The Creation of the 21 day Historical Bead Bootcamp, The Fun and my Personal Challenges.

Hi there! Baroness Maricka here. I have not had a chance to blog in a bit and I am working on doing a bit of catch up. In December 2018 I created the 21 Day Historical Bead Boot Camp. It can be found on this website. This entire idea came out of being a member of the An Tir Lampworker’s Guild.

I have been a member of the An Tir Lampworkers Guild for several years. We create bead sets twice a year that are given out to other kingdoms as largess by our King and Queen.  We make amazing largess.

Over the past few years participation in the group had gone down a bit and this started two conversations that I had with two SCA Laurels. They are both bead makers and are huge inspirations of mine:  Meistara Reginleif in harfagra and Master Phelan Tolusmidr.

I had a few thoughts that I shared. One being that we are a historical society, but the majority of the beads that were being made by the guild are really lovely but for the most part not completely historical. I felt strongly that the guild should have a little more of a historical focus because we are a historical group. For example, the costumers guilds focus on historical costuming, the culinary guilds on period food.  I also wanted to see the guild be more of a community of bead makers where we could learn together and grow as a group instead of just making kingdom largess.

One of the things that came out of these conversations was that many people probably didn’t have access to much historical research. Reference books are often quite expensive and/or difficult to obtain and I am utterly fortunate to be able to have the resources that I have. The other topic that came up was how to inspire others to want to be more historical in their creativity. My challenge was to find a way to help with both and inspire others.

The result of these conversations spawned the idea of the Bead Boot Camp.

Being a bead researcher, I know how much books cost and that there are not a lot of bead books out there. Fortunately, this is changing in the academic community and more research has been done with historical beads over the past three years than ever before!

I also know how hard it is to reproduce a historical bead based on a photo alone. I have been constantly studying and dissecting beads on paper and in my brain and researching endlessly so that I can do this.  Old bead photos generally do not give you all of the information that you need to accurately reproduce the bead. For example, cobalt blue beads that are old and have been sitting in the dirt for hundreds of years look like they are opaque, when in fact most were originally transparent, depending on region and time period.

This was an idea that I have had for a long time based on my research and it really helped me when I was doing the Valsegarde reproduction beads for the Vikings Begin exhibit in Ballard WA.  The photo of the blue and white bead I received to do the reproduction looked opaque, but I recreated it with a transparent cobalt blue, hoping that my research on Viking-Age beads gave me a correct assumption. When I saw the original at the exhibit, I squeed in sheer joy because you could see light through the bead.  It looked opaque because of the aging process of being exposed to the elements of the soil it was in but in fact it was transparent.

My other tell was the Callmer Trade Beads book and the updated bead chart made by Neil Peterson that I use extensively when reproducing beads – all of the cobalt blue beads are listed as transparent.  I contacted Neil Peterson to discuss the use of cobalt blue in Viking-Age beads.  He gave us permission to use his bead charts in the guild challenge and resources as well.  His charts further show the use of transparent cobalt blue glass in period.

This idea of the transparent glass challenges some older research out there.  Guido’s book describes some cobalt blue beads as opaque, as well as other books on Early Anglo-Saxon beads. When in reality, the beads based on newer research were most likely all transparent cobalt blue when they were made. So if you are looking at a photo of a bead to reproduce, it is important to know what that base color really was.

Back to the Bead Boot camp…

I had four main focus points I wanted to use that I thought were important when I created the bead boot camp.

1) To provide documented beads, with full color modern examples, to use as a visual for making accurate historical beads. Sometimes it is difficult to look at a drawing of an old bead, or a photo of an old bead, and be able to tell precisely how it was made or even what color it was originally.  These sheets will help create historical beads much more accurately.  I included tips and tricks on how to make the beads, which will help both new and experienced bead makers become more versatile and knowledgeable in their  technique.

2) Being a bead making teacher, I realized that a lot of people may not have access to an instructor in their local area. I wanted to be able to provide an interactive daily study on making beads. It started with the most basic shape and progressed into more challenging designs that can assist bead makers in becoming consistent with lamp working in general. The sheets can be worked on alone or in a group environment.

3) Having gone on a short break from bead making in the past, I realized that for experienced lamp workers that have been off the torch for a while, this boot camp could assist in helping get back into the full swing of bead making in a relatively short period of time.

4) I am a firm believer that repetition and practice of one type of bead, during the same bead making session, will allow a bead maker the ability to create much more consistent beads. Over time, this will allow each bead type to become easier to create.

The challenges that I came across in creating the bead boot camp.

There were several beads in the challenge that I had not made. My task was to look at the bead, take it apart in my head layer by layer so I could accurately give a description on how to recreate it the same every time.  This took time. Every day during the challenge I got up at 6 am and turned on my bead kiln and proceeded to work on figuring out the correct process of making the daily bead. Some were simple to do, others not so much. Each challenge took me a minimum of 6 hours to make and a max of 12 hours. I made hundreds of beads. I failed several times before I came up with the perfect bead solution as to how to consistently recreate the original.

I also discovered that about half way through I had lost sight of a few things that were important to me about making historical beads. All historical beads are not perfect. There are examples of perfect beads, such as the Waring States beads from China, or beads from Iran, or the amazing Phoenician beads.  Much of the beads from Western Europe and Scandinavia do not share that symmetry – I’m not sure if it was a skills issue or the lack of desire for symmetric beads.

The beads we were making in this challenge for the most part were imperfect as they are  Viking-Age beads based off of Callmer’s Trade bead charts. I decided to use this as a base for two reasons: they are classified very well into categories and there is a varied degree of difficulty in the beads to make. The challenge was not about making the most difficult beads but about the process of starting from the basic standard shapes found in all beads and working into more complex patterns.

To me, recreating a historical bead includes all of the elements of that bead. To get a likeness to the original you have to make it like the original. If it is a perfect historical bead, then you make it like it is. If it is imperfect, you make it like it is.

I ran across one bead in the challenge that stumped me for about a week. It would have been simple to recreate IF the base was opaque but in fact the base was a light transparent blue-green and it had an interesting squiggle pattern of red-brown and white stripes decorating the surface. It should have been easy to make; this was not the case.  Here are a few photos of my sketches and bead failures in the process of figuring out how to make this bead.

Original drawing I had to go by to create bead.



Try #1: Overlaying the glass decoration and using a pick to pull the design to the edges.  Outcome:  not what I was looking for.


Try #2:Using the striped cane and a pick to pull the design to the edges.  Outcome:  Still not there.


Try #3: Drawing the pattern on the glass with red-brown stringer and then adding the white stringer. Outcome: This was close but not quite the same as the example.


Thought Sketch for Try #3


Striped stringer I made for Try #2 in one attempt to recreate bead design.


Another Thought Sketch:  The round dots are using the same color of transparent blue-green glass as a guide to draw in the design. One melted flat they disappear into the bead and are unseen. This worked but this is probably a modern idea of how to do it. Of course we don’t really know. So. It is a possibility that would work.  The second drawing Adding extra glass to the edges. It did not work. The Third drawing the arrows show the direction to use a tool to pull the glass off of the edge of the bead to hopefully get the correct result. Failed.


More thought sketches:  trying to figure out how to make the bead using dots as guides and figuring out how to lay the glass string down in the correct pattern to get the same look as the original.


A pile of failed attempts that ultimately helped me realize how to make the bead correctly.

Here is the final bead that has the correct likeness. After a week of messing with this bead, a lightbulb went on in my head:  I was so stuck with this bead because I was looking at its recreation in modern terms.  So, I thought to myself, “what if I was making this bead on a small portable bead furnace using bellows and charcoal? How would my process be different?”  So I remade it with that idea in mind:  I put down the white stripe, then layed the red over the top.  The bead would have gotten really hot and melty and shifted as I worked.


Success!: The final bead created with the thought of how it would have been made in period. Over heating the bead allowed the design to move on the surface and melt into this pattern.


I really enjoyed creating the challenge.  I know the people who did participate in the challenge seemed to really love it and their bead making improved from doing it. If it helped just one person then I am happy.

Special thanks to Matt Bunker – you openly give to me when I am challenged with finding information on a particular bead or its research. If you have the resource or knows who does, you send it or them my way.  You been imperative to my process of learning and understanding beads.


Thank you for reading my blog. Stay tuned for more!