How long have you been lampworking and how did it all begin?
I have been making lampwork glass beads for around eleven years. I have always been fascinated with glass but started out making stained glass panels as I used to renovate Victorian houses.
I had seen artisan glass beads before on a trip to Seattle but I had always assumed that they were made in factories with a substantial amount of equipment. One day I picked up Cindy Jenkins book “Making Glass Beads”. It was a revelation to find out that it was possible to make such glassy gems at home.
I could not wait to begin – I started with a plumbers torch and some glass which I had bought from Plowden and Thomson – one of the UK’s last remaining glass manufacturers. I happily played with glass on my own for a few months in my garage. It was a welcome spot of “adult time” as my daughter Emily had just been born. I used to take the baby monitor with me into the garage in the evening and enjoy an hour or so of glassy bliss!
Sally's aard winning Clover Blossom beads
A lesson with Diana East followed and I was absolutely hooked.
What inspires you?
I have not had professional artistic training and I find it quite hard to put colours together in a “tasteful” way. My instinct is to throw colours together garishly. Luckily people seem to like bright colours so that’s okay. But I sometimes want to make more “sophisticated” looking beads so I just go out window shopping. Clothes fabrics are a huge resource and a constant source of inspiration to me. I’m really enjoying the strong bold prints that are in the shops now.
I also love anything relating to the sea and love making “beach scene” beads. Having the shop in St Ives is a wonderful opportunity to see what’s happening at the sea’s edge.
What equipment and techniques do you use in your work?
I use a Nortel Minor Burner which runs on propane and oxygen from two oxygen concentrators. I’ve used the same torch since I started. People are usually surprised that I haven’t got a huge range of tools. In fact – aside from a graphite marver (for shaping) and a stainless steel rake (for prodding and poking) everything else I have can be found in the average garage or kitchen.
Techniques for bead making are fairly straightforward; but you can make an endless variety of styles and designs by carefully picking colours and types of glass. It never fails to amaze me that there are so many different designs that can be applied to such a tiny glass canvas.
Or even IN the same glass canvas! My personal favourites are encased beads – beads where most of the decoration is inside the bead – such as encased florals or my Blossom Beads.
Where can people buy unique RedHotSal beads?
From my website – www.redhotsal.co.uk or now from my shop Redhotsal at St Ives which is one of the only shops in the UK dedicated to British made lampwork glass jewellery.
Sally's Shop in St Ives
What advice would you give to others interested in lampwork?
For buying lampwork always look for well made beads. The bead hole should be clean of powder and the holes should have a nice “pucker” – no jagged edges. Also look for clear sparkly glass. While most commercially available glass beads from China or India are not “annealed” you should always make sure that artisan glass beads have been kiln annealed. This is a process where the bead is allowed to cool very slowly under controlled conditions in a digitally controlled kiln. This ensures that the glass is stress free and less likely to break. It is essentially a strengthening process.
If you are considering taking up lampworking always follow your own style. When I started making beads there were very few people in the UK making beads and there was no pressure to reach a particular standard so it was possible to just mess around with the glass and see how it behaves. Glass bead making in the UK has grown up with the widespread use of the internet and so nowadays there are many forums dedicated to hobbies and crafts. Such forums are a wonderful resource for people – especially those new to lamp work, but at the same time it is very easy to be intimidated by the huge amount of glassy “eye candy”. Take time to just “play” with glass rather than feel you have to create a full set of beads for a necklace!
You offer tuition, what classes do you offer and what would anyone interested need to consider before starting?
I offer tuition on a one-to-one basis or small groups (up to three) at my studio in Hinckley, Leicestershire. An intensive one-to-one day course costs £160 which includes all materials. I offer discounts for groups if you want to come with a friend or two. I also sometimes teach with Diana East at her Enderby Studio. These are larger group settings in Di’s well appointed studio and are great fun.
If you are looking for a lamp work teacher your first considerations are probably cost and locality. However, do bear in mind that anyone can teach glass bead making and many people do – even if they’ve only been making beads themselves for a short while. If you are looking for a “taster” class to see if you like bead making or not this is fine – but you won’t be able to learn much in a three hour lesson. You should expect to learn about the equipment – what is available, types of kilns, torches etc. and where to get them, and most importantly how to set it all up. Health and Safety is an important consideration – as you will be using a torch which is capable of reaching 1600 C, so it is vital you know how to use it safely.
Do also make sure that your teacher has full public liability insurance and don’t be afraid to ask to see their certificate.
Also find out what torch you will be using. A hothead is a great little beginner’s torch but it is very unpleasant to have a lesson on because it is very noisy. Make sure you have full use of a torch if you are in a group situation as there is nothing more frustrating than to have to wait to make your creation.
Three words that sum you up: Bead Maker Extraordinaire!
What makes you smile: My beautiful daughter Emily and my lovely hubby Adam, especially after he built my wonderful “signal box” style studio!