Hearts a bustin’

Euonymous americanus (American Spindle Tree)

Photo by Robert Mitchem

The image above is a visual pun: I’ve got a pile of heart beads building up, and while cleaning out the bead release the phrase “hearts a bustin'” popped into my head.  That’s one colloquial name for the plant pictured above, Euonymus americanus.  Here’s what my latest heart beads look like:

silver hearts

gold hearts

This is a couple of hours of work over two days–I made the larger red and gold hearts one day, followed by the smaller hearts for earrings.  I love the look of the red and gold beads, but gold leaf is expensive and a bit annoying to work with.  To make a heart I start by making a roughly tubular base bead, and then add two large blobs on one side (those will be the curves at the top  of the heart), melt them in slightly so that they smoothly join the bead, and then accentuate the cleft between them with a paring knife and angled marver (upper right below).


Assortment of graphite marvers for lampworking.

Then I add several stacked dots of the same red on the side opposite the bumps, and use heat, gravity and light marvering to shape them into a point (the lower half) of the heart.  Anatomically speaking the first bumps are the atria, and the v-shaped lower half is the ventricles.

The frustrating part is adding the gold leaf.  Gold leaf is incredibly thin sheets of pure (22 to 24 karat) gold, and they’re so light that they can literally float off the bench before I can apply them to the bead.  (Think 1/1000 the thickness of a sheet of paper.)  And sheets of leaf are very fragile, and stick to everything, so your only hope is to slide a thin spatula underneath the sheet, lift gently, and float it onto whatever you want to apply it to.  It tears without provocation, and can easily wad up into a ball if you handle it roughly.  And it’s hard to get it anchored on the bead: theoretically you heat up the bead, lift a piece of leaf, lay it in place and then burnish it with a marver, but the leaf is so thin it flaps wildly in the heat coming off the bead, so it’s like trying to lay out down feathers in a windstorm.  If you expose it to the flame before it’s burnished onto the bead it vaporizes, and even if it has been burnished it can burn and discolor the glass if it’s overheated (see the closeup below).  But the results are worth it.

Closeup of the upper half of a heart bead, showing the burned gold and glass on the left side.

Closeup of the upper half of a heart bead, showing the burned gold and glass on the left side.

The smaller beads (and the large one in the closeup) are decorated with a few wraps of 28 gauge (0.3mm) pure silver wire.  I gently heat the bead and tip of the wire (again, it’s easy to vaporize it) until the end of the wire sticks to the bead.  Then I wrap the wire lightly around the bead a time or two, and bring the bead and wire back into the flame.  The wire burns free, and I then heat the bead for a few seconds, until the wire wraps melt into droplets of silver.  These small beads will end up as earrings once I match them for size and make the sterling findings.  They’re made using two different colors of glass for variety–the light red on the left is called “Maraschino”, can’t remember the name of the darker glass.

Tomorrow sterling bails and the joys of copper foil!