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Glass Making Classes: Beads and More

Hands-On Workshops for All Levels in PA

Glass looks so peaceful and dainty to gaze at — but the process of glass making is a fiery and dangerous quest! During my recent tour of Touchstone Center for Crafts in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, we actually got to try our hand at making glass beads… with burning TORCHES! Let’s see what the process entailed.

First pick rods of glass.
Joy shows how to pick rods of glass.

An Expert Glass Making Instructor

Our instructor for the glass bead-making workshop at Touchstone was the famed Joy Knepp: a glass making expert who started her career as a K-12 art teacher! (As a middle school English teacher, myself, I love seeing the ways that educators’ passions expand into new ventures.) Joy has been a glass and jewelry creator for over 16 years now, and her level of skill is… well just look at this necklace she created, below.

One of Joy's completed glass bead necklaces.
One of Joy’s completed glass bead necklaces.

How to Make Glass Beads

Now on to the bead-making. Joy flipped on the fiery torches for us, explaining safety protocols and placing goggles over our faces. Then she showed us how to select wide rods of glass that would become the base of each bead. Below, Colin is demonstrating how to melt the rod, and then wrap it around the stick that creates the hole in the center of the glass bead. Dramatic!

Build the base of glass into a bead shape.
Building the base of glass into a bead shape.

Making the Bead Designs

Once you have the single-color base of the bead, you need to pick a set of skinny glass rods of various colors (modeled by me, below, whilst wearing a dress from my friend’s clothing company). You then melt those rods in the torch and dot or smear them along the bead. It’s trickier than it sounds, as the small rod sometimes gets stuck, and if you don’t turn the bead continuously, it starts to melt off the stick…

Add dots of color with these super-fine glass rods.
Add dots of color with these super-fine glass rods.

A Dream Glass Making Studio

Through this entire glass bead-making workshop, I marveled at how lucky we were to be in such a world-class studio (just as the blacksmithing workshop we toured at Touchstone knocked my socks off). Gaze, below, at how neat and deeply well-equipped this room is!

What a great glass making studio!
What a great glass making studio!

You NEED a Good Instructor for Glass Making

As a teacher, I’m used to being the one who’s guiding others. It was a lovely change, therefore, to have the shoe (or rather, glass slipper) be on the other foot in this glass making workshop — a realm in which I am very much the amateur. I got to experience the feeling of flailing (“Agh! My glass rod is dripping and also sticking to the bead and I can’t get it off!”) and then the relief of being expertly saved by Joy’s calm and knowledgeable guidance.

We MADE these glass beads?!
We MADE these glass beads?!

We MADE These Glass Beads?!

Checking out our completed beads, above, I can’t believe that a glass novice like me was able to create such beautiful works of art — and all in less than an hour! I’m not kidding when I say Touchstone’s crafting workshops are for ALL levels. My level in this field was decidedly “Zero” before walking through those doors.

Keep turning the rod so the bead stays round.
Keep turning the rod so the bead stays round.

More on Decorative Glass Art

Now, while I’d never made glass beads before this workshop, my passion for glass art has poured forth for years, now. If you’d like to slide down this rabbit-hole of crystalline color with me some more, do check out my giant round-up of glass art around the world, which includes such gems as the Chihuly glass museum in Seattle, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the stunning crafts gallery and glass paperweights in nearby Ligonier, PA.

Mush down the decorations if desired.
Tamping down the colored dots on the bead.

Glass Making Bead Love

One of the big takeaways from doing this glass bead-making workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts was that it’s worth it to stretch your comfort zone and try something that seems a little scary (aka, flaming torches and molten glass near your fingers). Even while I was making the beads, I was thinking, “I can’t do this. These will never turn out.” And yet… below, behold the glorious fruits of our (well-guided) efforts!

Our glass beads forming a happy stick figure saying thank you!
Our glass beads forming a happy stick figure saying thank you!

Thank you to Joy and Touchstone for making this experience possible, and I urge anyone in the southwestern PA area of the Laurel Highlands to check out their workshops. Oh, and if you like Joy’s beautiful beads, you can buy her work at her Etsy store, here. If you’re near Touchstone, make sure to also check out the stunning caves at Laurel Caverns, and grab a meal on the mountain-view porch of the Historic Summit Inn. Enjoy!

 

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Biana

Wednesday 25th of August 2021

Such amazing looking beads! I love how colorful they are.

Jeff Albom

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Those colours and designs are amazing. I never thought about how glass beads were made. It does look a bit tricky.

Lillie Marshall

Monday 23rd of August 2021

I never thought about how the beads were made before, either!

Fiona Maclean

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Your beads look fantastic! What a fun class to take part in!

Lillie Marshall

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Thanks, Fiona. I'm shocked they turned out so well!

Cosette

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Cool workshop! Your glass-beads turned out beautiful. Love the color combinations.

Lillie Marshall

Monday 23rd of August 2021

Thanks, Cosette!

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