I apologise for dribbling out bits and pieces of Project Flammen – I’m waiting on full-length photos before I get into full details, however, here’s part of what I did for that. (Hey, Roman-themed reign, means that I’m going to do something really Roman for it. Entry to come later.)
That being said, I still needed to make parts for my hair: a pin to keep my suffibulum (that’s the semi-circular veil thing), and a hairpin to keep my hair in place (because I also attempted the seni crines hairstyle, and that requires the use of an acus; a Roman hairpin), too.
Roman-era pins were both functional and beautiful and were often used to attach pieces of fabric together to make clothing, veils to hairstyles, or even keeping hairstyles in place. Made from varying materials such as bone, horn, copper alloy (usually thought of as bronze today), and even glass, these pins adorned many a Roman woman, both in the city and in the outposts scattered around the Empire. (why else would we find Roman-era glass pins in France, England, and Spain?)
Inspired by this piece at the Met in New York, a 50 mm (about 2 inches or so) pin, thought to help contain the complicated Roman hairstyles of the women of the Empire. Translucent green-blue, almost the colour of a modern-day Coca-Cola bottle, this little pin was the inspiration to see how glass pins would work in hairstyles, and how they were made.
Roman glasswork was also the source of many innovations.1 Roman glass furnaces, tempering of the glass itself, and remelted glass ingots shipped out for use for other glass artisans made the creation process not only much easier for these glassworkers to create items, it also allowed the glass to melt at a much lower temperature. Like their modern lampworking counterparts ordering glass, it is certain that these artisans ordered from the makers of these ingots, and then made their own rods and stringers as needed from the ingots, similarly to modern glassworkers. Additionally, Roman glass artisans only needed their own kiln, which could have been a repurposed bread oven) to reach 750° F2 to melt these broken ingots into something pliable enough to work. Glass could be coloured with any type of metals already present in the sand – iron produced green, for example.3
The extant pieces I looked at range anywhere from fragments, to full pieces, ranging from about two inches up to 4.5 inches. My test pieces were a bit longer, but well within the realm of possibility. Many were tapered, and many were decorated with more than just ball-shaped finials to keep the pin in the hair with tension and to prevent the glass pin from falling out of the complicated hairstyles of the Romans. Some are flat, and look much like large nails, others have decorative animals made out of glass. An unusual one features a large eye and looks much like a large glass needle. I made three different types: a nail, a ball-shaped, and a barrel. Only the barrel-shape did not have an extant example, but rather was created after noodling around with glass.
As for the wearability of these pins, I did what any modern-day medievalist would do: I wore it to work. In this photo, I am only using the pin to keep my hair in place. This worked all day with very few problems. For added security, I now use a silicone hair tie in concert with the pin, however, this is entirely personal preference.
Things you will need
Glass (I used 104 COE glass. Roman glass was a bit softer, however 104 is plentiful and relatively easy to find)
Pliers or tweezers (or both)
Graphite marver or graphite block
Fibre blanket/hot plate or kiln
I started by firing up my torch, a HotHead attached to a small propane tank, as that is my current setup. Ever keeping safety in mind, I make sure to have a jar of water, shoes on my feet, safety glasses, and a fire extinguisher close by. Also needed is a graphite marver, pliers or tweezers, as well as glass rods. Helpful is a fibre blanket, also.
I then take a rod of commercially-available soft glass (usually one of my shorter pieces), and after warming it on my hot plate to prepare the glass for working. This does one of two things – tempers the glass, and makes it much less likely to break.
I then rotate the rod in the flames, making sure to heat the glass evenly. I actually made three different pins, all deviating at this step.
Pin 1, round ball-shaped ornamentation: Once the glass starts to melt enough to make a gather about the size of a very small marble, I take a pair of pliers and pinched the glass at the base of the gather slightly, forming a pinched base. If needed, I will use my marver to straighten out the rod if it is starting to sag.
Pin 2, a flattened pin shape: Once the glass starts to melt, make a small gather. From here, push the gather onto the marver, flattening the top of the pin. It should look like a nail without a sharpened tip.
Pin 3, a barrel shape: This shape also starts with a gather, but a slightly larger one (about the size of a marble). I then flatten the glass gently against the marver, then reheating as necessary, start rolling the glass against the marver, creating a barrel-shaped piece. I also add decoration at this point with stringers or by making dots.
To end all three pieces, the process is similar. After letting the tops cool off in the fibre blanket (optimally overnight), I start the process over, this time warming the other tip on the hotplate for use. I then make a very small gather, pinch with my pliers or tweezers, and start twisting and pulling the rod to create a taper. Many of the extant pieces have twists on the tapered tip, and I suspect this is for decoration, but also to help create tension in the hair to keep the pin in place.
After this is done, I let the glass cool down slowly in the fibre blanket (as this is all I have), and once fully cooled, the pin is ready to wear. If you have a kiln, annealing your glass is really the way to go for this, as it increases durability.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the useability of glass pins in the hair, especially in corn-silk textured hair like my own. Even more surprising (but also pleasant!), was the ability to make pins quickly and easily, and relatively cheaply, given that I used all scrap glass that was quickly becoming too short for bead making. I am looking forward to see what I can do further with shaping the glass, and seeing what I can do to create more complicated shapes.
I may have gotten a little crazy with the making of these pins (I have lots of scrap) but I’m very pleased with this. Even more so after I found out I won the Fires of Rome competition at Coronation. I am very pleased. (and I have a spiff new scroll and wax tablet as my prizes – see?)
2Stuart J. Fleming, Roman Glass: Reflections of Everyday Life (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1997):10-11.
3Donald B. Harden, Roman Glass from Karanis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1936):6-9.