Playing with glass

Today I got to play with glass and make things  – not stained glass (did it once, made a panel, didn’t like all the splinters) or blown glass ( got offered an apprenticeship once by a flirty glass blower on the Isle of Wight) or melting glass panels. Instead I got to play with a rather unusual and wonderful glass paste that you can roll out like royal icing and cut into. It was at UWE’s Centre For Fine Print Research Make:Shift:Do 2017 – open doors day and it was fascinating to wander round and see how 3D print and AI/Machine Learning are now part of their research, alongside more tradional activities like cyanotype printing and artist book-making.

So, today I was lured down to Bower Ashton by the description of the glass paste workshop – “Shape and print into glass with normal household items at room temperature.” Sounded intriguing and it was. Even more delightful was that the drop-in workshop was run by Susanne Klein, who I first met working at HPlabs Bristol, and who has given talks about her research to Bristol Girl Geek Dinners.

Turns out, it was Susanne who basically invented the glass paste we were going to use – it’s a mix of ground glass, water and a powdered material that burns away in the kiln, and only has to heat to 800 degrees. Susanne showed me how to mix the three ingredients then knead and roll out the paste – just like making icing!

I picked a few simple shapes and pressed into them with some basic tools, had a go at freehand shapes then chose one of Susanne’s pre-made linocuts to play with, impressing it into the paste with a rolling pin then cutting round it. I tidied up the edges and sprinkled coloured frit (powdered glass) onto the white paste – I could have made coloured paste, just like icing, it depends what colour glass powder you mix. Now all I have to do is wait and see how they come out the kiln. My head is full of other ideas I could try out – theoretically I could do the making at home and then firing elsewhere, as long as was careful about breathing in glass dust or spreading it around the house.

Here’s a couple of the freehand pieces, a moon and a feather.

Moon – unbaked, with frit and glass chips

I couldn’t get the paste to hold a fingerprint impression so I focused on playing with dents and putting frit and glass chips in them to see what they’ll look like after the kiln.


Feather – unbaked, with frit and blue glass beads

Had to make a feather. I don’t have photos of all the pieces I made; can’t wait to see how they come out though.

I did also enjoy wandering around where I studied Fine Art, trying to see what was still there, what has shifted location and what has disappeared (bronze-casting and welding have gone). It got me thinking about the response from tutors to a few of us who were exploring photography and computers and incorporating them in our work and how it was definitely not encouraged (1989-92). Things have changed.


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From log to legs ~ a rural woodworking weekend

I kicked off my autumn with a rather enjoyable weekend of wooden stool-making in rural Cornwall with Turning Hare Woodcraft. It was two days of using hand tools and being mostly off-grid and focusing on pieces of wood and how to shape them into something useful and lovely. I was incredibly lucky to win my place in a competition so didn’t feel at all guilty about abandoning normal family life for a weekend and heading south to have creative fun.

Setting up on the decking under the eaves to avoid the drizzle

As someone who mostly spends their time on a laptop and online it was very satisfying to be using my dormant craft skills to make something very tangible. There were no written instructions, just gentle expert guidance from Bob and Steve, taking us through the processes verbally and with hands-on demonstration.

Halving the ash log in the “outdoor classroom”


Splitting the log with the froe

Saturday started with an intro from Bob & Steve on what we were going to attempt, and then it was all hands on deck splitting an ash log to make enough long sections that were to become the legs of our stool. We all went for three legged – me because I reasoned a three legged stool would be easier to make level – sat on a saw horse each and got cracking with the draw knives; big sharp blades that you pull towards you to shave off strips of the wood. It’s incredibly satisfying once you get into the rhythm of it, and I was amazed that I spent two days working with my indoor-hands but had no resulting blisters.

starting on the last leg


Checking the legs against each other

We learnt how to use axes, froes, draw knives, spoke shaves, planes and cabinet scrapers. The only non-hand tool we used was a battery powered drill because that was the only way to make holes in the slab of oak for the stool seat – the brace and bit just could not do it. Working with different types of wood makes you realise why some timber was used to build ships and big houses, and some was used to make furniture and small kitchen implements.

Getting ready to turn the tops of the legs to fit the holes in the seat

All four stools

After two days of creating piles of woodshavings I am now the proud owner of a stool with ash legs and a flat oak seat that can double as a side table; it fits a laptop or a cup of coffee or my feet or my backside. My stool looks like the hick country cousin of an Ercol table my mum had but I am proud of all its wonkiness and imperfections as I made it pretty much on my own – with small moments of hands-on help from the lovely Bob & Steve when I couldn’t get started with a tool properly.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I recommend a weekend of woodshaving and how it slows down thoughts as you focus on just what is in front of you; working in fresh air under cover from Cornish drizzle and being fed delicious lunches with proper cake.  If you need a break from working indoors or want to learn or rediscover crafting skills then check out Turning Hare’s courses for next year. It’s in a lovely setting with views over farmland and moor, there’s a shepherd’s hut if you want somewhere to sleep onsite, and a handy bijou compost toilet (which didn’t smell at all!).

The Shepherd’s Hut – woodburning stove and wonderful views

It was also great to meet like-minded people who enjoy spending a weekend discovering old ways of making furniture without nails or screws and learning about the history of bodgers and chairmakers in England. I am not sure I have the time to create my own set of dining furniture but there was some talk about a garden bench course next year…


Just a small pile of my shavings!

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