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Handmade Glass

Faience Beads from Egypt

Faience is a mixture of powdered clays and lime, soda and silica sand. Mix this with a little water to make a paste and molded around a small stick or bit of straw. Now it is ready to be fired into a bead. As the bead heats up the soda sand and lime melt into glass that incorporates and covers the clay. The result is a hard bead covered in bluish glass.This process was probably discovered first in Mesopotamia and then imported to Egypt. But, it was the Egyptians who made it their own art form. Since before the 1st dynasty of Narmer(3100 B.C.) to the last dynasty of the Ptolomies(33 B.C.) and to the present day, faience beads have been made in the same way.These beads predate glass beads and were probably a forerunner of glass making. If you are a little short of clay and have a little extra lime and the fire is hotter than usual, the mixture will become glass. In fact some early tubular faience beads are clayish at one end and pure glass at the other end. Apparently the beads weren't fired evenly.The uneven beads were noticed early on, this led to experimentation, slowly at first. It took a long time for new ideas to be accepted in a conservative, agricultural society. One of the first variations to take hold was to color the faience beads by adding metallic salts. By the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty(1850 B.C.), faience making and glass making had become two separate crafts.Faience beads were made in two basic shapes; flat discs and narrow cylinders. The sizes and colors may differ but these two shapes are found throughout the archaeological record from the earliest sites to the present day. Other common shapes include; the scarab beetle and melon shapes as well as specialty pieces for the ends of necklaces and bracelets.Why were faience beads so common? They were cheaper and less labor intensive to make than stone beads. Aside from personal use and daily wear they were used to create beaded netting to cover mummies. Most of the archaeological specimens come from burials.These beads were used to make elaborate beaded nets with intricate designs woven into the front across the breast or chest of the mummy. One such woven design is shown on page 42 of the "The History of Beads from 38,000 B.C. to the Present" by Lois Sherr Dubin. It is a winged scarab made of faience beads, and woven using a 2-drop peyote or gourd stitch. This was the central design of a netted shroud that covered the entire mummy. It may also be the earliest known use of peyote stitch. Faience beads were also incorporated into jewelry next to stone beads like lapis, turquoise, and carnelian as well as gold and silver beads and findings.


Past Worlds; Harper Collins Atlas of ArchaeologyA Handbook on Beads by W.G.N. van der SleenThe History of Beads from 38,000 B.C. to the Present by Lois Sherr DubinThe Universal Bead by Joan Mowat Erikson

Making Glass Beads

Glass beads and bangles were being made by humans as soon as they figured out how to melt sand into glass. Glass is a combination of silica (sand) , soda, and lime. The earliest beads consisted of a glob of melted glass wound around a clay coated rod. This was twirled about until it formed a fairly round bead. That was then slipped off the rod and allowed to cool slowly near the oven where the glass was melted. In some cases it was shaped into other things. The earliest glass objects that have survived to the present day are small objects like vials for perfumes, pendants, and of course beads.

Most glass in its raw state is pale green because of small amounts of iron oxide that occurs naturally in most sand. Early glassmakers soon found they could color the glass by adding traces of other metal oxides like cobalt or manganese

We don't know when or how it first started but archaeologists have found early production sites throughout the Middle East. As early as 2400 BC. glass beads were being made in the Caucasus and Mesopotamia (modernIraq and Iran). Within a few hundred years they were being madethroughout the Mediterranean, India and Europe. Some of the earliestknown beadweaving comes from the Old Kingdom period (2200 BC) in Egypt,naturally enough it is a scarab similar to ones seen in the Harlequingallery.Mark Lammi handmade glass bead
Archaeologists have found that early glassmakers were working as professional craftsmen in well organized production centers. They were making glassware like goblets, pitchers, plates and platters. Small vials and pots for cosmetics were also popular. At this time glass was a rare and costly luxury and most glass objects were found in palaces and temples, only rarely in private homes. Only the and powerful could own glassware.
Bead by Mark Lammi, necklace by Virginia Jurasevich [click image for larger view]

Some artisans were specializing in purely ornamental forms of beads and bracelets. This specialization led to experimentation. Egyptian "crumb" beads were made by fusing crumbs of multicolored glass onto opaque black glass beads to produce brightly speckled beads. These date to around 2000 BC. Nearly as old are "Eye" beads made by placing drops of colored glass onto newly formed beads to create spots of color or eyes. These were used as amulets to keep the 'evil eye' away. Glass beads were made to imitate different stones too. Red beads were made to look like carnelian or blue beads could be used in place of turquoise or lapis lazuli.

By Roman times, around 200 BC, glass making was a common industry and specialized factories could be found throughout the roman world. Several shipwrecks have been found to contain broken glass and glass ingots as both cargo and ballast. Glassware had become a common commodity and was no longer a luxury item. Glass was being imported from one end of the Mediterranean to the other so beadmakers and artisans could have access to a variety of different kinds of glass. Much of this was based on Egyptian and Phoenician glass makers on the southern side of the Mediterranean and Syrian glassmakers working in what is now Lebanon.

One legacy of all this commercialization was the Venice bead factories. Venetian glass beads were and are still famous for their exquisite and intricate use of colored glass. They have experimented and specialized for hundreds of years Artisans there are making millifiori beads to delight the eye. These may be based on mosaic beads made in Alexandria that date to 200 BC. All techniques that have been used for thousands of years and taken to new heights by these talented artists.


Beads through the Ages by Gloria Dale

Beads of the World by Peter Francis Jr.

Glass 5,000 Years edited by Hugh Tait

The Czech Bead Story by Peter Francis Jr.

The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present by Lois Sherr Dubin

Third World Beadmakers by Peter Francis Jr.