Thursday, 9 June 2016

Factory reset

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

I've been in a bead funk. A long, dark, woebegone, frustrating bead funk. I've cried, I've moped, I've thrown things, I've sworn and I've cried some more but I think I can finally see a chink of light at the end of this miserable bead tunnel.

The Oatmeal did a comic about making things – in his case, creating content for social media – but if you swap that for creating beads then his comic pretty much describes how making stuff (or not) works for me.

I think I may have mentioned before that when I have one of these I-just-want-to-set-fire-to-the-shed-and-make-cake-and-eat-the-cake-whilst-huddled-in-a-corner times, I find that going back to my personal 'factory reset' colours of black, white and clear (non-colours really, I guess) helps to start the unfunking process.

My friend and fellow glass melter, Kathy (who is also known as Practical Kat and you should definitely go and look at her glassy makings) has been listening to me drone on with my bead woes and she suggested I make spacers. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated - just spacers. So I did. Black, white and clear ones. And okay, some of them have spots and stringer but the fact that I wasn't putting pressure on myself to make beads that were more complex enabled me to at least make beads, which is way more than I've been able to do this past week or so. Cheers, Kathy. You're cosmic.

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

The resulting 'Magpie' Beadlings are available in my shop as strands of ten.

There are also some 'Peach Tea, Blue Sky' spotty Luminobeads...

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

...and I dug out my ancient straight-sided lentil press and made some 'Aegean' beads. Just a little pair. Fab for earrings.

Lampwork glass beads by Laura Sparling

All the beads pictured can be purchased in the usual place.

I think I really am reaching the end of the miserable bead tunnel now. Well, I flipping hope I am because moping about is very tiring and unproductive. I just don't have the time or patience for it!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Recipe: Lemon & Coconut Slice

Lemon and Coconut Slice

I had the loveliest cake in Starbucks the other week. It was a lemon and coconut slice; a thin pastry-ish biscuit base topped with lemon curd and a layer of coconutty ooh. As I sat there eating it I was trying to think if I'd ever had a lemon and coconut baked good before and I honestly could not recall one. Like some kind of cake addict I went in to Starbucks again this weekend, with the sole intention of grabbing a piece of the lemon and coconut slice, but they had none. It was 'limited edition' apparently. Whatever.

A quick Google told me that lemon and coconut slice seems to be an Australian thing. Well done, Australians - I salute your wondrous cake-making skills! A lot of the recipes I found were for no-bake slices made with condensed milk but none of them seemed to have the base bit. I eventually found a couple of baked ones and I kind of melded the recipes together. The measurements were all in cups so I've converted them to good old metric which should make life a bit easier. Well, it does for me. (Cup measurements annoy me, you see.) The resulting cake has a sightly different base to the Starbucks one but it doesn't matter because it's flipping delicious.

Before I list the ingredients and give you the recipe, yes I'm aware this contains a fair amount of sugar. I know that sugar is considered heinous and toxic these days but nobody is suggesting that you make cakes every single day and eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Michaela Strachan would not be happy with this recipe (she had a benny about The Great British Bake Off last week) but that's fine because I'm not inviting Michaela Strachan round for tea and cake any time soon. Or ever, actually.

If you're feeling fancy you could make your own lemon curd for this recipe but I just used the stuff in a jar from the shop.

Lemon & Coconut Slice

Ingredients


For the base

125g unsalted butter
160g caster sugar
220g self raising flour
1 large free range egg, beaten
Lemon curd

For the coconut topping

125g dessicated coconut
160g caster sugar
1 large free range egg white

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C (160°C for fan assisted ovens) or gas mark 4. Line a 20cm x 20cm tin with baking paper.

Base: Melt the butter in a saucepan. In a bowl, combine the sifted flour and the caster sugar. Add the melted butter and mix. Add the beaten egg and mix again. You'll end up with a fudge-like loose dough. Tip it into the lined tin and press down and level. You can use the back of a spoon or a spatula but I found it easier to use my (clean) hands. Bake the base in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until it is a light golden brown.

Topping: In a clean bowl, lightly beat the egg white with a whisk until it is thick and foamy. You're not making a meringue here so you're not looking for glossy stiff peaks of egg white; just whisk it until it is like dense, lathery soap. Add the dessicated coconut and caster sugar and stir it all together with a metal spoon. You should end up with a kind of crumbly mixture.

Spread the cake base with lemon curd. Two or three tablespoons of lemon curd should do the job but use as much as you fancy. Sprinkle the coconut mixture over the top. Again, I used my hands and kind of crumbled it on all over. You don't need to press it down; just make sure there's a nice even covering.

Return the tin to the oven and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes or until the coconut topping is golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin (are there three more annoying words in baking than "leave to cool"?) and then remove the slice from the tin and cut it into as many squares or bars as you like.

I guess you could use whatever flavour jam or curd you fancy. I think raspberry or cherry would be very lovely but there's something ever so summery about the lemon and coconut combination.

Happy baking!

A splash of red

Poppies

I've not been feeling very beady this last week or so, so here are some poppies instead. These are on a grassy bank next to the main road, round the corner from where I catch the bus into town.

In between trying to make beads I've been doing a lot of reading and quite a bit of garden pottering.

Books I've read are:


And I am halfway through The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, which is a thriller set in Australia.

I guess I should stop reading and typing about reading because this blog post really is about nothing, and I should try and go and make some beads instead.

See you later!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Rant, jewellery, lovely calming strawberry flower

Lampwork glass bead and sterling silver bracelet by Laura Sparling

Occasionally I get an urge to make jewellery with my beads. I often feel bad about this because a while back some delightful Facebook commenter told me I should stick to making beads and leave the jewellery-making to other people. Wasn't that so very lovely of her? Yeah yeah, love, I know the jewellery I make is the basic-looking, plain-strung, unfancy, not silversmithed, no PMC, no clever knotting, no additional stones or crystals or whatever kind of jewellery, but I make the sort of jewellery that I like to wear, and I have always loved wearing simple and unfussy jewellery, OK?

*clambers 'pon soapbox*

Seriously, people need to think twice before giving unsolicited advice, or passing 'helpful' throwaway comments on the work created by craftspeople and makers. Whatever you think of it, that person has made something with their hands and their heart and they've had the balls to put it out there for the world to see, and therefore judge. Unless the maker is asking for advice or a critique on their work, people shouldn't give them negative feedback. If you have nothing nice or encouraging to say to someone about what they've made, hush up and move on. The brains of creative people are often weird things and they can be pretty flipping sensitive and over-analytical, making their owners doubt themselves and their abilities. Creativity is easily damaged or affected by thoughtless words, including ones about pricing.

*gets off soapbox*

Anyway, I pushed that commenter's words aside in my brain and this weekend I let myself make a couple of bracelets.

Lampwork glass bead and sterling silver bracelet by Laura Sparling

For some reason I made even more of those spotty red lentils (I think I'm just in love with their redness) so I decided to turn some of them into a bracelet and matching earrings.

Lampwork glass bead and sterling silverearrings by Laura Sparling

I also made some little 9mm diameter spacer beads in sea glass colours of pale aqua, pale green and clear.

Lampwork glass bead and sterling silver bracelet by Laura Sparling

I used hair-fine grey stringer to wrap each one with a trail of glass. The beads were then tumble-etched to a satin finish before I turned them into a bracelet.

Lampwork glass bead and sterling silver bracelet by Laura Sparling

All of these pieces are currently in my shop.

Sorry to have got a bit ranty on you there. I didn't intend to. I only sat down to write a blog post to show you my jewellery but I let my fingers type out the festering irkedness I had in my brain about the whole jewellery making thing. Ah well, better out than in and all that.

May your Tuesday be as sunshiny as the one I'm currently experiencing here. I think I'm going to mow the lawn, carefully avoiding the wild strawberries I mentioned in my last post.

Wild strawberry flower, taken with my iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens

I've been reading about how to transplant wild strawberries into pots so I might give that a go too. *Carol Klein face*

Have a good rest of the day!

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The one with all the photos

Lampwork glass beads decorated with stringer, by Laura Sparling

Oh knickers! That's a big gap to have left betwixt blog posts. I shan't try and fill you in on everything that's happened between then and now as that would be highly boring for both of us, so I'll just skip through some highlights using the medium of photo-plus-caption. Ready? Here we go...

Curled gift wrap ribbon
Chris had a birthday that made his age start with a '4'

Pink flower, taken with my iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Chris' family came down to visit and we took a trip to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden where we saw this beautiful pinkus flowerus. (I didn't catch its actual name so I just made that one up but I can totally imagine Monty Don saying it on Gardeners' World.)

Green tendril, taken with my iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
It was a very warm day and the greenhouses were mighty hot. See how this tendril dangles and curls.

Jade Vine at Cambridge University Botanic Garden
This crazy-beautiful Jade Vine looks like something out of Avatar

Close-up of the Jade Vine, taken with my iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens
Jade Vine close-up. Definitely a match for Effetre Light Turquoise 232.

Lampwork glass bee beads by Laura Sparling
I finished up the last of the Bumblebead orders. Are they whooping for joy, whistling, or horrified at the bead cleaning process they'd just endured? You decide.

Lampwork glass gravity swirl beads by Laura Sparling
Finishing bee beads meant I could faff about so I made Whirly-Go-Rounds with a finer 'whirl' than usual

Stringer for decorating lampwork glass beads
And then I entered my bead happy place and pulled a load of white stringer and made 'Rococo' beads that I'd not made for eight years

Lampwork glass beads decorated with stringer, by Laura Sparling
I offered the option of tumble-etching on the 'Rococo' beads and everyone opted for it. Behold their satin silkiness.

Lampwork glass beads decorated with stringer, by Laura Sparling
When I made this set I 'designed' them to be etched, layering two transparent shades to achieve a pretty 'glow'


Spotty lampwork glass lentil beads by Laura Sparling
After the 'Rococo' beads were done I had a desk full of stringer scraps, so I used it for spots on little lentils made in one of my favourite glasses - CiM Sepia Unique 2


Lampwork glass lentil beads decorated with spots, by Laura Sparling
I still had a load of stringer bits left so I made more spotty lentils, this time in glorious transparent red

And that, dear patient person reading this, brings you up to date with my goings-on.

The Cambridge University Botanic Garden really is great and I'll definitely be going back there soon. It's so relaxing and it makes you feel like you're a million miles away from the bustle of the town centre. (I sound like Judith Chalmers.) (I've just Googled Judith Chalmers to find out if she's still alive. She is and she's eighty, you know. Go Judith!)

If you'd like to see more of the flower photos I took at the Botanic Garden, you can see them on my personal Instagram feed.

Stuff is also happening in my own garden. Things are growing, especially daisies and dandelions, but I don't mind them. I hate that weeds have a bad name. They're lovely little things and the bees seem to like them, especially the dandelions.

Dandelion clock, taken with my iPhone 6s and Olloclip lens
Dandelion clock, taken with my iPhone 6s and Olloclip macro lens

I've got some strawberry plants that have appeared too. I'm assuming a bird 'planted' them via the act of plappage (yes, I mean poo) as they are down by the fence and I definitely didn't plant them. Cheers, bird! I'm growing chillies, munchkin pumpkins, micro sunflowers and catnip in a little plastic greenhouse and they're all coming along nicely. Maybe I'll do a garden-based blog post. That won't be at all boring for you, will it?

I'm off to make beads now, I've still got a bazillion scraps of white stringer to use up. Will I use them or will I bin them? We shall see... 

If you like the spotty red lentils, I have four pairs of them left in my shop. They're £4.00 a pair and if satin-finish glass is your bag I can etch them for you at no extra cost. I've also reduced the price of all remaining jewellery so you might be able to grab yourself a wearable glass bargain.

For full details of all glasses used for the beads in this post, please have a look at my Tumblr.

Have a super duper Saturday!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Beads and stuff and more stuff

Lampwork glass 'Bumblebead' beads by Laura Sparling

This week has mainly been about the Return of the Bumblebeads. I hadn't made any for a while because the CiM Hollandaise glass I used to use for them is now pretty much extinct. This new wave of Bumblebeads are made in CiM Goldenrod.

Creation is Messy 'Goldenrod'

I've made the Bumblebeads available to order for a short time. They're £5.00 each and can be purchased here.

Speaking of extinct glass, remember I mentioned I was recently given the gift of some assorted glass? Well, some of that was Z-99 Purple Rose Special - a rare, beautiful, no-longer-produced glass by Zimmerman. I did a bit of a Google and discovered that it's highly sought-after (I know, I'm a very lucky beadmaker) and I also realised that I've had a jar of it as frit sat in my drawer for about a decade.

Zimmerman Z-99 Purple Rose Special glass rods and frit

See? This is what I get for being a bead hermit and not interacting with other lampworkers. If I did, I'd have known about this sooner. I'm working on that, by the way. I've joined a few Facebook lampwork groups and am being more 'social' which is something that I struggle with. But anyway, yes, I had a play with my Z-99 frit and some Effetre Opal Yellow and made these 'Painted Sunset' beads.

Lampwork glass Z-99 and Opal Yellow beads by Laura Sparling

A friend told me these remind her of Edvard Munch's The Scream. These have sold already but I will be making more, both for my Edvard-loving friend and for sale, so keep an eye out for some next week.

In non-beady news, my garden is starting to do stuff. Seeds are sprouting and there are tiny green leaves appearing in pots and tubs. I think I might have planted the world's slowest-growing tulip bulbs but they've finally flowered this week.

Tulip, taken with my iPhone and Olloclip macro lens
Tulip from the Sarah Raven 'Brandy Snap' collection

Food-wise this week, I have rediscovered the joy that is sardines on toast. Simple pleasures. Whenever Mum used to make herself sardines on toast she'd always do an extra slice because she knew I'd be there, hovering around unable to resist the toasted fish deliciousness.

Sardines on toast

I've been pescatarian/pescetarian (choose whichever spelling you prefer) since October last year. This is mainly for health reasons - I have one large gallstone that measures about an inch in diameter. I call him Trevor (as in Trevor Bolder, as in Spiders From Mars, as in 'boulder', as in large rock) and it would appear that I've had him for many many years. Because I have just the one stone my gallbladder only really plays up if I overdo the saturated fat, so Trevor keeps me in check diet-wise. I could have my gallbladder removed but I've not had an attack since September and I don't really want surgery (and I know it's a doddle of an operation, but still, I'd like to avoid surgery if I can) so for the time being I'm happy to control it with diet. Cutting out all meat except fish has really helped and I'm totally surprised to find that I'm not missing meat in the slightest and no, not even bacon. I can't eat eggs, though. Eggs are Trevor's nemesis. They're okay if they're in something, but pure egg, or an egg-centric dish like quiche, is out. Oh, the pain! I'm fully aware that I've become the annoying person who people dread feeding but seeing as how I hardly ever eat at anyone else's house, it's not really a problem. I don't do meat substitutes, though. Quorn and fake meats can do one. I don't understand the logic behind that stuff in the slightest.

Television-wise, oh my word, did you see the Line of Duty finale? Blimey me. I flipping love that show and I will miss its drama and twists and turns on Thursday nights.

(Photo via world-productions.com)

Ted Hastings needs his own show, Steve Arnott is so good at being not-Scottish, Kate Fleming is my new ladyhero and I think I might fancy Matthew 'Dot' Cottan. If you've never seen Line of Duty, go back and watch all three series and enjoy.

After Thursday night's police telly drama, Chris and I went to a midnight screening of Captain America: Civil War. It was SO good! We saw it in 3D, which I'm normally underwhelmed by, but the 3D-ness of this film was spectacular.

#TeamIronMan. Obvs.

Right, after all that waffle I'm off to pack up some beads for posting. Have a great weekend, and fellow British people, if you have Monday off work, enjoy this extended weekend. Right now the sun is shining but seeing as we've had all the weather flavours this week, including snow, who knows what this weekend has in store for us?

Have a good'un!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Striped Pink: Episode II – The Pinkening

Lampwork glass beads made with Effetre Striped Pink 253

Remember those Striped Pink beads I made that were more purple than pink? Well, a friend gave me a tip-off that Tuffnell Glass had Striped Pink glass for sale at last weekend's Flame Off. I was all "YES!" and it wasn't listed on their site so I emailed Martin and asked if I could get in on that Striped Pink goodness and by Friday I was the excited owner of ten rods of the stuff.

Except what I stupidly forgot to factor in was Effetre's ever-varying glass production. Those magical glass conjurers work in mysterious ways and there's a reason why odd-lots are odd-lots. They just can't reproduce glass one hundred percent perfectly all the time and I totally understand that; I can't perfectly reproduce beads (one of the reasons I don't do remakes) because this glass malarkey is not an exact science and there are so many variables which make consistent results really difficult to achieve. Some glasses vary from batch to batch. For example, batches of Opal Yellow, EDP and Rubino seem to be affected by what phase the moon was in and what colour pants and socks the Effetre warlocks were wearing on the day the glass was made.

The first thing I noticed about my new Striped Pink was its colour. I only had one rod of it to play with last time and that rod was more purple. The one I got the other day is way more pink.

Two rods of Effetre Striped Pink 253
The newer (to me) Striped Pink is on the left. See? Much pinker.

Clearly these rods were from two different batches. Same basic principle, though. Something EDPish with a core of most-probably-Rubino.

Two rods of Effetre Striped Pink 253

When heated, the pinker rod goes the most gorgeously rich pink with subtle hints of the stunning purple that was present in the rod I used last time.

Effetre Striped Pink 253

I made plain spacer beads again; I think you would struggle to do anything else with this glass due to its devitrifying nature. With the previous Striped Pink, I wound the bead, heated it, rounded it up and stuck it in the kiln. With this one, I wound the glass on and the result was a pale grey-pink bead in need of striking. I waited a good few seconds and reheated the bead in the cool part of the flame, working from one hole to the other and then back again, heating out any devit that had occurred, then stuck it in the kiln. The result is something that actually is striped pink.

I ended up with beads that are pale pink around the holes (*Tim from The Office style glance to camera*) blending into purple-pink, with a band of delicious, blushing, almost Barbie pink around their centres.

Lampwork glass beads made with Effetre Striped Pink 253

Pretty, huh? The effect is reminiscent of what you can achieve with Reichenbach Purple Rose, but in a more pink way, if that makes any sense.

So, having Googled about and glass-faffed, I'm assuming that Effetre made more than one batch of Striped Pink 253 and that I've been fortunate enough to play with two versions of it. The version Tuffnell Glass currently has is nothing like the one that I showed you last time. That was much more purple and it did that gorgeous pink-glowing thing. This one makes beads that are more opaque. You do get a hint of the pink glow when held up to strong light but not to the extent that you do with the more purple version.

I'm more than happy to have this pinker Striped Pink 253 in my stashette. It makes gorgeous spacers and I reckon I can feel a bracelet-o-pink coming on.

You can grab some of this Striped Pink for yourself over at Tuffnell Glass.

My previous, more purple Striped Pink posts can be found here and here.

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