Close

Making new "stuff" from old "stuff"

Posted on by Eleanor Swinhoe

Susannah approached me about making her a new piece of jewellery from some old pieces of silver that had come from her mother's house, little did I know about the story that would emerge once I agreed to have a go at the project!

 Tankard and napkin rings retrieved from Susannah's mother's house

Tankard and napkin rings retrieved from Susannah's mother's house

Susannah is currently writing a book:

The Life of Stuff by Susannah Walker, a memoir in which she pieces together her mother’s life story and makes sense of their troubled relationship through her mother’s hoarded possessions.

The book tells the story of how Walker discovered the full extent of the hoarding only after her mother’s death last year.  While sorting through her dilapidated house, she finds herself in search of a woman she had never really known.

“Through her mother’s hoarded possessions – photos, papers and an extraordinary amount of stuff – Walker raises all sorts of questions about who we are. What do our possessions say about us?  Why do we project such meaning on to them?  What turns us from someone who simply enjoys having objects around them into someone who hoards uncontrollably?  Walker’s complex, deeply personal story has hugely universal themes, and she handles its telling with real dexterity.” (Andrea Henry, Transworld)

 Working it out and cutting it up.

Working it out and cutting it up.

The silver tankard was her mother's from a young age and as Susannah pointed out, it looked like it had seen quite a lot of aggression - maybe it had been thrown down the stairs a few times to gain its beaten up look.  Susannah explains the story far better than me and you'll need to read her book to get the whole picture, but it is a sad one.  You notice that one of the napkin rings has the name "Alastair" on it - this was a baby brother who died very young in infancy.  I automatically thought that maybe Susannah would want to keep the name intact and have it on the jewellery in some way, but no, Susannah's mother Patricia had a miserable childhood because the parents had always wanted a boy, and she lived all her life believing that the wrong child had died as an infant.  Susannah wanted the silver to be re-fashioned, yes as a memory of her mother's life, but to take away that heartbreak that Alastair had (although unwittingly) caused her.

We decided on a wide silver cuff which would keep some of shape of the items without any of it having to be melted down.  I was to use the "Alastair" napkin ring, but the name would be hidden.

 Patricia's tankard becomes a cuff

Patricia's tankard becomes a cuff

The process of cutting up the silver was tough going and the metal required lots of annealing to soften it up enough to re-shape.  By softening, I was also able to hammer out some of the "beatings" that the tankard had received.

 Flattening the napkin rings

Flattening the napkin rings

Rather than try to solder all the layers together I decided to semi-rivet them - trying to evenly heat this quantity of silver was problematic.

 Cuff in a rather raw state

Cuff in a rather raw state

The cuff need a lot of cleaning up, and I decided on a brushed finish for a more contemporary look.

 Finished silver wrist cuff

Finished silver wrist cuff

Susannah now has a finished piece of jewellery that contains lots of memories, but one which also diminishes some of the sad ones.  The story of the cuff will conclude her book.

She has sent me a chapter of "The Life of Stuff" which focuses on the "silver napkin ring" - its demise, its significance, its being part of a ritual of belonging!  I have rather the opposite problem with stuff - I can't bear clutter - and only recently I recycled my silver napkin ring (given to me as a baby for my Christening) because I had never understood the point of it.  None of my grandparents are alive, so I don't think anyone will be offended.  Susannah's thoughts on these items are fascinating and I can't wait to read the book.

The Life of Stuff by Susannah Walker will be published by Doubleday in hardback in spring 2018.