Creating beaded jewelry is so much fun to do. It allows for an opportunity to use all sorts of findings and a little creativity to design original pieces of art. But what’s something else that’s interesting is that many of the beads designers use in their jewelry are also tiny pieces of art themselves. In many cases, another individual using their own intricate creative processes created the beads designers use. This is definitely the case when it comes to jewelry designed with lampwork beads.
Lampwork bead making really began to flourish in Murano, Italy in the 1300’s. During this time, the beads were made in the flame of an oil lamp, while the designer blew air into the flame through a pipe.
Today’s artists take a completely different approach. They use torches that burn either propane or natural gas for the fuel, and either air or pure oxygen as the oxidizer to melt and shape the glass. It’s an intricate process that ends with beautiful results. The following is a simplified version of how to make lampwork beads.
What the designer needs to get started:
(1) Glass rods of whatever color(s) you desire your bead to be.
(2) A mandrel or stainless steel rod, pre-dipped in a chemical to keep the bead from sticking to the rod.
(3) Whatever specific tools are necessary to create the style and design of bead you desire.
(4) A torch.
How the designer creates the bead:
After the designer has assembled everything he needs to make his bead, he begins the actual process by turning on the torch and holding the glass rod over the heat until it begins to melt. It will form a molten blob on the end. Once the blob is big enough the mandrel will need to be heated up under the torch flame. Then the designer will wrap the molten glass around the mandrel while slowly twirling it at the same time.
The flame serves a couple purposes at this point. The first is to break the remaining glass rod away from the bead. The second is to shape the bead itself. This is done by holding it over the flame while the designer twirls it around to give it a nice donut shape. He is essentially using the flame and gravity to give it the desired form.
If he wants to make a certain design on the bead, he holds the bead in the higher part of the flame in order to keep it warm. Then he can get another glass rod of a different color and heat the tip of it. After it’s heated, he takes it and carefully dabs it around the bead in whatever design he wishes, and then melts that into the bead.
After the designer is satisfied with his work, he puts the bead into the kiln overnight so it can anneal properly. Annealing is simply the process of heating and cooling which reduces its brittleness and allows the glass to strengthen.
How neat is that! To think each little bead was created by such in interesting process—by human hands. Each handcrafted bead has a personality of its own. They are unique and one of a kind, and take on an entirely new persona once they are used in the creation of a piece of jewelry. It sure gives me a new appreciation for the tiny pieces of art they are!
- written for SWCreations by Lisa Vella -