This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
The next process which must engage our attention is the one known as " plique-a-jour."* It is the one about which more secrecy has been maintained than any other, and it will always be regarded in the light of an astounding process, even when the knowledge of it has been acquired. For it consists of enamelling the spaces between a network of copper, silver, or gold wire, or metal ribbon; and the obvious difficulty is how to keep the enamel powder in its place until it has begun to fuse, and further, to maintain its position during fusion. For enamel, when it is melting, becomes at first viscous at a comparatively low temperature, and then more fluid, according to the heat given it, and therefore it is liable to drop through the spaces, and requires great care and manipulative skill to fire it successfully.
Tools for Plique-a-jour Enamel Work.
The tools that are necessary for this process are the same as those used in cloisonne, viz., tweezers, various pliers (cutting, flat, and round-nosed), also a jeweller's bench and gas-jet, a sand bag, sulphuric acid and acid bath, nail brush, borax, silver solder, hand-drill, flat charcoal block, and fret-saw.
* The metal backing of cloisonne enamel is either removed, or omitted, so that the light may shine through.
Although there is another way of arriving at the same result, the one preferred by many - owing to solder not being used - is by cutting the spaces out with a fret-saw and leaving the wires. It is of the greatest importance to cut the line through with an upright edge, keeping it at right angles to the plate, or one side will be wider than the other.
The metal employed should be about eighteen metal gauge. The fret-saws are smaller than those used for wood, and the teeth are closer. The frame is lighter and more neatly finished.
The method is as follows: Draw out your pattern on a piece of metal, and engrave it lightly with a double line, remembering that you are drawing the spaces, not the dividing lines. Then obtain a piece of beech wood the shape shown in the accompanying illustration, and screw it on to a bench.
Underneath the bench attach a leather apron, or skin, in such a manner that it forms a semi-circular bag, part of which hangs over the knees, to catch the silver cuttings and dust, as shown on the opposite page.
Take the sheet of metal and drill holes in all the spaces with a hand-drill and drill stock, of which there are two kinds. Next take the fret-saw frame in the right hand, and fix the end of the saw to the frame; the other end of the saw through a hole and fix it to the arm at the other end of the frame. Then saw along the line of your design. This is not difficult after a little time has been given to it, and the muscular effort will not be so fatiguing as at first. If any parts are jagged or rough they should be rubbed down with needle files. After this is quite finished, take a thin sheet of copper, silver, gold, or platinum, place it on one side of the piece cut out, and fold the edges over the pattern so as to prevent it falling off. Then lay the enamel powder in the spaces, filling them well up to the top of the silver. Dry it and fire it in the furnace. It will be necessary to fill up the spaces repeatedly and fire each time. In order to finish the piece it will be necessary to file it smooth with a corundum file, and polish it as described in the chapter on "Champleve." Then remove the metal backing by dissolving it in acid.
Method of Fret-sawing the Metal for Plique-a-jour Enamel.
Now there are various ways of arriving at the same end. The one just described is a very quick and easy method, requiring an ordinary amount of patience and care, and no great skill. It has one drawback, and that is, the metal used at the back is apt to adhere in places to the enamel, and, further, to leave a certain amount of oxide if copper or silver is used, and in any case give a different surface to that of the other side. Another method is to use a little gum in the enamel and no backing of metal, but by drying carefully the gum adheres sufficiently to allow the spaces to be filled up and sustain the enamel until it is fired. This requires a little more care in firing, and is only useful for very small work, such as jewellery. A rather soft enamel is the best for this purpose. In the case of a bowl, where the shape by necessity involves more consideration in the handling, this latter method cannot be applied; and the only way is to solder the wire down to a shape of metal, and carefully fill in and finish as though it were cloisonne, and afterwards dissolve the foundation metal shape in acid, taking care to protect the wire by a resist, so as not to dissolve at the same time.
This is a very difficult process, and demands many attempts before a successful piece is produced.
For suggestions in ornament and decoration there is nothing better than nature. There is more true decorative suggestion in a thicket of wayside weeds than in a shelf of text-books. The strength of the Japanese - who are, by all odds, for pure feeling, the greatest decorative designers in the world - is in their constant reference to nature. They find her a never-failing well-spring of inspiration, and so will anyone who goes to her with his eyes open.
A screen for a studio window, which will be at once handsome and effective, can be made by stretching an Oriental rug across the lower portion. This concentrates the light in the upper part, where it belongs, and gives a rich setting to the otherwise blank window space. In rooms where you need all the light you can get, white curtains are very useful; but for a studio a rug screen is the best device yet contrived. A couple of screw eyes in the window frames, a stout copper wire and a few rings pinned to your rug with safety pins are needed.