Every Christmas I give my niece and nephew a Christmas ornament. Usually they mark special events (such as the year my niece danced Clara in the Nutcracker,) hobbies, from places my husband and I traveled, or something really cool and unusual. Sometimes I make their Christmas ornament gifts but most years I buy them.
Except last year when I made their glass Christmas ornaments with fire!
After making my first glass blowing project without burning off a body part, I’ve been on the lookout for more glass blowing workshops. Unfortunately I don’t have the space for glass sculptures (especially when Lacey spits a ball at my feet and demands a rousing game of Catch at the end of the workday. I swear that dog can tell time!) so I tend to lean toward the practical yet pretty glass art projects. Luckily blowing glass Christmas ornaments ticks all of those boxes.
With the added bonus of impressing my teenage nephew with photos of me in front of a furnace working with 3000 degree (F ) molten glass! (That is not a typo.)
How to Make Glass Christmas Ornaments
After my instructor gathers the molten silica on the end of a blowpipe (that’s a part of an advanced class I haven’t taken,) she handed it over to me to reheat by sticking it into a glory hole (separate openings in the furnace that allow more than one person to work with the same heat source at a time) because the hot glass starts to cool immediately when removed from the glass furnace/glory hole. Once the sand blob is hot enough, it is time to add color it by removing it from the glory hole and rolling it into a bowl of colored powder or chips called frit.
Then it is back into the glory hole to heat the frit into the clear glass blob by turning it evenly in the furnace which can be a little more difficult than it sounds. If you turn the blowpipe too slow, the molten glass will start to droop and could fall into the furnace and you have to start over. The goal is to keep your blob centered as much as possible on the end of the blowpipe at all times.
If you want to add more than one color to the glass Christmas ornament there are several ways I learned how to do it:
- Mix several colors of frit into a stainless steel bowl and roll the clear glass blob in it from the very beginning .
- Roll the glass blob you colored once into a different bowl of colored frit.
- Sprinkle frit on a marver (a special type of table) and roll the glass blob in the frit to cover it
I’ve used all of these methods. Neither is easier or harder than the other. It depends upon the look you want and how many times you want to stand in front of a 3000 degree furnace.
Since I had a smidge more experience and I went with red and white frit, my instructor asked me if I wanted to learn how to swirl the colors so the finished ornament looks like a candy cane.
Sure! Learning new things is fun!
After melting the white frit into the red colored glass in the glory hole, I swirled the colors by rolling the glass back and forth on a marver and then – you guessed it! – heated the glass to blowing temperature in the glory hole.
The blow pipe is stainless steel which is a poor conductor of heat. That's why I can handle the very end of the blowpipe with my bare hands.
In a later workshop I learned a different glass swirling technique. I added the gray swirl to a sculpted glass pumpkin by sprinkling gray frit on a marver and rolling a teal colored glass blob into it. I think it is slightly easier way to get a nice swirl and love how it came out!
I included a pumpkin I blew and did not swirl the colors in the photo so you can compare what the dot like and swirl coloring techniques look like
This is the part of the process where you have to work quickly! That’s why I don’t have many photos except with what I could quickly snap with one hand when we turned the glass blob into a hollow sphere.
First we need to turn the colored glass blob into a ball shape by rolling the glass in a damp wood block (the wood is damp to keep it from catching on fire) and inflating the rounded glass blob by blowing in the end of the blowpipe similar to gently blowing up a tiny balloon.
Then I handed the blowpipe over to my instructor who removed the ornament from the blow pipe with just enough glass to form the ornament loop. (Again, these last two steps are part of an advanced class I haven’t taken.)
The hardest part is yet to come – waiting for my hand blown glass Christmas ornament to slowly cool in an annealing oven for several days. The colors really come to life after the glass comes out of the annealer when it is now ready to hang on a Christmas tree.
Rather buy than DIY? Check out this handmade Christmas ornaments – and more! – below!