The technology for glass beadmaking is among the oldest human arts, dating back 30,000 years (Dubin, 1987). Glass beads have been dated back to at least Roman times. Perhaps the earliest glass-like beads were Egyptian faience beads, a form of clay bead with a self-forming vitreous coating.
Glass beads are usually categorized by the method used to manipulate the glass. Most beads fall into three main categories: wound beads, drawn beads, and molded beads. There are composites, such as millefiori beads, where cross-sections of a drawn glass cane are applied to a wound glass core. A very minor industry in blown glass beads also existed in 19th century Venice and France.
The most common type of modern glass bead is the seed bead, a small type of bead typically less than 6 mm, traditionally monochrome, and manufactured in very large quantities.They are a modern example of mechanically-drawn glass beads. The micro-bead or "seed bead", are so called due to their tiny, regular size. Modern seed beads are extruded by machine and some, such as Miyuki delicas, look like small tubes.
Pressed or molded beads are associated with higher labour costs. These are made in the Czech republic, in what was once called Bohemia. Thick rods are heated to molten and fed into a complex apparatus that stamps the glass, including a needle that pierces a hole. The beads again are rolled in hot sand to remove flashing and soften seam lines. By making canes (the glass rods fed into the machine) striped or otherwise patterned, the resulting beads can be more elaborately colored than seed beads. One `feed' of a hot rod might result in 10-20 beads, and a single operator can make thousands in a day.
The Bohemian glass industry was known for its ability to copy more expensive beads, and produced molded glass "lion's teeth", "coral", and "shells", which were popular in the 19th and early 20th century Africa trade.
A variant of the wound glass beadmaking technique, and a labor intensive one, is what is traditionally called lampworking. In the Venetian industry, where very large quantities of beads were produced in the 19th century for the African trade, the core of a decorated bead was produced from molten glass at furnace temperatures, a large-scale industrial process dominated by men. The delicate multicolored decoration was then added by people, mostly women, working at home using an oil lamp or spirit lamp to re-heat the cores and the fine wisps of colored glass used to decorate them. These workers were paid on a piecework basis for the resulting lampwork beads. Modern lampwork beads are made by using a gas torch to heat a rod of glass and spinning the resulting thread around a metal rod covered in bead release. When the base bead has been formed, other colors of glass can be added to the surface to create many designs. After this initial stage of the beadmaking process, the bead can be further fired in a kiln to make it more durable.
Modern beadmakers use single or dual fuel torches, so `flameworked' is replacing the older term. Unlike a metalworking torch, or burner as some people in the trade prefer to call them, a flameworking torch is usually "surface mix"; that is, the oxygen and fuel (typically propane, though natural gas is also common) is mixed after it comes out of the torch, resulting in a quieter tool and less dirty flame. Also unlike metalworking, the torch is fixed, and the bead and glass move in the flame. American torches are usually mounted at about a 45 degree angle, a result of scientific glassblowing heritage; Japanese torches are recessed, and have flames coming straight up, like a large bunsen burner; Czech production torches tend to be positioned nearly horizontally.
Modern Ghana has a lively industry in beads molded from powdered glass. Also in Africa, the famed Kiffa beads are made in Mauritania, historically by women, using powdered glass that the beadmaker usually grinds herself from commercially available glass seed beads and recycled glass.
Molded ground glass, if painted into the mold, is called pate de verre, and the technique can be used to make beads, though pendants and cabochons are more typical. Lampwork (and other) beads can be painted with glass paints.
Lark Books.(1000 Glass Beads: Innovation & Imagination In Contemporary Glass Beadmaking)(Ditto for 500 Beaded Objects: New Dimensions In Contemporary Beadwork)(Brief Article)(Book Review)
Jul 01, 2005; Lark Books 67 Broadway, Asheville NC 28801 www.larkbooks.com Lark is known for lovely crafts and how-to guides, but their latest...