Hastings Sanderson

A Rose Quartz Zibellino Head

I was really excited to participate in this mini-challenge. The theme hit close to home, as both my mother and aunt are breast cancer survivors and my grandmother left us when I was less than two, a victim of the disease. I had originally planned to make a dress, take pledges for donations and embroider the names on the hem of the dress. That project will eventually happen, but it just didn't fit in my schedule this month, especially after having let things get a little behind while working on the IRCC. I did do the research and found a local charity that I really love. The Huntsman Cancer Institute is doing cutting edge research as well as having a program that specifically targets young women who are highly susceptible due to family history and genetic markers. With my family history it felt like something I really wanted to support. My husband and I made a donation of $50 and my mother has also sent in a donation in memory of her mother, Jerry Nielson Childs.

Putting the dress on the backburner meant I needed a new project idea. My kids were dragging things out of my closet and in the process pulled out a chunk of rose quartz. I picked it up and put it up on a shelf and then the wheels started turning. It's pink. I had seen an extant crystal zibellino head on my friend Holly's page, which is the first place I had read about zibellini. I also found a second view of the extant piece at Bridgeman Art.

I'd tried making a couple of zibellino and used polymer clay due to an unfamiliarity with working with the period materials and the expense. But I had this rose quartz. . . While not exactly accurate, since it is pink rather than the clear of rock crystal, with the theme, it seemed perfect.

What wasn't perfect, is the fact that I really had not the first clue what I was doing. Not that that circumstance is unusual. I'm known for taking off running, determined to make something, even if it is only a mess. I had the diamond bits I'd picked up to carve the signet ring I did for IRCC, so I decided it was worth a try. My piece of quartz was vaguely pointed at one end and had at least a little resemblance to a marten head. I decided to use an auburn colored mink that I had in the stash. My rock was a little small to make a head for a stone marten, and the color of the mink enhanced the pink of the quartz.

I pulled out my Dremel tool and a cutting disk and set to work trying to cut a large chunk off of the back. Walking into my workroom about a half hour later, my husband's comment was "It smells dangerous in here." That about summed it up. I'd completely worn the disk down. It started out 2" across and ended up about 1 inch. I also had a small cut on my right cheek where a piece of glass like rock had flipped off and embedded itself in my face. While the saying goes, "it's not really yours until you bleed on it," this was obviously not the way to go. I went back, did a bunch more research, and ordered some diamond cutting wheels. I pulled out the respirator I use when bone carving, got my safety goggles, rather than the lighter weight safety glasses, and covered everything with coveralls so I minimized the exposed flesh. Much better.

As I cut off the back chunk, I kept the waste crystal, hoping to polish it and set it into pewter castings for the beaded drop and matching girdle. Those are still to come, but I've got the stones basically ovoid. That part was much easier than carving the head itself. I definitely need to do more of that. After I got the back cut off, I used the diamond bits to start to shape the snout and traced the general shape I was trying for.

That was what I had for about a week, slowly grinding and sculpting the head. Because it wasn't something I could do with my kids around, I worked on it for about an hour to two hours each night for two weeks. I wish there was more to say here, but mostly it was just a matter of slowly grinding away the rock. I alternated between hand files and emery powder for detail work, and the power work with the Dremel tool.

About a week into this I decided I had it upside down, since I'd been working with the flat part of the rock up top and the curved side down to make the jaw line. I tried putting the ears on the side, like the extant piece, but really didn't like it so I flipped it over. It lost me shape on the underside, but with the underside of the mink being flat already, I think it was the right choice. It also let me do more teddy bear like ears. While they give my zibellino more the look of a mouse (at least according to my eight year old daughter,) I think they make it cuter and I prefer it.

I was running down to the wire, and did a couple of polishes, but I would have liked to do a few more. The surface is a more matte than I'd hoped. I'm not sure if that is a feature of the clarity of the particular stone I used, or if more polishing would help. As I had not done the castings I'd hoped to make a custom collar, I decided to try out some brass colored foil tape I had picked up to make the painted glass rosary that I never finished for the IRCC. I'm really pleased with the outcome. I also wrapped some blue crystals in the tape to give a similar appearance to the setting in the original piece (while working into my time budget.) I'm really pleased with how that looks and think it is something I will be using in the future with cabochons and beads sewn onto clothing. It's a quick setting and looks loads better than a stone glued or sewn directly into place. I alternated more crystals and freshwater pearls along the brass muzzle and collar.

All in all, I'm really pleased with this project. I got to learn a lot of new techniques and make something totally unique. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person with a rose quartz zibellino. The heft of the stone is significantly different than the polymer clay zibellini I own. Even though it is much smaller than my other zibellini, the stone head makes the pink mink just as heavy. Now I'm plotting trying to carve a jet head. There's a jet headed ermine zibellino listed in the accounts of Mary Queen of Scots. Just imagine the contrast of the black and white.

Banner image taken from: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Birth of St John the Baptist, 1486-90, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.


2001 - 2012 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.