Clearly, a fun field trip: Glass blowing 101
“Breathe out as much as you can,” a glassmaker told the 8-year-old girl while he helped her hold the 1.4-meter (almost 5-foot) iron pipe. He rolled the pipe around in the air to make sure the glass at the end flowed evenly.
Na-ye was one of the more than 100 children who toured Glassvill, a glass factory in Gimpo, Gyeonggi province, last Saturday. The Glassvill tour offers a hands-on glass-blowing experience that seems to appeal equally to both kids and parents. Both stared in wonder at the little girl as they waited their turn.
A steady blow into the pipe enlarges the bulb of glass, while separate blows create new bulbs. Having run out of breath at one point, Na-ye wound up creating what appeared to be an enormous glass peanut. She also breathed in, which will deflate the glass. The deflated area thins out and will eventually break, which is what happened to the big glass peanut.
“Blowing the glass was difficult because I ran out of breath so fast I thought I would die,” Na-ye said. “But it was really fun to look at the funny shape [I made].”
Then suddenly there was a loud bang, and everyone froze, as if a bomb had gone off. No reason to call the police: It was only a boy breathing so hard into the pipe that the glass exploded. He looked surprised and more than a little sheepish, but the glassmaker patted him on the back ― “Good job!” he said ― and the boy grinned. Cool. He got to blow something up.
Another kid found that the glass bulb had curled around and was stuck to itself, and the glass had to be blown up until it shattered. One kid couldn’t even make his bulb larger than a deflated rubber balloon.
“Glass is very sensitive,” said Jang Myeong-yeong, the factory manager. “It’s a difficult material to treat. You have to understand its character very well. Here, you can learn it in person, by actually blowing glass.”
After practicing blowing glass a couple of times, the kids were ready to try making real glass vases. A glassmaker brought out a pipe with liquid glass rolled onto the end. The glass has to be melted in a furnace burning at 1,400 degrees centigrade (2,552 Fahrenheit) for the mixture of sand, mostly silica, to liquify. It takes more than 10 hours for the sand to become liquid glass. The room isn’t as hot as you would think, though, because the furnace is well insulated. It’s like a regular stove, except full of boiling red liquid like the maw of hell.
Kim Dam-yi, 7, breathed out through the pipe, cautiously, to make a light-bulb-size glass ball. A glassmaker then took her to a raised floor and asked her to choose a star, heart, triangle or hexagon for the base of the vase she would make (she could also choose to make no base, leaving it flat). After positioning her on the floor, the glassmaker took the pipe back to the furnace to wrap the ball with more liquid glass. After putting the pipe to a mold to make a striped pattern on the vase, Dam-yi breathed out again through the pipe, pulling up the glass to make sure the vase would be tall enough to hold flowers. Then she moved the pipe to her selection of bottom pattern mold. She chose the heart shape, one of the most popular.
That’s the end of the 10-minute hands-on experience. From that point on, it’s up to the professionals to take the glass vase, flatten its bottom with a wooden board, pour cold water over its mouth and knock it off from the pipe. The glass is then slowly cooled down, starting at a mere 510 degrees centigrade. The cooling process takes more than two hours. “If you cool the glass too quickly, it shatters,” Mr. Jang said.
Afterwards, another glassmaker will cut the mouth evenly, sand-paper it and then polish it over a fire to smooth out the sharp edges.
If you take the tour before 2 p.m., you can pick up your vase that day, three hours later. The wait is not so bad: The second floor of the factory has a store with vast numbers of glass products on sale, and most visitors pass the time browsing its shot glasses, wine glasses, lamps and vases, sparkling in blue, green, red, purple or yellow (unless, of course, the glass is transparent).
The kids passed the time even more easily. They stayed in the factory to watch everyone else make vases and compare it with their own, jealous of those who did it well and proud to see those who were not so talented.
Another way to bide the time is glass painting. This is done by taking a plate of glass ― around the size of a pendant or photo frame ― and laying it on top of a sketch. You then paint the glass according to the sketch beneath it, using glass dye. Some also glue colored pieces of glass onto the plate, covering a solid transparent pane with dozens of tiny colored shards.
“The color will be a bit darker when the dye dries after it’s fired,” said Jo Young-im, a staff member in charge of glass painting. It takes about six to seven hours to bake the paint and another few hours to cool it down, she said, so visitors won’t be able to take it home that day. “Because it takes so long to bake the glass, we do it once a week,” Ms. Jo said. Glassvill can mail the finished product to you if you can’t come back to pick it up.
If you’re lucky, you’ll come when the artisans are busy creating their own glass works, such as tropical fish ornaments or colorful vases that are a far cry better than the stuff we made.
It was a fun day trip, except that I seemed to be covered with glass dust, making my face sparkle. Next time I’ll wear a surgical mask ― God knows if that stuff got down my throat.
by Park Sung-ha
How to get to Glassvill: Take Olympic Expressway toward Gimpo Airport. Take national road No. 48 after exiting at Gimpo. Glassvill is on the way to Kimpo College. It takes about 40 minutes as soon as you are on the national road No. 48. If you’re lost, call (031) 981-2727.
Glass blowing costs 12,000 won ($12) per person, and glass painting differs depending on the size of glass panes you choose.