Month: January 2009

Finished beads

I picked up the beads this morning from the flameworking class!

The beads were still on the mandrels. When I asked one of the Craft Center helpers how to get the beads off, he said that you basically had to twist the bead until it got loose, then twist/pull it off. He demonstrated… and naturally, my turquoise bead broke because it was too brittle! I kept the pieces, though, because it looked so pretty! This is the one where I tried the Saturn rings technique:

Here’s a group picture of my beads (sans the broken one), taken as I was walking home:

Here is the swirly bead where I used the unicorn horn (opaque blue and opaque light blue over clear):

This is the bead where I added the copper frit and blue dots on a base of opaque light blue with a clear overlayer. I think this one turned out the best.

This one was the two rows of dots that bled into each other. I had used a clear turquoise for the base, put opaque light blue dots, then put more clear turquoise on top. I think the clear turquoise on top just blended in with the turquoise underneath, so it doesn’t look like much! There are slight bronze streaks, too, which I think is when the glass burned because I must have gotten it too hot.

This was my “hearts” bead. Again, you can see some bronze/red streaking from where the glass got too hot. Who knew that glass could burn? This is also the one that I still can’t get off the mandrel!

My boring clear bead. This one also cracked when I tried to twist it off.

And my final group picture

Now for Angela’s beads:

Angela had a big turquoise bead, too – we ended up using the same colors (unplanned) for our first two beads!

Angela’s dots turned out really nice. She used a white base and dark blue dots over clear turquoise dots.

This is Angela’s heart bead, which apparently got burned, too:

Angela’s “fritted” bead, on white:

Angela’s swirly bead turned out nice, too. Mine hardly had any of the color on it, but she got a nice mix:

I got one of Angela’s beads off for her but left her to deal with the rest, which seemed pretty stuck at the time. 🙂

Even though two of my beads broke, I’m still happy with the results and overall experience. I most likely will not take this up as a regular hobby since I can’t make it out to the lab on campus regularly enough to make the cost of a pass worth it, but I’m open to taking other glass classes in the future!

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Flameworking beginning bead class

My sister Angela, who’s now also into making jewelry, was interested in taking some of the beadmaking classes at the UC Davis Craft Center. I thought it would be fun to take a class with her, so we signed up for a one-night three-hour flameworking class for learning basic beadmaking.

There were six people in the class. First, we collected our flameworking materials (see the Flickr photo for the labeled notes):

  • Thin wires on the left are “mandrels,” used for holding the bead as you shape it. There’s also a clear glass rod with them.
  • Metal thing in the background is the kiln. Set at 195 degrees, you set finished beads in it. It cools slowly overnight so the beads don’t crack.
  • Wooden block is a mandrel holder, which holds the mandrels upright for easy reach.
  • White jar holds bead release – more later.
  • Gear box contains goggles (mine didn’t stay on my face at all and I had to try checking out a different style of goggles), tinted so that you don’t burn out your retinas looking at the flame, and various picks and tools for shaping glass.

First thing we did was to coat the ends of the mandrels in the bead release, which was a blue viscous goo. This allows the bead to come off of the mandrel easily.

Then, you turn on the torch, which is mounted at the front of the table with the flame facing away from you. There’s a valve for natural gas (and a dangling flint starter like what you’d have in a chem lab) and a valve for oxygen, which heats up the flame into a hot blue streak. You poke the end of your glass rod (we got to pick out three colors in addition to our clear ; Angela and I picked out 2/3 colors – we must be related!) in and out of the flame to preheat it. If you just leave it in the flame, it shatters from heating up too quickly. Below is Angela preheating her glass rod while wearing silly, misfitting goggles:

As the end of the rod starts to glow red, then melt, the end starts to droop down. You have to twist and turn the rod with your fingers to keep the end continuously moving and falling back on itself, otherwise it will drip right down onto the table!

Next step is to heat up your mandril. The bead release burns black, then white, when you heat it in the flame. When it turns white and glows red, it’s ready.

You touch the glass rod to the mandrel and twist the mandrel so it picks up the glass of the rod, keeping the mandrel level so that the glass doesn’t slide around or drip off. I didn’t get any good pictures of this, because the glass is glowing in the flame and just shows up as a big white flame in the picture. This part requires some coordination because you’re twisting with both hands, yet also trying to guide and touch the two things together.

Once you have a glob of glass on the mandrel, you bring the glass rod away a bit and the molten glass stretches out like melted cheese. The flame itself “cuts” the glass, melting away the string and separating it. This whole time, you’re continuously turning the mandrel so that the glass doesn’t drip off and trying to get the glass to be even on all sides in a nice round bead shape.

I made a boring clear bead for my first simple bead:

I kept my bead out a little longer than I should have. As soon as the bead stops glowing red hot, you’re supposed to immediately put it into the kiln to sit and cool slowly so that it doesn’t crack. My bead didn’t crack, but the instructor did rush over and say, “Put it in the kiln now!”

For our second bead, we learned a technique for rounding out the edges of the bead hole. You want the bead hole to curve inwards so that sharp edges don’t cut the string. The way our instructor showed us was to start with a smallish bead, then add Saturn rings around it with more molten glass until you had a disc-blob on your mandrel. Then, you stick the disc into the flame and melt it down. As the glass melts down, it naturally forms rounded edges for the hole of the bead.

The next thing we did was cool. We took two glass rods, preheated them at the same time, got them both to a molten stage (one in each hand), then touched and squished them together. Then we took it out of the flame and stretched and twisted and pulled them apart to make a cool swirly bit. You heat up one end of the swirly part to separate it from one of the rods, and you end up with a unicorn horn!

Angela’s turned out kind of long – I think the white rod hadn’t cooled at the base part of where the two colors came together so the white part started twisting out, too. It looks like she’s fencing with a very pretty sword:

Next: Make a plain bead, let it cool slightly by taking it out of the flame while preheating your unicorn horn, then touch the unicorn horn to the bead and let it melt on to form stripes and swirls.

It’s really crazy how glass looks different when it’s molten or hot. White glass turns completely clear, with a red glow, when it’s melted. I think Angela’s bead is dark blue, above, but it looks bright red when hot and turns purple, then slowly dark blue, as it cools.

Here’s Angela’s swirly bead as it cools:

There’s a handy metal rack for holding your tools and setting down your glass rods in between:

Next, we made a bead, then added dots of molten glass in a different color, then added dots on top of those dots. The dots are like little bumps or alien-looking spikes on the bead until you melt the whole thing down.

I made a turquoise bead that was all lopsided and uneven and tried to even it out with dark blue on top. Then I added turquoise dots on top and smoothed it all down:

We learned to use the pick to “dig” into the surface of the bead after heating up one place of the bead to make patterns and swirls. Our instructor showed us how to dig into the top part of one circle and drag it down, then dig into the bottom part of that circle and drag it down, to form hearts.

For our next bead, we made dots on both sides of the bead and melted it down so it formed a tortoiseshell-like pattern.

The last bead involved adding frit to the glass. “Frit” is basically small crumbles of other type of glass. We had sprinkles of sparkly copper-infused glass on a small graphite paddle. We made a bead, then heated it up and rolled it on the paddle to pick up the glass. I added dots of dark blue to mine for good measure, then melted the whole thing down. Then you add a thick layer of clear glass over it so that the clear glass magnifies the sparkly copper blobs. Below, you can see my initially red-hot bead as it cools.

I got pictures of Angela working on her bead, too – a white base with the copper frit on top:

Adding the clear layer on top:

I tried a fast shutter speed to see if I could get a better picture of the glass in the flame:

Finally – all of my finished beads, cooling in the kiln.

I’ll be picking them up later today – I’m so excited! I’ll put up another post when I get pictures of the finished beads.

Awesome video

My sister shared this video with me:

I’ve always thought it would be fun to try to fun animations like this, but have never actually wanted to take the time to do it!

Custom jewelry on Etsy

For Christmas, my sister Angela made me two pairs of custom earrings (actually, I think at least one more pair is in the works). Here’s what they look like*:

If you’re coveting my earrings, no fear: Angela has opened an Etsy shop, Watermark Designs, so that she can sell to the masses. For now, I think she only has two pairs of earrings** listed, but she’s finding this a very enjoyable hobby and is working on more. If jewelry is your thing, or if you’re looking for a nice gift for someone else, please consider supporting her so that she can buy components to make more!

*I took these photos from Angela’s blog post.

**I’ve seen those two pairs in person, and they are gorgeous.

Visiting the California Academy of Science

For a fun vacation day, we went to see the San Francisco California Academy of Science museum with our friends the day after New Year’s.

The museum has a huge enclosed rainforest exhibit with live birds and butterflies flying around the spiral walkways that link the three or four stories and an elevator that goes down to a level below with a clear tunnel that lets you walk under/through the “flooded rainforest floor,” complete with big catfish.

There’s a planetarium (only open to children above 7 years old, so we didn’t see visit it), an aquarium, a natural history section with stuffed animals and fun animal facts, a live penguin exhibit, and two alligators, one of which is albino. The renovated museum is also the world’s greenest museum, which was interesting to me; recycled denim is used for insulation, the place is full of windows, a radiant heating system is in the floors, and the “living roof” is curved with hills and valleys and covered with half a foot of dirt and living plants, which channels breezes to the viewing area on warm days, traps rain and keeps it from being stormwater on rainy days, and includes windows that open to vent hot air from inside the museum when it gets too hot.

Our friend had done a bit of online research and had determined that getting there early was best. We got there 45 minutes before opening (the museum opens at 9:30), got parking immediately in the second level close to the elevator, but were shocked at the long lines in front of the doors and ticket windows. There were half a dozen self-serve ticket kiosks which people hadn’t discovered yet (credit cards only and no coupons/discounts, although you can buy child/student tickets there), so I managed to snag a spot second in line behind one, but we still had to wait until 9 am for the tickets to go on sale (and a museum worker to come and manually turn on each kiosk and log in).

Our friend had also noted that you should immediately go to the rainforest and planetarium exhibits if that’s what you want to see, otherwise you could potentially stand in line for two hours (and we saw people doing that later on!). Seeing the planetarium requires you to pick up tickets for specific showtimes (or “exhibit-times”?), but since we couldn’t go in there anyway with our babies, we didn’t bother. Instead, we headed over to the rainforest, and only had to wait a few minutes at the front of the line to get inside.

After the rainforest, we went to look at the aquarium and albino alligator. By this time, the museum was getting fuller and fuller, so it was really difficult to move around, especially in the twists and turns of the aquarium exhibits. We ditched our stroller in a stroller parking area. I was glad that I’d brought a baby carrier so that we could carry Steven around without sore backs and arms.

We got some respite from the crowds by retreating to the “early explorers” room, a place reserved for kids from 0-5 (and their parents). There were relatively few people in the room – perhaps because it wasn’t on the generic map that most people got – and plenty of room for babies and toddlers to play. Older toddlers would find the ship (with bunk, play kitchen, and play laboratory) and tree (with stuffed animals in the den-tunnel underneath) really fun; there were also plenty of little plastic animals and wooden puzzles to keep our eight-month-old happily crawling around.

We had gone to the central food plaza area around 10:30 for a brief snack and managed to score a couple tables, but it was so crowded at lunchtime that we had to sit on the concrete floor. Luckily, we’d brought our own food, because the line for the food was a long snake that wrapped all around the large courtyard. (The food that other people were getting looked good, though – hot soup and bread, sandwiches, even some kind of rice bowl with saucy stuff in it.)

Was the $25-per-adult price worth it? Well, it was really, really fun to see our out-of-town friends, and the rainforest was admittedly very cool. Having been a member of the Monterey Aquarium in the past, I found the aquarium to be “old stuff,” but I could see first-time visitors finding it fascinating – although the alligators were pretty cool to see in-person. The natural history museum part was fun, too; I’ve been in natural history museums before, but this time we recognized a lot of the animals from watching Planet Earth and similar nature videos, so I enjoyed that part, too. We also missed out on a big part of the museum by skipping the planetarium. For our experience, especially given the extremely crowded conditions, I would probably have only wanted to pay $15, tops. But I could see myself going back there — and paying full price again — when Steven is 7+ years old, if he’s interested in space-stuff and animals. (And who isn’t, at that age?)

If you’re in San Francisco and are planning to make this a part of your itinerary, here are my personal tips:

  • Timing: Getting there early was crucial. We got there 45 minutes early and were there right before the “bigger early rush.” In just 15 or 20 minutes, the self-serve kiosk lines had gotten long, too, and the ticketed-entry line was ridiculously long, stretching down the street. If you get there later, it means that you get inside later, and then it might be too late to get tickets to the planetarium, plus you’ll be standing in longer lines at the rainforest exhibit.
  • Transportation: We also bypassed the first parking garage level and got a spot right by the elevator on the second level. You get $3 off admission if you have public transportation ticket/transfer stubs for that day, but you’ll have to stand in the [long] main ticket line to get your discount, so again, earlier is better.
  • Splitting up: It might be worth it to consider splitting up – someone standing in the rainforest line, for example, while someone else gets tickets for the planetarium. Disclaimer: I don’t know off-hand if you’re allowed to get tickets for other people at the planetarium, so it’s possible that you’d have to all stand in line there, anyway. In that case, you’d probably want to get tickets first, then go immediately to the rainforest so that you can get in before the lines get ridiculously long.
  • Children: Strollers are difficult to manage in the crowds. Use a baby carrier for little ones, instead! And the “Early Explorers” room for ages 0-5 is great. You’ll find it off of the natural history museum part, near the giant pendulum.
  • Food: Unless you want to spend a large portion of your visit standing in line, pack in your own food. I think the food is quite expensive, too.

If you’ve gone before and have your own tips to add (or any info about the planetarium experience), please post a comment!