A tutorial to set a resin sphere, also known as a “pearl” or an “orb” with glue-on, partial drilling, full drilling and wire wrapped settings. You’ll learn what each of these terms mean and also how to cover the pouring spout for a beautiful finish on your spheres or pearls. You can create beautiful jewellery for your clients with their breastmilk, cremation ashes, lock of hair or fur, umbilical cord or placenta.
Here’s my YouTube tutorial How to Make a Forget Me Not Pearl
When your piece is fully cured, remove it from the mould. If you’ve used UV resin then give it a wipe over with a high proof alcohol on some cotton wool or white cotton fabric scrap (old kids’ vests are perfect!). You may have a little dip round the pouring spout if you under-poured, in which case add a little more resin to make the surface smooth. Even if you’ve used epoxy resin for your main pour, you can use UV resin to fill this dent.
If you’ve got a lip where the spout was where you poured, you can cut, saw or file off the excess. Don’t forget to wear the right PPE when filing resin – a good mask or at least the nail technician style mask. The “holy grail”, for me, in resin work is to just have the tiniest lip on a piece that can be removed with my fingernails. UV resin can be a little bit brittle so if you have too much excess and try to cut it away, you may accidentally lose a chunk of your piece. The safe way to remove it is with a burr drill bit on your rotary tool
How to Set a Resin Sphere – The Easiest Ways
1. Pearl Cage Resin Spheres
The easiest way to set a resin pearl is to place it in a ready-made pearl cage. You can get these on various jewellery making websites and there are lots to choose from on Etsy. You need to be careful because they almost all come from China and the price doesn’t necessarily guarantee if it’s solid sterling silver. You can sometimes tell if a British or US seller is reselling by comparing the photos.
This angel wing pearl cage looks like a good option because the seller offers both silver plated and sterling silver (this one is sterling silver).
2. Partially Drilled Resin Spheres
As above, you’ll need a nice even sphere, then mark the centre of the pouring hole with a Sharpie and make sure it’s central. I prefer to use a hand drill for drilling just a little bit, for accuracy, like this Archemedes Drill with a 0.8mm drill bit. Again, don’t forget to wear the right PPE when filing resin – a good mask or at least the nail technician style mask.
Drill down the length of you need for the setting (you can mark the depth on your drill bit with a bit of washi tape which is also perfect for keeping your metal stamping straight). It’s usually about 4mm deep you’ll need to go to glue on a bail.
Bails are easy to source from most silver suppliers but the difficulty is finding one wide enough to cover your pouring hole to set a resin sphere. A small pearl (6-8mm) will be ok with a small 4mm wide bail, but anything 9mm or larger we recommend a wide bail like this.
Use glue to stick on the bail, I like Araldite Jeweller’s Glue, and combine the parts A+B on a little label backing paper (if you don’t regularly use labels, ask at your local Post Office because they have bins full of this stuff they can give you). Apply the glue with the toothpick inside the hole you drilled and around the inside of the bail then push in place. You can wrap the whole thing in a piece of cotton fabric to hold the bail in place whilst it dries.
These are quick and easy to make but the disadvantage is if your client pulls the sphere too hard, it could come apart. Fully drilled spheres are more secure – keep reading to find out how to make them!
For accuracy, especially if you’re working with something irreplaceable like someone’s last lock of their loved one’s hair, you should consider investing in a pearl drill. Whichever method you use, please don’t forget to wear the right PPE when filing resin – a good mask or at least the nail technician style mask.
People always ask me the best place to get settings for resin jewellery and the easiest place is most definitely Etsy. It’s a mixture of mass-produced and handmade and if you know where to look, it’s full of gems (in the literal and not-so-literal sense!) My rings and pearls over at Tree of Opals are handmade from scratch, our charm beads and heart necklaces are cast and stamped for us.
When I first started using their crown heart setting I was using a China cheapie mould, the pink faceted one with multiple depressions of faceted hearts. The problems with facets are that they’re harder to do another coat on as you lose the definition. Plus opaque moulds are virtually impossible to use with a UV curing resin like this one from the USA or this one in the UK.
2. ZDP Findings
ZDP Findings are another great place in Israel to purchase settings in solid sterling silver, gold-filled and base metal. They’re a family run business and their customer service is second to none! I love these 14mm round heart point solid sterling silver settings which are perfect for setting 14mm round cabochons. Please have a look at their page for inspiration and remember that crown and heart points are ideal for beginners because they’re easy to push down with your fingers. If you’re using a bezel cup rings like these there are three methods of setting which I’ll cover in more detail in a blog with photos, but you can fill them with resin and cure, you can glue in cabochons, or you can set the cabochons by gluing then rubbing over the bezel with a bezel pusher (I recommend getting a set and finding your favourite to work with, mine is the curved one with the point).
If they have any settings you’d like to work with but can’t find a mould to suit, just give us the link to the setting and we’ll try our best to create a custom mould for you.
Don’t forget, claw settings aren’t too forgiving so you have to make sure your edges are super-neat! The claws won’t cover up much of the resin, so I find it’s more prone to knocks and scrapes at the edges, but I know a lot of keepsake and DNA artists and their clients love the look. It’s completely up to you, whatever works for your business! SilverFindings925 also sell some pearl dangle earring settings that you could try with our 16mm sphere moulds. Make sure you place the pouring hole at the bottom and dome it carefully, letting the client know the bottoms won’t be perfect.
I had an issue recently with a solid 14ct gold wishbone setting I’d made where the client complained they could see the doming on the pearl. I refunded them in the end because I should have mentioned this specifically in the T’s and C’s, and it was just before Christmas and I didn’t want to let her ruin my holidays, so don’t forget to keep your business safe by telling clients things like this in advance. Put in your T’s and C’s and product description phrases like “you will see air bubbles in most of our resin work”, and, “pieces are set by hand and you may see small amounts of glue and scratches in the metalwork where this was done”. If the client doesn’t like it, they can order elsewhere but you won’t be losing out on business because these are the people who demand refunds. If they can find someone who can promise perfection, let them go!
You’ll learn which settings work for you, that you’re comfortable working with and which your clients love, but try to keep some back for refunds if you’ve forgotton to mention something like that and the client is being unkind. It’s never worth risking your mental health and joy you find in your work for someone who is just trying it on (and probably expects a refund and to be able to keep it).
Please note, this blog contains affiliate links meaning we may receive a small income based on your purchases after clicks with no extra cost to yourself.
When working with resin it’s easy to add a coloured core for European charms beads. There are two methods:
1) adding a core of fabric etc to the mould
2) colouring the core afterwards
For any resin work don’t forget to use correct PPE (personal protective equipment) such as gloves etc and see our list of supplies for UK, list of supplies for the USA and more to follow. Make sure you’re working in a nice clean, organised and relaxed environment away from children and pets (if possible… many a cat will sneak into a studio and, well, cats don’t accept orders!)
Why Add a Coloured Core?
You may want to include a sentimental fabric for a client, a special patterened background to a lock of hair or fur charm (or breastmilk if you’re adding opaque milk shapes). You may only have a tiny amount to work with and the client isn’t sure what colour they’d like so you can show them different options before they commit by adding colour afterwards. It gives a nice, deep. layered effect to have a different coloured core and you can still add metal leaf, for example, to the resin charm bead. In fact, you can even use precious metal leaf as the coloured core for a guilded look.
1. Adding a Fabric Core
To prepare a piece of fabric, such as a wrapscrap, you need a piece around the size of a playing card. You can pull a thread through to get a straight line to cut. Mix a little PVA glue (Elmer’s glue) with water 50:50 with a lollipop stick in a little measuring pot. I like the ones with the measurements on the side like this which you can use for resin (although if you’re working with epoxy resin I highly recommend weighing it out for accuracy). Soak the fabric in the mixture well and squeeze out the air bubbles, then lay it on a piece of label backing (the kind I recommend for working with hair), which is the perfect way to recycle the backs of your shipping labels.
Once it’s completely dry, take it off the backing paper and cut out a small rectangle. This takes practice to know the perfect height and width for your mould. It needs to be a little longer than the circumference of the silicone core in your mould plus a little overlap. When you’ve got it right, use a tiny dot of superglue to turn it into a little tube then put it in the mould. I recommend making at least two using interesting bits of the fabric. Add resin in the usual way (don’t forget to add any hair first) and any other elements/inclusions. Cure as normal then be careful when drilling off excess. You’ll find it easier if the fabric cylinder isn’t too tall, but be careful it’s not too short or it won’t cover the whole core. It takes practice!
2. Adding a Coloured Core
Sometimes you’ll take a charm bead out of the mould and think that the colour isn’t deep enough, or you might want to add a different colour layer or even to give the client the choice of colour. You might need to widen the hole first because you’re adding another layer, you want it to still fit your client’s Pandora bracelet! Removing some of the existing core of the charm bead gives you a “tooth”, something for the glue to adhere to. Use a good rotary tool and a large tooth cutting bit from the set you use to finish the charms. I like these wood cutting bits because they cut away the resin rather than sanding it, meaning the piece doesn’t get too hot. They work very quickly though so you might want to use the pink sandstone cylinder which comes with your rotary tool (you can buy more sandstone bits here) or a diamond bit like this.
I love to use EcoGlitter like this one, because I don’t want to increase microplastic waste to the environment. You can use mica, which is totally environmentally friendly, but there are so many worrying reports of mica being mined by children that it’s safer to stick with lab-produced mica (harder to find). I’m hoping to come out with some blends soon of ethical, plastic-free sparkle mixes! You can also use acrylic paint for a strong pigment and mix a little sparkle in. Mix your colour/glitter with a small amount of UV resin or epoxy jewellery glue on label paper with a cocktail stick. Carefully paint inside the charm bead in thin, even layers. You can even use two or more colours. To test a colour, just mix with a tiny bit of water and paint it on, take a picture and send to your client. Once you’re happy, go ahead with the resin or glue. Add your core or inserts like usual and your charm bead is ready.
Please note, this blog contains affiliate links meaning we may receive a small income based on your purchases after clicks with no extra cost to yourself.
This Freelance Advice blog was originally posted on our sister site Tree of Opals.
Recently I became friends with Tania through a natural parenting group. I’d posted about how well things were going with our au pair from France; she had been babywearing and was enabling me to continue breastfeeding. Tania got in touch asking for a bit more info about having one and we got chatting. A while later she invited me to speak at a workshop for parents looking to get back into work and she sent me some questions she thought mums might ask of me.
We met up for a coffee in Bristol beforehand and went through the questionnaire. My face burned with embarrassment as she told me how helpful the answers were and on the day of the workshop I spoke to a handful of new parents. Here’s some of my advice:
What was the trigger for you deciding to become self employed?
I’d been self employed before but failed a few times. I wanted to make a bit of extra money for the family with a profitable hobby but didn’t really intend on it becoming a big success. At first I didn’t believe in myself but when I started to I decided to go all in and make my business work
When did you actually start making money?
Straight away in fact, word started to spread throughout my friend network and all of a sudden I was being asked for prices by friends of friends. I have had to work really hard to catch up ever since and every penny has gone back into the business. I haven’t borrowed a penny, it’s all come from sales.
How did you know your business idea would work?
I’ve seen a handful of other businesses doing breastmilk jewellery that are really successful. There are hundreds of thousands of babies born every day and that’s a lot of new breastfeeding mums so my business will always be sustainable. It was something I wanted for myself but I wasn’t keen on what was being offered already and I prefer to do things myself and I’m creative.
How do you manage childcare when working?
At the start I worked when I could get five minutes which isn’t easy with two under threes! My mum helped a lot and still does, and my husband got used to looking after our baby when our toddler was in bed. I was exclusively breastfeeding at that point but as soon as Tiny Boy went onto solids and dropped his daytime feeds down a bit I started thinking of childcare. My mum lives 90 minutes away so she can’t pop round on a daily basis so we chose to get an au pair. Sleeping arrangements mean we are a bit cramped but it’s temporary until I can sustain full-time childcare.
How much money did you need to set up your business?
A little over £300 from a child tax credit payment (sadly they stopped when I registered as self-employed but we are better off all in all). I used it to buy the basic equipment and my website domain which was enough to make some example pieces and establish a shop. Luckily my husband is a web developer who taught me the basics and the rest is self-taught. We also help other small businesses with websites but for now I’m focussing on jewellery so we only do word of mouth referrals
What are the three things you would say you need to do when starting a business?
Trust the power of social media like Facebook and Instagram, you might need and learn to use them properly as a business but there are plenty of blogs about that (I made a Pinterest board with my favourites). You don’t have to pay but if you do, they make the best advertising platforms (Instagram ads was debuted in November 2015, I’ll let you know how it goes)
Register with the HMRC… I’m frightened of that sort of thing so I hired an accountant straight away on a friend’s recommendation; Natasha who owns Busy Books is another local working mum who really understood my needs and has saved me money already
Ask friends, family and relatives for their support, ask them to buy from you or recommend clients or engage in your social media posts. Word of mouth will always be a great tool which is why you should treat every customer and potential customer like a VIP, even the ones who frustrate you… especially the ones who frustrate you!
How do you know how much to pay yourself?
So far, I haven’t taken anything out of the business because all the things I’ve bought have been to support it. While it means I’m sort of working for free, I know that I’ll be making a real profit next year with a really great workshop and brand. I love doing what I’m doing and I feel more fulfilled than I did looking after the little ones every day
How do you say no to business
Last week I had an email asking for a piece that I no longer offer since I stopped doing silver plated. I’ve refused (politely) and recommended they find something else. I suppose I could have offered them a custom slot, which I charge for to dissuade time-wasters (a genuine client is happy to pay and will respect you more for your time) but the email caught me off guard. That was on Monday morning and they placed an order for another piece on the Wednesday evening*. They will be getting a product that I’m happier to make because it’s a good quality setting and although my profit margin is lower on it, it’s something I’d rather be known for. Stand your ground
How to use your time effectively
I keep my studio neater than I ever thought possible; if I don’t have to hunt for something then it’s much easier. It seems to double every month, growing from a corner of the dining table to taking up half of the loft room and everything’s labeled or I wouldn’t have a clue!
I charge a small amount for custom order enquiries as I found it makes the pieces more desirable and gives people a level of respect for my time and the process involved
I’m very strict with clients, insisting they send their orders in labeled with their order number so I can tell at a glance what I need to start next. I have 18 plastic lidded tubs that are labeled for each client and I only work on one or two at a time. I’ll choose a couple of pieces to work on that need the same type of resin, mix it up, degas it and add any colours then work on each client’s piece. I always have a few moulds ready to use up any leftover resin to reduce wastage, save time and invest in the craft fairs I’ll be doing soon
I don’t have any time constraints but I find if I’m getting too tired and work slows down, I nap. If I’m bored I switch to something else. I have a few different projects going on that I can switch between. To manage my supplies, I will try to work on a few pieces at once with one lot of resin (which takes up to quarter of an hour to prepare). Sometimes I’ll go out to a coffee shop to work on my laptop for a change of scenery
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I’m lucky to be part of an exclusive group with the top keepsake artists in the world and we support one-another to keep learning and coming up with new ideas
Etsy – I look at what other jewellers and artists are doing, but not to copy, only to be inspired. I’ve just started reading Steal Like An Artist which was recommended by one of my keepsake colleagues and it explains how to do it
My clients are always challenging me to make something different, and I encourage that. This week I’ve done a totally custom design for one of the mums who donated breastmilk to Small Girl two years ago. It’s involving a lot of work but I taught myself to make blanks for mouldmaking out of modelling clay and I’ve already had an order request for another custom mould
I’ve got a list on my phone of ideas that I want to put into plan. I rarely look back at it because I find they just start happening. Sometimes I have to tell myself to wait and focus on what needs to be done now.
What keeps you motivated
I might prepare the next customer’s box or look at how many orders I’ve taken, or read my reviews
If I have no motivation I don’t take it to heart, I think perhaps I’m not meant to be doing that there and then and I do something else. It might be switching to a different piece, technique, making something for a craft fayre, using a different media or going to the supermarket
How you juggle a house, kids and business as well as maintaining a social life
We all chip in with the housework because my husband has seen that I’m doing well and working full time. We have just started doing the KonMari method and I’ve given away nine black sacks full of clothes and toys so far; once the house is a bit less cluttered we will be finding someone to help with the cleaning. I see a bit less of my friends in person except for breastfeeding group and sling library but I’m always online to chat to people. We’re going on holiday over Christmas and new year so I can regroup.
How to use your time effectively, picking the right work and learning to say no to clients
Orders come in automatically so I only put the products I want to make in my shop. If a client wants a custom order they pay for a slot to discuss it. If it’s something I can’t do, I refund them out of courtesy. I put my prices up recently when I realised how valuable my time was and I have had more orders than ever since. I still do some affordable pieces and I love to trade gifts, and I don’t charge mums who have lost a baby, because I want my jewellery to be attainable but luxurious too.
Early on I thought discounts would get me more work so I could improve my portfolio but I was wrong. Now I won’t go over a certain level, and I don’t offer them any more unless I want to make a sale there and then so I might offer some money off as an incentive to buy now. I find that clients who pay less expect a lower quality product and it devalues you. That being said, if someone asks for money off, I love a good barter!
How do you retain clients? What techniques do you use?
It’s a bit early for me to have much repeat business yet but I’ve had two clients who have re ordered in the past month. Breastmilk jewellery tends to be quite personal so I don’t expect repeats there unless the client has another baby.
How referrals have worked for you
With cremation ash pieces I’m starting to build a name for myself as someone who is respectful and I have no doubt I will have family members of existing clients contact me when they see the pieces in person. I’m always that confident though, or tell myself to be! I can’t tell you how important it is to treat every customer well, no matter how much money they spend. It’s always a personal service
If you’d like to know more please leave me a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Since I published this article, the lady in question read it and recognised herself… Needless to say I was embarassed but she was much happier with the new jewellery than she would’ve been as she hadn’t realised the old one was silver plated. I still think the saying is true: “the customer is always right”, but it’s your job to make sure they’ve got the right info!
When you’re making keepsake jewellery findings and finishings are the final touch. From pouring resin into base metal, like brass, to setting cabochons in 14ct gold bezel cups, we want to help you set your beautiful jewellery.
When you pour resin into a sphere or charm mould you will usually have a “pouring spout” when you remove it
Our best selling items are our charm beads. They take a bit of practice and a special mould and knowledge of filing, doming and attaching hardware called inserts, also known as grommets and washers. Pearls are popular, they are spheres made with 10mm moulds but can be bigger or smaller, and need to be drilled and attached to pearl cups. Rings are a little less complicated because you can pour the resin into a ring cup, 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.
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 <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR4CoSLbub0dk72UEMU5MYg” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Little Surprises</a>; Ayla and I love to watch her videos together 🙂
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This list is ideal for anyone in the USA looking to purchase keepsake jewelry supplies to make breastmilk and memorial jewelry. Ordered by category it’s almost a one-stop-shop of the things you’ll need to succeed making keepsakes for your growing clientele. Prices are correct at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.
Probably the most important on the list because most of us are making keepsake jewelry to support our families. A little bit of resin dust now and again might not seem like that much of a bad thing but you have to look towards the future. If you put in place a good code of conduct now and insist on safety, you’ll be thankful later. Coming soon: a blog on keeping yourself and your family safe as you work with multimedia! So here are a few of my favourite safety items and where to find them.
Gloves nitrile disposable non-powdered gloves You’ll need to change your gloves often due to the hazardous and super sticky nature of resin. As into reusability and eco friendliness, it’s almost impossible to keep gloves for more than one session. They gunk up, split and the stickiness can ruin a perfectly de-moulded piece so change them often and neutralise it in other ways of recycling and reducing plastic. Flea markets might be possible for a supply of gloves but personally, if I’ve run out I buy them from hairdressing supplies stores
Artguard Barrier Cream or Gloves In A Bottle are branded barrier creams that can help protect your hands in addition to gloves, or you can go for good old fashioned… Calamine lotion is made of a zinc oxide solution that provides a barrier on your skin. I used to use it on my hands and lower arms in case they get dirty or I get resin on them, when I used epoxy resin, as I’m allergic to it and this helps. Now, I only work with UV resin. If you develop an allergy to epoxy resin, please stop using it at once and switch to UV resin
Respirator and Glasses Respirator and glasses set I highly recommend you protect your eyes and lungs with a but I don’t always wear mine Disposable dust masks should, at the very least, be worn while drilling and filling resin and you should never do this around children and pets Clothes
I try to wear denim jeans to protect my legs from any spills and sharps dropping down A thick cotton apron is perfect. Joanna at Isabel Necessary put my logo on some aprons which feels really professional and sets a good image.
This size clear hygiene bags are essential for the breastmilk tubes which sometimes leak, and we found we must tell clients to keep the two milk tubes in one bag and the hair pot in another because we’ve had back hair soaked in milk before! Cellophane bags are a better option for hair and cremation ashes as they’re plastic-free and really inexpensive. You need around 4×4″ to 4×6″ to contain your clients’ pot with the ashes or hair etc. They aren’t suitable for breastmilk as they would leak, but we use them at Tree of Opals in our kits for everything else
A ton of fine tip Sharpies… I can’t keep enough of these around and they’re essential for marking the breastmilk tubes, ash pots, bags, labels and metalworking. The ASDA CD pens wash off in the pressure cooker. Cheap ring sizers are perfect if you’re selling rings and clients just send them back with their kits. Every six months or so we invest in a new batch to cover the ones that weren’t returned but in general clients are great. We send instructions with the kits which the clients return as well.
I literally found mine outside someone’s house, knocked on their door and asked if it was ok to take it. You don’t need to spend money on everything; try to make do and mend. My containers and drawers are all labeled with Brother labels, I got it on eBay second hand and it saves us time, but you can write them out by hand. The Works sells rolls of labels and don’t forget to keep all your label backs, they’re perfect for working hair on!
When a new order arrives in the post I write out a label and print it twice. One for the container and one for the shipping box I use highlighters to colour code my orders, then use the same colours to mark them on spreadsheets. I keep a tablet in front of me and we all use Google Drive which is free and super eco friendly. The tablet was a big investment but I think I’ll save much more in the long run in time and effort plus (corny bit sorry) we owe it to the planet to
We send each client two tubes for their milk marked at 5ml and 7ml for the client to add milk between the lines, with their name and order number written on the sides and lid. When they arrive we pop them in the freezer and every few weeks we take one tube for each client to preserve. Plastic pipettes to add preservative Optiphen plus is our favourite, which we buy in bulk An electric pressure cooker is perfect for heat treating the milk and it’s ideal if you buy one with a steaming rack, which keeps the tubes propped up. Once each tube is completely cooled we sort the tubes into their order containers and what’s left is kept in a cupboard
Of course we think our moulds are the best but you can pick up cheapies on Amazon to practice resin work. When you’re selling high quality keepsakes you have to make sure your moulds are replaced as soon as they begin to cloud so you don’t lose shine Cheap pendant moulds that don’t need drilling are fun and a great way to show locks of hair and flowers Little gemstone moulds are great for casting ash and umbilical cord, which can have silver bails attached or be cast in a larger setting of clear resin The rose moulds are super cute and are perfect if you want to glue on some little silver necklace findings (nobody wants silver plated – see Findings below!)
Qiao Qiao UV resin is the best I’ve found. Other UV resins smell awful in comparison. I now think UV resin is vital for keepsake jewelry because it’s fast, meaning you can concentrate on one client’s order at once, not pour a dozen and wait days for it to cure. It works at low temperatures (I remember winters waiting forever for epoxy resin to cure, now I can finish an order in one sitting)
I bought one 60g bottle three years ago and just refill it from 200g bottles now. You’ll see in the videos the label has long since disappeared. I’m often asked if you should be concerned about yellowing and I have only ever had one bad batch of this resin, it smelt really strong and I think it was a fake. It shouldn’t smell at all, and don’t forget you mustn’t let it get too hot or cure it for too long. A maxumum of five minutes total on any visible layer, on a low heat UV setting. If it’s still sticky, it needs to be wiped over…
48W LED UV lamp is a perfect piece of equipment for working with UV resin. It’s cooler than regular UV bulbs but stronger so it cures better, cooler and faster. The LED lights save so much energy compared to bulbs for everyone who is energy conscious
Toothpicks are perfect for removing bubbles. I know some people use a lighter to get them out but that only works on open-back moulds, such as cabochons. The ideal way to remove bubbles is to work at night with artificial light and let a piece sit for a few minutes to allow them to rise, before adding powders and other elements. The pieces won’t begin to cure until the UV light’s on. If you want to keep a piece liquid while you cure something else, face the UV lamp away from you or even put a cardboard box over it (don’t forget it!) Synthetic mica powders and other colours. Mica has been shown to often be child-mined, so to stay safe go for plant based and synthetics. Craft shops sell edible shimmers that are perfect with resin Precious metal leaf looks lovely behind hair, mixed with ashes, cord or placenta, or subtly overlaid on breastmilk jewellery for boobie awards Titanium dioxide is a white UV stabiliser which helps with breastmilk preservation but be careful: a tiny little bit goes an awfully long way Art Resin is an option if you want things to cure slowly and it’s more cost effective. I know a lot of artists who swear by it but you would also need lollipop sticks, mixing cup and scales
Needle files will remove a bit of resin at a time A Dremel-style rotary tool is perfect for filing off bits of resin, metalworking, polishing etc. They’re not too expensive, under $30 for one with the stand and flex shaft and a few bits, but they go very fast even on the lowest setting. A more professional option if you’re doing a lot of drilling would be A professional adjustable grinder which comes with a foot pedal. The one on this link is the least expensive and you’d still need a stand and all the attachments but you might already have them if you’re upgrading or you can buy them separately Pearl drill and a power cord for it, for spheres – we ruined so many stunning items by drilling them off-centre with a rotary tool and you can learn from our experience. If you want to fully drill a sphere you’ll need one of these! 0.8mm drill bits can be used for half drilled pearls where you glue in findings Cotton buffing wheels are nice and gentle on plastic and metal, but you should try to make sure your resin pieces don’t need polishing. The best finish comes from a nice shiny mould. You can use your UV resin to apply another coat to any piece or just dome where you’ve drilled
Charm inserts from Amazon, Rio Grande, Halstead Beads etc and we suggest the 5mm inserts. You have to be careful because lots of inserts online say they’re solid sterling silver and are 925 stamped, but are just silver plated base metal. The price should give you an indication. If in doubt and you can afford to lose one, scratch it and put it in water for a few days. If it’s base metal it’ll rust. Head pins are for fully drilled pearls Pearl caps mean you can finish a pearl by covering up the mould’s pouring spout (the bit you’ve cut and filed off while wearing a mask!) but also show your own style to clients. I loved this one and would definitely buy it as a customer but look around silver (and gold) suppliers as your confidence grows. Rio Grande do some amazing 14k gold settings that you can attach to your keepsake jewelry when your resin skills are perfected. Use our cost calculator to work out what to charge and try to offer your clients the choice of two, but no more than that or they might become overwhelmed Rings like this one sell very well, and rings are the second most sought-after setting at Tree of Opals after our charm beads. This solid sterling silver setting is pretty and gives you an idea of what can be done. Just glue a 12mm cabochon made with a matching 12mm mold into it and tell your clients you can replace the resin if it’s damaged. We usually make at least two resin cabochons and choose the best for the piece
Please let me know if you notice any of these links don’t work or need adjusting, or if you’ve got any suggestions. You can comment below or email us on email@example.com
This list is ideal for anyone in the UK and Europe looking to purchase keepsake jewellery supplies to make breastmilk and memorial jewellery. Ordered by category it’s almost a one-stop-shop (apart from settings) of the things you’ll need to succeed making keepsakes for your growing clientele. Prices are correct at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.
Probably the most important on the list because most of us are making keepsake jewellery to support our families. A little bit of resin dust now and again might not seem like that much of a bad thing but you have to look towards the future. If you put in place a good code of conduct now and insist on safety, you’ll be thankful later. Coming soon: a blog on keeping yourself and your family safe as you work with multimedia! So here are a few of my favourite safety items and where to find them.
Gloves Box of 1000 gloves You’ll need to change your gloves often due to the hazardous and super sticky nature of resin. Unfortunately, for reusability and eco friendliness, it’s difficult to keep gloves for more than one session. They gunk up, split and the stickiness can ruin a perfectly de-moulded piece so change them often. There are plenty of other ways of reducing, reusing and recycling plastic. I usually buy my gloves from market stalls and car boot sales, usually around £2 or you can offer a fiver for three boxes which often works. If I’ve run out I find poundshops often have cheap thin gloves but they’re not as good. No More Gloves No More Gloves (£5/100ml) is the branded barrier liquid or you can go for good old fashioned… calamine lotion at just £3.75/100ml or even cheaper at Superdrug! They’re both made of a zinc oxide solution that provides a barrier on your skin. I like to use it on my hands and lower arms in case they get dirty or I get resin on them. It means stuff doesn’t adhere to my skin. zinc oxide powder can be mixed with some water but I’ve never tried it. Respirator and Glasses respirator and glasses set I highly recommend you protect your eyes and lungs with a but I don’t always wear mine Disposable dust masks should, at the very least, be worn while drilling and filling resin and you should never do this around children and pets Clothes A thick cotton apron and I try to wear denim jeans to protect my legs from any spills and sharps dropping down. Joanna at Isabel Necessary put my logo on some aprons which feels really professional and sets a good image. Hair Hair bobbles to tie back your hair. Mine disappear so I buy a hundred at a time, half for me and half for Ayla. Mine live on the magnet board and I grab one before any resin or metalwork Hair bands to stop the strays falling down
Sending Kits for Breastmilk etc
Large letter postage boxes are brilliant for posting out your sending kits and we recycle these when they’re not ripped Some labeled 3ml pots for your clients’ hair, ash and cord or for a higher-end look that’s plastic-free you can use small aluminium lip balm tins Heat and freezer-proof plastic tubes for breastmilk, 10ml This size clear hygiene bags are essential for the breastmilk tubes which sometimes leak, and we found we must tell clients to keep the two milk tubes in one bag and the hair pot in another because we’ve had back hair soaked in milk before! Plastic-free cellulose bags are great too if you’re trying to minimise plastic. We’ll be adding a blog soon on single-use plastic in keepsake jewellery if you’re worried about that. Even ashes and placenta powders sometimes leak so they need bags too to make sure nothing can escape and fall out of the box First class large letter stamps from eBay, one for the outside and one for inside A ton of fine tip Sharpies… I can’t keep enough of these around and they’re essential for marking the breastmilk tubes, ash pots, bags, labels and metalworking. The ASDA CD pens wash off in the pressure cooker! Cheap ring sizers are perfect if you’re selling rings and clients just send them back with their kits. Every six months or so we invest in a new batch to cover the ones that weren’t returned but in general clients are great.
A laserjet printer and printer paper for the sending instructions with the kits which the clients return as well (you can reuse them). Sample instructions coming soon!
Plastic takeaway tubs are great for organising orders. There’s no right or wrong way to organise them but these work perfectly for breastmilk drying. You can store them on a shelf, a shoe rack (Home Bargains and IKEA are great here). Great for storing epoxy resin pieces whilst they cure Storage units like this are perfect for keeping the takeaway tubs. I literally found mine outside someone’s house, knocked on their door and asked if it was ok to take it. You don’t need to spend money on everything; try to make do and mend. My containers and drawers are all labeled with Brother labels, I got it on eBay second hand and it saves us time, but you can write them out by hand. The Works sells rolls of labels and don’t forget to keep all your label backs, the shiny side is perfect for working hair on!
Highlighters for colour coding. When a new order arrives in the post I write out a label and print it twice. One for the container and one for the shipping box. I use the same colours to mark them on spreadsheets. We all use Google Drive which is free and I like to keep it open on . Tablet in front of me for looking at orders whilst making. I have a Google Drive app on my iPad so I can see the current order sheet, I can rearrange columns etc. Free download templates coming soon! Make sure you get a screen protector because you’ll probably get resin on it. Keep it away from children and pets, it can be your work tablet. I like to listen to audio book whilst working, and Amazon have given me a link for you all to get a free audio book here:
Peg boards are great for holding orders that are in cellophane bags, for hanging supplies and keeping your workspace clutter-free. IKEA do wonderful peg boards
Plastic test tubes like this, we send each client two tubes for their milk marked at 5ml and 7ml for the client to add milk between the lines, with their name and order number written on the sides and lid in Sharpie. When they arrive we pop them in the freezer and every few weeks we take one tube for each client to preserve. Storage for the test tubes like this rack Plastic pipettes to add preservative (you are responsible for testing and purchasing the preservative at your own risk, please use care) An electric pressure cooker is perfect for heat treating the milk and it’s ideal if you buy one with a steaming rack, which keeps the tubes propped up. Once each tube is completely cooled we sort the tubes into their order containers and what’s left is kept in a cupboard
Of course we think our moulds are the best but you can pick up cheapies on Amazon to practice resin work. When you’re selling high quality keepsakes you have to make sure your moulds are replaced as soon as they begin to cloud so you don’t lose shine Cheap pendant moulds that don’t need drilling are fun and a great way to show locks of hair and flowers Little gemstone moulds are great for casting ash and umbilical cord, which can have silver bails attached or be cast in a larger setting of clear resin
UV resin this brand is the best I’ve found. Other UV resins smell awful in comparison. I now think UV resin is vital for keepsake jewellery because it’s fast, meaning you can concentrate on one client’s order at once, not pour a dozen and wait days for it to cure. It works at low temperatures (I remember winters waiting forever for epoxy resin to cure, now I can finish an order in one sitting) LED UV Lamp with a low heat setting like this one is perfect, uses less energy than a bulb lamp and looks nice in my studio
Toothpicks are perfect for removing bubbles. I know some people use a lighter to get them out but that only works on open-back moulds, such as cabochons. The ideal way to remove bubbles is to work in the dark and let a piece sit for a few minutes to allow them to rise, before adding powders and other elements
Mica powders and other colours. Craft shops like Hobbycraft sell edible shimmers that are perfect with resin
Titanium dioxide is a white UV stabiliser which helps with breastmilk preservation but be careful: a tiny little bit goes an awfully long way A spirit level makes sure the space where you’re drying is totally level
Needle files will remove a bit of resin at a time
A Dremel-style rotary tool is perfect for filing off bits of resin, metalworking, polishing etc Cotton buffing wheels are nice and gentle on plastic and metal, but you should try to make sure your resin pieces don’t need polishing. The best finish comes from a nice shiny mould. You can use your UV resin to apply another coat to any piece or just dome where you’ve drilled
Charm inserts from Ebay, Cookson Gold or Palmer Metals. You have to be careful because lots of inserts online say they’re solid sterling silver and are 925 stamped, but are just silver plated base metal. The price should give you an indication. If in doubt and you can afford to lose one, scratch it and put it in water for a few days. If it’s base metal it’ll rust.
Please note, this blog contains affiliate links meaning we may receive a small income based on your purchases after clicks with no extra cost to yourself.
Instructions on How to Make Breastmilk Jewellery (Part 3 of 3)
Making breastmilk jewellery can be a difficult skill to master and I highly recommend being prepared to devote lots of time, energy and money to this skill. Breastmilk artisans were furious at me for spilling these secrets but I’m not sharing anything I didn’t learn myself. As much as they would love to blame me for the influx of new artists I can imagine the majority of people reading this were already thinking of, or have begun to learn, the art of preserving breastmilk.
When the use of Optiphen started to become known as “Nikki’s Method” I was so happy to find out that I wasn’t the only one using it. However, the methods for adding it can vary. Initially I was using a stove but sterilising the equipment made it slow and laborious doing one at a time. Other heating devices became part of my trials with tips from other artists. So, instead of adding a list here myself I’m going to ask you guys to help be a part of this yourselves. Please comment below with the ways you’ve tried heating the milk and what equipment you used, including kitchen and jewellery making!
We send our clients a kit with instructions on sending in breastmilk and other elements; please don’t copy these, unless you link back to the page and credit Tree of Opals. Notice that we never call these things “inclusions”, that’s because in traditional jewellery making an inclusion is known as a flaw. Our clients’ breastmilk, locks of hair, cremation ash and umbilical cord isn’t a flaw, it’s the most important element of the pieces we make. People post in their milk in the test tubes, just regular shipping, and so long as it’s not mouldy when it arrives it’s ok. I pop them straight in the freezer, mark them as received on the system and write out the label for their container ready for the preserved tube.
You can consult a chemist if you like, but most importantly make new friends because it’s a stressful vocation and it’s so important to have colleagues that understand. When I first started a group of us were at the same stage and would spend hours talking about ideas we’d had. Most breastmilk jewellery artists are generous with their knowledge and creative ideas, others aren’t, but mostly you will find that once you’re bouncing ideas off someone it’s very satisfying. If you’re here you might have been told “no” when requesting help from artists but please bear in mind we get several a week here through email and social media and it gets stressful. Please forgive me, anyone I’ve brushed off, and I hope this blog helps.
How To Preserve Human Milk
Freeze Dry Method for Breastmilk Jewellery
The first way I learnt of preserving milk was to flash heat (pasturise) then freeze dry it, known as sublimation. Personally it didn’t work for me because it took too long and I couldn’t keep the milk organised. I was getting so many orders through and running out of room so I switched to Optiphen.
If you do decide to freeze dry you won’t need a special machine (unless you have one, of course!) you spread it in a thin, even layer then the water will slowly and gradually come out of the milk. I used silicone baking trays at first then researched freeze drying. The idea was to remove the air, creating a vacuum in a chamber with your items suspended above what’s known as a “humectant” (something that retains moisture) and first I tried kitty litter. People who make cosmetics may be used to the phrase as something that helps keep moisture in the skin, like glycerine, and I’d love to hear of anyone using a humectant inside the actual jewellery itself.
For freeze-drying breastmilk you can use calcium chloride in a vacuum dish like the VacuumSaver which comes with a little hand pump to suck out the air. They use them in pubs to remove the air from wine bottles and a job at the end of the night was often w**king the wines. I found it made my poor freezer entirely covered in frost, this process is called freezer burn when it happens to veggies and is the reason you have to defrost every now and again.
Preservative Method for Breastmilk Jewellery
You could add your preservative before or after flash heating the milk but mixing it in on its own never worked for me or anyone I know. It probably depends on the ratio of milk to preservative, which you’re using, how you’re heating it but that’s going to be up to you. The aim is to split and preserve it, it’s how I do it and a lot of others. Then you use that semi-solid to create the jewellery. Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for a fool-proof method but you still need to work hard. This information is for professionals and it’s up to you to make yourself that person. Experiment in safety and try to research any chemicals you choose to combine first. The safest way is to stick to the Optiphen (phenoxyethanol), Optiphen+ (phenoxyethanol and acid) because while it’s not “safe” itself and can harm your skin neat, it is safe enough that they use it in cosmetics. Recently we’ve also come across Plantaserve which is used in E Liquid, which contains phenoxyethanol & ethylhexylglycerin and the instructions say to use them as a guide
Safety in Making Breastmilk Jewellery
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. Take care to research any chemicals. Phenoxyethanol – safecosmetics.com with websites that contain information from peer-reviewed studies such as this. If this information seems complicated we advise you not to proceed or to consult a chemist.
2. Use the correct plastic tubes to heat the milk in, whether adding chemicals first or not.
3. 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.
5. If you’re working with heat and pressure make sure you do it safely and sensibly and practice with spare milk until you have it right. Please don’t burn yourselves!
How To Make Breastmilk Jewellery from Preserved Milk
Most artists use the preseved milk in resin because it’s a medium with so much potential, adaptability, and you can see the natural colours of the elements such as breastmilk, cremation ash and hair. You can also use your breastmilk powder or breastmilk clay (depending on your method and results) in kiln-fired or lampworked glass pieces, metal and precious metal clay, polymer clay like FIMO (baked in the oven) or airdry clay or even Lumina clay which is translucent. You could add breastmilk powder or flakes directly to casting grain to be embedded within traditional bench jewellry and we have sent pieces off with cremation ash and breastmilk for hallmarking with the Birmingham Assay Office who are extra careful when working with elements like this, and were quite happy to hallmark full purity even with large amounts of ash as they said it didn’t affect the purity of the metal.
In the blog series we will be writing more about working with resin (epoxy and UV curing), metal clay, silver work and goldsmithing and more. For classes on resin you may be able to find something local but Nikki learnt all resin and most silversmithing 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 Nikki is soon to be visiting a friend’s gemstone mine in Tanzania at the same time as delivering menstrual pads with their charity Project Kidogo.
The idea is to remove as much of the moisture and oil as you can, leaving lots of protein behind. Some people use tissue paper but I like to use special oil removing sheets with the solids
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. Aqui hablamos español, on parle français, hier spreken we nederlands, tunasema Kiswahili hapa, and føroyskt, but they love to see all languages.
Instructions on How to Make Breastmilk Jewellery (Part 2 of 3)
You can find part one of the blog here in How to Make Breastmilk Jewellery (part 1) which gives you a list of initial supplies you’ll need for this craft. Part three of the blog is here in How to Make Breastmilk Jewellery (part 3). Existing resin artists and jewellers, traditional and non-traditional, will have a bit of a head start but personally I learnt everything I needed to about resin on YouTube then put myself on a college silversmithing course later. Breastmilk jewellers might be angry about this blog series but I think the industry needs that growth and injection of new skills from people of all backgrounds so that we can inspire and encourage one-another but most importantly to normalise breastfeeding.
A couple of years ago from one of the keepsake groups someone started a thread about how to make breastmilk jewellery. That’s when I first started to tell people I’d been experimenting with Optiphen. I’d heard of people using formaldehyde and I would beg that nobody tries this. I was looking around for a less drastic preservative and wondered what they use in organic skin care. Optiphen is phenoxyethanol suspended in caprylyl glycol, or Optiphen Plus which is Optiphen with sorbic acid. I use Optiphen Plus which I bulk buy but you can do just as well with phenoxyethanol and a pinch of citric acid, which helps prevent mould and fungus. These might sound like scary ingredients but people used to making skin creams, shampoo and bath bombs will already have some of these. The bonus with the citric acid is that I use it in the kitchen in cooking, for cleaning and for pickling silver and copper. Just don’t take it from the same bag! Buy a kilo or so and portion it off, carefully labeling it. Always handle chemicals with care because even the so-called “safe” ones like citric acid can burn if left in contact with the skin. I won’t be posting things that others told me they use that work, because this is my method, not theirs. It won’t work for everyone and you’re each responsible for perfecting your own methods. This blog series is meant as a spring board/a “leg up” and some encouragement.
I talked to the group about Optiphen and it became known as “Nikki’s Method” (before I came out as transgender and started calling myself Nic). It then turned out that several others were already using it so “my” method was definitely going to work in the long run if I could slot it all into place. I took a bit of a stumble when I tried EcoResin and found all the pieces of breastmilk jewellery yellowing. I nearly stopped at that point but I have a family depending on me and I’d worked too hard to give it all up. I love what I do and had really struggled with depression when I was a stay at home parent. I couldn’t go out and work full time because the kids are little and we all need each other so the only option was to work from home. The first few months were tough and there seems no need for everyone to make those mistakes so here’s an ever-growing list of things that don’t work. Please submit any “how to make breastmilk jewellery fail” pics to me on Instagram #breastmilkfail or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of what you did (wrong).
How Not To Preserve Human Milk
1. According to a couple of blogs and videos out there, you can just stir a couple of drops of raw milk into epoxy resin very energetically. You can, and it will harden on the most part, but of all the methods this one will rot the quickest. A week at the most but usually before you even take photos the milk will start to yellow. You’d be better off wearing a vial of milk around your neck here, sorry.
2. Freeze it and embed that in resin. This method works great for coloured water and I’ve seen a couple of videos like this one with glue or glycerine as a preservative. You make a resin or glass shell, freeze the liquid or the liquid in the shell then top with gel resin which cures almost instantly under UV lamp. This works fine for kawaii milkshakes but not breastmilk because it won’t stay liquid… yuck!
3. Dehydration in a dehydrator or oven doesn’t work either. The heat seems to encourage bacterial growth and after a few weeks it’ll go yellow. This one’s important because so many people have told me they bought a dehydrator in order to do it and they’re so expensive!
4. People tell me they are boiling the milk but pasturising(pasturizing) it doesn’t mean you can stir it into resin. They’re on the right track though, too much liquid
5. Vinegar is a popular choice and is an organic option with lots of lovely anti-microbials. The problem is all the liquid and the same with lemon juice. As you know above, citric acid and scorbic acid are part of the process I use and will explain in part three.
6. Mixing with white clay like Sculpey and FIMO may very well work but you’d only be able to add a tiny bit of liquid which will dry away leaving a greasy residue, not much milk, and might go off anyway. It’s not preserving the milk but rather masking it. Some people like the clay look to milk, which sort of reminds me of porcelain, and it can be cut into little shapes or strips which are then embedded in resin* You’ll still need to preserve it first.
7. Trying to split the milk with an acid isn’t going to be easy either. It’s not like making cottage cheese/paneer/tofu because human milk contains less protein, called casein, than milk from other species. The curds are smaller and don’t stick together well. So, you’re probably wondering how we get the protein to stick together in order to solidify the milk. That’s coming in part three of our series of Making Breastmilk Jewellery
*you can experiment with small amounts of umbilical cord and placenta powder in Lumina clay, a translucent air drying clay. We did but found it too crumbly and in the end resin was always much better. If your client doesn’t want to be able to see their cord or ash then we’d recommend small amounts in air dry polymer clay or precious metal clay (more on that in another blog).
Instructions on How to Make Breastmilk Jewellery: Part 1 of 3
This series on making breastmilk jewellery is not a how-to, it won’t give you all the answers and it won’t magically create a business for you. Making and selling breastmilk jewellery is so much more than the preservation, drying and suspending of the milk powder. You need to be willing to devote time, money, space and an awful lot of emotional resources to the craft. It will be time away from your own children, you will get very emotional clients, and at times things will just feel like they’re not going right.
Previously the most secretive craft in the world, the art of making breastmilk jewellery has been opened wide to the mums and artists (and dads and doulas) who want to preserve human milk without wasting a fortune in unnecessary equipment. I’ve learnt that true art is about inspiration and the sharing of skills and I believe that no business ever failed by helping another. In the thousands of craft groups and forums out there, no other community pretends theirs it’s a skill that only a few can master. People help one another in almost every craft on the planet and I don’t see why breastmilk preservation should be any different. I’m not going to tell you how to do it, it’s not a full method, just tips! One method will work for one artist and not for another, I don’t want anyone to turn around and blame me if they struggle with any part of the preservation or drying process. You still need to work hard and experiment.
No business ever failed by helping another
– Nikki Kamminga
So many clients come to us with photos of brown, dark orange and yellow pieces that have been made with their baby’s milk only for that seller to have closed the business when the pieces don’t stay white. So this information is to help those artists who are trying to support their families, to try to ensure that people are no longer disappointed with their keepsakes that rot down the line. To celebrate and normalise breastfeeding!
Breastmilk Jewellery Community
When I first published this blog, the outpouring of negativity and emotional blackmail from other businesses shocked me. However, it confirmed that it was the right thing to do. I’ve even had threats and one woman (a “doula” told me I should kill myself!). The people who who can use the following information to make their dreams a reality are my main focus. It is still sad that those in the breastmilk jewellery community who think that this will affect their sales but a good business doesn’t worry about what their competition are doing, they focus on their own unique selling points (USP’s), their brand ethos, marketing and their work quality. Maybe it’s time for them to stop buying mass-produced settings and stop relying on the novelty of preserving breastmilk. This reminds me of the story of the glass artists in Murano, Italy during the 14th Century:
“Marriage between glass master and the daughter of the nobleman wasn’t regarded as misalliance. However, glassmakers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Exportation of professional secret was punished by death. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands” – Wikipedia
Glass artists nowadays don’t worry because other people know their trade. I always say, there are a million babies born every day and without having any way to verify numbers I’m sure at least half of those babies are given human milk, however briefly. As someone who struggled to nurse my children because of major surgery I know that even if I had only managed a few days nursing Ayla I’d have wanted a piece of jewellery with my milk. Tons and tons of our enquiries come from people who’ve never heard of it let alone looked for an artist before so it seems like the breastmilk jewellery industry is an untapped market that replenishes itself every day.
This blog is aimed more towards people interested in creating the pieces themselves so hello to all my customers, but you will all understand some of my success and why the media has always been so interested in my work. I barely need to advertise and really only do so because it’s how you’re supposed to run a business. I worked in advertising at the age of 20 and I know how to market my company long-term. I’m always thinking five and ten years down the line when I brand the work and make decisions. The only problem I’ve ever faced is being too busy, which is a luxury problem! Our lead time has always been six months and we do everything we can to tell our clients this so it doesn’t usually cause problems. Most of our customers know that something special and bespoke and highly in demand will take longer and be worth it. If I ever did “need” to advertise I’d focus on local advertising simply because there are so many breastfeeding mums (and chestfeeding parents of all or no gender) around me and it’s nice to meet them in person. I could focus on a small community on the other side of the world and spend the same amount for the same revenue but why bother? And I’m keeping my carbon footprint low when someone from down the road orders. There could be a breastmilk jeweller in every large town and city across the globe and still have enough work. As a keepsake artist at least half of my orders come in the form of other elements like umbilical cord, and of course, memorial jewellery. There’s far far more competition from other cremation ash jewellers yet in just two years of trading I’ve carved out a niche and been able to help hundreds of grieving families.
So from the small time community doula hoping to offer their clients a little more than placenta jewellery to the entrepreneurial mummy who doesn’t want to go back to her career in corporate, to the daddy who loves to work with wood and metal, I believe anyone can and should make breastmilk jewellery.
Breastmilk Jewellery Caution
One of the big oppositions to DIY breastmilk jewellery or new artists is that the chemicals/solvents used are dangerous. That’s not necessarily true, or at least not all aspects. The most dangerous chemical I used was epoxy resin and after about six months it gave me contact dermatitis. So you need to minimise your risk by following (obviously) all of the manufacturers’ instructions on anything you use, use proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and use a lot of common sense. Keep it in a separate room to children and pets and make sure you wash your hands, arms and any uncovered skin well before you touch others. For Pete’s sake don’t be stirring resin with a baby next to you. If you have a young child that can’t be with someone else for a few hours then please, please, please can you put your milk in the freezer and wait! I now use UV resin, special blogs to follow!
You’ll see with the methods below that you don’t need formaldehyde, solvents and other dangerous substances. If you do decide to give them a try then follow the above advice and more. For the sake of protecting my own family I’m going to give a big legal disclaimer here in addition to the website terms and conditions, whatever you decide to do with the information here you do at your own risk. We don’t take any responsibility, legal, moral or otherwise for this information and if you use chemicals please speak directly to the manufacturers.
If you’re working with heat and pressure make sure you do it safely and sensibly. Please don’t burn yourselves!
Practice with spare milk until you have it right. More safety info in the other two parts. Don’t waste your clients’ milk, always always always keep some of their milk back and if the pieces turn, you should do the right thing and send that milk to another, more established artist, to pay them to preserve it for your client.
What You'll Need To Make Breastmilk Jewellery
I've used Axson D150 Rigid for over two years now. I stopped for a few months and used EcoResin, made from recycled vegetable oils, but to my horror every single piece (including those just with white flowers and fabric) went yellow. Thankfully I kept every bag of breastmilk sent to me and was able to remake them all. Going back to Axson was great because it's really easy to work with. It's not really branded as being for jewellery but the manufacturers say it's good for casting and embedding flowers. I considered bulk buying pallets of it and rebranding and selling it but wholesale has never interested me and I'd rather put my time into what I love doing. Stick to the ratio on the bottle which is 2:1. The bottle size is big enough that you can learn to work with the resin before you begin adding any milk.
It's best to weigh epoxy rather than measure it by volume using lines on the side of a cup. You'll be working with tiny amounts and a small slip can change the ratio so much it won't set or stays soft. I always use a pocket scale because they go to 0.01g accuracy but can take up to half a kilo which is great if I wanted to use resin for painting or furniture making. Put a little plastic shot glass on and press T to tare it (put it back to zero) then pour in part A to the desired quantity. Some resins need different ratios but 2:1 is pretty common and means two parts A to one part B. So if I want to end up with 15g mixed resin in total I'll measure 10g A then 5g B. That can be daunting especially if it's been a while since you did maths but stick to quantities like that and write down what you've added. I always do wet work (resin and silicone) on baking parchment because it's easy to clean up. You can recycle any paper or break down a big cardboard box but I don't use newspaper because it stains. When I first started I thought a silicone mat would be amazing but any unmixed resin is really hard to clean off and would end up all over my arms.
Mix A and B together slowly with a lollipop stick which you can get in packs of 20 from places like Hobbycraft (UK) or Michael's (USA) or so I'm told. I buy them in bulk because we never reuse them due to contamination risk and they're really inexpensive. We get through a box a year, probably around two per order and I neutralise our carbon footprint in other ways like reusing the boxes that clients send their milk in. Use a 3ml pipette to transfer resin to your mould or bezel, add your glitters etc and leave it to cure. A pipette isn't essential but it makes for more accurate pouring once you get the knack of them.
You can also use Lisa Pavelka UV resin when making breastmilk jewellery, by my favourite is the Qiao Qiao UV Resin which is an unbranded UV gel from the Far East that has teal and mustard flowers on the front; don't use the pink or moss green label ones, they have a strong smell and cure yellow! UV resin is a lot more expensive gram for gram, but there's a lot less wastage. For us, time is the most valuable thing, so a resin that cures almost instantly is perfect. You need to work in thin layers, especially if you're adding opaque colours (ones that don't let light through) like mica powder and titanium dioxide.
You can cure UV resin jewellery in the sunshine but that's not practical especially if (like me) you work at night while your children are asleep, or you live somewhere like the Faroe Islands where it's dark most of the day in the winter. We recommend a UV gel lamp that's usually used for gel nails so if you have one then perfect! The base often slides in and out so you can place your piece on the mirrored surface and slide it in.
My best advice is to start off pouring into cheap bases like bronze bezels and don't be tempted to buy silver plated; it'll just flake off. At least bronze is honest and a lot of people love the beauty of its history. You can put in different glitters then work up to locks of hair and fur, petals and flowers, make them for friends and family. There are squillions of videos all over YouTube to help get you going. I used to take a little craft glue (school glue/PVA/Elmer's glue) and paint designs with a cocktail stick then shake glitters on to make a background.
Preparing The Milk
Most people keep breastmilk in little breastmilk storage bags but to preserve the milk you'll need heat. To take up the minimum amount of room in the freezer we send clients a little pot for their milk. It's a special type of plastic that can withstand super hot and super cold temperatures and I haven't had one crack yet! In part two of the series we will show you how to use heat and two special ingredients found in organic skincare to keep the milk preserved for years as well as other methods that are successful and not. Please let me know in the comments below if you've tried to make breastmilk jewellery and how it went for you! And don't forget to tick the box below to notify you of new posts by email.