Well, I've finally delivered around 4 kilos of plain, large, clear glass beads to Anna!
Every single one of the 700 beads was shaped in the flame one by one - if you haven't seen lampwork beads being created before, I made a little video to show you how its done.
The glass starts out as rods, made by Stourbridge glass manufacturer, Plowden & Thompson, which I melted in the flame and applied to 4mm wide stainless steel mandrels. I first dipped the end of each mandrel in a clay like substance which prevents the beads from permanently fusing to the steel. I used a graphite "bead roller" to help with the shaping, and then I placed the hot beads into a kiln to cool down very slowly. This slow cooling process (annealing) takes around 9 hours and is vital to ensure the beads are strong and stable and that they will last pretty much forever. (Thanks to Max Bristow for filming the video - apparently he's my favourite nephew!)
After cooling I removed the beads from the mandrels and cleaned out the powdery residue left in the holes by the separator substance, at the same time checking every bead for quality and integrity. Then the mandrels were ready to be re-dipped for the next session. I had originally planned to make 10 beads at a time, but as time slipped by there were a few long - usually late night - sessions when I'd manage to get around 50 beads in the kiln at a time.
So now its over to Anna, to finish her beaten shapes and assemble all the components at the school by the start of the September term. I just can't wait to see it!