Sunday, November 8, 2009

Beaded Jewelry by Susan: Glass Bead Primer, cont.

Here's another post in the glass bead primer series: millefiore beads. This term, sometimes spelled millefiori, means "a thousand flowers" in Italian. The technique for making millefiore beads and other objects is ancient, but it was most popular in Renaissance Italy, an important era in the history of beads in general. The glass furnaces were moved from Venice itself to the nearby island of Murano because of fear of fire. The Venetian beadmakers, at one time, were sworn to secrecy and not allowed to leave Murano. Beads were very powerful political and economic objects, as well as objects of beauty and ritual, because they served as currency in the massive slave trade.

Nevertheless, the technical knowledge for creating millefiore was lost by the eighteenth century, and the technique was not revived until the nineteenth century.Within several years of its rediscovery, factories in Italy, France, and England were manufacturing canes. Today, China also produces millefiore beads in many patterns, colors, and shapes.
     Millefiore beads are made from canes, rods of glass clustered together to form designs that look like flowers. The canes or rods, known as murrine, have multicolored patterns that are viewable from the cut ends. The  murrine rods are heated in a furnace, pulled until thin while still maintaining the cross section's design, and then cut into beads or discs when cooled. The beads may be large pendants or donuts, small rounds, flat discs, rectangles, squares, ovals, or even stars.

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