Recently I had the opportunity to take a class on making glass beads! (The class was held at Studio 34 with instructor Marilynne Lipschutz- Click here to visit their site!)
It was fascinating to see the process of creating something I so regularly use, without much thought as to how it is made.
We learn we will use colored glass rods to create the beads. The rods must be of the same sort; different types won’t bond together.
The teachers who were so calm, kind and helpful, must be incredibly brave to allow absolute beginners to now use a torch of at least 1400 degrees with no experience, but you have to start someplace.
OK. Let that sink in for a moment. Fourteen hundred degrees. One thousand and four hundred degrees. The hottest thing I deal with is my 450’ oven and THAT is scary- ask my smoke detector!
And...while I do have a rather obsessive fascination with fire, my fear of matches and gas grills is considerable. Uh oh.
The first step after putting on the special safety glasses that protect your eyes from the light of the flame is to turn on gas and oxygen and then light it with a match...fooom! Ok, just a little foom.
Dialing the oxygen and gas back and forth controls the size and heat of the flame – which with the special glasses looks a bit white-blue rather than orange when the teachers say “that’s good”.
Now, I think one’s success with this process may lie in one’s ability to pat one’s head and rub one’s tummy. This is not something I have ever mastered.
Photo of me by Marilynne Lipschutz
You must hold a specially coated steel rod horizontally in the flame while gently rotating it. Then you hold a glass rod perpendicular to it in the fire. As the glass melts, it coats the rod; as you rotate it in the flame, it builds the bead. But my inability to keep the steel rod horizontal while spinning it and dealing with the melting glass results in oddly shaped beads, even though glass by nature seeks to become round in the flame.
- To create other shapes we can press the glass against the metal table.
- To add colors we used other colored rods of the same kind of glass
- Tiny sparkly glass chips may also be added for colors as well as little glass flowers known as millifiore glass.
As each bead is completed the teachers put them into a kiln to slow the cooling overnight - if they cool too fast they will break. At this point you can’t quite remember what the colors you used are anymore. They are glowing orange chunks of molten glass. We didn't get to see what we had really made until we picked them up the next day.
While I don’t think this will be my new hobby, I learned so much! Lessons specific to glass bead making can definitely be used as metaphors for life.
It is frighteningly easy to get so focused on what you are doing that you forget that you have a flame of over a thousand degrees sitting in front of you! I can be very focused on business to the detriment of life or really passionately involved in a project. So, on the one hand “watch out for the flame!” But if what you’re working on is not a flame- “hey relax into it, focus and get that beautiful project done”.
Sometimes you gotta know when to stop and when too much is too much. I wanted to try everything... adding colored glass chips, little flowers, different swirls of glass. Then I would leave it in the flame too long and the colors would all melt a bit too much together. Sometimes you get happy accidents and then sometimes you get a disappointment. The more you learn, the more you can control or let go of the creative process.
Be consistent. Even temperatures are required to keep the glass from breaking. You won’t even know you’ve screwed up til the cooled glass just splits apart. In life, business or relationships, consistency is important. It’s ok to jump out occasionally like we did to shape our glass on the table or roll it in sparkles but back into the flame it goes to keep consistent temperature. Keeping things consistent is what leads to success.
Sometimes you gotta wait. I am an impatient person. There is no working with this or changing it. But even I have to just plain wait, no matter how hard it is, because not waiting to come back and get the beads just results in broken glass. Example: Most businesses people start end up failing. For lots of reasons, sure, but sometimes, you just gotta hang in there, have patience. I hated it every time Andrew told me that new businesses take 3-5 years to “get going”. But. He was right.