Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Zibellino Just For ME!

This month, as I worked on creatures in my zibie family for other people, I realized that I hadn't made one for myself since I made the prototypes!  I try to remember to take pictures of all the items I make, so I went back through my folders of pictures and counted how many I'd made so far.  I was amazed when I found that, of the ones I'd remembered to take pictures of, there were almost 100 zibie creatures!  I decided it was high time for me to make one for myself again.

While researching zibellini, I came across this item in a 1547 inventory of Henry VIII: “Item in the same coffre one Sable skynne with a hedd of golde conteyning in yt a clocke with a coller of gold enameled blacke sett with iiij diamountes and foure rubies and with two perles hanging at the eares and twoo rubies in the yees, the same skynne having allso feete of golde eche sett with a turques the tonge being a rubye."

A zibie with a clock in it's head?  Brilliant!  I found a beautiful watch face set with many tiny rhinestones.  I decided to keep the colors very simple and elegant: black, gold, and clear crystal.  I'd been saving a lovely chocolate mink pelt for when I did get around to making a personal zibie again, and I thought she'd work perfectly with my color scheme.

I wanted to make sure that I could get at the battery so I could replace it as needed, so after baking the zibie's mask, I cut out where the watch face would sit.  After setting all the jewels (57 of them!) and filigree, sealing the mask with varnish, and attaching her earrings (two in each ear, another first for me!) I wired the clock in place.  It was only after I'd attached the mask to the mink's head when I realized that I'd never set the watch, nor started it!  *sigh*  The ornate nature of the watch meant that I couldn't get at the watch stem without removing the watch face from the mask.  *double sigh*  See, this is why you always make a prototype (or several!) before offering something for sale!

Being a practical kind of gal, I couldn't feel entirely comfortable about the extravagance of a personal zibie without doing *something* to justify it!  So I decided that I would use a new varnish I'd just purchased to see how well it would perform.  I'll try to remember to post an update about that in a later post.

Anyway, here's my completed zibellino.  Meet Nox, the Goddess of the Night!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Zibellini Family

When people walk into my booth, I get a wide range of reactions to my zibellini.  While there have been a few who were pretty neutral, most people tend to either LOVE them ("OMG that's adorable!") or HATE them ("That is so creepy!").  What, you ask, is a zibellino?

Dona Isabel de Requesens
Zibellini (pl.) were full-body pelts worn as a fashion accessory by stylish ladies in the 1500s, most commonly in Northern Italy.  They used sable or marten pelts most often, but ermine and even lynx were also used.  At first they were just a plain pelt with a chain attached at the mouth, but as time went on, Zibellini frequently had their heads replaced with gold or gilded silver replicas.  There is also mention of artisans using jet or crystal instead of metal.  Regardless of the material used, they were usually encrusted with jewels, and sometimes enamel work.  In our day, zibellini are sometimes referred to as "flea furs" on the mistaken assumption that ladies wore these furs to attract the fleas away from themselves and onto the furs.  This is a myth: why would a flea want to leave a nice, warm, food-filled body for an empty pelt?  Besides, if you were a rich lady, would you want to advertise your personal cleanliness issues to the masses?  No, zibellini were worn for high fashion, not personal hygiene!

The first mention I can find of a zibellino is from a 1467 inventory of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.  It describes “a marten for putting around the neck, the head and feet of gold with ruby eyes, with diamonds on the muzzle and paws.”  The first portrait I know of that features a zibellino is the 1518 Portrait of Dona Isabel de Requesens, vice-reine of Naples.  She wears her unadorned zibellino draped over one shoulder.  What I believe to be the earliest portrait depicting a decorated zibellino is the 1536-37 Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere.

Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere
Extant portraiture shows a wide range of upperclass & wealthy women wearing their zibellini proudly, including Queen Elizabeth!  By the mid 1500s, zibellini had become so popular that sumptuary laws concerning them were being passed all over Italy.  At first they tried to control how they were decorated: “In order to avoid any superfluous costs and to get used to in some ornaments some honest and decent/proper, it is ordained and ordered that regarding zibellini and fans, they cannot make heads, or handles, or other ornaments in gold, silver, pearls, or jewels but it is tolerated that they can be attached with a gold chain if the said chain does not exceed between fifteen and twenty scudi and not more.”  (March, 1545; Bologna, Italy)  Obviously that wasn’t very successful as the original laws were often amended to be more permissive.  The law shown above was amended as follows: “…it is encouraged that the gentlewomen content themselves with the first ordinance rather than use this new license.” (October, 1545; Bologna, Italy)

When I decided to make my first zibie (as I affectionately call them), I wasn't sure how to go about it.  I ended up over complicating things, but I learned what not to do!  My first attempt turned out cute enough, but I knew I could do better.  For one thing, my "good in concept" idea of adding whiskers didn't work well.  The whiskers got bent, snagged on things, and generally looked like crap after just a few outings!  That was unacceptable to me, especially since zibies were supposed to be a sumptuous luxury item!  I decided that using crystals as "whiskers" was a much more practical choice, plus it made the zibie that much more sparkly!  One choice I made in the beginning turned out to be a good one, sculpting with polymer clay.  I decided to keep using that as my medium because it is economical, easily obtainable, comes in a wide variety of colors, and is pretty durable.  (Some day I hope to add zibies with cast metal heads as well, but that's a topic for another post!)

Antonio, my first zibie

I made a couple more, but the basic execution still wasn't quite right.  Argento was the first incarnation of my current style of zibellini.  The actual construction method was much better than before, but I still wasn't happy with the results:


I worked on refining the process, especially in blending and proportion.  After more experimentation and honing my sculpting skills, I was finally pleased with my creations!  Too add to my happy, I found a really neat product that allowed me to apply a thin layer of real metal over the surface of the clay!  Here are a few examples of some of my recent zibellini:

"Fire and Ice" made with a silver mink
"Celibri" made with a stone marten
Custom zibie made with an American marten
"Elphaba" made with a chocolate mink
I also played with using bright colors of clay and leaving the surface color as-is:

"Pavone" made with a champagne mink

I was having so much fun with my new creations that when I found myself in possession of several mink tails, I decided to make a smaller version of them, which I dubbed "Zibabies."  A little later came "Zibitties" who, being made with ermine tails, are the tiniest of my Zibie Family.

"Boschetto" (brown mink)

Caryn's custom order "Iacopo" (kit fox)

Gypsy's custom order (white mink)

Zapp's custom order (lynx)
Lisa's custom order (ermine)
And as if that wasn't enough, I decided my fox pelt needed to be "zibified" (Zipini) and my blooming interest in Victorian and Steampunk fashions inspired me to make fascinator zibies (Zibirdies) who have brooch pins so they can be attached to a hat, or shoulder, or...?

blue fox

Egyptian vulture





red phoenix

Little did I know that one little experiment to make myself a fun accessory would lead me off into such fun with fur and feathers!  I think my Zibellini Family is the best example I have of taking a product that people like and expanding the line to interest more people, yet stay true to the "feel" of the original.

To see more portraits and some extant examples of zibie heads, click here.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Jeweled Headbands

When I look at a portrait with an eye for making accessories, I try to break it down into all it's various components.  What style of earrings is she wearing?  What types of stones are in her belt?  What is the proportion of the pearls in her necklace to its pendant?  When you look at portraits this way, you start to notice trends.  For instance, while I was looking at a portrait of Lucrezia de' Medici that I'd been analyzing with the idea of recreating her outfit, I couldn't help but notice her lovely headband.  I thought, "What a beautiful piece of jewelry!  I want one!"  lol

1560 Portrait of Lucrezia de' Medici by Alessandro Allori

Curious now, I started looking back through my portrait collection to see how common headbands like these were in Italy in the mid- to late-1500s.  I easily found more than 30 and I hadn't even looked through a quarter of the portraits! I'd casually noticed them before, but now my interest had been piqued and I started playing with ideas on how to make them.

I designed quite a few different styles, then settled on three that were similar in feel to the ones in the portraits.  The first I named after Lucrezia de' Medici, since it was her portrait that sparked my interest.  The second I named after a wonderful Italian woman artist, Sofonisba Anguissola.  The painting below shows her and her sisters all wearing jeweled headbands!  The third was named for the famous Venetian poetess and courtesan, Veronica Franco.  I plan on adding more styles as well.

1555 Portrait of the Artist's Sisters Playing Chess by Sofonisba Anguissola

The pictures below show a few examples of my versions of the Italian jeweled headband.  I use Swarovski crystal, fresh and cultured pearls, and various semi-precious stone cabochons.  All components are soldered securely to the headband.  I tried various methods like wire wrapping, but I found that soldering gave me the best combination of versatility and security, plus I didn't get my hair caught in it, which is always a plus, right?

de' Medici


As always, I love seeing portraits I haven't seen before, so by all means, let me know if you find one that's interesting!  Email me at sablegreyhound@hotmail.com

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Introduction

  Hello!  My name is Holly Howarth Tippetts.  I've been designing and making jewelry, as well as creating various other unique accessories, for over 10 years.  While I do make a living selling my work, this blog is not meant to sell you things!  Instead, it's a place where I can share where I've gotten some of my ideas and what the finished product turned out like.  I probably won't post more than a couple of times a month, and when I do post, I'll try to keep it interesting!  I admit to hoping that maybe, just maybe, one of my posts will bring the same passion to you as it did to me.

I grew up participating in a medieval and renaissance reenactment group, the Society for Creative Anachronisms or SCA (www.sca.org).  This has definitely flavored my tastes in jewelry!  I get most of my inspiration from the renaissance and ancient Roman time periods, through portraits, extant pieces, and descriptions in contemporary accounts.  It's amazing the amount of items that have survived for hundreds or even thousands of years, and though some people tend to think of anything made before modern times as crude and clumsy, the opposite is often the case!  For instance, did you know that some glass making techniques that were used in renaissance Italy cannot be duplicated today?

Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy my adventures through time and fashion.  If you have questions about my work, or have something to add to my research, please let me know!  I always welcome input.