Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Recycled whisky bottle

Customers at my Saturday stall in Cambridge are nearly always fascinated to hear I recycle bottles into beads and then into jewellery and they seem to find it especially interesting when they discover the bottle used to contain something alcoholic! In fact at the moment, I only have one tee-total option - Perrier water mineral bottle beads!

Here is a photograph of the latest recycled beads that I'm adding to my range this week. It's another alocholic one; these have been made from a Talisker whiskey bottle. The bottle was drunk and donated by sister, Sharon's fiance, Martin. (Thanks, Martin, you're a pal!) I quite like whiskey and have drunk it in my younger days but for preference, I'm a wine or a gin and tonic drinker myself. What I particularly like about using a Talisker bottle is that my sister, Martin, DH and I had a holiday in Scotland several years ago and we actually visited the distillery and saw how Talisker whisky is made.

There's quite a range of colours in the beads here, when the glass is first melted, the beads look like the clear ones to the bottom right of the photograph. They're a bit boring like that, and they don't really say "whiskey" to me. I could etch them but then they're going to look identical to the recycled Rosé wine bottle beads which are all summery, light and delicate. That look isn't going to suit a drink like whiskey and I want some way of differentiating them; their origin is a robust and (forgive the sexist word) manly drink. I had the idea to add frit to the surface of the beads to alter the colour. After many experiments and failures, I've come up with a combination I'm happy with; I've very sparingly used a reducing frit with a high silver content. With reduction frit, you can make the surface of the bead ultra shiny/metallic/irridescent. At the end of the beadmaking process, I turn the propane to my torch up and the oxygen down to achieve what we beadmakers call a reduction flame. It's much cooler than the neutral flame that is used for most beadmaking. I'm not sure how it does it (probably a chemical reaction) but when I bathe the finished bead in this altered flame, it causes metal oxides in some types of glass to come to the surface and coat the bead. This particular frit produces colours that are reminiscent of whiskey itself, all kinds of burnished golden amber.

As you can see from the photograph of my experiments into how much frit and reduction to apply to the beads, the colour you can achieve varies quite a bit. Mostly, it depends on how much frit you've put on the surface and how long you bathe the bead for. Sometimes the effect of the reduction can change in the kiln depending on how long the beads are in there as well, all sorts of things affect the colour of glass but I won't go into all those factors here.

Anyway, I've decided the ones I like the best are the lustre-rich semi-transparent golden ones to extreme left of the front row. I've got a batch of these annealing in the kiln as I type. I hope to be offering some beads for sale in my Etsy shop tomorrow as well as making the others into jewellery for sale on my stall on Saturday.

The idea to make these beads came about after an e-mail exchange with one of my Etsy customers, Heather who lives in Canada. She's a member of a very active single malt "appreciation" association. They often raffle off prestigious bottles of scotch, but are always on the look out for other means of raising funds, and after seeing my beads, Heather had the idea that she could make some jewellery with beads made from a recycled whiskey bottle. She asked if I could make some and I was certainly willing to try! Heather teaches English literature and - like myself - the narrative of people and things fascinates her, I think this is why we struck up such an e-mail friendship.

I like to have a story behind the recycled beads and "narrative" as a word just fits the way I sell the jewellery made from recycled beads. Just recycling any old bottle won't do. For example, my dad had some brown bottles that he purchased years ago intending to make some home brew beer to go into them but he never used them. When he had a clear out, he offered them to me but unused and unloved, they seemed a bit "soul less". I like to tell my customers that the beads were made from a Rosé bottle that DH and I drank at a bar-b-q last summer - there's the narrative. Customers enjoy the Cava story where the first bottle I made beads from sent me to sleep all afternoon so I always make sure I have guests for Sunday lunch when I need another ... how disappointed the first time I had Bombay Sapphire gin that the drink was was clear instead of the lovely aquamarine colour of the bottle.

There's no narrative to some boring brown bottles that have never contained anything, Dad just thinks "hey, free glass, what's not to like?" I can see his point but I'd rather have some kind of a tale to go with it.  Heather told me a very special story from her family history and with her kind permission, I'm reproducing it here

Even ordinary bottles can carry stories, I learned years ago when, literally on his deathbed, my grandfather confided to my mother that he had a little six-pack of beer squirrelled away collecting dust under the kitchen sink that he wanted my mother to have. They were little dark brown "Stubbie" bottles, a short, slightly squattish shape that had been abandoned by the major breweries in Canada many years before, so they'd been hidden under the sink for a while. After his death, my parents raised the Stubbies in honour of my grandfather. If only we could have made beads and jewellery out of them: my grandfather (himself a tremendous recycler of all things long before recycling was popular) would've been thrilled!

I think that's such a beautiful memory. I'm glad she shared it with me and that she took the trouble to write and enquire about whiskey bottles, together we have developed a new product line and I'm grateful for the inspiration, especially from one who is so appreciative of the narrative that accompanies these new beads. I hope you will like them too.


  1. I will keep an eye out for any unusual bottles for you to turn into beads (not sure what the story behind the bottle would be though!!). Pat (Sandy's friend)

  2. Hiya Pat! Thanks for commenting. What I'm really after is red bottles and amber bottles. In the US, beer comes in amber bottles but not here - it's clear or dark brown, occasionally green. I heard a rumour of some Welsh mineral water bottles that are red but I've not seen any or had occasion to go to Wales. If you secure a supply, the story would be "Blogger to the rescue!" :-)

  3. They are a beautiful colour!
    I'll keep an eye out for unusual bottles for you.


Thanks so much for visiting, I love it when people leave me messages!