This month editor Nicky Sherwood visited the Dorset studio of glass artist Wendy Jeavons of Red Brick Glass and learnt to make festive glass bunting on a beginners glass fusing workshop.
I’ve been a fan of Red Brick Glass for a while and Wendy’s beautiful personalised glass bunting has been my go-to gift whenever friends have new babies. However, I had no idea how she made her glossy creations, so I was more than a little intrigued to find out what happens on one of her beginners glass fusing workshops.
Alongside her thriving gift business, Wendy offers day courses for people keen to have a go at the art of glass fusing. As this method of working with glass requires some specialist equipment and techniques, not to mention a rather expensive glass kiln, these workshops are a great opportunity to have a go under the watchful eye of an expert.
Arriving at Wendy’s beautiful Georgian house in a picture-perfect Dorset village, I was shown into the newly converted barn which serves as her studio and workshop. The other students started to arrive and we gathered around the wood burning stove looking at examples of Wendy’s work and enjoying a cup of tea and home made chocolate brownies.
Lining the walls of the studio were jars of every conceivable type of glass, ranging from slender rods to tubs of glass granules, smooth glass pebbles, fragments of mosaic and sparkling glass powder in an array of jewel-like hues.
Wendy also uses specialist glass transfers in her own work to add pattern and personalisation, and she showed us some glass decorations made by previous students, making us even keener to get started on our own projects.
Working with glass has its risks so Wendy demonstrated how to use the glass cutting tool safely and handed out protective goggles. Resembling a metal pencil with a retractable wheel for a blade, the glass cutter took a bit of getting used to.
I suddenly started to feel rather uncoordinated as I attempted to cut a sheet of clear ‘practice’ glass, first scoring the sheet before using the opposite end of the cutter to tap the glass until it snapped cleanly. At least that’s what is supposed to happen!
After some broken glass, a few muttered expletives and finally some successful strips of glass, I started to get a feel for the pressure and with some helpful advice from Wendy, I was soon ready to move on to the real thing.
For my festive themed bunting I chose some bright red, opaque white and textured clear glass. I had sketched out my design and began cutting out the triangular pennants using a template.
Each pennant required two layers of glass which would become fused together when fired in the kiln so it was important to try and keep all of the triangles the same size… which is much easier said than done.
Next Wendy showed us how to add decoration using fine glass rods, glass granules, glitter powder, embossing fabric, and glass paint squeezed through a fine nozzle.
With my bunting laid out ready for firing there was still time left to make a few simple Christmas tree decorations. A small metal ring was inserted between the two layers of glass to create the hanger and I decorated the top layer with glass paint.
Now feeling more confident about my cutting (and thankful that I was no longer cutting those tricky triangles) I returned to my strips of practice glass from earlier and cut them down into small squares, before decorating them with handpainted snowflakes.
At this stage the glass was still quite sharp and jagged and it was hard to imagine how the edges would soften and the layers meld together when fired to a high temperature in the kiln.
As our day drew to a close we added our finishing touches and left our creations behind for Wendy to fire and send on to us in the post. It was hard to believe that in just a few hours we had gone from complete glass cutting novices to creating our own stunning finished pieces.
Back at home a few days later a beautifully wrapped parcel arrived and inside was my fired glass bunting and decorations, no longer sharp and jagged but beautifully smooth and tactile like glossy boiled sweets.
Wendy had kindly strung my bunting for me so that each pennant was evenly spaced and perfectly secure, all ready to take pride of place on the fireplace.
My red glass decorations, made hastily at the end of the workshop, had been transformed into shiny treasures which will look perfect hanging on my Christmas tree.
While my square clear glass decorations sparkled like ice cubes filled with glittering snowflakes.
Glasswork is a fascinating craft and one which really does require skill, coordination and at times breath-holding concentration. Expert tuition is essential, both from a creative and a safety point of view, and with Wendy I felt in very good hands.
Wendy has years of experience of working as a glass artist and it shows. Always on hand with help and advice, she gave us complete confidence from the start that we would be able to create a collection of beautiful pieces to take home with us.
I am delighted with my creations and I know that I will be bringing them out at Christmastime for many years to come, and will always get that little glow of satisfaction from knowing that I made them myself.
Wendy also teaches one-to-one classes for adults and children, and offers gift vouchers which make an ideal gift for your crafty friends.
Rachel O’Brien is a freelance writer, stylist and author of the blog http://littleraysoflight.wordpress.com
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