Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tripped Up Tuesdays: All Gummed Up with Henrietta's Gum Arabic

I love, love, love Henrietta's Gum Arabic, but all too often, I end up wearing the stuff in my lap.  It runs on the spendy side (about $10-$14 per oz) and needs to be mail ordered.  One big spill can result in substantial production delays while I wait for the new stuff to come in.

Gum Arabic is a natural gum made from the sap of two Acacia trees: Senegalia senega and Vachellia seyal. Comprised of a natural mixture of edible glycoproteins and polysaccharides, it is used extensively in the food industry as a stabilizer (it reduces the size of bubbles in soda pops) and as a thickener (think gum drops). In watercolor painting, gum arabic acts as a binder, bonding pigments to paper, increasing paints' luminosity, and producing lovely feather effects in water washes.  It is also a weak glue and was the traditional adhesive used on lickable postage stamps and envelopes. One of gum arabic's most remarkable properties is its solubility: it can be completely dissolved in its own volume of cold water. This extreme solubility makes it ideal for beadwork, as spills and dribbles can be easily and completely washed away with just tiny amounts of water. Following Henrietta Virchik, I use the gum to create self-threads of silk and to bind my final knots before sealing.
Henrietta Virchik is the author of the classic book, Pearl and Bead Stringing With Henrietta and the developer of Henrietta's Gum Arabic.  After her death in 2001, Henrietta's mentee Suzanne Hye purchased her Beading Supply Company (eventually renaming it "Hye on Beads") and the gum arabic formula. According to Ms. Hye, "I kept [Henrietta's] name on the glue as homage to her. My family continues to make and sell the glue to wholesalers such as Beadsmith and Eurotool." Ms. Hye also sells the glue on e-bay under the name vintagesuzanne, which is where I usually get it.  Ms. Hye's e-bay shop, by the way, is also an excellent source for discontinued Gudebrod silk thread.
So what to do about those all-too-common spills?  The jar's wide mouth and relatively high center of gravity make Henrietta's Gum Arabic particularly prone to tipping.  I therefore decided to make a Styrofoam collar to lower its center of gravity.  It was a wonderful inaugural project for my new jeweler's saw!
Just *try* tilting this baby!
Also, if you really get into a pinch, plain old Elmer's glue or painter's gum arabic can be substituted for Henrietta's for considerably lower cost.  Truthfully, any water-soluble glue would work fine for the self-threads.  However, for binding the last knots in a necklace, I recommend using some sort of gum arabic. 
 Tradition and gratitude to Henrietta keep me loyal to her brand, however.  With my new Styrofoam collar, I can now use her gum and not wear it.

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