Faience, also known as Egyptian Paste, was produced
in the Bronze Age by skilled craftsmen for use in high status jewellery
and as votive objects. The Egyptians loved the turquiose effect and plastered
rooms with it and made statues and vessels and other items using it. In
Britain the technique was used to made beads - mainly segmented, research
has shown that local materials were used, rather than the items being
traded into the country from afar.
The images below show the beads made in June 2007
using modern recipes and firing techniques as the starting point for research
into the production methods. These were fired in a raku kiln to about
1000C, the recipe and method used are given at the bottom of this page.
Several of these beads, and those from later trial
firings, have been traded and sold during various events, alongside other
This will be developed by attempting to fire the
beads in a lower technology fire and then using more suitably authentic
materials, which were available in the Bronze Age. Watch this page for
The aim is to be able to offer faience making
workshops to enable people to learn the techniques and make their own
The recipe used for these was :-
39 Nepheline syenite
6 soda ash
6 sodium bicarbonate
6 china clay
plus colouring oxide - these were 2 copper carbonate
(The number is a proportion by weight of each
dry powder constituent.)
The mixture is spinkled with water - approximately
6 parts powder to 1 of water by volume - and mixed to form a paste.
Small lengths of high temperature "nichrome"
wire are cut and straightened, on which beads can be supported while drying
and firing. Racks made of fired clay are used to hold the wires, these
are flat bases with one inch tall walls down the sides - on which the
wires are rested. these can have slots to stop the wires rolling about.
The paste is thixotropic (look at Wiki to see
what that means!) - like cornflour or custard powder when mixed - and
so is hard to work with. The paste cracks very easily when handled, but
that can be rejoined by gentle massaging so that the paste turns slightly
liquid and sticks back together. The water content may need to be adjusted
to acheive optimum workability. If too wet (and you've run out of dry
powder!) then the paste can be rolled on a dry surface - plywood - to
dry it out.
We form small beads by rolling and hand forming
chunks of paste, then the hole is drilled with a piece of wire and they
are left to stand for a few minutes (which seems to let them rest and
solidify) and then they are finally shaped and strung up to dry on the
wire. Before completely dry they are removed from the wire and the wire
is cleaned up and the hole in the beads are checked to be big enough to
enable them to be removed.
The secret of the shiny surface is that as the
beads dry out, the water evaporating leaves behind the soluble salts from
the ash as a crusty coating. When heated that crust melts and forms the
glazed surface. So it is important that the crust is not removed by handling
- it is very dusty. If a piece is left to dry sitting on a surface, the
part touching the surface will not dry outand so no crust is built up
and so the glaze is far less shiny. Some of the salts remain in the bead,
which helps to bind it together when fired.
I have read that it is best to dry the beads slowly
to build up the crust. And I have read that it is best to dry the beads
quickly to build up the crust! So take your choice! However they must
be dry, otherwise the dampness will turn to steam and the bead will explode
We fire the beads on the racks in a Raku kiln
(see the pages on the Upwey Potters website attached to this one). We
have tried temperatures up to 1050C - which is too hot! Too cool and they
will not fuse and will be less shiny, still bumpy and not as strong.
We have tried various metallic oxides in different
strengths to colour the paste. Copper gives the traditional turquiose
and is favourite! For a string of beads a couple of other colours are
worth trying as a contrast, but they are not authentically ancient - when
they tended to use other materials, such as jet, amber, pure tin and copper
- and probably other organic materials that leave no trace.
We are still working on the alternative methods
of production, watch this space!
If you have any comments or observations please