Alternate title: How to apply gold leaf to something then make it into a necklace, from someone who did not know what they were doing and probably did not have the best tools for the job but still made it look pretty awesome.
By now everyone’s seen Givenchy’s giant shark tooth necklace. This is not a DIY version of that. This will not satisfy the same carnal need (oh, the nights I spend dreaming of that necklace). This is a simple necklace that came about because that magnificent piece reminded me that I had a humble little shark tooth rattling around in a neglected corner of my crafting cabinet.
I happened to collect shark teeth as a child (and arrowheads and rocks and spiders – I was that girl). I’m not sure what happened to the rest of my collections, but this fossilized tooth made its way to Boston by way of my old craft box, tucked in small pill vial along with a sprinkling of seed beads and a Victorian brooch – it’s a bounty of forgotten treasures. (If you are a normal person and do not have shark teeth tucked away somewhere, they are also readily available on eBay or in just about any touristy shop near salt water.)
With the most exotic of the required materials already at my disposal, it should be no surprise that the rest were in the apartment. Who doesn’t keep a ziplock of gold leaf on hand?
My instructions detail almost every step I took – mistakes and all. You could choose to learn from my mistakes and maybe cut out a few of the steps in between, but just in case you’re as impatient as I am and therefore doomed to the same errors, I left full notes. I also made this extra entertaining, since the process itself involves a lot of waiting. If you have no sense of humor or maybe are just even more impatient than I am, you can get the tutorial minus the personality here – but I promise you won’t have as much fun.
What you’ll need:
Gold leaf flakes
Adhesive – I used Mod Podge
Clear nail polish
Thin gold-toned wire (I found this brass wire at the hardware store)
Gold-toned jump rings
Small pliers (if you’re not that fancy you could probably use your hands)
Super glue or epoxy
Thin gold necklace chain
What you’ll do:
Using the cotton swab, paint a thin layer of adhesive onto the part of the tooth you’d like to cover. Use the clean side of a cotton swab to wipe up any excess or refine the coated area. Try not to get any on your fingers – it will make the next steps easier. Give it a few seconds to get tacky.
Find a large piece of gold leaf. Gently smooth it out on your finger then apply it to the front of your shark tooth. Carefully smooth it and wrap it around the edges and over the back. It will probably rip – that’s fine. Work on pressing directly down in favor of spreading, and try to keep glue off your fingers (because if both surfaces have glue, the leaf is just more likely to stick to you than to the tooth). Add smaller pieces to cover anything you missed. Wipe away any excess gold leaf.
Unless you’re some sort of talented freak or you’ve done this before, it will probably look something like this:
Give it a few minutes to dry. [Side note: If you are blogging about this and you were too impatient to wait for your boyfriend/roommate/photographer friend to come over and help, these little waiting periods are a great time to grab pictures. Of course, you won’t get any action shots, and your one hand will look sort of freaky (even more so than usual) because you are constantly trying to hold it out far enough for the lens to focus, and maybe your arms aren’t that long – not because you have weird T-Rex arms or anything, but because you’re a small person in general – which will not help your cause either, but at least your guide will be somewhat illustrated to distract from your rambling instructions. End note.]
When you can’t wait any longer, start again. Paint on the adhesive. Let it get tacky. Find a large flake and smooth it out over your finger. Press it onto the front and around the edges and back. Add pieces to cover any areas you missed. This time learn from round one and don’t break or wipe away the excess yet.
Go think about how they make gold leaf kits with full sheets of gold leaf, and they usually come with their own seal and adhesive and everything, and that would probably have been much neater. You could also use a hair dryer to speed things up. When you’re confident it’s fairly dry, gently wipe away excess gold leaf.
Now you should only have a few spots that you missed here and there. Paint the adhesive over just those spots. Apply gold leaf, still going from front to back. Let it dry for as long as you can contain yourself. Go post an Instagram pic or something. Then gently wipe away excess gold leaf.
You might decide you’re done after this. You might have done it right on the first try. Or you might be even more challenged than I am and need to go a few more rounds. I wasn’t really loving the line where the gold leaf ended, so I decided to go for one last layer. If you run into this, scrape off any leaf that went too low then paint on adhesive, paying special attention to the edges. Really clean it up so the adhesive stops exactly where you want the gold to end. Find a large piece of gold leaf and press it over the front, making sure it goes beyond the end of the adhesive. Carefully smooth it over the sides and around the back. Add extra pieces to any spots that need it.
Now, walk away. For more than a few minutes, this time. Find something to distract yourself. Put gold leaf on your face. Watch Goldmember. Better yet, Velvet Goldmine. Or Jaws. Personally, I used the time to write an extra long and rambling tutorial – lucky you.
When a few hours have passed and the adhesive has thoroughly dried, go get rid of any excess gold leaf. Use the flat of your finger to rub from the front to the back, this time slightly more aggressively. If you find any areas that our loose or unattached, rub them away. Use your nail to press back and refine the edges. (If you mess up, you can always add another layer.)
At this point you want to seal the gold leaf. If you were smart and purchased a kit, it probably came with a sealant. I was not. Quick internet research revealed that the sealants for genuine metal leaf are acrylic topcoats – which to me sounds a lot like clear nail polish.
You’ll also want to find a way to prop up your tooth while the sealant dries completely. You could use a lump of clay, an apple slice, a piece of semi-soft cheese – you get the idea. Just set it up now so you won’t be struggling to do it without messing up the varnish later. Be sure the tooth is firmly planted and will stay standing.
Pick up your tooth – prop and all – and paint the nail polish over the gold-leafed section, being careful not to use too much. Hold it upside-down for the first few minutes, to prevent dripping. Then flip it over and walk away.
And now you’re back to waiting. No cheating this time – there are no re-dos. Ok, you could probably go back to adding gold leaf if you had to, but at this point the novelty has worn off and it’s more of a chore. Do yourself a favor and find another good distraction. Here, this will help.
When you’ve allowed proper drying time – and then some – you’re ready to turn this tooth into a charm. The wire wrapping is the trickiest part. (I did a few practice rounds on cardboard first.) Since my shark tooth was so tiny, I wanted to keep the wire as minimal as possible – both in wrapping and in thickness. If you have a larger tooth you might use a different pattern and heavier wire – but you will almost definitely need pliers. The thin wire was easily manipulated by hand.
First, cut the tip off your cotton swab. (What, you threw it away already? I bet you’re one of those people who does the dishes as you cook too. Sigh. Go on, get a new one.) Wrap wire in a loop around the swab, leaving about an inch of excess. Hold to loop tightly closed and twist the cotton swab 360 degrees.
Remove the swab and place the loop at the top center of the tooth. Hold the short end of the wire against the back and wrap the wire tightly over the front of the opposite side (being careful to keep the loop in the center). Wrap it once around the base of the loop, then repeat on the other side. Replace the cotton swab and make another loop for reinforcement. Twist again around the base of the loop, then hold the wire down as you wrap the short end repeatedly around the base. Cut off the excess. Pictures might help with this part.
Attach your new charm to the necklace with the jump ring. Use pliers to be sure the ring is shut entirely, and secure it with a spot of super glue or epoxy – you wouldn’t want the skinny wires slipping out and escaping.
I’m running out of witticisms. Luckily the tutorial is done. You have a lovely new necklace – and hopefully a nicer chain than I had. Switching that out first thing tomorrow…