Having not really been aware of sea glass for most of my life, I’ve recently been forced to sit up and take a bit more notice…
- Pinterest pictures of sea glass projects have popped up whenever I was pinning.
- Facebook pages have been full of discussion about where to find the most beautiful samples.
- New sea glass jewellery suppliers have been showing off their beautiful creations.
Sea glass is obviously the new black
All this has inspired me to read up more about what is sea glass and how to make sea glass jewellery. I’ve also been sea glass hunting – a surprisingly enjoyable, relaxing and addictive pastime. There also seem to be many ways to combine sea glass with silver and copper as part of my portfolio for the silversmithing even class I’ve been taking at Leeds College of Art.
During my recent week away in Northumberland I realised that the beaches there are quite well known for their stocks of beautiful sea glass. It would have been a waste not to take a look round for some while I was there and I was surprised and delighted to find many different pieces.
Some of the best were from Seaham beach near Sunderland and I collected the best ones I’d found into one little group to take a picture. I love this photo – I put them in a glass dish so the light would shine on them but it was very bright so I decided to take the picture with my back shielding out more of the sun. As I lifted the camera, a shaft of sunlight got in on the act under my raised arm. Stunning result (always meant it to happen, of course).
What is sea glass?
Basically, sea glass is a marine pollutant. A pretty pollutant but still waste, nonetheless. It is not a natural substance – it is manufactured glass that has been either thrown into the sea deliberately or has ended up there by accident.
Sea glass has then been polished and made into fragments and smooth pebbles by the churning action of the waves. People throwing beer bottles and other glass into the sea from a seaside pub might be responsible for some sea glass but there are other, more interesting ways it can get in there.
Sources of the best sea glass
The best sea glass comes from antique glass that has been in the sea for a long time, sometimes over 100 years.
Seaham beach sea glass
The Candlish family had their massive bottleworks in Seaham, near Sunderland on the north east coast of England, between the 1850s and 1921.During those years the glassworks thrived and became one of the biggest glass manufacturers in the country. It closed during the coal strike of 1921 in the depression as the first factories to mass-produce glass opened. You can read more about Seaham Harbour and the glassworks in this article.
At the height of its success, the Seaham glassworks was producing 20,000 hand blown glass bottles each day. At the end of the day, the final large balls of glass used for blowing bottles became unusable so were thrown into the sea. This end-of-day glass often contained different colours of glass and so, if you’re lucky, do the polished end-of-day glass fragments that you can find on Seaham beach.
Glass lost at sea
Large consignments of Seaham glass bottles were shipped out of Sunderland for export but during the First World War, in March 1917, the Oakwell, one of the main carrier ships, was sunk by a mine. Its entire contents of glass was lost, just off Robin Hoods Bay.
No doubt other batches of cargo also ended up in the water due to storms and weather, so you have a good chance of finding antique sea glass along the entire east coast from Holy Island down to Scarborough.
Not all sea glass is equal
The pieces I found at Seaham are lovely. Gorgeous colours and polished to pebble shapes.
The rest of my sea glass came from other places – Boulmer beach and Craster harbour were good sources. The glass from these beaches is a mixture of the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. I collected some of all types as I have read that drilling any glass can be tricky. The glass I can’t use for jewellery can be used in other crafts and the really ugly pieces will be for practice.