Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Fantastic Field of Fritology

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the things that I've been purchasing in my recent Supply Stock-up is frit. Today I got a shipment from Dragonfly Glassworx. Thank you, Julia! I LOVE it!

Frit is perfectly good glass that has been smashed and sorted according to size. Powder is, well, powder. Size 00 is tiny but visually recognizable as chunks. Size 5 can often be the size of a bead, so is often attached to a spare hot rod of glass, melted, then pulled into long, thin fiber-optic-escent strings called, um, stringers. Stringers can actually be anything up to about 2mm in diameter and are used for surface decoration on beads. In between 00 and 5 are, as you may have predicted, 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4; 0 and 1 being the most likely suspects for bead use.

One of the pioneers of frit use in beadmaking is Val Cox, who, looking for a vibrant pink, found the awesome range of COE 96 colors that were used by glass blowers. She began making frit and frit blends available to other beadmakers. Over time other "fritologists" began to make frit and frit blends available. Some vendors began to produce COE 104 frit, since the majority of beadmakers work with that type of glass, but the advantage of COE 96 furnace glass remains: the concentration of color within the COE 96 matrix is much higher than in COE 104 glass, so using small shards of frit won't result in muted colors on the bead. COE 96 frit just looks more vibrant than COE 104 frit. So, from this point forward, when I say frit (unless I'm specifically talking about borosilicate glass, which also uses frit) I mean small glass fragments with a COE of 96.

Let me briefly revisit a point I made in my last post: bad things happen when mix glasses of different COEs ... usually ... sometimes. Remember that the COE stands for Coefficient Of Expansion, where expansion is 10-7inches/°F. In reality, when you're talking about COE 104 glass and a lead-rich (read: pliable) COE 96 glass and the COE 96 glass is only a little bit of frit on top of an otherwise substantial COE 104 bead ... well, often nothing bad happens (though I do find that I increase my chances of making it work by putting it directly into a garage-temp kiln to await annealing). The point being that many COE 104 beadmakers use frit that is (often exclusively) COE 96 and by using a small amount of frit they get away with it. Wanting to reduce my own risk for cracking, which tended to happen too frequently for my taste, I purchased COE 96 rod to use with my frit. Mixing COE 104 and COE 32-33 is still a WAY bad idea.

As of this writing I've purchased frit from five different frit blenders: from Robin at Glass Diversions, from Sabrina at Val Cox Frit, from Christine at FenG Frit Factory (who also makes and sells her FANTASTIC murrini), from Leslie at That Frit Girl, and from Julia at Dragonfly Glassworx. There are other vendors, too, but my budget is not, unfortunately, unlimited.

All of the small frit providers carry at least two container sizes of frit, usually a sample size then a production size. The sizes of the containers and the prices vary from vendor to vendor. For example, what I like best about Glass Diversions is that Robin will let you choose a "sampler" of six colors in 1.5oz containers for $28; I find that's a really great value for fairly large sample sizes of frit blends. Val Cox also has "Ample Samples," with pretty labels in heavy 2x3" resealable plastic bags for around $3.00, Dragonfly Glassworx has a similarly-packaged similar size sample for a little less than $2, and FenG Frit Factory has her samples available for $1.50USD (USD because she's in The Netherlands). Dragonfly and FenG also have borosilicate blends, which I think is fantastic since some days nothing seems quite as satisfying as seeing the delicate rainbow of colors only boro can produce.

Dragonfly Glassworx sampler

The friendly folks at Olympic Color and Hot Glass Color also sell the individual frit (and cane and rod) colors that come from the furnace glass manufacturers, which is nice if there's a color you really like or use a lot of like, maybe, white, black, clear, or Reichenbach Multicolor ... but the minimum order is a half kilo (about 1.1 pounds) - at least at Olympic Color, where I purchased my last bunch of frit.

N.B.: If you decide you want to buy some "rods" from them (since that's what lampworkers generally call their glass), understand that glassblowers' rods are something like 1.5" in diameter. To use furnace glass in the same manner that you use glass rods in COE 104 glass what you'll want to purchase is labeled 'cane'.

That Frit Girl carries reasonable priced 1 and 2oz packages of pure frit color for those beadmakers not wanting to buy that much. Additionally, if you want to make some beads for the program Beads of Courage, Leslie will send you a free sample of any colors of frit you want to try, so long as you send her the beads back to be sent on to the program. Briefly, Beads of Courage provides beads to hospitals for children undergoing treatment for serious illness. After each treatment, the children are given a bead in a color representing the specific treatment, to string on a necklace. This helps give ill children something to look forward to as well as help them visually document their progress.

So, in my effort to better document my artistic process, I will come back to frit, showing you the different colors I've tried from different vendors and report what I think of their ease of use, what kind of application method best makes advantage of their colors, and other tips I find or confirm. In the meanwhile, I'll leave you with this. These beads were made with Zoozii's Chunky Crystal Duo (love it!) that I got an opportunity to use in Lampwork Etc's Press Game (a major secret I'm letting out!) and some of the newer colors I've acquired, including the most recent set of frit that I got from Val Cox and Olympic Color:

All COE 96 unless otherwise specified.
Top Row, from left: I don't actually remember what the first one is made with - probably Reichenbach Multicolor rod on a clear base, Gaffer Blue Chalcedony rod probably also on a clear base with some other color mixed in, Reichenbach Multicolor frit on Rootbeer transparent base.
Second Row, from left: Reichenbach Multicolor frit on base of clear and a layer of Zimmerman Purple Rose Special frit, (another) Reichenbach Multicolor frit on Rootbeer transparent base, Zimmerman Purple Rose Special frit on a base of clear with Val Cox Fairy Dust frit, Val Cox Fairy Dust frit on an encased base of Gaffer veiled gold lustre/white cane, (COE 104)Double Helix Olympia Rain on a base of black.
Third Row, from left: Val Cox Ferrari Red frit on base of clear, Val Cox Mood Swings frit on base of clear, Val Cox Enchanted frit on base of clear, Val Cox Fairy Dust frit on base of clear and Val Cox Violet Storm transparent frit, (yet another) Reichenbach Multicolor frit on Rootbeer transparent base.
Bottom Row: all Zimmerman Purple Rose Special frit on a base of clear and Reichenbach Enamel White frit.

From one of my history professors I learned that N.B. is an abbreviation for 'nota bene'; Latin for 'pay attention or else ...'

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