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Materials: Lampwork glass

I love lampwork glass. It is a medium that gives the skilled artisan endless possibilities in colour, tone, texture and shape to play with. Even the plainest bead is a work of art. There are many fabulous lampwork bead makers in the UK (and beyond, but I enjoy working with home grown talent). For this post, I thought I’d explore how these beads are made and the workmanship involved.

Necklace made with lampwork glass flower and ladybird beads by Glittering Prize glass

I fell in love with lampwork glass beads several years ago. The first maker I encountered was Trudi of Glittering Prize and I simply adored what I saw; her beads are full of fun, with bright colours mixed with skill and care in simple but stunning combinations. She is also a master in using dichronic effects and her playful use of frit always gives great results! Fascinated by these beads, I mentioned to Trudi that I wanted to learn more about how they are made, and she suggested I contact Diana East. Diana happened to live only a few miles away from me and had an enormous reputation; I immediately booked a taster session with her!

Beautiful lampwork glass flower bead made by the hugely talented Diana East

I really enjoyed my time with Diana, having a few extra evening classes when my taster days were over. I learned the basics of lampwork bead making, giving me an understanding of what to look for when buying it (and possibly the basis for making them myself if opportunity arises; you never know!). Basically, beads are generally made from melting rods of glass using a gas torch, augmented as required with oxygen. The amount of oxygen used gives different properties to the flame, affecting the molecules within the glass in different ways. Also, different rods of glass react with each other in different ways- they either sit nicely next to each other, seep into their neighbour or react chemically with each other; the master torch user can use these properties with care to create glorious results. In addition, you can add metals such as silver sheet to the bead to create shimmer and use tiny chips of glass (“frit”) to decorate them, either leaving the chips raised or melting them in. Other effects can be made by adding compounds to the surface, or etching it with acid to give a frosted appearance. Beads can be wound on a mandrel (basically a metal stick), either left reasonably rounded or shaped with tools or presses. The possibilities are endless! The resulting beads are generally tough, even though they are made of glass, but quality ones are allowed to cool in a controlled way in a kiln (“annealed”) to prevent fatal flaws from developing in the glass.

Lampwork beads, from left to right; Moogin beads, Madeline Bunyan, Laura Sparling, Helen Gorick

Since then, I have had endless fun searching out and using UK handmade lampwork glass beads in my jewellery. Above are a few from my other favourite makers; I love Madeline’s fun animal and bird shapes she creates and the rest have mastered precision, from applying lines using “stringers” (or thin lines of glass rod) or layering colours beautifully. Most of the beads I use, however, come from Glittering Prize. Most of these artisans have a strong passion for what they make, combined with flair and talent. The resulting beads are artworks in their own right. Even if you don’t buy these pieces from me (although, you know, please do), I would encourage you to search them out in future when buying your next piece of jewellery

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