One of the more recent decorating styles for beadmakers has been to incorporate glass shards as a decorative element. If you don’t know what a shard is, it is a piece of a very thinly blown glass bubble. Shards are usually applied near the end of finishing a bead or sculptural form, but they can be applied at any time during the beadmaking process to create different effects.
Blowing custom glass shards for yourself is not as hard a process as some people might think. I love making my own custom blown shards because there is no end to the possibilities to the different effects I can get.
What do you need to blow your own shards? Well, there are three different blowing tools that can be used to blow the shard bubble in the torch flame. My preference is to use a heavy wall borosilicate tube that is 9.5 x 2 mm – #985209, because I feel like I can see more of what’s going on while I blow the glass bubble. The difference in C.O.E. between the soft glass and the borosilicate glass makes it fairly easy to knock off the bits of soft glass that are still on the end of the tube after you remove the bubble.
The borosilicate tubes come in lengths that are typically 48 inches or 59 inches long and need to be cut down into manageable lengths for blow pipes. Not to worry, you can buy a disc glass cutter #330411 and use it to score the tube. Lay the tube on a flat surface and hold the tube with the disc cutter and roll the tube in the jaws of the disc cutter, making a score that goes completely around the tube. Then put a drop of water or spit on the score and flex the tube over the edge of the table, the tube will break so cleanly that you will not have to melt the end of the tube to blow into it.
It is a fairly simple process to blow a glass bubble for shards because it doesn’t have to be pretty; it just needs to be thin. I start by melting a generous gather of the glass I want to make into shards and apply it to the end of the tube. I pre-heat the end of the borosilicate tube to create a good connection between tube and gather, but I do not melt the end of the tube because I don’t want the inside hole diameter to shrink too much and restrict the air flow.
Once there is enough soft glass in the gather, I heat the gather until it is heated all the way through. This step is important because it helps the bubble to expand evenly. I take the hot gather and point the tube slightly up (some people point it down, it is a matter of preference) and puff a little air into the tube to form a bubble in the gather. When I see the gather expand from the bubble, I continue to gently blow air into the gather and turn the tube and bubble to prevent an uneven bubble from forming. I often get weird shaped bubbles when I blow shards, but it doesn’t matter because I break it up anyway.
There are so many combination’s of glass for shards it seems almost endless to me. I really like shards of Dark Ivory #591276 that are rolled in silver leaf while it is still a gather and burned into the Ivory. This produces lively black/dark brown patterns in the ivory shards that work well on beads.
Another favorite of mine is to blow shards out of Metallic Black #591065 because when this glass is used as a shard it produces fabulous rainbow colors on the shards when applied to a bead and reduced a little. I also like to make dichroic shards out of dichroic scraps on clear. I put many layers and colors of the dichroic on clear into the gather and I like it a lot if the gather has a black core.
Experiment, have fun! If you blow a hole in the side of your bubble, heat it back up and try it again – it’s all good and fun. Sometimes I have to heat the gather two or three times before I get a good bubble, but who cares – I still get my shards.
I have so many different shards now, that I got little aluminum bread pans and label them with what kind of shard is in it and just knock the bubbles I blow off into the pans.