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.

Bead Swap Beads

One of my favourite things from flame off is the bead swap. I love seeing what surprises come out of the magic bag.

Each day you put one bead labelled with your name in the bag and you get a raffle ticket.

Towards the end of the day you come back, present your ticket and grab a bead.

two lampwork lentil beadsDay one I got a lovely silver glass tornado bead made by Teresa from Tuffnells glass.
Day two and I must have had a bit of a theme going as it was another gorgeous tornado. Unfortunately it wasn’t labelled and I can’t remember her name but when she asked which bead she should put in the swap I said it should be that one so I’m thrilled to have got it.

I’ve amassed quite a collection purely down to swaps, all from a range of people. Beads from their first year lampworking up to signature beads from well known names, It’s also great when you get one from someone a few years later and see the differences in how their style has changed or how newer lampworkers have improved.

Because of my change of direction in lampwork I went with putting in two of my garden beads which was the same as last year but different people got them. Next year I hope I’ll be putting in some shiny and technically correct boro work. (though they won’t actually be beads.)

These beads are off to my wall of fame now (a little display in my studio), they keep me inspired and it’s nice to be able to just look at them and occasionally stroke them.

My Love Affair with Boro

It was pretty much a year ago that I was saying I would never touch the stuff, anything is possible in soft glass, I don’t need boro.

I had to rethink that statement a few months later when a project actually did call for boro. I bought some to do the project and a little to play with. My first thoughts when it came to using it were at least positive.

This past year I know I haven’t had the studio time I have been used to and that should be taken into account but all of my soft glass never seem to work exactly as I intend them (more recently I have been better at making frit than beads.) But when I pick up the boro it flows, I feel like the glass is working with me and I have a lot more freedom when I am working. Soft glass now feels like a chore more than an artistic pleasure.

wpid-wp-1424116259727.jpeg Now I will never totally give up on the soft glass, it’s nice to have the option to be able to change but I will be working with boro a lot more. I was in the studio this week just having a play and made a few little pendants just for fun and was really pleased with how they came out, the little wiggle pendant is perhaps my favourite as it was a good exercise in how the boro works differently in the flame. The heart and leaf I made in exactly the same way as I would do them in soft glass and the heart has more depth to it and the leaf has retained much more of the detail. The simplistic and most pleasing part about all these pendants for me though are the loops. I have never managed loops with consistency so I have either opted for a spacer as a loop or using special pliers to cut a hole to use as a hanging in the design.

I also had a go at making a vessel, something I rather enjoyed in soft glass but could never “beat the heat” to add much decoration to it. I never got round to adding decoration to the test piece but I got a good shape and an even wall on the first attempt so it was a success.

Lampwork Termanology

Annealing: The most important part of the process after making the beads. Glass is very susceptible to thermal shock and needs to be cooled slowly to remove any stress in the glass that may cause it to break. Annealing is done in a kiln and beads go from the torch flame into a pre-heated kiln. Some borosilicate work and small soft glass beads can be batch annealed (placed in a cool kiln, bought up to annealing temperature.) Once annealing temperature has been held for enough time (this varies on the type of glass and size of the piece) the kiln is then slowly ramped down to a safe temperature.

Bead Release: A clay substance that mandrels are dipped in before making beads on them. This stops the glass fusing to the metal rod so it can be removed. Dried bead release can be harmful if inhaled so it is fully cleaned from the beads before being offered for sale.

Big Hole Beads (BHB): The common name for a bead made on a mandrel that is 4mm in thickness or greater (the most popular being 5mm) these are the beads that fit add a bead charm bracelets such as Pandora.

Cabochon: These can be made on or off mandrel typically they don’t have holes and are used for setting or wrapping. Artists with good off mandrel control will often make cabochon on the end of a rod of glass, ones made on mandrel are easier to control and shape, they will have a slight indention in the back. Some cabochon are made from beads that have split and are melted down in the kiln.

Encasing: Sometimes called casing this technique is often done with clear glass over a decorated bead. A bead is made and then the lampworker adds a layer of clear glass to the bead in order to magnify the decoration. This however isn’t limited to clear glass on decorated beads. Encasing is the complete covering of any colour over another, it is not often a lampworker will cover an opaque colour with another opaque colour unless they are using a smaller internal bead to make a larger bead from a more expensive or rare colour. Encasing is also done with coloured transparent glass over opaque glass or another transparent glass to make a new colour that is not available. Fuchsia pink is a very difficult colour for the manufacturers to pull though can be achieve by encasing one colour over another.
One thing to remember about encasing is that it should not distort the internal colour or decoration (unless that was the intention of the artist) it should also not contain to many bubbles caused by trapped air when applying the glass. Large bubbles cause stress in the glass that isn’t removed by annealing.

Gravity: The biggest technique in the lampworkers arsenal, gravity is use to hand shape beads and manipulate the glass without the use of tools. Gravity is the control of the glass when heat is applied to it, basic physics takes over where molten glass is concerned and it will shape downwards, tilting the mandrel and holding the bead in different directions will change the lowest point of the beads and gravity will pull the molten glass downwards.
Gravity shaping can be use to make all sorts of bead shapes and is used a lot in making sculptural beads. Gravity can also be used to pull different colours of glass applied to the bead to create a gravity swirl bead.

Layering: Similar to encasing in that it is the application of one glass on another however layering doesn’t cover the entire bead. Layering is used to create stacks of colour on a bead, to make the colours that can only be achieved by certain combinations of colour in certain places on the bead (such as a central band) or to create reactions. A common reaction is turquoise and ivory, when layered the elements used to create the separate colours react and cause a third colour (a stippled brown) to form around the edges of the layered colour,

Marvering: Marvers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, every studio usually has a flat marver which is used to keep bead ends in check, flatten areas on the bead for shape and for holding things that you want to add to a bead for decoration.
Marvers also come with cavities that a bead can be rolled in to achieve uniform shape these are often called bead rollers the shape is symmetrical and hot glass is rolled in it so it takes on the shape of the cavity. This is a technique taken directly from glass blowing techniques but modernised and adapted for direct use in bead making.
Because of the rapid cooling of the glass when it comes into contact with a marver (or any other tool) chill marks are formed on the bead which present themselves as little circles almost like the rings inside a tree trunk these are removed by the lampworker after shaping by fire polishing the glass in the flame.

Mashing: Similar to marvering but done on both sides of the bead at the same time, A bead is shaped as normal and then mashed in a masher tool to create a flatter bead. These technique broadens the range of bead shapes a lampworker can make with one simple tool. There are of course many typed of masher, some are curved rather than flat to preserve some shape on the top and bottom of the bead. The use of the tool on the bead does create chill marks that have to be fire polished off by the lampworker.

Mixing: Mixing glass rods together creates another range of colours not achieved by layering or encasing. Two rods are melted and mixed together to form either a solid colour or an effective glass with multiple bands of colour. The mixed ball of glass is then pulled into a new cane to be used in a bead.

Off Mandrel: This type of lampworking is generally used for sculpted glass works and things like marbles. many off mandrel pieces have a glass loop added to the design for hanging the piece on a chain or pendant.

On Mandrel: Beads made on a mandrel are the ones with holes, you will often see in a lampwork listing the size of mandrel used which is directly related to the size of the hole.

Pressed: Presses are a mixture between a marver and a mashing tool, pressed bead shapes aren’t perfectly symmetrical all the way around the bead so not possible with just a marver but a press features a top and bottom component that fit together to help mould the glass to the shape, resulting in uniform beads for sets and another dimension of bead shapes. While the top and the bottom must meet together correctly the cavities on each side of the bead can be different some presses come with extra recess’ or relief decoration so one side of the bead has a different look to it from the other. Some are flat backed while the top is domed making the shape easier for use in designs such as bracelets or pendants. Pressed beads are prone to chill marks just like marvered and mashed beads.

SRA: Very often you will see this acronym on an artists bead listings. SRA stands for Self Representing Artist. An SRA artist has been approved as only selling beads that they have made themselves so you know you are buying from an artist and not mass produced beads. Each SRA artist has a number that can be checked on the SRA website.

Striking: Some glass behaves differently after it has been put to the flame, striking glass only takes on it’s true colour after being shaped and cooled then flashed through the flame to warm it and promote the reaction. Heating the glass to near molten keeps or returns the glass to it’s original state but the quick flashes of heat make the reaction possible.

Reducing: This technique is done by changing the way the flame behaves by reducing the flow of oxygen to the flame it changes how the glass behaves and brings the metal content of the glass to the surface of the bead, the higher the metal content the more of a metallic sheen the glass develops. Some glass has very little or no metallic content so does not reduce.

Raking: Raking a bead involves spot heating a point on the bead and using a tool or stringer to then drag the area of molten glass to move the colours or create an effect on the bead shape. A variation of raking is swirling where instead of dragging a stringer is used to twist the heated area and create a swirl.

Different Types of Glass

Let me introduce you to some of the different types of glass and their manufactures that are commonly used in lampworking;

Borosilicate (33coe) – Borosilicate is a ‘hard glass’ it is also known as Pyrex, it has a high melting temperature and requires a dual fuel torch with a high flow of oxygen. Clear borosilicate is known for its clarity, though the colours are incomparable to any other glass in the soft glass range. Most of the borosilicate colours are natural shades but when placed in a light source the glass shows an amazing array of colours. There are many manufacturers of Borosilicate glass.

Simex produce clear glass and tubing more commonly used in scientific glass.
Northstar, Momka and Tag are the most commonly known coloured rod manufacturers.

Blowing Glass (90-96coe) – While some lampworkers do use this type of glass it is more common in glass blowing (furnace work) and for kiln worked glass. The colour pigment in this type of glass is stronger than 104 glass making it more suited for blowing and keeping it’s colour. It is because of this property though that lampworkers will use it as frit on their beads.

Gaffer and Reichenbach are common manufacturers of blowing glass

Soda Lime Glass (104 coe) – Soda lime glass is the most common glass for bead making. A wide variety of colours are available from a whole host of companies the most common of which are;

Creation is Messy (CiM) an American company that wanted to expand on the 104coe soft glass range and add more tone to the colour pallet. While the company is owned and run by an American family their production factory is in China.
Double Helix located in the Pacific Northwest, Double helix Glassworks are known for their highly reactive silver loaded glass. Compatible with all other 104coe glass but, dependant on what it is used with, produces many different types of reactions. Double Helix colours can be quite hard to get to work in their intended way and do produce a wide variety of colours when correctly worked.
Effetre an Italian brand of COE 104 glass, Effetre are the most commonly used brand of glass in lampworking. They supply a large range of standard colours as well as many special colours. Manufactured on the famous bead-making island of Murano. Effetre is also known as Morreti glass.
Reichenbach a German company producing 104coe and 96coe glass best know for Iris Orange (also known as Raku) their other reactive glasses such as magic, multi colour and their mystics range. Though their 104 range is a lot more limited than their range of 96coe glass.
Vetrofond another Italian brand of 104coe soft glass, their clear glass has been regarded the best clear for encasing. They also release their highly coveted odd lots (usually mixed batches of glass pulled into one rod, or colours that haven’t mixed properly and not resulted in the desired colour.)
Lauscha, Kulgar and Striking Colour are all other brands of soda lime glass.

Sometimes different brands with the same coe do produce compatibility issues, part of the artists job is to identify colours that don’t work together as well as those that do.

First Experience: Borosilicate Glass

boroFully armed with a selection of glass and a host of notes, my first studio session with borosilicate was an interesting one.

Truthfully I was expecting something a world away from what I was used to…..

One thing about my torching style is I like to work hot in some respects with soft glass it’s more of a hindrance than a benefit. But with boro the flame seemed perfect for it.

My first test in boro was small cabachons,  one thing it felt like it seemed to take twice as long than what I was used to from making the same designs in soft glass, actually it did take longer, but after checking the clock it wasn’t as long as I thought.

I did find transferring the glass between rods easier. When I use punties with soft glass I do seem to stick them onto the piece I am working on rather than a temporary connection.

So with a few successful test pieces in the kiln I attempted to play with a few other things.

I tried tubing, attempting to blow a bauble (I have had various unsuccessful attempts with soft glass tubing) While the resulting “wonky bubble” wasn’t what I wanted it to be it was still intact and the wall of the bubble was fairly uniform. I have decided to shelve tubing for a later date, perhaps when I have learnt more on heat control of the solid rods.

Next on the list to try was a marble. This is another thing that while I can produce them in soft glass, thermal shock kicks in before I can finish it. Much easier and surprisingly making a marble was faster in boro than soft glass. This was probably down to finding it much easier to shape the boro in the marble mould. The result wasn’t a pretty marble, but it was, at least, characteristically a marble

Finally a little stretching and manipulating the glass to form shapes. Nothing came of this really it was just an exercise in heat control.

Overall I was left wondering why I had refused to work in the glass for so long. A lot of projects that I have sitting on the shelf would be completed a lot easier if done in this glass.

Differences in the end? So far not as much as I would have thought. Colours are more sensitive, but they produce a much nicer range. It also takes more work to attach two pieces of glass together. Other than that, this totally alien glass isn’t as strange as I perceived. I’m going to look forward to making more with it.

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?