Archive for September, 2008

Really  exciting: I had a frit painting work commissioned the other day, from a woman who had bought something off me through Etsy and had seen one of my bowl there. I have done a couple of plates and a small bowl in a Japanese-inspired cherry blossom design, and now I need to make a larger bowl. This design relies on a quite nice pinky-purply medium frit that is float compatible and came with the kiln. The woman I bought Kelvin off only used float glass – no wonder she got bored and moved onto lampworked beads. It turns out that while the base glass is cheap as chips and readily available, all the “float-compatible” stuff costs a fortune and is pretty hard to source, and mostly, it’s not that interesting.

At the risk of sounding like an advertising feature for them, I do think Bullseye glass is spectacularly nice to work with. The range of colors is fantastic, and the glass has depth, texture and character to it: it is prone to tiny bubbles that give it individuality. I love it. I love it. I love it. I just wish it were less expensive (relative to – say – Spectrum glass, which is boring and looks dead).

So, anyway, I mostly used the float stuff for a while, largely because I was never quite able to bring myself to invest in costly glass, mostly because I felt so much at the bottom of a very steep learning curve that it didn’t seem reasonable to do so. But eventually I did buy glass, as I’ve said recently. One of the first things I bought was black powdered frit, for painting. I was originally planning to use it to outline Babar the Elephant for a bowl for my daughter, but I haven’t got around to that yet.

Meanwhile, I thought if I used a very tiny amount, it should be compatible enough with float not to cause a problem. I think I got this idea from a lampworker talking about the 5% rule (up to 5% non-compatible glass being OK). I’d have to say that the cherry blossom design uses way less than 5% and looks alright, but I did push it a little further recently with some white Bullseye frit on a float and float-compatible stringer plate and it was not at all fine. The plate cracked after about an hour, and I really didn’t use that much. I should have photographed it to have some kind of record, but of course that’s the kind of thing you only think of a week after the glass has gone to the recycling…

The other thing worth noting was that the three-layer arrangement I’ve been using in the kiln doesn’t work half so well with float glass. I’ve been sticking something to slump on the bottom, something to slump or fuse in the middle, and something to fuse on the top. When it’s all Bullseye, that’s been fine, even with a top temp as low as 1325°, but when it’s all float… At 1400° for 15 minutes, the frit decor on the disc on the top shelf is well fused, but the middle shelf is barely tack fused, and the bottom – while slumped – is quite hard-edged. Still I think it’s come out quite nicely in the end. Since it was a commission I am doing a spare, or back-up dish a day behind the first one (so fused on the top shelf last night and set to slump tonight) to be on the safe side and I will send the client whichever comes out better.

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Dog bowl/cat bowl

The bottom shelf is still cracked, but I figured I could get away with using it, once I took it off the little posts and made sure it looked more or less level. I absolutely had to get last night’s disc slumped immediately. I’m too tickled by it.

This features another of the new molds I got at the beginning of the week (I think that’s them all tried now): like the round slumper, which is proving such a hit with me, this is another one I’ve seen and coveted at the center where I first learnt stained glass and now go to hang out and chat while pretending to work…

It’s known there – and possibly universally – as the dog bowl, though it’s much less catchy official title is something along the lines of small deep dish with flat base. Something like that. The shape suggested the design, which I thought was really obviously a cat trying to fish in a goldfish bowl. As though seen from the bottom of the bowl – from the fish’s perspective, with the cat looking in over the side. I used powdered frit for the cat (I could have used more, and maybe will another time, though I’m not displeased with it. I meant a sort of tabby effect, but maybe it could be denser. The eyes are in light aventurine green (fine grade), which is slightly sparkly, although I do find that getting it exactly where I want to go is more of a chore with fine frit than it is with either the powder or the coarser grades. Powder I flick off the end of a teaspoon with a cocktail stick or the end of a small paintbrush which I then use to move it around on the glass, while the medium and coarse frit can be applied with tweezers or thumb and finger and a certain amount of caution.

Fine frit just seems to spill off the teaspoon and then bounce around on the glass rather too much. But it gave the cat wonderful eyes. The goldfish was one of those “striker” colors Bullseye are so fond of. I think it’s quite awkward to work with colors that are completely different in the pre- and post-fired states, especially when you’re working with a bunch of reds that are all varying random shades of yellow. Or there’s a purple that starts out as a pale, pale blue. I can’t be the only person to have been thrown by that one to interesting effect. The yellow was pale and wispy, and came out of a mixed trimmings bag (at the risk of making it sound like smoked salmon!), but I had a vague idea that it turned much darker, and it did indeed go a perfect yolky goldfish orange. Whew.

I’m going to put this dish in my Etsy shop, and see if it attracts any interest.

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Kelvin! What were you doing last night?


I woke up this morning, went to peek in the kiln, and this is what I saw:

I had my new, efficient arrangement: mold on the bottom, then two additional shelves, one with a smaller slumping mold on it, and a disc to fire on the top one. The molds were both fine, thank goodness.

yesterday's disc

The big round slumper was on the bottom, with yesterday’s disc in it; the next layer up was another new mold – the one Bullseye call “pasta plate Saturn” – with a very simple design in it, just to test the mold, really, and the top was… well, I’ll get to that in my next post. Top temp of 1325°.

Nothing was wet, all the kiln wash was dry, I haven’t dropped anything on that shelf, I never take it out, so I haven’t dropped it on anything. The whole thing’s a mystery. The only hypothesis at the moment is that there was a fault in the shelf all along and now I’m using the second shelf  there was too much weight. But surely not that much? I need to replace it – £30 + postage looks like my best deal (call that $60+) – but I’m wary if I don’t know what went wrong. Was it just “one of those things”, or did I do something I shouldn’t have? And, if I don’t know what it was, how do I ensure I don’t do it again?

I suppose on the positive side, I now have two perfectly good Paragon 8 half-shelves, and those sell for about £15 each. Bargain.

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I did a really stupid thing last week. I was cutting a 12″ disc using my new second-hand-from-eBay Silberschnitt circle cutter when a slight crack appeared running in from one edge. At the time I was pretty pleased with myself for getting the disc out neatly without it breaking across at the crack. I thought it would close up again in the kiln. Silly me. Probably that would have been the case if, a) I had been using two layers of 3mm glass rather than one, or b) I had thought to place part of the design over the crack, thus effectively providing the necessary double layer at that point.* As it was, with a firing to 1345° for 20 mintes, the crack opened up a couple of millimiters over a length of about two inches. Useless. And – by my standards – an outrageous waste of a square foot of glass. Not to mention that some of that glass was the ludicrously expensive sunset coral.

I have spent much of the last week mitigating this error. Otherwise known as throwing good time after bad.

First I thought about the possibilities of a) and b) above and decided to place another “leaf” over the troublespot where the crack had opened up. So the next night I did that. It didn’t work. The design could take the extra element, but the crack was still there, albeit smaller. A couple of days later I visited my friend and begged some coarse clear frit for repairs. According to Bullseye’s catalog, the coarser the grade of frit, the clearer it will come out of the kiln (I think they are talking about casting), so I figured I should give myself al the help I could get at this point, and the poor disc was already looking a bit sorry for itself and was risking devitrification with every additional journey into the heart of hotness…

Well, that sort of worked. At least there was no hole in it any more and there was some chance of turning it into a passable dish. Last night it went back in, in one of the new molds (the one they call the “round slumper”, which baffled me until I got the exact dimensions and then decided seems to mean “flattish dish”, but maybe they think that might look silly in a catalog).

OK. Not great. But OK. The mold is good, anyway. The dish is in the cellar, already.

*Put succinctly for the uninitiated, glass likes to be around 6mm thick. If you layer it thicker than that, it will tend to flow outwards at heat, if you use less thickness – i.e one layer of standard fusing glass – it will tend to contract as it tries to puddle into a 6mm-thick mass. Both these problems are minimized, if not eradicated, by a conservative firing schedule.

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New molds!

I finally went mad and bought some molds. Proper glass molds, from Bullseye, rather than the unglazed bisque from the ceramic cafe supplier I usually get.

I have mixed success with the bisque: firstly holes have to be drilled into it and I’m ashamed to admit I’m so pathetically terrified of the drill that I make my poor husband do it for me. Then it can be his fault when the mold breaks. Which happened the other day. To the expensive, interesting chip-and-dip mold I’d been most looking forward to using. Ah, well, never mind. I might be able to patch it up with plaster.

small round dish, small square slumper and two tiny unglazed bisque dip saucers from the ceramic cafe supplier

Kelvin loaded with new molds: small round dish, small square slumper and two tiny unglazed bisque dip saucers from the ceramic cafe supplier

I did actually have one Bullseye mold already, and it was an expensive one too, but I think I made a mistake with it. I wanted a large bowl, but I got one that turned out not to have a flat base (I think they call it a “ball curve”) which is OK, but somehow less useful to most people than the regular kind. I think it may be disconcerting to see it wobble when you already know it’s fragile. Possibly it needs a stand of some kind…?

So, anyway, I have a friend who just bought a kiln, and she has – unwittingly – been pushing me into spending habits. I think I had been too stupidly parsimonious, so I have prtty much no glass and no molds for a year and was pretty frustrated. She came along, with a bit of a budget, and immediately got herself kitted out properly, putting me to shame and making me realize that I was never going to get anywhere without a bit of investment. I bought enough nice glass so I can do more than mess about with float and the odd bits of float-compatible stuff I got with Kelvin (his trousseau? his layette?) which is mostly what I did.

Joy. Revelation. Renaissance.

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This should really be the first post, but that only occurred to me yesterday.

Kelvin is a two-year-old (possibly three-year-old) Paragon Fusion Eight kiln. He came to me from a woman in Yorkshire who had decided that lampworking was her true love and that Kelvin needed more space as well since she’d moved to a house with a smaller garage….

I live in a house with no garage at all, so Kelvin lives in the back room alongside the children’s toys and the piano. Kelvin’s being in there means the temperature in that room goes up and down like a yo-yo, which is terrible for the piano, though doubtless very nice for the piano-tuner.

For some unaccountable reason, despite being a British kiln, Kelvin is calibrated in Fahrenheit. That’s how he came to me and that’s how he stays. I’ve been told that it is possible to reprogram the controller quite easily with just a screwdriver and nerves of steel, but frankly I lack one of the aforementioned (you may guess which) and as most of the information I encountered, and most of the books, and most of the websites seemed to be written by and for Americans anyway, Fahrenheit looked like a sensible option. So should any British or European person stumble by here, my apologies for being retrograde about centigrade, which is a perfectly nice scale indeed, and the one I conduct the rest of my life in. Also, if anyone wants to convert between one scale and the other, it’s easy to look up an online conversion tool like this one: http://www.onlineconversion.com/temperature.htm

Regarding technicalities, he is about 42 cm in diameter and octagonal, as should probably be obvious from the name. I have 12 2.5 cm round posts and a spare shelf 35 cm in diametre. This – and occasional cunning use of my large 40 cm plate mould – allows me to stack the kiln in two (occasionally three) layers. I am still working out the temperature differentials between the shelves, the number of posts, the various molds etc. Sometimes I turn out to have been considerably less cunning than I thought (or too clever by half) and everything comes out overdone or half-baked. But my goal is ever-greater amortization. And lots and lots of learning curve.

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Starting out right

I went to a wedding on Monday and picked up a commission. I was actually a bit irritated at having to be at the wedding at all. Bad enough that somebody had had the silly idea to get married on a wet afternoon at the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a very squally September, but they did it during my glass-making time and I don’t like to have glass-time interfered with.
I realize that I’m a bit crazy that way – I’d far rather be making glass than doing almost anything else with the precious hour or two in the afternoon when my babies are asleep. It’s turning me into an increasingly cantankerous hermit. But anyway, more of that some other time, I’m sure. Meanwhile, back to the wedding.

I’ve sold a couple of bits and pieces to my aunt before now and she just casually said, “you couldn’t get something to me by Friday, could you?” Well, that’s what Special Delivery (overnight mail service) is for, so of course I said yes, as casually as was compatible with immediately. It seemed she wanted a heart pendant for a friend’s birthday. Green, quite large, with a bit of decoration (but not too much), and on a ribbon, please.

I’m not one to turn down a commission. No problem… What sort of green? Well, a bit bright and a bit dark – only not too dark, and not loud – but not sludgy either and sort-of transparent but not totally so and not too garish but a little bit jazzed up all at the same time.


I think she is one of those people (and there are many, many of them) who don’t really get glass. They think you can mix the colors like paints and somehow just cut holes out of the middle, and so forth. Do they think we take scissors or a long spoon and reach in at 1450 degrees and swirl the stuff around, or what? I know I don’t. One day I’ll get into sharing my experiment with graphite tongs, but that’s another story…

So, yes, all this I agreed to, and of course it is also a heart (which I’ve never made before) and in an unspecified size known in the trade as ‘Goldilocks’. I’m not overconfident, but I figured I could have a reasonable attempt and I’ve got time to put it in the kiln twice (once Tuesday, once Wednesday, because Monday had by now already gone up in smoke, glass-production-wise) and ship it out Thursday. Time to have a stab at it, and then grind and firepolish the stab.

OK. On Tuesday I had a look at all the greens I’d got and picked out the candidates and laid them on top of one another and squinted at them for a bit and did a little generic despairing and had another look in the bits box. And I found a perfect piece of glass. It was the edge of a sheet of 2mm Bullseye fern green and – because of being the edge, and therefore fairly irregular – it was almost perfectly heart-shaped already. Wow. There was a “bobble” of glass that formed a very passable top of a heart. I added scraps of opal spring green and olive green and some silver dichroic on clear and some other silvery-green dichroic on clear and a little piece of stringer and a layer of 3mm clear over the top about 1mm larger all round (but less perfectly heart-shaped as luck had been a better shaper of the green than my grinder was of the clear).

I was absolutely sure I’d have to grind it down the next day, and I also thought that the layers might not be perfectly fused together. I generally hate it when you can see the seam between layers of dichroic jewelry: I think it’s amateurish and slapdash (though obviously it can be used as a deliberate effect). So I was looking for a firing schedule that was conservative enough to keep the heart shape as intact as possible, but hot enough to fuse the layers properly together. I got so lucky I can’t believe. Top temp of 1385 for 20 minutes.

Here’s the result. And yes, my aunt did like it. And her friend? We have yet to find out.

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