Flame Off

Organised by Totally Beads and Tuffnells Glass, Flame Off is the highlight of the lampwork lovers UK calender.

The Location

Hosted at Uttoexter Racecourse, well situated in the heart of England and easy to get to by car or public transport thanks to the train station within walking distance of the venue. It isn’t the most modern of facilities but they provide the show with four well sized areas and a dining area.

There is plenty of car parking but you do have a slight walk from the car to the entrance which can be a disadvantage when you are leaving with loads of goodies (though this year the venue were allowing cars to drive into the grounds for collections.) You could take a shopper trolley of your own to prevent having to go back to the car every so often.

Cash Machine, yes there is one on site but it does charge you for the privilege, some of the vendors do cashback when you bought something but tesco and free cash machines were a short drive away.

First Hall

flame off traders stalls oneAs you enter the show the dining area is immediately in front of you, this is run by the racecourse themselves and does have a nice selection. I did enquire about allergens and they are happy to help if you have certain allergies but they also don’t mind anyone sitting with their own food as it isn’t always possible to cater for everyone’s needs. There was certainly plenty on offer though but as I am one of those full of allergy types I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the food. (Actually I barely got a chance to sample the food I bought with me either, I was on the go so much.)

To the right of the dining area is the first of the stalls, a few lampworkers, some fusing and a selection of suppliers this was an area I didn’t get into much (as I was in the other hall) but it was easy to move around and I managed to get what I wanted and say hello to a few people.

Second/Third Hall

flame off traders twoIf you go through the doors at the end of the first hall you come to an open space where you can access the upstairs and demo space if you have an access all areas ticket ahead is a door leading to the second and third hall.

The second hall was host to more stalls, a couple of general beading stalls, more lampworkers, a few supplies and the demo artists stalls were here to so those on buyer only tickets could browse their items as well.

The third hall runs on from the second and is where you find Tuffnells and the benches to have a go on the torches. The torches were only open to those that purchased an access all areas ticket but they could get really crowded after demos as people wanted to try out the techniques they had just seen. The artists also took to the benches as people found they had questions which always prompted a little gathering.

flame off torch benchesMost of the benches were set up for soft glass though there was a boro only bench for those that prefer to work on the dark side. Glenn spent a lot of time coming back here and showing off a few different things.

Marshals were on hand to light torches and ensure everyone was practising safe lampworking, they were also on hand for those having a go at lampwork for the first time guiding them through making their first bead. Tins of annealing bubbles meant that after half an hour your beads were ready to take out and remove from the mandrels so you could take them home.

I would have liked a go on the Bethlehem Champion (or even the bravo) but as there was only one of each of these torches I didn’t get a chance. (maybe next year) Though I suppose it may have been a good thing as I might have had to buy one if I had got a go on it.

Beyond that was a door to the outside where Mini Melt had the furnace going and you could have a go at blowing glass yourself to make a bauble. (something I did a couple of years ago and loved, my son enjoyed it the previous year too.) You could choose your own colours and blow it yourself with the guidance of Ann and Josh, they went in the kiln Friday for collection on the Saturday.

The Demo Hall

flame off 2015 glenn godden demoLast year all the demoing artists also had their tables up here but not having them there allowed for more seating and made the hall a lot quieter so you could hear everything going on in the demo. Lewis does a super job following the demos with the video camera to project to the screen for those further back to be able to see. I got lucky this year and for the one demo I did see (Glenn doing silver fuming) I got a front row seat.

Overall Atmosphere

One of the reasons I love flame off is the atmosphere. Everyone is there for the same reasons, to enjoy the glass. This year I even witnessed partners attempting the torch for the first time so that was a huge credit to the atmosphere of the show and the fantastic marshals on the torches making it accessible to those that weren’t really sure.

Everyone is always really friendly and helpful and it’s always brilliant meeting up with familiar faces as well as meeting new people.

Comparing it to last year it certainly seemed like there was a lot more people and because of the buyer only tickets there were also people coming in just to buy beads. Loosing the Sunday bead fair was sad because it meant we didn’t have that extra day but it certainly worked better.

The show really is a must if you love lampwork, either making it or using it, just make sure you keep an eye on your budget, you can easily go over, with all the wonderful glass, tools and lovely, lovely beads.

List of Traders at Flame Off

List is in order they appeared at the show.

Tuffy vs Fusion Revisited

Back in March I wrote about my first experiences with Tuffy bead release compared to Fusion.
Since then I have exclusively been using Tuffy, I use it in presses and rollers with no issues.
At the weekend I went up to the Tuffnells studio as part of the GBUK AGM. Through the Friday and Saturday after the meeting we were playing on the torches, making beads. One thing I really wanted to do was try out a new larger lentil press. Teresa hunted the press out for me and I grabbed a mandrel ready to go.

Now because most people are used to fusion, the mandrels in the studio were all pre-prepped with fusion. The lentil I was trying out was also huge (45mm) on my first attempt the bead release broke, I was able to rescue it and make a smaller lentil though. Second attempt, the bead release broke again. I know I haven’t had a whole lot of time in my own studio over the past couple of months but I couldn’t have lost my touch for making beads just like that.
When a third attempt went into the water pot, there was only one thing left to try, I asked Teresa for some Tuffy. After mixing up a batch I had another go and first time a perfect lentil. I was rather happy with that, I loved the press and wasn’t going to accept it didn’t work for me.

Now I wouldn’t completely give up on fusion, I did use it for some other beads through the weekend with success but it really does go to show that it isn’t so much about the release as much as what you are used to. After all I did use fusion for a rather long time before Tuffy became available. The biggest thing I can take from this is that over time between the two there really isn’t a lot of difference in using them. If you have struggled with one the first few times, don’t give up on it and stash it away until it’s all dried up.

Making the Garden Series

One of my favourite beads to make.
This video shows some of the different aspects that go into making one of my garden series beads.

Tuffy vs Fusion

tuffyOther than Guinness there aren’t many things that I have seen Martin Tuffnell excited about, but when he found a bead release that was Crystalline silica free (nasty stuff) and could be shipped in powdered form, you could see the little bounce.
Not only was this new bead release classified as non toxic it was pegged to be better than Fusion, the brand we were currently using.

I had to put this one through its paces. Firstly I had to mix it up, 200g powder to 170ml water into a jam jar and give it a shake. I treated it a little like baking adding the water slowly and stirring it in with an old mandrel bent up at the end. Once all the water was added I put the lid on the jar and gave it a really good shake. At first I thought it was far to thin and was going to question the ratio of water to powder, but I left it overnight and gave it another shake in the morning before dipping the mandrels.

I’ve used fusion for 5 years and never had any real problems with it. I have made a variety of beads with Tuffy to test how it works for me and I have made two (nearly) identical beads as a side by side comparison. They are nearly identical as I needed to be able to tell which bead was which.

On consistency

Fusion has always been smooth for me, though I have seen some lumpy batches. Tuffy does have a slightly grainy texture.
Lumps in Fusion cause dents in the bead hole that you can never seem to get all of the bead release out of. As Tuffy comes away from the glass easier it does mean that the texture falls away with it. There was a concern raised about it leaving the bead hole bobbily but after cleaning the hole inside the bead appears as smooth as it does with Fusion.

On pressing/rolling

Bead release occasionally breaks when it is knocked on a tool. This is a problem with most bead releases though there are brands that hold up better than others if they are knocked about.
I don’t often break my bead release but when it happens it can be the end of a beautiful bead. (because if it’s going to break it only does it on the good ones.) When fusion has broken during pressing I have found it generally cracks all the way to the glass and will stick to the bead. I hit the Tuffy on the side of a press while I was making a bead to force it to break on a test bead. It came away from the mandrel cleanly and easily but instead of cracking all the way to the bead I was making, only a small amount came away where I had hit it. It also didn’t stick to the bead which meant I could finish the bead quite happily with plenty of bead release still on the mandrel and none of it stuck to my bead.

Removing the bead from the mandrel

beadholesI’ve never been able to remove a bead from the mandrel without pliers to hold the mandrel. I still can’t but Tuffy required less grip to remove the bead than Fusion. I also didn’t end up with loads of release still on the mandrel. I could wipe the mandrel down with a dry cloth and re-dip it to start again with Tuffy. Fusion has always required me to wash the mandrel and dry it before the next use.

On cleaning

This is probably the ultimate test for me. I use a manual reamer, no dremels or battery operated reamers here. This is where my side by side test bead really came in I used a clear glass base so it was possible to see the difference. Both beads had exactly the same amount of cleaning.
When removed from the mandrel without any other cleaning the Tuffy left far less residue in the bead hole. After a rinse with water not much changed on both the Fusion and the Tuffy beads.
comparingAfter a short clean the Tuffy was winning out over the Fusion, though after a full clean the difference isn’t overly obvious. But this was both beads cleaned to how I normally clean fusion. Which is submerged in water and a lot of elbow grease behind the reamer.
With some other beads I cleaned them by running them under the tap and used the reamer a little less vigorously and I achieved the same result as I would have scrubbing at it under water.

Final thoughts

For me Tuffy is now my bead release of choice. Being Crystalline silica free and non toxic is a benefit enough. Also even the strictest cleaning of bead holes isn’t going to remove every trace of bead release, every time. I had no trouble with it in a press, roller or normal general use. I tried it both air dry and flame dry with no problems and I found it easier to clean.
Other benefits include it being thinner than Fusion so the bead hole size is closer to the mandrel size. I also noted that the clear glass in the comparison test seemed clearer around the Tuffy than the Fusion. The glass came from the same rod and I made the Tuffy bead first so that difference isn’t down to scum near the cut in the glass.
If you are a heavy press/roller user and are searching for a stronger bead release you are probably not going to fall in love with this one. But Fusion is your your first choice for bead release I strongly suggest trying Tuffy, as lampworkers we are around this stuff every day and the health benefit is a major factor.
Oh and I didn’t mention it’s cheaper, because you aren’t paying for the extra weight of a tub and some water thats £5.50 you can spend on more glass. That’s a whole half a kilo of clear! Or if you don’t need glass as well you will save on shipping. Once mixed it fills a jam jar which is also larger than a Pot of Fusion.

Where to buy Tuffy

First Experience: Lampwork

My first taste of lampwork was certainly interesting. I wanted to be able to make beads and I got talking to a few US lampwork artists after a disaster in trying to use polymer clay. I met Martin Tuffnell at a local bead fair and he explained the hot head torch to me. It seemed like the perfect way to try it out, I did need to convince my husband though (let the lady have a flame thrower.)

The Starter Kit

Making Beads

  • Hot head torch
  • Bead release
  • Mandrels
  • 1 kilo mixed glass

I also needed to buy MAPP gas and some Vermiculite to slowly cool the beads, both bought from the hardware store.

What it was like

My first attempt and to be honest I was a little scared. I had to ignite the gas coming out from this torch. (note: we don’t have mains gas, I have never put a match near gas.) I asked my husband to supervise/help if I needed it.
It took a few attempts but I finally got the torch lit. I had at least had the foresight to have dipped the mandrels in the bead release earlier that day.

It was time to make a bead I grabbed a rather random rod of glass from the bundle and tried melting it, all the while glancing over at the written instructions that accompanied my kit.  The glass was melting, I had managed to get some of it on the mandrel (though as I noticed afterwards I had broken the bead release) There was a rather wonky lump of glass attached to a stick in my hand, I was doing it.

I was laughing, the feeling of making this first bead was one of the best feelings I have ever had related to a craft. I did as the instructions said and turned the mandrel slowly and use gravity to round out the shape, it became more rounded. This was it I had a bead and, at that time, it looked amazing. It was actually still slightly wonky but it didn’t matter, I had made it.

Is lampwork something you have ever wanted to have a go at?

What it costs to make a bead

Let’s talk about lampwork beads and their cost. All of my beads are handmade, same with my findings for jewellery making, but that’s another story.
lampwork glass beadLets use this bead as an example, a decorated focal bead. Before I make this style of bead there is a certain amount of prep work first. Stringers, Murrini and Shards need to be prepared a base bead is then made, using a press and it is decorated with frit, then a shard, the stringers are added and finally the murrini. All told it takes me roughly an hour to make the bead. Typically a bead like this would retail at around £18

But what does it cost to make a bead like this?

Initial set up

I started out with a hot head single fuel torch it was a Christmas present, after much begging, from my husband. The kit he bought me had the torch, a kilo of glass, a bead reamer, mandrels and bead release and it cost around £60. With that I still couldn’t make beads as I needed propane to fuel the torch, at first I started with bottles of MAPP gas (£14 and lasted 2-3 hours) before buying a bulk fuel kit for £40 and a large bottle of propane for £28 which lasts me around 5 months. I also needed specialist glasses that protect my eyes from the UV rays and the sodium flare given off by the torch a cheap pair costs £40.

I then upgraded my torch to a basic duel fuel setup. (£175 for the torch and £235 for the oxygen generator)

Now I use an upgraded set up with two oxygen generators and a Nortel mid range plus (£325.)

Glass

That first kilo didn’t last long, I used it up learning how to make beads. glass rods cost anywhere from £3 a quarter kilo up to in excess of £30 a quater kilo. a quarter is generally about 10 rods of glass and I will use a rod to make a set of 5 beads on average.
Under the heading of glass there is also frit (crushed glass) and murrine (patterened rods of glass cut into small chips rather like a stick of rock.) Once set up glass is the largest contributor to cost, it gets used quickly not just for stock but also to test ideas to continue to bring out new designs, of course not everything works and a few beads usually end up in the bin.

Kiln

An essential part of glass work. While I could happily learn to make beads without a kiln cooling the beads slowly in vermiculite they were prone to stress. all beads have to be annealed in a kiln to remove these stresses. I was lucky enough to be able to get a second hand kiln for £200 from someone that was upgrading to a larger one.
After a year with the small kiln I was able to upgrade to a larger one that cost around £600

Tools

Most of my beads are made using tools in one form or another. I wouldn’t be without my marver top on my torch and my selection of ‘proddy’ and ‘pokey’ tools for moving the glass. I also have beadrollers and presses for more complicated shapes and as guides for making even beads for sets. Tools range from £5 to £80, though there are some that are around £150 upwards.

Workshop

A space to call my own, thankfully my father in law built my studio space so costs were low there, I needed a bench to work at and shelving and storage for all my tools, books and glass. I also needed ventilation for health and safety reasons. On top of those things I had electric wired into the studio to run the kiln and oxygen generator and lighting so I could see what I was doing.

Books and Classes

I am mostly self taught, mostly through trial and error and books. I have a small library of books and magazines in my collection. After 5 years I did begin taking classes to expand my skill set. Books are priced much like any other reference material, the lampworkers ‘bible’ retails for around £60-70. Classes are priced anywhere from £25 to £300 upwards, dependent on how long the class is and who is teaching it.

I’ve bought everything I own over a time, expanding my studio when I have had extra revenue to make the purchases.

As well as all of that there is the time I have invested learning and developing my craft, Typically around 10 hours a week is spent at the torch since 2006.

Learning Tri-Quad Stitch

examples of tri-quad stitchLearning new skills and developing them is one of the most enjoyable parts of the creative process, closely related to the elation of a successfully completed project.
One of the things I wanted to do this year was develop my head weaving skills beyond peyote and herringbone stitch, while there is an awful lot you can do with those stitches after a while you do want to try something a little different.

While I was learning how to use Google+ (another learning curve for the year.) I happened to find a few beadweavers and I stumbled upon a lovely piece. I was also pleased to find that the artist behind the piece kept a blog and had a tutorial for the very stitch used in the design.

Tri-quad stitch by Eyekandy Creations

I like to make small samples of stitches and keep them for future reference with the instructions. The photo shows me making the first test. I had decided to use up some size 11 seed beads from my last project and picked out a few 4mm glass pearls for the dangles. My beading thread is fireline and a size 12 beading needle.
The instructions were very clear and the very handy hint of three up two down meant I didn’t have to look back at the instructions every time I started a new round. As you can see from the photos the first section turned out pretty well and then I had to add the larger beads in.
On the first one I had to un-thread the beads and go back because I had one to many beads over the top of the larger bead which made it a little slack. The tutorial mentioned you may have to decrease or increase the number of beads at that point dependant on the size of beads you were using.
I got to the end of the test piece with no problems. It did look to me that the tension was a little slack so I threaded back through the whole piece rather than just enough to secure the thread to tighten it up a bit. (I did make a little mistake when I was threading back through and bunched up the beads on the very end.)

tri-quad beadweaving finished sampleI did still think it still didn’t look right, either because of my tension or it was because I had used fireline which is a more rigid thread than nymo or ko so I made another test piece using nymo thread (which personally I’m not keen on but I wanted to see what difference it would make.
The result, I think the stitch certainly looks better. It’s more fluid, I can’t curve the one on fireline like this one as you can see in the picture and I am a lot happier with it, though if I was making a full piece I would favour the similar ko thread over nymo because the fibres don’t part as easily.
Working the stitch for the second time as well made me realise how well the instructions had sunk in. I was always checking with the first test piece. But once I had got to the first pearl second time around I didn’t need to check the instructions at all. I was also a lot more careful retracing the thread path to secure the stitch.

So there we have a new stitch. What do you think of it? and if you would like to have a go don’t forget to check out EyeKandy’s Blog.