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April 23, 2014

Making My Own Glass Blown Sun Globes

Picking up our finished ornaments!

I get my love of crafting from my mom.  In fact, her two major loves are crafting and Christmas.  And since I do flat stained glass with lead came and copper foil methods, I was so excited when I saw a groupon from Franklin Glassblowing Studio for a class in the Nashville area.  In the class a student has the opportunity to make either a blown glass ornament or a paperweight.  I knew I would have to take my mom sometime when I was visiting.  As it timed out, I was there just days before her 70th birthday, so I surprised her with the class this month.  

The color mix my mom chose was the Studio Mix.
 About ten mason jars filled with chipped glass in different combinations awaited our choice as we entered the studio.  We signed in with our names, choice of color mix, and preference between making a paperweight or ornament.  The bright workspace was set up with a couple rows of chairs, facing a workstation and kiln, to accommodate the group class.  The owner, Jose, was our instructor.  He walked the group of ten people through the process, then let each of us come up one at a time for our own guided creation.     It took about ten to fifteen minutes for each person to make an object.
Starting off by rolling the hot melted clear glass in the color chips.
The rods were pre-heated in a furnace.  Jose, the instructor, mentioned each hollow rod itself cost around three hundred dollars, and was no good if bent in any way.  He explained it had to be true to form in order to properly shape the glass.  He dipped a rod into the furnace stocked with clear glass then handed it off to a student.  He mentioned he loads about fifty pounds of glass into the furnace weekly; the furnace itself is always kept running, though the gas "mother flame" is shut off when the studio is not staffed.  We saw the clear glass shards bought by the pound as raw material; a paperweight is made up of about 15 shards of clear glass.

Jose explained his background, apprenticing at studios in the Northwest, and was great at making small talk to keep the process interesting.  He was open to questions about the studio and his techniques throughout our class.  Having worked in stained glass at the level of a "professional hobby," I was interested in the workings of a glass blowing business.  The major operating costs for a glass studio is the utility costs.  Jose mentioned his electric bill being around $900 monthly and gas utility being $200-300.  Sitting in the back of the studio was a gas kiln Jose is rebuilding personally to remove his kiln from electricity; his investment in the incomplete kiln is already $20,000.  
Inserting the rod back into the mother flame to melt the colored glass chips into the clear glass glob.

Removing the red-hot glass glob from the flame for shaping.

Starting to shape by rolling the hot glass on a flat surface.

Blowing the glass ornament to inflate it and introduce an air bubble inside the glass.

Continuing to roll and shape the glass on a work table.  The instructor inflates the glass further while the student forms the neck of the ornament using tongs.

Using tongs as a hammer to break the ornament from the rod by vibration traveling down the rod to the glass.

The formed ornament broken off from the rod.

Adding a string of clear glass to the top from which a hook can be formed.

Stretching the clear glass and snipping it off to form a hook.

Bending the hook into shape once snipped.

Moving the finished ornament into the kiln for firing so that it tempers as it cools.

 Jose explained that if the object was left to cool in the air, the hot interior would cool slower than the outside, causing the glass to shatter.  Thus firing in a kiln is necessary to mitigate the cooling process.  Thicker pieces of glass (such as paperweights) stay in the kiln longer than thinner ones.  A computer controls the temperature of the kiln, and certain cooling points are maintained for varying lengths of time.  So our pieces were left in the kiln to be picked up a few days later.  We didn't mind the additional visit!
Other display pieces in the studio window.
After everyone had made their objects, Jose demonstrated making a larger piece, such as a vase or bowl.  He didn't talk us through this process as much, working deftly and quickly with the hot glass.  It took about 25 minutes to make a large wavy bowl.  For anyone in the class who wished to take it home, he attached a price of $200.  This class was absolutely a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for my mom and I.  I plan to hang my ornament in my kitchen window, while my mom is saving hers for her Christmas tree.  Either way, we'll always remember this birthday.
A lampshade on display in the studio.

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