By Catherine Darnell
Teresa Brittain was attending a Shawn Colvin concert in Knoxville when she noticed a woman wearing a familiar necklace. It was missing a bead.
Brittain stopped the woman and said to her, “Excuse me, you’ve lost a bead from your necklace.” The owner explained she had broken it and tried to fix it; she couldn’t remember who had made the necklace.
“I did,” Brittain said. She took the necklace home, repaired it and mailed it back to the lucky woman.
The lampworked method
Not many people can claim to be a bead maker, but Brittain sure can. She has been working full time at her craft for about 10 years, fashioning her glass beads into jewelry in her home studio in Oak Ridge.
Brittain uses what is called the lampworked method, working with rods of different colors of glass, some opaque, some transparent. She melts the glass over an oxygen propane torch. All of the designs and patterns on the beads are made with other colors of glass, powdered glass or maybe gold leaf.
“Each bead is made, start to finish, over the torch,” she says. “No molds, no forms. All are done freehand.”
How Brittain’s bead-making began
Brittain started making jewelry with store-bought supplies in college. In November 1995 she took her first weekend bead-making class and was “hooked.”
“I thought it was the best thing I’d ever done in my life,” she says.
At the end of the class, she bought glass, a torch and safety glasses. She went home and told her husband she was going to be a glass bead maker.
Where to find Brittain beads
Years later, Brittain’s bead-making has found success. She exhibits at eight craft shows a year in North Carolina and Tennessee. About 25 galleries now carry her work, including the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Helios Art Glass Work in Nashville and Thompson Jewelers in Tullahoma. She also teaches classes and sells online.
Making beads isn’t difficult, she says, but making symmetrical beads is.
Yes, it is intricate and sometimes painstaking work. But she says she loves playing with hot glass, “seeing how colors interact with each other, the motion of the glass, the fluidity of it.
“Every week I make different beads. Some of the beads I’ve made, I know how they’re going to turn out, some of them I don’t, and that’s a lot of fun.”
Either way, “It’s instant gratification.”