Making glass beads – an introduction with Sarah Downton

Ref: S2D33661

Location: West Dean
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Places available

About this course

Use a torch flame to create coloured beads and learn how to apply decorative effects such as frits, canes, stringers, dots and metal leaf.

Course Description

Discover the possibilities of glass bead design. Use a torch flame to create coloured beads and learn how to apply decorative effects such as frits, canes, stringers, dots and metal leaf.

This course delivers an introduction into the accessible and exciting art of glass bead making. Learn to make glass beads in the flame using a gas torch, coloured glass rods and a variety of decorative techniques and materials. You will work at the torch and have a good grounding of the processes, materials and safe working practice.

Learning is done in incremental steps to gradually build up skills and make increasingly complex beads. Tutor demonstrations will be followed by individual practice and occasional group discussions. Repetition is necessary to help coordination and to become more relaxed with the process. There will be periodic opportunities for longer individual practice to consolidate skills and pursue personal ideas.

You will be shown how to control the hot glass to make plain glass beads and, after making several, you will progress to simple decorative techniques, shaping and encasing. Materials used include a choice of coloured glass rods, powders, silver leaf and aventurine glass. You will receive information to help you understand the technical aspects, so that your beads are well made and durable.

By the end of the course, you will have made between 18 to 25 beads, depending on bead size and individual speed of work. These can be made into jewellery at home and provide a record of the techniques learnt. You will have gained information and confidence to make beads independently and set up a torch at home. You will also have a good appreciation of the process and design of lampworked glass beads, including the attributes of the 'perfect bead'.

Course Materials


  • General materials and glass used by the group as a whole

What students need to bring

  • A notepad and pen
  • One glass jam jar
  • Flame-worker's didymium or AUR-92 tinted glass safety glasses if you already have these. If not, glasses supplied by West Dean are available to use.
  • Please wear comfortable natural fibre clothing, e.g. cotton (safety reasons) and bring something to cover clothes and arms, such as an apron (made from natural fibres) or an old cotton shirt to protect against burning little holes. Please wear closed shoes and tie back long hair.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • General art and craft materials

Additional information

Please note: finished work will be fired overnight and the final pieces will be held until they can be collected by you. Pieces from the last firing can be posted or can be collected later the following afternoon. Your work will be kept for collection for six months. If you wish to have your work posted, it will be done by recorded delivery at your own risk. Please ensure that your contact details are up to date, as we will post to the address that we have on our system. Please wear appropriate clothing/aprons for the workshop or studio, this includes stout covered footwear (no open toes or sandals).


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

General Information


Sarah Downton

Sarah started making glass beads in 2002 and teaching beadmaking in 2006. She sells at bead and art fairs, is a City and Guilds qualified teacher and four times judge of the British Bead Awards.
She is a member of the Surrey Guild of Craftsmen (where she sells her work), Glass Beadmakers UK and the International Society of Glass Beadmakers.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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Further study options

Take the next step in your creative practice, with foundation level to Masters in Fine Art study. 

Depending on your experience, start with an Online Foundation Certificate in Art and Design (one year, part-time), a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design made up of 10 short courses taken over two years (part-time) or advance your learning with our BA (Hons) Art and Contemporary Craft: Materials, Making, and Place (six years part-time). All will help you develop core skills, find direction in your practice and build an impressive portfolio in preparation for artist opportunities or higher-level study. See all degree and diploma courses.