My husband is incredibly difficult to buy presents for. He's the kind of person that buys things he's interested in when they come out, so Christmas and birthdays are always tough. This last birthday was no exception, but a couple of weeks before, Groupon had a deal for an introductory glassblowing lesson. We used to live right next to the place offering it, Seattle Glassblowing, and for the whole year we lived there, we swore up and down we were going to take one of the classes...but it never actually happened. So, we bought one for his birthday and finally scheduled the class right before Christmas, and we loved it so much we're going back as soon as we can! Kyle made an ornament (which he gave to his mom) and I made a bowl (which we kept), and I thought I'd share some of the photos. I apologize for the quality on some of them; I forgot to bring my actual camera so we were using cell phones. This was a really hands on lesson - the instructor gathered the base glass and supervised, but we were allowed to control most of the process. Once he handed the pipe over, we got to gather the color. Kyle did a red, white, and green swirl, and mine was purple.
The thing that surprised me the most was that the pipe was really heavy; in hindsight I should have seen that coming, since the thing is made out of lead. In any case, I needed a little help with getting the color even on mine, because I had a hard time getting it up high enough to get the color on the bottom. Then it was into the fire to start melting the glass. The heat in the furnace at this point is about 2,000 °F, so there's a shield that you sort of step behind, but you still get quite a lot of that heat coming at you.
You gather color and reheat a few times, and then it's on to the actual blowing part of glassblowing. The pipe is hollow, and the instructor described it to us as being like blowing a bubble when you chew gum. You don't have to blow hard, it's more about being steady. The instructor rolled the pipe for us while we blew, since it takes a lot of coordination to do both. This photo is the ornament; you can see that he's using the giant tweezers (I'm very sure that there's an actual name for these, but I don't know what it is) to shape the top of it.
The piece is reheated a few times during this process to keep the glass malleable. Mine had an extra step, since my bowl was made by sinking the middle (you'll see in later pictures); I had to suck a little bit of air in to collapse the middle. At the very end, he takes an iron stick that sits in a bucket of cold water to make little perforations at the top of the piece, almost like when you get a paper bill that you tear off, and the lead pipe is hit really hard to get the glass off of it. Then the instructor added the holder at the top that will enable it to hang - you can see that the glass is starting to cool and the colors are getting darker.
After this, they go into a different furnace that gradually cools the pieces. If they cool to quickly, the glass will break - in fact, they tell you when you sign up that there's a possibility that they will break even with the gradual cooling. Luckily, this didn't happen to us, and a few days later we picked up our beautiful projects. I forgot to get a good picture of the finished ornament, but here's the bowl I made:
It's the perfect size to hold pins and things on my side table (the paperclips are from my hexie project).
We're lucky enough to have a lot of glassblowing studios near us (Seattle is the home of Dale Chihuly and many other amazing glass artists), so it may be a bit tougher to find where you live, but it's so worth it and I highly recommend it!