Saturday, 3 June 2017

Nothing in particular

Lampwork glass button by Laura Sparling

This is one of those bit-of-everything posts where I waffle on and on for no particular reason. I know my parents-in-law like reading my ramblings, though. *waves at Lynne and John*

I've had a very meh bead week output-wise, but I had the urge to make buttons yesterday. I've not made any buttons for about eight years so goodness knows why I suddenly decided some had to be made, but I did and they were. I made a few but the one at the top of this post is the best of them. It's not for sale as I'm not totally happy with it (bit of scum in the clear and a slight wonk) but I'm going to make more.

Lampwork glass cabochon by Laura Sparling

I also made a couple of cabochons. These are flat-backed, without a hole, and can be set in jewellery or seed-beaded around. They can also be turned into pendants and brooches with a bit of glue and some findings. This black and white cabochon is my favourite and I can just picture it set in a silver ring. So yes, expect more buttons and cabochons soon. Not strictly beads, I know, but never mind.

On Monday Chris and I went to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. I took many photos but I'll not bore you with all of them. Here are a few of my favourites:

Bee on a flower, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Bee going about his bee business

Aster, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens

Honey bee on a purple tansy, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Honey bee on a purple tansy


Mullein moth caterpillar, taken with iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Groovy mullein moth caterpillar

Our gardens at home are coming along nicely too. We've had the front garden turfed—it was just gravel and weeds—and a couple of flowerbeds made. I'm going for a cottage garden look and have planted lupins, asters, poppies, white foxgloves, teasels and cornflowers so far. They're all sprouting well so we should have some colour out there soon. I've also planted a little French lavender bush and a yellow climbing rose. We have a round window in the side of our 'porch' and I'm hoping that the rose will climb up and around it.

'Graham Thomas' climbing yellow rose from David Austin Roses
Graham's first bloom

'Graham Thomas' climbing yellow rose from David Austin Roses
Raindrops on roses etc etc...

The rose is 'Graham Thomas' from David Austin Roses and he's already blooming. My mum absolutely loved yellow roses and I've been wanting to plant one since Chris and I bought the house, so I've got there eventually. Only took me seven years.

My study resumes on Monday. This time it's Later Prehistory (Iron Age and Bronze Age) and Classical Archaeology (ancient Greece and Rome). The textbooks for the latter look very dry, like drier than a dry Shredded Wheat in the Sahara on a particularly dry day dry, but hey, I wasn't too enthused by the prospect of the Early Prehistory module either and look how I enjoyed that. Oh, and I got my first two essay marks back. I passed! I got two 2.1s (upper second class) and on one of them I was only two marks away from a 1st. That'll do for me.

Enough of my chatter. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

My beads

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've always said that I don't have a 'signature bead' but many people have pointed out that I do. They normally say something like "Your scroll beads are your signature beads" or "I can spot your polka dot beads a mile off" so maybe I actually have a signature style as opposed to a bead? Scrolls and polka dots aren't fancy or wow or how-did-you-even-do-that? but they require a steady hand, oodles of patience, careful heat control, precision and a good knowledge of what each glass type and colour does and how you can make that work for you to get the results you're after.

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I often feel like I should be making more elaborate beads—big, showstopping, takes-an-age-to-make beads that contain a bazillion elements and techniques—but I just like the simple look of my dots and lines and I enjoy making them. That last point is very important to me. I enjoy getting lost in the rhythmic placement of polka dots and I get a buzz from completing a bead that's covered in curvy, loopy scrolls. I'll often do an out-loud "Yes!" as I put a finished one in the kiln. And I know that they look simple, but finishing a well-executed spiral bead—the ones with the continuous trail of fine stringer wrapped from hole to hole—always makes me smile.

For me, beads are as much about the beauty of the glass as they are about the prettiness of the design. I like my beads to show off the glass itself; how it plays with the light, and how certain colours look together. For me, the negative space is as important as any decorated parts.

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

Now my beadmaking time is limited due to my studies, I'm making sure I thoroughly enjoy my shed sessions. Yesterday I got absolutely lost in making navy and white polka dot beads while listening to Steve Coogan's autobiography. The day just flew by and I walked out of the shed feeling all relaxed and happy. In the past I've often felt bad about making "just some polka dot beads and a few spotty ones" or "just a few scrolly beads today", like I should have created some massive focal with silver glass, gold leaf, silver foil, goldstone, enamels, and maybe some CZs and fancy cane, all finished off with a touch of sandblasting instead, but I've decided to not think that way anymore. This probably won't make sense but it does in my head... my beads are my beads because they are my beads. And that's fine by me.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Hello Sailor

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

These are a bit nautical, aren't they? Flexing my scrollwork muscles. I'm glad my fingers can remember how to apply stringer. Feels like an age since I did a bit of scrollollollollolling. If you like these 'Hello Sailor' beads, they're in my shop as I type.

I fixed my it-will-not-go-over-my-head sweater problem and the finished item is waiting to be blocked so I've still not got a photo of it. Here, have an in-progress shot.

Puffin sweater in progress
Puffin sweater in progress

I'm part-way through another sweater, this time not so colourful. It's just plain grey but I love grey so that is plenty fine by me.

Knitting in progress
Sleeve-in-progress in my yarn bowl. Puffin sweater in the background.

I've developed a bit of a morning-knitting habit. As soon as I've fed the cat and made the morning tea I sit and knit for about forty minutes. It gives me chance to think about the day ahead and what needs doing.

Addi Clicks cable stopper
Lovely grey wool. Lovely Addi Clicks cable stopper. Lovely.

My in-laws are visiting this weekend so I'd better go and throw the hoover about the place and make it look like we actually do some housework.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Even more pebbles

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

Sometimes I get caught up in making the same beads over and over because I just need to know what they'll look like in different colours. These pebbles are very soothing, both to make and to touch.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

Although they look like random shapes, they're not. In true me style each strand has three beads in three shapes and three patterns. The repetition of making them all the-same-but-different has been lovely. I could go on making them but I feel that people may get bored with them so maybe I'll leave them for now and return to them at a later date. I have no basis for that last comment, except the reception they get on Facebook and Instagram. I read far too much into that, you know. People stick a 'like' on things because its easy - hit the like button and done. Not many folk take the time to leave a comment these days so I find it hard to gauge how things are received. Social media, eh? It'll be the undoing of us all. I find myself withdrawing from it more with every passing week.

Anyway, I've added more pebbles to the shop, including a couple of strands of assorted pebbles.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I'm now going to make a peppermint tea, compose myself and unpick the neck of the sweater I've just about finished knitting. I knew that following the pattern as written was going to result in a head hole that would make putting the sweater on feel like I was being born again, but honestly, this is ridiculous. I don't think even the cat could fit his head through it. When the sweater is done and actually put-on-able I shall blog about it. That'll be mighty exciting for you, won't it?

Have a great Wednesday!

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Pebbles aplenty

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I've finally reached the end of my first two degree modules. I submitted my essays on Tuesday night and now I have to wait a month to see if they weren't complete twaddle. I'm not expecting amazing marks; I'd just like passes. We shall see...

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I now have a study-free month and I've been down the shed this week making beads. The resulting 'pebble' beads that are pictured withing this post are mainly about glass, shape and texture, as opposed to stringer and precise patterning. The tumble-etching makes them so beautifully smooth and they're ever so soothing to touch. Little glass worry beads.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

I listened to Into the Water by Paula Hawkins as I made beads this week and oh, that was a good'un. Proper gripping. I do enjoy an audiobook while I work. I can't listen to words, either sung or spoken, while I study (I end up focusing on that rather than what I'm supposed to be reading) so I've missed my audiobook and podcast listening and I've got lots to catch up on. Also, telly-wise, OBVIOUSLY Line of Duty series four, obviously, but did you see Big Little Lies too? That was great. I've read all but one of Liane Moriarty's books and the Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon adaptation of Big Little Lies was perfect. Hard to watch at times, but perfect.

Tumble-etched lampwork glass pebble beads by Laura Sparling

All of the glassy pebbles pictured are currently available in my webshop. I'm expecting a glass delivery on Monday so expect some different coloured pebbles soon.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Cast of a Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) skull

I've never read so much in my entire life.

And I read quite a lot.

But nothing could have prepared me for just how much reading this degree would involve. I mean, I've had to buy a secondary bookcase for the lounge. And thank goodness for Amazon's second hand booksellers. Mind you, how they make money by selling books for a penny I don't know, but I'm very grateful for them, except for the one who sold me a 'very good condition' Chris Stringer book about Neanderthals. When it arrived it absolutely reeked of Creosote and Deep Heat. I have no idea what the previous owner had been doing with it but I had to spend a whole other penny on a different copy (and no, I don't mean that kind of spend a penny) because there was no way I could have read the stinky one. It upset my nostrils!

Nigel reading an archaeology book
Nigel likes to 'help' me study

But yes, I've basically spent the last two months reading. Reading about human evolution, early prehistory, and general archaeology ideas and methods. I've been to talks and lectures, I've been to museums, and I've handled casts of early hominin skulls.

Although I'm doing my degree with the University of Leicester, I'm really lucky to live in Cambridge where we've got this pretty famous University. They've just done the Science Festival and as part of it I went to an open day at the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies and I got to speak to all the superclever academic types (which was great but I wish I knew how they get all that knowledge into their brains and keep it there) about fossils and bones and hominins. I also watched the incredible John Lord do a two hour flintknapping demonstration, which was absolutely amazing.

John Lord flintknapping demonstration at LCHES
John Lord making a flint hand axe

Knapped flint flakes, or blades
John Lord flint flakes, or blades, that are now mine

I'm utterly surprised at how much I am loving the early prehistory thing. When I started my course I had a choice of six modules for my first year, and I had to choose five. I was stuck between sacking off Early Prehistory or The Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Middle Nile. I was all "Meh, stone age cave stuff  and mummies and pyramids all sound a bit yawny to me" and I dropped the Egypt one. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that I opted to do the early prehistory. Sure, maybe I'm missing out on the mummies and the pyramids, but it turns out I love the human evolution thing. Love it. So much so, I am currently wearing an 'I heart Neanderthals' t-shirt (which Chris has banned me from wearing when I'm out and about with him), I have two shelves full of evolution books, and I'm planning a trip to Grime's Graves as soon as I am free from my essay-writing shackles. I can recognise and name (and spell) all the basic standard hominin skulls, and I will fight anybody who says that the Neanderthals were stupid or ugly or slow. So yeah, woohoo human evolution! I like it.

And that's just one module. I'm doing two at a time as I am doing my degree full time. This explains why I've had zero time for beads. The other module I'm working on is archaeology aims and methods; general introductory stuff about what archaeology is and why, where and how we do it - surveys, techniques, digging, post-excavation and all that malarkey. But it also involves bones. Human skeletons. And I realise this makes me sound strange but I am a tad obsessed with the human remains side of things. I've discovered that a lot of people are weirded out by this; I can almost see them recoil when my eyes light up as I'm talking about it. I'm well aware that there are ethical issues surrounding the archaeology of human remains and I'm not going to get into that here because everyone has different views about the subject and internet debates never end well, but yes, let's just say that there are also quite a few bones books on my shelf. I'm going on a two day osteoarchaeology course in June and I'm super excited about that.

Right now I'm working on two three thousand word essays; one about Neanderthals and one about human remains. Both of them have to be in at the start of May so there is much typing and even more reading happening. After that I have a month off from studying so I'm hoping to have a beadmaking splurge then.

Anyway, I've probably bored you enough with my archaeoramblings. I'd best get back to the essay-writing thing. See you!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Past = Future

I've never been a planner. I'm not one of those people with a grand life plan in which certain targets have to be achieved within a particular timescale. This is partly because this involves being super-organised, and I'm just not, and partly because nobody knows what life has in store and what is, or isn't, around the next corner that could throw your carefully-made plans into disarray.

I've always kind of bimbled along, doing life as it happens, the way I want to do it, rather than adhering to the 'norm'. Why do things because others do them, or because I feel I should do them? I've never wanted children. I just don't. I've got nothing against kids, but having my own is just not for me. I don't drink. I've got no problem if you do; it's just I hate the taste and effects of booze and would rather have a cup of tea or an orange squash. I don't drive a car. Being behind the wheel of one makes me so nervous and anxious it's not worth my stress and worry. I never went to university. I was going to; I had a place to study graphic design at the University of Portsmouth but when the time came it just didn't feel right and I started a mailing and print finishing business with my mum instead.

I've only just got married. Chris and I have been together for ten years and we got wed in November. Again, it wasn't your 'normal' wedding because neither of us wanted to do that. We didn't want fuss and fanfare. I wore blue, we had thirteen guests, a civil ceremony that involved the Terry & June theme tune, a meal at Jamie's Italian, no speeches or toasts, and then drinks back at the Premier Inn bar. And it was lovely. (This paragraph was mainly my way of telling you that I finally got married.)

We got married, see?

What I'm saying, in a long-winded way, is that I wait for stuff to happen in its own time, rather than trying to make it happen. I quite enjoy letting my life meander and unfold, letting one thing lead to another, a bit like listening to one artist or band, reading and learning about them and seeing which artist or band that leads me to listening to next. I've always been the same with my beads. I started off faffing with seed beads, reading bead books and magazines, then reading about how glass beads are made, then slowly gathering kit and glass and knowledge and skills, learning from the glass and my mistakes, growing my collection of tools and equipment as I went. I'm still learning from the glass and my mistakes, and I can't ever see that changing. Just this week I had an "A-ha!" moment (not in the Morten Harket or Alan Partridge sense) when an encasing technique that has long eluded me clicked into place.

And so to my impending degree course in Archaeology. I've always loved history. When it came to choosing my GCSE subjects, History was one of my second choices but ultimately ended up being the subject I enjoyed the most, even more than art. I did an Art History A-level at college which combined two things I love but that is where my formal history education stopped. I've always been partial to historical telly programmes and books. I love finding out how we got to where we are today. The history behind everyday objects—basic things like cooking pots and clothing fasteners and buckles—really fascinates me. I've forever been interested in our language and how the words we use today link back to our past too.

I've lived in Cambridge for over six years. We live here because Chris has a very good job here and as long as I have a shed, I can work anywhere. Cambridge is great; it's a lovely city and I like living in it. However, Chris aside, I have no family or friends here, so I don't see many people on a day-to-day basis which is sort of fine for me because I like my own company, and seventy-eight percent of humans irk me anyway, so it's OK. Last year I realised that I spend far too much time on social media talking to people in a virtual sense. That's great and it has its place, but I find that social media is becoming more poisonous and real-life-affecting with every Facebook check, browse of Twitter, or scroll through Instagram. I don't want to read constant, long, angry rants about Trump or whichever person has done or said a bad thing. I get it; you're a decent human being with good morals – if you weren't, I probably wouldn't be following you on social media. I also don't need to know that someone is having their second coffee of the day and to see a photo of a Starbucks cup to prove it. Anyway, in short, I find myself annoyed by social media more often than I am entertained by it. That video of the cat being dragged around a house in a cardboard box to a jaunty Japanese pop song, whilst wearing a hat made out of its own fur, though? That's FINE.

So yes, I'd reached a point where the internet was giving me rage and annoyance on far too regular a basis, and Chris aside, Diane and Karen who work at the local Post Office were the real life people I spoke to the most. Nothing against Diane and Karen, I mean they're just lovely, but I needed to do something about my lack of interaction with other actual people. So I Googled about for local history groups. How better to learn about the place in which you find yourself living, than to discuss it with other people? In searching for local history groups I stumbled upon a very local (like a seven minute walk away local) community archaeology group. It reminded me of seeing the ad for the 'make your own glass beads' lampwork kit in the back of Bead & Button all those years ago and I was all "What? I can actually make beads? In my home? Me?" Yeah, it was like that but "What? I can actually dig up olden stuff? Without qualifications or having to apply to Tony Robinson? Me?" instead. So I emailed them and went along and joined the group.

Well, that was it.

Those archaeology people are my people! Once a month we meet up and drink tea and talk about historical stuff. And in between those meetings we go to talks by other people who like and know history. And sometimes we go to see people who've dug up stuff. And sometimes we get to do the actual digging-up of stuff!

There it was. Years and years of bimbling along through life not knowing that archaeology was a thing for me but suddenly realising it is. It really is. All those television programmes, books, looking-up of things, and that need to know how and why we are the us that we are (that makes sense in my head) all coming together and making an electrical brain circuit of BINGO!

My first dig at the Leper Chapel in Cambridge. I helped to unearth a medieval trackway. Those light patches of stone are the track. Lots of trowel and brush action required.

After a few months of group meetings and talks, and after my first archaeological dig in a field next to a medieval leper chapel, I decided I needed to learn more. Properly learn. And so I applied to study for a BA in Archaeology at the University of Leicester. It's a full-time distance learning course which incorporates a few weeks of practical experience. I'm fully aware that doing the course alongside my beads is going to be hard work (people love pointing that out to me) but I'll be studying a subject that fascinates me and that I love, which is more than can be said for the degree course I didn't do when I was eighteen, and I've never been one to shy away from a challenge or hard work, so I shall see how it goes and adjust and re-jig my other life stuff accordingly.

Does this mean that I'll eventually give up the beads? I don't know. Nobody does. Like everything I've ever done since the age of eighteen, I shall see where it takes me. If I get a good degree, maybe I'll go part-time with the beads and get a part-time job in one of Cambridge's many museums. Or maybe I'll get into development-led archaeology for a living. Or perhaps archaeology will just end up being A Thing That I Know A Lot About. Who knows? As the first four paragraphs of this blog post demonstrate, I am one of life's bimblers. For the next three years I'll be bimbling with a purpose. I don't know for sure where I'm going with the archaeology but I'll know I've got there when I get there and when I am there, I'll let you know.