Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Making Glass Beads












I became a lampworker by chance. Long fascinated by glass beads, a few years ago I read an article about an English bead maker who’d learnt her craft in California. What a shame I thought. I was heading for the U.S,A, but chilly Alaska, not warm, sexy California.


On arrival, I mentioned making glass beads to my Alaskan host. She made a phone call, we drove forty five miles to her neighbour’s house and there I had my first lampworking lesson. When I returned to England a short while later, I carried a rucksack stuffed with coloured glass rods, a bag of tools, a hot head torch and book entitled, ‘Everything You ever Wanted to Know About Glass Bead Making.’ You can imagine what they said when I went through U.S. customs.




I’ve been making glass beads ever since. It’s a hobby, it’s a passion, but it’s not a viable way of making a living. I’ve tried. Yet the magical effect when heat meets glass, and the challenge of controlling and shaping the molten glass in the flame makes me feel like an alchemist.






Hot and flowing glass has a life all its own, full of endless potential; when cool, it’s fragile yet durable, decorative and full of possibilities.






Each bead is unique. Even those made to the same design, at the same time, will have subtle variations of shape and tone. The charm of glass is that it’s unpredictable. It behaves in different ways according to my mood, the heat of the flame, even the weather.




Lampworking probably started with the Phoenicians. It was popular with the Romans, was a large scale industry in 18th and 19th C Venice and, in the last decade, has seen growing popularity in U.S.A, Canada and the U.K.




I know why. When it flows well, working in glass is almost a meditation. It’s magical, molten, hypnotic and enormously satisfying. When it goes wrong I curse and throw the results up the garden. I wonder what archaeologists will make when they find my mistakes in the future.

26 comments:

Casdok said...

I can understand how it becomes a passion.
Your beads are beautiful. Very clever.

Faith said...

Wonderful - you are a sort of alchemist arent you?

Hannah Velten said...

I've never thought about how glass beads were made before - but, yes, I can see where your passion comes from; the molten moulding of glass rods - the unique patterns and finishes - the surprises and the 'throw-away' wrong'uns. Can just see the archaeologists now....
Mootia x

LittleBrownDog said...

Wow - amazing! I would love to do something like that - do you have a special studio or can you do it at home?

I remember, years ago when I was just starting out in journalism, writing a piece on a glassblowing workshop. It was absolutely fascinating and there was something magical and, as you say, meditative, about coaxing the glass into shape; the heat and the way something molten becomes clear and brittle. Absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for sharing that. Would love to know where I can learn about it in this country.

Milla said...

I love glass - bored for England on the old site about some beautiful glass tiles I located for the bathrooms with which I am still deeply in love. They were all seconds, hence cheap enough to afford, and to me every bit as beautiful, if not more really, than the "perfect" ones. If it isn't really financially viable, then at least it allows you to retain your interest in it without it being spoiled by commerce.

Suffolkmum said...

I love glass too. Loved the anaolgy with alchemy - I can just see that. Fascinating blog, and lovely beads!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

That would be very interesting to know. I will hang around and hear the archeologists compare notes as they find your glass.

Do you go to craft fairs to sell your work?

Crystal xx

sally's chateau said...

Lovely interesting blog and your pics are scrummy. It seems a truly relaxing hobby, where do you sell them ?

Exmoorjane said...

Oh thank you for this...have always wanted to know more. Why is it called lampwork? Would love to see more designs - they ARE hypnotic and can totally see the alchemical connection. Yes, where do you sell them and do you do mail-order etc?

Woozle1967 said...

Wow! How wonderful. I love all things like that and it's great to get an insight into your craft.x

UN PEU LOUFOQUE said...

Hypnotic hits i tright on the head I oculd spend all day doing it but have not done any for ages becasue as you say not viable to make a living at it adn I have hands full...but I have my rod adn my strip of diochrome glass and keep lookign at tehm and thinking aha one day son....

Frances said...

Thank you so very much for the introduction! I have a big box of glass beads, and many long, longer, and even longer strings of beads that I have assembled and reassembled for decades.

I really had no idea how the beads were made, only knew that I liked working with them. Not only string them as necklaces, or fix them as earrings (ear bobs to you all, I believe) but also use them in embroidery projects.

Every time that I would visit London in the '70s, 80's, even 90's, I would make sure to visit the Bead Shop on Neal Street and spend hours pondering over the choices that I would take home to New York.

So, to learn that you can make them. Well. I think that you could write some more about the technique.

I am fascinated.

xo

Pondside said...

That was very, very interesting! I knew nothing of how glass beads are made and now want to know more. Why is it called lampwork? Would you be willing to post more photos, of yourself at work and of finished product?

mountainear said...

Yes, why is it called lampwork? I'd love to how to make glass beads - and marbles too.

Another blog with more details - and more of those lovely photos - please.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Ooooo love glass beads . . .am in awe of what you do.

So where indeed can we see them . . .

Preseli Mags said...

I absolutely echo everything said above. The beads are so beautiful.

I have a box of beads amassed over the years, mostly from Janet Coles beads in Worcester.

I can't wait to read more about the process and why it's called lampwork.

annakarenin said...

That was really interesting as I had no idea about what lamp working was. Should have guessed by the avatar I suppose but thought it was to do with making lamps duh.

I thought the Autumn poem was fantastic and absolutely spot on. That is exactly what it does.

@themill said...

Fascinating - I love glass beads.

Pipany said...

Beautiful blog and now I know what a lampworker is too. Those beads are so gorgeous it seems ludicrous that you can't make a living out of it, though it is so often the way with handcrafted goods isn't it? xx

vic said...

It's amazing. Very beautiful beads.

CAMILLA said...

The glass beads look beautiful, would love to know if one can purchase them.

Camilla.x

ChrisH said...

Gorgeous, I love the feel of glass beads and the patterns. Clever you!

KittyB said...

Now I understand! Stunning work.

laurie said...

did you make that little bead? the one in the last picture?

it's beautiful.

i love hand-made beads. i love when they don't exactly match. maybe it's like quilting--bad luck to make it perfect.

Posie Rosie said...

Your passion really comes over, I too love glasss beads, but wouldn't know where to begin.

toady said...

Only just caught up with this one. Absolutely fascinating. I'm a big fan of glass, I've done some leaded panels but sadly no room to do it here so all my stuffs packed away.