Terracotta clay can be turned into eye-catching jewellery for the modern woman.
AT a cosy apartment in a bustling part of Batu Caves, a young woman is trying her hand at an ancient Indian craft.
Terracotta clay has been used to create artifacts, sculptures and pottery for centuries in India. It is one of the oldest forms of craft and has stood the test of time.
This pure natural clay is also the perfect medium for eco-friendly jewellery and Jennifer Peter is hoping to send this message to more Malaysian women through her brand, called Jni’s Diva Handmade.
The brand, launched in August last year, has a range of terracotta jewellery that is a feast for the eyes.
Bursting with colour and vibrancy with designs that embrace both modern and ethnic inspirations, her necklaces and earrings are drawing an increasingly large fan base online.
Jennifer, a call centre team manager, never for a moment thought that her interest in jewellery-making would one day lead to her own online business.
She has always loved working with her hands and enjoys any kind of art and craft project.
Her interest in jewellery making though only came about recently after she started looking at various online sites and videos on jewellery making.
With her interest sparked, she started researching more on the subject, particularly on terracotta jewellery and even underwent online tutorials on jewellery making. After about two months, she was able to make some pieces for herself.
When friends and family started complimenting her on her jewellery and encouraged her to make them for sale, she decided to turn her hobby into a part-time business and Jni’s Diva Handmade was born.
Crafting terracotta jewellery is a labour intensive process, says Jennifer, but the results are stunning if one can commit to the endeavor.
She gets her terracotta clay from suppliers in India and it was from one of those suppliers that Jennifer also picked up many valuable tips on making terracotta jewellery and getting the best results from the clay.
“There is a lot of interest and demand for ethnic jewellery these days. Terracotta jewellery is special not only because it’s eco-friendly but because it can be mixed and matched with anything, from jeans and a black t-shirt to a saree.”
Jennifer’s pieces embrace a bold colour palette with shades such as royal blue, vermillion, bold orange, deep green and vibrant yellow.
Her jewellery boasts traditional Indian motifs like the peacock and lotus.There are also many pieces in geometric shapes that have been beautifully painted and assembled into eye-catching pieces.
There is definitely a rustic charm to her jewellery which makes it appealing to the young woman with a bohemian style but one can just as easily imagine these pieces gracing an elegant dinner dress, silk saree or trendy Indo-Western ensemble.
Jennifer says her clients are mainly women between 30 and 40 years old and they like the unique appeal of terracotta jewellery. They are women who want conversation pieces and not the usual run-of-the-mill accessories.
Some of her clients have very specific designs that they want her to mimic while others give her free reign in crafting their pieces.
“It takes me about two to three weeks to produce a batch of jewellery and I usually work at night because the house is quiet and I can give the designs the focus and attention they need.”
Jennifer first moulds the clay into the desired shapes for her jewellery and then leaves these pieces out to dry in the sun for five to seven days. If it rains, this part of the process takes longer.
Some pieces or parts of the jewellery are shaped using ready-made moulds which she obtains from suppliers in India while other pieces have to be completely hand crafted.
Once these pieces have been sun dried, they have to be fired” or baked. Jennifer doesn’t own a kiln so she bakes them the traditional way using hot coals in a clay pot.
She usually completes this part of the process at her mother’s house. The moulded clay has to be baked at a temperature of between 800 and 1,100 degrees Celsius.
Once the pieces have been baked, they are ready for colouring. Jennifer uses acrylic paint which she also buys from Indian suppliers.
The hand-painting process is also time-consuming, especially if a necklace or earring has intricate details.
One needs a steady hand and a good eye. Jennifer says one must also know how to modify instantly if a mistake is made.
Traditionally metallic colours like gold or bronze are used for terracotta jewellery but Jennifer uses a rainbow palette on her pieces to make them pop.
After colouring, the pieces have to be dried again for one more day and then varnished before they are ready to be assembled.
The varnishing ensures that the pieces don’t lose their colour and last longer.
Many of the necklaces can be worn both long or as chokers. Jennifer uses chains made of rope, thread or metal with adjustable hooks. Some pieces come adorned with tiny coloured beads or stones while others stand out with their beautifully hand-painted patterns.
While these necklaces may look heavy and chunky, they are actually very light.
Jennifer says this is due to the “firing” process that the pieces undergo. At the first stage, when it is sun-dried, the clay loses some of its moisture and becomes light. After baking/firing, even more moisture is lost, making it very light.
“Some customers have metal allergies or allergies to costume jewellery so for these people, I make pieces which are purely from terracotta with no embellishments from other materials.”
She also makes stud earrings and jhimiki (traditional Indian dangling earrings).
The jhimikis have a fun, vibrant look and will certainly appeal to women who want to add a bohemian touch to modern attire.
The earrings also go well with traditional Indian attire such as the salwar kameez or saree.
Besides terracotta, Jennifer also fashions jewellery from air dried clay. Although working with air-dried clay is a much quicker process compared with terracotta, jewellery made from terracotta tends to be more durable because the clay is baked.
In comparison air-dried clay only needs to be sun dried for 24 hours before painting.
Jennifer, who hopes to open her own studio specialising in terracotta jewellery, is also planning a visit to Bangalore, India soon to learn more about terracotta jewellery and how craftsmen there are approaching the trade.
She also plans to start classes for Malaysians who are interested in taking up the craft.
“This is a beautiful art form and there’s so much to learn and appreciate and share with others.”
Jni’s Diva Handmade offers terracotta jewellery priced between RM10.90 and RM200 and air-dried clay jewellery from RM10.90 and RM150.
For more information, go to facebook.com/jnisdiva
CARING FOR TERRACOTTA
* Remove jewellery during a shower or when swimming.
* Terrcotta jewellery is not as brittle or fragile as glass but they do require additional care during handling.
* Wipe jewellery after each use with a soft cloth before putting them away.
* Keep or store your pieces separated to avoid scratching.
* Don’t place unnecessary stress on the jewellery as it can chip.
* An accidental fall on a hard surface may cause it to break.
* Remove jewellery before going to bed.
* Do not expose the jewellery to alcohol, hairspray, perfume or cosmetics to maintain its quality.
Source: elegantkrafts.com and Jni’s Diva Handmade
A LONG HISTORY
TERRACOTTA has been used in India for thousands of years.
Human and animal figurines made using this natural clay have been unearthed in various archeological sites in the country including the ancient Indus Valley civilisation in Mohenjo-Daro.
The process of making artifacts or accessories from terracotta is a labour and time-intensive process because one needs to mould the clay to the desired shape and also go through the process of drying/baking it.
To harden terracotta, it must be heated at very high heat. Once it hardens, it will still be a bit porous, which means it can be penetrated by water. However, a simple coat of glaze can make terracotta water resistant.
It is a very versatile clay and can be used to craft everything, from sculptures, statues and jewellery to pottery and even toys. Indian artisans continue to keep this ancient craft alive today.
sources: www.utsavpedia.com and wonderopolis.org.
THERE are many reasons why terracotta jewellery will always have an appeal.
1. There is one to match every outfit as it comes in a variety of brilliant colours and patterns.
2. Each piece of terracotta jewellery is handcrafted
3. It is safe for use, even on sensitive skin.
4. Terracotta jewellery is lightweight and easy to wear.
5. It is one of the safest choices of jewellery even for children.