When my friend Lisa asked if I’d take a day-long bead-making workshop with her at the Terminal City Glass Co-op, I signed up without even reading the description of what we’d learn. I’ll sign up to try pretty much anything that requires protective gear, really.
I realized early on in the class that I’m going to have a complicated relationship with bead-making, because I’m not generally big on shiny things. Those beads in the photo above are samples our instructor had on hand. They’re amazing, hey?
Only thing is, I wouldn’t want them. You know? The complicated part, of course, is that making them is amazing. Which I discovered over the course of the day.
As anticipated, there was danger and intrigue, and protective eyewear.
(Yes, I was the one student in the class to burn herself. Go me!)
The setup was pretty awesome. Each student had a workstation around a huge metal table that sat under the biggest range hood I’ve ever seen.
Those colourful rods are glass. That’s what we melted to make beads. For real, it was incredible. And chemical!
Believe it or not, the burn did not happen while I was taking this photo with my left hand while I held glass to a blowtorch with my right.
That’s one of the first two beads I made. We all started working with black glass because, though you don’t see it here, it turns a very conspicuous red colour when it’s hot. Super easy to see what’s going on.
The metal rod that’s holding the bead is called a mandrel. Same idea as the thicker rods ring-makers use. The end is coated in dried clay slip, which, when washed away, leaves just enough wiggle room for the bead to come off the rod.
In addition to beads, we learned how to make thinner/finer rods of glass we can use to do detailed colourwork (like adding dots, etc.). We learned how to twist two colours together, too. I didn’t manage to do it right this time. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The beads needed to cure in a kiln for eight hours after the class ended, so I went back to the Co-op a couple of days later to pick up my beads.
First I had to soak the mandrels to loosen the slip enough that I could wash it away. Then I wiggled the beads loose, washed more slip away, and liberated those suckers from their metal prisons.
After that, I used a diamond-crusted tool to file more clay away from inside the bead holes.
Et voila! It’s almost impossible to think that this is the entirety of what I made during a seven-hour class. But I learned so much. Lisa and I will go back to the Co-op for sure (she already has, actually). This is not something I plan to ever do at home (OMG the safety precautions), and I’m so glad there’s a place where I can drop in on one of their two weekly Newbie Nights to see if I can’t make it to the point that I produce something even and lovely.
Have you ever made anything from glass? What do you do with what you make? Share links in the comments!
PS After the workshop, before I collapsed from exhaustion, I told the kid that I’d tried to make a heart-shaped bead, just for him, but that it came out looking more like a wonky apple. Still, when I showed him the beads, he claimed that one for himself. ❤️