I have wanted to try working with glass since I was about Art’s age. Last October he and I went on a short trip to Waterford for a couple of days and, after watching the glass blowing and crystal cutting at Waterford Crystal, it’s interesting to learn that he is now similarly captivated by the idea. I had been seriously considering trying lampwork since I joined the SCA but had always thought I would need an annealing kiln. That, unfortunately, is currently not in even my middle-long term budget. After abit of poking at the internet I discovered some lampworkers don’t use or even have one either, but instead use solutions like fire blankets and vermiculite, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy a starter kit from Tufnell Glass as a present to myself. Then I managed to lose the bead release powder, I finally admitted defeat in finding it again and had to wait to order some more.
Attempt 1: At home, without a clue.
This one is going to be short on photos, the process is already hand intensive without factoring in taking photos as well. I set myself up with my hot head torch attached to a canister of MAPP gas. I had not one idea what I was trying to do but I knew where the “sweet spot” in the flame was courtesy of a handy diagram sent with the torch and I knew I had to get a small ball to form on the end of the glass rod. Oh and that I needed to coat the mandrel (the steel rods you wind the molten glass onto to make beads) with bead release to get the glass back off again. Bead release is clay-ish and cracks off the mandrel releasing it and the bead. My newest stuff is already mixed so I dip the mandrels and they need to be dry before adding glass. You can use the flame to quick dry them, which is handy, just don’t go too fast. What I didn’t know was how to keep mandrels and glass rods moving, how to apply molten glass to the mandrel in sufficient quantity, and how to get the wretched blob to stay bead shaped properly. n this first attempt I was trying to wind the glass on by keeping the two – mandrel and glass rod – parallel but close to one another. This doesn’t make persuading the glass to let go easy and definitely doesn’t help with shaping or getting the glass to co-operate very well. These misshappen little colourful lumps were my first attempt but I was hooked enough to go online to see if I could find a course I could go on to get a better handle on the techniques.
Attempt 2 – proper class with someone who definitely had a clue!
I was lucky enough to find Graham Reid Design and that he was prepared to give up a day and his sitting room and cosy fire to teach me, Thora, Gytha, Alays and Aodhan how to do it properly. (Flameworking classes available for beginners, no experience necessary and all materials provided. You get to bring home all your own beads. Classes are 55euro for 2.5 hours.) It was *awesome* I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is one half of the work bench with extractor, annealing kiln (not used in our class) some sample glass rods, a bowl of cooling bubbles – into which are plunged the beads to cool – and an *amazing* flameworking torch that sadly I wasn’t allowed steal and bring home.
The big thing I learned was handling the mandrel and glass rods correctly (I’ll post pictures of what I mean when I make my next batch of beads), how to move the glass to right angles to start working glass onto the mandrel and how to separate the glass off the new bead cleanly. In theory at least. I definitely need practice.
I think it’s safe to say everyone enjoyed their time and I’m looking forward to my next home session where I will be trying my hand at some Viking designs.
I also have a whole new avenue of research; Murano glass has a fascinating history and brings me around again to Venice and later period. I look forward to learning about the establishment of the Glassmakers Guild in the late 1200s, or the 1271 law that prohibited the importation of foreign glass or the employment of foreign glassworkers and the 1291 law that required that all furnaces used for glassmaking be moved from Venice to Murano. Glassworkers had a very privileged social status, which presumably made a law passed in 1295 forbidding glassmakers from leaving the city more palatable. Lots of research ahead – if anyone happens to have book recommendations would love to hear them!
Spot the difference!!