Saturday, 6 October 2018

All the pumpkins

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

I've been making only pumpkin beads for ten days now.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

See? Look at them all.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

And this isn't even all of them. These are just the ones I could be arsed to photograph.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling

And there's another batch in the kiln as I type this.

Handmade lampwork glass pumpkin beads by Laura Sparling


Anyway, I've just about had my fill of pumpkins so if you'd like pumpkin beads or pendants, what's left in the shop is probably the last of them for this year.

I've just looked and I last posted in July. Since then, amongst other things, I have run a half marathon and turned forty-one. Last time I blogged I was halfway through Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Well, I finished that and now I've read all of the Harry Potter books and Hogwarts library books (and have started re-reading them), watched all the Harry Potter films - as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - and I now own a wand, some Hedwig pyjamas and a Gryffindor sweatshirt. So yeah, you can call me a convert. I've also finished the new Strike book. Job done.

Talking of books, I'm in one! Harriet of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery has written a book called The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business.

'The Creative's Guide to Starting a Business' by Harriet Kelsall

Harriet’s book contains case studies from the worlds of fashion, ceramics, perfumery, sculpture, bakery, upholstery, photography, lino cuts, jewellery and beadmaking. I’m the beadmaking case study. The book is very comprehensive and I have picked up some useful tips and advice from it. It's also really great to read about other creative people and the way they work. The book is available on Amazon and all the usual places, and also from Harriet's website.

Strictly Come Dancing is underway. I don't watch it but I know that when it's here we are on the downward slope to Christmas and it's time for me to start thinking about festive beads and all that, so that is what I will be working on next. Deck the halls etc blah blah blah.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Beady stuff and unbeady stuff

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've not got a lot to report on the bead front. It's not so much that I haven't been making beads, but more that I've been making lots of the same beads over and over.

I made lots of the 'Shoreline' hearts pictured above and I turned some of those into necklaces.

Handmade lampwork glass heart bead necklace by Laura Sparling

Now I'm on the Bumblebeads. I don't know how many of these I'll make. To be honest, sitting in the shed in these temperatures, making the same bead over and over again is already starting to do my head in and I've only spent two beadmaking sessions on the bees, so I'm not holding out much hope for vast amounts of them.

Handmade lampwork glass bee bead by Laura Sparling

That's why I'm not taking orders for the bees. I've found that I can bear the shed heat until it hits about 36°C and then my brain gives up which makes my hands give up so that's why I'm only making as many as I can make. I appreciate that people are disappointed that they can't order as many of the bees as they like, when they'd like to, but hey, you should have realised that I'm an awkward pain-in-the-arse beadmaker (and person in general) by now. You can tut at me and call me ridiculous – it's fine.

I did make a one-off red heart bead that I love. The glass here is CiM Heartthrob and it's such a glorious shade of red.

Handmade lampwork glass heart bead by Laura Sparling

In other news, running in the heat is HARD. I ran seven and a bit miles in it yesterday morning and sweet flipping Jesus, it was difficult. The heat has got me to the point where I'm walking back from runs in my sports bra like some kind of runstrumpet and I don't even care. We're due to have this weather for another fortnight so I'm not discounting the idea of actually running in my bra at some point.

I finished reading J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy and oh my word, that is some moving stuff. The book is like a cross between a gentle Sunday night BBC1 drama and Trainspotting. After that I read Cara Hunter's Close to Home, which is gripping, compulsive reading and quite short, and it's good but I'd only give it four stars due to its ending.

I also listened to the audiobook of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I'd seen so much talk about it that I had to see what all the hype was about. I was expecting it to be typical chick-lit, but it's not really. Well, the general feel of the book is quite chick-lit I suppose, but the main character is an unusual one which made for a refreshing change. Well worth a read or a listen, I'd say.

Last night I started the first of the Harry Potter books. I know I'm even more behind in this than I was with the House-watching thing but I was missing J.K. Rowling's writing so much I just had to Potter up. I'm about a third of the way through The Philosopher's Stone and I'm really enjoying it.

Right, enough tippy-tappy-typing as my dad-in-law calls it – I must go and make Bumblebeads. Enjoy the weather, if you like that sort of thing, and if you don't, stay cool.

Saturday, 16 June 2018


Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

Hayfever has floored me this week. I've suffered with it for years but every year is different. The last couple of summers haven't been too bad for me but this week has been a very sneezy, very eye-itchy one, and I cannot believe the tiredness. I've been like a red-eyed, nose-rubbing zombie. The tiredness is something to do with histamine and the immune system or something (I don't know - I'm not Gregory House) and it's really knocked me sideways. The hayfever tablets don't help with the tiredness. If you read the leaflet inside a box of hayfever tablets - even the 'non drowsy' type - one of the most common side effects is drowsiness and fatigue.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling
'More Jollity'

As such, I've not made that many beads. In fact, I only managed two sets. Bit rubbish, but I figured not driving a propane torch whilst I was struggling to keep my eyes open was the safe option.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

In other news, I'm addicted to House. Yes, I'm aware it's not 2004 anymore but I like to come to these things in my own time. (Maybe I'll watch Game of Thrones when I'm in my seventies?) I'm almost through season two of House and I'm limiting myself to a maximum of two episodes a day because there's only a finite amount of them.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

Bit of a short post, I know, but some words are better than none, right?

Saturday, 9 June 2018

I like small beads and I cannot lie

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

I know this sounds terribly selfish of me, but I truly am bead-happiest when I'm making the beads I love to make. This week I've made some of the best beads I've ever made, as far as skill and technique are concerned. The beads pictured in this post are just over 11mm in diameter and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of getting the designs and encasing methods to work on such a small scale. Some of the beads – the purple and grey-blue ones – are double-encased; they have opaque cores which are then wrapped in a coloured transparent and then the whole thing is encased in a thin layer of clear. Getting that right, with no core 'bleed', or over-encasing at the bead holes, is not the easiest task. The double-encasing is nice, though, as it allows me to use denser, more saturated colours that look lovely when used in a thin application, and that final layer of clear seems to give extra shine.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

One might think that small beads are quicker to make than bigger ones, what with them using less glass and all, but infactually, they take me longer. I already work at a weary slug's pace, but working smaller requires even slower working. The core beads for those double-encased ones start off at about 4mm long by about 1mm thick - too much heat and you'll boil the heck out of a glob of glass that small, and boiling means bubbles and bubbles mean Water Jug of Death.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

This week, someone said to me that it's a shame I don't make bigger beads. Truth is, I struggle to do so. Lentils, hearts and blown hollows aside, 14mm diameter is generally as big as I go. I've spent years honing the designs and patterns that I think make my beads mine, and over the years those designs and patterns have got tighter and more refined (oh how I wish I could say the same for my thighs) and if I were to try and translate them to larger beads they would look 'wrong'. Dots would need to be bigger and stringer would need to be thicker. My scroll design – and it is a design; my scroll beads are pretty much all the same, save a couple of tiny add-on space-filler swirls here and there – would need reworking and I'm not sure I want to rework it. Small beads are my thing.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

Eagle-eyed bead watchers may have noticed my price increase this week. I make a conscious point of not really following other beadmakers or looking at their work (this sounds absolutely horrible of me, I know, but there are very valid reasons for this which I will discuss another time) so I have no idea what prices people sell their work for, but I had a quick peruse of Etsy last weekend after Chris questioned what I was going to price some beads at. I was so shocked. People tell me all the time I undercharge but crikeyflip, I've been undercharging so very much, and I'm afraid this has had to change. Had I not listened to Chris, I'd have sold five hours' worth of work for £27.00 and I think you'll agree with him that this was not viable. Pricing your own work is always difficult and putting prices up is even harder but I had to do so.

Lampwork glass beads handmade by Laura Sparling

In other news, I've spent the last two days in a barn in a little Cambridgeshire village. The barn has been converted into a theatre and each summer the local Gilbert & Sullivan group put on a show there. I'm not in the show, and I know diddly-squat about Gilbert & Sullivan, but one of the fellas from our local archaeology group has done the lighting at the theatre for the last eleven years and he needed some assistance putting up the lights, so I volunteered to help.

I climbed to the top of this tower. Blimey.

It's been two days of moving and climbing ladders and scaffold towers, pulling theatre lights up to the rafters, plugging them all in and checking they work, and then positioning and adjusting them. It was hard work but fun.

I'll be back in the shed tomorrow. I'm quite looking forward to sitting down all day after two days of theatre lighting shenanigans.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Write what you know

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I'm well and truly back in the beady swing of things. In this post I'm going to prattle on about the last couple of weeks and here and there I'll drop in some photos of beads I made during May to pretty up the post.

CiM Oobleck with black and white

Most of the month was spent catching up with trying out new-to-me Creation is Messy colours, and seeing how they work and what they are like to use. I've mostly been making these little 'potpourri' sets because the variety of beads within them allow me to get a feel for what the glass will and won't do in various applications. For example, a glass that works well as a base might not work well as stringer. This is the case for CiM Mermaid (not a new glass, I know) which looks marvellous as a spacer or encased as a base bead, but spreads when used as stringer. Sometimes you can use that effect to your design advantage. Glasses which do the whole stringer spready thing normally make weird two-tone dots and spots too, where they get a dark patch in the middle. So it's that kind of thing that I look for when testing new glass.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Portillo' Potpourri featuring CiM Harvest and Mermaid

Sometimes you get a glass that does everything really well. CiM Harvest is one of those. It's a glorious streak-free orange that works equally well for base beads and stringer, where it retains its uniform colour and crisp edges.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Seville' Potpourri

One of the CiM colours that totally passed me by was Pixie. This is a bright blueish green and it's fab when its encased but it sort of reacts with itself if you faff with it too much; it feathers and webs on itself. Because of this it is absolutely pointless trying to use it for the kind of stringerwork that I do.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Seafoam' Potpourri featuring CiM Pixie

That's the thing with glass; you have to use it, learn what it does, make a mental note of its quirks, and then store all those notes away in your bead brain files because one day one of those quirks will be just the thing you need to create the particular effect you're after.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Grellow' Potpourri

My bead brain files are beginning to overflow. It's why I keep my Tumblr full of glass recipes. I have a very good memory but fourteen years' worth of beadmaking (which must equate to absolutely thousands of beads) has me saying "What glass did I use for those ones?" or "What did I actually do to get that effect?" more often than I'd like. I wish I could back up the bead department of my brain to a hard drive, or download it every now and then so I have a copy of it, but sadly the technology for this does not yet exist. To get around this, I'm going to do the next-best thing - I'm going to write the book I've been tentatively threatening to write for yonks now.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Mokey' Potpourri

I’ve always intended to write down all the stuff I know about lampworking but this past month or so I’ve come to the decision that it’s actually time to pull my finger out and get on with really doing it. “I’m going to write a book” sounds a bit pretentious, doesn’t it? Like I have things to say that people might want to read. The thing is, I think I do. I’m entirely self-taught and everything I know I have found out for myself through mistakes, hard work and learning from the glass. Do that for fourteen years and you’re bound to accumulate valuable beadmaking information.

So what’s the plan?

I’m going to get the bulk of the thing written and the tutorial photography sorted. When that’s done, I’m thinking I will crowdfund it on something like Kickstarter or Unbound or somewhere, so people can pledge to buy the finished article and I can get it printed into an actual factual book. I’m very keen on it being a real book you can hold, as opposed to a PDF or digital thing as these are open to unauthorised sharing. The working title for the book is ‘Everything I Know About Making Lampwork Glass Beads’ and that’s exactly what it will be. There will be step-by-step tutorials and information on all aspects of making and selling lampwork beads. It will be written from my point of view and my personal experience so it’s not a general ‘how to’ guide as such; it will literally be all my bead knowledge put together into a book. So if you want to know about making borosilicate beads, goddess beads or selling at craft fairs, this will not be the book for you because I don’t do any of those things. Does that make sense?

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've made a start on the book. There is a plan thing all typed up which lists all the areas I want to cover. And there are many. There is to be much typing in my future and this book is not going to be some flimsy thirty-four page pamphlet. I've had so much positive feedback about my book plan so far, with many lovely people telling me they're going to buy it, but it's going to take me a while to write it. I'm not putting a time or deadline on it because times and deadlines and I do not mix, but please know that I am working on it. Thank you for all your encouragement and enthusiasm. I will keep you all posted with updates and news of how the book is coming along.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Hydrangea' Potpourri

In other news (this is becoming like some kind of regular blog-closing feature), I've finished all the Cormoran Strike books and am eagerly awaiting the release of the fourth one as I am absolutely hooked. I'm now reading (actually reading with my eyes, and not listening to) J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy which is as addictive as Branston pickle Mini Cheddars. I've never jumped aboard the Harry Potter train but I'm in love with Rowling's work. I know I'd probably love Harry Potter too and I shall read them one day.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Nautical' Potpourri

I'm still moving my legs at semi-speed on a regular basis and on Monday I completed my first ten mile run. Ten miles! I've written about that here if you fancy a read. I've got a quarter marathon (6.5 miles) on Sunday so all being well I will have another medal to add to my fledgling medal collection.

Handmade lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling
'Beach' Heart

I'm off for a gentle three mile jog now and then I shall spend the rest of the day in the shed. See you later!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

General update

Remember the spiral stringer bead from the last post? Well, here it is as part of its set. That vibrant acid yellow-green is new CiM 'Oobleck' and I will be writing more about it shortly, along with my thoughts on a few of the other new Creation is Messy colours.

I'm still getting back into the beadmaking after a couple of months away from it. I don't think I posted about it here, but I gave up my archaeology degree. Here's what I posted on my Facebook page about this:

"You know how you shouldn’t do something if it makes you unhappy? If you’re not happy in a relationship, or your job, or just in your general life situation, we’re advised to change it if we can, right? Because life’s too short and all that. Well, I’ve made a change and… I am no longer a student.

I started my archaeology degree because I wanted to learn more about the subject and I wanted to get myself a qualification that would allow me to get a good and interesting job if I wanted to at some point in the future. The course started off OK. I was loving it and I was doing well as far as grades go. However, in about November I began to hate it. I hated the workload, the pressure, the having to write in a totally unnatural, wanky academic fashion (if I’d done uni when I was supposed to, I’d probably have found academic writing as a 40 year old a lot easier), and I began to hate the subject. I began to hate it to the point where watching history and archaeology programmes made me feel sick. In fact, I couldn’t watch them because I felt like some kind of fraud. How could I watch Alice Roberts enthusing over some old coins or a fossilised Viking turd, when inside me I had this gnawing “I don’t want to be doing this degree” feeling?

I have a shelf full of utterly fascinating archaeology and history books that I haven’t had time to read properly because I was only using them to scan through and pick out relevant references and quotes. That’s a waste of books.

I said to myself I’d give the first few months of my second year a go and see how I felt. Well, I did that and I felt bad. There’s no fun in reading stuff that makes absolutely no sense to you, no matter how much you translate it and use the BBC Bitesize website to help you try and understand it. And when you have to regurgitate all that stuff your eyes have read but your brain didn’t understand, in the form of 8000 words written in the absolutely correct way, well… basically I was buggered. Yes, I could have struggled on. Yes, I could have just done the best I could for the next two years, but you know what? When I can’t sleep for worry, when I keep getting styes (my number one “You are run down, Laura” signal), when I want to vom every time someone asks me how the degree is going, when I feel that weight of dread in my stomach whenever I look at any of the books or papers, and when I simply feel so unhappy every day, it is not worth it.

I thought vocalising my “I want to quit” thoughts to my husband would make me feel like a failure. But I don’t. I know I’ve made the correct decision because of the feeling of utter relief and lightness I’ve experienced since quitting. I had a go at being a uni student. I thoroughly enjoyed some of it. My love for archaeology and history remains, but now I will learn about it in my own way, in my own time, and without having to cite every single ruddy thing I ever want to communicate. (Tits to you, Harvard referencing!)

TL;DR – I quit my archaeology degree because it was making me unhappy."

So there you go. Back to the beads I go. I have missed them and I even tidied up the shed last week!

My workbench, before and after the tidy-up

My shed is still the same undecorated and unfancy wooden box it's always been, but it's a lot more uncluttered than it was. Here are some of the beads I've made post-tidy:

'Fiery' Potpourri

'Sage' Luminobeads

'Purquoise' Spotties

In other news, I'm still running. I don't know what I'd have done without my running during the whole degree worry stuff. It kept me sane. I ran my first 10K race last month and in September I'm doing a half marathon. You can read all about my running over on my running blog if you like, and I've set up an Instagram account for all my red-sweaty-faced running pictures.

This week's shed listening has been The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. I listened to the third book in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil, after watching the BBC adaptations of the first two stories, so then I went back to listen to the actual books.

Gratuitous photo of Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike

The books are far more detailed than the television programmes and you learn way more about the characters. I'll be getting The Silkworm when my next Audible credit comes through. The Strike audiobooks are narrated by Robert Glenister and he does a marvellous job of it.

Right! Off to the shed for me. Its black and white today, I think, possibly with a splash of that Oobleck thrown into the mix.

Friday, 4 May 2018

A glimpse into my crazy

Yesterday was a bit of a meh shed day. I just couldn't seem to get going. I had a colour combination all sorted and I knew what I wanted to make but my brain and hands were engaged in some kind of conflict, as described in this tweet:

Applying a trail of fine stringer in a spiral around a bead is a pretty straightforward technique and it's one that I've done thousands of times, but yesterday it just wasn't working. Well, it was, but as far as my brain was concerned, it wasn't working correctly.

I've written umpteen times about how picky I am with my work. Every time I do, people leave lovely comments and assure me that my work is fine and that the beads are handmade and they're not supposed to be 'perfect' and all that. I put the word 'perfect' in inverted commas then because I've personally never described my work as such. I'm a perfectionist, yes, but in the sense that I try to make a bead as best as I can possibly make it; I'm not actually striving for absolute perfection.

Yesterday, I tried and tried to make a 'correct' spiral bead and after the five failed attempts which ended up in the water jug – and that's not counting the attempts that didn't make it past the base bead or encasing stage, then through to the stringer application one – I eventually made the spiral bead I was after. I did put three not-quite-right attempts in the kiln, though, as I knew I wanted to write about this ridiculousness in order to give you a glimpse into my crazy.

Here is the 'correct' bead:

And here are the three beads that I rejected but didn't kill:

At first glance, these three probably look alright. Chris did his usual "WHAT? They're absolutely fine. Get them sold, missus!" about them. But no, they're not leaving the house. You might be able to see why I rejected them, but if not, I'll explain. From left to right...

The first bead was rejected because the spiral is not 'tight' enough; the gaps between the wraps are too wide apart for my liking.

The second bead is okay stringer-wise but the base bead has an irksome glitch in it where the grey glass did a striation thing.

The third bead was rejected as it just doesn't look balanced to my eye. I also wasn't happy with where I melted the stringer off; the tail end on the left hand side isn't close enough to the bead hole.

So what am I trying to illustrate with this post? Am I writing it to get an "Oh, Laura, you're such a perfectionist" reaction? Or am I in some way being superior, trying to say that I'm so pernickety – far more pernickety – than other beadmakers? No, absolutely not. I'm trying to show you that this is why I say no so much. It's why I say no to commissions and no to remakes. If I can spend so very long trying to make what is a very basic-looking bead, which I will sell for about three quid (you do the laughable maths there; minimum wage doesn't come anywhere near it) how can I possibly commit to commissions and remakes?

Am I complaining? No. Because this is just how my brain works. It's what makes my beads my beads. Is there a medical term for my prohibitive bead pickiness? Probably, yes. Is it tied up with all the other annoying things my brain puts me through like my constant anxiety and my awkwardness when doing general life things? Almost definitely. I accepted these annoying aspects of my me-ness  long ago; some days I struggle with them, but other days I embrace them. Just as these complicated brain quirks make my beads my beads, they also make me me, and I kind of like that.

Today I'm intending to finish the set that this spiral bead is part of. Will it happen? I'll keep you posted...