I'm sure, by now, I am on Groupon, Living Social, Travelzoo and Bloomspot's speed dial list when it comes to sending out emails with offers to buy vouchers for "lifelong learning" experiences. This was another one of those deals, bagged a few weeks earlier from Groupon, which offered an Introduction to Glass Blowing, Level One class. I didn't have any plans during the daytime on Saturday and - heaven forbid I just sit on my arse and relax - so I figured why not? I snagged the last spot in the class, which pleased my (omnipresent) competitive nature no end.
My last experience of doing anything quite this crafty (at least that I recall) was when I was still at secondary school at Sir James Smith's in metalwork. This was back in the days where you spent time in classes like metalwork, woodwork, needlework, domestic science and the like - who knows if kids get the chance to do stuff like that anymore in school. Looking back, I'm sure there were lots of safety precautions built into those classes, but I seem to recall that there were lots of open furnaces and sharp objects kicking about with gay abandon. Given my intense lack of co-ordination, God only knows how i managed not to accidentally sand off my face or stab myself with a chisel.
As it happens, my abiding memory of those glory days was in one metalwork class, when the task for that day was to make a poker for the fire. Pretty simple, right? Basically a long thin rod of metal, with a bit of a twisty handle flourish, and slightly flattened pokey end and job's a good 'un. Anyway, I can't remember the exact specifics of what happened (Mumsie - I know, I know - i could have been locked in a dark cupboard for 10 years given how much of my early childhood i actually do remember) but I think i must have got distracted by something and lost track of time. By the time I went to pull it out of the furnace to just finish it off and flatten out the end bit, the whole thing had melted off and I'd instead made an fiery iron sparkler about four inches long. My metalwork teacher was not best pleased (although on the inside I'm sure he was peeing himself laughing at my utter incompetence). I think that's when I realized that a career as a blacksmith was not to be my destiny and considered Pharmacology instead.
|Ready for some melting action|
The drive over to Berkeley was easy enough, given my proximity to the Bay Bridge. It took less time than I expected, so I had time to park up, sign in and then walk a couple blocks to go grab a well-needed cup of coffee before class started. Berkeley is obviously very famous for being home to radical thinking and is one of the most liberal cities in the US. Even still, I was a little taken aback to come across the following sign on my short walk - I'm very liberal myself and - having read the Fifty Shades trilogy back to back - feel I have a much greater insight of ...um... alternative lifestyles. But this seemed a little out there, even by Berkeley standards.
Then I turned the corner and all was revealed. Ah. Got it. Oops.
|Marge, is that you?|
Our class was taught by this very chilled out guy called Bryson. I guess if its your chosen profession to teach complete novices how not to seriously injure themselves with propane torches and molten glass at over a thousand degrees C, then it helps to have a certain demeanor, I suppose. Or smoke a lot of pot. Anyway, he introduced us to our equipment and gave us some basic instructions about which bits not to touch, which ones not to melt and which ones not to drop. It was about then I realized - hang on, its 9am on a Saturday morning, I'm in a 4hr glass blowing course and I have the co-ordination of a dyspraxic spider. This might not end well. But - no time for self-doubt or for escape - as we got straight to work with our first project. A marble.
|Oh yes - it LOOKS easy.....|
The next thing you learn about glass blowing (or, strictly, glass melting at this stage) is the need for patience. It takes a while. The immediate next thing you learn about glass blowing (or, strictly, glass melting) is that the need to keep turning that glass rod makes your upper arms ache like hell. After only about five minutes. Which is very lame, indeed. But, once you've started, you have to keep going so you keep melting and turning.
After an eternity, when its starting to get big enough, you then use your mold to start smoothing it all out and rounding it off. You also learn that if you eff up at the beginning and - instead of a glass ball - you have more of a snail-like shape, its pretty difficult at the end to smooth it all out back into perfect sphericality. *sigh*
|My first ever (and possibly last ever) marble with |
patent pending built in roll-away prevention system
We then heated up the original rod, just past the edge of the marble, until it got really hot then - using an impossible-to-describe technique where you use a cycling-type motion with your hands - separate the marble from its originator rod. You now have a marble stuck on a little rod. The final stages were try and smooth out the ridges from the connection, again using the molds, before then finally placing the marble into the mold for the last time and sharply tapping the narrow rod with a pair of metal tweezers - whereby the marble simply fell off. After a last bit of fire polishing, where you simply kept the marble in the mold and passed it into the flames a few times for final smoothing, it was completed. I was the very proud owner of a not-at-all smooth and only just passing-as-spherical marble. Admittedly, my threshold for satisfaction was pretty low (it wasn't a cube, so that was fine by me) but it was a good enough job, well enough done. I only managed to slightly singe my wrist once with a bit of flying molten glass (mmmm.....burning hair smell... lovely) so I was ahead of my own personal curve by this stage. Buoyed by success (and apparently making a marble is one of the hardest things to do), we moved on to our next project - making some swizzle sticks.
|Mariahs in action|
Best Swizzle Sticks. Ever.
I ended up having enough time to make three of them and I think they rocked. My best one was definitely my last one - I started getting the hang of the slow twist and pull, so it was less snail-like than my first two attempts. That's Christmas sorted out, then.
The next project (this class is hard work!) was a "pendant". Now, I don't know exactly in what setting my "pendant" will be appropriate to wear but it has a certain homespun charm to it. I'm sure its description on QVC would not generate many sales (ladies - here's our ONCE IN A LIFETIME special offer for you TODAY - a misshapen glass marble pendant, with orangey colored swirls and studded with oddly spaced glass dots. A MUST HAVE for every woman's fall wardrobe!) but I don't care. I think it rocks.
|I'm blowing, not smoking|
On my first attempt, I managed to make a glass ornament about an inch in size, so great for midgets with Christmas trees in need of decoration, but not quite the scale I was looking for. My second and third attempt were somewhat better (although the loops at the top were still...umm...a bit crap) but my fourth one turned out great!! The glass bulb was perfect, my loop looked half decent and the long ornate tail at the end had some actual length too it, rather than the stubby efforts that had preceded it. YEAH! I am a glass blowing ninja!! Looking to repeat my success, I carefully placed it down on the mold, tapped it with the tweezers to release it from its cold seal - and promptly broke off the top. Arse.
But, never mind - I ended up with four holiday ornaments - some better than others, but all unique and I was very happy with them. And, with that, it was time to power down our torches for the final time and thank Bryson for his patience and skill at teaching a room of complete novices how to melt stuff and make stuff without serious injury. All in all, a really fun way to spend a Saturday morning and another experience to add to the list. As to whether I'll chance my luck and sign up for the Glass Blowing Level 2 class, well.... maybe.....we'll see.
|Here we go.....|
|YEAH!!! The ill-fated perfect glass ball takes shape...|
|Like applying mascara, glass blowing is easier |
when you stick your tongue out
|"I'm a glass blowing ninja! AND I look cool..."|
|The fragile fruits of my labors.|