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.
People message me all the time to say, “I just want to make something for myself”, to which I reply that it’s in fact cheaper to pay a professional like my other company Tree of Opals (click here) to make a piece for you, or at least buy a DIY breastmilk kit like this one from Elly2Elly.
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
Part two of the blog is here in Making Breastmilk Jewellery: Part 2 which explains some of the ways to preserve milk that do and don’t work. Part three of the blog is here in Making Breastmilk Jewellery: Part 3.
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.
Part two of the blog is here in Making Breastmilk Jewellery: Part 2 which explains some of the ways to preserve milk that do and don't work. Part three of the blog is here in Making Breastmilk Jewellery: Part 3. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog for new articles and tutorials.
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