Sunday 17 April 2016

In defence of the basic

Encased lampwork glass twisty beads by Laura Sparling

This past week I've been having fun making beads that would usually be considered as 'beginner' beads. By that I mean that they are beads that are presented in instructional lampwork books as 'basic' beads. The majority of lampworkers have either made beads like these or know how they are made. They're sort of classic lampwork bead staples, I guess.

However, just because something is 'basic', it doesn't mean that it is easy to make.

Lampwork glass twistes, or twisted cane

Take twisties, for example. These thin decorative canes of glass are created by twisting together two or more colours or types of hot glass. Sounds straightforward in theory but in reality it's a tricky skill to learn. Twisties are almost always held up as beginner things that every beadmaker should be able to do with their eyes closed. Personally, I've always struggled with them. I can do them, when I'm in the right frame of mind for them, but I never approach the twisty-making process with glee.

Encased lampwork glass twisty bead by Laura Sparling

You can used twisted cane as a surface decoration or you can use it as I have to make striped beads. To make the bead above (and the 'Andy Pandy' ones at the top of this post) I made a disc-shaped bead, wrapped a twisty around it and then encased it with a narrow, tall wrap of clear glass, as opposed to full coverage hole-to-hole (*coughs*) encasing. As the encasing layer melts down and outwards towards the bead holes, it drags the twisty with it, pulling and stretching it widthways into thinner stripes of colour. Groovy!

Encased lampwork glass twisties, or twisted cane

The effect is even groovier when you use a twisty that is made from a mix of opaque and transparent glass.

Lampwork glass pleat bead by Laura Sparling

The 'pleat' bead above was made with a white, amber and amethyst one, on an amethyst base.

The whole encasing-pushing-and-stretching-the-pattern thing can also be used over dots to make them into stripes, triangles and petal shapes.

Encased lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

All of the beads in the 'Peacock' set above started life as tiny base beads decorated with layers of opaque and transparent dots in various formations, before being finished with a layer of encasing that distorted those patterns.

So why am I making 'basic' beads and banging on about them here? Several reasons:

  • Sometimes it's just nice to revisit old techniques that you've not played with for years
  • They're a great way to showcase colour and rad colour combinations
  • You can combine new knowledge with old techniques to create something fresh and new
  • As a teacher, I have to refresh and jog my beadmaking muscle memory on a regular basis
  • Because they're fun to make

I think sometimes us creative people can feel bad about doing basic stuff. We often feel like we should be constantly evolving and pushing ourselves and creating wonders and masterpieces. Well, I do anyway. (This is partly because years ago someone charming called my beads "Nothing but practice warm-up beads", but I'll not dwell on that here even though I hear those words in my head on an almost daily basis.) And I'm not just talking about beads. Sometimes I feel like a crud knitter for making a garter stitch scarf instead of a five chart, laceweight shawl the size of Brazil, or a boring unadventurous baker for baking plain fairy cakes with just cherries in and no icing on top instead of a seven layer salted caramel and chocolate cake topped with caramelised hazelnuts and handcrafted sugar paste squirrels. But you know what? There's nothing wrong with basic beads, plain garter stitch scarves or cherry fairy cakes because when they're done well, they're flipping fantastic.

In short, make what you want to make and what you enjoy making, rather than what you think others expect you to make.

That last sentiment is one that I personally need to tattoo on my brain. (Sometimes this blog is useful for giving myself a good talking to, if nothing else.)


  1. To do the beads like you is more than basic or beginner!! Yours are perfect! Great shape, nice close at the ends...really perfect! That`s high skill level. Hugs Doris

  2. I am beyond furious about what that snotty little shitehawk said. HOW FUCKING DARE THEY BE SO DISMISSIVE OF THE SIMPLE BEAUTY OF YOUR GORGEOUS CREATIONS!!!!!


    You're are absolutely right. You can make the most technically complex and well-executed pieces you like, but if the artist gets nothing from the process, then it's two-dimensional and will always lack the true depth of art. Which is why we love your work. Simple, "basic" (ptooey!) or as complex as you like. Your work is always art, Laura.
    Keep on doing your thing, and we'll keep loving it. You're amazing. XXX

  3. Um... Sorry for the sweary words. I was a bit cross.

    1. Oh, YOU! (And you made me laugh.) Yes, that person will never know how much that small string of words has affected me since I read them all those years ago, so congrats to them for being such a spiteful tit because they had the exact effect they were aiming for.

      But anyway. Yes, you are quite right. You have to love what you do. If not, nobody gets the best out of it.

      Thanks, missus. X

  4. lovely collection.your work is very nice.

  5. Such a helpful post! I went straight out to my torch after reading it to practice making some beads with my twisties (thanks for your help with those btw). I've been lampworking for around 18 months now, and I'm still learning the basics. I get really frustrated when I make fuglies, but when the stars align and I do get a great bead, I remember why I like this lampworking thing so much :)

    You're spot on about the pleasure of returning to basic projects even when you're experienced in a craft. I still love knitting garter stitch scarves, and I've been a knitter for yonks. There's a pleasure in making a simple project really well, especially when I've treated myself to a gorgeous skein of yarn. Got some alpaca/silk on the needles at the moment, which I'm making into a simple tube for a cowl. It's soft and yummy and I don't have to think much about the pattern - so I can just enjoy the process of making it. Can't wait to get to that stage with my bead making!

    1. Glad you found it helpful! I do love a bit of telly knitting. My current project is plain socks in a self-striping yarn. No faff, no fuss. Sure, I love a complex cable or lace sock pattern but sometimes, plain socks knitted well are just as satisfying. Same goes for food. Heinz Hoops on toast can sometimes be as ace as a fancy three course meal. :-)

      Laura x

  6. I know this is a old post but I thought you would like to know it's helped me. I was doing quite complex things a year ago. Then my husband died and I have struggled to get going again. Your post has made me realise I need to go back to basics and get them under my belt again, which I now looking forward to doing
    Thanks Laura
    Love your beads

    1. Hi Bella

      I am so sorry to hear about your husband.

      I'm glad you found my post helpful.

      Very best wishes to you,
      Laura x

  7. So much to say here.... first about the person who said something about "warm-up" beads... that's too bad their mind was so narrow. Because often simplicity is most appreciated. When I sell my beads and jewelry, my audience prefers the basic. When I show them the little works of art in a glass lamp work bead, it takes a little "education" to help them understand that it's a small work of art (hence the higher price). I find the majority of my customer base gravitates toward the simpler spacer beads. The group that likes art beads and art jewelry is much much smaller.

    As far as YOUR "warm-up" beads go (I deliberately put "warm-up" in quotes, because I don't really consider those warm-up because I can't even do those yet) they might be "basic" for you, but executing them with the skill and precision you do makes you a master. Your perfectionism leads you to creating consistently perfect beads. You're actually the only one I follow that creates beads as uniform size and quality. Most other bedmakers accept a little bit of organic imperfection in their beads.

    And finally, I've been wanting to knit myself a sweater. I started, but I freak out at every curve. I've finally embraced knitting flat objects such as scarves and blankets because 1) my friends love a handmade gift out of art yarn, 2) I don't have to think about knitting it, 3) sometimes i just like to keep my hands busy and not have to think.

    I just made a basic set of beads into some earrings and a necklace and right now they're some of my favorite - because of it's simplicity....

    wow. that was a book. But, this post has been resonating in my head for a few weeks. Spot on.

    1. Thanks for your reply, Jenn. I really appreciate you taking the time to write.

      The 'warm up beads' comment was from a fellow beadmaker. I have never forgotten it. It's responsible for occasional waves of self doubt that I have about my work. The person who said it will never know how damaging their words were. But hey, as far as I know, I'm still making beads and they are not, so…

      I've only ever knitted myself three sweaters and I don't wear any of them. I much prefer socks, scarves and gloves. They allow me to use fancy yarn in small quantities and they're great for learning and honing knitting stitches and techniques on a tiny 'canvas'.

      And I'm a simplicity jewellery person too. I have a thing for circles in jewellery. Pleasing.

      Again, thank you for all your lovely words. I hope all is well in your crafty world.

      Laura x


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