Two Christmases ago, Melissa Sahns, 24, asked Santa for a blowtorch kit.
Sahns, of North Wildwood, is a jewelry designer, with a focus on bead and stone pieces. She sells her one-of-a-kind jewelry online at Etsy and in The Bee Well boutique in Linwood.
Santa delivered on the blowtorch. Recently, Sahns used it to demonstrate the intricate art of glass-bead making.
To her left was an assortment of colorful glass rods, each about a foot in length and as thin as pencils, sorted by color.
After selecting a buttery yellow and an orange rod, Sahns began to turn the knob on the blowtorch and lit a hissing stream of gas.
After adjusting the flame to a manageable level, Sahns took a beading mandrel - a metal rod used for beading - in one hand, the yellow glass rod in the other, and began to slowly inch them into the open flame.
"You have to put the glass into the flame slowly, because if you do it too fast, then it will pop," she said.
Once they were in, she began to twirl the glass rod around the tip of the mandrel in a mesmerizing circular motion, watching as the glass rod started to melt into glob like the cotton tip on a Q-Tip - the start of a marble-sized bead.
She swapped the yellow glass rod for the orange one and began to melt the new color on top of the other.
Pulling it from the flame, she watched as the molten red glass began to cool and reveal yellow and orange swirls, like a Polaroid picture coming into focus.
"See the designs?" she asked. "Isn't that beautiful?"
Sahns said she always had been the "artsy type," with an interest in fashion. During high school, she worked part-time at a bead shop, which is where her interest in beading began.
"I made my own prom jewelry," she said. "I made prom jewelry for my girlfriends. Jewelry-making was just something I was always into and good at."
Her interest in making blown-glass beads came a little later, when a friend's mom introduced her to the equipment and the art form.
"She told me I could come over and use her blowtorch whenever I wanted," Sahns said.
Fast-forward four years, and tiny glass beads have taken over her living room, some strung on wires waiting to become a piece of jewelry, some filling Mason jars and small containers, others strung on wire rings, wrapped around the petals of empty wine glasses left on her coffee table - "wine charms," she said.
Showing off a few of her favorite beads in her palm, Sahns held out an "evil eye" bead, an air bubble bead and a little pink pig with a missing ear.
"I wish his ear didn't break off, because I was so proud of it," she said. "Those little black eyes were so hard to get right."
And then there are the many escapee beads, those found months later hiding around the corner of the kitchen or camouflaged into the carpet where they rolled off.
"My boyfriend is always yelling at me, because he steps on them," Sahns said, "but I like working on the living room floor. I don't know why, but it's where I'm comfortable."
After making the beads at her workplace, she often moves to the carpet, where she'll sit cross-legged and strand the jewelry. Sometimes, she said, she puts on music and lights candles, other times she turns on the TV or sits in the quiet and just focuses on the task.
"Jewelry-making can be really therapeutic," Sahns said.
She describes her jewelry style as eclectic and urban chic.
"It's like (Anthropologie) meets Free People meets Urban Outfitters," she said. "Maybe a bit of rocker hippie."
Her inspiration for her pieces often comes from high-end fashion magazines, she said, but made and sold at a more modest price, ranging from $10 to $200.
"I want to give everybody a piece of jewelry that they love, and I don't want them to have to splurge on it when I can make it cheaper for them and have them love it just as much," she said.
Sahns' Etsy page is at etsy.com/shop/missstonian
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