From the Torch - Part 1

As a lover of creativity, I’m drawn to bead-making and jewelry-making. These are two crafts that have always captivated me due to the endless possibilities they offer for self-expression and individuality.

In particular, glass beads have always held a special place in my heart. There’s something about the way that light dances through them that is simply mesmerizing. The way that they reflect and refract light creates a beautiful, almost magical effect that draws the eye and captivates the senses. What’s more, the glass used to make the beads offers an incredible range of colours that can be layered and blended to create truly stunning designs. From deep, rich jewel tones to delicate pastels, there is a seemingly endless range of possibilities when it comes to working with glass.

The art of glass bead-making has been passed down through generations, from ancient cultures to modern-day artists who continue to explore the possibilities of this medium. In this article, I’ll take you on a journey from the torch to the jewelry box, exploring the inspiration behind glass bead-making, the techniques involved, and the many ways they can be incorporated into jewelry-making.

The Basics …

The basic tools required for glass bead-making include mandrels, which are stainless steel rods, bead release used to prevent sticking of the glass to the mandrel, marvers, and presses that help in shaping the glass, pointed rods or picks for surface manipulation, a table-mounted torch, glass rods, Didymium glasses, and proper ventilation.

Safety is a crucial aspect that must be considered when setting up a workspace for lampworking. It is essential to have proper ventilation, fire-resistant surfaces, and protective eyewear to prevent accidents and ensure a safe working environment.  To learn more about setting up your own lampwork studio, click here to read Setting up a Lampwork Studio.

The basic process of creating glass beads involves heating colourful glass rods in the flame of a fuel-fed torch and winding the molten glass onto a steel mandrel to create the desired shape or size. The use of other specialized tools and techniques add to the decorative elements of the finished glass bead.

After the bead is complete it is put into a digitally controlled kiln for annealing to remove any stresses or strains that may have been introduced into the glass during the bead-making process. note: a kiln isn’t an essential piece of equipment you need to have to learn to make beads. There are other methods of slowly cooling your beads and then batch annealing them at a later date. For more information on this, please reach out.

Inspiration …

We draw inspiration from a variety of sources, including nature, art and design, personal experiences and emotions.

One example might be sea and sea life, creating beads in swirling blues and greens that represent the movement of the sea or seashells and coral to create a beautiful underwater design.  Leaves and flowers are also a great inspiration.  Many bead makers create beads with floral decorations while some sculpt the actual flower, and still another could be ornate designs like those you find on Turkish rugs and such.

Personal experiences and emotions are a powerful source of inspiration. Expressing oneself through the creation of a design that reflects a specific memory or feeling can be a therapeutic experience.  The use of colours and shapes to convey a certain mood or emotion allows a bead maker to not only express themselves but to also connect with their customers on a deeper level.

For example, a bead maker who has a fond memory of a sunset at the beach may create a design that incorporates warm oranges, pinks, and yellows to capture the feeling of the sunset. Similarly, a bead maker who has experienced loss may create a design that uses muted colours and somber shapes to convey their feelings of grief.

Incorporating personal experiences and emotions into your designs is one way to create truly unique and meaningful pieces of wearable art. It’s this personal touch that makes handmade glass beads so special and sought after.

Underwater theme bead
bead set

a bit of the back story …

As a beginner in glass bead making, my excitement knew no bounds. I eagerly set up my lampworking studio to put into practice what I had learned in my lessons. After three months of practice, I became more comfortable around the flame, gained confidence in making round beads, and started experimenting with surface decoration.

At this point, my mind was overflowing with creative ideas, making it challenging to focus on a single style of decoration. However, I learned that it’s essential to take your time while learning lampwork. One should practice a particular type of bead style, perfect it, and then move on to other styles. Feel free to ask me how I know this!

Decoration …

While there are various methods for bead decoration, the most commonly used is dots. Although it may seem simple, creating a great dot decoration requires more than just applying dots to the surface of the bead. Dots can be part of a simple decoration or they can be transformed into intricate designs.

To master dot decoration, you need to practice heat control, especially when working with intricate patterns. Using too much heat can cause the dots to move in all directions, ruining the design. Using the right amount of heat is crucial to creating the desired design and avoiding the need to start over.

Another great bead decoration technique is scroll work.  While it’s not a technique I practice a lot or use in my designs, it can transform your bead design from OK to AMAZING!

This technique also requires heat control so the thin little stringers (that’s thin glass rods) your using don’t become a puddle on your bead.

hollow beads with swirls
dotted mandala focal bead

What’s next?

While I can go on and on about the various methods for making a bead or the reasons I think everyone should become a maker, I think it better to show you where and how it starts. I can tell you without a doubt, that I will be making beads into my golden years. There is no limit to what you can do with a little imagination and some glass.

I’ve included a link to a video I made on making a glass bead using a masked dot technique.  It picks up a lot of my studio noise so you may want to turn it down a bit.

Glass bead-making is a beautiful and rewarding art form that allows for endless creativity and self-expression. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced maker, there’s always something new to learn and explore in the world of lampworking. So why not try your hand at creating your own unique and colorful glass beads and see where your creativity takes you?

In the next post “to the Jewelry box” I delve into the various ways glass beads can be used to create beautiful wearable art.