During the Morton Arboretum Pumpkin Patch this year, my friend Susan and I signed up for a Glass Pumpkin Workshop where we would learn to make our own pumpkin paperweight. So on a drizzly, cold October morning, six of us gathered by the demonstration tent to learn how to work with molten glass to create our own glass pumpkin paperweights. Our great instructors, Sandy and Hillary from the Girl Glass Studio in Sacramento, CA, first demonstrated how we were going to make our pumpkins, then helped each of us make our own creations. It was far more complicated than I though it would be, but they expertly led each of us through the steps.
The first thing we all had to decide was what color(s) we wanted our pumpkin to be. I wanted one to compliment the others I had, and settled on something similar to one of Sandy’s own designs that was a beautiful combination of green and yellow. Susan was just starting her collection and went with a more traditional orange pumpkin. The others ranged from choosing her favorite color, to another who wanted to match the beautiful fall red color of a nearby tree.
Then it was time to begin. Using a pipe, it was time to do the first gather of glass. In the furnace was clear glass, molten at a temperature of 2000° F.
Constantly rolling the pipe (and keeping it level), we walked the pipe over to the marveling table. There we rolled the glass into a cylinder, while also letting it cool slightly.
We repeated this to make the gathered glass the size and shape that was desired. After the final gather, we rolled the glass in the first “frit” or color.
Then is was back to the furnace to reheat the now color coated glass. Once the glass is colored, it is reheated in the reheating chamber that is in the front of the furnace. It’s used during reheating so someone doesn’t contaminate the clear molten glass in the furnace accidentally with colored glass. You don’t want to be that person!
After reheating, its time to shape the glass in a mold.
Then the glass is rolled again in frit to add a contrasting color to the points.
Back to the furnace one last time and then to the bench for final shaping. This is where things speed up. The glass can’t be allowed to cool very much or we run the risk of it shattering.
First rule was we had to sit on our left hand until Sandy was ready to guide our hand to a safe position. It is deceivingly tempting to grab the pipe placed in front of us, but it’s hard for us to know visually where it is cool and where it is crazy hot, so to keep us safe we sit on our hand. Using jacks, the pumpkin is shaped and the top prepared for breaking off the pipe.
It’s hard to see, but Hillary is holding a board under my arm to help keep the heat from the glass off my skin. Throughout the process I was amazed at the heat that was pouring out of the furnace and off the glass and rod. It didn’t necessarily always look hot, but we could feel it. That is also why we needed to have our hair tied back and wear only natural fiber clothing. Finding something to wear was actually harder than it sounds 🙂
At this point, Sandy and Hillary took over since every minute the pumpkin is cooling, shattering becomes a bigger reality. Hillary brought the pipe with the now shaped pumpkin to a heating table where Sandy was ready to help heat up the pumpkin with blow torches. A few taps and the pumpkin was broken free from the pipe and it was time to prepare the stem.
Glass is gathered, colored frit is layered on and the stem is shaped in a mold. The stem glass was pushed onto the pumpkin and then drawn and twirled, making a beautiful unique twisted stem.
The pumpkin was then whisked away to anneal in a kiln overnight. The temperature controlled kiln was set to 920° and overnight the temperature dropped slowly, about 60° an hour, until the pumpkins were cooled and hardened. Now they’re ready to go home.
Here’s all our creations…
I wish I could do it again, but the class is so popular they have a one time rule. If you’re in the Sacramento area, check out the Girl Glass Studio classes. Based on my experience here, I’m sure it’d be fun and you’ll learn a lot. I’m going to try and look for something near me. It was also fun use my new-found knowledge of glass blowing techniques to understand a little better the different styles and techniques the artists used to make their own pumpkins.
Thanks Sandy and Hillary!