EVERYTHING ABOUT GLASS BEADS
Making glass beads
Glass consists of silica, lime, and soda, or potash. When fired to a high temperature, these ingredients fuse and become transparent. Adding minerals produces colors: iron – green and blue, cobalt – deep blue, manganese – purple, gold – red and pink, lead – brightens colors and clarifies clear glass, calcium or tin – makes colors opaque. An opalescent milky sheen is produced by adding bone ash or by not letting all the crystals melt away during the heating. Repeated heating and cooling eliminates gas and air bubbles that cause flaws and cracks.
Some of the earliest glass beads were made at home in areas that are now the Czech Republic and southern Germany. The beads were made individually by hand. A glass cane was melted using a gas lamp. The name lamp or lampwork glass refers to beads that are still made in nearly the same way.
Lampwork glass beads are now made in workshops in those same geographical areas. They are also made in Venice and Murano, Italy. In the United States, artists and hobbyists make one of a kind beads. A small torch is used rather than a gas lamp. The glass cane is melted and wrapped around a wire to form the bead. It can be rolled in a mold to form the shape.
Lampwork beads are decorated in many ways. In the workshops where they are made in large quantities for sale, the workers must be trained to produce nearly identical beads. Some of the designs include:
A core of silver or gold foil under colored glass, sometimes with flowers, swirls, or patterns over the foil.
A gold design on the surface.
Design of another color on the surface such as dots, lines, stripes, spirals, wavy lines, either left raised or polished smooth.
Frosted, a matte finish from an acid bath.
Crumbled, rolled in powdered glass before cooling.
Fusing colors from 2 canes in the same bead.
Millefiori (thousand flowers) using slices of canes that have flower designs which were previously made from various smaller colored canes. A layer of clear glass encases the flowers.
A core decorated with a flower or coil under a layer of clear glass.
A lacy effect using a combination of colored, milky white, or clear canes twisted together and encased in clear glass.
Some of these designs were developed in Venice and Murano.
Faceted glass beads are made in 2 ways. They may be cut, either by hand or by machine using glass containing lead for crystal beads. Another method makes beads that are fire polished. They are molded and then heat treated using glass that does not have lead. The heat creates a smooth finish and clean edges.
Pressed glass beads are made by pouring molten glass into molds to form the shapes.
Seed bead is a name given to tiny glass beads. The name is often used as a general term that includes all kinds of tiny beads. It is also used as a name for a particular kind of tiny bead.
Making seed beads
Beads can be made using 2 methods. The wound method is primarily the same as used for lampglass. The beads are made one at a time. Most seed beads are no longer made this way.
The drawn method forms a tube of glass which can be cut into many beads. Excellent quality seed beads are made in Japan using this method in modern factories.
Determining sizes of seed beads
Numbers up to 24 are assigned to seed beads to indicate the size. The higher the number, the smaller the bead. The sizes start at about 1mm. The bead size for each number may vary from one company to another. The smallest beads from #18 to #24 are no longer made and considered antiques.
Kinds of seed beads
These tiny beads are known by different names according to size and shape. A bugle bead is the same diameter as a seed bead, but longer, resembling a tube. The length is 1/8 inch or longer, 2mm to 30mm. The shape can be straight or twisted. Delica is a thin walled Japanese bead, usually size #11. Charlotte is a seed bead that has been ground flat on one side. Two cuts looks like a short faceted bugle bead. Three cuts has random cuts all over. Hex cuts are 6 sided. Rocaille is silver lined. E beads are doughnut shaped #6, about 4mm.
Seed beads are many colors. They can be transparent, translucent. or opaque. The surface can be shiny, semi gloss, or matte. Coatings are sometimes applied. Aurora borealis gives rainbow iridescence. Luster is a transparent coating that gives shine. Pearlescent gives milky luster. Galvanized is a thin metal electroplated coating.