Making Glass Beads

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Hey There!

Whew! Winter is still going strong. I was wondering if we were going to get another good snow-in before moving towards spring, and it looks like we are.

Thankfully, last weekend there was a brief break in the weather, and we actually ventured out of the house to enjoy it. The Fellow and I went to visit my laurel (the woman I am apprenticed to in the SCA).

Her home is always stocked with the most delicious treats. This time she served us yummy Italian wedding soup and yeast rolls. I brought scones, and we sat, sipped tea, ate, and chatted. It’s always such an enjoyable day when I get to visit awesome, crafty Medieval friends. I love to be able to focus on passion projects and not the real world for a bit. We discussed our current projects, some event plans, and research. I also got to love on her amazing Savannah cats all afternoon. (Seriously, her cat, Layla, is the most lovely kitten ever!)

We also got to check out the work in her studio. She’s been lampworking for a while now and has a pretty nifty little set-up in her garage. If you remember from my Tamarack post, I have an obsession with glass work, so any chance to play with it, I’m all in.

This was my second time making glass beads and the Fellow’s first. I think at some point I’m going to have to invest in a little set-up. You can get started with a pretty basic kit fairly cheap.

Per Wikipedia: “Lampworking is a type of glasswork where a torch or lamp is primarily used to melt the glass. Once in a molten state, the glass is formed by blowing and shaping with tools and hand movement. It is also known as flameworking or torchworking, as the modern practice no longer uses oil-fueled lamps.”

So you’re basically using a propane torch. Using propane always freaks me out a bit as I remember a particular chemistry class that nearly went very badly. My lab partner wouldn’t listen to me and wouldn’t turn off the gas after not being able to get the lighter to strike more than a few times. She almost blew the lab up!

Anyway, making glass beads this way is pretty easy. You dip a mandrel (a small, stainless steel rod) in a release (basically a slip that breaks off of the rod easily) and bake it onto the mandrel. While keeping the mandrel hot and continually rotating it, you carefully warm up the end of a rod of glass until it starts to melt, then you wrap the melted glass around the mandrel forming a bead. Once you’ve got the desired amount of glass on the mandrel, you set the glass rod aside, continue to rotate the mandrel, and keep the glass in the torch flame to even out the bead.

When you’ve got it where you want it, you pull it out of the flame, wait for the bead to cool to put it into a ceramic fiber blanket, and then let it anneal or drop in temperature slowly to harden.

I was pretty proud of my second attempt! She also gave me some research about existent bead finds from the Viking age, so I could keep my colors in period. I’m hoping to have enough handmade beads for a small strand to hang from my apron dress at Pennsic.

What hobby have you tried that you would like to be more skilled in? Let me know so I can encourage you!

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