CustomMade’s Staff Tries Glass Blowing
This article was written by Heather Bailey, part of CustomMade’s Maker Success team.
What a treat: a chance to step out of our offices and into the shoes of some of our makers. As a reward for making our quarterly goal, the employees of CustomMade were given the unique opportunity to take a “maker class,” either blacksmithing or glass blowing. Personally, I was torn by the decision. How were we expected to pick between two totally different and exciting crafts? In the end it didn’t matter. My brief hesitation landed me in glass blowing and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Our curiosity was piqued as we crossed the threshold into the shop of Noca Glass School in Cambridge, no one knowing exactly what to expect. The shop was airy, open, and warm… very warm. Overwhelmingly hot actually. I began to see small sweat beads forming on the brow of several of my co-workers. Then we all noticed the heat source: seven furnaces burning at anywhere between 900 and 2,400 degrees. Those will heat a place up pretty quickly!
Our instructor for the day appears. Jessie Rasid, a graduate of the Mass College of Art and Design with over twenty years of glass blowing experience, is the man in town to see. He begins by giving us a quick rundown of the stages glass goes through in taking its final shape. Now, it’s our turn to try.
First up: the gather. In any glass blowing studio, you’ll find large (rather frightening) furnaces. They contain a pot of glass that’s been melted down at 2,400 degrees into a sort of orange-colored molasses. To gather, you take a heated metal pole, open the furnace, and gather a bit of the glass on the end of your pole. Several gathers must be done to make one piece. Jessie demonstrates (making it look easy) and then opens up the floor for volunteers. After a few seconds of silence, one brave soul raises his hand. Jessie then draws a circle on the floor in chalk about a foot and a half away from the door to the furnace and says,“We call this the Circle of Death. Make sure to have your left foot in it while you gather the glass.” Now, I consider myself to be of sound mind — and one of the reasons for that is because, up until this point in my life, I’ve declined to step into anything called “the Circle of Death.” Once fully in the Circle of Death, we’re required to move our faces closer (yes closer) to the open furnace in order to get a sense of how much glass we have on the pole. It’s at this point I make a mental note to check Jessie’s face to ensure that he indeed still has his eyebrows. He turns around from helping another one of my brave co-workers, and says,“Anyone else?” Confirming his eyebrows are intact, I raise my hand.
Second step: the “glory hole.” Once we all have our gather, we’re able to mold it by pulling at it with giant tweezers or by rolling it on a metal table called a marver in order to get the shape (or a shape relatively similar) to what we’re looking for. Then comes the glory hole stage. The glory hole is the second, less hot but still fiercely roaring, furnace. This is used to reheat the glass when it begins to cool off and become less malleable. Once we’re satisfied with our pieces, we place them in the final oven for 14-16 hours where they slowly cool to retain their shape.
In the week prior to the outing, we endlessly pondered what we would be crafting, a wine glass? A bowl? A vase? As it turns out, all of those things are way beyond our level. We were given the opportunity to make a paperweight, a flower or a pumpkin, the last being the only one that required any actual blowing. When we finished our pieces, the kind folks at Noca Glass School made us a parting gift for our entire office, a lovely fruit bowl designed by and made especially for all of us at CustomMade. It was a lovely day!