i can see clearly now

Double Helix Zephyr glassOne of the perks of taking a class in an actual beadmaking studio was that I got to do some shopping while I was there! I’d completely run out of clear glass, so I wasn’t hopeful about doing any encased focal beads for the trunk show. But I managed to pick some up over the weekend, so we’re in business.

For many beadmakers, the search for the ‘perfect’ clear glass is frustrating. There are many options out there, some better than others. The problem with clear glass is that if there is a flaw or scratch within the glass rod itself, it shows itself in the beautiful clear casing that you’ve worked so hard on. That sucks. Nasty bubbles, ‘scum’, generally gross looking problems, all can ruin a beautiful bead. If you order plain old Effetre clear, that’s likely what you’ll get. The next step up is Effetre ‘Super Clear’. I’ve recently tried some, and I can’t say that I was all that wowed with it. Compared to the amazing clear I now use exclusively, it’s not that impressive.

We’re lucky that there are many more options in glass now than there were 10 years ago. Now, there is an amazing clear glass made by Double Helix, an American glassmaking company. I swear that their clear glass, Zephyr, will change your life. If you’re – ahem – willing to pay about $44 CDN a pound (compared to $12 for Effetre Super Clear). I’ll admit I was skeptical about this ‘magical’, frighteningly expensive clear glass, but after trying it out, I wouldn’t even consider using any other clear. It’s that good. Aside from the fact that it really is crystal clear without any scum or bubbling (hence no tedious stripping of your molten rod before you can apply a gather to your bead) – it melts like BUTTER, so encasing a bead is much, much faster. It’s just so easy to use. To me, it’s totally worth the steep price tag because it makes things stress-free and efficient, and my encasing always looks beautiful. I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m sure it’s made from Unicorn tears.

If you make the switch to Zephyr but still have a bunch of crummy clear glass you need to use up, there are a bunch of things you can do with it. The easiest might be to use it as the core of a bead that you’re going to cover with an opaque color – which has the added bonus of sparing your more expensive glass. If you’re going to etch a bead made with clear glass, I don’t think the imperfections will matter much. Here’s one other thing you can try: some say that pickling your clear glass does help, and I’m sure that’s true (read a discussion on LampworkEtc. about it here). In the past I’ve soaked mine in vinegar for a good long while, and it seemed to greatly improve things.

So now that I’ve acquired two whole glorious pounds of Zephyr, I’m looking forward to sitting down to make some beautiful galaxy beads, encased prairie beads, triangle beads… uh… flower beads…

I also treated myself to some raku frit that I’m looking forward to playing with. It does really interesting things, turning different colors depending on how you work it in the flame. Something new to experiment with is always fun.

I’m off to the torch today to see what I can do with my newly acquired beadmaking skills. Stay tuned.


magic milk

On my sister’s recommendation I watched ‘Magic Mike’ last night. Well, I tried, anyway. You do get to see Channing Tatum’s naked butt several times, and by several times, I mean many times. But even that couldn’t save it. Really, it wasn’t even worth having on for background noise. That bad.

You know what is magic though? Milk. I have a new milk trick, and it’s not spraying milk out my nose. It has to do with etching beads.

When you see beads that are ‘etched’, it just means that they’re treated with a strong acid that eats away at that nice shiny glassy surface. It creates a silky, matte finish that’s very tactile and smooth. Some bead designs really come alive when they’re etched, and etching totally transforms transparent colors – making them look like beautifully weathered sea glass.


When you take the beads out of the etching solution (or cream), after you wash them off with lots of water, it’s a good idea to neutralize the acid, or, apparently, it will continue to eat away at the glass over time.

Most people use a little baking soda in water, which reacts with the acid to produce stuff that isn’t harmful to you. When you dunk your newly etched beads in the baking soda solution, it may bubble, because the reaction produces carbon dioxide gas. The magic of Chemistry!


I recently read that some people are using milk instead of the baking soda solution. While milk is slightly acidic, it also contains large amounts of alkaline minerals – calcium, magnesium, and potassium… which, I guess… works. My inner Chemistry geek is a little skeptical about the exact details, but it’s been so long since I studied Biochemistry or taught Chemistry labs that I’m not that fussed about it.

Anyyyyyyway. The milk fans say that dunking the etched beads in milk makes them sooooooooooooo soft and silky feeling. I rolled my eyes when I read this, but I swear it’s true. I’m a milk convert.

Some people report that the milk curdles when they do this. I haven’t experienced that, but heads-up if curdled milk makes you want to barf. After I do the milk thing, I run the beads under water again, and give them a good scrub with a toothbrush and some dish soap. And voila! Lovely, smooth, etched beads. 

If you have beads that are etched and they’re starting to look a little dull or dusty after a while, a quick scrub with a toothbrush and some dish soap should have them looking like new.

Milk. It does a body good. Depending on your dietary preferences and food sensitivities, of course. And etched beads too!