I Made the Beads: How I Started Making Glass Beads 24 Years Ago

Faux Opals Necklace by Janice Peacock

Faux Opals Necklace by Janice Peacock

Oftentimes when I’m wearing jewelry that I’ve made, I’ll get a compliment about it. Sometimes I simply thank the person, but if I’m ready to have a conversation about my personal adornment, I’ll say something like, “Oh, these beads? I made them.” Which usually leads to a myriad of questions like, “How do you make glass beads?”

That was a question I asked myself nearly twenty-four years ago. I had made a charm bracelet with beads I’d bought at a local shop but was disappointed in what I had to choose from. As I looked at the beads dangling from the chain around my wrist, I wondered who made them—and how.

This was 1992, and those of us of a certain age remember that there was a time when there was no internet, no Google, and certainly no Facebook page about lampwork beads. I was left with a telephone and a lot of perseverance to complete my research. The first person I called said I needed a glass furnace that runs 24/7, holds several pounds of glass, and costs thousands of dollars a month to run. That was not an option for me. The next person I found said he could teach me how to fuse glass in a kiln—sort of high-temperature cooking-baking, only with glass. This would have made a lot of flat things, plates and tiles and such, which was not what I wanted to make.

Finally, after many phone calls, I found a studio in Oakland, CA, just a few miles from my house. The studio owner was bringing in a guest instructor from Washington state. He was going to teach a class on how to make beads using a torch to melt glass. When I showed up at class, I had no idea was to expect. I watched, mesmerized, as the teacher melted a brightly colored rod of glass with his 2,000 degree torch. While the glass was molten he wrapped it around a thin metal wire and sculpted it. When the glass was cool, he removed the metal wire and a hole remained—a bead!

This was what I wanted to do.

As soon as I sat down at a torch to try it for myself, as soon as I melted my first piece of glass, I knew there was no turning back. I was hooked. I made a dozen beads that weekend, all lumpy, and all my own personal works of glass art.

I went on to buy a torch of my own, and over the years I have made thousands beads and created one-of-a-kind jewelry with them. There have been times when I’ve done other things creatively: knitted, worked in clay, and made quilts. Most recently, I wrote a couple of books (with more to come) about a glass beadmaker who solves murders in between firing up her torch to melt some glass. (You can learn more about the books in the Glass Bead Mystery Series at www.janicepeacock.com.)

But I always return to glass because it is my passion. And that’s why, when the moment is right, and a random stranger asks me about the colorful necklace I’m wearing, I’ll often say:

Thanks, I made the beads.

This article was originally posted at Cozy Up with Kathy on February 7, 2016.