Hubby and I recently took a glass pulling class together, where we learned the basics of making sculpted flowers.
For Christmas, my son’s girl gave us a gift certificate to attend a hands-on (so to speak lol!) learning session at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. We waited until after the omicron wave had receded before scheduling. Attendees had to be vaccinated, but the center recently dropped the mask mandate.
Classes are limited in size and fill-up quickly! There’s a wide variety of offerings. Families and friends can book their own private session. In fact, a family of four was in our class to celebrate their teen’s birthday.
There was a wide diversity among the total attendees in our session, which also included a young couple on their wedding anniversary, and a single woman who had received the class as a gift.
No one had tried glass making before, and we were all excited — although a tad nervous. In the end, everyone seemed to enjoy the glass pulling class, and were looking forward to taking home their sculpted flowers.
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A hot show (pun intended) on Netflix called, Blown Away, features a glass artist competition. Two seasons and a special holiday competition are currently available, with a third planned for release in 2022.
Over the past 20 years, Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) has grown to be one of the premiere glass facilities in the U.S, a vibrant contributor to Pittsburgh’s thriving cultural landscape.
The nonprofit, public-access education center includes; an art gallery; state-of-the-art glass studio; a community builder; and a hub for innovation and creativity. Anyone can take classes, explore the contemporary glass gallery, and watch the live hot glass demonstrations.
World-renowned glass artists — including Dale Chihuly — come here to both create and teach. He made this bowl at PGC while in Pittsburgh to unveil his blockbuster collaboration with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Chihuly blown glass sculptures filled 12 display rooms, the Welcome Center and more.
I took you to Phipps in Spring Flower Show, and shared numerous Chihuly pieces on permanent display.
It was an unseasonably hot Sunday afternoon when hubby and I headed out to make our much more modest glass creations. Inside the studio, the furnaces were really heating up too lol!
Release forms were signed in advance, however, the only safety gear provided and required was wearing regular or safety glasses. As instructed, we came dressed in old clothing made of cotton or linen. No synthetics! Because it was so warm in the studio, hubby and I wished we had worn shorts instead of long jeans. Bringing a rag for sweat and bottle of water (they have a water fountain in the room) is also a good idea.
All Fired Up
Introductory classes at PCG teach safety procedures and basic techniques. Glass pulling or blowing begins with molten glass and ends with a totally unique, handmade glass creation. Various tools and devices are used to carefully shape molten glass into desired forms.
To begin, an instructor did what felt like a very fast run-through of safety procedures and the steps to sculpt a flower. Honestly, it was a bit intimidating at first. After all, you’re going to be working with 2,100 degree molten glass! Initially, no one was quick to volunteer to go first.
However, there were two instructors, plus another assistant for 11 students. Only two people went at a time, allowing for one-on-one help and instruction.
Turns out, we each made two flowers. The first time glass pulling, we could observe close-up with most of the handling done by the instructor. However, students had the confidence and understanding of the processes to do significantly more sculpting for the second flower, while working side-by-side with an instructor. It was like getting two private lessons!
How to Sculpt a Glass Flower
Bowl of the four sculpted flowers Mr. Buzz and I made in our glass pulling class.
Before you begin, choose the color of the stem and flower.
Gather Molten Glass
Punty metal rods for handling the glass were warmed ahead of class.
To begin the process of glass pulling, the instructor first dips and turns the end of the punty into clear molten glass in a 2000 degree plus furnace.
Before handing off the punty, the middle section is cooled by turning in a sorta portable water fountain on wheels, operated by a foot pedal. During glass pulling and sculpting, this safety measure helps to prevent burns when handling the punty.
Add Flower Stem Color
Next, the clear molten glass is carefully pressed into the color chosen for the flower stem. This is done by gently tapping the top into color, then rolling the molten glass to cover with the desired shade all the way around.
Here I am observing the technique for my first flower. Notice how far back the instructor is holding the punty.
Reheat, Melt Color
After applying the desired color, the glass is placed in a different oven or furnace called a glory hole. There, the color particles melt and blend with the clear molten glass.
Here, I’m working on my second flower. The punty rests on a stand that supports it while the glass is heated. Meanwhile, you must constantly rotate the punty. That’s so that gravity won’t cause the glass to lose it’s shape or fall off the pipe. It’s pretty darn hot standing there!
Once you see the granularity of the color particles smooth out on the surface of the glass, it’s ready to come out. Regardless of the stem color chosen, the glass continues to burn bright orange.
Roll, Shape & Cool Slightly
Next, the punty is carried over to a marver, a flat metal table where the glass is rolled and shaped.
The glass needs to cool down somewhat, so that when re-dipped into molten material, the colors don’t melt and contaminate the clear glass in the furnace.
Gather More Molten Glass
To create the flower or bloom, more molten glass must be gathered. Once out of the furnace, the punty is cooled again on the water table.
Now the hot glass at the end of the punty has more of a bell-shape.
Add Flower Color
To incorporate color into the flower, requires holding the punty almost vertically, while carefully pressing into the chosen shade. Then, the hot glass is quickly dabbed into an accent color.
Back in Oven
While sculpting, the glass must be kept quite hot so it’s pliable. Once cooled, glass cannot be reshaped. This is done by either using a glory hole or the flame of a torch.
A second trip to the glory hole smoothly melted the flower color particles into the glass.
Glass Pulling & Sculpting
Being careful to keep rotating the pipe, I then moved to the bench. There, the glass flower and stem are sculpted in a series of quick moving steps.
Meanwhile, the punty was kept in a constant, slow rotation to prevent gravity from pulling the hot glass out of shape. This is where a second pair of hands is helpful.
Step 1: Shape Flower
Begin sculpting the flower by using tweezers to create a series of pinches — going one or two times all the way around the hot glass.
Occasionally, it’s necessary to dip the end of the tweezers into the bucket of water at your side. This happens when the tweezers start to feel tacky or sticking to the glass. You want a clean and quick release.
On the next rotation, use the tweezers to pull the glass slightly forward and upwards. This “opens” the petals to sculpt the bell shape flower. As you can see, the glass is still red hot. Continually rotating the punty helps to dissipate the heat so you don’t burn your hand.
Can you see the flower taking shape? It’s cooling somewhat, and you can begin to see the white color of the flower Mr. Buzz is making.
Step 2: Pulling Glass Stem
Once that second step of sculpting the flower is completed, you quickly proceed to pull the glass stem.
This is done by quickly grasping the flower with tweezers, pulling forward and then down. Gravity then does most of the work to elongate the stem.
Grabbing diamond glass cutters, you then squeeze the glass stem nearest the punty — gently! The cutters are used to create an impression or crease in the glass, rather than cutting all the way through. Otherwise, the flower would fall to the floor and shatter!
At this point, the clipper end of the cutters is used to gently clamp onto the flower. If desired, a simple twist/twirl motion creates a curved stem.
Only the instructors did this quick, delft maneuver in our glass pulling class.
Finally, the finished glass is carried and set flower side down on a finishing table. A little squirt of water is applied near the punty tip, where you already squeezed with the diamond cutter. Gentle taping of the punty with a wooden mallet makes for a immediate, clean break. Then, a quick wave of a torch flame creates a smooth, finished end to the glass stem.
At this point, it is still near impossible to detect the coloring of the finished product. While an assistant logs your name and color choices into a database, the instructor places the finished pulled glass piece (but still extremely hot!) into an annealing kiln.
There the glass cools over a period of five days. The programmable kiln slowly brings the sculpture to room temperature. This helps to relieve any internal stresses that could lead to cracking or breakage.
Yesterday, hubby picked up our four finished flowers from the glass center — in between volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and math tutoring high school students. What a guy!
Since the glass was still red-hot at the end of class, I was pretty pleased with seeing how the colors turned out. This is the flower I made in light blue with white spots and celadon curved stem. Hubby likes it best!
I equally admire his white flower with purple accents. However, we both agree his clear white flower and stem with tan spots is too subtle. It does help to balance nicely in the glass bowl with the other sculpted flowers though.
Surprising, was how my orange flower with purple accents turned out. We aren’t quite sure how the dark green of the stem extended into the bloom?
Which is your favorite?
Have you ever tried glass pulling or blowing?
On the Town
Mr. Buzz and I have been taking advantage of the lower virus risk level to get out and about. Over the last month and a half, we’ve been to the theater three times! All required proof of vaccination, and two also mandated masks.
In late March, didn’t want to “miss my shot” at a second viewing of Hamilton. Totally different cast, but still phenomenal!
Recently, we celebrated hubby’s birthday with dinner at a favorite French restaurant for mussels, pomme frites, and Belgium beers. Can’t believe we hadn’t been to Brugge Point in over two and a half years!
Afterwards, saw Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Having read the book and seen the movie, we had never viewed the story as a play. It’s different — but the same. Wonderful staging and powerful performance.
Both Hamilton and Mockingbird are part of Pittsburgh’s Broadway Series, which brings the national tour of shows to the grand Benedum Theater. Perhaps they’re coming to your city? In May, we have family coming to visit us to see the Temptations musical, Ain’t Too Proud.
And, the night before attending the glass pulling class, we were at the much more intimate Pittsburgh Public Theater to see Murder on the Orient Express. Although we found the staging a bit awkward and the feigned foreign accents difficult to understand at times, it was a lot of fun. Plus, the tickets were only $15 each through membership in Osher.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) offers its members (age 55+) a wide range of courses taught by members, volunteers, faculty and other schools and community organizations. We have a second Osher chapter at Pitt. There are chapters across the U.S. and world, and perhaps one near you?
This semester, hubby is taking three courses. First was the history of Germany between WWI and II. Currently, is a weekly class on the French Revolution. Today, he’s learning lawn bowling at Frick Park.
Remember me taking an acrylic painting class where I created this canvas of my Sweet Scottie Dog: Fuzzy Funny Valentine?
It’s so fun continuing to learn and try new things; see DIY Arts & Craft Project Ideas & Inspiration.
After several years homebound, watching TV, Zooming and Face Timing, recovering from foot surgery, doing puzzles, reading etc., it’s wonderful to be active, explore the world and see smiles! That’s why my blog posting is much less frequent. I want to be out there, embracing life and not sitting on my bottom in front of a computer screen as much. Hope you understand and will continue to follow along?
And, I’d love to hear what you’re up to! Just leave a comment below the post.
I’ve also been enjoying raising, training and interacting with Whiskey, my now 16-month old Scottish Terrier. Learn more about him in, Preparing for a Puppy: Favorite Dog Supplies & Toys, and Energetic & Playful Scottie Puppy: 6 Month Update.
Unfortunately, Whiskey is in a cone now for hopefully no more than two weeks. He’s very unhappy about it!
Last Monday, he had his annual well care visit with four vaccines. Except for his over-the-top energy and inability to stay still, all was well. Come Thursday, however, I was back at the vet. That morning we discovered a strawberry looking growth on the underside of his foot.
A needle biopsy provided the relief that it is 90% likely a benign tumor, called a histiocytoma. It was a scary 15 minute wait for that diagnosis! I will spare you the pictures, but it’s big and ugly.
Whiskey also tested positive for two different bacterial infections in the tumor, and is on an antibiotic cream. The cone is to keep him from licking, and is on almost 24-7. I have to hand feed him, because the instant the cone comes off he starts fussing with the growth. Vet says it likely itches terribly. I feel so bad for his obvious discomfort! However, the tumor itself is not painful and doesn’t affect his ability to walk.
Most histiocytomas resolve (go away) within three months. Otherwise, they need surgically removed. Fingers crossed! Have you every experienced one with your pet?
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