Filled With Your Own Breath—The Glass-Blowing Experience, Step-By Step
The first step in making your own glass creation is to find a glass-blowing studio that holds make-your-own sessions. I found one in Lincoln City because that’s where we were going to be. Be careful because there are glass studios that have all sorts of classes for all sorts of things involving glass. It’s an Oregon tradition and a fascinating one, but some studios have just folding tables set up for glass fusing or glass jewelry classes. If you want to blow glass, you won’t need a folding table.
Once you’ve found a studio near the area you’ll be, then you need to figure out what exactly you want to make; each studio has different prices for different items. As an example, the studio I used sells bowls, paperweights, roses, floats, starfishes, and hearts. I chose what I did because it’s the least likely to get broken by kids.
You’ve decided you want to make a float. Okay, maybe you don’t want a float, but that’s what I made and what I have, so that’s what I’ve got experience with. You need to decide beforehand how you want to pick it up when you’re done with it. Maybe you’ll be in town for another week, so you’ll just pick it up before you leave. Or maybe you’ll only be in that town for a day and you want it shipped to your home. They give you the option because your blown-glass creation takes about a day to cool down once you’ve made it.
Then, you need to make an appointment. It sounds like a hair salon, but think of it like a class—you can’t learn if there’s not an instructor there to teach you. Now, think of it as a dance class–you can’t move well if the space is too crowded with other people. Also, if you plan to pick up your float at the studio, schedule your glass-blowing session as early as you can.
Between vacation preparations and travelling to your destination, you need to think about two things regarding your glass float: close-toed shoes (pack them and plan your wardrobe with them in mind, plus don’t wear fleece), and what colors you want in your float.
Now, you’re there for your creation class. You do a very small amount of paperwork on the studio workbench surrounded by tools and completed floats. You pick some gloves and some goggles, and then you listen to the informal explanation your instructor gives you. If any of this has the hint of formality, it didn’t feel that way at all—my instructor was wearing a band T-shirt and jeans and there was a half-drunk Cherry Coke bottle on another workbench.
I’ll leave the rest somewhat mysterious, so as not to ruin your experience. I’ll just tell you three details: you can do as much or as little as you choose. I paid eighty-five bucks for mine which is a lot for us, so I did as much as I felt I could, but that heat is hot—as hot as an active volcano, my instructor told me. Sometimes, I couldn’t stand in front of that heat any longer, and my instructor took over. But I held wooden tools and metal tools; my float is filled with my own breath.
The second detail is this: if you do your float-making in the summer, be prepared to have an audience. I visited the same studio a year or so after I did it myself, and I had a hard time finding a place to stand so I could explain the process to my family. There were three or four rows of chairs in a small lobby in the studio, and every seat was full. There was also a garage door that was open to let the heat out, and people were standing in that opening, as well. The process is open to public viewing, and there’s lots of action.
The last detail is that, at many points during the process, you just have to trust your instructor. And not just about the heat part; that glass creation you’re making looks like, at various times, a lit-up orange, a spiky air freshener, a shrunken head, and a soft-serve sundae. You have to trust that this stranger is guiding you through a process that will eventually get you a glass float.
But when you get your creation in the mail two weeks later, it will look gorgeous. And you’ll be able to go to a hardware store for a hook and a chain that you can pick out yourself and buy yourself. And you can pick where to hang it and at what level.
Or not. After all, it’s your creation and your process—you can display your glass float however you like. It’s yours, after all: unique and handmade by you, filled with your own breath. And the experience is fascinating.
The details: I visited Jennifer Sears Glass Art Studio and my instructor was Andrew Kogel. Glass floats were originally made by Japanese fisherman to keep their nets afloat, and when they came loose, they’d get washed away by ocean tides and end up on the beaches of Oregon. I believe kids are welcome to try it, too. Hooray!
Kate is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. As much as she’s learned to seek out the subtle colors of the desert, Kate has found that she really is a tree girl at heart. She posts on parents’ tips for kid-friendly traveling havens from a curious newcomer’s perspective; Kate is a very recent resident of Salem and thrilled to be here. Kate writes personally and with just as much enthusiasm here.
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In this Oregon Story
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