I’m Ali: artist, lampworker, silversmith and the designer-maker behind All About the Beads
I adore colour, so making glass beads (using a technique called lampworking) lets me play with colour and gives me an excuse to expand my ever-growing collection of coloured glass. Making my beads into jewellery allows me to blend them with beautiful, natural coloured gemstones, pearls and silver so I can create wearable art for people who love colour as much as I do.
I'm inspired by all sorts of things ~ art and photographs, the colours in nature or sometimes novels I've read or songs I've heard that paint a particularly vivid visual picture. I love finding new colour combinations and trying to recreate them in beads and jewellery. My glass rods and colourful gemstones are my paint box and the whole process of making beads and designing jewellery is my ‘creative sanity’.
More about me
I live in Birmingham, in the Heart of England. All my beads and jewellery are hand-crafted by me in my blue garden studio, often supervised by my 3 cats: Bandit, Fuzz and Binky.
I started All About the Beads in 2008 – I have my husband to thank for the name, which he just came out with one day and it seemed to fit. At first, I made pieces using simple stringing and wire wrapping techniques incorporating gemstones and pearls and other artists' glass beads. Then I learned some silversmithing skills so I could make my own components and eventually, encouraged by some glass-artist friends, in 2015 I took a lampworking class and set up my own studio.
So what’s lampworking?
It’s a type of glasswork using a torch or lamp, rather than the furnaces used by glassblowers, to melt glass. Once it’s molten, the glass is formed by blowing and shaping with tools and hand movements. To make beads, the glass is wound onto a metal rod called a mandrel. Originally oil-fuelled lamps were used to heat the glass but as with everything technology has moved on and I use a torch fuelled by a combination of oxygen and propane gas which produces a flame that burns at more than 1000°C.
There are two kinds of glass used for lampworking: soda-lime glass also called ‘soft glass’ ~ it’s not actually, soft, but just melts at lower temperatures than borosilicate glass (like Pyrex), which is also called ‘hard glass’. I use soda-lime glass to make my beads as there is a much larger range of colours to choose from and it includes the special ‘silver glass’ I love so much for its metallic and iridescent effects.
Once I’ve made a bead it goes into my purple kiln to be ‘annealed’, a process that heats the glass to its ‘stress relief point’, holds it at that temperature for a short time and takes it through a controlled cooling cycle to avoid thermal shock. Once beads have been through this process, they are pretty resilient and should be able to pass the ‘kitchen floor test’, i.e. if you drop them, they don’t break!
Quality is important to me and I choose to use high grade gemstone beads and pearls in my pieces. Over the years I have found that there are a lot of beads and stones on the market sold as something they are not, or perhaps sold as ‘natural’ but clearly dyed. I now source my beads from a small number of reputable gem and pearl dealers, which gives me confidence that each bead I use is the genuine article.
I am also registered with the Birmingham Assay Office and my larger silver pieces are all hallmarked in accordance with UK law.
I aim to ship orders within 2 working days, most things go out the next day and I use Royal Mail’s First Class, Special Delivery and International Tracked and Signed for services. I offer free postage on UK Orders over £80 and international orders over £150. See my FAQs for more details.