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 goods.

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 details.

The aim is to be able to offer faience making workshops to enable people to learn the techniques and make their own jewellery.

The recipe used for these was :-

39 Nepheline syenite

6 soda ash

6 sodium bicarbonate

6 china clay

37 flint

2 bentonite

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 when heated!

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 email us.