How to Make Cremation Ash Jewellery: Part 1 of 2
The easiest way to set cremation ashes is with resin. You can pour the resin directly into a setting or use a silicone mould. There are pros and cons of each method which we’ll cover in another blog! Cremation ashes are, in my opinion, the easiest element to work with compared to breastmilk and locks of hair or fur. Working with ashes is similar to working with dried crushed umbilical cord or placenta so the advice is pretty much the same for those.
Are ashes safe to work with?
Cremation ashes, whether pet or person, are probably the safest element to work with (in my opinion). Because of the heat involved in turning remains into ashes, any BBV’s (blood-borne viruses) are destroyed. You can’t pick up HIV from ashes, for example, but common sense tells us that we should treat every element as if it may contain BBV’s and harmful substances. Cremation ashes are basically the bone/minerals remaining after all of the water and carbon has burnt away. Sometimes the ashes will contain fragments of brown and black, pink and green, pieces of metal etc. For more in-depth reading see The Analysis of Burned Human Remains (Atlas of Surgical Pathology) (hint: it’s not cheap and you don’t need to buy it… it’s on my millionaire wishlist!)
There’s a really interesting article here from Halldor the Viking on working with bone dust and I like to work with disposable masks whilst making my jewellery and a heavy duty mask when drilling. I remember an episode of the TV show Bones where a doctor gets sick after cutting the bones of someone who died from asbestos cancer. I plan on working with ashes for years so I want to be protected.
What to put the ashes in
Some people put ashes into fillable jewellery like wearable urns, lockets and pendants. Some artists create cremation ash jewellery from metal clay or fused and lampwork glass. The most versatil medium and the easiest to learn is resin.
If you’re making a lot of resin jewellery in big batches then it’s cost-effective to use epoxy resin. Lots of people ask me what brand to buy but I always found the unbranded rigid casting epoxy like this one to be best. Sadly EcoResin is a no-go and I nearly lost my business due to dozens of pieces going yellow. Usually, you get epoxy resin in two bottles, part A and part B, which you have to mix perfectly in exact ratios and can take several days to cure. It would be perfect for doing big batches of flower jewellery, such as rose bud pearls.
We mostly use UV resin like the Qiao Qiao UV Resin (I can’t find the name for this brand, but it’s the one that works), you can also use the Lisa Pavelka brand but it’s more expensive and you can’t get the big bottles. My trick is to buy a 60g bottle and a 200g bottle to refill it with. The little bottles are great to pour directly in your moulds. You’ll also need a cheap gel lamp like this. My hack for the gel lamp is to remove the plastic insert and place the lamp on a sheet of aluminum foil! We want the maximum amount of light to hit the jewellery to cure the resin and you work in layers.
With UV resin it’s easier to keep the resin from getting too thick (which happens with epoxy during its pot life). So long as you keep it away from the gel lamp and the sunshine it will stay liquid and thin enough to work. If your resin is too thick it gets sticky and no longer workable. To prepare a lock of cremation ash I get together what I need so it’s all within reach and make sure I’ve got my protective things on.
Ideally, you will have a small pot with the client’s ash, neatly labeled so you can’t confuse one order with another. I like to work on one ash order at a time so I can’t confuse orders, even if they’re different colours. While the pieces are curing for each stage, you can tidy up your work area, make notes on the order, send the client a photo of your progress etc.
How to Make Cremation Ash Jewellery Safely
1. Make sure you’re not working round kids and pets. Even if a resin has low fume it can still cause a reaction. I’ve heard of people not only having reactions from contact with resin (like me) but having trouble breathing. Even for yourself you need to take care. The tools and equipment you have in your studio aren’t suitable for being around children and they tend to want to “help”. Older children could sit on another table if you’re doing something without chemicals and heat (wire wrapping, for example). I appreciate it is hard, and I’m writing this blog today because my son is home poorly so I’m working online while he watches cartoons. Later on we’ll have a nap together so that when his dad has him tonight I’ll have the energy to go in the studio. I’m also planning a blog soon on working with di
2. Wear proper PPE (personal protective equipment).
I like to wear a thick coating of a barrier spray like the 3M Cavilon or No More Gloves. Then I know if I’m struggling and have to take off my gloves, my skin’s got some protection. I tried Metanium but it made my work marked and I managed to get some on my silverwork which gave it a nasty coating of dull titanium! Then I double up on nitrile gloves and pop on a face mask.
Resin Lock of Hair Jewellery
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.
I recommend using a water clear mould, or at least translucent. You’ll need water-clear to work 3d pieces in UV. You can use an opaque mould for flatbacks but it is more difficult and you can’t re-mould it if you want to add a layer of clear resin afterwards.
If you’re using UV resin, cure this as your first layer then fill the mould with more resin and any colours and additions. Sometimes we leave the resin completely clear and when the piece is cured we add a coloured core or background. You can add colour and shimmer, glitter, precious metal leaf, mica and even natural colourants like beetroot powder (although these tend to fade quickly in the sun). You will find your own style and clients will choose you because they like your work.
In the next blog I’ll explain how to mix the ashes in with the resin and more detail on different kinds of moulds.
Other Media to Make Lock of Hair Jewellery With
how to make breastmilk jewellery part 1 is here, part 2 is here and part 3 is here
I have more tutorials and blogs planned for the future including umbilical cord and placenta jewellery, how to make *trigger* baby loss keepsakes, metal clay jewellery and silversmithing. Also some blogs on being clean, parenthood, veganism, charity work, travelling and various other interests. Most of my blogs are written in notes on my phone when I don’t have internet access (the school gates, the car) or when I’m nursing our son Bastian and I love the chance to share my creativity even more.
For classes on resin you may be able to find something local but I 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.
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. Mould (UK) mold (US).
This post contains affiliate links that should work in the USA, Canada and the UK, 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. Aqui hablamos español, on parle français, hier spreken we nederlands, tunasema Kiswahili hapa, and føroyskt, but they love to see all languages.