May 29, 2012

Before we get started, I wanted to talk a little about the objective of most of the steps I will be showing. Making an encased floral is not all that much of a mystery anymore, most beadmaking books, including my Passing the Flame include some sort of tutorial.

What makes this worth a special tutorial is the fact that each step of the process has to be thinner than the average encased floral. When making a multi-layer encased bead, the bead can get very big quickly and you end up with a bead that wouldn’t be comfortable to wear on a bracelet.

Since the mandrel itself is so thick, you start out with a bead that is already thicker from the get-go compared to a bead made on smaller mandrel.

So, the focus of this is whole process is to make each layer as thin as possible. As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll have no problem with this kind of bead…and you will understand why each step is important.

Glass and Tools:

  • White stringer (2-3mm) or regular rod (5-6mm)
  • Transparent green (any shade 5-6 mm)
  • White stringer (1-1.5 mm)
  • Rubino Oro (thick stringer)
  • Clear (5-6 mm)
  • 5/32nd mandrel (or thicker, if you like your beads with a silver core)
  • Bead release
  • Graphite marver
  • Poker
  • Brass Pandora-Shaper (optional, but it really helps!)

Step-by-Step Description

Step 1:

Wind a small amount of white for the base. You can either use a white commercial stringer for this step, or a full size rod, whatever you are comfortable with. If you use a stringer, make about 2 revolutions. If you use a full size rod, one revolution will do.

You should end up with a bead that looks like the photo. If the bead is slightly uneven at this point, don’t worry, we’re not done yet.

Step 2:

Marver the bead on a graphite marver. Marvering a small bead like this sounds very simple, but it’s tricky in its own right. There is so little glass, and the less glass there is on a mandrel, the faster it cools. I have often watched students roll the bead back and forth and back and forth although it has been cold for a long time. A cold bead stays just the way it is, no matter how long you roll it back and forth.

So, heat the bead, roll it quickly a couple of times, reheat it, roll it again, reheat it again – until you have the glass where you want it to be, which is as thin as possible, and even on both ends.

This is what the base bead should look like after marvering it. There is only a tiny amount of glass around the mandrel, but the bead is nice and wide. This is the width that your final bead will be. The width has to be established at the start.

Step 3:

Add one coil of transparent green around the center of the white base.

At this point you might ask: “Hey, if you want to make a green bead, and you are preaching how it should be thin, why do you bother starting out with the white, why don’t you just make a transparent or opaque green bead and not fuss around with the white? That just adds extra glass, which I thought you didn’t want!”

That’s an excellent question. If you make flowers on a transparent green bead, the transparent green ends up looking very dull and dark, even if you use a light shade. The white undercoat makes the green pop and adds depth to the bead. Using an opaque green as your base adds another dimension of difficulty. Most opaque colors are softer than transparent glass, and they will swallow part of whatever you place on top, like the dots for the flowers. Also, opaque glass is more difficult to encase, so I personally always use transparent over white – but of course that doesn’t mean that you have to do the same. I’m just showing you what I do and why.

Step 4:

Stretch (marver) the green over the entire white base. With this step it is important (again) to get that thin layer I mentioned above. If not for that goal, I would do what I usually do when I make encased florals. I just wind on a layer of transparent green from left to right. That is a quick way to encase the white, but it gives you a relatively thick layer of green. I usually like a thick layer because it adds mass to the base and gives you some mass to poke into to make the flowers. But again, if we would do it the same way here, the bead would get too big.

In order to successfully stretch the small coil of green over the white, without making a mess of it, you need two things: a brass tool (it could be a the Pandora Marver I use here, aMagic Wand, a brass marver or a shallow lentil press) and good heat control. I can sell you a tool, but when it comes to heat control, you’re on your own. But you already know how important this is, and I’m sure you have it perfected.

Why do you want to use a brass tool rather than a regular graphite marver? Because brass “grabs” the glass and moves it easily. Graphite has a tendency to just slide off the glass, which is why it is so perfect for general marvering, or rolling beads in a mold. But in this process we have to move the glass, so brass is the material of choice.

Now to the heat control. What do we need that for? In order to move only the green, but not the white underneath, you have to practice what I call “selective heating.” You have to direct the flame and leave the bead in the flame just enough so that the green glass gets hot, but the white glass doesn’t. This means you only heat the bead a very short time, just long enough to allow the green to heat up. If you heat the bead too long, the white will heat as well and everything gets mushed together. That is a technical term: mushed!

So, quickly heat the green, push it onto the marver or into a shallow mold, and push in the direction you want the green glass to go. In other words, heat the left side of the green coil and push it to the left, then heat the right side of the coil and push it to the right. This is done in small, quick steps, not one big move. 

This step takes time and hopefully looks like this along the way.

Step 5:

Fold over the edges of the green. This step is optional, but if you don’t fold over the green, you will be able to see more of the white base showing near the core of the finished bead. There is nothing wrong with this, but if you prefer the white not to be too obvious, you put some effort into this next step. I always do.
For this step you need to pay attention to the heat. Only heat the edge of the green and push it over the white with the brass shaper or Magic Wand. Go around the bead in small steps, heating, pushing, heating, pushing etc. Then repeat the same on the other side.

Speaking of other side, if you are observant, you will have noticed that there is quite a bit more of the white base showing on the right side of the bead than there is on the left. Okay, you caught me. The right side always does this to me. It’s not my preferred side so I tend to overheat the right and it fuses with the green and can’t be moved any more. But remember that important rule: do as I say, not as I do.

I know my flaws, and I should know better how to hide them in the photography.

The heating is important: one of the problems in making Pandora beads (meaning beads with big holes) is that the glass will always want to “crawl” towards the center. This has to do with the mandrel diameter and the surface tension of the glass. You would have to ask Jim Smircich to explain it.

I, myself, don’t understand the physics, but I use the expression a lot when I describe something I don’t really have a clue about. I know that it happens, and if you want to make a bead with a big hole that does not turn into a donut shaped bead while you are making it, you have to continue to keep the glass where you want it to stay. Use a mold to keep pushing it down or out, instead of allowing it to creep up on the center. I hope this makes sense.

Step 6:

Decorate the surface with fine striped cane. Of course, this kind of decoration is just a matter of taste. I like the striped cane version (as described in Passing the Flame), but for this size of bead you need a much finer cane than you would for a focal. Instead of making a tiny diameter came from scratch, I just take a regular size one, melt the top half inch into a ball and pull it into a thin stringer. That sounds like it would obliterate the stripes, but it really doesn’t.

Step 7:

Melt the stringer flush with the surface. By this I mean really flush with the surface. If the stringer is the tiniest bit raised, it will mess with the dots you are going to apply in the next step. As I mentioned before, you need to use some kind of tool to keep the surface curved gently, just using heat won’t be enough, since the glass will start moving again.

Step 8:

Apply white dots for the flowers. The size of the dots and the distance to each other will be a matter of trial and error (don’t you hate that?) If the dots are placed too close, the flower will look “cluttered,” but if you place them too far apart, they might not pull together when you are poking them.

If you have lots of experience with poked flowers, keep in mind that the base of the bead is fairly thin, so when you heat and poke, you won’t be able to poke as deeply as you might be used to. This means the petals have to be placed a bit closer together than they could be on a larger bead. This will make sense as soon as you try it.

You can make flowers with 3, 4 or 5 petals. From my experience the 4-petal flowers look best, but that’s entirely a matter of taste.

Step 9:

Melt the dots flat.

Step 10:

Add a transparent dot on top of the white dots and then melt them flat (no photo of the melted dots). Rubino Oro is one of my favorite colors for flower petals, at least when I want to make pink flowers. White flowers look nice too, and whatever else you want to experiment with. I can’t believe I don’t have more to say about these steps, but I don’t.)


Step 11:

Heat and poke the center of the flowers. My favorite tip at this point is something I learned from a student many years ago. I heat the petal cluster and then rest the tip of the mandrel somewhere on the torch to get stability when poking the center. This is much easier than poking somewhere in mid-air.

Continue this step until all the flowers on your bead are poked (I usually have 5-6 flowers of different sizes).

This is the bead after the flowers have been poked. This picture clearly shows my flaw on the right edge.

Step 12:

Encase the bead. This technique for encasing a small bead is very nice and even if you are not into making florals, you might keep this in your mental file cabinet as a technique to master.

If I want a relatively thin layer of encasing on any size bead, I usually use this method of encasing. It is based on the “lateral encasing method” introduced by Larry Scott, but I gave it a little twist.

I often inadvertently touch the mandrel with the clear glass when I am encasing small beads using lateral encasing, so instead of moving the glass sideways from right to left, I move diagonally across the bead, starting on the right above the mandrel and ending on the left below the mandrel. The picture shows pretty clearly what I mean by that.

Once you placed your first diagonal swipe, add more swipes underneath the initial one until the entire bead is covered.

This is the bead after adding all of the clear.

Step 13:

Adjust the encasing layer as needed. Depending on how you applied the clear, you might end up with more clear on the left side of the bead (I always do). In that case, add some more clear on the right, either as a single coil, or small dabs, or swipes.

You also want to take a look at the clear on the left side, if you have very uneven areas of mass, you can take some tweezers and either remove some glass or move it to parts where there is less glass. The more you can even out the amount and placement of clear at this point, the easier the final shaping will be.

Step 14:

Melt the encasing layer. In order to minimize the amount of bubbles trapped under the encasing layer, the way you melt the swipes in is important. The best way to allow the air that might be trapped between your swipes is to heat the bead from right to left.

If you heat from the right, the trapped air will move from right to left, where it can get out, rather than getting trapped and forming bubbles. That would happen if you applied heat to the left side of the bead right away. But even if you do trap some bubbles, don’t sweat it, I think bubbles are actually kind of charming.

Once the clear swipes have more or less fused and you have a unified surface, you can go about finishing this little bead.

Shape the bead. In order to shape the bead I rely heavily on the Pandora Shaper, for the same reasons mentioned above: you don’t want to allow the heat to pull the glass towards the center.

If you read my Daffodil Tutorial, you might remember how helpful a brass shaper is when it comes to rounding out an encased floral without danger of the flowers getting to hot and distorting underneath the encasing layer.

The most important rule when using any kind of rounded shaper to finish an encased bead is: Don’t roll the bead in the shaper! The rolling motion would cause the exact distortion that we are trying to avoid.

The proper steps for using a shaper or curved tool are:


  • Heat
  • Push gently
  • Lift up
  • Turn slightly
  • Push gently
  • Lift up
  • Heat again
  • Push gently
  • Lift up, etc…..

It is impossible to convey in a written format what the steps should look like, but I hope you get the idea. You can see in the photo that I am holding the mandrel at an angle. That is because I am focusing my shaping on the outer edge of the bead.

When working on the opposite side of the bead, I hold the mandrel at a different angle.

Once I have cleaned up and shaped the outer edges, I focus on the center part of the bead. Before, when the encasing around the edges was standing out more, I had to work in a cup of the shaper that was wider. Now that I have rounded the bead out more, I can move to a tighter cup.

All of this shaping has to be done in small steps. Don’t expect success if you just get the whole bead hot and roll it into the mold. That will create a disaster for sure.

One of the tricks of successful shaping like this is to never get the entire bead very hot. For example, if you work on the right side or edge of the bead, the left side should be completely cool and stiff, and likewise for the other side.

If you work on the body of the bead, try to only have about a quarter of the bead hot. The rest should be cool. This way you always have part of the bead to maintain the general shape, it can never get out of control.

If necessary, you can fine-tune the edges of the bead on the outer edge of the mold, always keeping the above-mentioned “heating principles” in mind.

Step 15:

Since this bead has been heated rather unevenly throughout the encasing process, you want to make sure to give it one nice final heating before it goes into the kiln. Just give it enough heat to even out the temperature – don’t let it go “soft” again, or you would lose the nice shape you just spent a lot of time on creating.

What do you do if you don’t have a shaper like this? You can do what I did before I created the shapers: experiment with a variety of measuring spoons. They are quite useful, as long as you keep them cool. The thin metal heats up very quickly. You might buy a few to find the right curve for your bead. Either way, good luck, and happy torching!

And to give you a few more ideas for color combinations – here is a little variety strand of small florals: