Saturday, September 26, 2015

Two September demo/teaching events

A Day at the Solar -
This was a very nice small A&S event where the focus was not on classes, but on creating opportunities for people to try different arts that were being displayed and demonstrated over the course of the day. This is actually the way I do most of my teaching, so it worked out well. I had one particularly enthusiastic person stop by, and because we were not very busy with people, she had the chance to make 4 beads that day. I'm glad I could let her play so much with the torch!

Beads made at this event by someone I taught.
Wrightstown Renaissance Faire -
Since this event was a demo, there was not an opportunity to teach, but people from the faire stopped by to watch Aibhilin and I make beads during the day. One day I'd love to bring a more period fire source to an event like this!

A view of our booth in the SCA area of the faire.

Silver Rapier Glass Bead Award Medalion

My first attempt at a glass bead Silver Rapier  award medallion was quite a mess. I tried to imitate the swept hilt of the rapier, and I just could not get all that detail into a bead of the size I wanted to make (note: I shaped the bead with my lentil press). My second attempt, while not great, at least helped me to realize that a simplified design (where I just drew the knuckle-bow of the sword) would work better.

attempt 1

attempt 2

By the third attempt I had a working design, which I turned into a medallion and traded to a friend. The main issue I had with this version of the bead was that the sword did not have a point!

After one more only so-so attempt at this bead I finally managed to get one that I like. In the design I emphasized the pommel and end of the quillons by adding a small dot to the end of the crossed lines I drew on the bead. I made the sword point by heating up the tip of the line and quickly pulling it into a point while removing a bit of glass. Finally, I only melted the design part way into the bead so that the design would stay crisp. Glass will sometimes distort and expand as it melts into glass, and white is a very soft color. Over time, I might be able to make this better by making the design with a thinner stringer of glass.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Video from a real Anglo-Saxon Cemetary Excavation

I've started watching a few documentaries on the Anglo-Saxon to give me a bit more background knowledge of the period, as most of the bead work I have done has centered on that time/place. In my searches of You Tube I came across an British TV series called Time Team. Its kind of like a cross between a reality show & a documentary about archeological excavations. They had an episode about excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in season 8 of their show.

Time Team Season 8 Episode 1: Anglo Saxon Cemetery

This was awesome to watch, because much of my research has focused on the reports generated form these excavations, so I got to see the reality of how these excavations are carried out. I think I will recommend this as a fun resource the next time I teach my class about making beads using archeological reports.

Sadly, I have not yet found a complete report written up about this excavation. This Link is the closest I have come. I was hoping i would find a more complete write up and analysis of this excavation, as they seem to have found a male grave with some monochrome and amber beads!

Note: A few days later I found several other episodes of this TV show where they excavate an Anglo-Saxon cemetary

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bhakail Commons

Me, Suba, and Aibilin at Bhakail Commons

This day didn't start out as a demo/teaching day, however, once people saw Aibilin and I making beads, they came over to watch, ask questions, and a few even asked to make beads themselves.  If you bring your torch, they will come to make beads!

We also used this opportunity to give Aibilin practice teaching. Teaching someone how to teach is an interesting thing to do. We started out by having her watch me (which she has been doing for some time already). She then taught a few people, and I watched and provided some commentary to her about what I might have done differently and why. This was also a great opportunity for me to learn from her. Aibilin has watched others teach (most recently at Pennsic), and a few of the things she was saying during her time instructing people are ideas that I should include as a regular part of my lesson!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Period Bead Making at Pennsic

At Pennsic this year I helped Bruni make a clay bead furnace in the volcano style (See Dudly Giberson's "Volcano Dream" article)  during peace we. Together with Aibhilin we fired it and mad a few beads the Sunday of war week.

Constructing the Furnace
In this experiment we were building off of our previous experiment where we determined that a mixture of sand, refractory clay, and regular clay worked best. However, we also tried a few things differently this time:

1. We used grog instead of refractory clay. Reading volumes 4 & 5 of the actual Ribe excavation reports  (not the summary by Mogens Bencard published on the DARC company's website which we used for our last experiment) I did not see the word refractory clay used. Grog, however, was mentioned in the actual report from Ribe as being found in some of the bead workshop hearths (Sode 2004). Grog is basically ground up/crushed pieces of already fired clay  (Piepenbrg 432). Because these ground up pieces of grog have been pre-shrunk by firing, it helps prevent warping and cracking of the furnace just as sand does (Piepenburg 20).

2. We increased the amount of sand used. Bruni found a video about 18th century bread ovens where the builder used a high proportion of sand in their mixture. The author of the video noted that more sand than clay would help reduce the shrinkage and cracking in the oven (4:00).  

Note: this video also described using hay to add strength to the oven. This is something we plan to look into doing in a future experiment. Hay, being an organic material would likely not have been preserved at the Ribe workshop if it was used there.   

While it may seem strange to use a video of an 18th century bread oven as a source for a Viking bead furnace, the basic principles involved in building a furnace/oven seem to be similar across a wide time period. The author of this video noted that most ancient cultures have some variant of this type of oven, and that there are pictures of this type of oven from the Middle Ages. As I noted in the write up from our last experiment, the excavations at Ribe don't give us much detail about what made up the bead furnaces (just that clay and grog was used), so we need to experiment  to see what proportions work best in our mixture.  Modern archaeologists do something similar when they look to people today that make beads using a more traditional clay furnace (Sode 2003).

We built the furnace using 2 parts sand, 1 part grog, and 1 part stoneware clay. Due to time constraints, we were not able to take the time to build it quite as high as we would have liked, so future attempts will likely be a bit taller. We added in notches in the side for the mandrel to rest on as in Volcano Dream article. We let it rest for 3 days to dry before firing.

Firing the Furnace
Working in the furnace.
Once we managed to get the fire to catch (which took a bit), the furnace quickly got up to a temperature where we were able to make two beads (using the 120 coe glass).

We also took a video of us making a bead with our furnace!

By the second attempt at making a bead, the coals had gotten very low in the furnace, and we would have needed to add more and wait a bit for them to get up to temperature, to continue. If we had added more coals, we likely could have made more beads. Unfortunately, it was close to 11 by this time, and we had to stop so we could let the furnace cool down and then go to bed!  Pennsic, due to scheduling constraints, may not be the best place for our experiments.

Bead made in the furnace.

Condition of the Furnace after Firing Some thin cracks did develop in the furnace by the end of our working session with it. However, we were pleased overall with how the furnace stood up. None of the cracks that developed seemed to go all the way through to the inside of the furnace, or were large enough to cause us to loose heat while working.

Note Since sand and grog function similarly, maybe we just want to use grog in the future? Sand was found at Ribe, but it was described only as being layered between workshop levels (possibly spread during the annual cleaning of the site) not as being mixed in with the workshop hearths themselves (Sode 2004). We have also just found a few modern books and online forums on pottery which state that at high temperatures the sand in a clay mixture will start to crack due to the "quartz inversion of silica" (Piepenburg 20).

Crack in the furnace after firing.

This is likely the last experiment we will conduct this year. At Pennsic I was able to talk to Tinker from the mid (who was one of the people I first saw doing these experiments) and and get the names of some interesting books, and other resources (including notes on her own experiments). Much reading will happen, and then we will have new experiments hopefully in the Spring.


--Bencard, Mogens. (n.d.) Viking Age Crafts in Ribe: A summary.   Translated by Michaela 
--Gibbion. Retrieved from:
--Giberson, D. (1995). The Volcano Dream. The Glass Art Society Journal. pp. 77-84.
--Piepensburg, R. (1996). The Spirit of Clay. Pebble Press

--Sode, (2003). Viking Age Glass Beads from Ribe, Denmark, In Light of the Ethnographic Research, In. Ian C. Glover, et. al. Ornaments from the Past, Bead Studies After Beck. London: Bead Study Trust
--Sode, Torben (2004). “Glass Bead Making Technology.” In Mogens Bencard, Aino Kann Rasmussen and Helge Brinch Madsen. Ribe Excavations 1970-76. vol 5. Jutland Archaeological Society.  p. 82-102.  Note, I also looked at vol. 4 from the Ribe Excavations. This volume covered specifically the research done on the stratography of the site (the layers of deposit that make up the site). 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Grave 50 Portway Andover

Below is a picture of a bead string (grave 50) from the  Portway Andover excavation report.  This is the third bead string I have recreated from that report, and I completed this project for the Artifacts of a Life event at the end of September.

Historic Glass Beads

This bead string, (which is interpreted as a bracelet) had 25 glass beads, 4 amber beads (which I recreated in amber colored glass), one fragmentary metal bead (which I did not replicate), and two Roman coins (small copper colored store bought medallions were used as a substitute).

My recreation
Thoughts on my recreation process

None of the beads on this string were very advanced, so technically, this was a relatively easy bead string for me to recreate. Any difficulties I had in recreating this bead string came about because some of the beads had uneven shapes or mistakes in their design, which I tried to replicate this time around as exactly as I could manage.

Replicating beads with specific mistakes actually takes me a good bit more time than replicating perfect beads of the same design, because I have to observe the historic bead a bit more closely to figure out how to make the same mistake found on the historic bead. It also takes the same amount of technical skill to replicate a specific mistake on a bead.

If I was talking with a newer bead maker who was interested in reproducing this bead string, I would encourage that person to attempt to make the beads as best they could, and not to worry about replicating a specific mistake. But, if they did make a mistake on a bead, I would tell that person to keep those beads with mistakes in the final project. In that way, I think a bead string would come to have the "feel" of the original, with its combination of beads with imperfections, and more perfectly executed beads.

Mistake Beads
To the right are examples of my "mistake" beads, beads which did not make it into the final bracelet. In most cases, this I rejected these beads because they did not match the extant necklace well enough, not because my overall technique was poor. I'll likely keep at least a few of these beads  to be given away later.  Some of the reasons these beads were rejected include
--wrong color: I was trying to mix my own transparent light brown for one of the beads, and it came out too dark
--wrong shape: I didn't notice that the documentation provided a better view of the bead until after I created it.
--wrong size: I made the bead a bit too big the first time
--wrong decoration pattern:  I included one too many or too few waves on a few of the beads, either by accident, or because I did not look closely enough at the historic bead the first time. In one case, I was also trying to replicate a bead with a very sloppy decorative technique, and gave it a few tries to see which one looked most like the period bead.
--large air bubbles in the bead: This is the one actual technique "mistake" that I made during this recreation project. I trapped several large air bubbles in one of the beads. This is a problem, because air bubbles increase the risk of bead breakage.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pennsic Recap

This Pennsic was a very A&S filled year!

1. A&S War Point
I never thought that I would get to participate in a war point, so I was very happy to have had the opportunity to be involved in this one! Happily the East/Mid won the A&S point, and I came in the top three artisans on the East/Mid side. A very good day and a great experience. I hope the war point happens again next year.

Article from the EK Gazette about the war point.

2. A&S Display

3. Artisan's Village
I participated in both the peace week and war week glass Artisan's Village again this year.

4. Classes
Of the 3 classes I taught, all seemed to go well. I taught Recreating Historic Beads as a Beginner for the second time this year. I fixed an issue from last year, where I had too many separate handouts, something with made the class a little disjointed. I reworked my handouts so I only had 3 this year, and the flow of the class felt better.

The class on Reproducing Glass Beads Using Archaeological Reports was an expansion of a previous class. I added in information about how to find these resources based on feedback from my peer, and it was exactly what the class needed, I think. The attendees seemed to find value in it, and I know at least two people who I talked to came because they were having research problems with a specific project they were doing.

The last class Recreating Anglo-Saxon Glass Beads was one I taught for the first time, and it was my first hands on class.  The 45 minute lecture at the start on Anglo-Saxon beads was well received, and made the class useful for those who were not able to secure one of the hands on spaces. It was nice to be able to use the research and documentation I conducted for A&S competitions to teach a class. However, I learned the most from teaching the hands on portion of the class 1) people of widely varying skill levels will attend this class. I had people who just learned to make a bead at Pennsic and people who were intermediate bead makers both in the class. I was prepared for varying skill levels, but I didn't think I'd get brand new bead makers in the class! 2) Get extra helpers or a co-teacher! There ended up being 8 set ups for people to use to make beads, which was more than I thought I would have. This was great, as more people could take the hands on part of the class, but it also meant that I had to help more people at the same time. Luckily, Erica was there and graciously agreed to help, as did another advanced glass bead maker who attended the class. 3) I think that next time I will choose just a few few beads (each of a different skill level) for people to reproduce, rather than letting them choose any bead from Brugmann's book to work on.  I will also demo those beads before letting people play. This way I can focus a bit more on teaching people how to really look at the bead, considering its shape, color, measurements, etc. before recreating it. I talked about this a bit during the lecture, but did not demo it.