Metal Embossing

Many Indigenous civilizations in the Americas used a metalworking technique called repoussé or metal embossing, in which metal is shaped by hammering or pressing from the back side to create a design that pops out on the front. These civilizations often used repoussé to create beautifully designed pectorals and pendants out of gold. Artists often depicted animals and plants in their surroundings to represent the power of the sun and nature. What design will you make?



You will need:

  • 38-gauge two-tone tooling foil or aluminum foil
  • cardboard
  • paper
  • pencil
  • hole punch (optional)
  • string (optional)
  • beads (optional)

Step 1

Foil cut into circle placed on table top
Ask an adult to help you use scissors to cut your tooling or aluminum foil into a size and shape you like. Be very careful of sharp corners and edges! If you don’t have tooling foil, you can use two or three layers of aluminum foil stacked on top of each other.

Step 2

A piece of paper cut to the same size and shape as the tooling foil circle
Cut a piece of paper that is the same size and shape as your foil shape.

Step 3

Spiraling floral design drawn onto paper circle with pencil
Using a pencil, draw a design or picture onto the paper. Your image will come out backward, so if you want to draw words, spell them out from right to left and reverse each letter like you’re looking at them in a mirror.

Step 4

Silver side of tooling foil placed face up on table top
If you’re using tooling foil, decide if you would like to use the gold or the silver side and place the side you want shown face down on a piece of cardboard. If you’re using aluminum foil, make sure both sides are smooth when you layer the pieces, and then place them on cardboard.

Step 5

Using a pencil to trace the floral design on the paper placed on top of tooling foil
Place your drawing on top of the foil and use a pencil to trace the image. Press down hard!

Step 6

Using pencil to trace again the design, now transferred onto tooling foil
Once you’ve finished tracing, lift up the paper and see your design on the foil! You can trace over it again, directly onto the foil, if the marks are not deep enough.

Step 7

Using a marker to add color to the embossed design on the filp-side of the tooling foil
Flip the foil over—your design should now pop out on the other side. If you’d like, add details with permanent markers, crayons, or colored pencils!

Step 8

Embossed tooling foil looped with string and beads to make pendant
For an optional final step, you can turn your design into a pendant by using a hole punch or sharp pencil to make a hole in the top of your foil. Loop a piece of string through the hole and tie the ends together to finish it up. You can even do our Jewelry Making activity and add your own bead creations!