June 6, 2013

Go Get Glittering!

Glitter. A girl's best friend? A teacher's worst nightmare? Maybe a little of both. It's also one of the past, current, and undoubtedly future trends in the ever-expanding world of art. Love it or hate it, glitter is everywhere! (Literally. You can't keep the stuff contained to one area no matter what you try!)

In the beginning....
Being the lover of history that I am, I decided to do a little research on the origins of glitter. To accomplish this, I have three basic one-stop-shopping tools that I can always fall back on:  Google, wikipedia.com, and Webster's Dictionary.

First of all, Webster tells us that glitter is an intransitive verb. For those of you who hated grammar in school, I'll try to simplify:  a verb is a word that describes what a person, place, or thing does (an activity). Therefore, to glitter is an action. (If you're really curious about the intransitive part, leave a comment and I'll try to explain.) As a verb, the definitions are "to shine by reflection with many small flashes of brilliant light; to shine with strong emotion". However, these actions aren't really the trend. As it turns out, glitter is also a noun (a thing).

So now I turn to my next tool, Wikipedia (that's a direct link to the information I'm about to summarize). Here we learn that "glitter describes an assortment of very small, flat, and reflective particles. When these particles are applied to surfaces, they each reflect light in different angles causing the surface to sparkle or glitter, similar to, but smaller than confetti or sequins. Glitter has been produced and used decoratively since prehistoric times from many different materials including mica, insects, glass, and now plastic."

Several thousand years ago, mica flakes were used on cave paintings, and some ancient cultures used powdered hematite (a sparkling mineral) in cosmetics. In more recent cosmetic history, Egyptians used iridescent shells of beetles and finely ground green malachite crystals. Very creative and resourceful!

Particles of glass were also used, prior to the invention of plastic, to create sparkling surfaces, and is still being manufactured today. An interesting fact:  the first production of modern glitter has been credited to American cattle farmer and machinist, Henry Ruschmann, shortly after the start of WWII. With German glass glitter unavailable due to the war, Ruschmann found a market for scrap material ground into glitter made of plastics. He founded Meadowbrook Inventions, Inc. in Bernardsville, New Jersey, and the company is still a major producer of industrial glitter today.

Behind the scenes....

Today over 20,000 varieties of glitter are manufactured in a variety of different colors, sizes, and materials. Over 10,000,000 pounds of glitter (that's million) was purchased between the years of 1989 and 2009 alone. Commercial glitter ranges in size from 0.002" to 0.25". First, flat multi-layered sheets are produced combining plastic, coloring, and reflective material such as aluminum, titanium dioxide, iron oxide, and bismuth oxychloride. These sheets are then cut into tiny particles of many shapes including squares (my favorite), rectangles, and hexagons.

Due to its unique characteristics, glitter has also proven to be useful forensic evidence. Because of the tens of thousands of different commercial glitters, identical glitter particles can be compelling evidence that a suspect has been at a crime scene. Glitter particles are easily transferred through the air or by touch, yet cling to bodies and clothing, often unnoticed by suspects.

Practical applications....
Now for the fun part:  what can you do with glitter?  Need a fun summer activity for your kids? I found a fun website that provides a recipe for making your own, non-toxic glitter at home. I also found some interesting ideas for experimenting with glitter:  wallpaper, ribbon, frosting (yes, there is such a thing as edible glitter), candles and candle holders (basically jars), wine glasses, shoes (especially canvas ones such as Converse), concrete floor, magnets, iPhone case, tattoos, thumbtacks, furniture - the list is really as endless as your imagination and resources are willing to allow! And the best part is, Paper Pals carries it in a great assortment of colors and densities. Stop by and get some today!

This is Ranger Stickles Dry Glitter.

Stickles Dry Glitter comes in many awesome colors.

Here are some Stickles glitter glues.

Also Tim Holtz Distress Stickles Dry Glitter in Rock Candy. Here's a short video of Tim demonstrating how to use it.
Other brands are also available.
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Karen said...

What a fun article! Love the history behind glitter - thanks!

Shelle and Dan said...

That's so cool. I didn't know anything about the history of glitter, but I'm sure glad we have it now!