Monday, 25 July 2011

Stourbridge Busmans Holiday Continued

Continuing my day out at Stourbridge, here are some more pictures of the day out, starting with some more of resident glass blower, Charlotte, making a glass heart.

And organiser Julie Fountain of Lush lampwork, who organised the day out! Here she is finding that wet newspaper is enough to stop your palm being burnt by hot glass!

After a look around at some of the wonderful glass at the cone, we stopped for a bite to eat in their tea room before heading to Broadfield House Glass museum.

We started with a look around some of the contemporary glass on sale in the shop, as well as a quick visit to resident glass blower Allister Malcolm
who was working on some glass restoration work making a new foot for an old vase - right down to putting a punty mark like the original.
After a look at the contemporary sea themed exhibition,
it was time to look around the collection, including the amazing world of cameo glass.

Stourbridge was where the way of re-creating the Portland vase was discovered. The Portland vase is a dark blue Roman vase with raised white relief, and for a long time no one was sure how it was made. It was found by putting a small cup of dark glass into a larger cup of white glass, then blowing it into a vase, a blank could be made. From there it was a long task of slowly engraving though the white glass to reveal the dark glass bellow, in the process creating some amazing cameos. At Broadfield they have some of the finest works, including three vases thought to be the best works ever produced using this method.
I have to say, they are breathtaking. The photos really don't do them justice, one has a figure with a cape where the layer is left so thin it's translucent, allowing some of the colour though.
Unbelievably the museum gets no real funding, and was nearly closed down recently because of local council cuts, despite having an international important collection.

I even managed to find a 'flip flop' in the collection! A customer at the stall told me how she played with these as a girl growing up in Stourbridge. At end of day glass makers might make 'friggers' - fun and silly obects such as glass canes and animals - and this was like a glass goblet with a hollow stem. Over the goblet end would be a very thin glass bubble, when blown into it would expand slightly, then fall back, making a 'flip, flop' noise!

Of course, I also found a 'little' valve!

From there we went to The Ruskin Glass centre, which has several studios for glass artists, and has both a strong educational element, along with helping glass artists to develop and launch their businesses. I wish I lived closer, I'd certainly be up for a unit there myself! We met quite a few of the artists there, although we were all starting to flag by this point! One of the most amazing ones we met was Terri-Louise Colledge.
Along with painting directly onto glass, she also engraves cameo glass with nothing more than a dentists drill, making stunning works of art. Again, the pictures really don't do them justice. One of these vases (the blue one with ivy leaves and a chameleon - the photo of the lizard side didn't come out!) took her seven weeks to cut away the white surface to make the design. She showed us a previous unfinished version, which two and half weeks into it chipped! It was on a critical part of the work, so she just started again! We all gasped at that, some pointing out we get annoyed if an hours work on a bead goes wrong, let alone weeks of work!

Outside we found a relaxing area, this wonderful pond,
where the waters trickles down the layers, spiralling around in each before running down into the next. Of course, it's all made of glass, each section is a screen of an old TV that has been slumped into shape in a kiln - I can't think of a better use of an old TV, or ever seeing a program more relaxing that this.

As everyone slipped away I popped off for a quick pizza with some of the lovely ladies from the forum, before getting back to the hotel and getting my boots off! It was an amazing day out, and left me wanting to try out a whole host of techniques. Mostly it has left me with loads of ideas and inspiration, and filling up notebooks of things to try and equipment to buy! I am already organising a workshop move around so I have more room to work! Many thanks go to Julie who organised this trip, and our tour guides who kept us amazing and interested thoughout a long and fruitful day!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stourbridge Busman's Holiday

Last week I went on a Busman's day out to Stourbridge to meet up with some fellow lampworkers from Frit Happens Forum, and for a whirlwind visit of some of the glassy attractions there. Stourbridge was (and still is to some degree) the centre of glassmaking in England, and is jam packed with studios, factories, workshops and museums.

Of course it's no short haul for me, so finding I could get a bargain room at £15 for a night in a nearby hotel in Dudley I decided to go up the afternoon before so I'd be fresh for the 9 am start, then amble back the day after and give myself a little break in the process.

Despite the confusing buses, and a change at a bus depot, I managed to find my way there. I think Dudley must be one of the Midlands best kept secrets, I took a wrong turning coming out of Dudley Port station; one minute I am in the middle of houses, noise and traffic, next minute I'm standing by a canal with nothing in site either way!
View left, view right!

The hotel was similar; it was right on a main road, but when I wandered off looking for dinner I found this;

Next morning was then a ten minute bus ride into Stourbridge, and meeting up with about 24 lampworkers and jewellers who'd travelled from all over for the day. We started at Ploughden and Thompson's, a glass factory that still makes raw glass, using a traditional cone chimney kiln as their factory (although the top of the chimney was removed in the 1920's). However they use modern techniques and kilns now, while we were there the glass blowers were making very high grade glass for a neutron detector array that's being built under the alps.
Neutron array detectors freshly made!
They explained how they have to use a low background radioactivity sand from Norway that costs about £4,500 per tonne, unlike the normal sand which is about £400 a tonne! Most of their work is producing glass for scientific, medical and military use; they showed us an array of goods from light covers that go in submarines, on fighter aircrafts, high power microwave generators for cancer treatment machines - it was quite an array! They even showed us what looked like flecks of glass, but were tiny glass tubes with a 12 micron hole for use in IVF treatment!
An array of their wares, top right is the finished neutron detector with a selienum internal coating, bellow that the cover from a fighter jet wing indicator lamp, centre is a high power microwave generator from a cancer treatment machine.

They do also make some decorative glass, and include Tudor glass which makes cut lead crystal.
Lesley has a go at glass cutting under the expert eye of Tutor Glass's lead crystal cutter
After chatting to the cutter and sandblaster, and having a go (I had a go at sandblasting, and was way too heavy on the controls! But I still want a sandblaster for xmas!) we had just enough time for a quick look around the storage rooms.
Sadly they'd had rain damage recently as thieves had taken the lead off their roofs, and at this point we just ran out of time. Probably a good thing, as I'd have gone shopping for glass at this point!

From here next stop was a tour of the Cone Museum, the last remaining intact glass cone in the UK.
This was a fascinating tour, seeing how glass was originally produced in what look an almost lethal environment! There was so much to see, and a chance to watch Charlotte, their resident glass blower, in action,
before being whisked off for a much needed sit down and lunch!

And that's only halfway through the day! I'll continue this in the next post, as I have some amazing pictures from the next two stops to come, of both old and new glass, and more from the Cone too!

In the meantime I am refilling my Etsy shop at the moment, and there should be a few more bits going in there, including some new marbles and paperweights, over the next few days.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Micro SteamPunk Adventures

One of my latest experiments has been adventures into micro-steampunk. Now, I don't know if such a thing exists, but it makes sense that it should! I've even seen film of nano technology where they made a simple cog and wheel that moved, it seems everything starts with cogs!

Doubtless you've been previously battered by one of my rants about 'sticking cogs on stuff and calling things Steampunk' and I tend to avoid using cogs just for the sake of it. However for some ideas I've been mulling over for the past year or two they suit it perfectly. And yes, there will be glass involved too.

I can't use glue for what I have in mind, so engineering wise it makes sense for me to screw parts together. Problem is there doesn't seem to be many tiny teeny nuts in your average watch or grab bag of steampunk watch components. So, as I always figure, if you can't buy it, make it!

First step is to making tiny thread, for which I needed a tap and die set to make matching micro-nuts and bolts. I thought the £20 I paid was rather pricey, for a faily unimpressive plate of steel and pack of taps, until I looked at 'proper' ones from watchmakers catalogues. A professional set a mere £395!!!!!!! I've given them a quick go, and they work rather well on soft brass, but a little stiff on stainless steel. I even managed to make a tiny thread using one of the larger cutters on an old thin mandrel! So far I've made a very good threaded hole and bar thats only 0.7mm!

I also figured a small watch lathe would help when boring micro holes neatly and squarely into the ends of brass rod to make nuts. (I am looking at sizes between 0.9 - 0.4mm) I had an old baby wood lathe, which although ok, didn't have a second chuck to hold work.
A quick scrounge around I found an old hand drill which had rusted solid, but the chuck was still good.
It took alot more to get free than I expected, but finally got it out, including cutting it out of the nice cast iron frame, which was a shame.
I was originally going to leave the bevelled gear on it, but it didn't mount very well. A look overhead and I found an ideal bit of old curtain pole (knew I kept that for a reason) which made an adequate stock holder.

Although I drilled the stock with the mini drill to make sure it's level, (that wood was harder than expected, it even started to smoke!)
the set up isn't ideal. I've given it a test drill, it needs refining such as a turned thread instead to ease the work into the drill, also I need to stiffen everything up as the mini drill isn't steady and can easliy be knocked off centre. However, it is a start!

The top quick pictures are of my first micro-thread; I used the plain end of a piece of threaded rod from an old watch. The thread is about 0.7mm to 0.74mm, so quite small, but I am looking at making it even smaller. That hole in the brass bar really is threaded, with a nice shiny penny for scale!