live there's Rusty stuff galore: old kitchen tools, doorknobs, bedsprings, barb wire, bottles, buttons, metal clasp purses, jewelry, china figurines -- all in various states of decrepitude.  If you see rusty cans in a ditch, likely you'll find the really good stuff under them. They're the lightest & over time they rise to the top of junk heaps.  Cans can be flattened & make great backgrounds for a rust project.

Bigskyartist wrote
on 1 Mar 2012 12:32 PM

I seek out old homestead dumps down in ravines & ditches. Where I live there's Rusty stuff galore: old kitchen tools, doorknobs, bedsprings, barb wire, bottles, buttons, metal clasp purses, jewelry, china figurines -- all in various states of decrepitude.  If you see rusty cans in a ditch, likely you'll find the really good stuff under them. They're the lightest & over time they rise to the top of junk heaps.  Cans can be flattened & make great backgrounds for a rust project.

chrisguppy wrote
on 1 Mar 2012 2:13 PM

I'm learning to solder from a friend who makes jewelry, so I'm really excited about working with metal, too - copper especially.

vintage k wrote
on 1 Mar 2012 5:04 PM

Great article! I love to dig through antique stores and junk shops and find broken jewelry, unusual looking keys, and mysterious-looking metal bits and pieces. I love charm bracelets, so it's fun to turn my finds into one-of-kind charms!

janetsellers wrote
on 1 Mar 2012 9:22 PM

My found object treasures? I have a weakness for tiny plastic toys (Barbie shoes, those little tiny pink pigs and pop beads) and all manner of seashells. I still have a stash of seashells from my childhood beach days. One day I want to make an entire house and garden walls out of seashells and piquesette random-nesses.

Ellen Etc wrote
on 1 Mar 2012 10:58 PM

We have great flea markets nearly year-round, just a few blocks from where I live. My most recent purchase at a dollar table was an old wall thermostat. I'm thinking of it glued on a box. It's even still accurate on the temperature. (Downside? Why was my purse so ~heavy~ for 10 days? You would not think one could lose an index-card sized thermostat in one's purse, but I am living proof that one can.)

Looking at the ground during the flea market is also surprisingly productive for intriguing scraps.

Shara33 wrote
on 2 Mar 2012 6:22 AM

When I read this article, I realized that I had found the base for something similar to your wreath already. In fact, it was a wreath base that I bought over a year ago from a man who was selling wreaths door to door at Christmas. I usually let them hang on my fence and pull out the brown branch bits now and then. Then I throw away the base. Didn't do that last time so now I have a rusty wreath base with some nicely browned branches, just waiting for me to add some bright-coloured buttons and broken jewellry, and some other rusty things.

on 5 Mar 2012 7:57 AM

Hi, my best salvage metal comes from industries.  When I opened my jewellery studio, i contacted a local business, they showed me their scrap pile. It was huge.  In it were all kinds of stainless pieces that I wanted for forming bracelets. Although they were selling all for metal scrap, they looked at my chosen pile and gave it to me for free. But,  then I came across even better scrap because I found die punched pieces that were all the same, hundreds of them.  I have used them in so many projects.

One quick other comment about attaching metal pieces,  I RIVIT pieces together all the time. People think its difficult... it isn't , and once you get the hang of it, makes possibilities  happen!

I also use heavy duty paper fasteners as well.

Boo Martin wrote
on 9 Mar 2013 5:05 AM

I love it that your husband has joined the found art club.

altnamara3 wrote
on 9 Mar 2013 9:18 AM

I don't usually walk with my head down, esp in the car park at Costco! bu the other day for some reason I walked along looking at the ground and found a rusty caliper, small enough, when embellished, to make a brilliant centre piece of a chunky necklace. My husband said, 'oh, a caliper, very handy', and I snagged it back telling him it was for me not him!  

On a recent trip to NYC I found a large flat metal earring, the cut outs on the earring will make it an ideal stencil,  and a rusty flattened-by-a -car button from someone's jeans. They will find themselves worked into something eventually. I really must have friends in other cities keep a look out for found objects. The more the merrier...