Silver Leaf Mirror
Antique mirrors have a softened patina that reflects light more subtly than a new mirror. You can replicate the romantic luster of an antique mirror using eglomise, a glass-gilding technique popularized in the eighteenth century. In eglomise, gold or silver leaf is applied to the reverse side of a glass object. To create her faux-antique mirror, Martha applies silver leaf to the back of a pane of glass, which she inserts into a picture frame.
To make your own silver-leaf mirror, use glass from a picture frame, or have a glazier cut you a piece to fit a favorite frame. Silver leaf, sold in booklets of 3-by-3-inch squares, is easy to work with but very delicate -- one thousand stacked sheets equal the thickness of a nickel. For best results, work in a draft-free room; do not get the silver-leaf booklet wet; and, because it will dissolve, do not pick up silver leaf with your hands -- use a gilder's tip brush instead.
The sizing used to adhere the silver leaf to the glass is made from a mixture of gelatin and water. Martha uses two or three diamond sections of a gelatin sheet, but you can substitute one teaspoon of unflavored gelatin granules. Be sure to use distilled water in your sizing, as it contains no minerals or contaminants that could react with the silver.
- Gelatin sheet
- Distilled water
- Two 1- or 2-inch paintbrushes
- A pane of glass fitted to the picture frame
- Gilder's tip brush
- Booklet of silver leaf
- #12 brush
- Cotton balls
- Acrylic clear coat
- Picture frame
Place two or three diamond sections of a gelatin sheet and 1 cup distilled water into a small metal pot. Slowly heat the solution; stir with a 1-inch paintbrush until the gelatin dissolves, forming sizing solution). As you work, keep the solution in the pot over low heat.
Start at a corner of a clean, dry piece of glass; using the same 1-inch brush, apply sizing to a 3 1/2-inch area. Generate static electricity on a gilder's tip brush by brushing it against your hair; the static will lift the silver leaf from its booklet. Holding the silver-leaf booklet at a slightly downward angle, touch the bristles of the brush to the edge of an exposed silver-leaf sheet; slide the sheet about 1/2 inch over the booklet's edge.
Touch the edge of the sheet to an edge of the wet glass, then quickly move your hand away from the edge. The sheet will slide off the booklet onto the glass. Tilt the glass to help the wrinkles "fall out." (To redo with a new sheet of leaf, wipe off the silver leaf with a lint-free cloth and reapply the sizing.) Cover the entire glass, laying the silver leaf in rows, overlapping squares about 1/8 inch. Let the mirror dry for 1/2 hour. Fill in missed spots with sizing and a #12 brush, wetting only exposed glass; cover holes with silver-leaf scraps. Let the mirror dry for 1 hour. Brush off the excess sizing with a cotton ball. Use a dry 1-inch brush to apply acrylic clear coat to the back of the silver to seal the mirror. Let the mirror dry overnight before placing it inside the frame, with the ungilded side facing outward.