Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sugar Beads

I once thought Polymer Clay wasn't a medium for real jewelry designers. It was for stay-at-home moms who wanted a material they could play around with, to make a cute little ladybug charm or whatever, and throw it in their kitchen oven to bake. A few projects to break the monotony of being at home all the time, that would give them something to talk about and show to their friends.

Boy, have I proved myself wrong! I have seen beads and jewelry that I NEVER would have dreamed could be made using polymer clay.

jewelry beads

Seafoam Blue Green Polymer Clay Sugar Beads

Polymer Clay Sugar Beads

Today I discovered sugar beads, and I found two methods of making them - one using teeny tiny micro beads, and the other using frit. Both begin as a polymer clay bead that is then rolled in the beads or the frit. Both are beautiful, but I like the micro bead version because it gives a more uniform shape.

These are the modern version of vintage beads that were made of glass or Lucite. Each bead is formed first from polymer clay, then baked at 275 degrees for about 25 minutes. The sugar is then applied, and the bead is baked again. The last step is two coats of water-based polyurethane to give extra strength and a glossy shine. I love the texture.

jewelry techniques

Grape Purple Polymer Clay Sugar Beads

Sugar bead are easy to make and can add a little pizzazz to an otherwise plain spacer bead. You simply roll the bead in the frit or micro beads when it is hot enough to pick up the coating but not so hot it loses its shape. Then put the bead into the cooler of the flame to make sure all the bits are firmly in place.

Vintage Glass Sugar Beads

Sugar beads were originated in Japan in early 1900s. They were coated with small grains of plastic or glass that looks like granulated sugar. Vintage sugar beads were very popular during the 1950s. After WWII, labor in Japan was cheap, and the Japanese produced inexpensive jewelry in large quantities, but it wasn't well regarded.

The artisans in Japan, as impoverished as they were at the time, were also highly talented. They also used lampwork beads, hand-painted art glass and plastic beads, and acrylics with foil and aurora borealis coatings in their jewelry. The fabulous color and shape combinations are now being valued.

handcrafted beads

1950s Japanese Dark Aubergine Micro Glass Sugar Beads

The polymer clay beads are a pretty good representation of vintage glass beads, I'd say. And they're certainly less fragile.

vintage jewelry

Vintage Sugar Bead Celluloid Necklace

This vintage necklace is a fun combo of sugar beads, celluloid chain, and leaves. The chain is attached to black satin twisted cording. The necklace has no clasp closure, but instead is tied on.

See full article

Related Entries:

Discovery of Ancient Beads - 07 November 2006

Paper Jewelry by Anna Sofia - 20 December 2006

Valentine's Jewelry Finds on Etsy - 06 February 2007

Novice Jewelry Designer Stumbles Into Beads - 15 October 2007

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