Studio Musings

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Making Beads

We're spending three days this week doing flame working up at the Glass studio learning how to make beads. I'm the only one with NO prior experience, and am setting myself up soundly for "most improved" (That's assuming I do improve).

Edwina Bringle, our instructor, makes basic beadmaking look so simple. The molten glass seems to flow onto her bead mandrel. She made it seem so easy in fact, that I was surprised and a bit alarmed to feel the glass drag and catch at mine. And then it really caught, because I hadn't heated it enough and it had cooled, sticking the glass rod fast to the mandrel. Panicking, I gave it a sharp tug, and discovered that the bead release we'd coated our mandrels with really does work. Only now, I had a piece of hot glass covered in bead release at the tip. Flummoxed, I reheated it and finished the bead, with release powder in and on the poor thing. I'll be amazed if it doesn't crack in two when I take it off the mandrel this morning (we annealed them overnight in a kiln).

I've discovered molten glass can flow like melted wax, honey, or superglue depending upon how throughly you've heated it. I'm trying to aim for honey, as both the others cause problems. Really runny glass is pretty scary as well! That bead got smooshed flat on my graphite pad as an alternative to letting it fall off the mandrel entirely. It's another that I half expect to crack when I take it off the mandrel.

If the bead wasn't heated thoroughly and evenly during the forming process, or if it cooled too quickly, then internal stresses csn cause it to break, either when I remove it from the mandrel, or later when its tapped, or scratched, or gets slightly wet. Glass is incredibly strong (the can holding my glass rods tipped over yesterday and I caught most of them, but three fell to the concrete floor - I expected to be sweeping up glass shards, but they weren't even chipped!), and incredibly fragile all at the same time.

This morning we'll be removing the beads we made yesterday from the kiln and their mandrels, and doing more work. Before I head up there, I'm going to stop by the store and buy a couple more colors - they're $1.45 per rod (each rod is a little over 3 feet). We're working with Moretti glass.


  1. I bet you're having a grand time with those colors! Do they mix all fun? using the translucence to fiddle with shading and other fun things? Or are they more opaque when it's all said and done?

  2. The transparent shades are really interesting - all stay transparent in the finished product, but some like the dark green and amber are so dark that you can't really see other things underneath them. Also, transparents don't show up well over dark opaque colors unless you use a LOT of transparent color (so that the opaque is swimming in a sea of transparent glass).

    Color mixing, both physical and optical, is really interesting with the glass!