Metro-East Living

Making glass beads isn’t for sissies

Jewelry maker Barb Tissier poses in her home studio in Waterloo. Her husband, Rick, equipped it with a propane torch, kiln, ventilation system and oxygen concentrator.
Jewelry maker Barb Tissier poses in her home studio in Waterloo. Her husband, Rick, equipped it with a propane torch, kiln, ventilation system and oxygen concentrator. tmaddox@bnd.com

Turning an extra bedroom into a home studio for jewelry maker Barb Tissier was a huge project. Good thing her husband is an engineer.

Rick Tissier had to pipe in propane for her lampworking torch. Then he installed a glass kiln, ventilation system and oxygen concentrator.

Barb, 63, of Waterloo, melts her own glass and makes her own beads for bracelets, earrings, pendants and rings.

“This is a UV protector,” she said, pointing to a tinted didymium plate between her chair and the torch’s shooting flame. “You can get a sunburn from doing this.”

The process isn’t for sissies. Barb has learned from past mistakes, wearing eyeglasses and long-sleeved cotton shirts to cover her arms.

“I’m scarred all over the place from popping glass,” she said. “It’s kind of like a chef. They’re going to get cut.”

Barb is one of about 125 vendors who will sell their wares at Kay Weber Presents Craft and Vendor Show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Belle-Clair Exposition Center in Belleville.

Booths will include home and garden decor, purses, hats, jewelry, knitted and crocheted pieces, wood and leather, household and vintage items, stained glass, food and even homemade dog treats.

“This is a brand-new show,” said Kay, who also organizes Belleville’s Fall Art and Craft Fair each year over Thanksgiving weekend.

You have to make sure they’re the same size. You have to make sure the decoration is in the same place. Ladies want perfection on their ears.

Barb Tissier on making beads for earrings

Barb is a retired railroad stenography clerk with a grown daughter and two grandchildren who live in England. She inherited an artistic flair from her mother, who loved decorating and floral design.

Barb started making jewelry about 13 years ago. It wasn’t long before she got bored with traditional crystals and gemstones and decided to enroll in lampworking classes.

“I wanted something with more character,” she said. “I couldn’t find anything I liked anywhere, so I started making the beads myself.”

Barb rented studio space to determine if that was what she really wanted to do before her husband stepped up to the task of installing the necessary equipment at home.

“She was already doing very well with jewelry, and when she started making her own beads, it was even better,” Rick said. “I was impressed.”

Along the way, Larry Hesterberg became Barb’s mentor. He owns The Art Glass Studio and Larry’s Beads in Belleville and teaches classes through Southwestern Illinois College.

Larry, 75, has been making glass beads and stained glass for about 20 years, but he insists Barb is “100 times better.”

“She’s so good,” he said. “I think she’s one of the best in the industry. She makes everything so perfect. She’ll spend an hour on a tiny little bead.”

Larry bought his sister one of Barb’s Grinch pendants for Christmas. He probably could have made it himself, but he didn’t want to take the time.

Barb gets her colored glass in sticks. She melts it with the torch, attaches small dollops to stainless-steel mandrels and forms spherical beads that are baked in the kiln at 960 degrees.

Beads can be textured, pressed, stretched, rolled, twisted or otherwise shaped into leaves, flowers, baseballs, animals, candy canes and jack-o’-lanterns.

In some cases, Barb uses more molten glass to “paint” on details, such as ornaments on a Christmas tree or sprinkles on a cupcake.

“The hardest thing for me to make is earrings,” she said. “You have to make sure they’re the same size. You have to make sure the decoration is in the same place. Ladies want perfection on their ears.”

Barb calls her business BJT Beads. Prices range from $18 to $40 for a pair of earrings, $25 to $50 for pendants and $65 to $85 for bracelets.

Jaynie Wells has been a customer for more than 10 years. She has bought bracelets and pendants from Barb and received many compliments.

“I love her work,” said Jaynie, 58, a retired AT&T employee who lives in Swansea. “I absolutely love it. She is very much an artist.

“Her jewelry is multidimensional. It’s unique and perfect. If she’s not happy with a bead, she throws it away. Her attention to detail is amazing.”

At a glance

  • What: Kay Weber Presents Craft and Vendor Show
  • When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Belle-Clair Exposition Center, 200 S. Belt East in Belleville
  • Admission: $3
  • Don’t bring: Baby strollers
  • Information: Call Kay at 618-233-0940, email to kweber3445@aol.com or visit www.kwebershows.com or the Facebook page
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