It was akin to a death sentence. Mined in the hills of Almadén, Spain, cinnabar (the mineral from which mercury is extracted) was one of the most deadly minerals to mine in history. Discovered potentially either by the Greeks or the Persians, it was used by the Chinese to make red lacquerware products from cabinets and bowls to jewelry. Wood would be carved and coated with a priming surface, then the crushed cinnabar would be applied and then sealed over with several layers. In modern times, cinnabar has been replaced with resin to avoid any hazard. But if you have antique cinnabar jewelry, um, don’t burn it-that would be bad. Instead enjoy its’ beautiful deep red color.
In the raw form:
Porcupine quills have been used in jewelry, weapons, and items for the home for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The porcupine, a slow-moving creature, who uses his quills to defend himself can have up to 30,000 on his back, making them a readily available source of decoration, provided that you know how to extract them!
The Native Americans were the most ardent users, softening the quills to weave them into leatherwork and basketry. The traditional mohawk headdress, called a porky roach (I lie not), was actually based off the raised quills of a defensive porcupine. The quills were also used in jewelry and detail work for jackets and shirts. With the easy availability of beads, however, these traditional materials fell out of use, so that any type of porcupine quill decorations are fairly rare today.
Otherwise known as an elaborate, gorgeous form of tie-dye, Shibori has been made in Japan since the 8th century. There are various methods that can be used: Arashi (pole wrapping), Kumo (pleating), Itajime (a pleat/clamping method), Nui (which gathers the fabric with stitches), Miura (where you bind loops into the cloth), and Kanoko (the more widely known form of tie-dye). At the bottom is a site that demonstrates techniques.
A wonderful do-it-yourself video:
I was once spending a late night with some friends drinking wine by the Canals St. Martin in Paris. A particularly drunk man stumbled up to us and asked all of our names, deciding he would dub us with new names. My male friend became “Alain”, my female friends, “Elaine”. When I told him my name, he looked at me very solemnly, and announced, “You, you are Princesse Gifford”. I have never lived this down. But if I am accepting the title, I will take any of these as my coronation attire.
Egyptians were the first to discover that if you hammer gold into really thin sheets, you can apply it to just about anything. There is actually an entire profession for goldbeaters. Which is something that I totally want to put on my resume. I mean, could you imagine the bar lines?
Along the way, these sheets of hammered and pressed gold came to be used on everything from home decor to culinary uses. Lately, people have been using gold leaf as a rolling paper. Talk about a fine smoke….
But I do believe that the most exciting use of gold leaf is the application to the skin. What could be more seductive than a beautiful woman with a glint of gold. As Charles Dickens said in Nicholas Nickleby, “Gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal.”
A great video on how to apply gold foil jewelry:
Just, you know, don’t overdo it….
Two great interviews with Brooklyn jewelry designer, Britt Bolton.