Monday, April 20, 2015

Silver Crescent Medalion Glass Bead

The Silver Crescent bead was much more difficult for me to make than the Laurel or Maunch bead. The design, at least the one I found to be most successful, is not as straightforward and simple as the simple line drawing of the maunche or the raked dots that I used to make the laurel bead.

Below are some of the successful beads that I have made with this design. One will be mine, and two others will go to members of my households. As you can see, there is still some variability in their design, especially in the shape of the crown. However, I think i've gotten the basic trick of it. If I were to make a handful more, I think they would start to look a bit more alike with practice. Thanks go out to Carowyn for teaching me a method to make the crescent at the top. All of these were made using a bead pressed flat by a modern lentil shaped bead press.

First Attempt:
To make the crescent shape at the top I first tried something that Carowyn suggested, a "masked dot." This is a fun dot design that I had read about in modern glass bead making books. To make the masked dot I placed a white dot on the black background, and then I covered up half of the white dot with a black dot the same color as my background bead. This essentially "masks" part of the dot, forming a crescent shape. Looking back, I think I made the dot too large on my first attempt, which is why I assumed that this method would not work well, and why I went on to try a different way of making the crescent for a while. The huge crescent certainly did not leave me much room to play with the crown shape at the bottom!

To make the crown, I created a line of yellow using a thick stringer, and then I pulled the line up at three points. I did this by heating up just the line (keeping the base of the bead cool) and pulling on it with a piece of my stringer. If I keep the stringer cool, the cool stringer will pull the molten glass. This is a similar principle to what bead makers do to make raked dots. I did not have quite enough glass in the crown on this first attempt to rake the points up very far.

 Second Attempt:
For my second attempt, i tried placing a line of white glass and then dragging and pulling it into a a crescent shape. It sort of works here, so I decided to keep trying to see how much better I could make the crescent shape.

The crown on this attempt is better. A bit think, because I melted it into the base bead pretty far, but the shape is much better than my first try.

Other Attempts:
After trying to make the crescent by pulling the glass into shape several times, I figured out that this method is not going to work for me. It just doesn't look very good. 

The crown is working ok, and as I make more of these I realize that if I only melt the crown in a little bit, the shape stays crisper. The best example of this is the bead in the top of the left picture below. Over time I also started to add three dots on top of/but touching the yellow stringer line I make for the crown. I place these dots where I want the points of the crown will be. This gives me extra glass to use when I drag the points up to form the crown shape.

Final Attempts: 
Here, I went back to my initial idea of making the crescent using the "masked dots" technique. However, I created  a much smaller dot (top bead below) than I did at first. I  wass very happy with the results. I was even able to make the "masked dot" a bit bigger (bottom bead below) and still have enough room to form the crown on the bead.

I also decided here to add dots to the top of the crown (top bead below). I think this adds a little "something" to the shape of the crown.

Using this basic model I then made the three beads pictured at the start of this blot post. Overall, it took me about 10 attempts to figure out a method that worked for me!

Also, if you stumble upon this blog randomly, and want to know where you can purchase a silver crescent bead, another bead maker sells them here

Monday, April 13, 2015

Glass Laurel Medalions

A friend of mine recently got her Laurel, so I was inspired to try to make a laurel medallion bead for her. The one I gave her is the bead on the top.

The technique used is a basic bead decoration technique, but one that does require a good bit of practice to learn to do well/accurately. Basically, I placed two semi-circular rows of dots on each side of the bead and then raked down from the top center to the bottom center on each side. I placed the dots on a bead I had pressed flat with a lentil shaped bead press. When raking dots learning how close or far apart to place them is important. In general, the beads have to be closer together than you might think to achieve the desired effect.

It took me a few attempts to get it right. I'll try to find some of my other "draft" beads and go back and post pictures of those too. However, the one thing I realized after making the bottom bead, was that there should be fewer leaves on the inside of the laurel wreath than on the outside (taking a closer look at pictures online helped me figure this out!). You can see the bead on the top looks much less crowded. I placed a dot in the bottom middle of the top bead to make the area where each branch comes together look a  bit more neat, as it did not come out quite as evenly as it did in the bottom bead.

Update (4/16):  This is the only early attempt at the laurel bead that I could find. I think I discarded my earliest attempt or two at making these beads. The bead pictured below was made on the smallest size of my bead press, and the one issue I had with it was that there is not as much of a curve to the laurel leaves as is present in the beads above. To improve this bead I would have had to make the dots smaller I think, to allow for more of a curve in their placement.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Castle Bead

At K&Q's A&S someone asked if I would be able to make a castle bead for them, because we all need to have heraldic beads. I didn't know, so I tried!. Below is the bead I gave to the person who asked.

successful castle bead
In the interest of showing more of my process, below is my first draft attempt at making the castle bead. It looks mostly the same in overall shape, because the idea I had at the start seemed to work. Working off of the heraldry I was trying to imitate I made a cylinder bead, and then added glass onto the bottom and even more on to the top of the cylinder to make those parts stand out. I then squared the top with my parallel press because it seemed like it might look better and make the top stand out more (if i were to make a third bead I might try to make the whole beads square instead of just the top). Since I was not quite sure how to make the crenelations, I had to experiment with that a bit more. Could I indent the glass to make the crenelations, or would I have to add glass to make them. I hit on the idea of using large thick dots of glass, and I  put them at the corners (the bead was too small to make more crenelations than that). On my first attempt I was able to see that the idea would work, but needed to make a fresh bead because it was easier than trying to fix my draft after I figured out what I wanted to do.

castle bead, first try

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Mudthaw Artisans Row & Peerage Token Project

Demonstrating for a new beadmaker

 So Mudthaw's Artisan Row happened! 

Erica was lovely enough to stop by and ended up helping me quite a bit. She filled in when I was a bit late due to court, and when I needed to go get lunch. Demonstrating was a bit slow this time, due to overcrowding (i was in the very back), so i took some time to make tokens for Erica for her May-be event, and to teach/watch Erica make beads.

Erica wanted to learn how to make twisties, so I found myself teaching that skill for the first time. I took a few minutes before teaching her to make a few twisties myself so I could try to mentally break down the sequence of actions I use when making them, especially the timing of each action. She ended up doing a great job when she tried herself!  Teaching this skill has made me realize how much of the "timing" of this skill that I have internalized. To make a twistie you need to know how long to heat the glass, how long to wait after you pull it out of the fire before doing anything (waiting a little bit at this point is hugely important...if you don't wait, your twistie will end up too thin or uneven) and when to twist v.s. pull v.s wait a second for the glass to cool. I found myself talking to Erica as she was trying to make her first first twisty, guiding her through the timing, saying things like "wait," "twist," "pull," "twist faster," etc. Erica will need to practice to internalize this timing on her own, but hopefully going through this a few times with me will help her do that!

Erica Making a Bead

Mudthaw was also a very wonderful event because a good friend got her Laurel at the event. I was able to make tokens for her to give out to people who visited her during the day. It felt really wonderful to be able to participate in her ceremony in such a concrete way!

The design of the tokens was based on her heraldry. Because I was making 50 of them, I also tried to pick a design that would be easy to do! Seeing people wearing the tokens I made at the event was also cool!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The purpose of grave goods and the person behind grave 44.

The archeological report I'm using as my source gives information on the person burred
in each grave. It turns out that the person in grave 44 was a juvenile, a teenage girl between the ages of 12-14.

Photo of Grave 44
However, if you examine the necklace that I recreated, it seems to be a pretty big necklace for such a young girl. I have a slight frame, and when I put it on it seems much heavier than I would be comfortable wearing.

My point in saying this is that it seems a bit odd for a young girl to be wearing a necklace that big. This leads me to question what the grave goods placed in a burial really indicate. Were they actual possessions of the deceased, or were they offerings from loved ones? Did the necklace belong to the young girl, or was the necklace owned by someone else and gifted to the girl at her burial? And, if the necklace was not her necklace, why was this very large elaborate necklace given to her. What about her was so special? Was it her age (just on the cusp of adulthood--the idea of so much promise/potential wasted)? Or was it her status (was she the daughter of someone of significance)?

Clearly some research is needed. I will need to go back and read more of the analysis in the archeological report to learn more about the person behind grave 44, but, it also might help to do more research on Anglo-Saxon burial practice. What do academics and archeologists think the grave goods represented?

I have found a few sources I can mine for information on this topic. I looked at these sources earlier for information about beads, but I think I need to go back to them to learn more about Anglo-Saxon society and burial customs. This will help me to better understand the meaning and significance behind the beads found in this grave.
--The Spindle and the Spear: a critical inquiry into the construction and meaning of gender in the early Anglo-Saxon burial rite (book)

--Negotiating gender, family and status in Anglo-Saxon burial practices, c. 600-950 (article)
--The use of grave goods in Conversion Period England (book)

I also found a few other sources just now which could shed light on this issue
--From the Cradle to the Grave: age organization and the early anglo-saxon burial rite : According to the abstract this article discusses the idea that "real function of this system was to signal the position of members of the primary descent group within the households that made up the settlements of the early English."
--Grave Goods in Early Medieval Burials: messages and meanings : suggests numerous other motives and meanings behind grave goods, including "gift giving"

I have a lot of reading to do!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bead Perforations

One of the reasons I like using archeological reports as sources is because they provide much more information about the beads than a simple image from a museum does. In the case of the image below, we can see the size of the perforation for some of the beads. This picture is also at a 1 to 1 scale, which allows us to measure the size of the bead and the bead perforations accurately. As you can see, the size of the perforation varies, and this variation is what I want to talk about. Why are the perforation sizes so different on the same necklace. 
Now, the answer to this question could easily be because the beads were made by different workers who had different size mandrels, so, I suppose the real question is: are there any reasons why an artisan would prefer one size over the other.

The only real commentary I've seen in my research so far giving a reason behind the size of bead perforations was given in relation to transparent beads. I'd have to go back to find the source, but I think it may have been Birte Brugmann's book which mentioned this idea. I should go back to her book when I get home. But, the basic idea she talked about is this:
-the thinner the layer of transparent glass, the lighter the color of the bead. 
-building up a thick layer of transparent glass will result in a bead that has a comparatively darker color. 
-as a result, one way to keep a lighter color in a larger sized transparent bead would be to make that large bead with a large hole.

 There are only three monochrome transparent glass beads in this necklace (three melon shaped beads). The two beads whose hole sizes are shown do not seem to have an unusually large perforation sizes (between 2-3mm), so I'm not sure that was a considering factor here. Though with small number of monochrome transparent beads here, it is hard to say. I might have to look at larger sample sizes. The mandrel sizes on the transparent beads with decoration also seem to vary pretty widely (1-6 mm). This brings me to my next point.

Another very logical reason for using a mandrel with a larger size is that making beads with a larger hole would also mean that the artisan could make a larger bead using less glass. This idea would seem to make a lot of sense, especially as raw glass was a valuable resource in England, since it was most likely imported from abroad. It would make sense then to suspect that larger bead would regularly have larger perforations. But, in fact, this doesn't seem to be the case with regards to this necklace. While a few larger beads have large perforations (#34 for example) other large beads have small perforations. Bead number #23 for example, which is the largest glass bead on this necklace has a rather small perforation of 3mm or so.

So, in conclusion, while there might be some very good reasons for artisans to prefer larger mandrels over smaller ones, the size of the mandrels and the beads they produce seem rather random, a if most of the time mandrel size was not a serious consideration. 

When I am making my recreations, I will try to follow the size of the perforation listed for an historic bead, just to keep my recreation as accurately as possible. When I don't know the size of the perforation, I generally use larger mandrels for larger beads, so as not to use up as much glass, and so that it will take me less time to build up a larger bead. 

However, I do find the larger mandrels (4+mm) a bit heavy and unwieldy, and so I tend to use them only for the largest beads.  Did period artisans feel the same, not liking to use larger mandrels because they were less comfortable to use. Its hard to know, because so few tools survive. The one photo of a period mandrel (or what is thought to be one) that I have seen comes from the Ribe excavation (Scandinavia). It is 30 cm's long (almost 12 inches), but the tip where the bead would go is much smaller. The sizing on the image in the article makes it seem as if the tip would be about 3-4mm, while the rest of the mandrel would be twice that width, making it heavier, but perhaps more sturdy than if the entire mandrel were narrow. 

Overall, this mandrel seems as if it would be a heavier mandrel than the ones I like to use most.  But it is also likely that they were used differently, making their weight less of a factor for the comfort of the period bead maker. When I make beads I hold the mandrel in the air and spin it. But, perhaps period artisans were able to rest the mandrel on the side of a fire/kiln. I have read articles and watched videos where people do this when trying to recreate historic bead making methods.

Overall, with this blog entry, it feels like I've thought about this issue a bit and not come to any definite conclusions. That is slightly annoying, but, i'm also ok with it, because in a few of the articles I'm reading on experimental archeology, the authors also speak in terms of possibilities and conjecture, because it is almost impossible to know some things for sure: "however the question does not deal with "right" or wrong because we will never be able to verity or refute our theories" (Tine Gam). Basically, we can only do our best based on the archeological remains available to us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Portway Andover Necklace

Excavations at Portway, Andover, an Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, were carried out from 1973-1975.

Link to record of archeological report where the above picture was taken from.

My most recent project has been to recreate the outer necklace from the above image (grave 44). This necklace is being recreated for the Artifacts of a Life event in September
--These beads are almost all of a style that I have recreated already (as they are mostly all shown in Brugman's typology which I recreated as an earlier project). However, what makes this necklace significant is that the order it is strung in was preserved in the grave. This very rarely happens! As a result, studying this necklace can perhaps tell me something about Anglo-Saxon bead fashions and necklace styles, especially if I compare it to the other two Anglo-Saxon necklaces I have reconstructed so far.
---I also hope to use my knowledge of Anglo-Saxon beads and Brugman's Anglo-Saxon bead typology to date this necklace, and see if my dating of the necklace agrees with the dates from the report. Dating graves is one reason that archeologists develop typologies of objects.

The necklace from grave 44 has:
17 amber beads (which i will recreate using amber colored glass
25 shaped or polychrome beads
=Total 42 beads

I first came across this necklace as a pintrest image when I was doing a Google image search trying to come up with an idea for Artifacts of a Life. I was then able to track down the archeological report from the excavation using the information on the museum card about the item, and order the report on interlibrary loan, which gave me a LOT of information about the necklace, as well as a much better picture.

However, as Artifacts of a Life requires more than one object, I am also thinking of recreating the other two small bead strings pictured here (graves 19 and 50). These strings are much much simpler. If I am able to make progress of buildings period bead kiln, I may even be able to make at least the smallest string using a period fire source!The smallest necklace only requires a few colors of glass, and only has 20 beads, all monochrome. Normally, this would not be something I would not be interested in recreating (it is too simple to be interesting to me at this point)...but, it would be perfect to try with my period fire experiments, as I will be basically learning how to make beads anew using a different source of heat. I am very excited about this idea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'll try to post more about this necklace as I work on finishing it. It is actually almost complete, but I have some scribbled thoughts about my process and thoughts as I was working that woudl be nice to type up less formally in blog form, before including those thoughts in formal documentation. I have tended not to make process posts, but this is something I've been encouraged to try by a few people.