Monday, April 28, 2014

You asked about . . .

. . . my recycled glass lampwork beads? Let me make a short story longer. I have always loved glass and fire and color. Eighteen years ago I became aware that lampwork beads could be made at home and didn't have to be hatched in a factory somewhere in Asia. I purchased a "starter" kit that came with an assortment of colored glass rods, a handful of mandrels and a Hot Head torch. Remember, back then there was no internet as we know it today, no blogs, no youtube. The Midwest wasn't exactly a hub of glass artists, at least I didn't know any. I was on my own.

The experience with the Hot Head torch was less than gratifying and my lack of knowledge of the process didn't help either. I actually still have a few beads I made back then. As with many things we humans try, when they are tedious and/or difficult to master, some of us tend to back off. The thought of making colorful beads from glass with a flame, however, continued to drift around my brain.

After a while, I bought a Major. That's a good sized torch. Too big for what I wanted to do, as it turned out, so I then bought a Minor. My former husband hooked me up with an oxygen tank and some strange gas other than propane. I don't remember what it was but it scattered particles of black goo all over my studio. Including 12' x 6' of white mini blinds. 

Next, I appropriated a propane tank from our grill. About that time I became involved in fusing glass and drifted away from the torch yet again, as I had done so many times over the years. My torches and glass rods moved from Illinois to Georgia, to Florida, and back again to Illinois. My first year back in Illinois was spent in a rental property where I was uncomfortable with the idea of tanks and torches, hence another sabbatical from learning lampwork.

At one point, I took a class at the Bead & Button show with Leah Fairbanks. Her daughter, Tara, was an infant at the time, so if you know Leah you know that was many years ago. Other than learning to pull stringer, the class was wasted on me. Not because it wasn't a good class, it was just way over the head of someone who had yet to make an actually usable, round bead.

Finally, last year, I decided to get back to the torch. If you know my history of the past year, you will probably understand that there were many stops and starts of my life. Sometimes stops that took weeks or even months. But, finally . . .

Zoom to today. I've been practicing. And practicing. And practicing. PPP. While I'm still a beginner, I've begun to make a few usable beads. A few weeks ago I sent some of them to a delightful Facebook friend, Loralee Kolton. I asked that if she made anything with any of them and posted her creation on Facebook, would she please mention my name? Sweetheart that she is, Loralee did that.

Loralee's post generated many questions, one of which was about the glass I use. The answer? Any glass. Found glass, bottles, broken collectable glass. One caveat -- since there is no way I can know the coefficient of expansion of any of these pieces, I do not combine glass from different sources. If you see recycled glass beads from me that are more than one color, it's because the piece of glass I started with contained those colors. So here's a start:

The bottles have to be cleaned and labels removed. Then I break them up.

Then I sit here:

And melt tiny pieces of glass into beads. I still use glass rods made for lampwork as well, but something calls to me from glass that might otherwise be trash. Here's some of what I've ended up with: