Friday, July 06, 2007

Making a Vessel

I am often asked if I "blow" glass. What I do is properly called "lampworking" and I don't actually blow the air into my hollow beads and vessels. I have always intended to make a page on my website to show how the vessels are made because the questions are asked so frequently.

Some time ago, I got someone to take a series of pictures over my shoulder as I made a vessel. This is a brief tutorial on how the basic vessel is made.

I make my vessels on the end of a "mandrel". The mandrel is a stainless steel rod. It is coated with a ceramic substance called bead release. This keeps the glass from sticking to the mandrel and when the bead is finished, the bead release dissolves in water and the bead "slips" off the mandrel.

First, a footprint is laid down on the mandrel for two discs. It looks as though there are two beads being made on the mandrel at the same time.

These discs will be the top and bottom of the vessel.

The disc at the end will be the bottom and extra glass is added to seal the hole

The discs are built up by adding glass until they are large enough to meet over the mandrel.


Sometimes, I gently coax them together with a tweezers or a "marver" which is a graphite paddle mounted on a wooden handle. The heat of the glass doesn't melt the graphite and it can be used to manipulate the glass as you will see later.

When the discs have been coaxed together, one more wrap of glass right around the middle makes sure the seal is complete.

Now there is air trapped inside the bubble of glass and I begin to heat the glass until the glass is molten and the air, now heated, expands. You can see it happening in the picture to the right.

This is a magical thing to me. When I first started making beads, my instructor told me I'd have to make at least 40 beads before I'd finally get a decent hollow. She was right!

So often, the seal isn't complete somewhere - either on the "belly" of the bead or something has happened to the bead release so that it isn't complete there. If the seal isn't complete, the bead will deflate into a sad glob of glass... sometimes with a big bubble somewhere, but not where it was intended.

When it works, which is most of the time now (!), I always get a big kick out of it.

Now, the finishing begins. Glass is often added to the bottom of the vessel to give it weight at the bottom so it will hang gracefully or just because it makes the design work.

The vessel is "marvered" to shape it and make the glass move together properly. Often, various types of decoration are added with tiny glass rods called stringer or by dipping the vessel in frit which is crushed glass, often a reactive combination of deep colors.

I'm not showing it here, but the neck is added - like adding another bead right at the end and it is built up and shaped however I envision it.

Finally a handle or handles are added.

And voila! The finished vessel, with a cork and hung on a chain, ready to grace your neck and hold your favorite perfume, essential oil or other tiny treasure.

I've just updated my vessels page and you can see the latest creations I have made with this technique.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice tutorial! Thank you for taking the time putting it together to help others out.