I clean each bead hole to remove the release – a medium used to prevent the molten glass from fusing with the mandrel – this is a dull task, and many bead makers, including me, suffer finger joint pain from the effort. Now that I know more about the process of bead making and have set myself high standards (with aspiration to occasional perfection) I am very surprised to find that in the past I happily bought rather a lot of beads that hadn’t been cleaned at all, and I didn’t even mind or notice. If you do ever need to clean a bead hole, hold the bead underwater as you do so as the dust is potentially toxic when inhaled.
In January 2007 I took a class with Di East at her studio, these are the first glass beads that I made.
My first beads are almost priceless to me. It took me about five years from finding out about lampworking to actually doing it because I lived in South Africa then and there wasn’t anywhere to learn, never mind get supplies. I was making Fimo beads at the time, I have always loved beads and making my own was such fun. One day in 2002 I was on the internet and my search for ‘polymer clay beads’ also brought up ‘lampwork beads’ so I had a little look and that was the end of life as I knew it. Not long after that I found myself telling my husband that I didn’t want to live overseas anymore, I needed to be in a country where I had access to the things that I needed, i.e: lampwork (I didn’t even know if I’d be any good at it!). By the end of 2004 our son James had almost completed his school education, my role as a mother was changing and I felt that I had an empty stretch of ‘who am I?’ and ‘what now?’ ahead of me. It was ‘my turn’, and I needed to go back to England. So, in mid 2005 my husband David followed his heart and went to his next job with DFID in Afghanistan, and I went back to England, sharing a room with James at a relative’s flat in Crouch End for a few months while the tenants moved out of our house in Enfield. I was feeling a little depressed one day, and after a phone call with my sister in October my energy levels perked up. I decided to check out Di East’s website and lo and behold, she had a stand at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace that day, only ten minutes away! She had been my choice of person to learn from because I liked her work, and I did not expect to see her that day at all, it was a complete surprise. I homed in on her stand, told her that I would be booking lessons with her, and went away feeling hopeful. In an email to a friend I wrote ‘So, I have made First Contact, hurrah, and feel that my dreams are back on track, I had been losing sight of them quite drastically and was feeling very down as a result’.
It was a great day when we moved back in to our own house, although tiny we’d always had a fondness for it, particularly because it backed onto a park. Once all the boxes arrived from the much bigger house in SA, it was absolute chaos, there was so little space, but it was good to be back, and I went about making it our home again. Day to day life took over, things became a little complicated here and there, especially the part that involved getting three dogs and a cat over from SA (via my parents who live in France, the animals did their quarantine there instead of in England) I did not get round to booking lessons with Di, and before I knew it months had flown by. Little did we know that there was another move on the horizon.
Sometime in 2006 I wanted to go to the Knitting and Stitching show again, but felt terribly sheepish about seeing Di there, as I hadn’t followed up the lampwork plan despite having been so enthusiastic the year before. I crept around enjoying the bright wools and threads, and eventually found myself at Di’s stand again. I couldn’t bear to be flaky about it anymore, and as soon as I got home I booked a weekend for January 2007 and went along. It was GREAT, I loved it, at last I was actually melting glass. The other people on the course had torches at home (I don’t even remember who they were, I was so focused) but I didn’t have bead making equipment, so I just wanted to get as much torch time as I could.
After 18 months or so in Afghanistan, David came back to continue working at DFID, but the department had moved it’s offices from London to East Kilbride in Scotland, and suddenly we were talking about going to Scotland to see the new work place and look at houses. Eventually we sold the Enfield house, left England, and James in London at university, and moved to Saltcoats, Ayrshire, right by the sea and with good access to East Kilbride for David. We had much more room, and there was a brick shed (christened The Shed of Destiny) a perfect space for lampworking, it was just a matter of finding the money to pay for it. In 1997 we had moved to Bangladesh, on unpacking our boxes only three bowls had been broken out of everything we had taken with us. Three years later in 2000, we moved to South Africa, I can’t even remember what was broken after that move, if anything. Five years later we shifted it all from SA to Enfield, again, barely a breakage, but so much damage was done on the short trip to Scotland from England (I won’t use that removal company again) that I was able to use a good deal of the £2000 insurance money to spend on lampwork equipment, which I did in September 2007, and finally, I could make my own glass beads.
And that’s the story of how it took me five years from hearing about glass beads being made in a domestic setting, to doing it myself.
There’s a bit more to the story – three months after starting work in East Kilbride, David applied for the redundancy package being offered by the civil service as they made more job cuts. It was granted, and he left DFID after 20+ years with the department. He trained as a cognitive behavioural therapist, an area of counselling he has been interested in for a long time, he is now fully occupied with his work in that area.
I wonder where we would had moved to (or if) had we known that he wouldn’t be with DFID for much longer.
At last year’s Flame Off in Towcester I met a South African lady who knew the bead shop
in Pretoria that was only 15 minutes away from where I had lived, and that I often went to to buy beads. I loved going there, it was full of treasure. Since I left in 2005, it has become the first place in South Africa to have the facilities to teach glass bead making…