Playing with Fire

Eric and I have been taking a glass-blowing class together on Saturday mornings at Art by Fire.  It’s become our weekly “date night” and I’ve found that learning something together is more satisfying than passively going to a movie.

Add to that the fact that we’re learning something dangerous—the molten glass hovers between 2100-2500 degrees Fahrenheit—and that glassblowers work in teams on the bench and it’s been good for our marriage, if a bit stressful at times.

Glass Studio

(I have no idea why there’s a giant Mickey Mouse on the back wall.  Truly.)

Here’s Eric marvering glass to the tip of the gathering rod, which is the glassblowing way of saying: pushing a glob of glass off the end of the rod into a cylinder so it can be worked.

Eric marvering

(Note Sponge Bob on the back wall, gleefully demonstrating the importance of safety.)


I hadn’t realized before the class how much teamwork would be involved.  In glassblowing you rely on your partner to blow into the pipe while you form the glass, use wooden paddles to shield your skin from the intense heat of the glass while you’re working it, and to attach a punty on the end so you can flip the piece over and work on the other side.  Each partner in the team is crucial to the success of the piece.  Your work has your partner’s breath blown into it and vice versa.

Tyler teaching Katie
Working with molten glass is so very different from weaving, and yet there are skills that transfer over.  Design and color principals.  I found myself rolling the rod on the bench with the same full-body rocking motion that I use to slam a beater into place.

I brought the same intensity to marvering glass off the tip of the gathering rod as I do for threading a complicated pattern.

Eric’s comment after the first class was a surprised: “You have a gift for working with your hands.  A real kinetic sense.”

It was a nice moment.  I usually weave while Eric’s at work, so he doesn’t often get to see me in my element.

Textiles are everywhere, and glassblowing is no exception  I wore my Pendleton wool shirt for the class, since wool insulates from the intense heat and will self-extinguish if I catch on fire.  The Pendleton was the only woolen shirt I own, and I at first hesitated to wear it because it is a thing of beauty and was not cheap.  Then I realized that a shirt would be less expensive and easier to replace than my skin, so on it went.

In the class, we were offered the use of kevlar armbands to help insulate our arms while gathering and working the molten glass.  These were sized for big burly guys, and fit rather sloppily on my little wrists, so if I stay with glass blowing I may have to get some kevlar yarn and create my own.

Kevlar armband
Another interesting thing was working in a medium where I am a complete beginner.  I can approach a loom with a certain amount of confidence that I’ll come away with something usable.  Perhaps not quite the thing I had in mind, but a piece of cloth for sure.

Glass makes no such guarantees.

You can spend hours working on a piece, forming it and blowing life into it until it’s a thing of beauty…and then lose the whole piece in the very next moment.  Let the glass cool too much or the heat become uneven, and it’ll crack.  Attach your punty too loosely and the piece will fall to the ground, too tightly, and you won’t be able to get it off the pipe.  The only thing you come away with in those instances is experience and, hopefully, a bit more skill.

Below are the more successful of the flowers I made (the others are more anatomical than floral) and a tree ornament that would better serve the season as a bludgeon with which to deter present thieves.  (It weighs half a pound.)

Flowers and ornament

It was useful and humbling to be a complete beginner again.  Hoping a piece will turn out, ready to settle for knowledge if it didn’t.

Though every now and then, if you keep working in spite of setbacks, you can create something of beauty.

hand-blown glass cup


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