Posts Tagged ‘Bullseye glass’

Acrylic, remember, and sparkly too

Acrylic, remember, and sparkly too

Apparently it is possible after all. A while back I made a few swatches of different yarns, sandwiched them in glass and baked them in the kiln. None of them were a rip-roaring success, but one showed possibilities. The problem was that is was knit from a deeply unpleasant pink acrylic with a metallic thread (which is the bit that survived the firing process) and I haven’t been able to bear to knit with it further. Can you blame me?

So, I have since managed to acquire, by processes over whih I shall draw a veil, a small reel of fine silver wire. Wire fine enough to knit with, if you try. I’m struggling to work out the right sized needles to use, and can’t manage to get neat stitches, but perhaps I will acheive that some time. And it’d be – well – neat if I could, because then I could produce “swatch” art glass using different stitch patterns.

In the meantime though, here are three prototypes: the first swatch was simply soldered (with lead-free solder) onto a stained glass copper-foiled pendant, the second was just laid on top of a single piece of random glass that was then fired, and the third was sandwiched between two layers of Bullseye and fired.


The first one I quite like, but I’m concerned it’s very fragile, and might tarnish; the second one is an abject failure, but shows glimmers of hope for some interesting manipulations further down the line (I quite like the way the silver has partly melted in and partly stayed on the surface) and the third one I am very pleased with indeed.

Yes. With a bit of luck -because with inclusions you never know (and the person I bought the silver off had had no luck including it in glass) – look out for swatch pendants coming to an Etsy shop near you soon.

I’m off to celebrate six months of knitting with a little more wire swatching.

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I only had a year to come up with this. Allowing for the intricacies of lunar year cycles, only about about 350 days in fact, but admittedly it should still have been plenty. And, yes, it did take me 350 days to do. More precisely, 348 days to get round to doing anything, and no room for errors. So of course there were errors, and I ended up needing 351 days (which I didn’t have). Which is why I have a seder plate with bubbles in it where there should be none. Now, luckily for me, this was a design with bubble-like elements in it anyway, so the effect was passable. But still. Once again, nul points for organization.

So the story begins 3000 years ago two years ago when due to a certain amount of family horse-trading my sister-in-law had my husband’s bachelor china, we had the great-grandmaternal pesach china, and my sister-in-law’s cast-off* discarded seder plate, which is hideous. Now to be completely frank about this, and very venal, I’m not a huge fan of a festival that forbids me to consume my favorite thing in the entire known universe for a week. Actually, eight days. Normally, I’d say, ‘let’s not quibble. What’s a day between friends?’ But a day – another day between me and my baguette crust is something I can’t just ignore. I have ludicrous bread dreams, pathetic bread torture nightmares and produce interesting Freudian slips like ‘sandwiches’ for ‘sandals’ (don’t let’s go there).

On the other hand, a chance to pull out some different china for a week? What’s not to like about that? Shipped from Stoke-on-Trent to a little general store in a sleepy town in Natal, and seventy-something years later whizzed back on an SAA flight into Heathrow, I love the fact that it’s been around for so long, experiencing the same ritual through so many years; that it’s never seen bread; that one dish has so clearly held a lifetime – or three’s- of chopped liver, and the bowls are almost visibly steaming with phantom chicken soup and kneidlach…

The seder plate was another matter. An item of unrivalled ugliness, using it was not an option, but it got me thinking about making one.

I knew I didn’t want a flat plate, but one with indentations, but I couldn’t find a suitable mold, until eventually I came across the rather fabulous sounding Kaiser Lee Board (KLB). After another while a UK supplier started to stock it. (Now I think of it, maybe my total procrastination time on this project is only the time since I bought the KLB, in December).

I used two 3mm discs of Bullseye glass, one Tekta, the other a very pale blue tint, and between them, six smaller overlapping discs of varying blue and gray hues. arrangement seder plateI fused this all together in one go to full fusing temperature. I should have known this was a recipe for disaster. However slowly I heated the kiln, and however much time I left for the air bubbles to escape (I can look it up if it helps anyone), it wasn’t enough. Had I had an extra day (yes, any one of the 347 previous days would have done nicely) I’d have fused the blue/gray discs to the clear layer on one day, and then re-fused with the tint the second day, and slumped on the third day. [I note that when God made the world, He is not said to have sat and thought about it for five days and played solitaire instead, thrown everything together on the sixth day and then gone to the pub. Although, that version of Genesis would explain a lot, now I come to think about it.] I do have to say that whatever the other failings, the overlap of the upper layer over the rest was perfect. I was happy with that, if not so happy about the big bubbles. The color was also superb. I’ve never really used tints before, although I’ve wanted to. The clear is cheaper, and that tends to be a significant factor, but this time I allowed myself to be swayed by hiddur mitzvah (beautifying the commandment) and went with the tint. Also, the design was incredibly simple, so the color was an important element of it.

klb moldMeanwhile, I cut the KLB, which was as easy as it’s made out to be (I used a craft knife, which was a little too short to go all the way through the full 1″ of board, and a boning knife from the kitchen to complete the job), and less dusty than I expected. Maybe I was particularly slow and cautious abut raising more dust than necessary because – you guessed it – I don’t have a dust mask (or more accurately, I’m sure I do – somewhere). It’s possible I could have carved/scooped the mold out of the board and not gone through the full thickness, but this way I get to make funky things out of the carved-out discs some other time. The not fun part of this exercise came when I realized that I did need to kiln wash it. If you read the literature, the first thing likely to spring to the forefront of your brain is the “no need to kilnwash it” part. Well, yes – if you cover the mold with shelf paper before using it. Duh. So, basically, if paper won’t conform nicely to the cute shape that you cut out (and you are probably only going to use this for the cute shape you can’t do any other way) you won’t get away without the kilnwash. And yes, you’re right: of course it takes kilnwash like an alcoholic takes the first drink of the day. And it takes the second drink the same way it took the first drink… I only gave it one-and-a-bit coats because I didn’t have a spare week to sit and wait for it to absorb the half gallon of expensive kilnwash I was so pissed off about using because I’d been gleefully thinking “no need to kilnwash it”. Then I popped it in the oven to dry for a bit (the sloven’s approach, I know. Forgive me.)

Day two. Which should have been at least Day Three, or possibly even Day Four. Slump firing. I assembled the following in my kiln:

  • the bubbly glass blank resting on
  • a large drop ring with
  • a  smaller KLB insert inside the drop ring standing on
  • a bisque plate mold standing on
  • the kiln shelf in the bottom of the kiln

The drop ring was because the KLB sheet was much smaller than the plate I wanted to make, so I needed to Heath Robinson a rim. I remember to position the blank so that the centers of my overlapping colored discs were nicely over my KLB holes and realized at that point that I would need to watch the firing carefully because it occured to me only belatedly that one inch of KLB was way, way deeper than I wanted my indentations to be.

OK, enough already**. What did it look like? This.

seder plate aseder plate bseder plate undersideseder plate side

It looked really nice once it had all the seder items on it, and went well but non-overwhelmingly – as I’d thought – with the blue dominant color of the family china. I almost (almost) forgot about the bubbles. Maybe I can live with them, maybe I’ll try to get round to attempting a rescue in the next year. That would involve re-flattening and re-fusing the whole thing and I’ve no idea if it could even work. I suppose I’d learn something either way, but perhaps I should try on a piece I know I actively dislike.

Now I only have to get through another twenty-six or so hours of matzo and that’ll be it for another 350-odd days. Tomorrow night, pizza is calling me, and I can hear it faintly already. Can’t you?

*I’m getting sensitive about ‘cast-off’ as an insult. As my husband is touchy about ‘gone south’ as the route to perdition.

**Disaster number two, completely unaccounted for was the bisque plate mold cracked. I have absolutely no idea why this happened and it’s scared the life out of me. I loved the KLB to bits, but I can’t have it do that to a kiln shelf. Or maybe… hang on – maybe, if the heat went straight through the KLB, I should have put the bisque mold on props…?

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the bees knee-dlesMy daughter dropped the knitting needles of the friend who got me started, and the stoppers broke. I decided that it was no job for glue: this needed Fimo. I liked the results, but then I had second thoughts (perhaps they are too heavy and/or too twee?) and so I bought new replacement needles for her. We’re keeping these.

Meanwhile, I think I just had a fabulous idea to combine my current obsessions.

If I knit a few swatches of different yarns, and then sandwich them between layers of glass, I can see what interesting results I can come up with. The possibilities are probably far greater than the reality will prove, but it has to be worth a try. Putting anything between glass like that is a tricky prospect: anything could happen, depending on how it combusts, how much air is trapped, what gases might be released… You can have a ghost image of your original object, bubbles, nothing at all…

Maybe the different fibers will react in different ways. This could be another way – not useful to the majority, I know – to test that unknown ball of “wool”. I know it won’t get into the knitting manuals: “Take your sample, layer it between glass and heat over six hours to 1400°. Cool for another six hours. Check results.” But, well – I’ll have a better idea once I’ve tried. Right now I’m envisaging elaborate tableware or coaster sests with a series of different lace patterns, or a service whereby people would send me their swatch (say of the wedding shawl they made) and I would return it included (in the technical sense of the term) in a bowl. But, I am getting ahead of myself. As I said, inclusions are notoriously quixotic.

I’m off to try a couple, though. Bt which glass to use? I could use the nice Bullseye, or some cheaper float (window) glass, although that has the disadvantage of softening at higher temperatures. I guess I should try both. A swatch of swatches? A meta-swatch?

Also, I’ve been stroking the angora I got on eBay a few weeks ago. I’m working up to winding it. And then working up to working out what to do with it (beyond stroking).

pet angora

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I decided it’s time to make something in glass again. I know I don’t have enough places to sell it, I know sales are down in the bad economic times, I know it’s silly, but –

I found me an excuse.

I thought I’d at least tidy up my glass room. And as I tidied I found the hammer, which was hiding amongst the clear offcuts, ready for the transformation of same into coarse frit. Meanwhile, my husband, poor dear, keeps thinking he’s lost the hammer and has several times had occasion to enquire whether I might have happened upon it anywhere. We have, on each of these occasions, gone through the stages of a) me admitting I do indeed know where it is, b) me admitting where it in fact is, c) him asking – job being done – if I need it back and d) myself concurring that I do, “but only for a little while”.

I can’t face going through this process again.

image019And the clear scrap was very overflowing, so this project is quite obviously part of the tidying process. And I have a large cake ring that I bought with exactly this project in mind, so I took hammer in hand and wrapped the scrap in a big thick wad of paper and hammered till the demons were all squashed for the day. It being a relatively demon-free day, I tired quickly and therefore stopped while the scrap was probably still a bit too lumpy, but we shall see. The balance is difficult: the finer the frit, the less clear the resulting glass sheet will be; the coarser, the harder it is to work out the right firing schedule (high enough, slow enough – all guesswork at the best of times), or more honestly – the more obvious it is if you’ve done a bad job; and the more you hammer your glass, the more very fine bits you get, while reducing the outrageously huge bits to gigantic bits, and the gigantic to huge, and the huge to merely very large indeed and so on. But the grit/lump ratio definitely goes up, which is detrimental.

Yes, I know you could filter the stuff through some kind of sieve, but that would be another stage to complete under “timed conditions” (this used to mean mock exams, now it’s toddler naps). And it would mean more opportunity to release dangerous fine particles of glass into the atmosphere and breathe it in in the absence (I know: I’m an idiot) of the appropriate face mask. I suppose I feel that the dangers of pouring a bit of pounded glass from a sheet of packing paper onto a kiln shelf isn’t like – I don’t know – playing with asbestos playing cards, but I still don’t want to take more than minimal risk. Also I’m lazy, and I’m not too sure the results will be worth even the amount of effort I am making.

image021So it all went onto the shelf, with the steel cake ring around it (lined with Thinfire shelf paper, but not kiln washed: we dice with death and sneer at disaster) to try and contain it in a circle while allowing it to build up a little thickness. If I have added enough glass I will be able to go deeper than the 6mm basic thickness, but I’m not sure, because I didn’t employ any of the scientific tricks for working it out. Silly me. It’s too late to go back and do it now, and I don’t think it matters much in this case. I did something similar before, and I ws surprised at how much it melted down. So this time, I refuse to be surprised. It WILL have shrunk, by the Law of Frit, more than I think. And. I. Will. Not. Be. Surprised.

I also threw a bit of official Bullseye colored frit on top – like cherries and pistachio nuts –  to spice it up. If it comes out as I hope, I might put it to jump through a drop-ring mold for my next trick.

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– and I have seriously stalled on making the decorations. I somehow didn’t get any made over the weekend at all, or any today. I sent off a cheque for the big Christmas fair too, so I am now really and truly committed to doing it. Yikes, help and double-yikes.

frit decorations

So here finally are some -not very good- images of the aforementioned decorations. The cat looking out of the window at a snowy landscape is about 2.5 inches across, and the others are just under 2 inches. There are various others – quite a lot of different trees (in the snow, with red berries/baubles) and several snowmen (wearing fedoras, assorted bobble hats and scarves of many colors, and at least one deviant snowman actually smoking his pipe – complete with 1mm wide smoke rings [why?] ) as well some angels, and black cats turn up around the place from time to time…

These frit scenes are “painted” with the following technique and tools:

  • a teaspoon
  • a cocktail stick
  • a tweezers
  • a small paintbrush with a sort of spatula/chisel end (this is lifesaver)

For a really frustrating, fiddly, self-torturing experience, the results of which will be well-nigh invisible, proceed thus: take a small amount of fine or powdered frit on the end of the teaspoon and knock it off with either the cocktail stick or the end of the paintbrush, depending on whichever you happen to have in hand at the time, trying to get it as closely as possible where you need it, and in a thick enough layer (you always need significantly more powder than you think as it seems positively to disappear when it’s fired). Reposition the frit more accurately with the back of the brush and very carefully sweep excess away from the painted area. Doing this without proper precaution just swirls the dust around as it moves in the faint draft you create (I did say it was tedious work), and any slightly out of position brush hairs also drag through the design. For powder, gently level off the domed frit you will likely have (no dome probably implies not enough powder). To finish sharpening the outline of the shape, use the chisel end of the brush again. Proceed to the next color. When all powders have been applied, add any grain frit elements (eyes, baubles, etc.), dropping them on one grain at a time with the tweezers. A single grain of fine frit will often stick irritatingly to the tweezers, but can usually be knocked off with the cocktail stick which you are already holding awkwardly in the other hand. Pray that you do not have to do this – it’s the most risky part of the job and if you get it wrong, you can have a lot of reworking to do. Don’t drop that cocktail stick! Alternately, try using a fingernail (but be warned, the frit can end up just transferring onto that, which is the main advantage of the stick).

A note on sorting frit: be aware that there is quite a wide variation in the sizes and shapes of individual grains within a given size, at least with the Bullseye frit I use. Take a small spoonful and sort through it for, say, a likely pair of eyes that match (somewhat).

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A few months ago, back at the beginning of what we laughingly refer to as the summer, I started work on a project to make a peacock using a combination of tiffany copper foil work and fusing. Then I moved onto other things and forgot about it. But now the glass class at the local adult education center has started up again, and I like to go along, so I had to find something to do. I’ve made a couple of windows there, but I don’t have anything to do in lead at the moment, so this is where the peacock plan came from. Last night I decided it really was time to get on and do the fusing part of the project. The idea was to have all the feather strips, with dichroic and art glass decorations on them, tack fused together and inserted into the copper foiled part of the design. I had to back the strips with a layer of thin clear glass, or else they would have drawn apart instead of together. I kept the heat low, as I wanted there to be a lot of texture on the decoration. I also used my very beloved Bullseye steel grey opal glass for some of it. This is an amazing glass. Above around 1400° or when capped with clear glass, it becomes a sharp teal-turquoise, but at lower temperatures – assuming it’s uncovered – it gets a matte metallic pewter sheen. Judicious use of capping can give you both effects together, which is something I quite enjoy doing when making jewelry. It can be strange to fuse something and have the bright effect, and then slump it and have the matte effect appear. Jewelry-making I’d normally do at the higher temperature, so if I want the pewter effect I send the piece back in for a little fire-polish – or do I mean fire-tarnish in this case?

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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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