Sorry, no, this isn’t going to be about birds. Instead it’s about my current obsession: feathered, also known as “raked”, beads. Okay, okay, it’s just one of my many obsessions but this one has been going on for a while.
It started early last year after I attended JC Herrell‘s Joy of Stringer workshop. Since then I go through periods of industriously practising putting straight lines around the “belly” of the bead. Sounds simple, no? But it’s a big pain, especially with thin stringers that are less than half a millimetre wide. I have more success with thicker (wider) stringers but I still struggle with very fine stringers because the thinner the stringer is, the less manageable it becomes.
Trying to find, and stay in, that sweet spot in the flame (actually, next to the flame) where the stringer just melts but doesn’t crumple into a big gloppy mess is difficult enough. Of course, the line should be straight, and perpendicular to the hole line—we want straight not wriggly lines. Then I set myself the task of placing three or more lines around the bead, preferably perfectly straight, evenly spaced and parallel to each other (ha!). My biggest problem lies in joining the line back onto itself. Ideally you shouldn’t see where the join is but I almost always end up with a blob. Grrr. I understand the theory: start with a taper, end with a taper, join the tapers seamlessly. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I started getting frustrated with making very many beads with crooked blobby lines. So I decided that I might as well try to improve my raking technique at the same time. Similar to cake decorating the idea is to use a tool to drag across the lines. The trick is that you have to drag just the surface of the glass where the lines lie, but somehow avoid dragging the glass underneath as well.
I used to use a special raking tool made of tungsten but I always ended up gouging a deep line in the bead resulting in badly shaped beads with ugly feathers. In retrospect, part of the problem was that I thought that the line had to be raked in one go. So I applied too much heat to the bead and when I inevitably started going too deep I would just continue regardless, rather desperately gouging my way deeper and deeper into the bead. I decided that the technique wasn’t for me and left it alone.
So, a couple of years later, here I was with my blobby, crooked lines. I figured I might as well try the rake thing again because at least it doesn’t matter so much if the lines are crooked, you’re going to mess around with them anyway.
I found out that you can make your own raking tool by pulling a point on a rod of clear glass (heat just the tip of the rod, grab and pull quickly with needle-nosed pliers, snap off about 1.5 cm from the end of the rod). This was a fantastic discovery because I can make my glass rake much, much finer than the tungsten tool. That was the big breakthrough!
After gently heating the spot where I want to rake the lines I use my glass rake to move only the very surface of the bead. Another ah-ha moment was figuring out that the line is better made in little steps. Heat. Rake. Heat. Rake. And I also realised that if I start to go too deep into the bead, then I should just STOP. Wait. Break off the rake, which by this time is probably somewhat buried and stuck to the bead. Then continue again: Heat. Rake. I usually have about 6 or 7 glass rakes ready before I start work on a bead. When one gets too blunt I just pick up the next one. After the bead is finished I re-pull any blunt rakes.
There’s something very “zen” about raking. I mean, melting glass and making beads is a pretty “zen” thing anyway. Glass has its own mind. I try to control it, but I feel that glass is the master of me, not the other way around. But what I notice with raking is that time just seems to stand still: there’s just the lines, the flame, and my glass rake. I suspect that I don’t charge enough for them for the amount of time that they take. But I have made a conscious decision not to time the process: I love the nothingness of it all. (“I am one with the glass” :-))
But I also love the final result, which is a happy coincidence. Too often the bead is fun to make, but looks like junk. But I just love the alternating points and the beautiful curve that is created, in cake and glass. I still have problems putting straight, parallel, evenly spaced lines around a bead, but I’m happy to have found a way to work with them.