I've always been fascinated by glass beads, like tiny bits of magic captured in glass. So when I started thinking about my '12 significant things' list to celebrate my 40th birthday, learning how to make glass beads was high on it.
Of course Covid stopped the bigger plan, but a couple of weeks ago I managed to tick one off the list and attended a one day glass bead making class at West Dean College.
I hadn't been to West Dean College before, but I've got a feeling I'll be going again. The buildings and workshops spaces are amazing and the whole place buzzes with creativity. It sort of reminded me of Art College.
With only 6 people on the course and windows open it felt like a safe environment to learn in.
Sarah started by talking us through how to use the torches and melt glass and got us making glass drops. Like captured rain drops!
Then she showed us how to make beads. Firstly in transparent glass, then mixing colours and adding opaque glass. Next we added ground up glass and swirles to our beads.
I loved how relaxed the whole day was. Sarah would show us how to do a technique then we'd be left to have a go. We could make as many beads as we wanted within the time, and try out colour combinations and techniques as we learnt them. Sarah was always on hand to keep an eye on us and help if we needed it.
While the glass drops could come home with us, the beads had to be annealed first to strengthen them. Walking out of the door at the end of the day, I didn't actually know what I had made as everything went straight into the kiln and you couldn't really see the real colours.
A week later the beads arrived in a padded bag. I put them into a bowl of water and cleaned them off and they spent the rest of the week on my desk to be enjoyed and fiddled with during meetings.
None of them are perfect and some are broken. But who makes perfect things after only a day of trying? But I do adore them! They have come out so much better than I could ever hope for and I'm trying to decide what to do next.
Do I leave it there and enjoy the fact that I now know how glass beads are made? Or do I join a longer course next year and learn some more techniques and try out some more colours? It's not really the sort of thing you can do at home unless you are happy to spend some real money on it.
It has also opened up the idea of trying other hot glass techniques. When I was at Art College I had the opputunity to try out glass blowing, but it was only about 8 years since I was scolded with hot water and only 3 or 4 years since I'd stopped going for check ups and I was still scared of hot things. Of course I've been ironing and cooking and lighting fires for years now and so that fear is less and finding I could get quite close to the blow torch without feeling its heat was a good experience. Something to ponder over the holiday period.