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!


Progress in my historical bead making life…An amazing opportunity knocked on my door!

Two Weeks ago, I was participating at a living history demo with the Northwest Viking Alliance. The Northwest Viking Alliance is an Alliance of many Living history groups in WA State, Oregon, Idaho and Southern British Columbia. My husband and I founded the group 6 years ago to further authenticity, create better demos for the public and  promote reenactment and experimental archaeology in the region. We are now a 501C3 and lovingly share responsibility with several group Jarls and group Elders.

The demo was at The New Nordic Heritage Museum and I have participated for several years. It is organized by Alan Andrist and is by invitation only.  I was demoing as I always do making period Viking Age lamp work beads. This year I was able to actually make beads instead of just having a display. It was wonderful. It was quite warm out, over 90 degrees and it was even warmer being next to fire. I was literally a hot mess. While I was making beads,  I got into some very engaging conversations about beads with the public. I love demos. You never know who you are talking to so it is utterly important to be very knowledgeable of what you are displaying.

One of the people that stopped by to talk beads was Adam L. Allan-Spencer who works at the Museum. After talking a bit he handed me a business card and said that he was interested in talking to me about about possibly making authentic reproduction glass beads for the Museum store. He wanted them to sell during the new big Exhibit called “The Vikings Begin” opens October 20th, 2018. As well as the bead singles he wanted to commission a few reproductions of bead items that will be in the exhibit to have available in the store as well. Adam had been doing quite a bit of research into historical bead makers and decided to ask me because “my work is fantastic and I am local and I demo there every year.” We exchanged information and the following week made contact and worked out all of the details. So now I am in the process of making 200 beads for the Museum store and 2  reproduction pieces. More to be made if needed.

Description of exhibit:

Based on the latest research conducted on both historic and recent discoveries of Viking-era artifacts by Uppsala University in Sweden, The Vikings Begin tells the story of the Vikings of early Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, and Norway)—an intensely maritime society with a very close and important relationship to the sea. Uppsala University’s museum, Gustavianum, has produced this exhibition of original artifacts, reconstructions, and archaeological discoveries from early Viking age society using cutting-edge research done by Uppsala professor Neil Price and his team. These objects tell the story not only of the person buried with them, but also of the world they inhabited: its social and economic makeup, its worldview, and its symbolism.


This is a very exciting opportunity for me. I am fairly well known for my modern glass pieces but in comparison only a few people that are not in the reenactment community know me for my historical bead work and research. Historical beads are my utter passion.

The museum is featuring my work in a store display naming me the artist and my contact information will be displayed as well.  This entire opportunity is huge to me.  I have had my work in museum displays before and at Pacific Lutheran University but nothing compares to having my work featured for such an incredible exhibition. One that the research was done by my hero. Neil Price. It is utterly a dream come true.

Next week I start the work of manufacturing the beads. Unfortunately, I can not show what I am making or have made until after the exhibition opening.  So.. It will be a secret for now. I am both challenged and highly honored to have this opportunity. The only thing that would make it better is if Neil Price was at the opening of the exhibition and I could say hello.

Anyway.. Here is the link to the Museum exhibit. It is going to be so great!

UPDATE! Here are the pieces that I made for the museum!

Beads from Various Valsgärde graves!


Reproduction bead From Valsgärde. made by Maricka Sigrunsdotter. Sunna Glassworks


Replica of Valsgärde bracelet for Nordic Heritage Museum Store. in Ballard WA Lamp worded beads, Stone and Amber. Modern silver clasp added so it can be worn. Bracelet created by Maricka Sigrunsdotter. Sunna Glassworks.


45040013_355462305188544_6944091828408811520_n (1)

Original From The Vikings begin Exhibit.


200 single historical bead reproductions from Western Europe and Scandinavia from Iron age through Viking Age. Made by Maricka Sigrunsdotter, Sunna Glassworks

Period glass necklace project. Female grave 1878-1 3rd-4th Century Himlingoje, Zealand Denmark

In December 2015, I stumbled across a photo that Matt Bunker from the group Wulfheodenas had taken while visiting the museum of Denmark. The photo was of a necklace from a female grave #1878-1  Dated from the 3rd -4th century,  Himlingoje, Zealand, Denmark. I was mesmerized with it. I felt utterly compelled to start researching the necklace and of everything I could find out about this grave. I wanted to recreate the necklace so I could touch it.  Feel it.  The necklace was from the tail end of the Roman Iron age and I have discovered, was a very fascinating time!

My project focuses on the visual recreation of the necklace from grave 1878-1.  My goal is to be able to provide a physical representation of the necklace as it is displayed as well as the known research of the beads.

The grave site was published by Lund Hansen in 1995. The entire archaeological dig of the area spans over 100 years and many graves were discovered. Unfortunately, There are no photographs of this particular dig and only fragmented information on it as it was discovered when putting in a railway in 1878.


Fig. 3’38 grave 1878-1. The terrain in the area of reference, left map, NB denotes the approximate placement of the tomb, North Up.  ^ break the Geland, in the field of reference: NB … with indication of the railway “(surveying and drawing J. Magnus Petersen 18/8). Grave 1878-1.

Reference: Pos .: 589m / 1018m (Fig. 3: 36-37). The site was in the western part of Kiesanhöhe which is now intersected by the railway. It was shown on the site plan as specified by the Finder, see Figure 3:38 (Magnus Petersen – / 6 1878)..

Find circumstances and findings: In earthworks in connection with the construction of the railway in the summer of 1878,

Fig. 3:39. Grave 1878-1.: “2’6” under the ground, the hill “Equivalent to about 0.8 m. According to the railway workers in 1878 by J. Magnus Petersen made.

£ ‘V. , .
Swedish railroad workers  Jensson on the grave near the northeastern boundary of the route, approximately 0.8 m below the surface of the gravel ridge.

From page 98 “Himlingøje, Seeland, Europa: Ein Gräberfeld der jüngeren römischen Kaiserzeit auf Seeland, seine Bedeutungund internationalen Beziehungen” by Lund Hansen.

The following description of the beads is from the book Himlingoje, Seeland, Europa by Lund Hansen.

NM C 3249.

Glasperlen, klar mittelgrün, 23 St., Dm. 1,5-1,9 cm, Höhe 0,7-1,6 cm, Dm. der Durchlochung 0,6 cm. Fig. 4:15, Taf. 12.

NM C 3250.

Glasperlen, schwarz und matt mit umlaufenden roten und/oder gelben Linien an der breitesten Stelle, 27 St. Elf Perlen besitzen rote Wellenlinien, sieben eine gelbe Wellenlinie zwischen zwei roten geraden Linien und neun sind mit einer gelben Wellenlinie versehen. Dm. 1,1-1,2 cm, Höhe 0,5-0,9 cm, Dm. der Durchlochung ca. 0,5 cm. Fig. 4:15, Taf. 12.

I have done my best to translate the description into English. It is as follows.

NM C 3249

Glass beads, clear mid green, 23 St., Dm. 1.5-1.9 cm, height 0.7-1.6 cm, Dm. Of perforation 0.6 cm. Fig. 4:15, pl. 12,.

NM C 3250

Glass beads, black and matt with revolving red and / or yellow lines at the widest point, 27 total.  Eleven beads have red wavy lines, seven yellow wavy line between two red straight lines and nine are with a yellow wavy line provided. Dm. 1.1-1.2 cm, height 0.5-0.9 cm, Dm. Of perforation 0,5 cm. Fig. 4:15, pl. 12,.



Photograph by Matt Bunker.

Where is Himlingoje?

Himlingoje.8 (1)

Himlingoje is located in Denmark. Grave 1878-1 is one of several graves that were unearthed.  The contents of grave 1878-1 were as follows:

Grave 1878-1. Female Inhumation containing a drinking horn of glass; a bronze-bound wooden pail; two fragmentary ceramic vessels; a swastika-shaped fibula of bronze; a hair pin of silver; a golden finger ring of snake head type; spindle whorl of bronze; 50 glass beads; an amber bead.


Photo and grave contents from the National Museum of Denmark and discussions with Matt Bunker.


The project.

My first step was find glass that matched the glass beads. The black, red, and yellow was simple, however the transparent blue green was going to be a bit of a challenge. Not seeing the necklace in person and matching color off of a photograph made matching difficult. As fascinated as I was by the pale blue green beads. It was actually a fairly simple and common glass to make. The blue green colors on the original are created by iron impurities in the glass.

I decided to use Effetre Aqua pale transparent. It is a pale blue green glass. It is an Italian glass and Effetre have stayed true to their glass recipes for hundreds of years. Since I do not have the ability to make the glass. This was going to be the best I could do.


I also used a transparent black, medium red, and light yellow glass. Made by  Effetre.


Starting to make the beads.

I used a modern torch to make the beads. It takes propane and oxygen. I use the Nortel mega minor burner.

I started my lampworking with the transparent blue green beads. Worked making my beads by reproducing the beads from one side of the  photograph of the original necklace to the other. Crossing off every bead on the photo as they were made. Then I started the opaque black red and yellow beads and marked them off as they were completed in the same fashion. This is where I got a bit frustrated as I could only see one side of the original necklace and had to “guess” what the opposite side looked like based on the design of the bead.

It took me several days of lamp working to complete the beads. I have spent a total of about 200 hours making the beads and researching.

As each set was lamp worked, annealed, and cooled, I put them on a string in the order they were on the original.


At this point after comparing the beads and the necklace I decided that I needed to remake some of the beads as my reproduction was not matching as well as I wanted it to.

My final result I am pretty happy with. I am going to do a light acid etch on the beads still so it looks more like the grave necklace and give them a matt finish.


Lastly, the original necklace for compare.


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

By Dena Cowlishaw- Morford MKA Baroness Maricka Sigrunsdotter, Kingdom of An Tir